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Until We Meet Again

Chapter Text

“I got the snacks.”

Yuuri didn’t look up from the article he was reading as Phichit closed the dorm room door behind himself. “Snacks? Phichit, we just ate dinner.”

“But this is going to take all night,” said Phichit. 

A heavy bag landed on Yuuri’s desk with a thud. He yelped as his phone slipped from his hands. 

“Wait, what are we doing?” Yuuri pushed his glasses up on his nose and retrieved his phone. “Why do we need snacks?” 

“First, I’m disappointed that you would even ask that question. We always need snacks.” Phichit began unloading the bag, lining up chips, candy, and soft drinks on Yuuri’s desk. “And second, tonight we are getting to the bottom of Viktor Nikiforov’s disappearance.”

“W-we are?” Yuuri locked his phone and hid it in his lap.

Phichit smiled. “Don’t pretend like you weren’t reading articles about his latest digital whereabouts.”

Caught. But Phichit didn’t judge. “You don’t have to do this,” said Yuuri. 

“And you didn’t have to help me study all night for my Calculus test last week, but you did. That’s what friends do, Yuuri.” 

Friends. It felt good to hear. Yuuri caved and grabbed the licorice. “Okay. Let’s do it.”

“Hell yeah!” Phichit cracked open an energy drink. “So, apparently Viktor is taking a break and Yuri—that’s the small, angry Yuri—”

“You can call him Yurio.” When Phichit looked confused, Yuuri went on. “He’s pretty popular in Japan these days. It was getting confusing so my sister started calling him Yurio because he looks like her favorite idol. It's not important. It's not like we talk about this stuff a lot or anything." Yuuri needed to learn when to stop talking.

“Brilliant!” Phichit laughed, then cleared his throat. “Apparently, Yurio is mad at Viktor and they couldn’t stand each other on set.”

“I don’t think there’s much truth to those rumors,” said Yuuri, shaking his head. “They went everywhere together in Detroit and on the press tour. It was all over Instagram.”

“Yeah, but that’s Instagram. People can make it look like anything is happening on Instagram.” Phichit got a mischievous glint in his eyes, and he waggled his eyebrows. 

“Please don’t get any ideas,” said Yuuri, hiding his face behind the licorice bag. 

“You’re no fun. With those thighs, you could be rich and famous.” 

Yuuri narrowed his eyes. “Put my thighs online and I will use all the profits to get my own place.”

“Fine, fine,” Phichit pouted, but dropped it. “All I’m saying is there might be a reason why Viktor and Yurio played feuding brothers so well.”

“Because they’re both good actors?” Yuuri suggested. 

“Well, that too.” Phichit started in on a bag of chips. “Anyway, what have you found?”

Yuuri flipped open his laptop. Viktor smiled up at him from his desktop background like he always did, Makkachin at his side.

It was the same smile Yuuri fell in love with as a preteen, the same smile Viktor gave at every interview. Yuuri hasn’t realized just how much he had counted on that smile until it was gone. Was any of it real?

Of course not, Yuuri thought. He acts for a living, and even if it was real, you don’t really know him.

That didn’t make Yuuri feel any better. He looked at Makkachin in the photo. Her tongue hung to one side in a goofy puppy grin. Are you all right? Yuuri wondered. Both of you? Makkachin was getting old. Yuuri couldn’t imagine many things that would break Viktor, but losing his best friend was one of them. It hurt too much to think about. 

Yuuri opened the web browser and sighed. “I hate looking at gossip articles, especially about Viktor,” he said. “It feels like such a violation.” 

Despite his qualms, he began to type and a long list of his previous searches popped up. Phichit’s eyes burned into his back, but he didn’t call Yuuri out. Just because Yuuri hated reading the articles didn’t mean he was able fight the compulsion.

Yuuri’s first roommate had found his idolization of Viktor creepy, but Phichit was an enabler. Yuuri still remembered the six page paper on Viktor’s career that Phichit wrote for his freshman composition class (even if Phichit had only chosen that topic because he happened to live with the foremost editor of the Viktor Nikiforov Wikipedia page). 

Matt had never even heard of Viktor. Then again, when Yuuri had roomed with Matt, Viktor was just “the guy from that one show” if anyone recognized him at all. He had always been a star to Yuuri.

Phichit might not have shared Yuuri’s devotion to Viktor, but he did share Yuuri’s history as a former figure skater. As if that wasn’t enough, Phichit had known Viktor’s name before Agape. Phichit was a bit younger, but he often expressed fond memories of downloading torrents of On Thin Ice back in Thailand.

Yuuri only got a housing stipend if he lived on campus, but living with Phichit more than made up for being one of the oldest students on campus. He just wished they had become friends sooner. Maybe they’d both still be skating. But Yuuri didn’t want to dwell on that.

“Start at the beginning,” said Phichit. “We must have missed something.”

Yuuri frowned. “We don’t actually know him, so we missed a lot.”

“You know what I meant. And besides, you’ve been following his career since the beginning.” Phichit licked some chip dust from his fingers. “That has to count for something.”

Phichit was definitely an enabler. “Well,” Yuuri began, “after On Thin Ice ended, he worked pretty consistently. He did lots of TV appearances and a few indie movies. He had some credibility, but no one would take a chance on him until Baranovskaya.”

“Are you sure you didn’t write these articles?” Phichit asked. Yuuri shook his head and clicked a link to an article posted two years ago.

Lilia Baranovskaya Casts Leads in Latest Project

Not much is known about the latest Baranovskaya film, Cloak and Dagger (probably a working title), but based on casting information, it probably centers on the Russian mob. Star of last year’s Sleeping Beauty Anya Garina (23), former television actor Viktor Nikiforov (25), and newcomer Yuri Plisetsky (14) have been cast in lead roles. Supporting roles are in final negotiations (details to follow). Casting calls for “performers of all races and ethnicities to be featured in key scenes as gangsters, police officers, socialites, and high school students” are still open. Click here for more information.

“You should have tried out,” Phichit said. “You could have been an extra!”

Yuuri shook his head. “There’s no way I could be on camera.” Not anymore, he added mentally.

“But you were so great in my project last year! I got an A, remember?” Phichit was kind enough not to mention Yuuri’s attempts at televised skating. 

“That was different.” Appearing in a student film as a favor to a friend was completely different from being an extra in a major motion picture. He couldn’t even handle minor competitions that no one watched. 

Yuuri cringed at the memory of just how badly he had choked at his senior figure skating debut. He had toughed it out for another season, but once Vicchan passed away, skating and performing went from embarrassing to painful. He hadn’t even gotten the chance to say goodbye. 

“If only I had been your roommate back then,” Phichit mused, shaking him from his thoughts. “You and Viktor would be married by now.”

“Phichit, I’m still in school,” Yuuri pointed out.

“You wouldn’t have to go to school. Viktor would take care of you.” Phichit grinned at Yuuri but the scenario was too ridiculous to even consider. Phichit sighed. “I still can’t believe you didn’t even try to meet him. Viktor broadcasts his location wherever he goes.”

“Which brings us back to our mission,” Yuuri said, clicking on a link from last summer. “Look at this one.”

Agape is the Surprise Hit of the Summer

Lilia Baranovskaya’s mob thriller Agape took in an unexpected $46 million in an otherwise lackluster box office weekend. Not bad considering it reportedly cost under $10 million to make! Underground buzz and a grassroots promotional tour propelled the movie, which stars a cast of relative unknowns, to number one. Leads Anya Garina, Viktor Nikiforov, and Yuri Plisetsky engaged with fans through social media and pop-up events in the run up to the release, making the movie feel personal for young moviegoers. All three actors deliver compelling, nuanced performances, despite only one (Garina) having major motion picture experience. 

“Didn’t the do a screening in Detroit? You should have gone,” Phichit said.

“I had class,” Yuuri replied. It wasn’t a lie, but he had cut class to see Viktor’s last movie at the art theater in Ann Arbor. He pointed at a different passage. “I wonder if Viktor liked being a relative unknown…” 

“You think? I always thought he loved the limelight.” Phichit took the licorice from Yuuri. “He did all the talking on every talk show, and people say he never turns anyone down an autograph or selfie.”

Yuuri didn’t like hearing about Viktor in the past tense, as if he was gone for good. Unless he’s happy out there, he added mentally. He pulled up another article, one of those stupid lists that he could never resist clicking.

“You sure you didn’t write this?” asked Phichit. This one was posted a month after the last article.

36 Things You Didn’t Know About Viktor Nikiforov

Welcome to the Viktor Nikiforov fanclub! You’re late, but we won’t hold it against you. Here’s a crash course in all things Viktor to catch you up on everything you’ve missed over the past 10 years. 

36. He loves dogs. Okay, you probably knew that, but did you know his beloved poodle Makkachin turns 11 this year? She’s been with Viktor since the beginning, and speaking of the beginning…

35. Viktor got his start as Dimitri Vashchenko on a little show called On Thin Ice. If Viktor’s long(!) hair isn’t enough of a draw, On Thin Ice was praised for its diverse cast and dynamic portrayals of LGBT+ characters.

34. Viktor did most of his own skating for On Thin Ice. Body doubles were used for the trickier stuff, but Viktor was cast because of how comfortable he was on the ice. He worked with a coach throughout filming and by the time the series wrapped, he could do double jumps. Talk about multi-talented! 

“I still can’t believe how good he was,” said Phichit. “Could you imagine training him? Practicing with him? Competing against him?” It was a conversation he and Yuuri had had many times. Yuuri flushed and turned back to his computer.

33. Wondering where Viktor gets his grace and charm? Look no further than his mother, rhythmic gymnast Svetlana Nikiforova (née Valentinova). She won a gold medal for Romania (her late mother’s home country) at the 1984 Olympics and coached in Europe from the time Viktor was 9 until he was about 15.

32. With his international background, it’s no wonder Viktor specializes in languages and accents. He speaks Russian, English, French, Italian, and Spanish, and he says he’s “working on” Japanese and German. On the international press tour for Agape, he made a point of greeting fans in their own language! 

31. When he was 15, he and his mother moved to LA so he could pursue acting. He was accepted into Yakov Feltsman’s renowned acting workshop and the rest is history!

“You get the idea,” said Yuuri, cheeks growing hot. “And no, I didn’t write this.”

Phichit nudged him in the ribs. “Yuuri, you never told me he was learning Japanese!”

“It didn’t seem important.” Yuuri’s ears were burning now. Viktor just loved to challenge himself. “I just wanted you to see that he moved around a lot growing up.”

“Oh, right. Didn’t he move to New York City right after Agape came out?”

Yuuri nodded. Had Phichit read that himself or had Yuuri told him? Either way, he didn’t deserve a friend like Phichit. “Maybe he was feeling restless?” Yuuri offered. 

Phichit shrugged. “I guess it’s possible. Or maybe he’s researching a role?”

“If he is, it’s a huge secret because he hasn’t accepted any roles since Agape,” said Yuuri. He found an article from September and clicked it. 

The Cast of Agape is Having the Best Week Ever

Agape slayed at the box office this summer, and just when we thought its three stars couldn’t rise any higher, we caught Viktor, Anya, and Yuri crushing the runway at New York Fashion Week. 

Designer Georgi Popovich was so inspired by the costumes and cast of Agape that he invited the world’s most fashionable mobsters to join his show. 

[still image of Anya modeling]

It’s good to be the Queen, and Anya Garina isn’t just making a splash on the runway. Expect to see the stunning starlet in a MAJOR fragrance campaign this winter. In the meantime, Anya looked cool and confident in Popovich’s designs (and cozy in his arms after the show).

[image of Yuri with collage of fans wearing the same hairstyle]

Yuri Plisetsky is the rookie of the three, but you’d never know it. The Russian Punk turned into a Graceful Prince for Fashion Week, and his ethereal braided hairstyle spread like Instagram wildfire. But Yuri won’t be quitting acting to become an influencer any time soon. He carved out a few hours to work the runway between the two projects he’s currently filming, both anticipated next year. 

[gif of Viktor walking the runway]

But once again, the biggest surprise came in the delicious form of Viktor Nikiforov. Viktor stole the runway like he stole our hearts in Agape and we are still shook. Sidebar: suits are done. Viktor Nikiforov owns them now and no one else can wear them. Sorry. We don’t make the rules.

[three images of Viktor in different suits]

And that’s not all the King of Surprises has in store. A rep from Yakov's Legend Management says that Viktor’s received so many scripts that they’ve had to expand their staff just to handle the influx. 

Given all the Twitter proposals he got this summer, Viktor might want to consider hiring an assistant himself. He’s been linked to multiple actors and models, but according to the man himself, he’s “waiting for the right project, and the right person.” Challenge accepted!

“I hate articles like these,” Yuuri grumbled. It wasn’t just the try-hard writing, but the speculation and the spinning that bothered him (even if the rumors about Anya and that Russian designer had turned out to be true). 

“Well, ignoring the obvious problems, it sounds like he’s overwhelmed,” said Phichit, chewing thoughtfully. “If that’s an actual quote, I doubt it’s as positive as they’ve made it out to be.”

Yuuri sighed. “Yeah, that’s the feeling I got, too. Yurio’s filmed a couple movies, and Anya’s got a Netflix show and those perfume ads.”

And Viktor had gone virtually silent. It went without saying. 

“There’s the one from today,” Phichit said, clicking the link himself. 

Where in the World is Viktor Nikiforov?

It’s been two months since anyone’s seen Viktor Nikiforov on- or offline, leaving many wondering if he’s checked into rehab. Insiders vehemently deny rumors of substance abuse, insisting Viktor simply needed a break from the spotlight after jumping from the D-list to the A-list. 

Those closest to Viktor aren’t saying much. Mentor and manager Yakov Feltsman said Viktor was “taking some time off,” but he didn’t look happy about it. An unnamed source says Viktor’s disappearance has turned Yakov’s Legend Management company upside down. 

At a charity event last weekend, longtime pal Christophe Giacometti said that fans “haven’t seen the last of Viktor” but called on them to respect his privacy. Agape costar Yuri Plisetsky offered no comment at the same event, but if his scowl was any indication, there may be some truth to the rumors of animosity between the two actors.

Viktor has been hovering in the margins of Hollywood since his television debut as Dimitri in On Thin Ice. The dramedy, which turns 12(!) this year, focused on teenagers balancing the demands of high school and competitive figure skating. 

While waiting for Viktor news, why not binge all 4 seasons of On Thin Ice? Be sure to watch for Chris as Michael, Dimitri’s hunky boyfriend, in seasons 2 and 3.

“I was wrong,” Yuuri muttered. “These are the worst kind of articles.”

“I mean, D-list is a little harsh, but they’re not wrong about Chris,” said Phichit. But they were dancing around the real issue. “Do you think Viktor’s in rehab?”

Yuuri swallowed. Speculating about it was starting to sour his stomach. “If he is, then good for him for getting help—not that it’s our business.” 

Phichit nodded. “Of course you’re right,” he said. “And you never really know what someone’s going through, you know? He just always smiled like nothing was wrong.”

Yuuri knew that better than anyone. Yuuri hung his heart on Viktor’s smile, especially when he couldn’t summon a smile of his own. How had he been so naive? Viktor had problems, just like everyone else. 

“We should stop.” Yuuri shut his laptop. The guilt was too much. Viktor was just a person (albeit a gorgeous and talented one), and if he wanted privacy, he deserved it. Yuuri could understand needing a break, and he wasn’t even famous. 

“Whatever you want to do,” said Phichit. Yuuri felt guilty about changing plans on Phichit, too. Phichit had gone out of his way for Yuuri, but they had barely made a dent in the gossip blogs (or in the snacks).

Yuuri grabbed a can of chips. “Let’s play a game instead.” Phichit would probably have more fun with that, anyway. 

“You’re on,” said Phichit. They set up shop at their own laptops, Yuuri with the chips and Phichit with the cheese puffs. “I miss skating,” Phichit announced after a couple rounds of battle, “but I miss it a lot less when I’m eating junk food.”

Yuuri laughed. “Me too.” He missed skating, he missed Vicchan, and he missed Viktor (even though he wasn’t Yuuri’s to miss), but he was always grateful for Phichit. “Thanks,” he added.

Phichit grinned. “Any time.”

Chapter Text

Despite his misgivings, Yuuri didn’t disable his Viktor news alerts. 

His summer co-op kept him busy, and Phichit staying on campus for the summer helped, too, even if neither of them were around the dormitories much.

Still, every time a Viktor update popped up, his chest filled with anticipation, dread, and a bit of pity. Viktor couldn’t even like a video without making headlines. No wonder he never posted anymore. 

Of course, Yuuri was part of the problem, but he clicked anyway.

Viktor Nikiforov Likes Viral Video of Dancing Dog and the Internet Breathes a Collective Sigh of Relief

Instagram pooch @thatcorgigomez has thousands of fans, and the elusive Viktor Nikiforov is among them. After months of social media silence, Viktor reassured his own adoring fans by liking a video of Gomez dancing to “Conga” by Gloria Estefan. You can check out the video that brought our fave dog-lover out of hiding here. Viktor, wherever you are, know that we wish you (and Makkachin!!!) the best. 

Similar stories came through every couple weeks, each one as meaningless as the last. Yuuri tried not to think too hard about it but any breath of activity meant Viktor was alive.

That didn’t mean he was happy. When Yuuri was having a bad day, or week, or month, he could waste hours at a time scrolling endlessly on his phone, looking at other people’s lives. He had to stop himself from checking up on skaters because it just made him beat himself up for giving up. From the outside, it was easier to pretend skating was always rewarding. 

At his lowest points, seeing images from Viktor’s life had always made him feel a little better. Now he wondered if those pictures had ever had anything to do with Viktor’s life at all. He had leaned on Viktor without even realizing it. Yuuri was just as bad as the gossip bloggers.

After a couple days of fall classes, one of Viktor’s likes wasn’t so random. 

Viktor Likes Yuri’s Cat Photo: What Does it Mean?

Wherever Viktor Nikiforov is hiding, at least there’s WiFi. The stealthy heartthrob’s latest move was to like a picture of Yuri Plisetsky’s beloved cat, Potya.

Is Viktor extending the olive branch to his onscreen brother? Since Viktor’s disappearance, multiple accounts have emerged of explosive arguments and animosity on the Agape set. No wonder those fight scenes were so convincing! 

One anonymous source from the set offered a different take. “They were just like brothers even when the cameras weren’t rolling. They had their differences, but at the end of the day, they looked out for each other.”

Only time will tell if we’ll see these brothers in action again, because just like Agape, this story ends with a cliffhanger.

Phichit swore this meant something was coming, but the next week passed without event. Yuuri’s first quiz stole his focus, and before long, he was spending his nights pouring through textbooks rather than scouring the internet. 

A bell woke Yuuri out of a dream—late to class and completely naked, again—after a night of studying. Good riddance to that nightmare, he thought. 

Had he forgotten to silence his phone again? Like a punch to the gut, Yuuri recalled the time Matt had woken him up from a drunken blackout because his phone wouldn’t stop going off. 

Humiliating, he thought with a cringe. He still couldn’t believe he had gotten so drunk that night. 

This morning, his head was blessedly clear and his phone had only gone off once, but Yuuri didn’t want to wake Phichit up, either.

Wait. Phichit is the only one who ever texts me, he realized. Even without his glasses, he could make out a Phichit-shaped lump in the bed on the other side of the room. 

He fumbled for his glasses and confirmed that Phichit was asleep.

That wasn’t even my text sound, he thought. He hadn’t heard the sound in a long time. Was that Instagram?

Yuuri only had Instagram notifications enabled for one person.

He held his breath and unlocked his phone.

v-nikiforov just posted a photo.

There it was. The banner at the top of his screen. This is not a drill, thought Yuuri. It had been eight months. 

The app seemed to take another eight months to load after he tapped the notification. 

Makkachin! Yuuri barely contained his squeal. She was okay! He knew all too well how devastating it was to lose a beloved companion, and he was so glad that Viktor still had his pup.

Makkachin was curled up on Viktor’s lap and a single mug of coffee sat on the table in front of them. Viktor himself was only visible as a graceful hand behind Makkachin’s ear and a pair of knees beneath her, but they were in his apartment in New York. Had Viktor been there all along? There was no way.

The caption read, Every morning is beautiful with you. 

Yuuri tried to keep himself in check. He didn’t want to wake Phichit but he was bursting to talk to someone. Shouting into the void on Twitter was no good (he only kept the account to follow Viktor and Phichit anyway), and he definitely wasn’t going to leave a comment on Viktor’s picture. 

He couldn’t stop himself from double tapping the image, watching the heart turn red with a giddy stomach. Viktor was back, and this was the only way Yuuri could tell him how happy he was. Viktor was okay. 

Wasn’t he? Yuuri’s stomach turned. He’d gotten so excited that he’d forgotten that Viktor might have never been okay. Maybe this was just an attempt to convince the world that he was fine. Yuuri wore his emotions plain as day, but he wasn’t an actor.

Happy people didn’t just disappear, leaving only a trail of random likes to prove they weren’t dead. There was nothing unhealthy about Viktor taking time to himself, but Yuuri had spent far too much time imagining possible reasons for Viktor's silence.

Yuuri didn’t want to assume or project, but he couldn’t stop his own memories from polluting his brain, memories of times when his anxiety had made it almost impossible to live his life. When he moved to the United States, when Vicchan died, when he gave up on figure skating...

He hoped Viktor had worked through his struggles, whatever they were. He hoped Viktor was truly happy. 

Phichit snored and rolled over. Yuuri locked his phone and froze, and stared at Phichit. Had he been too loud? 

Phichit slept on, but Yuuri was wired. He crept out of bed and grabbed his things to get ready in the bathroom. Phichit was still sleeping when he dropped off his toothbrush and pajamas, so Yuuri grabbed his backpack and left for breakfast. 

Yuuri checked Viktor’s photo again as he walked to the dining hall. He had been one of the first people to like it and now the likes were in the tens of thousands. 

@christophe-gc had the top comment: She’s a good girl. Have you been a good boy?

Had Chris known where Viktor was? He hoped so, for Viktor’s sake. Viktor needed friends, and not just Makkachin. But was this just Chris’s usual oversexed banter or was there more to it? How close were they really? Rumors had always followed them, but Yuuri had no idea if they were even real friends, let alone ex-lovers. It was none of his business. 

Somehow, Yuuri kept his phone in his pocket for the entire duration of his Microcomputers class. It was much harder to resist during Russian Culture class, but he managed to avoid checking it again until lunchtime.

He had missed 10 texts from Phichit.

8:13 AM
yuuri

8:13 AM
yuuri

8:13 AM
YUURI!

8:14 AM
I KNOW YOU SAW IT

8:14 AM
WHY DIDNT YOU WAKE ME UP? (´°̥̥̥̥̥̥̥̥ω°̥̥̥̥̥̥̥̥`)

8:15 AM
we’re getting to the bottom of this at lunch 

The last several texts were just links to articles from gossip sites. 

Viktor’s Back! Here’s What You Need to Know
Viktor Nikiforov Breaks His Silence
Viktor Shares Picture of Makkachin
Yes, Viktor Nikiforov is Alive and He Had Coffee this Morning

Yuuri was close to the Student Center, so he texted Phichit to meet him there. 

“Oh my god, Yuuri!” Phichit grabbed him by the shoulders. “Big day. Huge day! How are you feeling?” 

“I’m fine, Phichit,” said Yuuri. 

Phichit pulled back, eyebrows raised. “You know you don’t have to hold back with me. Let it out.”

“Well…” Yuuri looked left and right, and no one was paying them any attention. “I’m so excited that Viktor’s back, and Makkachin is a princess. He looked relaxed in the picture, but any actor could fake that. And why come back now? Is he making a new movie? Did someone force him? Does he even want to come back? Because wherever he was or whatever he was doing, I just want him to be happy and I can’t tell from this one post.”

He took a moment to catch his breath. Phichit had said not to hold back. 

“There we go,” Phichit said. “He’s with Makkachin so I’m sure he’s happy about that.” 

“You’re right,” Yuuri said with a nod. “At least he has Makkachin.” 

“Let’s take a selfie to commemorate their return!” Phichit pulled Yuuri toward him, beaming as Yuuri forced a smile. “Perfect! And look, #WelcomeBackViktor is trending! Now let me just tag him and—”

“Phichit, no!” he shrieked, grabbing for Phichit’s phone. 

Phichit pouted. He his phone out of Yuuri’s reach. “Fine. I won’t post it. But one of these days, he is going to see your beautiful face and fall in love with you.”

Ridiculous as it was, Yuuri couldn’t stop himself from blushing. Ever since quitting skating, he’d taken great pains to avoid posting on social media. Having a friend like Phichit made his mission much harder, and Yuuri’s face did show up on Phichit’s accounts from time to time. As long as Phichit didn’t tag him, it was fine.

Yuuri had purged his old accounts and he didn’t post on his new ones. If Viktor happened to click on @poodles-are-love (which he never would), he’d find an empty page with a profile picture of Vicchan. Yuuri didn’t do anything worth sharing anyway.

“It lends some credibility to the Makkachin was sick theory,” said Phichit as they headed toward the dining area. 

Yuuri frowned. “I don’t like that theory. She’s such a good girl.”

“She’s the best girl, but you don’t like any theories,” Phichit pointed out. “You’re still Team Viktor-Owes-Us-No-Explanation.” 

“Well, it’s true,” said Yuuri. 

“Bit long for a hashtag, though.” 

It didn’t matter because Yuuri wasn’t about to tweet it. “If he took a break to get away from the media, bugging him about why he was gone is just going to make it worse. He’ll tell us if he wants to.”

They sat down to eat and Yuuri checked his phone again. No new notifications, but Chris was tweeting.

Phichit glanced at Yuuri’s phone from across the table. “Yes, yes, Viktor deserves his privacy, but here you are scouring Twitter for news.”

Yuuri blushed again. “That’s different.” 

Chris’s first post was just five winking emojis.

7 minutes ago
If you’ve been sleeping on my podcast, first of all, how dare you, and second of all, tonight is a good time to start listening. ;)

6 minutes ago
Special guest on tonight’s CWC. ;) Somebody who has been sorely missed. Going live at 7 PM EST.

“Yuuri!” Phichit must have been reading the tweets, too. “It has to be Viktor.”

Yuuri agreed. If Viktor was going to give an interview to anyone, it would be Chris. Phichit was a fan of Chris and of entertainment news in general, Yuuri never missed an episode in hopes of Viktor news (there hadn’t been any in a long time).

To see Viktor again (at least part of him) and hear his voice in the same day? Yuuri was truly blessed.

With his classes out of the way, so went his restraint, and he gave into his compulsion. 

Rumor has it Viktor Nikiforov will break his silence with an appearance on Coffee with Chris (longtime friend and entertainment personality Chris Giacometti’s podcast) this Friday. Sources say he’s gearing up for a big announcement, and given Yuri Plisetsky’s recent subtweets, we can only imagine Agape 2 is a go! Fans have been thirsty for more since the original hit theaters almost two years ago, but sequel talk was plagued by rumors of cast tension. Viktor’s shocking disappearance only added fuel to the fire…

Yuuri alternated between reading more articles and studying Viktor’s picture, but the minutes dragged by. 

He and Phichit ate quick dinners that night and settled in with their phones, waiting for the upload. Yuuri linked his phone to a speaker and Phichit sar poised to livetweet the podcast.

“Are you ready?” Phichit asked. Yuuri nodded. 

Chris’s voice filled the room, as smooth and silky as his intro music. “Hello to all my lovely listeners. It’s Chris, your friend in the business and purveyor of ethically-sourced coffee and entertainment news. Today’s cup was suggested by Monica G. of Baltimore, Maryland, and…” But Yuuri couldn’t focus as Chris described the coffee of the day, and he was practically shaking when Chris finally gave the roaster’s website. “As always, tweet or email me your coffee recommendations and I’ll feature my favorites on the podcast.”

“Normally, I’d make you wait for it, but I think my guest tonight has made us wait long enough, don’t you? That’s right, friends. I have in my humble little studio today none other than the elusive Viktor Nikiforov.”

If anyone but Phichit were in the room with him, he’d be self conscious, but Phichit had seen him at peak fanboy and Yuuri felt no shame as he held his breath. 

What would Viktor say? What would his first words to the public be? Yuuri straightened, wishing he had opted for earbuds not for privacy, but to hear Viktor better. 

“Hi, Chris! Thank you for having me on your show again. Hi, everyone!” Viktor dragged his words out like an exuberant child and Yuuri exhaled, letting the tension roll down his back.

“That’s right! You were one of my very first guests. Welcome back to the podcast, and welcome back to civilization,” Chris began, voice lilting with amusement. “So, what’s new with you?”

Viktor laughed and Yuuri’s heart melted. 

“Not much, how about you?” Viktor matched Chris’s coy tone and Yuuri’s melted heart sloshed around in his chest. “Kidding, kidding. I guess I’ve missed a lot, haven’t I? I hear you’re off the market, what a pity.”

“Oh, Viktor, you know I’ll always make an exception for you.” 

Phichit snickered. It was just playful banter, but Yuuri wondered if there was any truth behind it. Viktor deserved every bit of happiness he could get. 

“I must know, who is this mystery man who’s swept you off your feet?” asked Viktor.

For someone who kept on top of everyone else’s business, Chris was notoriously private. No wonder he and Viktor got along. Viktor presented himself like an open book, but as his hiatus had proven, he was anything but.

“Ah ah ah,” tutted Chris. “We’re not here to talk about me.”

Viktor sighed. “It was worth a try.”

“Let me guess. You’re deflecting because you’ve eloped, and you’ve been on an extended honeymoon, ravishing your—”

“Nothing quite so exciting, Chris, I assure you, but that sounds lovely.” Viktor let out another sigh. “Where do I start?”

“Tell us, what have you been up to? There’s been a lot of speculation but as you know, I like to go straight to the source.”

“There are a few rumors floating around, aren’t there?” Viktor sounded more bemused than upset. “I used to read the tabloids and gossip blogs, you know, even though my manager told me not to.”

“When have you ever listened to him?”

Viktor laughed. “Touché. But I’m afraid the truth is rather boring. I took some time off for myself. Traveled. Spent time with Makkachin. Rediscovered some old passions—no, Chris, not lovers—and discovered some new ones—again, not lovers."

Viktor laughed off Chris’s interruptions, but Yuuri had never heard him talk like that before. He almost sounded lonely. 

“Everyone needs time to themselves,” said Chris. 

“Exactly.” Yuuri tried to imagine Viktor’s expression as he gathered his thoughts. Viktor was smiling, Yuuri was sure, but Yuuri wondered if it reached his eyes. When he continued, his voice was softer. Something about his tone struck Yuuri, though he couldn’t place it. “I had a lot of time to think. I’m so very grateful for my fans and all the wonderful people I’ve worked with. I’m lucky to have been a part of so many amazing projects, and I’ll always be grateful for that.”

Yuuri’s chest tightened and he glanced at Phichit, who met him with wide eyes. Was Viktor going to... 

“Does this mean you’re retiring?” Chris finished the thought. 

“Absolutely not,” said Viktor, and Yuuri heaved a sigh of relief. “I absolutely want to continue acting! That is, if anyone wants me back.” He added a self-deprecating laugh, forced and foreign to Yuuri’s ears. 

I want you back. Guilt rose in his chest at the selfish thought. 

“Well, I teased your appearance on Twitter, and at last count, it had 98,000 likes,” Chris pointed out. “I think there’s still a market for Viktor Nikiforov.”

“I hope so,” said Viktor. 

“On that note,” Chris began, “your fiery young costar has been making some tweets of his own.”

“Hmm? Which one now?” asked Viktor. Yuuri blinked. Viktor wasn’t being cute—he sounded like he had no idea who Chris was talking about. After a moment, Viktor said, “Oh, you mean Yuri!” 

Chris coughed and Phichit snorted. “Yes, I mean Yuri, Viktor, where have you been?” 

There was silence for a moment until Viktor laughed, catching the joke. “I suppose I deserved that.” 

“Let’s read some of his tweets, shall we? Friends, I apologize for the crude language.” Chris cleared his throat. 

“Must be nice to take a fucking holiday but some of us take our careers seriously.”

“Dying to take on a new project but someone won’t get off his ass and commit.”

“That does sound like him,” Viktor mused. 

“This one’s fun: You owe me a game of fucking laser tag. But anyway, care to tell us what Yuri’s talking about?”

Viktor laughed. “I forgot that I promised him a game of laser tag because he was too young to—”

“I meant the new project, Viktor.”

“Oh!” Viktor laughed again. “Of course you did. He’s referring to the sequel to Agape. We’re going to start filming this spring.”

“I knew it!” cried Phichit, thumbs going a mile a minute as he typed. Yuuri could hardly believe his ears. Viktor had just come right out and said it, like he was reporting what he ate for breakfast. Hadn’t he just been talking like his career was done? Then—boom! Yuuri’s heart could barely take it.

“That’s fantastic! How do you feel about it?”

“Amazing!” Viktor exclaimed, sounding much more like his old self. Yuuri wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. “I can’t wait to work with Lilia, Yuri, Anya and the rest of the cast and crew again.”

“So, everyone’s on board?” 

“Yes. The script is phenomenal and it’s an honor to be asked to return.”

There was a pause before Chris spoke again. 

“You did some location shooting on Agape. Will you be going on location for the sequel?”

Thank you, Chris, thought Yuuri. He didn’t have to look up to know that Phichit was watching him. 

Viktor didn’t answer right away. When he spoke, his voice was subdued. “I loved filming in Detroit and I very much hope we’ll be back.”

Yuuri’s heart fluttered. He had missed his chance last time. Did this mean there was hope?

“You don’t say,” said Chris, sounding almost as excited as Yuuri felt. “You always speak fondly of Detroit. Anything you’re looking forward to seeing again?” Chris’s voice carried the distinct air of nudge nudge, wink wink.

“Well, I still dream about these cherry cookies I had at the Athena Bakery.” 

“Cookies, Viktor?” Chris didn’t sound impressed, but he would have been if he tried the cookies. Yuuri knew exactly which ones Viktor was talking about. “How about the people?” 

“I met a lot of lovely people in Detroit,” said Viktor.

“Anyone in particular you’d like to see again?” It almost sounded like Chris was prying. 

“Well, I met some delightful fans who have been with me since On Thin Ice. A few of them asked about you, Chris!”

“Then they have good taste in Detroit. Maybe I should visit you on set,” said Chris. Whatever he was digging for, Viktor wasn’t giving it to him. “Give you a little push?”

“You’re always welcome on set,” said Viktor, voice getting stiffer with every pry and prod.

“My presence is quite the gift. And speaking of gifts, did anyone give you any gifts in Detroit?”

Yuuri glanced at Phichit, but Phichit was deep in thought. What on earth was Chris going on about?

Viktor took a deep breath. Maybe it was a sigh. “The response to Agape is the best gift I can imagine, and all I want is for everyone to enjoy the sequel. We’ll be giving it our all, and we can’t wait to tell the rest of the story.”

“And does the story have a happy ending?” asked Chris.

Viktor gave a smug little laugh. “You’ll just have to wait and see, like everyone else.”

“Ooh, so cold. Tell me off the air?” asked Chris. 

“Sorry, Chris. I’ve already said too much.”

Chris gasped. “And I thought we were friends!”

And that was it. Yuuri and Phichit sat in silence as Chris talked about one of his podcast sponsors. 

Yuuri tried to gather his thoughts after the roller coaster ride of an interview. First, Viktor sounded like he was retiring, only to announce his comeback, and oh, by the way, it’s the sequel to Agape. Sometimes, he sounded like his old self (or whatever public persona Yuuri recognized), but he dipped into emotions Yuuri had only seen from him on camera. Was it his imagination, or was Viktor annoyed with Chris? And what was with all of those questions about Detroit?

Yuuri couldn’t keep up.

Eyebrows knitted and lips thin, Phichit was still deep in thought. He nodded and then his thumbs were flying over his phone once more.

“What is it?” Yuuri asked. 

“I have a theory,” Phichit said. He scrolled some more and nodded again. Face grim, he held up his phone. “Look at this.”

Yuuri didn’t recognize the Twitter handle. 

um, anyone else get the idea viktor met someone in detroit??????? #cwcpodcast #coffeewithchris #ineedanswers

“You think so?” Yuuri wondered. “It sounded like Chris was just trying to get a rise out of him.”

“Maybe.” Phichit took his phone back, then snorted a moment later. “Oh my god, Chris liked it. He liked that tweet.”

“Oh,” said Yuuri. That was as good as a confirmation. Had Viktor spent his hiatus with a boyfriend, like Chris implied? His heart sank just a little. Don’t be a jerk, he chided himself mentally, be happy for him. This was a good development. He pushed down any nagging thought to the contrary.

“That’s why Chris wanted him to admit there was someone he wanted to see in Detroit. Someone who gave him a gift. Was it a fan?” Phichit stopped speculating out loud when he saw Yuuri’s face. 

“It’s fine.” Yuuri forced himself to laugh. “Come on, don’t look at me like that. I’m just happy he has someone.”

“I don’t know. It kinda sounded like a sore subject…” Phichit said, scrolling deeper into the Twitter rabbit hole. “Don’t worry. I’ll get to the bottom of it.” He was trying to be helpful but Yuuri shook his head.

“It’s really none of our business.” Yuuri took a deep breath, swallowing the lump in his throat. His heart was still pounding from the emotional whiplash. “Don’t bother.”

“Are you sure?” Phichit asked, eyes wide with concern. 

Yuuri nodded. This was a sign. A sign that he needed to take a step back and get past this obsession. Engineering classes were getting tougher and he needed to focus on studying, not on who Viktor was or wasn’t dating. Phichit was way too busy to keep being his digital enabler. 

Of course Yuuri would see the new movie when it came out, but he was just going to enjoy it like a normal person. He was done infringing on Viktor’s privacy. 

“I’m sure,” Yuuri said. He pulled out his phone and unfollowed v-nikiforov on every social media app he had. 

Chapter Text

(about two years ago)

Viktor was filming in Detroit. It was the one bright spot in an otherwise terrible year. Yuuri couldn’t skate and he had failed Vicchan, but at least Viktor was in the same city, visiting places Yuuri passed every day. 

Viktor tagged his location everywhere he went: sampling savory dishes and tempting sweets in Greektown, admiring the buildings by the river, dancing and drinking at clubs Yuuri had been to once or twice. 

Yuuri didn’t do anything differently. He liked each post and went about his day, as if Viktor was in Los Angeles like usual. He wasn’t going to stalk Viktor, at least not outside of Instagram. Tagging his location was not an open invitation to ask for pictures or an autograph (although from his tagged photos, it looked like Viktor had been doing plenty of both) and Yuuri was going to respect his privacy. Once the movie came out, he’d be able to see Viktor in his neighborhood. 

But if he happened to run into Viktor getting coffee while he was here, well, he’d cross that bridge when he got to it. He’d smile. Maybe say “hello.” If he was feeling brave, he’d ask for a photo.

Or maybe he’d put his head down and keep walking rather than make a fool of himself. 

It went on like that for over two weeks until Yuuri’s heart stopped. Viktor had posted a photo of himself, grinning, next to a sullen Yuri Plisetsky, framed by the Detroit River and the Canadian border. The caption read, That’s a wrap! Thank you, Detroit. I’ll be home soon, Makkachin! #yurihadfuntoo #ipromise #wrappartytonight #seeyouattheafterparty #locationtba

That was it. They were done shooting in Detroit. Viktor was leaving, probably tomorrow morning. Yuuri had missed his chance.

He couldn’t be mad. Viktor had to get back to Makkachin. She deserved all of Viktor’s attention, and Viktor probably couldn’t wait to come home to her. Yuuri would never be able to come home to Vicchan again. He tried to let the thought pass without spiraling, focusing instead on Viktor’s hashtags.

Viktor sure makes himself easy to find, he thought with a frown. Viktor loved his fans, and he wasn’t a huge star (at least not to anyone but Yuuri) but anyone could have a stalker. Then again, there would probably be tons of security wherever this afterparty was.

Yuuri wondered which club Viktor would choose. One of the few perks of being a 21 year old sophomore was legal drinking, and his first class wasn’t until noon the next day. 

Don’t kid yourself. What does it matter where the party is? You’re not going.

Yuuri sighed. Another night alone. Maybe he would watch The Shore again. Rumor had it Lilia Baranovskaya had been so moved by Viktor’s performance that she had actually reached out to Yakov (her ex-husband) personally to ask for Viktor to read for his part in Cloak and Dagger (or whatever the real title was).

Yuuri didn’t put much stock in rumors, but Viktor was amazing in The Shore. Then again, he had also been amazing in his two episode arc on Seattle Med last month. 

Since his roommate was out being a normal student, Yuuri could get away with a drink or two. It wasn’t like he had practice in the morning anymore. 

He started the movie and opened a bottle of cheap wine. No one was around so he skipped the glass and drank right from the bottle. The wine wasn’t bad, Viktor was mesmerizing, and the bottle was empty before he knew it. Didn’t he have another one around somewhere? 

Bingo. Under the bed. Yuuri cracked it open. He could make a game out of it. Take a sip every time Viktor looked hot. Which was every time he was on camera. It was a good thing no one was around to watch him make an ass of himself. Viktor was so gorgeous and talented, it just wasn’t fair. Maybe Yuuri would tell him. He had never commented on any of Viktor’s posts before but tonight seemed like an excellent time to start. Yuuri just had to think of something witty to say. 

Yuuri could be charming. He could even be sexy when he wanted to. Pole fitness class hadn’t just been for his core strength, after all. Words were hard, but his body didn’t need words. His body needed to be doing something. Dancing or skating or walking, it didn’t matter. Not skating. Too drunk to skate.

Oh, and he had quit.

But enough of that. He was supposed to be thinking of something sexy to type, and Viktor looked so, so good in the photo he had just posted.

“Yuuri!”

It would be way easier to be sexy if that was Viktor calling out his name in bed and not his roommate shouting at him from across the room.

“Yuuri. Wake up.” Matt sounded annoyed and so, so loud. “Your phone, man. Turn it off.” 

“Sorry,” mumbled Yuuri. He groped for his glasses on his nightstand but found it empty. Crap. He had fallen asleep with his glasses on, and the nose pads were cutting into his nose. Now his glasses were going to be crooked. 

It took a few tries, but he silenced his phone (how drunk had he been to turn the ringer on?). The screen was way too bright.

1:36 PM. “Shit!” Yuuri was late. What had happened to his alarm?

And if that wasn’t his alarm, then it was texts or calls. Had someone in his family died? It was the middle of the night in Japan. His hands shook as he checked his notifications.

There will multiple text notifications from someone called “Love of My Life.” Yuuri’s heart began to race, and not in a good way. He scrolled down to the first text, skipping over a few Instagram notifications for Viktor.

1:56 AM
Sweet dreams ❤️

It had to be some kind of mistake, but there were more from today.

1:23 PM
How are you feeling? I had so much fun dancing with you last night!!!

1:25 PM
Sorry if it’s too soon, just couldn’t wait to talk to you again!

1:58 PM
Last one, I promise. I just really hope we can keep in touch.\

“You got home really late last night, man.” 

Matt’s voice made him jump, then Yuuri registered his words. Shit.

There had been a death in the Katsuki family after all. Katsuki Yuuri had died of embarrassment. He had chatted up a stranger last night. 

Yuuri looked at the text chain in the message app. He cringed when he saw that there were more messages, and he had sent the first three himself. 

12:52 AM
Here’s my number :)

1:56 AM
I’m okay
Thanks for a wonderful night ❤️

He didn’t even remember leaving the dorms, and he was still wearing his clothes from yesterday. He was still wearing his shoes. 

At least it seemed like nothing had really happened, aside from getting a random number. He was pretty lucid, no different from a usual hangover.

Yuuri rubbed his eyes and stared at his phone. “Did I...say anything last night?” he asked Matt.

Matt laughed. “You said your night was, and I quote, A-fucking-mazing, and then you passed out.” 

A-fucking-mazing? Yuuri felt hot to the tips of his ears. 

“Oh, and I found two bottles of wine in the garbage. Well, next to the garbage. They didn’t all fit.”

“Two bottles!?” Yuuri instantly regretted shrieking.

“Didn’t know you had it in you,” said Matt. “Don’t worry, I recycled them.”

It took Yuuri a minute to realize what that meant. Matt was only 19. “But you could have been caught!”

“Like I haven’t snuck alcohol in and out of here before,” snickered Matt. “Besides, it was a gesture of respect.”

Yuuri laughed nervously. “Thanks. I, uh, better get ready.”

Maybe it was a good thing he had blacked out. He didn’t want to remember anything from the night before. The texts were mortifying enough as it was.

A quick flick through his photo albums was fruitless. He hadn’t taken any pictures yesterday. That’s a relief.

There was only one thing to do. Yuuri blocked “Love of My Life” and deleted the texts. 

There was no point trying to make it to class, so he opted for a shower instead. Yuuri dressed, brushed his teeth, and gathered his supplies.

His notebooks and textbooks were where he left them, but his favorite pen wasn’t.  

He rummaged through his drawers, his backpack, and his pockets, but his blue 0.38 mm tip emulsion ink pen with the super comfort gel grip was nowhere to be found.

Had he taken it out last night? Who took a pen to a bar? Assuming that was where he had he gone. 

“Drunk Yuuri, apparently,” he muttered under his breath. He’d have to beg Mari to send him a new one, if the company even still made them. Most American pens were terrible, and he couldn’t afford to spend more than a couple bucks on a pen. At least he had a backup pen from home, though it wasn’t nearly as fancy. 

Yuuri put the mediocre pen in his backpack and headed to Chemistry, trying to forget the morning like he forgot the night before.

Fresh air roused his appetite, so he munched on a protein bar on the way. Out of habit, he reached for his phone and saw the Instagram notification he had ignored.

v-nikiforov just posted a photo.

His hangover came crashing back as he remembered. Viktor had been in Detroit for two weeks and now he was gone. Yuuri had missed his chance. The post was tagged at the airport hours ago. Yuuri recognized the fountain behind Viktor’s coffee cup, no doubt containing his favorite Caramel Macchiato. As if bidding Detroit goodbye, the caption read, Until we meet again ❤️

Before his protein bar could sour his stomach, hope bubbled up in his chest. If the movie did well, maybe there would be a sequel. Maybe they’d film in Detroit again, and he’d have another chance to glimpse his idol. Maybe he’d even get that picture. 

Yuuri knew one thing: if he got that second chance, he was going to stay stone cold sober.

Chapter Text

Yuri Plisetsky flopped down on the couch next to Viktor. “Wrap parties are boring.”

“You’ve only been to two,” Viktor pointed out. They’d had a party in LA with the full cast and crew, so the party with the skeleton crew in Detroit was small and subdued. Viktor preferred smaller gatherings, but teasing Yuri was too fun to resist. “The real fun doesn’t start until the after party, anyway.”

“After party?” Yuri curled his lip in disgust. “I can’t believe you’re going out for more drinks when we have a six AM flight.”

Viktor laughed, swirling the ice in his glass. “You’re just jealous because you’re underage.”

“Jealous of your saggy old ass? Yeah right,” Yuri scoffed. He stood up and pulled his phone from his pocket to check the time. “I’m going back to my room to call my grandpa and then I’m going to bed.”

It almost sounded responsible, but Viktor knew Yuri better than that. Viktor placed his glass on an end table and stood.

“Don’t pretend like you won’t be on your phone until two. I’ve seen you playing that cat game,” said Viktor. He plucked Yuri’s phone from his hands and held it over his head, pretending to examine his phone case.

Yuri snarled and swiped for the phone. “What the hell? Give that back!” In his leopard-print hoodie, he looked like a wild animal as he jumped and clawed at Viktor.

“Not before you apologize for calling me saggy. You hurt my feelings, Yuri.” Viktor put on an exaggerated pout, but Yuri just growled. 

“Oh, shut up, I did not.”

Viktor dangled the phone right in front of his face. “Youth is nothing to brag about.”

Yuri snatched his phone back. “Neither is being tall,” he grumbled. It was as close to an apology as Viktor was going to get out of him. With a smirk, he added, “At least I’m not going to look like a hot mess on the plane tomorrow.”

Viktor smiled down at him. “Don’t worry. When we film the sequel, we’ll do laser tag after the cast party.”

“What makes you think I’ll work with you again? And for the record, I could kick your ass at laser tag.”

“Sure you could.” Viktor resisted the urge to pat Yuri on the head. Yuri was all bite, and no matter what he said, they had worked well together. Viktor felt good about his scenes with Anya, too, but all of those scenes had been filmed on soundstages back in Los Angeles. There was something special about the experience of traveling and filming on location with Yuri. It was almost like bonding, and it made Viktor wish he had siblings. “Admit it. You’re going to miss me, little brother.”

“Shove it.” Yuri had grown out his hair for the role, and he pushed his bangs out of his eyes, still glaring at Viktor. 

Viktor wondered if Yuri would cut his hair now that they were finished. It wasn’t as long as Viktor’s was when he was Yuri’s age. “Don’t cut your hair yet,” he said. “They’ll have to fit you with a wig for any reshoots and it might not look as good.”

Yuri looked confused. “What are you—I already knew that!”

Of course you did, Viktor thought, smiling. You say you know everything, and yet you listen to my advice. 

“Stop looking at me like that!” Yuri went on. “We’re on the same flight tomorrow and we’ll be stuck on a press tour all goddamn summer.”

“Yes, but it won’t be the same!” he moaned. The press junket would be too frantic to be fun, and then it would be back to California where all he had to look forward to was seeing Makkachin. He couldn’t wait to get home to her, but she didn’t have to live in Los Angeles—Viktor could take her anywhere. Maybe Chris had been right all those years ago. Maybe he should have moved to New York. 

“It’s not my fault you don’t have a life,” Yuri said.

Viktor frowned. Makkachin was his life! And he had friends. Well, he texted with Chris occasionally. At least a couple times a month. They were both busy. And Yakov counted as a friend, didn’t he? 

“I have a life!” Viktor insisted. Yuri was already walking off. 

“Whatever, old man. Don’t miss the flight,” he said, waving a hand behind him. 

Viktor wasn’t old, and he had a life. He had friends, and people liked him. Most of the cast and crew came to the after party, and that had to mean something. They had seemed really happy when he bought everyone’s drinks, too. Viktor had tagged the club on his Instagram as an invitation, and the post had gotten plenty of likes. 

So why was he sitting all alone at the bar? 

The music was good, the drinks were tasty, and all around him, people were dancing and chatting. 

“Thanks again, Viktor!” Sara from makeup called out as she breezed by hand in hand with Mila. Mila (who wasn’t old enough to drink but was old enough to get into the club) echoed her thanks, and Viktor smiled back. Behind them, Sara’s brother gave him a curt nod. He was also in makeup, but Viktor couldn’t remember his name—Sara did his makeup and her skills were superior. 

Viktor didn’t have many scenes with her, but if he had one bone to pick with the script, it was that Mila Babicheva was vastly underutilized. Her character survived the ending, so maybe she could do more if they were lucky enough to make a sequel. He’d have to ask Lilia once he got home. Lilia had made a brief appearance at the actual wrap party before taking her jet back to California.

Sara and Mila danced nearby to a peppy song, and even What’s-his-name Crispino seemed to be enjoying himself. Viktor laughed to himself. Even if he wasn’t dancing, he could watch other people dance. It was fun enough.

He sighed and summoned the bartender. “Another martini, please,” he said. 

“Make it two.”

Viktor turned at the sound of a smooth voice next to him. Dark, tousled hair and blue-rimmed glasses framed a striking profile, but when his new companion faced him, Viktor was hit with the full force of deep brown eyes. 

“Can I see some ID?” asked the bartender. 

“Of course,” said his companion, breaking eye contact to pull out a wallet. Viktor couldn’t look away, cursing the dim lighting when all he wanted to do was take in every inch of this person beside him. 

Viktor’s companion turned back to him, and only then did Viktor realize how close they were. Had his eyelashes been that long before?

There was something familiar about him, but even with his memory, Viktor was sure he’d never forget this face. He opened his mouth to speak, but words failed him and he just stared. What could he say to such a beautiful stranger? 

The beautiful stranger smiled and Viktor’s cheeks warmed. 

“You’re even more handsome in person.“ That voice dripped with confidence, and his eyes locked onto Viktor. They might as well have been alone in the room. 

“You’re a fan?” Viktor asked. His companion must have seen the Instagram post. Viktor was fiercely grateful for the existence of social media. 

A flush crept onto the stranger’s cheeks, and Viktor had never seen a lovelier shade of pink. 

“From the moment I saw you step out on the ice,” he said. The first scene of On Thin Ice, Viktor realized. “You’re captivating, Viktor.”

Viktor couldn’t place the accent, but he needed to hear his name like that again. No one had ever called him captivating before. 

“Two vodka martinis,” said the bartender. Viktor blinked. 

Oh, right. We’re at a club, he thought. Two drinks sat on the bar in front of them. The handsome stranger reached for his wallet again, but the bartender shook his head. 

“Your friend’s getting everyone’s tabs tonight,” said the bartender, pointing to Viktor. Oh, if only the bartender knew how badly Viktor wanted to this stranger to be his friend. 

His companion left a tip and turned back to Viktor. “You’re so nice,” he said, drawing out the words. “I knew you’d be nice.” He wasn’t slurring, but Viktor was pretty sure the martini wasn’t his first drink.

“We’re celebrating,” said Viktor, hoping his companion didn’t find it pathetic that he was sitting alone at a party. But he wasn’t alone anymore.

“That’s right, you finished shooting your movie! Congratulations!” The stranger grinned and held up his drink, adding something that sounded like, “Kanpai!”

Viktor had heard that word before. Japanese, he thought. I need to learn Japanese.

“Kanpai,” he repeated, clinking his glass with his companion’s. A little vodka splashed out but he didn’t care. They both downed their drinks in a few gulps, and his companion took his hand. 

“Dance with me, Viktor.” 

All Viktor could do was nod, abandoning his glass and letting himself be pulled onto the dance floor. 

Music pounded in his ears, too loud for talking out on the floor, but the longer they danced, the less he wanted to talk. Words were overrated. 

How could anyone make club dancing so graceful? Viktor considered himself a good dancer, but trying to impress his new friend was pointless. With each roll of his body against Viktor’s, he tore away pieces of Viktor’s heart, then his mind. 

Viktor had no idea hips could move like that (at least not on a dance floor). Hiding those strong thighs under denim was downright criminal, and the rest of him was perfect; soft in exactly the right places. They were too drunk for anything but dancing, but every brush of flesh had his imagination running miles ahead. 

Breathless and glowing, he whispered things to his companion, in Russian, in English, maybe some French. Whatever language seemed the most tantalizing in the moment. Words passed by his own ears, unintelligible and beautiful as lips grazed his skin. Viktor ached to kiss those lips but it wasn’t the time, because when they kissed (and it would happen), they were both going to remember every second. 

The handsome stranger pulled him to a couch and they both sat to catch their breath. Viktor wanted to know everything about him: his name, his dog’s name (Viktor could just tell he was a dog person), his favorite food, his favorite color…

He opened with “Why didn’t you come find me sooner? I’m leaving tomorrow.”

His new friend was still red from dancing. “Had to work up the confidence. Alcohol helps.” Viktor laughed and his companion flushed deeper. 

“I never would have guessed you were shy,” said Viktor. 

His companion straightened his glasses. “I had classes, too.”

“Oh, you’re a student?” Viktor had worked with private tutors since he was in third grade, but college fascinated him. “What do you study?”

“Biomedical engineering.”

Viktor’s pulse was quickening again. “That sounds fascinating! Tell me more about it.”

His companion shook his head. “I don’t want to bore you.”

“I don’t think you could if you tried,” Viktor said, touching his new friend’s arm. “You’re a good dancer and a genius. You’re amazing.”

“You’re the amazing one,” said his new friend. He touched Viktor’s thigh and Viktor could have squealed. “You’re the best actor of your generation.”

That was a ridiculous exaggeration but his new friend’s face was genuine. Viktor tilted his head, taking the compliment with feigned coyness. “You really think so?”

But he never got to hear the answer. 

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry to interrupt, but you’re really Viktor Nikiforov, aren’t you?”

Viktor sent his new friend an apologetic smile before summoning his trademark look for the interloper. “I am. What’s your name?”

His new friend—Viktor really needed to ask him his name, or at least come up with a better moniker—watched with keen interest. There were worse things than being interrupted by a fan in front of a guy he was desperate to impress. Posting his location had worked splendidly, Yakov’s advice be damned. 

“Um, I’m Candace. I’ve been a big fan of yours for a long time! I still can’t believe you came to Detroit, and that you invited your fans here. I was hoping I could meet you but I didn’t think it would happen!”

Viktor smiled, waiting for her to finish her thought. “I’ve had such a wonderful time here in Detroit! I’m glad you caught me. Want to take a picture?” 

Candace nodded. “Oh my gosh, would you mind?”

“Not at all.” Viktor pulled away from the handsome stranger (But are we strangers anymore?) and stood, trying not to show his reluctance. Viktor put an arm around her shoulder, letting his bangs fall into his eyes as he summoned a perfect smile for the selfie. 

“I loved you in On Thin Ice!” she gushed. 

“Thank you! That means so much to me,” Viktor said. He couldn’t believe the show had been so popular in Detroit. Maybe it was because Detroit was so close to Canada. 

“I know I’m being annoying, but could I please have an autograph?” Candace asked, glancing at his friend. “All I have is a receipt, but…” 

“Of course! You’re not being annoying at all.” Viktor reached into his jacket, but he couldn’t find anything to write with. It wasn’t like he got asked for autographs a lot. “I don’t suppose you have a pen?” 

“Oh, um, no…” Candace’s face fell. 

“Here, take mine,” said his handsome companion (Accurate, but still too impersonal). He pulled a blue and silver pen out of his back pocket and handed it to Viktor. Viktor had never seen a pen like it before.

“Thank you!” Viktor squeezed the gel grip and it gave under his fingers like a waterbed. “Wow! It’s so squishy!” 

“Isn’t it? It’s really comfortable to write with, too,” said his future boyfriend (There we go). 

To Candace, Viktor wrote. The ink flowed in a beautiful, narrow strip, as smoothly as if the pen were an extension of his hand. “Amazing!” he cried as he continued writing. Thanks for your support. I ❤️ Detroit. He signed his autograph and handed her the receipt. 

“Thank you so much!” Candace clutched the paper to her chest.

“I can’t wait for you to see the movie,” said Viktor, still squeezing the grip of the pen. He wanted to squeeze it forever, or at least until he could squeeze his future boyfriend’s thighs instead. 

“Me too! Well, um, thanks again! As you were. Sorry.” Candace laughed nervously and scrambled back to her friends. Viktor turned his full attention back to his future boyfriend.

“You really made her night,” he said, eyes so full of affection that Viktor wanted to kiss his cheek right then. Viktor shook his head, rolling the pen between his fingers.

“It’s the other way around,” Viktor insisted, sitting down close enough for their thighs to touch. “I didn’t think anyone remembered On Thin Ice.”

“How could anyone forget it? I never missed it, Viktor,” said his future boyfriend, serious as a heart attack. Vitkor’s name was brand new every time he said it. He adjusted his glasses, scrunching up his adorable nose. “It meant so much to me, and you really inspired my skating.”

“Really? You’re a figure skater?” asked Viktor. 

His future husband nodded. No wonder he was so graceful. Even though Viktor had always taken the show seriously, it had a reputation as a fluffy teen drama. He had no idea the show had inspired anyone. Viktor had watched tons of competitions for inspiration while he was filming, and he still watched skating when he caught it on TV. Was that why his future boyfriend looked familiar?

“Did you compete?” Viktor asked. 

“Oh, I wasn’t that good,” he replied, pressing his lips together. Viktor was going to protest, but his future husband added, “I sort of stopped to focus on school.”

“Wow!” said Viktor, nodding along. “You’re so dedicated! So, from a skater’s perspective, was the show authentic?”

His future boyfriend let out a breathy laugh that crinkled his eyes and wrinkled his nose. Viktor wanted to see that laugh every day for the rest of his life. Multiple times a day. First thing in the morning and last thing before bed, at the very least. 

“Well…” 

“Be honest with me,” said Viktor, learning in. “I can take it.”

“Not really.” His future husband scratched the back of his neck. “I mean, from what I’ve heard, it wasn’t like it was on the show, you know, dating and stuff. Plenty of drama, but not like that.” 

Viktor remembered filming a lot of scenes involving disastrous dates and wild parties, even some big confessions and confrontations on the podium. 

His future husband went on. “It didn’t matter to me. That show was everything when I was growing up.” 

Viktor he put a hand over his heart. “That show will always be near and dear to me. I’m glad it meant so much to you.” 

“Your skating was incredible,” his future husband gushed. “You would have gotten better component scores than some actual skaters.”

“I’m sure that’s not true. And it was all Coach Artinian’s doing.”

His future husband’s eyes sparkled under the dim lights in the club. “I don’t care how good your coach is. Nobody can start skating at 16 and learn to jump as fast as you did.”

His heart rate had long since recovered from dancing, but Viktor wondered if his future husband’s pulse was pounding as hard as his own. 

“Skating was always fun,” Viktor admitted. “Sometimes I wished I had started sooner. Don’t you miss it?” He regretted the question as soon as his future husband’s smile faltered. 

“Something your show definitely got right was the pressure.” Viktor had to lean in closer to hear him now. “No matter how hard I worked, I just wasn’t cut out for it.”

Viktor wanted to understand. Viktor wasn’t a real skater, but the skating he had done for the show had come naturally to him. Acting was as simple as breathing. The movie he had just finished was the closest a role had ever come to challenging him. Modeling had always been easy, too. In fact, Viktor couldn’t remember having to work at anything. But his future husband was different. Viktor could see it as plain as day.

“You should be proud,” said Viktor. “I only played a skater on TV, but you actually skated, and now you’re an engineering student. That takes so much drive. It’s incredible.”

His future husband looked down at his hands. “Not really.”

Confidence was sexy as hell on him, but this vulnerable side made Viktor burn with the desire to build him up until he saw himself the way Viktor saw him.

Viktor touched his future husband’s chin, coaxing his face up until they were looking into each other’s eyes. “It is. I’m very impressed.”

Those huge brown eyes glistened, then blinked, and the confident glint was back. “You’re pretty impressive yourself.”

Those were unmistakably bedroom eyes. If only they hadn’t been drinking. Viktor took his future husband's hand in his. “Can I give you my number? This gorgeous guy let me borrow an amazing pen.”

His future husband laughed. “You can just put it in my phone,” he said, reaching into his pocket with his free hand. 

He handed Viktor his phone, and Viktor reluctantly let him go to take it. He added himself into the contacts as Love of My Life ❤️ and saved the entry. When he passed the phone back, his future husband covered Viktor’s hand with his own, his soft fingers leaving Viktor’s skin tingling. 

His future husband tapped out a message and Viktor’s phone buzzed in his pocket a moment later.

Viktor wanted to ask him out a real date, but what was the point when he was headed back to California in a matter of hours? Would it be too forward to ask his future husband to come with him?

A voice that sounded suspiciously like Yuri’s told him, Yes, that would be too much.

“Care for another dance?” Viktor asked, offering his hand. It was a good start.

His future husband took it and stood. On his tiptoes, he was nose to nose with Viktor. He opened his mouth to speak, then swayed on the spot.

Viktor steadied him with a hand on his lower back. “Are you all right?” 

“I…” His future husband swallowed. “I have to go.”

Was it the lighting or did his future husband suddenly look a little green? “Do you need me to call you an car?” Viktor asked.

“No no no, it’s okay. I just need some air.”

“Are you sure?” Viktor asked, letting his hand fall to his side.

“Yeah. Yes. I‘ll text you when I get home.” His future husband stepped back, sweat beading at his forehead.

“All right,” said Viktor. He didn’t like ending things like this, but he had to respect his future husband’s decisions. “Oh! Your pen!” Viktor pulled it out of his jacket pocket and held it out.

His future husband had a hand over his mouth, but it sounds like he said, “Keep it!” Was he going to be sick? Viktor made to follow him, but his future husband shook his head rapidly. “I promise I’ll be fine. I’ll text you, Viktor!”

And he was gone. 

Viktor stared at the door, wrestling with the urge to follow. No, he thought. He’s an adult. And Viktor really didn’t want to smell or see vomit, even if it was his future husband’s vomit. 

Instead, pulled out his phone. In spite of the abrupt ending to the night, he smiled when he saw the text from earlier. 

12:52 AM
Here’s my number :)

Viktor stored the number as Future Husband. He had no idea how long he stared at his phone before he sat down with another drink. The cast and crew danced around him, but he didn’t pay much attention. Viktor couldn’t stop thinking about his future husband. He was smart, talented, graceful, Japanese, adorable, hopefully not too sick…

Viktor sighed with relief when his phone vibrated.

1:56 AM
I’m okay 
Thanks for a wonderful night ❤️

His future husband was all right. He’d probably have a horrible hangover in the morning, but he was okay. Viktor typed Sweet dreams ❤️ and hit Send. 

The club would have stayed open longer if he wanted, but things were winding down so he paid the bill and called for a ride back to the hotel.

Viktor’s future husband filled his dreams, dreams so sweet they left him smiling even when his alarm woke him a mere two hours later. Was it too early to text back? Was his future husband a morning person? They still had so much to learn about each other.

“At least one of us deserves our beauty sleep,” he said to himself. Viktor got out of bed, showered, and dressed, transferring the blue pen to the pocket of his sweatshirt. He was still smiling as he packed up the last of his things. 

He resisted texting on the ride to the airport and his future husband remained nameless, but they had time. Viktor was sure that this was going to last forever.

Chapter Text

“Good morning, Yuri!” Viktor lifted his sunglasses as soon as he saw Yuri frowning at him from across the airport lounge. 

“Why are you smiling?” Yuri asked. His backpack hit the floor with a thud when he reached Viktor. “You look like shit.”

Viktor’s smile faltered but he quickly replaced it—and his sunglasses. The shades weren’t intended to keep him from being recognized (even if he wanted to pretend that they were) but to hide exactly what Yuri had pointed out. He wasn’t magic with a makeup brush like Sara, and no amount of concealer had been able to mask the bags under his eyes. 

“Worth it,” said Viktor, trying to sound mysterious.

Yuri shrugged. “Whatever.” He flopped into the seat opposite Viktor, eyed fixed on Viktor’s breakfast.

Viktor slid the menu over to him and took a long sip of his quadruple shot caramel macchiato. The airport lounge served coffee but Viktor was addicted to Starbucks. Chris would be so ashamed, he thought.

Did his future husband drink coffee? Did he prefer sweet or savory food? Was he sleeping right now? It was all Viktor wanted to talk about.

“Aren’t you going to ask me about the party?” 

Yuri glared at him, but the server approached before he could speak.

“Something for breakfast?” 

“Yeah,” said Yuri. “I’ll take a western omelet and blueberry pancakes with whipped cream and syrup. Oh, and a large orange juice.” 

The server nodded and Viktor blinked at Yuri from behind his sunglasses. “Hungry?” 

“So what?” Yuri propped his feet up on the coffee table between them, dirty sneaker soles dangerously close to Viktor’s french toast. “I’m still growing, and Yakov paid for these first class tickets so we might as well make the most of them.”

Wrinkling his nose, Viktor wrapped his napkin around his hand and pushed Yuri’s sneakers off of the table. “Don’t be disgusting,” he said.

“You’re one to talk,” Yuri retorted. “I don’t wanna know who you hooked up with last night.”

Viktor pressed a hand to his heart. Yuri was so crass. “It wasn’t like that! Last night, I met the man I’m going to marry.” 

Yuri raised an eyebrow. “Okay, that’s just creepy.”

“Creepy?” Viktor gasped. “We danced and talked and it was perfect.” 

“Oh yeah,” said Yuri. The server returned with Yuri’s juice and he gulped down half the glass at once. “Baba told me you danced with some fan of yours until he ran off. Creepy.”

If Yuri thought Mila was old, there was no hope for Viktor, but he put the nickname aside. “He wasn’t just a fan! He was a figure skater and now he’s studying to be an engineer.”

Yuri took another drink. “Uh huh. And what’s his name?” 

“I don’t know,” Viktor admitted. “But he did give me his phone number!”

The server brought Yuri his food and he shoveled pancakes into his mouth. “Was that before or after you proposed?” he asked, mid-chew.

“I didn’t propose,” said Viktor. “Wait, should I have?” That would be one way to convince him to come to LA. 

“No, dumbass.” Yuri started on his omelet, eating like it was his first meal in days. “You only just met the guy.”

“But Yuri, he was just oozing with…” Viktor grasped for the right word. “Eros.” 

“The fuck does that—” Yuri almost choked on his hash browns. “Gross! I’m trying to eat here!” 

Was this just Yuri’s immaturity? Viktor chuckled. “Oh, Yuri. Little kitten. Maybe in a few years you’ll understand.”

“First,” Yuri chewed a huge bite of food and swallowed, “ew. And second, this has nothing to do with age. You’re just awkward as fuck.”

“Says the child talking with his mouth full.”

Yuri rolled his eyes. “Look. You’re a...decent actor.” Coming from Yuri, that was quite a compliment, but Yuri cut him off before he could revel in it. “But you have the social capacity of a toddler.”

Viktor didn’t understand. He charmed reporters and fans alike, and all of his costars (with the exception of Yuri, who protested too much) said he was a pleasure to work with. And even though the paparazzi mostly left him alone, Viktor had never seen a candid shot of himself where he wasn’t smiling. His social graces were utter perfection. 

Meanwhile, the one time Yuri had been approached by a reporter, he had flicked the guy off. 

“What are you talking about?” Viktor asked, crossing his legs.

Yuri finished his meals and sighed. “You met this guy once, you don’t even know his name, but you’re going to marry him? No wonder he ran off. Life isn’t some movie. In the real world, that’s fucking creepy.”

Had his future husband faked being sick to get away? The thought hadn’t even occurred to him before. Had Viktor scared him off? 

But his memories said otherwise—memories of the way their bodies fit together on the dance floor, the easy laughter, the lingering gazes. Viktor couldn’t remember ever connecting with another person so quickly. No, he had to believe in his future husband. It was early, but Viktor was sure there would be multiple texts waiting for him by the time they landed in LA. Then Yuri would believe him. 

Viktor put a tip on the table and stood, coffee in hand. “It’s time to go to the gate,” he said, lifting his handbag over his shoulder. Yuri rolled his eyes again but grabbed his backpack and followed Viktor out. 

“I’m taking the monorail,” Yuri announced.

“Have fun!” 

Yuri grunted, but there was a bounce to his step as he headed off. Viktor chuckled. Monorails were interesting, but the novelty had long since worn off for him. He’d do plenty of sitting on the flight. And even though his head was certainly better off than his future husband’s this morning, a walk sounded pleasant. Too bad it gave his mind a chance to wander.

You have the social capacity of a toddler. 

Viktor tried not to let Yuri’s words get to him. Was he that bad? Growing up all over Europe had made it difficult for Viktor to make lasting friendships, but he was more than capable of conducting himself in public. He’d had boyfriends, though none of them had been too serious. Still, maybe Yuri had a point. He had to take things slowly with his future husband. If Viktor ruined his chance at happiness, he would never forgive himself.

A compromise, then. He would hold off on sending any texts, but maybe a subtle gesture was in order. Instagram had brought them together, so it felt like a safe bet.

The terminal was sleek and modern but not terribly picturesque. Viktor vaguely remembered going by a fountain on his way to caffeine. It was on the way to the gate, so it would have to do.

The fountain wasn’t as pretty as he remembered. It shot jets of water up in patterns over a black platform. The streams landed with pleasant little splooshes, but it wasn’t exactly The Bellagio and finding a good angle was tough. Viktor held out his coffee in front of the fountain, making sure his name was visible, and snapped a picture. Considering his surroundings, it wasn’t a bad picture, and he had the perfect caption.

Until we meet again ❤️

His footsteps were lighter the rest of the walk to the gate. Yuri was already there, hunched over his phone in one of the seats. He looked up at Viktor, eyes narrowed, and held up his phone. It was the fountain picture.

“Seriously?” he muttered. “Did you even hear a word I said?”

Viktor put his bag in a seat in the row across from Yuri’s. “I heard you. I simply chose not to listen.”

Yuri sneered and shoved in his earbuds. “Do what you want, but you know I’m right.”

Viktor sat down and pulled out his own phone. His picture already had dozens of likes, and he wondered if his future husband was among them. Viktor had never dated a fan before, but none of his fans had ever ensnared him like this. 

Sneaking a glance at Yuri, Viktor decided that scouring his followers for anyone who looked like his future husband was a bad idea. He looked through his feed instead.

Yuri had posted a picture of the tram and captioned it Red. Viktor sighed. Yuri was truly atrocious at captions. 

Chris had posted a picture from one of the network morning show green rooms. It sounded like he was appearing to promote his new podcast (which Viktor kept meaning to listen to). It had been a long time since they had talked, but they were both busy. Chris hosted some sort of singing show that Viktor kept intending to watch, but he never knew when it was on.

Maybe my social skills do leave something to be desired, he thought. He liked Chris’s picture and opened his messaging app. His heart leapt when he saw the brief exchange from last night, but he scrolled through the other messages to find his last conversation with Chris. 

Two months had gone by, Viktor realized with a wince. Well, he had been filming and working non-stop. 

He tapped out a message. Just wrapped the movie! You look good this morning. 

Chris was quick to respond. I look good every morning ;) or have you forgotten?

Viktor should have expected that. No one could ever forget you, he replied. 

He should have expected the barrage of winking faces, too. Viktor was tempted to mention that he was taken now, but Yuri’s words ran through his mind again. He had to slow down.

Chris’s message snapped him out of it. I’m on in 30, hope you’ll be watching, followed by a kissing face.

Sorry, typed Viktor, I’ll be on a plane :(

DTW->LAX right? Congrats on the movie btw. Come on my podcast and we’ll plug it.

Chris abused the winking face, Viktor decided, but the podcast was a good idea. There were probably ways to record an interview remotely, but if he could squeeze in a visit to Chris, all the better. Surely Yakov would go for that.

Would love to!!! I’ll check when the press tour goes thru NYC, he replied.

After a moment, Chris sent him a selfie flanked by two people with brushes and makeup palettes. Time to go get prettier. Miss u ;)

Viktor typed, Good luck!! Talk soon!! He locked his phone and looked triumphantly at Yuri as if to prove how social he was, but Yuri had pulled his hood down over his eyes and dozed off. Viktor clicked his tongue. If he’d have known Yuri would fall asleep, he definitely would have mentioned his future husband to Chris. 

But it was hard to be annoyed with Yuri while he was sleeping. He looked like a kitten, all curled up in the chair. It reminded him of filming; Yuri had a habit of falling asleep on set and Viktor was always the one wake him when it was time to film. Much like a cat, Yuri was extra grouchy when he woke up.

Viktor would get him up if he didn’t hear the boarding call. They were going to be spending a lot of time in airports over the summer and Viktor was almost looking forward to it. He liked watching over Yuri, which was good because Anya seemed to hate it. Viktor and Anya had good on-screen chemistry but when the cameras weren’t rolling, she kept to herself, usually on the phone in her trailer. She was serious about her career and Viktor respected that. Sleeping Beauty had done well at the box office, and Anya had the sort of classic beauty that had been inspiring painters and photographers for generations. Just like Viktor.

Before this film, Viktor had kept to himself on set, too. Even when he had been part of a cast of dozens of his peers, he had really only spent time with Chris (and that was only because they were fooling around in his trailer). It seemed like a lifetime ago. 

It wasn’t that he was trying to be aloof. Traveling with his mother had taught him that there was a time and a place for everything, and everything was temporary. Live sets weren’t that different from practices and completions. He was on when he needed to be on, and he kept distractions to a minimum. 

Things were different now. Yuri needed guidance. He had his grandfather, and he had Yakov, but he needed someone a little closer to his age to keep him out of trouble.

“We now welcome our First Class passengers to join us at the gate to begin bordering.”

Viktor tapped Yuri’s shoulder and Yuri’s eyes snapped open. 

“I wasn’t sleeping,” he said. 

Viktor smiled down at him. “Just resting your eyes, I’m sure. Come on, time to board.” 

Yakov had booked them on opposite ends of the cabin, but Yuri couldn’t get into much trouble on the plane. 

Once in his seat, Viktor checked his photo—a couple hundred likes now, but Chris had called him “basic” in the comments. It didn’t matter. His future husband would know it was for him.

Even though he hadn’t received any texts or comments from the object of his affection, it was probably time to stop ignoring Yakov’s voicemails.

Yakov’s screeching voice made his temples pound. He pulled the phone away from his ear as the recording played. 

“What the hell do you think you were doing, inviting a whole city to go clubbing with you? One of these days it’s going to get you killed! And as if that weren’t enough, you go out drinking all night? You’re on your own if you miss your flight, do you hear that? How do you think this makes you look? And what kind of example are you setting?”

Viktor sighed and deleted the message before Yakov was done yelling. 

On to the next, he thought, queueing up the other voicemail.

“I see you made it to the airport, and that your phone is in perfect working order. Try to sleep on the plane because I need to see you this afternoon. Call me when you land.”

Great. No time to see Makkachin or rest. Viktor pulled out his sleep mask and stowed his bag. He put his phone on airplane mode and slid it into his jacket pocket. It clicked when it hit the pen and Victor smiled. He reached in and gave the gel grip a squeeze. 

It was a favor. Like Cinderella’s glass slipper or a handkerchief in an old movie (only not disgusting). Viktor drew it out of his pocket to admire. 

No monograms or labels gave any hints at its owner’s name, but at least his future husband wasn’t a pen biter. In fact, the pen was meticulously cared for. Aside from the well-worn grip, it looked brand new. It even still had the label, all in what Viktor recognized as Japanese. He couldn’t wait to start studying the language. Viktor brushed some lint from the rubber grip and tucked the pen back in his pocket. 

Blue, he thought as he drifted off to sleep. He likes blue. 

Viktor didn’t remember taking off when the plane touched down at LAX. He switched on his phone, dismayed when once again, he hadn’t missed any texts. 

His future husband must be sleeping, he decided. Instead of wallowing, Viktor sent a text to the dog sitter to let him know he’d be home soon. Leo responded with a picture of Makkachin on her morning walk, which perked Viktor up better than the coffee he’d had at the airport. Leo deserved a bonus not just for taking good care of Makkachin but for supplying Viktor with a constant stream of photos. Viktor wasn’t sure how he would have gotten through without it. 

Viktor herded a groggy Yuri to baggage claim and collected both of their bags. Yuri didn’t start to perk up until they were in the parking garage. 

“That seat was badass. I’m never flying coach again,” he said, stretching his arms above his head.

“Just wait until you see how much those tickets cost when you have to buy them yourself,” said Viktor. He understood the feeling, but even with his syndication savings account he could rarely justify the expense. Yakov must have found some good investors to even get them this flight. 

“Won’t be a problem,” snorted Yuri, climbing into the passenger seat. “Unlike you, my career is going to get off the ground before I’m ancient.”

Viktor shook his head. “Keep talking like that and you’ll be bankrupt before you’re my age.” 

“Whatever.” Yuri buckled himself in and pulled out his phone. 

Viktor was halfway to Yuri’s grandfather’s house when a call came in over the Bluetooth. Oh, right, I knew I was forgetting something. He summoned a cheery tone. “Good morning, Yakov!” 

Yakov sounded much less cheerful. “You were supposed to call me. Your flight landed an hour ago.”

Viktor suppressed a yawn. “Baggage claim took a while, and I had to keep Yuri from getting lost. It’s a big airport.”

“I wasn’t lost!” Yuri protested. Viktor didn’t remind him that he had almost wandered into customs while looking for a bathroom.

“Well, take him home and meet me at the studio at noon. I need to talk to you about this movie.”

“Why just him?” Yuri demanded. “I’ve got just as much screen time.”

“Yes, but you need your rest,” said Yakov. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow morning.”

Yuri snickered and went back to playing on his phone. 

“When do I get to rest?” Viktor whined. He had actually gotten good sleep on the plane, but the thought of coming home to Makkachin only to turn around and leave for a meeting broke his heart. Plus, he still smelled like an airplane.

“As much as you try to convince the world otherwise, Vitya, you are an adult,” grunted Yakov. 

“Can we at least meet at the cafeteria? I’m starving.”

“Fine. Noon.” Yakov ended the call.

“Sounds like you’re in trouble,” said Yuri. 

“That’s just Yakov’s way of saying he cares,” Viktor replied. He turned onto Yuri’s street. “We still have a lot of details to iron out for the press tour. Lilia wants to promote this movie a little differently. It’s exciting, isn’t it?”

“If you say so.” But Viktor caught Yuri smiling out of the corner of his eye. 

“Do you need a hand with your bag?” Viktor asked, pulling into Yuri’s grandfather’s driveway. 

“No! God, Viktor, just pop your trunk! I’m not a kid.” Yuri jumped out of the car and slammed the door behind him. He grabbed his bag and slammed the trunk, too. 

Viktor rolled down the window. “Get some rest, little kitten! I’ll see you in a few days!”

“Up yours, old man!” 

That’s was code for I’ll miss you, too.

 

Chapter Text

If traffic cooperated, Viktor would have just enough time to get home, pay Leo, pet Makkachin, and shower before he had to meet Yakov. 

He’d been lucky that his filming schedule hadn’t conflicted with any of Leo’s competitions. There was no one he trusted more to watch Makkachin. 

Skaters, Viktor decided, were good people. A brilliant thought struck him then. Maybe Leo knows my future husband! 

But the thought shattered when he remembered that his future husband had said he was never good enough to compete. Viktor doubted it had anything to do with a lack of skill—anyone who could dance like that would be breathtaking on the ice. 

It left Viktor even more determined to marry him. His future husband needed someone to boost his confidence (without alcohol). Maybe it was time to send that text. 

But it was harder to focus on anything else when his favorite girl was so close. Viktor pulled up to his condo and almost ran to the door. The moment he pushed the door open, Makkachin overwhelmed him with puppy kisses. Did Makkachin associate the smell of airplanes with Viktor?  

“Hello, beautiful!” he cooed, scratching behind both of her ears. “Have you been a good girl? Of course you have!” 

“Welcome back, Viktor,” Leo called, getting up from the couch. His duffel bag was already packed by the door. “How was the flight?”

“Slept like a baby,” Viktor replied, straightening to look at him. “Thanks again for all the pictures. You have no idea how much that helped.”

Leo grinned. “She’s just so photogenic, I couldn’t help myself.”

Viktor agreed. “I know you have to get to the rink, but we should talk soon about your schedule for the next few months. I’ve got a promotional tour coming up.” Makkachin’s ears drooped as if she had understood him, and Viktor’s heart sank.

“I’ve got some trips coming up, but let me know when and I’ll see what I can do. Count me in for anything during my off-season!” 

Viktor handed him an envelope. “There’s more in there than we discussed, but I won’t take any of it back. You’re a godsend.” 

Leo shook his head but accepted the money. “My mom’s allergic to dogs, so I just feel lucky to get to spend time with Makkachin,” he said, picking up his bag and tucking the envelope inside. “If I’m in town, I’m happy to do it.”

“I’ll text you when I know my schedule, and you can send yours. And tell Coach Artinian I say hello!” Viktor said as he saw Leo out the door.

Leo turned back to face him. “I will! He always asks about you. I think he still wishes he got to train you for real. You should stop by the rink sometime. Might be fun to put on a pair of skates again, right?”

“Oh, it’s been years,” said Viktor with a laugh. “I’m sure I’d just embarrass myself. But maybe I can see you compete sometime?” 

“You totally should! If you can. I mean, I know you’re busy.”

“I’d love to go. Send me your schedule.” He’d always enjoyed competitions before, and going to support a friend sounded even better than researching for a role. Leo bid them farewell and Viktor patted Makkachin’s head. “I’m sorry, girl, but Yakov wants me to meet him in a little bit. I hate leaving you so soon.” 

Makkachin whined and Viktor wondered how mad Yakov would be if he brought her with him to the studio. He wouldn’t even have time to unpack, but that reminded him of something in his bag.

“I have a present for you!” He searched his carry on bag until he found the s squeaky hockey puck toy he’d bought for her. Makkachin brightened and started chewing it right away. 

He couldn’t take Makkachin to the studio, and he probably couldn’t take Makkachin to see Leo compete. Maybe Leo would have a competition in Detroit? Hockey was so popular there that there was bound to be a big rink. Viktor checked his phone again. It would be around 1:30 in the afternoon back in Detroit, and he couldn’t resist any longer.

He typed the message before he could lose his nerve. 

How are you feeling? I had so much fun dancing with you last night!!!

The message sent successfully, and Viktor stared at his phone for a full two minutes, heart thumping as he pet Makkachin with his other hand. 

Nothing. Maybe his future husband was big on sleep. Or maybe Yuri was right, he thought. 

Either he hadn’t seen any of Viktor’s messages yet or he didn’t use read receipts. That was fine. Viktor turned them off, too. Most people did. It was probably nothing. He sent another message to explain himself.

Sorry if it’s too early, just couldn’t wait to talk to you again!

A shower would help him relax. Viktor headed to the bathroom and Makkachin followed, squeaking away as he washed and dressed. He checked his phone.

Still nothing. 

One more text couldn’t hurt. Viktor didn’t want to sound too desperate but he couldn’t resist.

Last one, I promise. I just really hope we can keep in touch.

With traffic, he’d have to leave soon if he wanted to be even close to on time, but Yakov would understand if he spent every second he could snuggling his dog. Her food and water bowls were freshly filled (bless Leo de la Iglesia) so Viktor let her out to relieve herself and run around the yard. 

When he couldn’t put it off any longer, he brought Makkachin in and fed her a treat, promising he’d be back soon. 

He didn’t get any texts on the way to the studio, and Yakov was less understanding than Viktor thought he’d be.

Instead of listening to Yakov chew him out, he wondered if his future husband was all right. Viktor didn’t want him to be sick, but it would explain why he hadn’t texted back.

“Vitya! Stop daydreaming and listen. Are you still hungover?”

“I don’t get hangovers,” said Viktor. He sipped his iced tea and peered down over the top of his sunglasses. 

“You’re not 22 anymore.”

Ouch. Viktor shot him a fake smile. “Thanks for the reminder.” He waved his hand in the air and went on. “You want me to keep interacting with fans on social media to promote this movie from the ground up.”

“That’s...yes,” said Yakov. He knew that Viktor always came through when it counted. “The events we’ve scheduled aren’t going to attract large crowds, but we think we can use that to our advantage.” 

“You must really believe in this movie,” said Viktor. “Is it odd to be working with your ex-wife again?”

Yakov narrowed his eyes. “I don’t see how that’s any of your business, but we can be civil. We’re adults. You should try it.” 

Viktor stifled a yawn. “Is that all? We could have had this meeting over the phone.”

“You’re going to complain when I bought you lunch?” Yakov’s head was getting red. Maybe they should have eaten inside—Los Angeles was much sunnier than Detroit, but sunshine was overrated. 

“I’ve got some SPF 50 in my bag,” Viktor offered. 

Yakov ignored him. “We both know this movie is a departure from your recent work. In a way, it’s going back to your roots.”

That was true. Even though this film was grittier than On Thin Ice ever was, it was definitely going to appeal to a young demographic. Anya was a proven winner with teens and young adults, and Yuri would be a huge draw. Viktor was the only wildcard, and they both knew it. 

“I’ve been sitting in on some edits,” Yakov continued. He sounded almost reluctant when he added, “It’s good, Viktor, some of your best work. Don’t let it go to your head.”

Viktor grinned. “You and I both know it’s too late for that, but I’m flattered.”

Yakov went on as if Viktor hadn’t said anything. “A traditional marketing campaign isn’t going to attract the viewers we want, so we’ll go to them. Let it become their movie.” 

Marketing always rubbed Viktor the wrong way—it felt manipulative—but he had been in the business long enough to understand it. “In other words, keep doing what I’m doing?” 

“This isn’t my area of expertise, Vitya,” Yakov said with a sigh. “I can barely keep up with you kids online. I’m leaving it up to the three of you. But please, before I lose what little hair I have left, stop broadcasting your location every time you leave your house. Keep it to official events.”

Viktor pulled off his sunglasses and set them on the table. “You asked me to use social media. That’s how you use it.”

“Look, if this movie does as well as I think it will, your life is going to change. You won’t be able to avoid the paparazzi much longer. I’m just thinking about your safety,” Yakov said. “Reach out to your old fans, attract some new ones, but be sensible. I know that’s a lot to ask of you.” 

His old fans. Like his future husband. Who still hadn’t texted him back.

Viktor had a feeling this movie was going to do well, but he hadn’t thought about what that would mean. Would he still be able to walk Makkachin? Make his Starbucks runs? Jog?

Would he still be able to date his future husband? Get married? Would his future husband even want the hassle of being with an actor? Maybe that was the problem. Biomedical engineering sounded so intense, and the last thing Viktor wanted was to get in the way of that. Would his future husband even be able to work in LA?

“I just have one question,” Viktor said, scratching his chin. Yakov nodded. “What does a person do with a biomedical engineering degree?”

Yakov almost fell off his chair. “How the hell should I know? Have you been paying attention at all?”

“Never mind, I’ll look it up online,” said Viktor. “Are we done? I miss my dog.”

Yakov groaned. “Go get some rest. I’ll have Judy email you your schedule.”

“Thanks for lunch!” Viktor called over his shoulder as he left.

It was almost four in the afternoon in Detroit, and he’d heard nothing. Viktor checked once more in case the messages hadn’t sent, but there were no errors. 

Maybe his future husband had gone straight to class. He was so dedicated. 

Too dedicated to even say hello? The thought crept into his head before he could stop it. Viktor tried to listen to the radio to distract himself, but every song was about dancing, love, or sex. He switched it off. 

Viktor was prone to getting caught up in his work, or at least caught on autopilot. Maybe his future husband was like that, too. He’d get back to Viktor soon. Maybe he was so excited and shy he didn’t know what to say. 

Or maybe Yuri’s right.

Or maybe Viktor just needed to focus on getting home to Makkachin and snuggling with her on the couch. 

When he pulled into his garage, the message from Yakov’s assistant hit his inbox. He had a couple weeks to catch his breath, then day after day of interviews, appearances, and events. This had always been the goal, hadn’t it? This was why he moved to Los Angeles. 

He made himself a cup of tea and curled up with Makkachin on his couch, feeling much better with her at his side. He snapped a few pictures and posted one to Instagram with the caption, Love coming home to you. Maybe that would get his future husband’s attention. 

Before the photo even finished uploading, they both fell asleep and Viktor didn’t wake until Makkachin wedged her nose into his hand, asking to go outside. 

It was eight o’clock in Detroit, and Viktor had no new messages.

 

Chapter Text

All Yuuri wanted was to eat his breakfast in peace.

“Hey! It’s Drunk Hero!”

People were always yelling in the dining halls. Yuuri cringed at the noise but he didn’t look up. No one ever talked to him.

“Don’t you remember me?”

The voice was louder now. A guy Yuuri didn’t recognize was standing over him. 

“Sorry, I think you’ve got the wrong person,” said Yuuri, blinking in surprise. 

The guy’s jaw dropped, but he looked impressed. “No, it was definitely you. Man, you must have been wasted!” 

Yuuri’s stomach turned. Please tell me this isn’t the guy I chatted up. He had finally gotten past the point of constant mortification and now this?

The guy sat down next to Yuuri and Yuuri wanted to merge with the floor. He wasn’t Yuuri’s type at all (if he even had a type outside of Viktor Nikiforov these days) and he clearly had no idea that his presence was unwelcome.

“Come on, at least tell me it worked out with the love of your life,” said the guy.

“Huh?” So this wasn’t the guy, but that was only a small comfort. How much had happened that night? Did Yuuri even want to know?

The guy shook his head and laughed. “Boy, you don’t remember anything. We met outside the dorms, you threw up in the bushes, and then you handed me your phone. Ring a bell?”

All Yuuri could remember was waking up with a sour mouth and regret. He shook his head. 

“You told me that you had just met the love of your life and you had to let him know that you were okay,” the guy continued. “I’ve never heard someone be so coherent after puking.” 

“I don’t remember any of this,” Yuuri said, shaking his head. 

The guy laughed again. “I guess I should have expected as much from the guy who somehow forgot he killed that Usher song half-naked last year.” 

Oh god. Yuuri had all but blocked those rumors from his memory. 

Retirement had hit him hard. So hard, he had apparently stripped down to almost nothing and sang Love in This Club at a karaoke contest. He wouldn’t have believed the rumors except he had woken up with a certificate proclaiming his victory and a giftcard to Waffle House.

Yuuri didn’t know of any recorded evidence of the incident, but he swore he still caught winks from random students. 

At least he had kept his clothes on this time (as far as he could tell). He was afraid to ask, and he wasn’t in skating shape anymore. 

“Ah, well. Sorry it didn’t work out,” the guy said. He scooted closer to Yuuri, arm creeping around his shoulder. “You looking to make another drunken mistake with anyone else?”

“What?” Yuuri’s eyes went wide and he dodged the offending arm. “No! No no no! Sorry. No.”

“Jeez, I get it. Some Drunk Hero you are.” The guy left without another word, and Yuuri stared at his breakfast. His appetite was gone. 

Were people really calling him Drunk Hero?

There were so many things to beat himself up over. For being in the situation at all, for not finding better ways to cope with stress, for not even being interested in flirting back, for being destined to remain single for the remainder of his college career...

He had no interest in that guy, at least. All he had wanted was to disappear. Yuuri was done with drunken mistakes and he didn’t want to be anyone’s Drunk Hero. It was a terrible pick up line anyway. 

But at the same time, part of him said, This is why you don’t have a partner. This is why you don’t have any friends. Because he never took chances. Chances were just opportunities to fall.

His last friend and the last person he had harbored any real feelings for was back in Japan, and she was married with kids now. Yuuko sent him messages from time to time but he rarely had the energy to give her the replies she deserved. 

Skating had kept him too busy for friends and romance, or so he had told himself. Plenty of other skaters had time for both. Now, he had no excuse. He had pushed his family away, pushed other skaters away, and he kept his classmates at arm’s length.

Still, he’d take no relationships over friends who just wanted to get wasted.

Making an ass of himself in some bar was bad enough, but complete strangers all over campus only knew him for being a drunken asshole. How far Japan’s Ace had fallen. He had never deserved that nickname, anyway. 

Yuuri’s phone buzzed once in his pocket. 

v-nikiforov just posted a photo.

The notification was like a weight off his shoulders. He tapped it and there was a picture of Makkachin with a bow in her fur. Freshly groomed but always lovely, the caption read. Makkachin made everything better.

Makkachin was always there for Viktor when he needed her, and Viktor’s Instagram was always there for Yuuri. She looked adorable, and Yuuri smiled, remembering how soft Vicchan’s fur had always felt right after he had been to the groomer. 

Viktor probably had much more stress in his life than Yuuri did. He’d be going on a publicity tour soon, separated from his beloved pup, but Viktor was handling it just fine. He wasn’t drinking himself into a stupor for the tabloids. Meanwhile, classes were Yuuri’s only responsibility and he was a hot mess.

He had to do better. For Viktor, if not for himself. Yuuri ate a few bites of his breakfast and headed to class. 

That afternoon brought another notification from Viktor. This time, it was a photo of a bowl of ramen brimming with slices of pork and green onions. 

Yuuri’s appetite returned with a vengeance, mouth watering a little bit at the sight. Savory broth, tender meat, but if the noodles were perfect, the bowl could ascend to something divine. Yuuri missed ramen. There wasn’t much to be had around Detroit, but it was probably easy to find in Los Angeles.

In the mood for Japanese food lately… Delicious #ramen today! #oishii 

The caption tickled him. Viktor was enjoying Japanese food, and even trying to use Japanese words! Yuuri was so proud. Images flooded his mind: taking Viktor to a festival (God, he would look good in yukata), trying food from every stall. Viktor would shout, “Vkusno!” or maybe, “Oishii!” 

Get a grip, he told himself. There was no way he’d ever get to share a meal with Viktor, let alone a meal in Japan. Going back to Japan meant facing his failures, and daydreaming was pointless. 

At least he could see Viktor’s meals on Instagram. Yuuri got another notification while he was studying on his bed that night. His eyes went wide––sukiyaki! The photo was gorgeous. Thin, marbled slices of beef were meticulously folded and fanned out next to silky blocks of tofu, sumptuous mushrooms, springy yam noodles, and fine strands of cabbage, all waiting to be cooked in delicious broth. It looked like a fancy restaurant.

Still craving Japanese food! #sukiyaki #itadakimasu #oishii

Yuuri double-checked the location just to make sure Viktor wasn’t actually in Japan, but the restaurant was in a suburb of Los Angeles. Was Viktor on a date? Maybe it was a business dinner, or an evening out with friends. Viktor probably never had to look hard for company.

As for Yuuri, he was studying alone in his room on a Friday night. Loud music started blaring from another room and Yuuri sighed. He popped in his headphones, cued up his study playlist, and went back to work.

That weekend, Yuuri studied and avoided leaving his room. Viktor ate Japanese pastries, udon, sushi twice, curry rice, and even a traditional multi-course meal that must have cost a fortune. Was Viktor dating a Japanese guy? Preparing for a film in Japan? Putting on weight for a role?

But as the days passed, Viktor added in his usual mix of selfies and Makkachin, and then a salad showed up on his feed. There wasn’t even any corn on it. Viktor was out of his Japanese phase.

Viktor hadn’t even gotten to the most delicious dish of all, the perfect marriage of Japanese and European culinary influences: katsudon. After his family and his beloved Vicchan, katsudon was probably the thing Yuuri missed most about his life in Japan. None of the restaurants near him ever got it right. LA was probably a different story, though he doubted any restaurant could top his mother’s cooking.

Viktor often asked for food recommendations, and he usually replied to those comments. It would be so easy to get his attention: Next time you’re craving Japanese, you should try katsudon! But Yuuri couldn’t bring himself to do it. 

Disappointed in himself, Yuuri scrolled through his feed, stomach sinking lower with each image. Skater after skater shared selfies and photos from practices, and some had even posted videos of spins and jumps. The season was in full swing, and Yuuri was just preparing for an Organic Chemistry test. Each picture felt like a personal attack, but he doubted any of the other skaters even remembered who he was. 

He was better off as a nobody than as a mediocre skater who also happened to take go to college. Now that he didn’t skate, he made better grades and he had time for a major that could actually get him a job. Yuuri was made to blend into the background—it had just taken time for him to accept it. He closed the app in disgust and focused on his schoolwork.

With an A on his test and a package of three new pens from his sister, Yuuri was feeling a bit better. 

A notification on Wednesday cheered him up even more. It was just a picture of a white backdrop and some lights, but the caption was the real draw.

Super secret photoshoot today, wish me luck!

It wasn’t much of a secret if Viktor was going to tell all of his followers about it. Yuuri checked his phone constantly for updates. The two day wait was agonizing but absolutely worth it.

The first photo from the shoot was devastating. No one did forlorn and beautiful as well as Viktor. Splashes of deep red marred a pale suit cut to perfection on Viktor, who was contorted in an angular, impossible pose so graceful it may as well have been a spin position. The red looked like blood at first glance, but upon closer inspection it was rose petals. 

Yuuri shuddered. He could hardly tear his eyes away to read the caption. 

love 

It had to be a hint about the movie. He stared at the picture for at least ten minutes, marveling at everything from Viktor’s flexibility to the anguish on his exquisite brow. 

Later that week, Yuri Plisetsky posted a photo of himself in a suit nearly identical to Viktor’s. The lighting was the same, only Yuri was seated with one arm draped over his head and the other hanging loose at his side. A blood red rose jutted out of his lapel. Yuri was every inch the dejected teenager, but there was fear in his eyes. His had the same caption: love. The photo clashed with the rest of his Instagram, but then again, the only recurring theme among his posts was cats. 

And then days later, Anya Garina’s photo from the shoot hit the internet. She was regal in a blood red dress, face stoic except for striking, tortured eyes. The top edge of a handgun was just visible in her hand at her side. Hers, too, was captioned, love. Yuuri wasn’t sure what any of the photos had to do with love, but he loved all of them. 

Even though Viktor’s was the best of the three, Anya’s had the most hits. Yuuri reminded himself it wasn’t a contest, and she was a movie star. The truth was, all of the photos were stunning, and the internet was abuzz. Viktor’s name was popping up more and more, and people were starting to ask who Yuri Plisetsky was.

Between his quizzes and class projects, Yuuri was glued to his phone, and he hit the jackpot when Viktor announced he had joined Snapchat. 

Yuuri downloaded the app immediately, knowing it would be a huge drain on his time. He’d never use it for himself, but how would he get anything done with a daily stream of selfies from Viktor?

“Can you believe Yuri prefers a dry rub to barbecue sauce?” Viktor asked in his story, looking scandalized. The video flipped to Yuri across the table, behind a plate of half-eaten ribs.

“The sauce gets everywhere. It’s a mess,” Yuri said, mouth full. Cat ears appeared on his head as he continued. “You’re just a freak who doesn’t need napkins.”

Yuuri sighed. Viktor was truly perfect. Viktor giggled behind the camera and Yuri’s eyes narrowed. 

“I swear to god, if you put that fucking flower crown on me again—” The video cut off as Yuri’s dirty hands reached for Viktor’s phone.

Viktor followed the video with a picture of himself with the flower crown, captioned, Yuri can’t handle the flower crown. Viktor was always beautiful, but with that filter, he was otherworldly.

The final picture was of Yuri, barbecue ribs in his hands and cat ears superimposed on his head, tagged with the name of the restaurant. They were in Tennessee, Yuuri determined. But why?

Anya solved the mystery the next day when she went viral for popping up at a fan’s reception. The couple had thrown a Sleeping Beauty-themed wedding (Anya’s version, not the regular fairy tale). Anya was great in Sleeping Beauty, but it wouldn’t have been Yuuri’s choice for a wedding theme. Still, he was a sucker for videos of celebrities surprising their fans. The odds were slim, but knowing that ordinary people met their favorite stars once in a blue moon made it feel like anything was possible.

Not that there was ever any hope of Viktor surprising him in person. That was just a silly dream. Viktor always managed to surprise him anyway, and that was enough for Yuuri. 

Off to Chicago! Food recs please, proclaimed the caption of Viktor’s airport selfie the next day. Yuuri had been to Chicago before and he had enjoyed a mixture of caramel corn and cheese popcorn from a shop downtown, but he kept it to himself. 

When his classes were done for the day, he ventured off campus for a Chicago-style hot dog. He went out alone and he didn’t post about it online, but a piece of his heart was in Chicago that evening.

A notification stopped him three bites in—Viktor was eating a Chicago-style hot dog, too. Yuuri liked the photo and savored every last bite. 

Chapter Text

Viktor was beginning to hate airplanes. 

He couldn’t see Anya from his seat, but Yuri was fast asleep in the row behind him. Viktor was jealous. It was a short flight, but Viktor paid for WiFi just to have something to keep him from getting lost in his thoughts yet again. He had seen all the in-flight movies already and he still didn’t have a taste for games.

His hunch (and Yakov) had been right. The movie was doing well and it hadn’t even come out yet. Viktor’s follower count had tripled in the past month alone and his Snapchat account had taken off. He was getting recognized in the airport even though the public didn’t know what the movie was called. The latest round of interviews was sure to only add to the momentum.

At least they were finally heading to New York. After months of traveling together, jetting back to LA for a second between cities when they could manage, Yuri and Anya were both getting short with him. A night off was just what everyone needed. Viktor was looking forward to seeing Chris and taking him up his invitation to appear on his podcast. It wasn’t much of a break, but that suited Viktor just fine. 

Anything to keep his mind off of Detroit. 

At least he’d been too busy to bother trying to reach out again. Nothing worked. He’d posted all that Japanese food for nothing. Okay, it had all been delicious, but what did it matter if the one person he’d wanted to entice didn’t even notice? Maybe Viktor had been mistaken. Maybe he wasn’t Japanese. Maybe he had unfollowed Viktor. Maybe Viktor needed to just let go. 

Besides, there was work to do. Yuri and Anya needed him at his best if this movie was going to succeed. It had to succeed.

Every interview, appearance, and livestream, every single post was an acting job. Anya knew it, but Yuri hadn’t figured it out yet. Viktor had assumed Yuri was just playing up the surly teen act but he knew better now. That was just how Yuri was and he made no apologies. 

Had Viktor ever been like that? Not abrasive—Viktor would rather die—but sensitive. He was so used to the business, so used to being accommodating, he couldn’t remember ever taking things personally the way Yuri did.

If a reporter crossed a line, Yuri didn’t politely sidestep the question. He challenged the reporter, put them in their place. It was admirable. Then again, if a barista got Yuri’s order wrong, he was equally combative. 

“You’re going to get a reputation as a jerk if you’re not careful,” Viktor had warned him.

“And if I have milk I’m going to be on the fucking toilet all day so I don’t give a shit about my reputation.”

Viktor remembered cringing at the crude image. “Well, you could try being a bit nicer. It was an honest mistake.”

“And you could try not being a robot.”

Viktor had always let little things roll off his back, and Yuri’s comments were no different. Viktor dealt with reporters when he didn’t want to, he gave up his free time when he just wanted to be with his dog, and he did what he had to do with a smile on his face. 

Except, he couldn’t just let Detroit go. Why couldn’t he just forget about it? It was only one night, and it was months ago. It wasn’t the first time he’d had to give up on a guy, either. Work always came first. 

What was so special about the guy in Detroit? He was beautiful, yes, but Viktor’s line of work was full of beautiful people. The beaches near Viktor’s house were packed with gorgeous men, many of whom would jump at the chance to meet a working actor. 

Viktor had been down that road before, used for his connections, or used for his status and promptly discarded. “I’m dating an actor” was exciting until they realized that actors were always busy and had no time for a personal life.

Maybe that was the problem. The guy in Detroit had figured out that they never would have worked. He was a genius, after all. He had goals, he had a life, he had things to strive for, and Viktor? Viktor was just an professional liar, going through the motions of his shallow LA life.

Yuri was right way too often. Viktor was a robot (but Yuri did need to learn to be nicer to people in the service industry). 

They deplaned and both Anya and Yuri headed straight to the hotel. Viktor had his luggage sent to the hotel and looked up directions to Chris’s studio. He had done more than enough thinking for one day. 

Heading your way, he typed in a message to Chris. Want me to pick up coffee?

Chris replied quickly. Don’t you dare. You have terrible taste. ;) I’ve got it covered. 

Viktor downed a dark roast in the cab anyway, but he chased it with a piece of mint gum to hide the evidence. 

Chris’s studio was bigger than Viktor expected. He wondered if Chris was renting the space or if reality TV just paid that much better than movies.

When he came in, Chris was standing in front of an expensive-looking espresso machine. “That you, Viktor?” he asked, not even looking over his shoulder.

“Don’t I even get a hug?” Viktor asked, folding his arms across his chest. 

Chris turned around, two tiny espresso cups in hand and a glint in his eye. “I’ll give you more than that once I set these down.”

“There’s the Chris I know,” said Viktor. Some things never changed, but Chris seemed taller. Viktor couldn’t remember the last time they had met up in person. “You look fantastic.”

“I’d give you my aesthetician’s card but you’re still stuck on the West Coast,” Chris said. He placed the cups on a table and embraced Viktor, kissing him on the cheek. “It’s good to see you.”

Viktor returned the gesture and sighed. “How long has it been? Four years?”

“Two, Viktor. Two years. Honestly, what am I going to do with you?”

“You’re one to talk,” Viktor said, smirking as Chris’s hand drifted lower down his back. “As perky as it ever was, I assure you.” 

Chris lifted his hand. “Just curious.”

“I wasn’t aware that ‘doing a podcast’ was slang for something else.”

“That’s because you’re getting old,” Chris replied. 

Viktor played along even though there was only a year and a few months between them. 

“Educate an old man, then,” said Viktor, stretching away the last of the tightness from the plane. “How does this podcast thing work?” 

“We drink coffee. We have a conversation. That’s it!”

“We don’t rehearse? You don’t prepare questions ahead of time?” Viktor wondered. 

“I think it feels more organic this way,” said Chris, waving a hand. “Besides, we fix a lot in post.” 

Viktor raised his eyebrows. “You’re not going to edit me into oblivion, are you? I know how reality TV works.”

“Viktor! I wouldn’t do that to you.” Chris looked offended for just a moment and Viktor bit back some guilt. Chris didn’t give him a chance to apologize. “We edit out long pauses, bits that don’t work, things like that. I’m not interested in tricking my audience. Besides, The Next is live.” 

The Next?” Viktor frowned. Why did that sound so familiar? “Oh, your show!”

“Yes, Viktor, my show.” Chris rolled his eyes but he didn’t look hurt this time. “Shall we?”

“I’m game.” Structured or not, Chris or not, it was just another interview, and Viktor could do interviews in his sleep. 

Chris retrieved the cups and went back to the espresso machine. Viktor had never made espresso so Chris may as well have been doing close up magic, but soon, Chris was handing him a cup.

Gratzie,” said Viktor. He took a sip, and it was better than Starbucks. “Squizito!” 

“Isn’t it? Shall we take a photo?” Chris held up his cup and wrapped his other arm around Viktor, and Viktor pressed his cheek to Chris’s and winked. They clinked their glasses together and Chris snapped the picture. They nailed it on the first try, of course. Chris tagged Viktor and captioned the photo. 

On Thin Ice reunion! #nsfw #allgrownup #dimichaelforever

“Perfect,” Chris said as the post uploaded. It was a good picture, tamer than Chris’s tags suggested, but funny and appealing to Viktor’s old fans. Just like Yakov wanted. Chris had a much bigger fanbase than Viktor, and more visibility was better.

He and Chris headed over to the recording area, espresso in hand. 

“I’ll record my little blurb about the coffee later, but be sure to give me some of your thoughts, too. That’s my thing—I feature a local roaster every episode. Eventually I’d like to include roasters all over the world, but my listener base isn’t quite there yet,” Chris explained. Viktor nodded absently, not sure why this was important. “I’m telling you,” Chris added, “because I’m sure you’ve never listened to the podcast before.” 

“Ah, you know me so well,” Viktor replied. He had tried to listen once but he had fallen asleep.

“Let’s get started.” Chris was, in all aspects of his life, hands on. He started recording and summoned his smooth, extra sultry radio voice. 

“You’re in for a treat. Today in my studio, I have a talented actor and old friend of mine: Viktor Nikiforov. Thanks for joining me, Viktor. How do you like the coffee?”

“It’s delicious, Chris, thanks for having me.”

“You haven’t been to New York in a while, unless you came back without telling me,” said Chris. 

“I wouldn’t dream of it!” Viktor exclaimed. “Work has kept me around Los Angeles for the past couple years.”

“Such a shame. What can I do to convince you to move?” Chris touched his arm as he asked.

“Find me a place with a yard. Makkachin needs her space.”

Chris waved him off. “I can name at least seven dog parks within walking distance from this studio. How do you walk Makkachin in LA? In your car?”

“I have a yard,” said Viktor. “A small one, yes, but a yard. And more than two rooms in my house. But if you’re offering me a place…”

“You’re always welcome to bunk with me. But speaking of yards, weren’t you just in the Midwest not too long ago?”

Viktor didn’t miss a beat, even though his heart tore a little. “Yes, I was filming scenes for my new movie in Detroit. It was a lovely city, full of wonderful people.” He left it at that but Chris raised his eyebrows. 

“Sounds like it really made an impression. You’re not going to abandon the business and put down roots in Michigan, are you?”

Viktor flashed him a secretive smile to cover up the pit that was forming in his stomach. For the right reason, he would have considered it, but it didn’t seem likely anymore. “That would be quite the shock, wouldn’t it? But don’t worry, I won’t do anything until after the movie comes out.” He tried to make it sound playful, hoping Chris would pick up on the topi change. 

“Tell me more about the movie. I saw those gorgeous promo shots on Instagram. Anything you’re allowed to share?”

This was much more comfortable territory, and Viktor grinned. “I can’t say a lot, but what I can tell you is that it’s close to my roots. It’s based on a graphic novel by a Russian-American writer, Katrina Orlova, and she did a lot of work on the screenplay. Of course, it’s a Lilia Baranovskaya film—she’s an amazing director.”

Chris nodded. “Tulips was fantastic. Listeners, do yourselves a favor and check it out. But your costars are your fellow countrymen as well, right?”

“Yes. Anya Garina is quite the rising star and her hometown is about 20 miles from mine. And if your listeners follow me online, which I hope they do, they’ll have seen a lot of Yuri Plisetsky.”

Chris laughed. “Ah, he’s quite the little firecracker, isn’t he?” 

“Just wait until you see him act. He channels all that spunk into a magnificent performance.” Yuri would probably be annoyed if he heard, but Viktor was just telling the truth.

“But you haven’t told us much about the movie itself,” Chris pointed out. 

“Haven't I?” Viktor said. He ran a finger along his chin. Yakov was going to kill him because it was a few days early, but he couldn’t resist. “Did I mention it’s called Agape?” 

“Why, Viktor, is that a casual title drop on my humble little podcast?” Chris gasped. “I’m honored! So, Agape is the title? What does it mean?”

Viktor laughed. “I suggest you and your listeners Google it. If I explain it, I’ll be in even more trouble.”

“We wouldn’t want that. Let’s discuss something safe, then.”

Viktor made mindless conversation with Chris about their TV days and what their former costars were up to. 

“If people wanted a reunion, I’d absolutely do it, but I haven’t put on a pair of skates in years,” Viktor lamented.

“Neither have I,” Chris said. “But it would be fun to do a more adult plot. Where do you see your character now, a decade later? I think Michael would still be skating, still trying to catch up to Dimitri. He’d have a smoking hot boyfriend, though.”

Viktor paused. He hadn’t given it much thought. Dimitri and Michael’s fiery passion had led to explosive arguments, and they hadn’t ended up together. Michael resented Dimitri’s talent, and deep down, Dimitri never saw Michael as real competition. Despite Chris’s hashtag, “Dimichael” was never meant to be forever. Dimitri was a lonely figure in the end, married to the ice and never quite sure why he felt so empty.

“Dimitri would be a champion. Worlds, the Olympics, the Grand Prix. He’d be untouchable. But all that gold wouldn’t make him happy. He’d still be searching for meaning, wondering what he was missing.”

Chris fell silent. It was dark, but Viktor had always felt that was the direction the character was headed. This must have been one of those long pauses he would edit out. 

“So, what else is new, Viktor?” Chris finally said. “Seems like you’ve got quite the foodie reputation these days. I think you’ve tried every Japanese restaurant in the LA area at this point. Do you have a favorite to recommend?”

Viktor almost faltered. Why was Chris so perceptive? “I liked them all for different reasons, but I think I was chasing an experience I just can’t duplicate.”

Chris gave him a strange look. “You mean compared to something you ate in Japan?”

“Something like that,” sighed Viktor. The interview was stagnating and they both knew it. Maybe the flight was catching up with him, or the jet lag. “Speaking of food, where are you taking me for dinner, Chris? I don’t know New York.”

“We can change that,” said Chris with a wink. They discussed their favorite foods, and Chris gave some recommendations before they settled on a trendy spot. At least the podcast wouldn’t air until later so Yakov couldn’t berate him for giving away his location again.

“Anything else going on? Anyone special in your life?”

Viktor’s eyes narrowed, but he recovered before Chris could catch on. “Just you, Chris. And Makka, of course.”

“Well, then I feel very special. Thanks for making time for me, I know you’ve had a hectic schedule promoting Agape. When can we expect to see it in theaters?”

“This summer,” Viktor said. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t mentioned that yet. The release was the one thing he was supposed to tease. “But I’d expect a trailer early next year.”

“Anything else you’d like to add?” Chris asked.

“I’m not sure when this goes live, but Anya, Yuri, and I will be in New York for a week before we head off to Orlando, Florida for Comic Expo. We’ll be all over the country and then heading to Europe. Check our accounts for updates and please come out and meet us.”

They wrapped up with some more pleasantries and Viktor thought he had escaped unnoticed, but the moment Chris stopped recording, he turned to Viktor.

“Are you all right?”

Viktor frowned. “What do you mean? I’m fine.”

“Sure you are,” Chris said, eyeing him skeptically. “Let’s go get a drink. I’ll take you out for your birthday.”

“Bit early for that,” he said.

“Oh, don’t be like that.” Chris tilted his head and smiled. “Come out. Let’s catch up.”

“Fine.” It was probably good for Viktor to spend a little bit of his night off relaxing, and if he had a few drinks, he could throw Chris off the trail.

Viktor expected Chris to get stopped everywhere on the way, but things seemed different in New York. People might have recognized Chris, but the two of them had no trouble getting a cab, and no one was waiting for them when they got out at the corner near the bar. Maybe there was something to be said for living in New York.

The bartender knew Chris and wasted no time mixing their drinks. A few sips in, Viktor felt a bit better, but he wasn’t ready for Chris’s off-the-record questions.

“There’s something bothering you. Want to talk about it?” Chris asked, turning to face Viktor.

“I’m just tired from the flight,” Viktor said airily. “Nothing I can’t handle.”

“I know what you can handle, remember?” Chris shook his head before Viktor could point out the innuendo. “You know what I meant, Viktor. You’re pushing yourself pretty hard.”

If Chris wasn’t making double-entendres, Viktor must have been worse off than he thought, but he wasn’t going to let Chris win. “That’s just the way this business is. I know you understand.” 

Chris was undeterred. “Come on, when’s the last time you took a break?”

“I had a couple weeks off after we wrapped,” said Viktor between sips.

“And what do you do to relax?” Chris lowered his lashes, adding, “Or who? There’s no better way to relieve stress.”

Viktor finished his cocktail. “I told you, I only have eyes for you and Makkachin.”

Chris pursed his lips. “Now that’s just sad. Tell me you at least have friends.” He summoned the bartender and ordered more drinks while Viktor scrambled for a response. Chris was just as bad as Yuri, or maybe Viktor wasn’t as good at acting as he thought he was.

“Does Yuri count?” Viktor asked, once he had a new drink in hand. Chris shook his head.

“We’re going to need more drinks,” he sighed, beckoning the bartender once more. Viktor could outdrink Chris any day, but Chris seemed to be on a mission. It took more rounds than Viktor could count, but eventually everything came spilling out.

“So there was a boy in Detroit?” Chris asked. “He swept you off your feet and then ghosted you?”

“Yes. No. I’m sure he has an explanation, but it’s been so long and…” Viktor trailed off, wishing he hadn’t said anything. “I’m being ridiculous, aren’t I? What’s wrong with me, Chris?”

“I’ve been wondering that same thing for almost a decade.” When Viktor ignored his joke, Chris went on. “I doubt it’s about the boy. It sounds like you wanted an escape.”

Viktor tilted his head. Of course it was about the boy, but he wanted to hear Chris out. “An escape from what?” 

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen you in two years,” Chris deadpanned. “Does it matter? The solution is the same no matter what.”

Viktor could guess where Chris was going with this, but he said, “Do tell.”

“What you need is a good old-fashioned, no-strings-attached, one night stand.” 

Viktor had guessed correctly, and he shook his head. “That’s your answer to everything, isn’t it?” 

“That’s because it works.” Chris gave him a knowing smile. “That’s what you wanted with your Detroit Boy, wasn’t it? If you both hadn’t been drunk.”

“Chris!” Viktor said. “I was thinking something more long term.” He didn’t use the words Future Husband but Chris filled in the blanks. 

“That just shows how badly you need to get laid,” Chris said. “Look, odds are, he just wasn’t interested once he sobered up.”

“But he seemed so genuine.” You were captivating. Viktor could still hear his voice. 

“Trust me. People will say anything to get with a celebrity,” Chris pointed out. Viktor couldn’t imagine Detroit Boy being so gross, but then again, he had called Viktor the best actor of his generation. And Chris was probably speaking from experience. “Maybe,” Chris went on, “he fucked off when he realized you weren’t going to fuck him.”

“No!” Viktor gasped. But he did remember whispering into Detroit Boy’s ear, telling him all the things he would have done had they not been drunk. He had only meant to be enticing, but what if he’d been misunderstood? Overpromised and underdelivered? Had Detroit Boy only wanted to sleep with an actor?

Chris’s eyes were full of pity. “Come out with me tonight. We’ll sober up on the dance floor and find you someone cute.”

Viktor pouted, not caring how pathetic he sounded. “I’ve already met someone. What if his phone broke and he doesn’t know how to contact me? What if he died, Chris?”

“Then he would want you to be happy.” Chris didn’t miss a beat. “Come out. I know a great club. If you meet someone, great. If not, you get a fun night of dancing with your old friend Chris. You’ve got nothing to lose.”

It did sound better than his original plan of staring at the ceiling all night. “Maybe.”

“This guy made you feel special, right?” Chris asked. Viktor nodded. “There are lots of guys out there who can do that, especially for just one night.”

And hours later, Viktor was dancing with Chris, sweating, and feeling better than he had in weeks. The alcohol had faded and Chris’s plan seemed logical. Sober, he wondered why he was so hung up over a guy he had only spent a few hours with. 

Everyone in the club recognized Chris, some of them even recognized Viktor, and people got a huge kick out of seeing Chris and Viktor together. Viktor couldn’t believe so many people liked their old show. Yakov would approve—this was just reconnecting with old fans.

The guys here were nothing like Detroit Boy, but maybe that was what Viktor needed.

“So, what do you do?” one asked between dances. “I’m David, by the way.”

Viktor summoned his winning smile. “Viktor. I’m an actor.”

David looked impressed. “Ooh, have you been in anything I’ve heard of?”

“Obviously not, or else you’d recognize me.” It didn’t come out as playfully as Viktor had intended.

“Sorry,” David drawled. “I don’t own a TV.”

Oh. One of those. Viktor resisted the urge to roll his eyes. But what did it matter? Really, it was better this way. He needed to get Detroit Boy out of his system and move on, and it was better to do it with someone who wouldn’t remember him. 

“Then I can be a mystery,” he said. Was that all Detroit Boy had been to him? An exciting mystery? An escape? Whatever that meant. 

David lowered his eyes to take in Viktor’s body. “I like the sound of that,” he purred. “Wanna take this back to my place?”

Viktor was a good actor, but even he couldn’t pretend he felt anything for David. They hadn’t even gotten their clothes off before Viktor realized it wasn’t going to be the miracle cure that Chris promised it would be. 

“Sorry,” he said, pushing David away. “I just got out of a relationship.” Lying was as easy as reading lines.

“It’s okay,” said David. “How long are you in town? We could try again sometime.”

Viktor stood. “I won’t have time.”

“Too bad. Want my number? You can text me next time you're in New York.”

Viktor made a non-committal noise and took David’s number, knowing he’d never use it. He saw himself out and took an Uber to his hotel. 

He had a text from Chris. You good? Let me know if you need a rescue.

I’m great, he replied, adding a winking face. He’d let Chris think he was cured. In a way, he was. Seeing Detroit from the other side opened his eyes. It would have ended up the same way, and he’d been a fool to think it could have been different. 

——

Almost 500 miles away, Yuuri Katsuki checked his Viktor news alert.

No one deserves a break more than Chris Giacometti. The actor turned reality host and radio personality was spotted cutting loose at Moment, one of Brooklyn’s hottest clubs. Joining him was friend and former costar Viktor Nikiforov. According to Twitter, Viktor was in New York to promote his upcoming film on Chris’s podcast, Coffee with Chris. The trip wasn’t all business, though, as the two teased a “not-safe-for-work reunion” between their On Thin Ice characters. Adding fuel to the flames, the two were photographed dancing together and looking very NSFW indeed. Chris and Viktor were all over social media, posing with fans at the club. Unfortunately for Dimichael shippers, onlookers reported that the pair left separately. 

[photo of Chris and Viktor’s reunion on Instagram]

[photo of Chris and Viktor dancing]

[photo of Viktor leaving with another man, face obscured]

[photo of Chris getting into car]

Yuuri closed the article. “This is fine,” he said to himself. 

Chapter Text

If Viktor was tired after the American preview tour, he was exhausted in Europe. 

“What am I supposed to do with these?” Sara asked, poking one of the bags under his eyes.

“Touche Éclat?” 

“Sheer coverage isn’t going to cut it, Viktor. What you need is sleep.”

“I’ll sleep when I get back to LA.” Viktor sipped his espresso as Sara pulled out the full coverage concealer. It was nice to see a familiar face, and not just because Sara was the only person who could make him look like he slept eight hours every night when he was averaging more like four. 

“And you need to drink more water and moisturize,” Sara said, prodding his T-zone. “You’re dry.”

“Planes are dry.” And all Viktor ever did these day was fly. The interviews, appearances, and photoshoots were all a blur between flights, back and forth. Most nights, he didn’t know how he got back to his hotel, and not because he had been drinking.

“Do it for me, Viktor.” 

“She has better be talking about moisturizer,” Sara’s brother called from the other side of the room where he was checking Yuri’s makeup. Yuri was focused on his phone, earbuds securely in place. 

“Mind your own business, Mickey.” Sara turned her attention back to Viktor. “What have you been doing without me?” 

“Relying on teams of talented photoshoppers,” he said, keeping his voice light. Other makeup artists did fine, but Sara knew his skin like no one else. “Thanks for doing this even on your vacation.”

“It’s a working vacation. I should be thanking you for coming to Italy,” Sara said, dotting and blending concealer in more places than usual. “Besides, you pay me a whole lot and I like feeling needed.”

Did he look that pitiful? Maybe Sara just missed Mila and was desperate to care for someone. Viktor knew that feeling. “When do you get to see Mila again?”

“Next week, when Mickey and I go back to the states.” She let out a longing sigh. “Too bad they didn’t need Mila for press. I would have loved to show her my country.”

“I’m glad she’s not here,” Sara’s brother muttered. “I like having you all to myself, like old times.” 

Yuri shuddered and Viktor wondered if it was a coincidence or if the headphones were for show. It was a bit drafty. 

Mila was lucky. She had Sara, and she didn’t have to deal with the tour schedule. She would probably handle it better than he was, though. Viktor offered Sara a sympathetic nod and smile. “I’m sure you’ll make it over here together someday.” 

Viktor had a feeling Mila’s career was going to take off as soon as the movie came out. Lucky as she was, Viktor would have gladly let her take his place on this press tour.

“Hey, did anything ever happen with that guy back in Detroit?” Sara asked. 

“Ugh, Sara, why did you go there?” Yuri muttered. Were those earbuds even plugged in?

“We had a nice dance and a good chat, that’s all,” Viktor said. Yuri frowned at him from across the room but Viktor just stared back, unblinking. He believed himself, even if Yuri didn’t. 

Sara didn’t seem to notice the exchange. “That’s too bad! He was such a great dancer. I’ve never seen you have so much fun.” 

“Why were you watching him dance?” asked Sara’s brother, saving Viktor from having to respond. 

“Boundaries, Mickey!”

As the twins bickered, Viktor focused on his wardrobe. They wanted him in a black, long-sleeved v-neck first—very European, just like the tight pants that went with it. It was drab, but then again, it was Viktor’s job to bring life to the photo. The outfit was irrelevant. At least he didn’t have to wear a suit this time. 

Even suits were boring now. 

Sara’s hand on his shoulder startled him. “All right, I did the best I could. The rest is up to you.” Viktor looked up at her and she smiled, adding, “Try to get some sleep, okay?”

Viktor thanked her. Once she and her brother were gone, he and Yuri changed clothes, careful not to ruin the makeup. Anya was already in the studio doing her a few test shots as assistants and techs scurried around the room. A few of them introduced themselves and Viktor nodded politely, not remembering any names. When Anya was done, she headed over to Viktor and Yuri as the director approached.

The shoot director introduced herself and then spoke directly to Viktor. “All right, let’s start by getting some of the three of you together. Do you have a playlist? We can connect your phone to the sound system.” She gestured like she was conducting an orchestra and added, “You have music?”

“No,” said Viktor, not sure why she was repeating the question. He didn’t want to listen to any of the music on his phone. Not anymore.

“What do you mean, No?!” Yuri demanded. “You make us listen to your shitty playlist every time.”

Viktor turned to him and shook his head. “I don’t feel like listening to it.” 

Yuri wrinkled his nose and squinted at Viktor. “English or Russian, old man. You know I don’t speak Italian.”

Viktor hadn’t even realized he had been speaking Italian. What language had the director used? He could have sworn she’d spoken English, because Yuri seemed to understand her. Had she been going back and forth? “You or Anya can pick the music,” Viktor said in English, playing it off with a shrug.

“Seriously?” Yuri gaped at him. 

Viktor examined his fingernails. At least his cuticles weren’t suffering the same fate as his dry face. “I thought you hated the playlist. If I’m not mistaken, your said it was, ‘Ancient, pathetic, and gross.’”

Yuri shifted his weight from one foot to the other, slouching and looking as put out as he could manage. “I’ve been using it to get back in Ilya’s headspace, okay?”

Viktor thought Yuri was always in Ilya’s headspace, but this was the most interesting development of the week. “Is that so?”

“It’s your fault for forcing it on us all the time.” Yuri turned to Anya. “You use it too, don’t you?”

Anya didn’t even look up from her phone. “I literally could not care less what we listen to.”

Yuri rolled his eyes and handed his phone to the director. “Just play this, okay?”

The director passed the phone to an assistant and within seconds, the opening beats of the Todd Terry remix of Missing by Everything but the Girl came on. 

Viktor was so amused he almost didn’t mind having to hear the song again. “You recreated my playlist?”

“It’s an acting tool, Viktor. Don’t piss yourself.” But Yuri’s cheeks were tinged pink. 

The director talked about what she wanted from the shoot—it was an entertainment magazine, so she wanted some shots in character, but she wanted casual shots, too. Some together, some solo, some in pairs.

“Wonderful,” said Viktor. “Let’s get started.”

Anya and Yuri stared at him expectantly. 

“Aren’t you going to translate?” Anya asked. 

“Oh, sorry.” Viktor relayed the information as best as he could remember. Anya nodded but Yuri just glared at him.

“The fuck is with you?” Yuri hissed in his direction as they got situated. “Usually you’re chomping at the bit to interpret like it’s the fucking United Nations or something.”

“I’m fine. I’ll get another coffee when we break,” Viktor assured him. 

“Why? Obviously, it doesn’t do shit.”

“Wow,” Anya mused. “This music really does help you get into character.” 

They arranged themselves as the photographer alternated encouragement and commands in English and Italian, but Viktor was only half paying attention. He hadn’t listened to the playlist since their last shoot weeks ago, and even then, he’d tuned it out. He knew all the songs by heart, so deeply that he could practically convince himself they were written for him. That was the beginning of the end.

The playlist was full of old songs, many he was too young to actually remember (and all of which predated Yuri, as Yuri was keen to remind him). Anya had once remarked that Viktor had the same taste in music as her mother. Alina Garina was a soap opera legend in Russia, but the melodrama paled in comparison to her actual torrid affairs and three very public divorces. Viktor still wasn’t sure if the comparison was meant to be a compliment or an insult. 

But even the bridge of Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover didn’t do anything for him anymore. 

That night in Detroit, as the crowd had thinned and Viktor had waited, the DJ had taken to playing 80s and 90s adult contemporary (perhaps ironically) and that had stuck with him. It was the only piece of that night he could cling to.

Like Yuri, he had let the music transport him, only Viktor had visited a world where he’d had a real relationship—one with a beginning, middle, and a tragic end. A poetic breakup that gave him the right to feel as jilted and heartbroken as he had. 

Maybe he had just listened to the playlist too much. He’d relied on it, because that longing ache was closer to inspiration than anything he had felt in months. But with every listen he felt it less and less. It made him an imposter and a liar, and now it was as empty and vapid as the expression on his face. 

“Beautiful, Viktor, that’s perfect,” the photographer cried. 

By the time Viktor stepped aside so the photographer could get some shots of Anya and Yuri, he wasn’t even aware of what song was playing. An assistant handed him some water and Sara’s advice rang in his head. He drank it even though he wasn’t thirsty—people’s paychecks depended on his glowing skin so the least he could do was try to stay hydrated. Someone hustled him into a new outfit and he posed with Yuri, then Anya, as the photographer raved about Yuri’s emoting. At least something good had come from the playlist. 

Viktor was on autopilot by the time they wanted shots of him alone. He gave the photographer what he wanted in minutes and the director was happy, and the next thing Viktor knew, he was back in his own clothes and in a car with his costars.

“Hungry?” Anya asked. “My agent told me there’s an amazing seafood restaurant around the block from the hotel.”

“I’m all right,” said Viktor, staring out the window. “Be sure to take pictures if you go.”

“How about you, Yuri?”

“Yeah, why not?” Yuri and Anya talked about octopus and squid and Yakov and Viktor just wanted to sleep.

The next thing he knew, Yuri was jabbing him in the ribs. “Oi, Viktor. Get up.”

“Sorry, I must have dozed off,” said Viktor, getting out of the car. “Have a nice dinner.”

“You want me to bring you something?” Yuri asked. 

“I’ll just use room service if I get hungry.” 

Yuri shouted something about his face that he didn’t catch. Viktor greeted the doorman on his way back to his room, took his shoes off, and drew the curtains. Sara would kill him if he didn’t wash his face, so he did before burying himself face-down in the fluffy goose pillows. 

Suzanne Vega’s detached vocals drifted in and out of his head, the same section of Tom’s Diner stuck on repeat. He never should have dozed off in the cab because now he was buzzing. Viktor needed sleep. People were counting on him. He'd spent so long getting those songs out of his head and now he was stuck. It wasn’t about Detroit. It would have been so easy to keep focusing on that, but he couldn't pretend anymore.

Head pounding to the beat of that damned song, he couldn’t remember any of the other words, couldn’t escape the loop of, straightening her stockings, her hair has gotten wet

He hated it. Hated this song, hated this bed, hated being away from Makkachin, hated that he couldn’t just sleep. 

Viktor lost count of how many times the line played in his head until his phone jarred him awake. He didn’t lift off the pillows, just grabbed his phone and put it near his ear.

Yakov’s wasn’t what he wanted to hear, but at least the song had left his mind.

“I heard you might need a wake up call,” Yakov grunted. “So here it is.”

“Good morning,” Viktor managed, turning his head to the side.

“Are you hungover?”

It felt like it. That would have been an easier explanation. “Something like that.”

“Vitya…” That wasn’t Yakov’s usual exasperated tone. “Take a few days off. Come home early.”

Viktor shot upright. “But we’re not done yet.” 

“Anya and Yura can handle it from here. You should rest up for the run up to the premieres.”

What was Yakov saying? “I slept fine last night. I’m just jet lagged. More time on a plane isn’t going to help.”

He glanced at the clock and figured he must have gotten around 10 hours of sleep. How had he managed that? It felt like less, but once he got some coffee he was sure he’d be back to a hundred percent. 

“Take the day off, then,” said Yakov. “Go sightseeing or something. You like sightseeing.”

Viktor had seen most of the sights of Milan touring with his mother’s team in his youth. “I’m not really in the mood.”

“Go shopping, then. Or stay in your room. Just take a break.”

Since when was Yakov advocating shopping? “Honestly, I’d rather just get the rest of the week over with. Besides, Anya and Yuri need an interpreter for the interview today.”

“We can hire one.” 

“I’d rather do it myself,” Viktor said, getting out of bed. “I want to make sure we convey the right messages about the movie.”

Yakov let out a series of grunts. “Viktor, this is no time for your nonsense. It’s just a quick puff piece. Take a day off.”

Well, now he definitely wasn’t going to. “Okay, Yakov,” he sang. “I’ll take it easy. Thank you.” He hung up his phone and put Yakov on Do Not Disturb. Viktor drank a full bottle of water (the expensive glass bottle kind) and ordered room service coffee. 

The combined forces of coffee, a shower, and concealer had him looking enough like himself that he felt more like himself, too. It wasn’t bad for not having Sara around.

He dressed and headed out to the cafe where the interview would take place. It was cold outside, but not so unpleasant that he wanted to wait inside. Anya and Yuri gaped at him when they pulled up.

“Good morning!” he said brightly.

“The fuck are you doing here?” Yuri grunted.

Anya frowned. “Didn’t Yakov call you?” 

Viktor shrugged. Anya and Yuri must have told Yakov how tired he had been yesterday. Their concern was touching, but there was no time for a break. Viktor couldn’t handle a break. Makkachin was in good hands, and he was going to see this movie through all the way until it came out on Blu-Ray.

“You were supposed to be resting, asshole,” said Yuri, scowling at him. “Fly home.”

“Nonsense,” Viktor said with a smile. More plane time was the last thing he wanted. “I was feeling a little ill yesterday but I’m all recovered today.”

“His color does look better,” said Anya. 

“But you have to admit the palor worked for the shot, didn’t it?” Viktor threw her a wink, but Anya just shook her head and took a picture of the cafe storefront on her phone.

“What, are you some kind of method actor now?” Yuri asked. “I thought you hated that shit.”

“So you do listen to me!” Viktor patted Yuri’s head. “I’m so happy.”

“Let’s just get inside,” said Yuri, barging past Viktor and Anya to the door. Viktor figured he must have been cold, but as soon as he got inside, he saw what had Yuri so excited: cats. There were cats everywhere. Was this a cat cafe?

“Yuri, did you pick this place?” 

“So what if I did?” he retorted. “Anya likes cats, too. We’re not all smelly dog losers like you.”

Viktor liked cats just fine. It was their dander he didn’t love, but he could manage as long as he didn’t touch his face. Probably.

“The writer sent some locations and we picked this one,” said Anya, bending to scratch a ginger cat. “You okayed it. Cat Cafe is right there in the name.”

“I figured it was just a cute name,” said Viktor, suddenly tempted to scratch his nose. He would not do it. “It’s fine.”

“You’re not allergic, are you?” Yuri asked as he let a black cat sniff his hand. “You did fine with Potya.”

Viktor glanced at the tiger cat that was headed his way, trying not to make eye contact. Potya was one cat, not thirty, and Viktor had taken a benadryl. Today he had nothing. “And I’m fine now. Let’s find our journalist, shall we?” 

“Giulia’s right there,” said Anya. “We met her yesterday at the shoot, remember?”

Viktor did not remember, but he greeted her by name and said it was lovely to see her again. Giulia’s English was good, but Viktor’s Italian was better, and despite constantly fighting the overwhelming urge to rub his eyes, he managed to keep both languages straight. Normally when he spoke Italian, he used his hands as much as his words, but he kept his gestures tight lest he accidentally brush against a cat. At least it gave him something to focus on other than sneezing. 

Someone from the magazine was taking candid shots for social media and he didn’t want the world to see his hives. He’d probably have to burn these pants. There was no way they were going in his luggage, not with cats rubbing against him left and right.

Meanwhile, Yuri was in heaven. It was worth it to see him like this, relaxed and light, snapping picture after picture as cats crawled all over him. Most of the questions were for Anya, which suited Yuri and Viktor perfectly. But with that ginger cat on her lap, Anya looked more relaxed than she had in days. They were all tired—it wasn’t just Viktor. But all the cats made him miss his dog (and his allergy medication).

Viktor nursed his cappuccino, or cappuccinos. Whenever he got close to the bottom, a new one appeared. He wondered if the magazine was paying for all of those refills, and he wondered how much cat dander he could ingest without his throat to closing up. The end of the interview couldn’t come soon enough.

“One last question for Viktor,” Giulia said. “Can we use the stuff about the playlist yesterday?”

“I’m sorry?” Viktor had understood the Italian, but that question hadn’t been on the list.

She switched to English. “Your sad music?”

“Oh, right, my playlist,” he said, forcing a laugh. He stayed with English. “Of course you can write about it.” Yuri turned to him in shock and Viktor ignored him. He could see the appeal—it added human interest to the story.

“We want to put it on Spotify, okay?” asked Giulia

Yuri kicked him under the table, but Viktor just nodded. It was a chance to engage on multiple platforms. “That sounds fun.”

Giulia smiled. “Should we put a spoiler alert?” 

“The songs aren’t related to the story,” said Viktor, switching to Italian despite Yuri’s dagger glare. “Just a mood I wanted to explore.”

“A future role then?”

“No,” Viktor sighed. Definitely not. “But an actor can never be too prepared.” 

He confirmed the list of songs and titled the playlist Mood. Viktor swore then and there that he would never listen to any of those songs again, and that he would never go anywhere without antihistamines again.

To his relief, Giulia addressed all of them in English next. “Thank you for everything. I can’t wait to see the movie.” She shook all of their hands and Viktor’s eyes watered a little more. She had been petting cats, too.

Viktor needed to get out before he got all red and puffy, but then the server put down a plate with a brownie on it in front of him. Just him.

“Dessert! It’s free,” said the server, winking at Viktor and solving the mystery of the bottomless cappuccinos.

Yuri snorted. “Is that a phone number?”  

“Written in chocolate syrup,” Anya confirmed. There was a little chocolate cat face on one side, too. “You gonna call him, Viktor?”

No, because if I touched someone who worked in this place I might actually die. Out loud, he said, “This is so kind! I love sweets.”

Yuri pointed his phone at the plate. “This is going on Snapchat.”

Anya swatted Yuri’s phone out of the way. “You can’t put someone’s number online!”

“I was going to censor it!” Yuri insisted.

The writer grinned. “May I put this in the article, too?” 

“Why not?” Viktor muttered, taking a bite. It was fine, but he wasn’t in the mood for chocolate. He wiped the corner of his mouth with a napkin before he realized his mistake. Once he let the first sneeze out, he couldn’t stop the torrent.

Anya and Yuri had to help him out of the cafe.

“Don’t put this in the article,” Yuri snapped at Giulia. She nodded, apologizing over and over again in English and Italian as the barista rang her company card. 

“I’m fine! I’m fine! No harm done,” Viktor insisted between sneezes.

Once they were outside, Yuri let him have it. Or at least Viktor assumed Yuri was yelling at him—he couldn’t really see. “You dumbass! Why didn’t you just say you were allergic?”

“We could have moved the interview,” Anya said. 

Viktor insisted he was fine, but the sneezing didn’t let up until he was in the bath in his hotel room.

----

Yuuri didn’t speak Italian but OnThinIceItalia did, bless them, and they had promised the StillOnThinIce subreddit a translation of Viktor’s appearance in an Italian magazine. Yuuri had tried to read the article, but Google Translate was getting him nowhere. Gazing at the picture was better than nothing. It was Viktor and it was Agape news, but (he hoped) the translation would explain the bizarre Spotify playlist embedded at the end of the article. 

Yuuri recognized some of the songs. Minako used to listen to Roxette when she warmed up, and Mad World had been memed to hell. He didn’t understand what it had to do with the movie, but he had been listening to it for hours anyway. 

Until this year, r/StillOnThinIce got maybe one or two posts every few months. Someone would share their favorite scene, ask where to watch it online, or ask if there was going to be a reunion (even after Chris’s Instagram tease, the answer was still no).

Yuuri  had posted there more than a few times. His list of every element in every routine had gotten him a lot of karma and his admittedly Viktor-heavy Where Are They Now? megapost had even been pinned for a while. 

Chris’s “reunion” selfie had opened the floodgates. People who had forgotten all about the show were rediscovering it, and rediscovering Viktor. Much to the chagrin of On the Ice purists, it had become the unofficial Viktor Nikiforov subreddit. That was fine with Yuuri. Since the graphic novel (which Yuuri was still trying to translate) was so obscure, it was the unofficial Agape subreddit, too. 

Yuuri had already ordered a paper copy of the current Ciak, but until it arrived, the teaser picture soothed his parched throat.

(27) r/StillOnThinIce・Posted by r/OnThinIceItalia2 hours ago

Viktor in Ciak this month! UPDATE: translated and scanned!

[photo of Viktor, Anya, and Yuri]
(ciakmagazine.it)

14 comments

OnThinIceItalia 29 points・2 hours ago・edited 2 minutes ago
New article on Ciak’s website to promote Agape! Translation coming soon here! Now with scans!!!! Sorry about the mistakes!! ^^;; English is not my first language.

VchanPup 1 point・1 minute ago
HOLY SHIT THAT WAS FAST THANK YOU! u/OnThinIceItalia is a bilingual superhero!

As soon as Yuuri submitted the post, he clicked the link. Beautiful, high quality scans of Viktor could probably sustain him for years. It had been a long time since Yuuri had seen him in clothes so tight, clinging toned muscles and making it hard for Yuuri to focus on the article. He read through the interview, which was mostly about Anya. He learned nothing new about the movie and not much about Viktor, but it might as well have been Yuuri's bible.

If you can’t wait for the movie, let yourself be inspired by the playlist Viktor uses at all photoshoots. He promised there are no spoilers, but Yuri said it helped him get “in character” at photoshoots. Listen and decide for yourself when the movie comes out! (Spotify Link)

Oh. It was Viktor’s playlist, and now the common thread was obvious: they were all break up songs. Had Viktor been through a breakup, or was it just another clue about the movie? Yuuri didn’t want Viktor to be heartbroken. 

Once he’d saved the pictures and read the article a few more times for anything else he’d missed, he went back to the thread.

christophesearlobe 4 points・28 minutes ago
is viktor ok?

dontaskmeagain 11 points・25 minutes ago
Looks fine to me. ;)

sgl-or-bust 5 points・17 minutes ago
Chill. I’m sure the music was just for the movie.

kenny3213 16 points・8 minutes ago
ciak just put this up on their instagram omg look at him he’s beautiful

Was that a cat cafe? What was Viktor doing in a cat cafe? Yuri had posted pictures of a cat cafe on his own Instagram weeks ago, but Viktor hadn’t posted anything about it. Yuuri remembered something he had read in a teen magazine years ago.

VchanPup 3 points・6 minutes ago
But Viktor is allergic to cats??

OnTheIceItalia 5 points・3 minutes ago
Of course u/VchanPup would know lolol!!
Btw the caption says “Viktor did double duty and translated for this interview! Yuri and Anya enjoyed the cats, and Viktor enjoyed his free dessert courtesy of a fan/barista.”

dontaskmeagain 2 points・2 minutes ago
Confirmed: Viktor does not succumb to allergies. Allergies succumb to Viktor.

No one had broken Viktor’s heart. He had admirers everywhere he went. Even allergies were nothing to him. He was fine.  

Chapter Text

Even though Viktor didn’t really remember it, the London premiere had gone perfectly. The numbers were huge—bigger than Lilia and Yakov expected—and the American numbers would be bigger. Praise was coming in from all corners of the globe.

In anyone else’s hands, Agape could have easily descended into forgettable teen melodrama, but the three leads (Nikiforov in particular) rise to Baranovskaya’s impeccable direction and elevate the film into something else entirely. It won’t win any Oscars, but it’s one hell of a ride with a touching and timeless message of unconditional love.

Viktor should have been thrilled. Instead, he was sitting in front of Yakov like he’d been called to the principal’s office, assuming school was like it seemed on TV. Viktor didn’t really know.

“I told you to take time off before the premiere, and what did you do?”

Viktor kept his posture stiff, feeling the pull in his shoulders when he shrugged. “I promoted the movie.” 

“There’ll be nothing left to promote if you keep this up,” Yakov growled. When Viktor didn’t say anything, Yakov gestured to the pile of scripts on his desk. “Have you read through any of the scripts I sent you? Other actors would kill you for roles like these, and you can take your pick.”

“Because that’s all I’m good for,” said Viktor, staring out the window. Making money, generating buzz, acting, always acting.

“What are you talking about?” Yakov shook his head. “You can take your career anywhere you want it. This is what you worked so hard for.”

It was.

“None of those scripts appealed to me.” 

“That’s because you didn’t read any of them!” Yakov punctuated the word read with a pound on the table but Viktor didn’t flinch. 

“I don’t have to read them. I can tell.” Viktor looked from the window to the bookcase behind Yakov, tuning out the lecture. A history of Viktor’s training lined the shelves, classical and regimented but informal. Private instruction and avid interest had carried him through each trusted text and beloved play, squeezing reading between set time and fashion spreads.

Beneath it all, what else was there? Enthusiasm has carried him through the beginning of his life, but without it, he had nothing but natural ability. Plenty of people had that.

Viktor was only vaguely aware of Yakov watching him.

“Vitya. If you need to talk to someone, we have people for that.”

Not, I’m here for you, Vitya. Not that he needed to hear that from his manager. Yakov wasn’t his father. He had a father and a mother (who didn’t say comforting words to him, either) and a manager, and Yakov wasn’t exactly the cuddly type.

“I don’t really buy into life coaches or spiritual advisors, if that’s what you mean,” Viktor said. Shrewd parenting and management had helped him avoid those traps, at least.  

“I mean a therapist,” Yakov snapped. “A good one. Dr. Rhee elped Lilia and me reach the pleasant working relationship we have today.” 

Pleasant wasn’t the word Viktor would use to describe their tense meetings and tight conversations, but they didn’t openly loathe each other. That had to count for something. 

“Therapy?” He had never considered it before—not that he was against it. He had advocated for mental health awareness back in his TV days. They had done a whole campaign. He could almost recall the script: Shatter the stigma. Because mental health matters. “Yeah. All right.”

“Here’s his card.”

Wow, Viktor thought as Yakov slid it across the desk. He had it ready to go. Viktor turned the card over in his hands. Was this Dr. Rhee a couples’ therapist? Or maybe he was a therapist specializing in celebrities and the people who enable them. 

“Vitya.” Viktor knew that voice. Yakov had bad news for him. “Jean-Jacques Leroy’s people called.”

“Who?”

Late Night with JJ,” said Yakov. Viktor had heard of it. “They want all three of you on the show after the LA premiere. I’ve half a mind to get you out of it—”

“But they won’t say yes without me?” Viktor didn’t wait for an answer. “I’ll do it. It’s always nice to go to New York.”

“You don’t have to do it. They’ll understand.”

Viktor shook his head. “I said I would do it. I’m going to see this movie through.”

“And then what?”

That was the question, wasn’t it?

----

Yuuri wasn’t a complainer, but his repeat viewings of Agape were really starting to cut into his study time. Detroit to Chicago and back in a day was no joke, but the advance screener had been worth it. Same for staying up late to see it the first night it came out in Detroit. It was still worth it the tenth time. 

His roommate did not understand. 

“Pike is throwing their end of the year rager tonight. You sure Drunk Hero doesn’t want to make an appearance?” asked Matt, snickering. 

“Please don’t call me that,” Yuuri groaned. “I have to study this weekend.” 

Matt’s friend’s cough sounded suspiciously like the word nerd. Matt snorted a laugh. “Lighten up. It's only Friday.”

And studying with a hangover sounded like a delight. “I’m going to stay in and watch a show tonight.”

“You’re going to stay in and watch that stupid skating show again, aren’t you?” 

Late Night with JJ, actually.” Yuuri didn’t know why he bothered answering.

“My mom watches that show,” said Matt’s friend.

Matt rolled his eyes. “Let me guess. Viktor’s going to be on?”

“Among other people,” said Yuuri, not looking up from his laptop. 

“Man, even my little sister wasn’t this bad when she went through her boyband phase. Just download it and watch it later. This party is once in a lifetime.”

“Maybe I just don’t like parties,” said Yuuri. He definitely didn’t like the kind of parties that fraternities threw. He didn’t care if it made him seem pathetic. Yuuri didn’t care for Matt and his friends, either. 

“Everyone likes parties. You’d rather fantasize about your imaginary boyfriend than go out and meet actual people.”

Matt’s words stung but Yuuri said nothing.That was exactly why he preferred to stay in. Viktor was charming, kind, and completely incapable of hurting Yuuri’s feelings. 

Matt and his friends only wanted to see what Yuuri would do after too many drinks. 

“God, you’re so creepy,” said Matt. “Have fun jerking it to some movie star you’re never going to meet.”

Yuuri shouldn’t have taken the bait, but he snapped. “Have fun getting busted for underage drinking.”

At least the school year was almost over. Matt wasn’t taking summer classes, so Yuuri would be on his own for the summer. 

Come fall he’d have a new roommate, one who would also think Yuuri was weird, but it wouldn’t be Matt. 

Matt and his friend slammed the door behind them and Yuuri was alone. But when the feed started, Yuuri forgot all about his roommate.

JJ’s band started up the theme music. Yuuri had only seen a few clips of the show before, but the theme had a nasty way of getting stuck in his head. 

“Live on tape from New York City, it’s Late Night with JJ!”

The audience roared as the band played. Yuuri had seen some photos from the recording earlier that day, and his heart quickened with anticipation.

“Tonight’s guests: the cast of Agape!”

Now the audience was shrieking. Yuuri would have given anything to be there, but there was something comforting about watching from the safety of his dorm. 

“And now, the king of late night television, Jean-Jacques Leroy!”

The screaming grew louder, and JJ did his trademark “JJ Style” shtick. Yuuri didn’t get it, but his fans ate it up. Once the applause died down, JJ launched into his monologue, but Yuuri didn’t really register his words until he said, “Wow, what a show we have for you tonight. You picked a great night to come because the cast of Agape is here!” The audience exploded and JJ clapped, too. “I saw the movie and it was just incredible, wasn’t it? So stick around, we’ll be right back!”

Screams erupted once more and Yuuri couldn’t blame the audience. He’d loved every minute of Agape, every time. 

It wasn’t going to win any Oscars, but Viktor deserved one, along with a Golden Globe and Sexiest Man Alive, just for starters. Every critic was suddenly adamant that they alone had known Viktor was rife with potential and just needed the right vehicle to propel him to stardom. It was vindicating to see him finally getting the attention he deserved, and he seemed to be enjoying it.

Once the commercials were over, Yuuri bounced his foot to get through the banter between JJ, his announcer, and the band. The fanmail segment was tougher, and he stretched his arms and legs like he was warming up. 

Finally, JJ changed gears and Yuuri was glued to his laptop once more. “Tonight’s guests have been getting a lot of buzz! The cast of Agape is here!” The audience dissolved into screams again and JJ laughed. “Wow, what a hot film. I just can’t get over it, I’ve seen it three times. I loved it, my wife loved it, you love it, right?”

The audience loved it. 

“Let’s take a look at a clip.”

The screen faded, and Yuuri recognizes the scene from the first frame. That particular clip had been around for a while, but Yuuri got chills every time Evgeny saw the cold, ruthless teen his little brother Ilya had become, all while Katya looked on. 

The clip faded back to JJ, who nodded and clapped along with the audience. “Wow! Wow. All right, are you ready?” The audience roared and he said, “First up, in his motion picture debut at just 16 years old, please welcome Yuri Plisetsky!” 

Shrieks rose from the audience––Yuri’s fans skewed young and female––and Yuri walked out stiffly but with his head high. JJ tried to hug him as the band played but Yuri didn’t return the gesture. 

Yuri took a seat on the couch as far from JJ as he could get, slinking into a relaxed posture. JJ didn’t seem bothered. “And next––what a performance––it’s Viktor Nikiforov!” 

Yuuri’s breath caught in his throat as Viktor walked out, the portrait of ease and calm. He waved at the roaring crowd, less shrill but even louder than Yuri’s cheers. Viktor had no trouble hugging JJ, and he pulled Yuri out of his seat for a hug, which Yuri did return (albeit reluctantly). Viktor blew one quick kiss at the crowd, to their delight. 

“And of course,” JJ began, “last but not least, please welcome back the phenomenal Anya Garina!” It made sense that JJ would announce Anya last, since she was the highest billed star in the movie. 

Anya strode out to cheers, and she kissed JJ, Viktor, and Yuri’s cheeks in turn. As the crowd grew louder still, the band reached a crescendo and ended with a bang. It took a while for the applause to die down but the actors eventually sat on the couch, Anya and Viktor poised and proper and Yuri slouching. 

“Wow! Thanks so much to all of you for coming!” JJ said, taking his own seat. 

“Thanks for having us,” said Viktor. Yuri gave an neutral sort of grunt.

“It’s good to be back,” said Anya. 

“Great to have you back! I remember when you came and visited us last year for Sleeping Beauty,” said JJ, prompting more applause. “We were in the middle of that big heat wave, and here we are again.”

“It’s May! It shouldn’t be this hot!” Anya fanned herself. “Before the show we went out to get hot dogs, because you have to have a hot dog in New York, right?” The crowd clapped. She went on, “But when it’s this hot, I didn’t realize that New York foods were not a good idea. Hot dogs? Pizza?”

“Of course hot dogs are hot, it’s right there in the name!” said JJ. 

“Are there dogs in them, too?” Yuri muttered. 

JJ laughed and the audience ate it up. “Well, next time, get ice cream. Or release a movie in winter, when it’s 20 below.”

“I’d love to see New York in winter!” Anya’s eyes lit up. “I love the cold, and it would be pretty to see all the decorations.”

“Oh, you definitely should,” said JJ. “Come see the big tree, see all the lights, and then stay for New Year’s, there’s nothing like it. Come back on the show while you’re at it, we’d love to have you!"

The audience whooped and Anya said, “We’d love to, right?”

Viktor clapped and nodded, but Yuri just shrugged. 

Once the cheers died down, JJ addressed the group. “So, your new movie is A-ga-pe. Not a-gape. Right?”

“That’s right,” said Anya. “Agape.

Agape?” JJ tried again and Yuuri wondered if he was obligated to say the name of the movie a certain number of times. “And what does it mean?”

“You said you watched the movie. Weren’t you paying attention?” Yuri snapped. The crowd laughed even though Yuri probably hadn’t been trying to make a joke.

“I was, I was! But it’s been a long time since high school Latin, okay?”

“It comes from Ancient Greek,” said Viktor, ever patient. “Agape is the highest form of love. Unconditional love, spiritual love. This would be in contrast to eros—sexual love. Passionate love.”

The audience exploded and JJ waggled his eyebrows. “I get it. Two kinds of love. So are you saying there’s going to be a sequel?”

Viktor stroked his chin and raised his eyebrows suggestively (even as Yuri Plisetsky made gagging sounds). “A sensual sequel?” he asked, sending the audience over the edge. “I like that idea. I’ll let you know.”

Yuuri lost it a little bit, too. Viktor had done plenty of racy scenes in his films, but the prospect of a sex scene was almost too much to think about. 

JJ laughed and the audience (and Yuuri) got it together. “Viktor, this is your first time on the show, but I was talking to my wife last night and it turns out she’s been a fan of yours for a long time.”

“Has she?” 

“Yeah, she used to be an ice dancer—she’s retired now—but she loved On Thin Ice.”

Yuuri made a mental note to look up JJ’s wife after the show was done. 

”I’ve been hearing that a lot lately! It makes me so happy to know people enjoyed that show and still think about it even years later,” Viktor said. 

“It’s everywhere right now, thanks to Hulu,” said JJ. “And I know you and Chris Giacometti joked about this a while ago, but would you really do a reunion?”

Yuuri had given up hope a long time ago but the audience hollered. Viktor crossed his legs the other way and said, “If anyone else in the cast wanted to do it, I would.” The hooting intensified and Yuuri almost choked on his saliva.

“Do you think you could still skate?”

Viktor laughed. “Probably not, but it’d be fun to try.” 

“Looking at you now, though, I almost don’t recognize you,” said JJ. He pulled a picture out from behind his desk of Viktor with his long, flowing hair, adorned with a crown of roses. Yuuri had that poster, too. The crowd went wild and Viktor smiled at the picture. 

“It was a good look, wasn’t it?” he said. He swept a hand through his fringe. “I don’t miss the upkeep, though.”

“Well, what about you, Yuri? Are you paying homage to Viktor with your hairstyle?” JJ asked, to more squeals. 

Yuri glared daggers at JJ while Viktor preened. 

“He wishes,” snorted Yuri. 

Once the laughs subsided, JJ went on. “Now Yuri, this is your first movie, right? How did you get the part?”

“I auditioned.”

“Oh.” JJ actually seemed stumped for a moment.

Yuuri had never seen anything like Yuri’s behavior, not on one of these shows. It was the opposite of Viktor’s cool, pleasant manner. Years of media conditioning did that to a person, but it was weirder to see someone act a different way.

Viktor spoke instead. “We have the same manager, Yuri and I, and when the director requested me, she asked if our manager had anyone in mind to be my little brother.”

“Because the movie is all about you,” Yuri drawled. 

“Yuri had an amazing audition and our screen test was phenomenal,” said Viktor, much like a proud parent.

“You don’t have to answer for me,” Yuri snapped.

Anya looked at JJ for sympathy. “Can you see why they were cast as brothers?” The audience laughed.

“Was it like this all the time?” JJ asked.

“You have no idea,” she said. “I mean, the cast and crew always feels a bit like a family because you spend so much time together, but those two are extra brotherly.”

“No, Viktor’s just extra,” Yuri muttered, sending the JJ and audience into stitches. 

“We need to take a break, but when we come back, will you stick around and play a game?”

“Of course,” said Viktor. 

Anya and Yuri nodded (Yuri grudgingly). 

JJ grinned. “Great! Stick around, everyone, because after the break, Anya, Viktor, Yuri, and I are going to play Charades!”

The commercials dragged on forever until the cast returned, now seated in a different area. 

They divided into teams: Viktor and Yuri, Anya and JJ. JJ explained the rules and added that Viktor and Yuri had won a coin toss and would go first.

Viktor picked a card and wrinkled his brow. “What is this? I’ve never heard of it.”

“Oh, great,” Yuri muttered. “That’s just great.”

“You’re not supposed to talk!” JJ cried. “Emil, help him out!”

JJ’s announcer ran on and whispered something in Viktor’s ear. With a nod, Viktor cracked his knuckles and put the card down on the table. 

“Time starts now!” said JJ, and the clue that Viktor had never heard of appeared on the screen.

Flappy Bird. 

The audience laughed.

No wonder he's confused, thought Yuuri.Viktor had said before that he didn’t play games, wasn’t good at them, and didn’t have the patience or attention span to improve. It was probably just a cute way of saying he didn’t have time for them.  Yuuri had given up on Flappy Bird fairly quickly himself, long before it got taken down.

Viktor mimicked playing a game with a controller and Yuri curled his lip.

“It’s a game? Oh, we’re screwed.”

Viktor held up two fingers.

“Two words," said Yuri. "Yeah, yeah, keep going.”

Viktor extended his arms, graceful all the way to his fingertips. 

Yuri scrunched up his face in a frown. “Flight Simulator?” 

Even though he was all alone, Yuuri burst out laughing. He thought there was nothing Viktor couldn’t convey, but apparently, flappy was not in his arsenal. He danced about the room with the poise of a ballerina as Yuri called out game after game, not even close. 

Just DanceFinal Fantasy? Viktor, are you even sure it’s a game?” He pointed at JJ and then at Emil, who was offstage. “How do I know they’re not trying to cheat?”

The camera panned to Emil laughing his head off. “We wouldn’t do that!” he said.

Black Swan!” Yuri called out. “Swan Lake! One Flew Over the bleeping Cuckoo’s Nest, bleep I don’t bleeping know.”

“Whoa, whoa, Yuri, this is a family show!” JJ said, waving his arms in front of himself. 

Yuri paid him no mind. “Madame Butterfly? Bleep, Viktor, do something else!”

Viktor frowned and Yuri made one last attempt—“Angry Birds?”—before the timer buzzed. Close, but not quite. 

“It was Flappy Bird!” said Viktor. “Yuri, have you heard of that?”

“Of course I have! Can’t you flap your arms like a normal person?” Yuri flailed his arms at his sides. 

“But that’s so ungainly!” Viktor protested. 

Yuri rolled his eyes so far back, Yuuri’s mother would have warned him they’d get stuck that way. JJ was doubled over laughing and even Anya was chuckling. 

“This is the extra kind of bullcrap I have to deal with,” Yuri grumbled, trying very hard not to smile. 

“Okay, okay, Anya, pick a card.”

Anya’s card said Sleeping Beauty, and Yuuri snorted. Ths game was totally rigged. Sure enough, JJ got it in two guesses with time to spare. 

Russian Yuri had the same complaint. “You set us up! What the f—hell?”

“The cards are random, I swear!” JJ said, but when the camera panned to Emil and he was in stitches.

“Whatever. Let me see about that.” Yuri stomped up to the cards and picked one. He turned to Emil, mouth gaping, and demanded, “You gotta be kidding me!”

The words Viktor Nikiforov appeared on screen.

There was nothing random about this game, but Yuuri laughed anyway. Yuri put his hands on his hips and the timer began.

“Okay, it’s a person,” said Viktor, scooting to the edge of the couch. Yuri nodded and began flouncing around the room, doing surprisingly skilled pirouettes. The audience cheered. “Wow! So graceful, Yuri! Oh, it’s Flappy Bird!”

“THAT’S NOT A PERSON!”

Viktor watched as Yuri shook out his hair, blew kisses, and winked at the camera. Viktor’s eyes lit up and he shouted, “Oh! It’s me! Viktor Nikiforov!”

“THANK YOU.” Yuri went back to scowling and the band played a ta-da. Yuri took a quick bow and said down as the audience, JJ, and Anya clapped. No one cheered harder than Viktor.

“Yuri, I’m so flattered, that was uncanny!”

Yuri burned with embarrassment. “It wasn’t supposed to be a compliment.”

Anya and JJ ended up winning the game, but Viktor had won Yuuri’s heart ten times over. 

Chapter Text

Viktor Nikiforov Fans @ViktorFansUS 2h
Whether you’re #TeamJJ or #TeamYuri we can all agree that #ViktorNikiforov is a national treasure! [gif of Viktor playing charades]

Henry Leung @henryleung2009 2h
@ViktorFansUS More like international treasure! #hifromhongkong

cat is on vacation! @1sillykitten 2h
@ViktorFansUS my day isn't complete unless i watch this clip

burgundy @burgundyblue 2h
@ViktorFansUS JJ and Yuri could both learn from Viktor. He’s grace personified.

#1 yuri fan @bananaaaaa 2h
@ViktorFansUS @burgundyblue gtfo with that shit, yuri is HONEST unlike viktor who is basically a robot #yurisangels

logan davis @itslolologan 2h
@ViktorFansUS @burgundyblue @bananaaaaa NO ONE INSULTS VIKTOR IN MY HOUSE

People could say what they wanted about Viktor (and as online comments went, that one wasn’t too bad), but no one could say he didn’t take his mental health seriously. He (almost) never looked himself up online, he stayed out of the Yuri’s Angels vs. JJ Girls  Twitter war that was somehow still going on, and he answered when the therapist’s office returned his call.

It had taken him a while to get around to it, but he had left a message that morning before the office opened. They didn’t waste any time calling him back—the office couldn’t have been open for more than a few minutes.

“Dr. Rhee has some openings later this week. Can you come in this Thursday at 3:15?” asked the receptionist.

Viktor looked out his window at the skyscrapers that stretched for miles. “That’d be tough.”

“Okay, no problem. What days could you come to the office?”

“Well, the thing is, I wasn’t planning on coming back to LA any time soon,” said Viktor.

“Oh, I didn’t realize you were out of town. When will you be available?” asked the receptionist.

Viktor sat down on his new couch and Makkachin crawled into his lap. “I don’t suppose you have a New York office, do you?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Did I forget to mention I just relocated to New York City?” Viktor asked. “Must have slipped my mind.”

“Relocated? Wouldn’t you prefer to see a local therapist? We can refer you to—”

“Yakov recommended Dr. Rhee, so I’d rather see him.” Flying was the last thing he wanted to do, but maybe Chris could watch Makkachin for a day. “I suppose I could fly back next week.”

“May I put you on hold for just a moment?” the receptionist asked.

“No problem,” Viktor said. He was content to sit and pet Makkachin. He tapped his foot to the hold music until the receptionist came back.

“Dr. Rhee does offer distance therapy to accommodate his traveling clients. Normally, he prefers to have the initial meeting in person, but he is willing to make an exception.”

“Wonderful!” Viktor cried. “Then my schedule is wide open.”

Viktor had to fill out and return some forms, but he had an appointment and that was progress. As Makkachin napped on the couch, Viktor stepped out on the balcony. The sun’s rays peeked through gaps between the buildings and he just had to get a picture for Instagram.

Within minutes of posting, his phone was ringing.

“Hi, Yakov,” he said cheerily.

“Vitya.”

“What, no, Hello, how are you?” Viktor teased. “And here you’re always coaching Yuri on his manners.”

Yakov didn’t laugh, but that was nothing new.

“Do you have something to tell me?”

“I do!” Viktor exclaimed. “I called Dr. Rhee.”

“That’s…good.” There was a rumble on the line before Yakov spoke again. “Anything else?”

“Not really,” said Viktor. “I’m thinking of ordering Chinese for lunch.”

Yakov's voice was unnervingly calm. “Is this some kind of joke? Are you playing a game with me?”

Viktor didn’t give up his hand. “What do you mean?”

“I have no time for your antics, Vitya. I’m a busy man, with plenty of actors who actually care about their careers.” Yakov took a deep breath. “Where are you?”

“I’m at home,” and this would surely break the calm, “I needed to get out of LA. Surely you understand.”

“Understand?!” Yakov growled. “What I understand is that you sold your house and moved clear across the country without so much as a word!”

Perhaps Yakov was more social media savvy than he realized. Viktor pulled the phone away from his head to protect his hearing. “You’re the one who told me to get away,” he said.

“I meant a vacation! A couple of weeks to clear your head! I’d ask what your plan is, but you don’t have one, do you?”

Viktor had a plan, but it was…open-ended. He went back inside and Makkachin roused to greet him. “I need more than a couple of weeks. Surely you can tell the press something. You’re good at that.”

“What do I tell them? That your next move after the biggest movie of your career is to disappear?”

Viktor grinned. “That sounds pretty mysterious, doesn’t it? Sure, go with that.”

“You are in demand right now. Every day, directors, producers, reporters are calling, and I have no idea what to tell them. If you don’t strike while the iron is hot, your career will disappear right along with you."

“Would that be so bad?” Viktor wondered. It was something he had to figure out for himself.

“What, you’re going to quit acting? Retire to the Hamptons and knit sweaters for your dog?”

“I wouldn’t say that. I’ll keep my engagements, for now.” Viktor stroked Makkachin, imagining what color she would look best in—any color, of course. He didn’t know how to knit but it looked like he would have some free time soon.

Yakov didn’t seem satisfied with that answer. “This is ludicrous. If you put your career on hold now, you won’t be able to come back. There are thousands of actors waiting to take your place. The industry will move on without you. ”

Yakov’s words reminded him of lines from Agape. “Then you’ll be plenty busy while I figure things out,” Viktor said. “I’ll be in touch.”

“Vitya, don’t you dare hang—”

Viktor hung up and turned his phone off. He spent the whole day doting on his dog, and he ordered Peking Duck, to be delivered to his new home.

----

v-nikiforov just posted a photo.

Yuuri gasped out loud when he saw it. That skyline could only be New York City and the caption read, Home sweet home.

Had Viktor moved? Viktor had lived in Los Angeles since he was a teenager. Even after his mother had gone back to coaching in Europe, LA had been Viktor’s home.

Not anymore, apparently. Yuuri liked the post as the flutters in his stomach reached embarrassing levels.

Viktor lived in the same time zone. Viktor was probably up and about right now, maybe having brunch in a trendy New York cafe or walking Makkachin at some exclusive dog park. Yuuri had been to New York a few times, and even though he hadn’t seen much of the city, it suited Viktor.

This meant exciting things for Viktor. Yuuri spent the rest of the morning scouring the internet for more news, undistracted for hours until a new email from the university popped up.

Subject: Roommate Assignment

It was probably the only thing that could have torn his attention away from Viktor’s move. 

Phichit Chulanont (Freshman)
Age: 19
Major: Film
Minor: English
Hobbies: Figure skating, movies, social media, games, pets

Yuuri hadn’t seen the footage but he’d heard about it. Rising star Phichit Chulanont, the most accomplished Thai skater ever at just 18 and would-be rinkmate if Yuuri hadn’t quit, had fallen and broken his ankle during his long program in his Grand Prix Final debut. 

According to Twitter, Phichit had decided to take some time off to “recover and refocus.” His prolific tweets had dwindled to a trickle since then, and Yuuri had lost track of him until now.

Yuuri stared at the message. This morning was too intense for him. He wasn’t ready to face another figure skater. He’d known that Phichit was enrolled at the same school, but with competing, he wouldn’t have been around campus much. Yuuri remembered.

He had left the sport before Phichit had started training in Detroit, before Phichit had even made his senior debut, so Phichit probably didn’t even know who we was.

Somehow, that made him feel worse.

Another new email popped up, because Yuuri couldn’t catch a moment of peace.

From: Phichit Chulanont
Subject: Roomie!!

Yuuri was almost afraid to click. 

YUURI KATSUKI OH MY GOD. I was bummed about not skating this season, but not anymore because now I can’t wait to meet you! I’ve looked up to you forever and I wondered what happened to you but holy crap, you’re an engineering student, wow!

YUURI!!! KATSUKI!!! Sorry, still screaming. Would you email me back? Or here’s my number if you want to text!

See you soon!!!

Phichit

Phichit had heard of him? Phichit wondered what had happened to him? Yuuri wasn’t keeping secrets. He hadn’t even left Detroit. Okay, he had deleted his old social media accounts and started new, secret ones, but he hadn’t changed his real name or anything.

Maybe Phichit was just being polite. He had probably googled Yuuri’s name when the announcements came out, and obviously, he would have found Yuuri’s tiny Wikipedia page. Phichit might have thought it would be awkward if he didn’t mention it, but he was laying it on a little thick. The idea of anyone looking up to Yuuri was utterly ridiculous.

Yuuri's career had been a disaster. All he could see when he looked back was fall after stumble.

Phichit’s skating was fresh and light, with solid fundamentals. He’d had bad luck with his injury and he needed time to heal. Yuuri fell far too much for it to be bad luck.

But Phichit always seemed friendly in interviews and online, and if they were going to be roommates, Yuuri would have to make an effort. No one could be worse than Matt.

Hi Phichit,

It’s nice to talk to you! I’m a fan of your skating. You never hold back on the ice and it’s always fun to watch you. I’m surprised you’ve heard of me. I hope we can get along and I hope you like it here! Here’s my phone number.

Yuuri

He had barely hit send when he had a text from the number Phichit had given him.

12:12 PM
YUURI KATSUKI IS A FAN OF MY SKATING??? OMG (ᵒ̤̑ ₀̑ ᵒ̤̑)wow!* i’m dead
but idg why you are surprised
everyone knows you!

Phichit was probably just being nice. But I don’t skate anymore, he replied.

12:13 PM
well neither do i
but let’s not talk about that right now
what’s our theme this year?

Theme? Yuuri’s theme had been Perseverance for his final season, and he had failed. Yuuri returned the text. What do you mean?

12:14 PM
decorations! 
for our room
also how do you feel about hamsters? because i have several ʢ• ͡•ʢ• ͡•ʢ• ͡•ʡ

I like hamsters, Yuuri wrote. He looked around his room to address Phichit’s first point, and the theme was obvious: Viktor Nikiforov. Well, Phichit was going to find out about it anyway. Do you like movies? he asked.

12:15 PM
i LOVE movies!! (*꧆▽꧆*)
have you seen the king and the skater?

No, Yuuri replied.

12:15 PM 
OMG it changed my life!!
first order of business we are watching it together!
and then we’re watching your favorite movie! 
what is it?

They were already getting along better than he and Matt ever had, so he decided to go for it. I really like The Shore, but I also love Agape, he wrote. Throwing caution to the wind, he added, Seen it so many times, lol.

12:16 PM
i saw agape too! sooo good, right?
wait
i am sensing a theme
don’t tell me
you used to watch on thin ice, didn’t you?

Phichit was officially the best roommate ever.

From the moment he moved in, it was like they had always known each other. In a way, they had, because they had been at the same competitions, in the same circles, and shared so many experiences. But it was more than that. Within days, it was like they had been friendly for years.

Phichit complimented Yuuri’s posters and Yuuri admired his hamsters. Phichit’s eyes lit up every time he watched The King and the Skater (which they had done three times already), and they didn’t glaze over when Yuuri went on about Viktor. They watched movies and TV shows between classes and homework, and it was weeks before they really talked about figure skating.

“Wow!” exclaimed Phichit, texting at rapid speed. This was a common occurrence.

“What’s up?” Yuuri asked.

“Guang Hong landed a quad toe! He’s been trying for ages. Do you want to see?” Phichit held up his phone so Yuuri could watch. Fully rotated with a clean landing, it was a flawless jump.

Although they had never really spoken to each other, Yuuri has seen Guang Hong Ji rise up through juniors and remembered his cheery attitude.

“That was really good,” Yuuri said. “He’s really come along.”

“I’ll tell him you said that! He’ll be so excited.” Phichit typed as he spoke, and apparently Guang Hong was just as fast. “Guang Hong is freaking out right now. He can’t believe you know who he is.”

The feeling was mutual. “Do you talk about me with your skater friends?” Yuuri knew Phichit was still in touch with several of them, but he didn’t remember Phichit mentioning that. 

“Well, yeah. They’re all dying to know what you’ve been up to.”

“Why?” Yuuri wondered. He’d always assumed everyone had blocked his last competitive seasons from memory, just like he tried to.

“Because you were the top-ranked figure skater in Japan, with step sequences that could bring even the hardest heart to tears?” Phichit said it like it was obvious. “They don’t call you Japan’s Ace for nothing. You inspire us.”

Yuuri knew his footwork was his strength, but lots of skaters were better. Phichit made it sound like Yuuri was still inspiring people, as if he had done anything worth remembering. “They also called me ‘the figure skater with the world’s biggest glass heart,’” said Yuuri. That name was far more appropriate.

“So you had bad days. Everyone does.” Phichit looked down at his foot. “At least you never broke an ankle.”

Yuuri frowned. Phichit was long done with physical therapy, but as far as Yuuri knew, his skates spent most of their time packed up under his bed.

“You said it healed up well. Have you thought about going back?” Yuuri asked.

“Sure, I’ve thought about it.” Phichit sighed. “I’ve skated here and there, nothing serious. But I can’t even blame the ankle. I’ve been stuck for a while.”

Yuuri could understand that, but Phichit always seemed so effortless on the ice. “What about skating just for fun?” 

“When’s the last time you skated?” Phichit countered. There was no accusation in his tone but it burned Yuuri nonetheless. 

“I don’t remember,” he lied.

But he did. The last time was three months ago but everything was wrong—his center of gravity, his timing, his state of mind… Nothing had worked.

“Do you ever think about going back?” Phichit asked.

Maybe in his wildest dreams, but it was too late. He was too old. “It’s been too long. I don’t think I could.”

Phichit shook his head. “It’s only been two seasons. People have come back from longer.”

How did Phichit know how long it had been? “Three seasons if you count this one,” Yuuri corrected him. "And I haven't been practicing consistently."

Phichit watched Guang Hong’s video loop over and over again. “But don’t you ever feel like a part of you is just missing?”

Yuuri thought about his own skates, buried under piles of clothes and books, and about the ice he rarely touched. “You get used to it.”

They sat in silence, watching Guang Hong Ji jump until Yuuri’s phone sounded.

Phichit grinned. “Viktor alert!” he said, breaking the tension.

v-nikiforov just posted a photo.

Viktor, smiling on the streets of New York City (God, but New York suits him, Yuuri thought), with one arm around Anya Garina and the other around Yuri Plisetsky.

Together again! the caption read.

“Why are they all in New York? They couldn’t be filming the sequel already, could they?” Yuuri wondered. It was too soon. Viktor had earned a nice, long break. Then again, maybe he loved acting too much to take one.

“I’m on the case,” Phichit said, going to Twitter.

They had it figured it out by the end of the day. Viktor would be walking the runway, like he had as a teenager, and Yuuri couldn’t wait to see.

Chapter Text

The high of moving to New York had worn off quickly. It was supposed to be a turning point, a change of pace, but it was just more of the same. Viktor had kept working, doing appearances, and telling Yakov he’d think about this role or that one. On top of that, he had the paparazzi to deal with. 

Viktor had always heard it was worse on the West Coast, but with the exception of his last weeks in LA, he had rarely dealt with the paparazzi at all. His apartment was secure, and he didn’t have issues with fans, but Yakov had been right. 

As soon as a fan posted a picture, Viktor got inundated wherever he was. He had to get his groceries delivered now, he had to make his own coffee, and he rarely went out to eat. He could still walk Makkachin, but it wasn’t easy. 

He had yet to make any real breakthroughs on therapy. Viktor was willing to admit it would probably take more than three appointments in five months to make progress.

Yuri’s career had taken off. Young and eager as he was, he was managing just fine without Viktor’s help. Viktor was happy for him, but their last interaction (via text) hadn’t gone well. It had been right after Viktor moved.

yakov says youre taking a break
what the fuck

Viktor knew he had forgotten to tell someone about his move, and apparently, Yuri didn’t keep up with him online. He had tried to explain but Yuri had just closed up and Viktor hadn’t heard from him since. Viktor hadn’t reached out, either.  

Eventually, Viktor had stopped answering work calls. It wasn’t always on purpose at first, he just missed them. He’d leave his phone at home when he walked Makkachin, or he’d forget to charge it. Not returning the calls was a conscious decision, and they began to taper off.

He’d dreamed of a day without a work call for over a year, but when it happened, there was no relief. He had no idea what to do with himself. It turned out he only got work calls.

Time off was supposed to make things better, but without work, he had nothing. Nothing but Makkachin.

Makkachin was his shining star. Never going out or working meant he had all the time in the world for her. Their early morning walks were sacred, even if Viktor had to plan strange routes to avoid other people.

This morning, Makkachin stopped to sniff a lamp post and Viktor paused to give her a chance to do her business. It was a cold morning, but the cold never got to Viktor. It was one of the few things that worked for him about New York. 

“All done, Makka?” asked Viktor, looping her leash around his wrist. He bent down to clean up after her when Makkachin jerked forward so hard that the leash cut into his skin. He snapped his head up to look at her. “What’s wrong?” 

Makkachin had never barked this loud before. She didn’t chase squirrels or cars, but all dogs got spooked. He didn’t see anything at first, but someone shouted his name. It didn’t sound like a fan. Makkachin barked again, and Viktor turned in the direction of the voice.

The flashes were blinding and Viktor hid his face. How many of them were there? Makkachin whined and scrambled to get away. “It’s okay, girl,” he said, trying to keep his voice calm without addressing the paparazzi. He picked an open path and tried to pull he but Makkachin wanted to go a different way. 

“Viktor! Viktor! Come on, turn around. Your fans will love this!” 

Even at 4 o’clock in the morning. Even with sunglasses and a hoodie. Even when he was with his dog. Viktor couldn’t get away. He gave in and went Makkachin’s way. 

“Viktor! Is it true you’re in an alcohol treatment program? Have you been dropped from Legend Management?”

Viktor tried to hurry but Makkachin yanked him this way and that. Maybe she was reacting to Viktor, but he had never seen her like this. Could he pick her up and carry her? She was a full size poodle. How much further could they follow him? 

“Did you think people wouldn’t notice that you haven’t done anything since Agape? Give us a smile, for your career!”

Couldn’t they see that Makkachin was old? Her poor heart couldn’t take this, and neither could Viktor’s. He imagined hurling the bag of dog shit at them, but that would definitely end up online. 

A picture of the back of his head was worth nothing, so he stayed in front of them and soothed Makkachin as best as he could. 

Then, he saw it. Like a beacon, an emergency vet. He picked up Makkachin even as she thrashed and hurried inside. The smell of the veterinary office didn’t do much to calm her down.

“Is everything all right?” The person behind the desk stood and hurried to the door. “Is your dog hurt?”

“I don’t know.” Viktor stroked Makkachin, trying to calm her once more. “It’s all right, girl, we’re safe now.”

 “My name is Mel, vet tech on duty this morning,” said Mel, speaking in soft, soothing tones. Even though it was probably for Makkachin’s benefit, it helped calm Viktor, too. “Please tell me what happened.” 

 “We were chased here. Makka—she panicked, and I didn’t know where else to go.” Viktor pulled down his hood. Mel’s eyes went wide and Viktor knew he had been recognized. “I’ve never seen her so worked up.” 

Mel blinked at him but nodded and turned to Makkachin. “Keep talking to her, Mr. Nikiforov, and we’ll get her checked out.” 

In the end, Makkachin was fine, but the paparazzi camped outside for two hours before giving up. Dr. Alcivar, the vet, tried not to charge Viktor, but he insisted on paying. He ended up taking pictures with half the staff, forcing a smile even though he was still shaken. It was the least he could do for them after they took care of Makkachin and gave her a place to hide. 

Viktor hired a car to get home, and the driver recognized him. He only felt a little better when Makkachin was safe at home.

None of it should have happened.

It wasn’t worth it. Makkachin was okay today, but what if something happened to her next time? Viktor wouldn’t be able to live with himself. He was lucky they had made it this far without a run in. Viktor loved sharing pictures of Makkachin—but like a fool he had assumed that would protect her. If he posted constant pictures of her, then he assumed they would have no monetary value.

All of this just to get him in some insipid Stars – They’re Just Like Us! feature, picking up Makkachin’s poop. 

Now he’d have to take Makkachin to that snooty dog run. What was the point of living in New York if he couldn’t enjoy the city? 

It reminded him of questions Dr. Rhee had asked. 

Do you enjoy acting?
What would you do if you weren’t an actor?
Why do you keep up this pace?

He hadn’t given them much thought before, but maybe it was time. 

Viktor pulled out his phone and found a contact he hadn’t used in months.

How’s your season going? Let me know if you’re still up for watching Makkachin after the season ends. I’m planning on taking a trip this summer.

Leo got back to him quickly.

2:13 PM
Sure, I’d love to watch her.
I’m going to Worlds this year, if you can believe it. I can get you tickets if you want to come.

Viktor did, and he didn’t. The World Figure Skating Championships was a huge event. It would be televised internationally, not to mention all over the internet. But he had forgotten his promise, and he was asking Leo for a favor (even if he was paying him).

Maybe he could make it work. He typed his reply. Congratulations! I’d love to see you compete. 

Leo gave him the date and place. Boston wasn’t far, and maybe he could disguise himself better in the future. He’d need to, lest he get recognized while he was traveling. He took it as a sign when Leo said he’d be spending June in New York volunteering as a youth skating instructor. 

Do you need a place to stay? Viktor wrote. You can use my apartment while I’m travelling. 

2:20 PM
Are you sure? That would be fantastic. NYC is so expensive.

Viktor’s open-ended plan was beginning to take shape. He made arrangements with Leo and started making his own travel plans online. He could travel discreetly as it was, but Viktor needed time away from his fame, and everything that came with it. 

He also made some calls to Makkachin’s usual vet—despite the paparazzi run in, Dr. Alcivar’s place just wasn’t discreet enough—to see what she’d need to travel.

The next step was to call Chris. 

Viktor hadn’t spoken to Chris since he had offered to throw Viktor a birthday party, but more attention was the last thing Viktor needed. He didn’t have the patience to fake it with a bunch of celebrities who were just about as interested in Viktor as he was in them. 

“Good morning, Viktor. Finally cashing in that belated birthday present?” Chris said.

“Actually, I am! Would you be so kind as to recommend a good stylist? One who knows how to be discreet.”

 Chris chuckled. “Of course I will, but what exactly are you planning?”

The next day, before the salon opened, Chris found out.

“Absolutely not!” Mi-young, Chris’s hairdresser friend gasped. “When I got my license, I took an oath. First, do no harm.”

“Isn’t that for doctors?” Viktor wondered. He crossed his legs and swept the black hairdresser’s cape over his lap. 

“If I dye your hair, we will definitely have a medical emergency on our hands,” said Mi-young.

“No one will ever know it was you.” Viktor wasn’t planning on being spotted any time soon. 

“No shit they won’t. No hairdresser with a conscience would go on record as the one who ruined Viktor Nikiforov.”

“Is this for some super-secret role?” Chris asked. 

“No role.” The words came out before Viktor could take them back. That would have been a good lie.

Chris crossed his arms over his chest. “It’s not about that guy in Detroit, right? Detroit Boy? I thought that was done.” 

“It is done. This is about…” What could Viktor say? “Look, I’m just tired of being recognized, okay?”

“Seriously? Viktor ‘be sure you get my good side’ Nikiforov is tired of fame?” Chris asked. 

Mi-young mirrored Chris’s posture. “I’m not doing this. It goes against my values.”

“But I’m asking you,” said Viktor, pouting. “I’m paying you a lot.”

“No, I’m paying you a lot,” Chris pointed out. “Happy belated birthday.”

Mi-young pushed her fingers through Viktor’s hair. “Isn’t there another way? I’m still heartbroken from when you cut it all off.”

“If I wanted to wear wigs, I’d be back in Hollywood.”

“Do you know how many clients ask me for your exact color and cut?” Mi-young moaned. “It’s not possible to get this shade from a bottle and you just want to throw it all away?!”

Viktor shrugged. “Hair grows.” 

“What are you planning?” Chris stroked his chin. “Viktor, if you need to talk to someone…”

“Yakov already got me a therapist, okay? I’m sure about this. Do it.”

“I am going to hell for this,” said Mi-young. She disappeared to mix the color and was still repeating the words when she came back. It was all she could say as she brushed the color onto Viktor’s hair. 

“So, therapy?” Chris asked, sitting in the chair next to Viktor’s. “That’s good. Good for you.”

“It has come to my attention that I have no life outside of work.” 

“And that you’re fixated on pleasing everyone even though you have no idea how to go about it?” Chris suggested, resting his cheek on his hand. 

Viktor narrowed his eyes. “I was getting to that, but yes, Chris, I’m not perfect.”

“No one is,” replied Chris. “And you don’t have to be perfect, you know? I like you just the way you are.”

“Which is why this is so effing wrong,” Mi-young muttered, sectioning off the hair on the back of Viktor’s head.

“I like you just the way you are,” Chris repeated, “but I’m glad you’re taking care of yourself. Everyone could use a good therapist.”

“I’m going to need to up my meds when this is said and done,” Mi-young said. “My anxiety can’t take this.”

Viktor was calm. “Just know that you’re helping me, Mi-young.”

“I think New York is doing you a lot of good. You can take some time to yourself and go back to work feeling reinvigorated.” Chris tapped Viktor’s arm. “All the good movies are made here anyway. Or you could go back to TV! I could get you in as a guest judge on my show.”

“Thanks. I’ll think about it.”

But Viktor didn’t think about it while his color was processing. He didn’t think about it while Mi-young tipped his head back in the bowl and applied dye to his eyebrows. He didn’t think about it while she rinsed and washed his hair, even as she choked out gasps. 

“Oh, Viktor.”

Chris sighed. “I can’t believe it’s come to this.”

Viktor said nothing as he stared at himself in the mirror. His roles had called for different hair colors before, but always temporary color or wigs in various shades of blond. He had never been this dark before. This was a deep, cool brown. He looked a bit like Snow White from his childhood books, icy pale with dark hair and eyebrows—brown eyebrows. Who was he?

“If you tell anyone I did this I will murder you in your sleep,” Mi-young said to Chris and Viktor. 

“She’s a genius with a straight razor,” said Chris.

Mi-young flicked Chris’s chin. “Not that you’d know. When’s the last time you shaved that thing?” 

“It’s my signature look.”

“That doesn’t mean it looks good.”

Viktor let them bicker. Knowing his secret was safe was enough. 

“You’re going to start showing growth in a few weeks. I don’t care how you touch it up, just don’t involve me and try not to blind yourself.” She turned to Chris. “See you next week.”

“Thank you, Mi-young,” said Viktor, still staring at himself in the mirror in shock.

“I don’t want to see you again unless we’re stripping this travesty out,” Mi-young replied, leaving the shop.

It was still very early, and Chris and Viktor had snuck in under complete cover. It was a private salon, and they could sneak out easily.

“One more chance, Viktor. What’s this about?” Chris asked as they reached the door. 

If anyone deserved the truth, it was Chris. And it wasn't a bad idea for someone to know where he was going, in case something happened. Viktor took a deep breath. “I’m taking a break from acting. I’m going to Russia for a while.”

“To see your parents?” Chris asked.

“My father.” 

“Oh, that’s right. Your mom still coaches, right?”

Viktor nodded. “She’ll be harder to pin down, but I’m going to visit her, too.” 

“Ah.” The corner of Chris’s lip twitched up. “Your therapist’s idea?” 

“Not exactly. But I think it’s time. It’s been years.” Viktor couldn’t even remember how many. It had been months since he had talked to either of them.

“Are you taking Makkachin, or do you need someone to watch her?” Chris asked. “I can recommend an excellent sitter, and he does dogs as well as cats.”

“Thank you, but Makka’s coming with me to Russia, and I have someone for when I visit my mom.” 

Chris smiled and nodded. “Keep in touch while you’re gone, all right? It’s a lonely business, ours, but I’m always happy to keep you company.” With a wink, he added, “In any capacity.”

There was concern there, beneath the playful lust. 

“You never get lonely, do you?” Viktor asked, keeping coy at the surface.

Chris studied him for a moment. “Of course I do. But I don’t think it’s quite the same. Not anymore.”

Later that evening, Viktor still wasn’t sure what Chris meant.

 

Chapter Text

The year was shaping up to be Yuuri’s best in recent memory. He might not have been able to set foot on a rink, but now that he had a friend, it didn’t sting so badly. Yuuri was working out again, even dancing (and not just in clubs). The timing was perfect, because his main hobby (Viktor) had been pretty quiet lately.

Yuuri still checked daily, but updates from Viktor or even posts mentioning Viktor were scarce. He must have been hard at work on a secret project. Was it too soon for that Agape sequel? Maybe a clothing line? Yuuri could only speculate.

It was a particularly cold, sloppy Detroit winter. All around Yuuri, students murmured about spring break in Miami or Cancun. Maybe Yuuri was missing out on a rite of passage by never doing a spring break trip, but he could make a drunken fool of himself right here in Detroit. No need to waste a bunch of money on it.

Phichit hadn’t mentioned spring break at all. It was still a while away, but Yuuri figured he had a trip planned with other friends and was just trying to spare Yuuri’s feelings.

After a morning of battling high winds and subzero temperatures to get to class, Yuuri and Phichit gave themselves permission to skip the gym.

They picked up dinner from the dining hall and took it back to their room. “Movie tonight?” Phichit asked, balancing a roll on top of his soup container.

“Sure,” replied Yuuri. He opened the door since his boxed tuna salad on lettuce left him with a free hand. “Your turn to pick.”

On Thin Ice marathon?” Phichit suggested.

Yuuri shook his head. “You don’t have to pick that just because that’s what I would pick.”

“There hasn’t been much Viktor news lately, I figured you’d want a fix.”

“I’m fine,” said Yuuri, sitting down at his desk to eat. “I’m sure he’s hard at work or taking a vacation.”

“Last time he went on vacation, he posted two pictures an hour,” Phichit pointed out.

“A social media vacation, then,” said Yuuri. “People do that sometimes, don’t they?”

“Never heard of it," said Phichit. He frowned as if the idea left a bad taste in his mouth and Yuuri laughed.

“Anyway, you should pick.”

Phichit smirked from behind his soup spoon. “Well, I have had Shall We Skate? in my head for a week…”

“We’re so predictable,” said Yuuri.

“That’s why we’re best friends.”

When the movie was over, Phichit was still singing Shall We Skate? to himself. It was going to be in Yuuri’s head for days.

“Let the record show I gave you the chance to watch something else,” Phichit said.

“I really don’t mind,” Yuuri insisted. He had had lost track of how many times they had watched The King and the Skater 1 and 2 this year, but it always put Phichit in a good mood.

“I still can’t believe no one’s ever used the soundtrack for a program,” said Phichit. “I had a million ideas, but the timing never worked out.”

A movie about skating did seem like a natural choice for a routine, but then again, there weren’t many skaters from Thailand. If Yuuri thought about that for too long, he’d feel guilty (even though Phichit had decided to take time off on his own).

Instead, Yuuri thought about the soundtrack. He could see it working, especially for Phichit, and he asked, “What song would you pick?”

“Isn’t it obvious? Shall We Skate? I think the crowd would be really into it—with the right skater, that is.”

“Why not you?” The words left Yuuri’s mouth before he could stop them. That question would have made Yuuri feel terrible, but Phichit just looked thoughtful.

“Maybe if my ankle behaves itself, I could throw something together, just for fun,” he said. “But I might need some help with the dancier elements.”

He didn’t come right out and ask for Yuuri’s help, but the invitation was there all the same. Yuuri made a noncommittal noise and Phichit dropped it.

Skating didn’t come up in conversation again for another two weeks.

“Got any spring break plans?” Phichit asked.

“I’ll probably just stay here and study,” Yuuri replied. “Campus should be nice and quiet.”

“Or,” Phichit began, grinning like he was about to ask a favor, “you could come on a trip with me!”

Yuuri raised an eyebrow. “That depends on where you’re going.”

“How about a fabulous trip to balmy, beautiful Boston?” Phichit stretched out his arms like he was showcasing a prize on a game show.

“Boston? As in Massachusetts?” asked Yuuri. “One of the few places in the country that’s probably colder than Detroit right now? Why?”

Phichit winced and his words tumbled out all at once. “Because the World Figure Skating Championships are being held there this year and I was hoping you’d go with me?”

“Oh,” was all Yuuri could manage. Static clogged up his brain as he tried to process the invitation. Maybe he had misheard. There was no way he could face Worlds, let alone from the stands. Phichit knew that. Yuuri was about to refuse when Phichit went on.

“It’s okay if you don’t want to. My friends, you remember Guang Hong and Leo, they both qualified for Worlds for this first time this year, and Guang Hong got me some tickets.” Phichit sighed. “I want to go to support them, but at the same time, it’s the last place I want to be, you know?”

Oh . Yuuri didn’t say it aloud this time and guilt hit deep in his stomach. Of course Phichit wanted support. Yuuri was so caught in his own head that he hadn’t considered the possibility that Phichit was just as conflicted as he was. Phichit was always so cool and calm that it was easy to forget that he was, as he put it, “missing a piece of himself.”

Yuuri used to be brave. He used to skate his emotions in front of thousands of people. The least he could do was watch someone else skate t to support his friend. It was a long way away and he had time to prepare.

“All right,” he said. “I’ll go with you.”

“Awesome! I’ll book the Airbnb now.” Phichit grin softened, and he added, “Thanks.”

Naturally, Yuuri’s ample preparation time slipped away and left him an unprepared wreck the night before Worlds. He had faked some excitement for Phichit in the lead up but all he felt was growing dread. He couldn’t believe he had even made it to the apartment they were renting in Boston.

“...and tomorrow, we can leave whenever you want. You just give the signal and we’ll go. Maybe a bird call? Can you do a bulbul?”

“I’m sorry. I can’t do it, Phichit,” Yuuri said.

“How about an oriole?”

“I appreciate you trying to make me feel better, but you’ll just have to go without me. You can scalp my ticket and keep the money.” Yuuri could always just go to the museum or do a walking tour tomorrow. Boston was an interesting city, so long as he stayed far from the arena.

Phichit sipped his beer and sighed. “I’m not going to make you go if you don’t want to, but don’t you think you might enjoy it? Just a little?”

Phichit wasn’t wrong. Yuuri still liked skating, even though his failures loomed over him, reminding him that his senior “career” never really amounted to anything. But he had come for  Phichit’s sake, and he had made it this far. Yuuri finished his beer and frowned. “Maybe I can sneak a flask into the arena.”

“I don’t think the ISU is ready for lit Yuuri,” Phichit said. “But I’d keep you from going too far.”

“Please, you’d put it on Instagram,” Yuuri asked. Now there was a goal he could meet. He cracked open another beer.

“I’d ask first!” Phichit insisted. They drank in silence for a moment before Phichit spoke again, trying to sound casual. “I mean, if you’re up to it, I could introduce you to Leo and Guang Hong tomorrow. Well, reintroduce you.”

Yuuri almost spit out his drink. How had he not realized someone might recognize him? “No. Absolutely not. I’m not ready to face anyone.”

“Well, then I guess you better not go, because they’re going to recognize you,” said Phichit. He deflated as he let out another sigh. “It hasn’t been that long since you retired.”

Sometimes Yuuri forgot. He thought that he had disappeared the moment he stepped off the ice, forgotten and not missed. Maybe Phichit and his friends remembered him, but surely no one else did.

“I don’t want to be recognized.” He finished the rest of his beer in one go. “I never should have gotten your hopes up.”

Phichit frowned at the table, deep in thought, until he jerked his head up. “I’ve got it! What if you wore a disguise?”

“A disguise?” Yuuri really should have gotten vodka or something stronger.

Phichit nodded. “You can wear sunglasses and a hat and like, a big coat or something.”

“A big coat? Am I trying not to be recognized or am I trying to shoplift?” Yuuri asked.

“Hear me out! Celebrities do this stuff all the time.” Phichit smiled slyly and added, “For example, a certain Viktor Nikiforov dons a hoodie and sunglasses when he wants to avoid the paparazzi.”

That was true. And Viktor was getting good at hiding from the paparazzi lately. Ever since he’d been photographed cleaning up after Makkachin, he hadn’t been seen in public. Not that Yuuri could blame him. Viktor deserved his privacy, and a moment like that was clearly meant to be private.

Yuuri much preferred to get his pictures of Viktor and Makkachin from Viktor’s own Instagram. He hadn’t been posting as much as usual, but he was probably just busy with his next big project. Whatever Viktor was willing to share was enough for Yuuri.

“Ha! You’re thinking about Viktor now, aren’t you?” Phichit said. He finished his beer with an exaggerated smack of his lips. “Mission accomplished. I’m going to drink some water and head to bed, and I think you should do the same.”

“Okay, Mom.” But the Viktor effect had calmed him, and the disguise wasn’t a bad idea. He could go, for Phichit.

Phichit said goodnight, and after a large glass of water and several minutes of browsing Viktor’s Instagram, Yuuri was ready for bed, too.

Just before he fell asleep, he realized needed to go for himself, too.

---

Agreeing to go to Worlds had been a huge mistake. Viktor wanted to see Leo, of course. It was the least he could do for all the times Leo had cared for Makkachin. She was curled up on her bed now, next to Viktor’s suitcase.

He’d be uprooting her the day after tomorrow, putting her on a plane, taking her to another country. Was it selfish of him?

“I’m sorry, girl,” Viktor whispered, not wanting to disturb her. She needed her rest. Viktor probably needed rest, too, but he went to the kitchen and poured himself a tall shot of vodka. He downed it, poured another, and repeated the process.

Before long, he didn’t feel too bad. His phone sat on the couch, dead, and it seemed like a good idea to plug it in. It seemed like an even better idea to text Yuri.

I’m going to Russia soon do you needs anything!

No response. Maybe that little punk had blocked him. It would serve Viktor right for all the unwarranted “brotherly” advice.

He really needed to text Chris. Why would he text Yuri when he had an actual friend who wanted to be around him?

Thanks for being such abgodd friend

No response. So much for being there whenever Viktor needed him. Or was his show on? Viktor kept meaning to watch it, and now seemed like a good time. But first, he needed another shot.

Viktor tried to find Chris’s show, but he had too many TV channels. Why did he even have cable? He never used it.

This called for mode vodka.

But no matter how much vodka he drank, he’d still have to drag himself to Boston the next day. This was a promise he couldn’t break. Leo had done so much for him, and for some reason he couldn’t grasp, Viktor felt like he had to be there.

Figure skating. A piece of his past, and a future that never was. Pieces of a role he played, a role he was still playing, and one he would never play. What if he had actually trained as a skater instead of just playing one on TV? What if he hadn’t scared off the guy from Detroit, or met him sooner, or skated with him, or…or what?

What if he quit acting, got a GED, went to college, and just moved the hell on with his life?

Viktor scrolled through his contacts until he found him: Future Husband, still there (even though he pretended not to see it every time he came across it). Viktor was supposed to be over it. It wasn’t healthy.

He wasn’t drunk enough to call, but he was drunk enough to text. It took so long to compose that he was sober by the time he hit Send.

I’m sure you blocked me or changed your number or just don’t want to hear from me, but I need some closure. I’ve built you up in my head to be this perfect person, my one true love, but it’s a fantasy no one could live up to. I should know. I did the same thing to myself. I’m tired of trying to live up to my own expectations so I’m letting them go. Maybe I don’t know who I am, and I definitely don’t know you, but I do know the night we shared was the closest thing to a connection I’ve felt in years. But I’m ready to let go of that, too. If you want to start over, I’ll be watching the Men’s Short Program at the World Championships in Boston tomorrow. It’s a long shot, and I’m sure you won’t be there, but if by any chance you are, find me in section 22 row 10. And if I don’t see you, then I’ll let you go.

The phone broke his organized thoughts into awkward chunks, but the message was out there. Eyes wet and mouth dry, Viktor finally fell asleep.

 

Chapter Text

Yuuri was too nervous to eat, even though Phichit had gone to the trouble of making eggs and toast.

You can’t even make it to Worlds as a spectator , he thought. How could you have ever thought you’d make it as a competitor?

Phichit was talking to him, but Yuuri had been too focused on shifting his scrambled eggs around his plate. “What was that?”

“You can pretend you don’t speak English,” Phichit said. “I’ll say you’re an exchange student from Japan who likes skating.”

“Fine,” he muttered. Whatever Phichit wanted was fine. All he wanted was to catch the first flight home, but flights were expensive and his thoughts stabbed at him like knives. If you don’t do this, you’re an even bigger failure than before.

Even Viktor couldn’t help him now. All that was left was to do it.

He put on his sunglasses (the bulky driving ones that went over his glasses), pulled on a hat, and looped a scarf around his neck until it covered his mouth. His glasses and sunglasses fogged up with every breath, but most of his face was obscured. He thought about ditching his glasses altogether, but he had always gone without when he skated. Wearing them would just add to the disguise.

“I don’t even recognize you,” Phichit assured him. “But you do look a little like my grandpa.”

It was probably the driving glasses that did it, but Yuuri couldn’t even muster a laugh.

“Ready?” Phichit asked as they sat in the subway car. The T went right to the arena. Boston’s transit system wasn’t nearly as clean as what he was used to in Japan, but at least it was convenient, and better than what they had in Detroit.  

Yuuri nodded.

“Already in character,” said Phichit. “Good work.”

In character? Maybe Phichit was onto something. His disguise wasn’t enough—he had to pretend not to be Yuuri. He’d done it in his programs, or at least he’d tried to. He could do it again.

It felt strange to enter the arena with the masses. He’d never been to an event as an outsider before. 

Yuuri only had to take off his costume briefly for the security check, but no one recognized him. There was relative anonymity in the general audience, he realized. And with his disguise, there was no way he'd wind up on the Jumbotron—not that anyone was expecting Katsuki Yuuri, glass-hearted disappointment, to be in the crowd.

Oh no, he thought, glancing at Phichit.   Phichit Chulanont, injured hero of Thailand, was a prime Jumbotron target. And Katsuki Yuuri, who sometimes conceded to appearing on Phichit’s Instagram, just might register in the back of someone’s brain. He’d just have to turn away or run to the bathroom if the camera found them.

Yuuri's head was constantly on a swivel, like some sort of super spy plotting routes to the exits and lavatories. He tried not to linger on the ice too long. Every time a skater fell, Yuuri felt the sting of the ice, and the sting of regret that these skaters got back up when he didn’t.

But Yuuri had also forgotten how long these events were. He didn’t even recognize anyone from the first group, he realized. Guilt and disappointment hit him from all angles. Either he hadn’t paid attention to rising skaters in his own time, or he’d been gone so long that there had been a total regime change. Both possibilities made him sick to his stomach.

Phichit tried to make small talk, mentioning skaters to watch for and their best moves, but it wasn’t until the third group that Yuuri started to pay attention.

“That’s Guang Hong,” said Phichit. “Remember? He’s had a great season. Wish I could skate against him. He was really pushing me last year.”

“He’s good,” said Yuuri. Guang Hong Ji was in a different league from the previous skaters, and his performance put him in first place by a hefty margin. The podium contenders had arrived, and even Yuuri couldn’t pretend that wasn’t a little exciting.

“Did you ever meet Leo de la Iglesia?” Phichit asked. Leo was known for choreographing his own programs, and to reach this level without quads was quite a feat. Phichit went on. “He trains near LA—”

“—with the same coach who worked with Viktor,” Yuuri finished for him. He’d never had the nerve to ask Leo about it, but Coach Artinian’s influence had been obvious in Viktor's skating on TV, and while Leo had his own style, there was plenty of Artinian's coaching in it, too. Maybe that was why Yuuri kept following Leo’s career.

Leo edged out Guang Hong’s score to end up in first place, but there was still another group left. The last group.

These were the names Yuuri knew as well as he knew his own. Names that had always come before his own in the rankings. Names that didn’t get qualified with phrases like “in a disappointing showing” in articles and tweets.

As skater after skater demolished personal records, Yuuri felt more tired than if he had skated himself. By the end of the performances he felt numb and all he wanted was to leave. He was grateful they only had single session tickets, but then Phichit was grabbing his arm.

“I’m going to go see Guang Hong and Leo. Want to come? Or do you want to wait in the bathroom?”

Yuuri didn’t want to talk to anyone, but he didn’t want to be alone, either. “I’ll come.”

They headed down toward the ice, Phichit texting as he walked, until Guang Hong called out, “Phichit!” Yuuri had no idea how they had gotten there, but they were in the thick of it. It was surreal.

Phichit greeted Guang Hong, Leo, and their coaches, because he was still a part of this world. “Congratulations! I wish I could see the free skate in person,” Phichit moaned. “Either one of you could be on the podium!”

“You think so?” asked Guang Hong, who had ended up in seventh overall, just behind Leo.

“Definitely! We’ll be watching online.” Phichit was all smiles and Yuuri just stood uncomfortably on the fringe.

“Who’s that?” Leo asked, pointing at Yuuri. Yuuri wished he had decided to wait in the bathroom.

“Friend of mine,” Phichit said casually. “He’s an exchange student at my school.”

“A friend of Phichit’s is a friend of ours! Come on!” Guang Hong urged. Before he could get away, Yuuri was pulled into the circle.

“Are you okay?” asked Leo, taking in Yuuri’s appearance.

“Sensitive eyes,” said Phichit. “He’s from southern Japan so he’s not used to the cold, either.”

Leo looked at Yuuri carefully, and Yuuri pulled his hat down lower on his head.

“From Japan?” Leo repeated. “You look kind of familiar. Did you ever skate?”

I knew this was a bad idea, thought Yuuri. He tried to shake his head but froze, mouth open and trembling.

“No,” said Phichit. “This is Kenshin. Ken, for short. He doesn’t speak a lot of English.”

Kenshin? Yuuri almost slapped a hand over his forehead. They really should have agreed on a name beforehand. Sweat was beading on his chest now, even worse than in the stands.

“Oh.” Leo’s shoulders slumped a little but he extended his hand and said, “ Hajimemashite, Ken.”

Yuuri shook his hand and greeted him in a gruff voice.

“It’s nice to meet you, Ken!” said Guang Hong, shaking his hand.

Leo looked back at Phichit. “For a second, I thought he was Katsuki Yuuri. You guys are still close right?”

Yuuri’s blood went ice cold. He turned to Phichit, pretending like he didn’t understand, but all he wanted to do was run. This had been a terrible mistake. The whole day. Leo was far too clever.

“We’re roommates,” said Phichit.

“I haven’t seen him in so long,” said Guang Hong. “Please say ‘Hello’ for us!”

“Oh, I will,” said Phichit. He glanced at Yuuri. “He’ll be so surprised. He thinks no one remembers him.”

Yuuri almost swore. Of course Phichit wasn’t at all fazed. Yuuri tried to shuffle away and prayed Phichit would take the hint that it was time to go.

“Are you serious?” Guang Hong blurted. “Everyone remembers Katsuki Yuuri!”

Yuuri must have misheard him.

“It’s too bad two you aren’t competing,” said Leo. “This season could have been a lot more interesting.”

Yuuri was sure he was mostly talking about Phichit, but Guang Hong nodded, adding, “You're totally inspiring, and it was always my dream to skate against Katsuki Yuuri.”

His dream? There was no way. They were just being nice, and Yuuri’s only salvation was the dark sunglasses hiding the beginnings of his tears. He had to get out of there.

“Yeah,” said Phichit coolly. “Mine too.” He looked over at “Kenshin” again and Yuuri looked away. What was Phichit doing? He had to go, and he edged closer to the exit, hoping Phichit would finally catch on.

“You‘re coming back next season, right?” asked Guang Hong. “I’m sure it’s not too late.”

Maybe it wasn’t too late for Phichit, but it was far too late for Yuuri. Today proved it, and he couldn’t take it any longer. He bolted for the door without a second look.

Yuuri never heard Phichit’s response.

What was I thinking? I don't belong here.  His eyes stung, his chest was tight, and the scarf felt like a tourniquet at his neck

Yuuri looked up to check for the exit just in time to collide with someone. His hand flew up to keep his sunglasses on, and he couldn’t seem to find the words to apologize in English or Japanese.

The other person took a step back, securing their own hat over dark hair and pushing up their sunglasses. The collision startled Yuuri out of his funk for a moment, and he took in the person’s bulky hooded sweatshirt. Why was it so familiar? And why did it look so good on this stranger when Yuuri looked like a frumpy nightmare?

The stranger froze for a second, disoriented, then coughed out an apology, brushing past him and heading for the ice.

At least Yuuri wasn’t the only one dressed so weird. Still, there was something he couldn’t shake about the stranger’s retreating form. Something about that walk, that voice, that build… It all reminded him of Viktor, but the idea of Viktor Nikiforov being at Worlds was ridiculous. The idea of Viktor Nikiforov with dark hair was ridiculous. It had been a long day.

“Whoa,” said Phichit, appearing behind Yuuri. “You started a look! Hey, do you think that actually was someone famous?”

“Maybe that's a look. I’m just a pathetic nobody trying to hide my face,” Yuuri mumbled as the stranger disappeared. At least he wasn’t crying anymore.

“I’m sorry. Was it bad?” Phichit asked. “You were really quiet.”

The guilt on Phichit’s face made him feel even worse. He had to put on a brave face for his friend. “It brought back memories.”

Phichit smiled as they headed out. “Yeah, me too. Good ones?”

“Some of them,” Yuuri said. It wasn’t a lie. For a few moments there, he had enjoyed himself, even wondered what would have happened if he hadn't quit. But it didn't matter.

“Same,” Phichit said.

They didn’t speak the whole ride back to the apartment, but it was a comfortable silence. Phichit knew Yuuri well enough to know he needed time to process his thoughts. As the train thudded along the tracks, Yuuri realized that Phichit was probably wrestling with plenty of thoughts of his own.

---

Viktor had stayed put all day. He’d waited through multiple breaks, hadn’t used the bathroom once, hadn’t eaten anything, just in case. Nothing. He’d gotten there early and waited until he was the only person left in his section. Still nothing.

Viktor had known it was a long shot. He checked his phone one last time. Nothing.

It was time to let go.

He pasted a smile on his face and it only faltered when someone ran into him. The stranger looked almost as ridiculous as Viktor, bundled in an ill-fitted coat and hideous sunglasses that were far too big for the face beneath them. But like Viktor, the stranger must have had a reason for hiding, so he apologized and kept moving. His smile was back by the time he found Leo.

“Congratulations, Leo! That was a beautiful performance. Your passion really came through.”

Leo was standing by another competitor, both still in costume and skate guards. Viktor couldn’t remember his name.

“Thanks!” said Leo. “Every time I skate to that song, I love it as much as the first time I heard it.”

“Wait.” Leo’s friend’s mouth dropped open as he looked from Viktor to Leo. “Is that him?

Viktor pulled down his sunglasses and winked, then put a finger to his lips. Sometimes even he was amazed by his own acting ability.

“Whoa!” Leo’s friend covered his mouth and lowered his voice to a whisper. “I didn’t recognize—I mean, your hair! Is that for a role? I’m such a big fan.”

“This is Guang Hong Ji,” said Leo, wrapping a tight arm around his friend. “He’s really excited to meet you, as you can see.”

Guang Hong was one of the Chinese skaters, and he had landed in the top ten if Viktor remembered correctly. “Congratulations to you, too, Guang Hong,” he said. “Your energy on and off the ice is infectious.”

Guang Hong grinned, almost vibrating with excitement. He began to ramble and Viktor nodded without really listening. “Oh my gosh! What? You’re incredible! Did I already say I was a fan? My mom said I was too young to watch your show but I watched it anyway. Of course, I was nothing compared to this one skater, Katsuki Yuuri. He was your biggest fan. He’s older than me. I tried to talk to him because we both liked the show but he was always so focused. Ah, I’m sorry, I just get so nervous around famous—”

Leo nudged Guang Hong in the ribs and said in a loud voice, “So what did you think of the short programs?”

“Everyone was amazing!” said Viktor. “I wish I could see the free skate and the other groups, but I’m leaving first thing in the morning. I’ll try to watch it online, and I’ll be rooting for you. Both of you!”

Guang Hong looked like he might faint, but Leo smiled. “Thanks. Say hello to Makka for me."

"Of course."

Viktor didn’t really register anything about the trip back to New York, not until he was back with Makkachin. He couldn’t wait to get out of the apartment, to get out of the country and clear his head. His father wouldn’t be around much to spend time with him, but that didn’t matter. Viktor just needed distance. He needed to go to the first place he had ever called home.

He checked his phone one last time before bed, acknowledging the texts he had ignored all day.

why tf are you going to russia?
bring me pickle chips

Have a wonderful time! Go easy on the vodka.

He could definitely get pickle chips for Yuri, and Chris’s advice was good (albeit hard to heed).

The night passed and he breezed through security in the morning. The TSA agents didn’t recognize his name on his passport (or were too jaded to care). He kept his headphones in and no one spoke to him other than the flight attendants. But today, solitude didn't feel so lonely. 

Chapter Text

Viktor’s Russian might have gotten a little rusty after a decade in the US, but it came right back to him, and he and Makkachin made it to his father’s house without event.

His father still lived in the same house. Viktor couldn’t say he had grown up in that house—he hadn’t grown up in any particular place, and he didn’t feel any attachment to this one. Technically, it was his still mother’s house too, but she only lived there a few weeks out of the year. Having oceans between his parents had always seemed normal when he was growing up.

He knocked.

His parents focused on their careers and nothing else. It was what made them happy. They were still married, but Viktor wasn’t even sure if they liked each other. He hadn’t given it much thought before.

Viktor stood outside shivering for what felt like hours (even though his phone said it was only a couple minutes). All of those years in LA had warmed his blood. He could deal with it, but poor Makkachin had never been through a Russian winter.

Viktor knocked harder. He knew his father was home.

“Who is it? I’m armed,” barked his father from inside. Viktor drew back. Was this a bad neighborhood now? And since when had his father gotten a gun? Didn’t he recognize his own son?

Oh right, it was the middle of the night and Viktor had dark hair now.

“Don’t shoot!” Viktor called. “It’s just your son, waiting out here in the cold!” He probably should have told his father he was coming.

“Look, I don’t know what you’re trying to pull…”

“No, really! Look, I’ve got Makkachin!” She barked when Viktor said her name. “Can we please come in?”

A couple of locks clicked and Viktor’s father opened the door, a kitchen knife in his other hand. What is he going to do with that? Viktor thought. He can’t even cook.

“You scared me, Vitya!” his father said, putting the knife down. He ushered Viktor inside and into a hug at one motion. “I barely recognize you!”

Viktor hugged him back. In better lighting he could see that his father’s hair was half gray now and distressingly thin. Or was it his mother’s brother he should worry about? Viktor would have to look up the genetics of male pattern baldness later. He was still glad to see his father.

“I guess the time got away from me,” Viktor admitted. “I should have called.”

“Not at all. You’re always welcome.” His father bent down and reached out to Makkachin. “And it’s nice to finally meet you, Makkachin! I’ve only seen pictures and videos."

Maybe it was best that he had arrived so late. If his father still worked his normal 12 hour days, he wouldn’t have been home during the day, anyway. As his father and Makkachin got acquainted, Viktor put his bags in the corner. The house was just like he remembered—tastefully decorated and barely lived in. Some of the decorations were gifts from Viktor himself, or souvenirs from his mother’s travels.

The little shrine to Viktor that his father kept had grown. Along with the magazine clippings, newspaper reviews, and—Viktor cringed—old headshots, there were Agape press photos and an up-to-date library of all of his films.

His father scratched his head. “I’m afraid your old bed isn’t made up. Been storing things in your old room, you see.”

“I can get a hotel,” said Viktor. It would be a bit more complicated to find one that allowed pets, but Viktor could probably figure something out.

“Nonsense!” his father exclaimed. “I’ll just move some boxes and rustle up some sheets and then you can sleep in your old bed.” He looked Viktor up and down. “You got tall, but I think you’ll still fit.”

Had it been that long since his last visit?

“Wonderful,” said Viktor, relieved. He took off his shoes and coat while Makkachin sniffed around the room.

Viktor’s father held up a finger. “Tea?”

“No, but Makkachin could use some water.”

“Of course,” his father said, heading to the kitchen with Makkachin at his heels. He filled a dish with water from a pitcher and placed on the floor, then set an empty bowl next to it. He looked up at Viktor as he stroked her ears. “Is she hungry? I don’t have any dog food, but I’m sure there’s something here she can eat.”

“I brought some,” Viktor said. Makkachin’s food had taken up a lot of room in his suitcase, but he wasn’t about to switch up her diet. Plus, he doubted his father had anything more than tea and bread. Makkachin barely acknowledged Viktor as he filled her bowl, relishing instead in his father’s lavish attention. Maybe she was still mad at Viktor about the plane ride.

His father yawned. “So what is this? Is this for a movie?”

“No, just a visit,” said Viktor.

“I meant your hair.” His father stood up and headed down the hall as Viktor followed behind. “I haven’t heard from you in a while, figured you must be working on something.”

Viktor made a noise of agreement.

“Top secret, eh?”

“Oh, yes,” Viktor said. He was working on something, just not a movie. But he didn’t want to have that conversation yet. “Even I don’t know all the details.”

His father chuckled as he grabbed a set of bedsheets. “Then we’ll both be surprised.”

The “clutter” in his old room was just a few boxes, marked Costumes in his mother’s handwriting. Viktor stacked them in a corner while his father made the bed. Other than that, his room was empty.

Once the bed was made, Viktor’s father patted his shoulder. “I’m sure you’re tired from the jet lag. I’ll let you get to sleep. Goodnight.”

Viktor stared at the empty doorway. It was only early evening back in New York but travelling had worn him out. Fed and watered, Makkachin wandered in. She sniffed the sheets for only a moment before hopping onto the bed. It would be a tight squeeze with the two of them, but Viktor was just happy that she wasn’t bothered by the strange place.

Viktor had to use his phone to light the way back to the front room to retrieve his suitcase. His father never wasted time or energy, so the door was already bolted and the house dark. Like he hadn’t even woken up. Viktor supposed it made sense. If he had to be up at 4 every morning, he’d probably go right back to bed, too.

Both of his parents could sleep on command, but lately Viktor’s inherited ability was failing him. As Makkachin twitched in her sleep, Viktor lay awake, wondering what he was doing there.

He must have fallen asleep because the next thing he knew, Makkachin was prodding his face with her nose, asking to go out.

It was day and he and Makkachin were alone. No note, but there was a key to prove that he hadn’t only dreamed about his father.

Viktor let Makkachin out for quick relief and gave her fresh water. Just as he suspected, his father only had tea and a loaf of wheat bread, neither of which sounded good. Too much time in Hollywood had him addicted to cold pressed juice and Starbucks coffee, so once he was showered and dressed, he took Makkachin on a walk to the closest coffee shop he could find for a scone and a latte.

He still wasn’t used to the anonymity his hair afforded him. Of course, Viktor hadn’t spent more than a day or two in Russia for years (and never outside of Moscow), so he might have been just as invisible with his natural hair color.

Still, when the barista asked for his name, he said it was Valentin.

Not really feeling like interacting with strangers, Viktor took his coffee to go, only to realize his father had forgotten to share the WiFi password. He poked around but couldn’t find it written down anywhere. Well, even if he wasn’t generating any new income, he could afford another day of international roaming.

No mail from Yakov left him feeling unsettled. Had he finally pushed Yakov to his breaking point, or had Yuri kept his mouth shut?

He did have a message from Chris. Viktor responded that his flight had indeed landed and he was with his father, at least in a way.

He spent the afternoon tending to Makkachin and watching The Next on dubious streaming sites in his old room and eating the last of his airplane snacks. Chris really was a charming host. If he didn’t know better he would have assumed Chris was working with a writer, but his friendly, easy banter with the contestants was organic. No doubt Viktor would have managed to insult the weaker singers without even trying, but Chris was a professional.

He must have fallen asleep again, because the next thing he knew it was six in the morning. The guilt was worse than the hunger.

“Makka! I’m sorry!” Viktor called, sitting up. But he was alone in his bed. He shuffled into his slippers and found Makkachin in the kitchen, contentedly chewing on a rubber bone that Viktor didn’t recognize. She perked up when Viktor walked in and brought the toy to him, dropping it at his feet.

His father had come and gone without a word, at least not to Viktor. Makkachin was more important anyway, and his father had already freshened her water and food and let her outside.

Viktor bent down to rub her ears. “Thank goodness someone took care of you. Will you ever forgive me?” Jet lag never affected him like this.

Makkachin answered with a playful bark, which Viktor took as forgiveness. Even though his stomach was growling, he played with Makkachin for a solid 30 minutes before allowing himself to investigate his father’s lonely loaf of bread.

Only today, it wasn’t lonely. There were eggs and milk in the refrigerator and a beautiful bag of ground coffee on the counter next to a familiar French press.

His father had shopped for him! And dug through boxes for the ancient French press. Had it been his mother’s or his grandmother’s?

Either way, Viktor had no idea how to use it. He could have easily found a tutorial on YouTube but he also had his own personal coffee expert. What was a little international call between friends?

“Well, isn’t this a treat,” said Chris. “How is the time difference agreeing with you?”

Oops. Viktor had forgotten to check the time again. At least it wasn’t quite midnight in New York. “I’ll let you know once I wake up,” he said. “It’s hard to stay awake when you’ve got nowhere to be.”

“Rub it in, why don’t you?” Chris laughed. “But I’m glad you’re catching up on your sleep. What is it, seven in the morning there?”

“Which brings me to the reason for my call.”

“I knew you needed something,” said Chris playfully. “Always taking advantage of me but never in the way I want you to.”

“Can you teach me how to use a French press?” asked Viktor, ignoring the innuendo.

Chris’s chuckle was muted, like he was holding the phone away from his face. “You know, there’s this new thing called YouTube. I think they even have an app. Have you heard of it?"

“I used up all my data streaming The Next ,” said Viktor. “And since when do you pass up a chance to lecture me on coffee?”

Chris sighed. “First of all, I’m flattered. But I’m afraid you caught me at a bad time.”

Viktor raised his eyebrows. This was interesting enough to wake him up. “Oh? Who is he?”

Chris just chuckled again, nonchalant as ever. Someone else said something unintelligible on Chris’s end of the line and Chris’s reply was muffled. To Viktor he said, “If you can figure out the French press on your own, I’ll tell you.”

Viktor moaned in agony. “That’s not fair! I’m dying over here!” He must have been more desperate than he realized if he was trying to live vicariously through Chris.

“Hope you like grounds in your coffee,” Chris said breezily. “Talk to you again soon!”

“Chris!” Viktor protested. But the line had already gone silent and he was no closer to his cup of coffee.

Asking Yakov how to use the press was out of the question.

Maybe Yuri knew how. Oh right, he doesn’t drink coffee. And Viktor hoped he was asleep (even though he probably wasn’t). Maybe I should text him and tell him to go to bed.

Oh right. Projecting.

Dr. Rhee had talked about that with him at their last session. Projecting his feelings onto other people was not a substitute for a real relationship. It was just a shortcut to disappointment and it wasn’t fair to Yuri (or any other, nameless people to which he had attached himself). Yuri had never asked for a brother figure or a mentor, and that was probably why he never talked to Viktor anymore.

He really needed that WiFi password before his next therapy session.

Viktor sighed and picked up the French press. It probably wouldn’t hurt to try to figure it out himself.

Chapter Text

Viktor tried to stay awake to see his father at night, but he never made it. He set an alarm so he would wake up before his father went to work, but he set it for 3:30 in the afternoon by mistake.

More food kept showing up. Butter and jam, some pirozhki and soup from a deli, and treats for Makkachin. One day there was a bottle of Coca-Cola—a nice gesture, even though Viktor didn’t touch the stuff. He enjoyed the food, but it wasn’t very good company.

Maybe he would never see his father. That would be fine. It wouldn’t be any different from the way things had always been. They could just keep communicating through infrequent phone calls. Or they could write letters! People kept saying it was a lost art, and it wasn’t like Viktor had anything better to do. He sat down to write a note while Makkachin ate her lunch.

Thank you for taking care of Makkachin! And thanks for the food and coffee. I think there is something wrong with Mom’s old French press. I keep getting coffee grounds in my

“Vitya?” his father called. “Are you here?”

Viktor crumpled the note and shoved it into his pocket. “In the kitchen!”

His father walked in holding a large, brown bag. “I brought lunch. I hope you’re not on one of those Hollywood crash diets.”

Why was his father home for lunch? Was it a national holiday? If restaurants were open it couldn’t be. Viktor smiled. “Everything looks delicious! What’s the occasion?”

His father frowned at him. “What do you mean? It’s Saturday.”

“Of course it is.” Viktor tried to sound casual to cover up for the fact that he’d had no idea what day it was. His father stared at him for a little too long and Viktor stood. “I’ll get plates.”

“I did check on a few things at the office,” his father called from the table. With a chuckle, he added, “Look who I’m talking to. I’m sure you know how that goes.”

“How is business?” asked Viktor as he set the table. It was better to keep the conversation away from himself.

“Picking up,” his father said. “Did you see the cranes on your way from the airport? That’s the new hospital we’re building. Project’s basically running itself at this point so I’ve been able to get a little more sleep than usual. Not as much as you, though!”

Viktor joined him in a laugh, maybe too loudly. His father gave him another strange look and Viktor focused on his spaghetti carbonara. He never got to eat anything like this while he was working. No one would notice if he just retired to Russia. Sure it was quiet and boring in his father’s house, but it wasn’t like anyone else was using the place.

“Are you starting to adjust to the time difference?” his father asked.

“I am!” Viktor exclaimed mid-bite. He swallowed and grinned. “The coffee helps, thank you very much!”

“You figured out how to use the press, then?”

“Yes. The texture is…” Viktor searched for the right word, “invigorating.”

His father smiled. “I’m glad I kept it.”

Why would he get rid of the press? Didn’t Viktor’s mother use it when she visited? Did she even visit? Maybe he had only kept it for sentimental reasons. Viktor had no idea and his father volunteered nothing.

As far as Viktor knew, his mother had last visited his father back in October. After the World Championships. Her students had done well. She had called Viktor on his birthday (months later) and told him so. She’d sent him a lovely Manolo Blahnik scarf, too.

Viktor made a mental note to call her before he visited. She didn’t take to surprises quite as well as his father did. Part of Viktor wanted to tell his father about his plans but the words hung unsaid. It had been so easy to tell Yakov he was taking a break, so why couldn’t he tell his own father? And if he couldn’t talk to his father, then why was he even here?

They finished the meal in silence as Viktor racked his brain for ways to start conversations. Maybe his father thought he was ungrateful. Viktor would have to make it up to him somehow. He took Makkachin for her walk, still thinking, until he passed the market. Viktor could cook for him! His father probably only ate takeout, and Viktor’s self-imposed exile had forced him to improve his cooking.

When he and Makkachin returned, his father was on the phone with a supplier. Viktor spent the afternoon researching recipes (he would deal with the data overage charges later), and then he headed back out to the market to get groceries to make dinner. By the time he got back, his father had already eaten leftovers and was absorbed in a book of building codes. Viktor made the stew anyway, even though his father was in bed by the time he finished.

“I’ll talk to him tomorrow,” he vowed. Even Makkachin knew it wouldn’t happen.

Sure enough, some shipment was held up in customs and Viktor spent Sunday alone. At least his father had taken some leftover stew with him.

After that, Viktor stopped trying to catch his father and focused on cooking instead. Over a week passed before he remembered to ask for the WiFi password via note. The next day, he had his response.

dim0chka

It didn’t click until Viktor typed it. He was his father’s wifi password. Or at least his character was.

Viktor had never deluded himself into thinking any of his projects were his father’s cup of tea, least of all that one. His father had never cared much for drama, or romance, or sports. Viktor assumed he suffered through them the first time and bought the discs as a gesture of support, only to let them gather dust on a shelf.

Viktor was shocked to discover that his father’s imported Collector’s Edition On Thin Ice Blu-ray box set was neither dusty nor shrink wrapped. One of the discs was missing, and Viktor tracked it down to his father’s ( region-free!? ) Blu-ray player.

His father had rewatched his show. Recently. And it wasn’t just the out of print and very expensive box set—all of his movies were open.

His father had almost no free time, but he spent at least some of it watching Viktor. Something more than just genetics and occasional phone calls tied them together. Viktor could have cried tears of joy.

But how was his father going to react when Viktor told him he wasn’t acting anymore?

Another Saturday (and Viktor knew it was Saturday this time) his father was home in the morning. Viktor served pancakes to soften the blow of his announcement.

“I’m taking some time off,” said Viktor. His father didn’t look surprised but he said nothing. Viktor narrowed his eyes. “Did Yakov call you?”

“No, I figured it out myself after we ate lunch together.” Several moments passed before his father spoke again. “So what made you decide to come here?”

Viktor pouted. Maybe his father only wanted to see him on TV after all. “You don’t think I came to spend time with you?”

“You haven’t been back to this house since your grandmother died ten years ago. I’m not on my deathbed and you have never once asked me for money.” His father cracked a smile. “Unless you blew all of yours on that convertible.”

“Of course not.” Viktor didn’t remember telling his father about the car. “You don’t read tabloids, do you?”

“I don’t trust anything I don’t hear from you, but I still hear things,” his father began. “Maksim Ivanovich has a crush on you, you know.” If Viktor was supposed to know who Maksim Ivanovich was, he’d forgotten. “People were saying rehab.”

“Clearly not,” Viktor said. He hadn’t even had any alcohol since he arrived. Viktor didn’t care if the tabloids reported he was in rehab, but he never thought his parents would believe them. They had all drifted even further apart than he’d realized. “My therapist said it might be good to reach out.”

At least Viktor’s father was unfazed by the news that he was in therapy. “Well, you’re welcome to stay as long as you want,” he said.

“I appreciate it,” Viktor said. He had more to say, but the pancakes were getting cold.

So they had their conversation in pieces, over meals, stretched over weeks at a time. Waiting days to talk was nothing compared to their usual pattern.

“I’m going to visit Mom later this summer,” said Viktor. He’d made grilled vegetables and chicken—he’d had it so many times while filming Agape , he could have made it in his sleep.

“Good.” They ate in silence for a while before his father added, “I told her you were here.”

Viktor blinked. So his parents did talk to each other. Or maybe this was just a special occasion. Either way, he was speechless.

His father went on. “She worries, you know.”

That was news to Viktor, too. The instant Viktor could support himself, his mother had gone back to her true love, and it wasn’t Viktor or his father. She had given up coaching for a time to support him and he would always be grateful for that, but he had visited his father first for a reason.

“She said you haven’t called in a long time.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want to take her time away from coaching.” Viktor kept his voice even, but his father closed his eyes and sighed. Viktor could only imagine what he was thinking.

“She just took on two new students,” his father explained. Viktor hadn’t heard. “She likes to stay busy. You two are more alike than you think, you know.”

Viktor wrinkled his nose at the comparison. “Maybe not.”

His mother always knew what she wanted, and all Viktor knew was that he didn’t want to turn out like her.

His father reached for his dyed hair, traces of a smile on his lips. “Is that what this is about?”  

“No!” Viktor insisted. Looking less like his mother hadn’t even crossed his mind. “I’m just trying to blend in.”

“Now that’s something I never thought I’d hear you say,” said his father. He wasn’t wrong about that. Viktor had never been afraid to stand out, but after a lifetime spent standing out, blending in for a while couldn’t hurt. His father laughed to himself and added, “I didn’t want to be like my father and yet here I am, working 80 hour weeks in the same city."

Viktor’s grandfather had died before he was born, but apparently the workaholic trait went back further than he realized. Viktor was probably bound and destined to work himself to death.

He couldn’t imagine his father rebelling. Then again, Viktor had always assumed his own conception was unplanned. Had Viktor’s birth turned his father from a free spirit into a working stiff?

“I don’t want to end up like you, either,” he said.

His father stood up and Viktor assumed that was the end of the conversation. In hindsight, his words were a little unkind. But instead, his father turned to him and said, “Well, you’ve spent more time on your own than you have with either of us. That has to count for something.”

Viktor had been on his own long enough to know that he didn’t want to do it anymore, but his father left him alone with his thoughts for days.

When they next crossed paths, Viktor was curled up with Makkachin on the couch, streaming the season finale of The Next. It must have been after midnight, but Viktor didn’t have his phone on him to check.

His father looked exhausted, but he found the extra sandwich Viktor had left for him and sat down. “Isn’t that your old boyfriend?” He gestured to the TV. “Michael? I can’t think of his real name.”

Viktor laughed and Makkachin stirred. She hopped off the couch and curled up at Viktor’s father’s feet, welcoming the fresh attention.

“Christophe,” said Viktor, trying not to feel slighted. Maybe his father needed her more.

“That was it.” His father looked up from Makka. “He hosts reality shows now?”

Viktor nodded. “And a podcast.”

“A what?”

“Never mind.”

They watched the last two contestants sing their final songs, but Viktor didn’t really care who won. His father was drifting off when Makkachin snorted in her sleep.

“You ever think about that?” asked his father, half asleep.

Viktor had no idea what his father was talking about. Singing? Lots of actors tried to cross over, but Viktor didn’t have the voice for that. He had been asked to host things before, but to Yakov’s lament, he was prone to going off script on live TV—and not in a charming way. He definitely didn’t have the patience for podcasts.

Lost, Viktor kept his voice quiet, in case his father had fallen asleep. “Do you ever think about it?” he asked.

Just when he had abandoned hope of a response, his father licked his lips sleepily. “When your mother left to focus on coaching—the first time, when you went with her—I did wonder if staying here was a mistake.”

His father’s real question clicked. Do you ever think about doing something else? And apparently, his father had.

For his whole life, his father had projected nothing but distant support on the phone as he listened to Viktor talk about their adventures. He always said it was like traveling from the comfort of his beloved desk chair. Like he was doing fine without them. If Viktor’s father ever had any second thoughts, he had never let them show.

Maybe Viktor was more like his father than he thought.

Would things be different if his father had been with them? Viktor had always considered himself an independent, mature child, but how could he be anything else when his mother left him to his own devices so often? From the sidelines, he’d honed his body and spun stories in his mind. The gymnasts had doted on him between drills, but in the end he was always on the outside looking in.

Acting got him the attention he had craved. Would he still be an actor if his parents had spent more time with him? What on earth would he have done instead?

“Oh well. We all got used to it, didn’t we?” His father yawned and sat up straight, rousing Makkachin. “Besides, I would have just complained the whole time. I hate traveling.”

With that, his father went to bed, leaving Viktor to wonder how he had even been conceived.

But that was a question for another day, and another meal: Vegetable lo mein. The noodles had clumped together, but the sauce was good.

“How did you and Mom meet?” Viktor asked. Normal people probably knew things like that about their parents.

His father looked surprised. “She never told you?” Viktor shook his head and he went on. “My father’s company put an expansion on the gym where she was training. It took weeks, and I watched her practice until I finally got the courage to ask her to dinner. We dated, and she said if she won a gold medal at the Olympics, we’d get married.”

“Very romantic,” said Viktor. In the right hands, it might have made a good movie, but his father told the tale so simply. Viktor couldn’t imagine his mother proposing like that. Then again, she did like high stakes. She had a little shrine in the house, too, with her Olympic gold front and center. Viktor hadn’t realized it was so significant.

“We were young,” his father said, as if that explained everything. “But we didn’t let it change us.”

How could marriage not change a person? Viktor had only gotten a taste of love, or infatuation, or something, but it was enough to make him want to change his own life. He didn’t know what to say, but his father kept filling the silences.

“We never wanted to hold each other back. Never wanted to hold you back, either.”

Viktor was right; he had never been part of the plan, but his parents had done the best they could. They had given him opportunities normal children didn’t have, and he had a film and TV career to show for it. On paper, it was enough.

His father was proof that someone could be alone and happy. What was Viktor doing wrong?

Viktor’s chances to cook for his father were dwindling even as the temperature rose. It wasn’t hot enough for cold soup yet, but Viktor wanted to try his hand at something traditional before he left and his grandmother’s Okroshka fit the bill. It was one of the few dishes he actually remembered.

Viktor’s father’s face sparked with recognition from the first bite and Viktor beamed a little, until he remembered the question that had been bothering him.

“Don’t you ever get lonely?” Viktor asked. “You don’t even have a dog.”

“Unless Makkachin decides to stay with me forever,” said his father with a grin.

Viktor gasped. “Don’t even joke about that!”

“I would never.” His father spun some noodles around his fork. “But sure, I guess I get lonely sometimes.”

“What do you do?” Viktor asked.

“I focus on work. I do work with other people, you know. And I talk to you and your mother sometimes. What more is there?”

“Companionship? Romance? Sex?” Viktor had plenty of suggestions. His father just shrugged. Maybe he didn’t care for sex. Viktor did, but he had worked with people who didn’t. Instead, he asked, “What about love?”

His father sent him a patronizing look. “Do you think I forget about you just because you aren’t here?”

It was strange to hear it out loud, but Viktor’s heart swelled, like finding the Blu-rays all over again. Of course his father loved him. His mother, too. He never thought about it because they loved from a distance, the only way they knew how.

“Of course not,” said Viktor. He loved his parents from a distance, but he wasn’t like them. He’d never be happy trying to live like they did.

He loved his fans from a distance, too. He didn’t take their love for granted, but they couldn’t share in his joys and sorrows. Their love began and ended with his body of work. They’d never really know him and no amount of BuzzFeed listicles could change that.

Viktor didn’t want fabricated relationships, one-sided and all in his head. He didn’t want a lover he only saw a few times a year, either. He wanted to take care of someone, to need someone as much as they needed him. But that was the key. The other person had to want him, too.

Viktor still didn’t know what to do about his career, but he was ready to go home. He had a friend to return to and he owed Yuri an apology (and some pickle chips).

“Aren’t you going to miss her?” Viktor asked, watching his father ruffle Makkachin’s ears. His flight was ungodly early, but at least that meant he got to say goodbye to his father.

“You’re both welcome here whenever you want.” His father was already dressed. Even with the goodbyes, he would be at the office right on time.

“Oh!” Viktor had almost forgotten. He whipped off his sunglasses and thrust them at his father. “Give these to Mikhail Ivanovich!”

“Who?”

Viktor could have sworn his father had mentioned someone with a crush on him. “Was it Markov? I left a signed photo on your table for him.” It was a good thing he hadn’t personalized it.

“Oh, you mean Maksim!” His father laughed. “I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.”

The idea of delighting a fan still made him happy, but knowing he had stuffed his father’s freezer with homemade food made him even happier.

Viktor hugged his father tightly as the cab pulled up. “I’ll talk to you soon,” he promised.

His father smiled. “Or maybe I’ll come visit you someday.”

Viktor would believe that when he saw it. But a few days after he got home, his father sent him a picture of a fully grown sable Welsh corgi. 

11:15 AM
Meet Arthur! The house was too quiet without you.

Viktor replied right away, gushing over how adorable Arthur was. "Arthur" was his character's name in The Shore, but he would process that later. Right now, he had to show Arthur's picture to Makkachin. She barked in excitement and Viktor grinned. They could have doggie FaceTime!

Viktor almost asked if this meant his father would be home more, but he remembered how well his father had cared for Makka. There was nothing to worry about. 

Maybe his father really would visit someday. Stranger things had happened.

But in the meantime, he couldn't wait for the next picture. Viktor was partial to poodles, but he had always liked corgis.

Chapter Text

Viktor wasn’t ready when his alarm woke him up. Then he remembered he wasn’t working and didn’t set alarms.

It was the doorman calling. Why hadn’t he used the intercom? With a groan, Viktor caught the time—4:11 in the morning. Makkachin wasn’t thrilled, either.

“What’s going on?” Viktor answered. He figured it was some kind of maintenance emergency but the first thing he heard was muffled yelling.

Let me up, jackass! I told you, I was in a fucking movie with him.”

“Yuri Plisetsky to see you, Mr. Nikiforov. I wasn’t going to let him in but he insisted I call you.”

Spencer’s voice was clear, but he sounded as tired as Viktor felt.

“Thanks, Spencer,” Viktor muttered. It took a lot to break Spencer, but if anyone was up to the task, it was Yuri. “You can let him in.”

“Are you sure?”

Shut the hell up!

Viktor sighed. “Yes, I’m sure.”

“Very well.”

Spencer hung up and Viktor dragged himself out of bed. He put on a shirt only because he was too tired to listen to Yuri complain about him being half-naked.

Makka followed him out of the bedroom and before Viktor had reached the door, Yuri was banging on it.

“Open up, dickhead!” Yuri called.

Viktor opened the door only to have a bag of pickle chips lobbed at his chest.

“Good morning,” Viktor said, barely catching the bag. “Did I get the wrong brand?”

Yuri growled and chucked another bag of chips at him. This time, he missed

“Hey,” Viktor protested. “I’m trying to keep the place clean for Leo next week.” He bent down to pick up the bag and something light hit the top of his head. Under Yuri’s heavy glare, Viktor glanced to where the projectile had landed. It was a balled up piece of paper.

“What the hell?” Yuri punctuated the space between each word.

Viktor frowned, too tired to look up at Yuri. Apparently his apology was not accepted. “Did you come all this way to throw things at me?” he asked the floor.

“Don’t flatter yourself. I’m doing Rise and Shine. And not the shitty fourth hour, either.”

This brought a smile to Viktor’s face. At least Yuri was doing well for himself. Viktor had heard something about a Netflix show.

“Good for you,” he said, rising to his feet. Yuri didn’t smile back. He kept seething at Viktor, arms crossed and lip wrinkled.

“I can order my own fucking chips,” he said. “You can keep your fucking letter, too.”

So that’s what Yuri had hit him with. Viktor had mailed the chips to give Yuri some space, and because he wouldn’t have time to get back to LA before leaving for Spain.

“I see,” said Viktor. Things were not going to be amicable between them. Well, Yuri was entitled to that.

Yuri’s eyes darted around the room to Viktor’s suitcases. “Leaving again? Not that I care.”

Viktor nodded. “I’m going to visit my mother.”

“Perfect,” Yuri snarled. “Do us all a favor and don’t come back.”

He stomped off, his leopard print shirt clashing with the understated decor of Viktor’s building. Even at their worst, Yuri had never talked to him like that before. Viktor had been overbearing and maybe even a little annoying in the past, but Yuri seemed to truly hate him now. Maybe he always had.

Viktor put the chips down on an end table, retrieved the paper ball, and uncrumpled it. Had his letter been that offensive?

Dear Yuri,

Here are the chips you wanted. Makkachin and I had a nice visit with my father. The weather was just getting warmer when we left, but such is life.

I wanted to apologize for trying to force my way into your life while we were working together. Looking back, I can see you wanted me to treat you like any other colleague, and it was unprofessional of me to assume you wanted a mentor or a friend. From now on, I will respect your wishes.

But if I may offer one last bit of advice, therapy has been quite helpful for me. You might want to consider talking to someone about your anger issues.

I wish you all the best in your career.

Sincerely,
Viktor

Clearly, Yuri hadn’t taken his advice to heart. It just proved that he didn’t want or need Viktor’s help. He had hoped they would remain at least cordial, but he didn’t blame Yuri for being angry with him.

Viktor sighed, alone again. He hoped Leo liked potato chips.

———

Roots freshly dyed, Viktor sat at the airport pretending to watch CNN. He would have almost welcomed the distraction of being recognized. Without the added stress of putting Makkachin on a plane, he should have been more relaxed this time, but this was his mother.

It might have been easier if he had surprised her and begged for forgiveness, but unlike his father, she was never in one place for long. He’d had no choice but to let her know.

“We’re preparing for Worlds,” she had said.

“I won’t get in the way,” Viktor had promised. “I never did before, did I?”

“You weren’t a celebrity before,” his mother had replied. “You’ll distract my students.”

“I’m getting pretty good at hiding.” He didn’t mention his hair.

His mother had just let out a hmph and agreed.

Viktor walked to a kiosk to stretch his legs. The clerk stared at him as he browsed and squinted when he approached the counter.

“You look kind of like that guy from Agape.”

Viktor couldn’t resist a little preening. “Really? You think so?” He put down a $20 bill for his gum and said, “Keep the change.”

“Um,” the cashier’s hand hovered over the register, “no one’s ever given me a tip before.”

“Is there a rule against it?” Viktor asked.

“I don’t think so.”

Viktor only winked in response. He could feel the cashier’s eyes on him even as he walked away. With a little thrill, he knew the cashier would be wondering all day if that was really him. It had been a long time since he’d been recognized, and he was having a hard time remembering why he’d hated it so much.

Oh, right. When they started coming after Makkachin. Viktor sighed and pulled his hat out of his carry on bag. He didn’t want to get sloppy.

The dread returned and didn’t fade until Viktor landed in Malaga. He had forgotten how beautiful it was here. As a child he hadn’t really appreciated it, but the beaches around LA just didn’t compare.

His Spanish didn’t come back as easily as his Russian, but he managed to tell his driver to take the coastal route to Marbella. His mother would be busy all morning, so there was no reason to hurry.

When his phone vibrated, he could barely tear his eyes away from the view.

11:34
Did you land? You never told me your flight number.

Viktor flew all the time and his mother had never cared before. He replied as quickly as he could and turned back to the water. His mother didn’t reply for a long time.

11:57
I’ll meet you for lunch at 13:30.

She sent a location next, a little cafe on the beach. It seemed a little touristy, but then again, Viktor was a tourist. He agreed and didn’t look at his phone again until he got to his hotel. He hadn’t even considered staying with his mother.

He had gotten decent sleep on the flight so he just changed clothes, coated himself in sunscreen, and went for a walk on the beach. He didn’t have any direction in mind, content to follow birds and watch people until he lost track of time.

His mother was waiting when he finally made it to the cafe. Viktor didn’t want to end up like her, but he did hope he would age like her. She could have been mistaken for his older sister. Her face soured as he approached.

“What have you done to your hair?” she asked, voice flat.

Viktor sat down and put on a fake smile. “I missed you, too.”

“Petya didn’t tell me you dyed your hair.”

“I’ve dyed my hair for movies before and you never said anything,” said Viktor.

“I thought those were wigs.” His mother stared at him longer, as if she couldn’t tell he was the real Viktor. Finally, she asked, “Is this how you’ve been hiding for so long?”

Viktor blinked. He didn’t think his mother paid much attention to his career. Did she have his entire filmography on a shelf, too?

“I don’t like it, but it’s probably for the best.” Her lip curled in disgust. “Some singer is vacationing here so there are photographers everywhere.”

Viktor felt suddenly exposed. “Won’t they recognize us together?” It wasn’t a secret that Svetlana Nikiforova was his mother. Viktor had even seen it reported in some clickbait months ago.

“No one cares what I do,” his mother said, not bitter, just a matter of fact. “And brown isn’t your color.”

Viktor flipped his hair behind his ear and shrugged. He was pulling it off, and it didn’t matter what his mother thought.

Viktor conversed with the server about today’s menu, made his selections, and ordered some wine. Breakfast on the plane had been lacking, and he couldn’t wait for a decadent lunch.

“You kept up with your Spanish,” his mother observed. “I figured all that time in America had sucked it out of you.”

Could his mother not hear him speaking Russian to her now? “We can switch to English if you need practice,” he offered.

“I’ll pass.”

Viktor downed half his glass of wine as soon as the server had poured it. His mother kept staring at him. He turned his attention to the shore instead.

“Is this color for a movie or are you having some sort of identity crisis?” his mother asked.

“No movie,” Viktor said breezily. “Didn’t Dad tell you? I’m taking a break.”

His mother snorted a laugh. “That Hollywood lifestyle must be so exhausting. Tell me, is it the daytime shoots? Or is it the assistants fetching you everything you need? Perhaps the late night binge drinking?”

“Oh, all of it. I wouldn’t know hard work if it bit me on the ass.” Viktor finished his wine and poured himself another glass. He had heard it all before. Only athletes knew true pain and hardship. No wonder he had worked himself so hard.

His mother rolled her eyes and pulled out her phone, sending work texts right at the lunch table. Viktor shook his head and used his own phone to snap a picture of the beach, which he sent to Chris.

“What are you doing?” his mother asked.

“Trying to make Chris jealous. You can use your phone but I can’t use mine?”

His mother bristled. “Don’t tell me you’re with Giacometti again.”

They’d never really been together at all, but it struck him as funny that both of his parents had reached that conclusion. They must have talked back then, too. Viktor raised an eyebrow, curious to see where this went. “And if I were?”

“Vitya,” his mother said sternly. She put her phone down on the table. “I saw those pictures but I hoped you knew better. That man will break your heart.”

“Will he, now? How do you know?”

“Mother’s intuition,” she said.

Viktor huffed a laugh. Since when had his mother been maternal? “Well, then you should know not to believe everything you read in Page Six.”

“You don’t leave me much choice,” she said. Viktor wished the server would appear with food but he had no such luck and his mother pressed on. “You’re not seeing anyone, then?”

“Well, I did meet the man of my dreams. A figure skater and an engineering student. Body to die for.” Viktor let out an exaggerated sigh. “Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.”

“Stop joking around.”

Viktor grabbed his mother’s hand, pushing his act over the top. “But I was going to marry him!”

“That will be the day,” his mother deadpanned, snatching her hand away.

His mother didn’t know the first thing about his life, but at least he could joke about it now. His phone buzzed with a reply from Chris.

14:03
¡Qué hermoso! Give Candy my best, but be careful. If the paps catch you, you’ll have eloped by morning and even your hair won’t save you.

Candy must have been the singer his mother was talking about. Viktor had never heard of her. His mother clicked her tongue as Viktor sent a message to Chris, asking if this Candy was on his show.

“Who are you texting now?”

“Still Chris,” Viktor muttered, not looking up. Was she trying to make up for seven months of barely talking?

“Be careful with him.”

Viktor narrowed his eyes. To his relief, the first course arrived. Eating kept their mouths busy and delicious food lifted his spirits. By the time they got to the fish course (and third glass of wine), Viktor felt much better.

“Europeans went well?” Viktor asked once the coffee was served. Like his father, work was always a safe topic (so long as it wasn’t Viktor’s work).

His mother rattled off individual and team placements, throwing out names and scores as if Viktor would understand. He remembered the different events, but he didn’t remember how scoring worked. The rules had probably changed over the years anyway.

“But I need to get back to the gym. You can’t come,” his mother finished.

“I wasn’t going to ask.” Viktor didn’t want to intrude, and after lunch with his mother, he was ready for a break.

“I’m leaving for Madrid in the morning and I won’t be back until Sunday.”

“Fine.” Two of her students were based in Madrid so he had expected that. It might have been fun to tag along but just the thought of being trapped on a train with his mother for three hours was exhausting.

“I trust you’ll behave yourself.”

“Well, now that I’m not acting, I thought it would be the perfect time to turn to a life of crime, but since you asked so nicely…”

“Stick to drama, Vitya. You’re not much of a comedian.”

Viktor could have sworn Yuri had said the exact same thing to him once.

His mother refused to let him pay and bid him an unceremonious goodbye. Whiplashed, Viktor went back to his hotel to reapply his sunscreen. Shopping sounded like the perfect way to unwind, and Marbella had plenty of luxury shopping to offer.

Every tourist with a camera filled him with a dread and excitement. Viktor would have to ask Dr. Rhee about that one. He didn’t miss the paparazzi at all, but talking pictures with fans was a privilege and a delight.

Viktor took to missing Makkachin on his morning walks, retreating indoors when the sun was highest (because a break was no excuse for a sunburn), and eating his way through the city in the evenings.

After a few days in paradise he was almost wishing he had tagged along with his mother. He had always liked Madrid as a child. Back then, she was bouncing between France and Spain a few times a month. Staying in Spain was almost settled for her. How had she ever done it with a child in tow?

In the hustle of his mother’s lifestyle, he had never had a chance to visit museums, so Viktor spent one particularly hot day doing just that. A museum of paintings of cats and dogs made him miss Makka even more, especially since he could have commissioned a portrait. He settled for making an anonymous donation to local shelters and setting a reminder to find an artist back in New York.

All was well back in New York. Leo went above and beyond the call of duty with several pictures a day, and Chris was quite happy (though he was still far too cagey with the details on his boyfriend).

Viktor didn’t hear from his mother until a couple days after her return.

14:11
Dinner tonight at 21:30.

She sent details on the restaurant. It was trendy place that Viktor had admired but resisted in favor of quicker tapas bars with smaller portions. Even two people would be pushing it, but his mother did love her extravagant meals.

Viktor dressed in clothes from one of his recent shopping sprees and took a moment to admire his reflection. He missed his natural color, but his mother was wrong. He looked damn good with his hair like this, especially dressed in complementary colors. Like Snow White or a refined goth.

I’ll have to replicate this for a movie, he thought before catching himself. If I do another movie.

He took a car to dinner and had to use his charms to turn down three would-be suitors as he looked for his mother. Not my color, he thought with a smirk.

“Vitya?” asked a voice—not his mother’s. So few people called him by that name that it was a genuine shock. Viktor turned to see his mother sitting with three other people. She hadn’t mentioned it would be a group affair.

He greeted them and the same voice said, “Oh, bless him, he doesn’t remember us.”

“Viyta,” his mother chided. “You don’t remember Carla and Lorena?”

Viktor took the empty seat next to her and defaulted to a smile as he searched his memory. They did look a bit familiar, and those names had struck a chord.

“Carla,” he began, nodding toward the woman who had called him Vitya, “you preferred the ribbon and hoop, right? And Lorena, your favorite was the clubs. You always brought me tortas.” Viktor turned to the third person, still smiling. “And I’m afraid I’m drawing a blank.”

The three of them burst into laughter. “That was a trick question,” said Lorena. “This is my wife, Silvia.”

She could have been one of his mother’s students and Viktor wouldn’t have known the difference. Carla was mostly a lucky guess.

“Carla and Lorena are assistant coaches now,” his mother explained. “They wanted to see you.”

Viktor was beginning to understand the new rules. Surprises were fine as long as they were on his mother’s terms.  

“Well, it’s wonderful to see you both again,” said Viktor.

“It’s so sweet of you to spend your vacation with your mother,” Carla said. “It must bring back memories.”

Viktor and his mother exchanged a glance and Viktor saw far too much of himself in his mother’s forced smile.

“I always knew you’d go far,” Lorena said. “We just loved Agape.

“Wasn’t he excellent?” his mother added. Viktor would have to ask her if she meant it later.

“Thank you,” he said. “It was a labor of love.”

“Are you starting a new project?” Silvia asked. “Or is that your natural hair color?”

Lorena and Carla burst into laughter. “Oh no, dearest,” Lorena said. “It’s as white as Sveta’s. I wouldn’t have recognized him if she hadn’t told me he’d dyed it. Last time I saw him, it was halfway down his back.”

“Did she mention how bad she thinks it looks now?” Viktor asked.

The four women burst into laughter. Viktor joined them tepidly, surprised to see his mother so relaxed. Maybe she’d had a few cocktails before he had arrived.

He ordered one for himself. “I’m not working on anything right now,” he explained to Silvia.

Carla nodded. “Your mother said you really pushed yourself after Agape. It sounds like you could use the time off.”

Viktor didn’t let his surprise show. She told him he was living the lazy Hollywood life and told her friends he was working too hard? He didn’t mind her sharing, but it seemed out of character. “I spent the beginning of the summer with my father in St. Petersburg.”

“Yes, Sveta mentioned that,” said Lorena. “The weather here must have been a shock to your system.”

Was there anything his mother hadn’t told them?

Viktor shook his head. “Not at all! It’s quite pleasant. I just came from New York and the heat was miserable.”

“Oh, that’s right, you moved,” Carla said. “How does Makkachin like New York?”

Was she a fan or did his mother send out a newsletter? “She loves it. There are so many dog parks.”

Two gin and tonics deep, Viktor stopped questioning his mother’s intentions and just enjoyed the night. The raciones were delicious and the company was delightful. Lorena and Silvia had two beautiful children who were on holiday with Lorena’s parents, and Carla was a talented painter. Viktor learned all of this from his mother, who kept the conversation flowing with ease. They reminisced and laughed, eating and drinking until Viktor couldn’t fit another bite.

Naturally, his mother paid for everything.

“It was lovely catching up,” Viktor said. “And wonderful to meet you, Silvia.”

“You should come by the gym sometime!” Carla said. “The girls are so focused they won’t even notice you.”

“I’ll bring him by,” his mother promised.

“And don’t worry,” Lorena assured him. “Your secret is safe with us.”

Viktor took a moment to process her words. Maybe it was the alcohol, but he had almost forgotten what his secret was.

After they had all kissed goodnight, it was just him and his mother standing outside. The breeze was welcome on his alcohol-flushed cheeks.

“I can’t believe you didn’t remember Carla and Lorena. They practically raised you,” said his mother.

Oh, Viktor realized, she’s joking. He shrugged and said, “It was dark in there.”

His mother clicked her tongue and answered an email on her phone while she waited for her car. Viktor was probably supposed to leave, but he wanted to take advantage of the his mother’s tipsy state.

“You really liked Agape?” he asked.

“Of course I did,” his mother snapped. “I told you that.”

“You told me Yuri Plisetsky was a better actor at 14 than I was at 16, and I still haven’t recovered,” Viktor reminded her. He wasn’t going to remember Lorena’s wife’s name tomorrow, but he’d never forget that critique. She was right, but mothers were supposed to be supportive.

His mother heaved a sigh, like he was annoying her.

“You’re a talented actor. I can’t keep telling you that or you’ll get an even bigger head than you already have. You’re very handsome, but I can’t tell you that either because you look just like me. What do you want me to say?”

Viktor couldn’t help but laugh at her reasoning. She made everything much more complicated than it needed to be. “Tell me you’re happy I came to visit.”

His mother frowned at him and Viktor’s heart sank until she spoke. “Of course I’m happy. It’s been four years since I last saw you. I’m thrilled that you’re here.”

Maybe she was being honest. She had shown him off to her friends, after all.

Viktor tried on a real smile. “I’m happy to be here, too.”

His mother’s car came first and she turned to him before getting in. “I’m going to Seville tomorrow. You’re welcome to come.”

“I’d love to,” he said.

Time and night air sobered him as he waited for his ride and he began to wonder just what he had signed on for.

Chapter Text

Viktor’s mother’s schedule was eerily reminiscent of his last press tour. He limited himself to chasing her around Spain so there were no planes, but there were trains and taxis and early mornings. The long, late dinners were what really did him in. Viktor was an early riser but after too much wine and too much food, he could barely drag himself out of bed in the morning.

He added two extra miles to his jog to make up for the extra calories. A break wasn’t an excuse to go overboard.

Viktor’s mother seemed to thrive on the pressure. Viktor hadn’t appreciated it as a child, but she could keep appointments like no one else. Even Yakov would be envious (or more likely, he’d lament how Viktor hadn’t inherited this talent).

She still hadn't allowed him to come to practice, which was fine. While she was gone, Viktor played tourist, taking in the sights he had never gotten a chance to see before. Part of him itched to share his exploits with his followers, but he settled for sending them to Chris. Chris sent travel recommendations in return, and to his credit, most of them were not fetish clubs.

Despite the punishing schedule, Viktor found himself with a lot of downtime, and his thoughts often drifted to his argument with Yuri. It wasn't much of an argument, since (as usual) only Yuri had been angry.

Something kept bothering him about that morning. He hadn’t heard from Yuri since (not that he expected to), but Yuri was everywhere. His Netflix miniseries had come out and it was enjoyable. The character, a meek violin prodigy, was a departure for Yuri. He didn’t seem to have his footing, but it worked well enough for the character. He was supposed to be awkward.

Out of curiosity, Viktor watched the clip of Yuri’s appearance on Rise and Shine. It would have been mere hours after pelting Viktor with chips.

“So did you learn to play violin for the role?” the host asked.

“I took lessons three hours a day, every day, for three months, but all I really know how to do is hold the instrument and look like I know what I’m doing,” Yuri explained. He cracked a smile and the host laughed. He was getting better at the media part of the job.

They went back and forth about the series until the host said, “I’ve got to ask: Is there an Agape sequel in the works?”

Viktor watched with interest as Yuri stiffened. This question wouldn’t have been a surprise. Yuri probably had some canned answer from Yakov.

“I haven’t heard anything yet,” Yuri said through gritted teeth. “But if everyone came back, I'd do it.”

It could have been a Yakov line, but Yuri wouldn’t lie about something like that. Viktor was tempted to reach out and ask him, but he had promised he would leave Yuri alone.

When he and his mother got back to Marbella, it felt like months had passed instead of weeks. They hadn’t talked much, but Viktor was happy enough with awkward silences.

Without notice, his mother announced, “You can come to practice today. Don’t get in the way.”

Viktor barely had time to get ready before his mother was hustling him into the gym.

“I told the team you were coming, so don’t bother with a disguise. Their comfort comes first, and I doubt any of them would alert the media,” she explained.

It hadn’t even occurred to him to hide. He didn’t want to scare his mother’s students.

They were stretching when Viktor and his mother arrived. Carla waved but the gymnasts didn’t notice.

“Viktor’s coming today?” one of the gymnasts whined, starting to preen. “I’m not ready!”

“Ready for what?” another snapped. “You know he’s gay, right?”

“That doesn’t mean I want to make a fool of myself in front of him.”

“Don't worry. He’ll be too busy making a fool of himself to notice,” said his mother.

The girls whirled around and Viktor smiled at them. “She’s not wrong.”

The snappy gymnast gaped. “Shit, he speaks Spanish?”

His mother frowned. “Language, Marta."

Viktor broke into a grin and said, “I’m Viktor and it’s so fucking nice to meet all of you!”

The girls (and Carla) laughed but his mother glared at him.

“Go sit in the corner,” she barked, switching to Russian. Back to Spanish, she said, “Warm ups, now!”

Everyone did as they were told. Viktor’s mother had that effect on people.

“I never realized how much he looked like Coach Sveta,” said one of the gymnasts.

“Why did he dye his hair?” another wondered. “Is it for a movie?”

“Maybe he’s in the witness protection program,” said the whiny gymnast from before. “I heard he hasn’t been seen in months.”

Marta rolled her eyes. “You watch too many movies, Alba."

“Less chatter and more stretching,” Viktor’s mother called. “I don’t want anyone to pull a muscle because they were too busy gawking at the movie star.”

“Yes, Coach Sveta.”

Viktor started to coo about how touched he was at being called a movie star but his mother cut him off.

“And you.” She was back to Russian. “Stop distracting them. If I see you flip your hair again, you’re out.”

Viktor tried to look as innocent as possible. Had be been flipping his hair? He didn't even notice anymore. He would try not to wink.

It was all business after that. Viktor stayed in his corner, with Carla occasionally explaining what they were doing. His mother paid him no mind—she was too busy coaching.

She was so good with her students, and Viktor doubted she was acting any differently just  because he was watching. She was strict but never unfair. Her praise was hard to earn but her critiques were never cruel. Had she always been such a good coach?

It brought back memories of watching other kids get the attention he had wanted. Back then, it had felt like his mother loved her students more than she loved him sometimes. It seemed silly in hindsight—she had put it all aside for his dreams, after all.

Over the past few weeks he’d watched her make endless calls. She made sure her students stayed on top of their studies, worked tirelessly to keep their parents involved, and supported them through whatever personal struggles they were going through. It was a bit like what Yakov had become to him, but on another level.

It was hard to be resentful or jealous. If anything, he was envious of his mother and the way she connected to others. Carla and Lorena were not just colleagues but friends. And their students didn’t just respect his mother—they really seemed to like her her. Even before coming to Spain, he had known she was proud of her team no matter how they placed.

Acting had given him the chance to surprise people all over the world. He could look back on his work and feel proud. His movies connected him with his fans and he knew just how lucky he was. But this was what he was missing: True personal connections. Family. Friends. Seeing his mother made it all the more obvious.

In his own hamfisted way, he’d tried to coach Yuri, but Viktor had just pushed his whims on him. He’d leaned on Yuri for emotional support when he should have been the one giving it. He hadn’t acted like an older brother or a mentor at all. Not even a friend.

He wanted to apologize all over again, but reaching out again would just make Yuri angrier. Viktor just had to let go. But something nagged at him. What was it Yuri had said?  If everyone came back...

“Good work today.” His mother’s voice brought him from his thoughts. She was talking to the gymnast who thought he was in the witness protection program. “I suppose if you have questions for Vitya you can ask him now.”

It must have been a holdover from her “momager” days.

“But I’m all sweaty and gross,” she protested. Her cheeks went bright red and Viktor pretended not to notice as she took off for the locker rooms. Her teammates followed.

“I have a question!” Carla announced, taking a seat next to him. “Do you do much skating these days?”

Viktor didn’t miss his mother’s scoff. “It’s been a long time,” he said.

“I remember when your show came out,” Carla said. “We used to have viewing parties back in college and all my friends were so jealous that I knew you.”

“Vitya was such a natural on the ice,” his mother said. “The coach who worked with him said he had never seen anyone pick it up so fast.”

“Careful, you wouldn’t want me to get a big head,” Viktor warned her.

A few team members came back from the lockers before his mom could respond. Viktor greeted them with a smile.

“It was amazing to watch you work! Thank you for letting me sit in,” he said. The gymnasts crowded around him, their excitement contagious.

“No selfies,” his mother warned them. The girls groaned and Viktor was disappointed, too.

“Did you know Agape was going to be such a big hit?” one of them asked.

“I hoped it would be,” said Viktor.

“When you played Dimitri, was that your real hair?” another wondered.

“Of course it was!” He couldn’t believe that this girl, who would have been just a toddler when his show had aired, had watched it.

“What's Yuri Plisetsky really like?” A few of the gymnasts giggled about this question.

Viktor pasted a smile on his face as he thought of a good response. “He’s very much like he seems on TV. But he's also incredibly hard working and focused.”

A few of the girls let out dreamy sighs. Viktor wondered if Yuri had gotten any better at dealing with that part of the job. Last time Yuri had stayed behind a luggage display at the airport for an hour to escape screaming fans.

“How about Mila Babicheva?”

Viktor smiled. “She’s an amazing actor. Hilarious on set, too.”

“Do you want to do a sequel?”

That was even harder to answer than the question about Yuri. Viktor hadn’t seen a script, but given the critical and financial success of Agape , it was undoubtedly in the works. Maybe they’d use five minutes of his old footage and kill him off. But did he want to do it? The students hung on his words, and even his mother glanced up from her phone.

“I would love to.”

The girls looked at each other giddily. One of them, maybe Alba or Marta, asked, “What was it like growing up with Coach Sveta? She must have been the best mom ever, right?”

Now his mother was staring at him. He could be honest and say that she was cold and distant, setting him up for an early adulthood full of fake smiles and failed relationships, but that would only be half of the truth.

“She was,” he said. The girls nodded as if they had already known the answer.

“That’s enough,” his mother said. “Go get some lunch and rest up. No staying up late tonight, Alba. I’ll see you all tomorrow.”

She bid each student goodbye. Some of them snuck last glances at Viktor and his waving was met with grins and giggles.

Carla talked through the week’s schedule with his mother, then kissed them both goodbye.

“And you said you were taking a break from acting,” said his mother once they were alone. “You lied through your teeth.”

“I never lie,” said Viktor. “That’s the secret to acting. You have to believe what you’re saying is true.”

“Well, thanks for humoring them. Of course, I can’t let you come back again. They need to focus before Worlds.”

Viktor nodded. “When are the World Championships? September? I’d love to see a competition again, like old times.”

His mother frowned. “What are you talking about?”

“It’s only a couple of weeks away, isn’t it? Where is it?” Viktor asked.

“No.”

Viktor pulled out his phone. “You can’t really stop me from going. I can just get a ticket.”

“Haven’t you wasted enough time already?” She almost sounded like Yakov.

“Quality time with my mother is not a waste.”

“Oh, please. Besides, I wouldn’t have a moment to spare,” she said. “Whatever you’re running from, it’s time to stop.”

“I’m not running from anything,” Viktor said. “I’m trying to reconnect with my mother.”

His mother scrutinized his face. “You might believe that, but I don’t.”

She collected her things while Viktor looked around the gymnasium. Just being there had him reverted back to a child, trying to convince his mother to pay attention to him. She was right, of course, but so was he, and they would never see eye to eye.

“I’m buying lunch,” she said.

He knew better than to argue.

They were a bottle of wine and a few plates deep before his mother broke the silence. “That was the happiest I’ve seen you this whole trip,” she said. “Sober, anyway.”

Viktor swirled his wine glass and winked. “As far as you know.”

“You weren't drunk. I could always tell you were a teenager and I can tell now.” She sent him a stern look. “I know you want to go back to acting. What’s stopping you?”

Viktor downed his wine in one gulp. His mother was always blunt. “I’ve been in therapy. Turns out, I’ve been depressed.” It was the first time he had said it outside of sessions with Dr. Rhee.

His mother didn’t say anything, but she didn’t look surprised.

“Did Dad tell you?” Viktor asked. It wouldn't bother him; parents talked about their kids.

“No,” she said. That made more sense. “But I had my suspicions. It runs in the family.”

And without asking questions, Viktor understood. It was just like his father said—he and his mother had a lot in common.

“After you were born, I…” His mother sighed and started over. “There was a period where I was overwhelmed. I will spare you the details. I didn’t feel like myself until I started coaching again.”

She was talking about when she and Viktor had left for Europe. “I never knew,” said Viktor.

“I hid it well.” They drank in silence for a minute before his mother said, “I knew I should have pushed you harder to skate.”

“What?” Viktor had no idea how that would have helped.

“Coaching saved me. This sport saved me,” she explained. “Gabriel said it wasn’t too late to train you, but you had your heart set on acting. If you had figure skating in your life—”

Viktor shook his head. “That’s great that gymnastics helped you, but it doesn’t always work that way. Some people need medication.”

His mother looked down at his glass of wine and back at him. “Those drugs don’t mix with alcohol.”

“Therapy and time off have helped,” he said. He wasn’t on medication, though he doubted Dr. Rhee would be thrilled about him diving headfirst into Spanish wine culture. “I doubt skating would have made a difference one way or the other.”

“But you were so good at it. Maybe you wouldn’t have been an Olympic champion, but you could have been great. You could have…”

For the first time in a while, Detroit Boy flashed through his mind. His grace and agility had shown his utter devotion to dance and sport, but his confidence had still faltered. In that light, his disappearance looked completely different. Maybe he had his own demons to battle. Viktor should have realized it sooner. But he had to keep his mind in the here and now, and so did his mother.

“I could have taken after you?” he supplied.

She cracked a wry smile. “I suppose that’s part of it. Petya always told me to let it be.” Viktor hadn’t been aware of any of their behind-the-scenes parenting as a child. “That’s why I went back to coaching when you were older, you know. I needed to go back, and you needed space to find your own way. You get that from me, too.”

She had gone back to coaching for her own mental health. Viktor hadn't fully appreciated it until now. She had given it up for him, knowing it might make her sick. Maybe she overworked herself to ignore the deeper issues, but she seemed happy now. She had a family in her work, her friends, and her students. And she always had him and his father. "I'm very grateful," he said.

“I shouldn't have said you were lazy. I know you work too hard,” she said. “Just like your foolish parents.”

Viktor smirked. “Ah, but I can learn from your mistakes.”

“I hope you do. But you’re not going to do it chasing me around again.”

Neither of them could change the past, but Viktor could change the way he looked at it. They could both do better.

They finished their meals and drank the last of the wine.

“You know, my students and I skipped practice to see Agape the day it came out. We’d all love to do it again for the sequel,” she said. “If you meant what you said, that is.”

“I did.” And that wasn't a lie.

“Good.” His mother’s smile only lasted a second. “And for god’s sake, fix your hair.”

———

Viktor had never been happier to be reunited with Makkachin. He paid Leo twice what he had promised and showered him with souvenirs from Spain.

Chris’s friend had thrown a fit when Viktor had asked her to fix his hair. “Never do this again,” she had said. “Your hair is way too thin for corrective color.”

Viktor still hadn’t recovered.

And it was in his fragile state that he got the shock of his life.

10:08
are you back yet

Yuri was in New York again, and this time he wasn’t invading Viktor’s apartment (although he did invite himself over).

“Did you find yourself or whatever?” Yuri asked. Makkachin sniffed him and Yuri gave her an awkward pat on the head. “Your dog better not drool on me.”

Viktor barely stopped himself from comparing Yuri to a kitten.

“I had a wonderful time. Would you like some Spanish nuts?” He probably had another bag somewhere.

“What? No.” Yuri brushed his hair or of his face and wiped his other hand on his pants. “Why do you make everything weird?”

“All I did was offer you a snack.” He just couldn’t help himself, adding, “Although you’d probably just throw them at me.”

“Let it go," Yuri growled. "It’s not like the chips hurt you!” Makkachin hurried back to Viktor in a huff.

“It hurt my feelings, Yuri!”

Yuri’s nostrils flared. “Oh no, I hurt your precious feelings! How do you think I felt when you sent me chips in a box like you’re fucking Amazon with a letter that said you wanted nothing to do with me?!”

Viktor didn’t remember exactly what he wrote but now that Yuri said it, he could see how it could be interpreted it that way.

“First I get a fucking show all on my own and you don’t say shit, then Yakov tells me you quit acting to go off the fucking grid or whatever. The show was a goddamn nightmare, by the way.”

"Nightmare seems a little harsh,” Viktor offered. “I watched it while I was in Spain and I liked it. You seemed uncomfortable the whole time but it gave the performance an authentic feel.”

Yuri’s eyes bulged. “You don’t even remember, do you? You said if I got through the press tour, you’d help me get a show.”

That did sound familiar. No wonder Yuri was so upset with him.

“I did forgot about that,” Viktor admitted. “But you did it without my help.”

“And you saw how it went,” Yuri grumbled. He dropped onto the couch and crossed his arms. “I know you’ve been dealing with your own shit. I don’t know why I thought you’d care about mine.”

“I do care," said Viktor. "I should have been there for you, but I thought you hated me. You see, I've learned that I have a tendency to project my feelings onto others.”

"I've been trying to tell you that all along!" Yuri said. "Did it take someone with a fancy degree saying it to get it through your head?"

Things did make more sense when Dr. Rhee said them. Plus, he didn't yell at Viktor. "So you don't want me to leave you alone?"

Yuri sighed in exasperation. "You’re obnoxious and acting is literally the only thing you’re good at, but I don't hate you."

Coming from Yuri, that was basically I love you. Yuri wanted his help. Yuri was willing to give him another chance. Maybe Viktor was better at making connections than he had thought. He wanted to hug Yuri, but that would definitely be too much. “Yuri! That makes me so happy! What should I call you now? Can I call you Yura?”

Yuri wrinkled his nose. “What, you spend a few months in Russia and suddenly you’re super Russian? You haven’t lived there since you were like 9.”

“Please? Please, Yura?” Viktor leaned down to pout in his face.

“Nope.” Yuri turned away. “I take it back. I hate you.”

Viktor grinned. He wasn’t fooled. “You don’t mean that.”

“Call me Yura again and I will.”

They’d get there.

“So you’re doing better?” Yuri asked, once Viktor had calmed down.

“Much. I’ve been thinking about calling Yakov.”

Yuri’s face lit up. “Please let me be there when you do. He’s been tearing his hair out.” With a snicker, he added, “What’s left of it, anyway.”

“I’ll call him now if you want.” Viktor grabbed his phone. It was after nine o’clock in LA.

Yuri looked like he was sitting down to a feast as he watched Viktor dial. The phone rang once, twice, three times. There was a click and Viktor thought it had gone to voicemail, but Yakov’s message didn’t play.

“Hi, Yakov!”

Silence. Then, “Eight months of silence, and that’s all you have to say?"

“How have you been?” Viktor asked.

“You think you can just disappear and come back like nothing happened? I should hang up right now.”

“But you won’t, because Yuri and are I ready to talk about the sequel, and I know you have a script.”

Yakov breathed in and out on the other end of the line. Finally, he said, “I’m listening.”

Yuri’s grin rivaled the roaring tiger on his shirt.

Chapter Text

There was nowhere Viktor would rather announce his return than on Chris’s podcast.

“Viktor! Welcome back!” Chris pulled him in for a tight embrace. “In case no one told you, let me be the first to say that brown was not your color.”

Viktor pouted. Hadn’t anyone liked it? ”How long have you been waiting to say that?”

“Since the last time I saw you. I’m glad Mi-young could save you from yourself.” Chris released him from the hug and asked, “How was your break?”

“It was delightful. I relaxed .” Viktor said it like the magic word it was. “And not in that Hollywood-spa-day-with-crystals sort of way––”

Chris cut him off with, “Hey, don’t knock crystals until you’ve try them.”

“That is snake oil and you know it,” sang Viktor.

“Agree to disagree,” said Chris with a shrug. “But I can’t believe a vacation with your parents was relaxing.”

“There were some rough moments,” Viktor admitted. “But it was good for all of us.”

“Then I’m happy for you,” Chris said. And his smile went all the way to his eyes. “You made the news even while you were gone. People missed you.”

“I mostly stayed away from the news.” Viktor poked him in the chest. “And it’s okay to say you missed me. I missed you. I can handle intimacy, you know.”

“Can you now?” Chris’s eyes went wide with glee. “I knew your break had to be juicier than your texts made it sound. Does that mean you checked out some of those clubs I recommended?”

“You know, I just didn’t get a chance,” Viktor said.

“At least tell me you had a thrilling fling with a devastatingly handsome European.” Viktor shook his head and Chris looked disappointed. “Pity. I would offer myself, but…”

“But you never told me about your mystery man,” Viktor filled in for him. It had slipped his mind until just then. “I lived up to my end of the bargain! I promise to never use a French press again.”

“That’s just common sense. I’ve changed my terms,” said Chris. Had Chris always had that glint in his eyes? “Gossip is a two-way street, Viktor. Or a three-way street, but he’s not into that so I’m trying something new.”

“Wow!” Viktor had definitely never seen Chris smile like that. “At least give me a name. Can I meet him?”

“He’s not in the business,” Chris replied. “He likes to stay out of the spotlight. Surely you can understand that. Besides, didn’t you come on my show so I could interview you ?”

“Right. It’s just nice to see you happy,” Viktor said, studying the crinkles around Chris’s eyes. It was a shame that Chris didn’t act anymore with that expressive face of his. He had never been quite as good at hiding and controlling those emotions as Viktor was, but keeping them on the surface had always worked to Chris’s advantage. Viktor wondered if Chris could still cry on command.

It was hard to imagine tears on that content face now, and it was hard not to feel a little jealous. Viktor reminded himself that he was going to be okay with or without someone else.

“You too could have this lovely glow,” Chris gestured to his cheeks.

“What is that, new creme blush?”

Chris patted Viktor’s shoulder like he was humoring a child. “Romance, my dear. All you have to do is put yourself out there.”

“I’ve been too busy focusing on myself,” Viktor said. And on his parents, and Makkachin, and Chris, and of course, Yuri.

Chris laughed. “As opposed to what you usually do?”

“Leave my vanity out of this. It was worth it. I hadn’t seen my parents in years, and even I have to accept that Makkachin isn’t a puppy anymore.” Viktor didn’t even want to think about that.

Chris didn’t seem to be listening. “Uh-huh,” he said, reaching for some paper. “So for the interview, I’ll just need you to sign this release form, standard stuff, you know.”

Viktor nodded absently. “I need a pen,” he said.

“Pretty sure I felt one in your jacket when I hugged you.” With a wink, Chris added, “Unless that was something else.”

Viktor felt around his coat pocket—he hadn’t worn this jacket in ages—and pulled out a blue pen.

“Gotcha!” Chris grabbed it before Viktor could stop him, before Viktor could even process it. “This is Detroit Boy’s pen, isn’t it? Viktor, it’s been almost two years!”

“I didn’t know it was there!” Viktor insisted. He grabbed for the pen, willing his cheeks not to flush. He had all but forgotten about it. He needed to just throw it away, but it seemed like a waste to get rid of a perfectly good pen.

“Tell me you saw him.” Chris lowered his eyebrows in that devious look that Viktor knew so well. “Is that what you did on your break? Did you find him? I knew you were holding out on me.”

“I would never. I promise this is just a coincidence.”

“Then why are you blushing?” Chris teased. “Have you been pining this whole time?”

“I have not.” Viktor felt his cheeks getting hot. “You caught me off guard, that’s all. I should have known there was nothing to sign.”

“Ah, but you are so easy to fool.” Chris tapped his nose with the blunt end of the pen. “You need to do something about this. Why else would you keep it if not to find your Cinderella?”

“Cinderella?” Viktor seized his pen back and returned it safely in his coat.

“That’s how it went, right? He dazzled you at the club, stole your heart, and left you with his pen. It’s just like Cinderella.”

“He didn’t leave a shoe,” Viktor pointed out.

Chris smirked. “Mm, I bet you would have liked that, wouldn’t you? But it’s the same concept. You kept that pen for a reason.”

“Because it’s a good pen,” Viktor explained. “Even if I wanted to find him, I’m sure thousands of people have this pen.” It was ludicrous. Even having this discussion was a bad idea.

“But he’s not just anyone,” Chris pointed out. “He’s a fan of yours.”

“He was, until he met me and never texted me back. It wasn’t real.” It was just a fairy tale. “This pen represents represents hope.” The hope that someone else was out there. Viktor should have gone into psychology, but Chris didn’t look impressed by his breakthrough.

“Or maybe it represents a penis,” Chris said with a shrug. Viktor nearly choked but Chris went on, unsympathetic, as Viktor nearly choked. “If he’s a fan, he’s probably going to listen to my podcast. What’s the harm in putting it out there?”

“No!” Viktor was getting annoyed now.

“You told me about him two whole years ago and you still have his favor. Don’t you think it’s worth another shot?”

“Definitely not.” Viktor crossed his arms. “It’s over and done and I just want to move on. Besides, Yuri said I was being creepy.”

“Yuri Plisetsky?” Chris snorted. “You’re trusting a kid over me?”

Viktor just rolled his eyes. “Oh, one serious relationship and suddenly you’re an expert.”

“I just want you to be happy like I am,” said Chris. “Don’t you want that?”

That was no excuse to play matchmaker, especially when neither Viktor nor “Detroit Boy” were interested. Viktor turned up his nose. “I don’t have to do this interview, you know. There’s a line of people dying to have the first crack at Viktor Nikiforov.”

“Okay, okay, fine.” Chris sighed and put his arms up in surrender. “I won’t bring it up. Let’s just do the show.”

Viktor didn’t like the look in Chris’s eyes one bit, but he was dying to announce his return, so he relented and followed Chris to the recording equipment.

The interview hadn’t gone exactly how Viktor had wanted, but he couldn’t be mad at Chris because #Agape2 was trending immediately after the episode went up. It was a terrible working title, but Viktor's job was done. Now all he had to do was tackle the backlog of scripts and proposals waiting at his apartment. It was a strange feeling, since none of the projects were for him—they were for Yuri.

He wouldn’t admit it, but Yakov was right. The Agape sequel was a given, but abandoning the entire industry without warning didn’t improve his stock. Now he was a liability. Viktor was prepared to prove himself, but they weren’t going to start filming until next year. In the meantime, Yuri was a hot commodity and Viktor wasn’t going to let him down again.

Viktor got a text after a few hours of reading, but it was just from Chris. Just because Chris was his best friend didn’t mean Viktor couldn’t hold a little grudge. He tried to go back to reading scripts, but he couldn’t keep his eyes off his phone, and he gave in.

It was a photo, but it was so blurry, Viktor didn’t know what he was looking at. Someone’s leg and a hideous brown shoe against a dark floor? Vintage was one thing, but that shoe was gross and if Chris was asking for an opinion he had lost his mind. But before Viktor could tell him not to buy it, Chris sent another text.

You wanted a shoe, so here it is.

 

------

 

Operation: Avoid Viktor was going well, but that had more to do with Yuuri’s first project for Design Lab than his own willpower. Yuuri loathed group work because he was always the one who picked up everyone else’s slack, but it kept him busy. It was easier to avoid social media when he was falling asleep in the library or at his desk.

But today he was wide awake, thanks to coffee. He didn’t like the taste of the stuff, but tea didn’t keep him awake. Coffee made him jittery, so he had always avoided it when he was training, but he had gotten good at using AutoCAD with a shaky hand.

Diving into his design project was much easier than tackling his Russian Culture paper, which had somehow taken on Viktor’s form in his mind. He refused to drop it on principle. Just because he wasn’t going to be an obsessed fan anymore didn’t mean he was any less interested in learning about other cultures.

The hardest thing about his modern dance elective was repeatedly apologizing to the professor for not changing his major to dance.

All the work made it easier to deal with the fact that Phichit had hardly been around lately. Both of their classes seemed to be keeping them busier than usual this semester, but Phichit barely even had time to go the gym with him anymore.

Yuuri took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. A rumble from his stomach meant it was time to take a break. He was down to one instant udon bowl––he’d need to go shopping soon.

I should ask if Phichit needs anything from the store, he thought, reaching for his phone as he started his electric kettle. Maybe a trip would be a good distraction.

Heading to World Market in a bit. Need anything?

Phichit didn’t respond until Yuuri was halfway through his noodles.

yeah
i need answers

“Huh?” Yuuri was so confused, he spoke out loud. He asked Phichit for clarification via text.

Phichit sent him a picture, but Yuuri couldn’t tell what it was. A shoe? A blurry shoe on a blurry leg? Why had Phichit sent him a bad picture?

Yuuri waited, assuming Phichit had taken the picture by mistake and would send another. Instead, Phichit sent him one word:

explain

Yuuri was even more confused. What was he supposed to explain?

I think it’s a shoe, he replied. He had a pair that was sort of similar, at least he thought he did. The picture was so bad it was hard to tell.

this is #detroitboy’s shoe
this is your shoe
discuss

Phichit finished the text stream with a link and Yuuri sighed. Yuuri had heard about the hashtag (not that he had relapsed and checked up on Viktor). He wasn’t surprised that the internet was still speculating. If Viktor wanted to reunite with that guy he met in Detroit, great, but that didn’t mean Yuuri wanted to be part of the search.

Still, the shoe had him curious and against his better judgment, he clicked the link. Twitter loaded and Yuuri read the strangest headline he had seen in a while.

This shoe might mean something to Viktor Nikiforov
As if a surprise comeback wasn’t enough for the actor’s fans, rumors of a fling in Detroit are swirling and there may be proof.

Yuuri scrolled through the tweets with a heavy dose of skepticism.

@CandyCat11 1h
Quick story: I got to meet Viktor in Detroit right after he finished filming Agape. He was the sweetest ever and took a selfie with me (1/2)

CandyCat had posted the selfie, and Yuuri had studied Viktor’s Instagram enough to recognize the outfit. It was definitely from his time in Detroit, and Yuuri felt Viktor’s smile deep in his stomach. He looked more relaxed than he usually did in fan photos—his eyes didn’t often crease like that. Yuuri scrolled on on to keep himself in check.

@CandyCat11 1h
He danced with this super cute guy all night and it was adorable. Took this pic by mistake but is this your shoe #DetroitBoy??? (2/2)

It was same the picture Phichit had sent, but it didn’t prove anything. Lots of people had shoes like that. The selfie was legitimate, but CandyCat could have easily faked the shoe picture.

The replies were mixed. Some people were swept up in the mystery.

@talentedshrew 1h
why didnt you get a better pic? yah the lighting matches but that could be anyones foot

@skimyway21 1h
What did this cute guy look like? Was he famous? Pics or it didn’t happen.

Others (Yuuri included) were more concerned about not invading Viktor’s privacy.

@CandyCat11 1h
@skimyway21 I didn’t take a picture of him because I respect Viktor’s privacy.

@apagarcia 1h
@CandyCat11 @skimyway21 and yet here you are peddling #detroitboy theories [eyeroll emoji]

Yuuri had seen enough. It was none of anyone’s business. Had Viktor and Chris encouraged this nonsense? He sent Phichit a reply.

Not my shoe. You know I’ve never met Viktor.

The memory of the night he had blown his one chance still made him cringe. He hadn’t gotten that drunk since, and he never wanted to get that drunk again.

ok
but
hear me out
what if the Love of Your Life
was viktor???

Phichit followed his texts with several thinking emojis, and Yuuri laughed out loud. The idea was too ridiculous to entertain for even a minute.

Come on. Even at my drunkest I wouldn’t have the guts.

And even if he had worked up the courage to talk to him in some bizarre, alternate universe, there was no way Viktor Nikiforov would have bothered texting the next day. Viktor could have anyone he wanted and he hadn’t commented on #DetroitBoy once (Yuuri broke his rules just to check). This was all the internet rumor mill.

Besides, if #DetroitBoy even existed, he was probably gorgeous and suave, and he would never give up on his dreams. He was nothing like Yuuri.

well if youre so sure then how about i tweet him your pic?
since there’s no way its you

Yuuri almost choked on his breath. He couldn’t type his reply fast enough.

Nonononono! Don’t you dare! Leave me out of this.

But Phichit was nothing if not stubborn.

chris is all over these tweets
u no he follows me on insta
i can slide into his dms

His heart began to race as he read. Why was Phichit doing this to him? They were best friends, and he had to know this was sending his anxiety into overdrive. Yuuri typed so hard his thumbs hurt.

NO
NONONONO
I WILL NEVER SPEAK TO YOU AGAIN

That seemed to get Phichit’s attention.

fine (╯︵╰)

No more texts came after that, and Yuuri tried to steady his breathing. He reread the texts—since when did Chris follow Phichit? Then again, the last time Yuuri had checked, Phichit had amassed over 50,000 followers. His fans were devoted, and he had never let them down. Plus, he was pretty funny when he wasn't trying to give Yuuri a heart attack.

A familiar pang of guilt hit him as he realized he wasn’t very supportive of Phichit’s social media endeavors. It wasn’t Phichit’s fault that Yuuri was terrible at keeping up with anything but Viktor news, and now he didn't even do that anymore.

Yuuri opened Instagram, intending to like every single one of Phichit's posts as a sort of apology, but an incoming call stopped him. It was a university number, so he answered.

“Hello, Yuuri, it's Nancy Strickler. Are you aware that you had an advising appointment scheduled for 10 minutes ago?” 

“Oh, um, no.” Yuuri couldn’t imagine what it would be about. The engineering department hardly ever bothered him.

“You’re planning on graduating in the spring, aren’t you? We need to verify that you’ve met the requirements.”

“Graduation?” Yuuri stammered. He vaguely remembered signing up for a scheduling appointment, just to make sure he could get the classes he wanted next semester. It must have been about graduation, but Viktor’s return had distracted him.

Yuuri wasn’t ready to graduate. He thought he had another semester after spring, another full year from now. Sometimes he thought he might just stay in school until no one would loan him money anymore.

Graduation was so final. He’d have to get a job (a couple of his co-ops had already offered) and he’d never be able to skate again.

Not that he was skating now.

“I’m sorry,” Yuuri said. “Is it too late? I can reschedule.”

“Just hurry up. You’re an excellent student so this won’t take long, and then you can get right back to your studies.”

Yuuri didn’t see Dr. Strickler much, but when he did, she was always complimentary. It made him uncomfortable. It never seemed sincere.

“I’ll be right there.”

Instagram forgotten, Yuuri hurried to campus, but it felt more like he was approaching the gallows.

Chapter Text

It was a few days before Yuuri was ready to talk about graduation, and another day before Phichit was available to talk. He swore it was because of bad cell service and not because he was annoyed with Yuuri over the #DetroitBoy thing.

He took the news of Yuuri’s graduation much better than Yuuri had.

“Congratulations!” Phichit exclaimed. “With your major, you’ll get a job and pay off your loans in no time.”

“Thanks,” said Yuuri, trying to sound happy. As a film major, Phichit often joked that he’d be living in a box until he made his first blockbuster, but at least he was doing something he cared about.

Yuuri knew exactly what awaited him as an engineer. The classes were interesting enough, but when he thought back on his co-ops, he felt nothing. Maybe some people could change the world, but most people just ended up making more money for someone who was already rich. Work was just something he had to do to survive, and the sooner he accepted it, the better.

“You don’t sound very excited.”

“I guess it’s just scary,” said Yuuri. “The future, I mean.” It wasn’t a lie. The future terrified him, even if he knew it would be boring and meaningless.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Phichit asked. “You’ve never mentioned your plans.”

“That’s because I don’t have any.” Yuuri was too focused on the next assignment, the next test, the next grade. He had to be or else he got lost in the uncertainty.

Just getting through graduation would be a nightmare. What if his family wanted to come? They would have to shut down the onsen for a few days, and flights weren’t cheap. It was a lot of trouble to go to just to watch him shake hands with a stranger. On top of that, his family had never visited him in America before. They acted like he was some kind of scholar but they would find out that he was just another broke and aimless college student who had wasted all their money pretending to be a skater. As much as his parents and Mari said they supported him, on some level he knew he had let them down.  

“I figured with your major, you’d end up working on the West Coast or something,” said Phichit.

Viktor’s not there anymore. Yuuri brushed the thought aside. The money was probably better out West, but both of the companies he had interned with had all but promised him jobs.

Phichit went on, “I might go back to Thailand after you graduate. No use coming back to campus if you’re not there.”

Phichit had given more thought to Yuuri’s graduation than Yuuri had himself, but it was a relief to talk about someone else’s future. “What about your classes?”

“I’m already taking most of my classes online, so why not do them all?”

Phichit never talked about his classes, and he got evasive when Yuuri asked questions. Even though Phichit had sworn nothing was wrong, things had felt a little different ever since Worlds. It was probably just Yuuri’s imagination. Maybe they were both just trying to avoid talking about skating.

“Well, you haven’t graduated yet.” Phichit took a deep breath like he wanted to say more, but someone on his end called his name. “Sorry, Yuuri! I gotta go. But we can keep talking about this later if you want.”

“That’s really not necessary,” Yuuri said. He had a feeling he knew what Phichit was leading up to.

It was the same thing the counselors at Wellness Services always asked when Yuuri went in to talk. Have you thought about skating again? They proposed it as just a hobby, as if taking the competition out of it would be the answer. Skating would never just be a hobby for Yuuri. It had been everything until it was nothing.

“Okay. But you can always count on me, even when I’m not there. You know?”

It almost felt like Phichit was trying to prepare him for something. “Yeah. And you can count on me, too,” said Yuuri.

This was probably just stress and anxiety playing tricks on him. Phichit wasn’t drifting away, and they would keep on being friends after Yuuri graduated, even in different countries. Yuuri could save money and visit Phichit in a few years.

But hours after the conversation, he was still staring at a blank spreadsheet on his laptop. Maybe if he never finished his lab, he’d never have to graduate at all. That was a good option.

And since Yuuri wasn’t getting any work done, nothing was stopping him from clicking over to his browser. It wasn’t his fault that his fingers automatically started typing “Viktor Nikiforov” every time he opened a browser window. It wasn’t his fault that Google suggested results before he even finished typing.

Viktor Nikiforov Opens up About Mental Health in New Interview

Yuuri read the headline again. Was Viktor okay? His own worries transformed into worries over Viktor, and he clicked the link.

Even though Viktor Nikiforov has been mum on #Agape2 and #DetroitBoy, the actor has had plenty to say. In his second appearance on Coffee with Chris in as many weeks, the actor revealed that he has struggled with

Yuuri closed the window. He didn’t want to read some tabloid take. This was something he needed to hear this from Viktor himself.

So what if he was terrible at avoiding Viktor? Yuuri was terrible at everything, and he wouldn’t be able to focus or relax until he knew Viktor was okay. He had worried, he had wondered, but it had never seemed possible until now.

Chris opened his show with less fanfare than usual and dug right in. “So, first of all, I want to apologize for getting so off track last time we talked.” Yuuri couldn’t remember hearing Chris apologize before.

“It’s all right,” said Viktor. Yuuri tried not to overanalyze his voice, but he just sounded like normal, casual Viktor. “You meant well.”

“Always, my friend. I’m just going to give the floor over to you.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Viktor chuckled (and Yuuri hadn’t realized how badly he’d needed to hear Viktor laugh). “Well, I owe you and your listeners an apology, too. I have always tried to be open—maybe a little too open sometimes,” both Viktor and Chris laughed at this. “But these past few months, and the past few days, really, have made me realize that I haven’t been sharing the right things.”

“Does this mean we won’t be seeing what you’ve cooked for dinner anymore?” Chris teased. “You’ve had quite the culinary spree lately.”

What had Yuuri missed? Did Viktor cook now? That must have been one of his new passions he had mentioned in the last interview.

“Actually, sharing my cooking has been quite therapeutic,” Viktor said. “I started cooking last year because I didn’t want to leave my house, but it turned into something I enjoy.”

Viktor hadn’t wanted to leave his house? Yuuri had been there. He didn’t want anyone to ever have to feel that way, least of all Viktor, but he understood.

“So cooking really comes back to the whole reason I took time off. It was for my own mental health.”

Yuuri held his breath and Chris didn’t say anything. He just let Viktor speak.

“I can’t really pinpoint when it happened. Little by little, my career eclipsed the rest of my life, and I was just going through the motions until I couldn’t even do that anymore.”

Their circumstances were different, but Yuuri understood Viktor’s words like he knew his own name. Some days were better than others, but Yuuri had been there, too.

“I kept thinking, because I was so lucky to be a working actor and Agape was so popular, that it was just a rut I needed to work through. I didn’t even realize I was depressed.”

Yuuri gasped, startling himself. Viktor was depressed. Viktor. Yuuri had wondered, even suspected, but to hear Viktor say it...

“What did you do?” Chris asked.

“People who cared about me told me to take some time off. See a therapist. Make some changes. I listened.”

Viktor had seen a therapist. Yuuri had never realized they had so much in common, though he would much rather they have the same taste in food or pens.

“And did that help?”

“It did,” said Viktor. “It’s a process, and I’m not used to waiting, but with time, all those things helped. I feel more like myself, and I’m excited about acting again. Truly.”

There was something so genuine in Viktor’s voice, and Yuuri’s heart sang as hard as it pounded. It was so easy to forget how it felt to be healthy while sick, but just as easy to take health for granted. Viktor sounded grateful, and Yuuri adored him.

“I’m so glad you got help. What made you decide to talk about it now?”

Viktor didn’t answer right away. “I kept thinking about that PSA we did, do you remember?” he asked. Yuuri remembered them all. He had never given them much thought because public service announcements were so impersonal. More than the message, he remembered the way Viktor’s pants had clung to his thighs.

“Which one?” Chris wondered. “We did a lot.”

“Exactly. We did a PSA about mental health, but we were just reading lines on paper. I don’t know that it really connected. It’s one thing to read off a list of websites people can visit, but what really helped me was talking about it.”

Yuuri didn’t always love talking about his anxiety, but he had to admit it felt better when he did.

“Not everyone has a support system, and some people might not be ready to get help, but I just thought that if someone could look at me and see that this is something I’m dealing with, maybe they can start talking about it, too.”

Yuuri didn’t realize he was crying until the tears stung his eyes. He had never felt so connected to Viktor before. Heartbreak and affirmation were strange bedfellows, but with no one around to see, Yuuri let the emotions envelop him. He knew a piece of what Viktor was going through, and even though they would never meet, Viktor understood a piece of him, too.

Yuuri had been in and out of therapy and tried medication. His anxiety would never go away, but if Viktor could keep moving forward, so could he.

What was he doing? He was almost 24 on his delayed march to graduation, with a degree that almost guaranteed a job but didn’t make him happy. He had just gone through the motions for his co-ops.

With Phichit’s help, he’d been able to get back to the gym, back to dance, back to having a friend and feeling almost normal. But he would never feel normal until he was back on the ice.

Even if his competitive career was over, Yuuri had to skate again. He’d known it since the day he quit, but he’d done everything he could to ignore it. If Viktor could be brave, so could he.

“Thanks for being so open and honest, Viktor,” Chris’s voice cut through Yuuri’s thoughts. “I know it means a lot to me and I’m sure it means a lot to your fans. Is there anything else you’d like to say?”

Viktor inhaled over the microphone and Yuuri felt it deep in his gut. “You’re still beautiful and strong, even in the dark.”

The last unplayed episode of Chris’s podcast started to play, but Yuuri didn’t register any of it. Tears were flowing freely down his cheeks now, but he was too gone to care. He tore his earbuds out and dug through his closet for his skates.

The ice was like air and he had been gasping for too long, but the only way he could get on the rink at his old club would be to skate during public hours or book time. He wasn’t ready for either; he wasn’t even sure he was ready to tell Phichit.

He pulled his skates out of their bag, neglected and beautiful, and knew what he needed to do.

“You’re dropping all of your classes?”

Yuuri had already seen Dr. Strickler more this year than he had his entire college career. Once he had withdrawn from all of his classes online, she had demanded to see him in person again.

“I haven’t missed the cutoff, have I?” he asked.

“No,” Dr. Strickler admitted. “But you’re so close to graduation and you’ve been working on this degree for so long.” She probably had graduation rates to consider. Yuuri was going to lower the average, but it didn’t matter.

“And I’ll finish,” He promised. “I will. But I can’t keep going like this.”

Dr. Strickler nodded in sympathy. “Lots of seniors go through stress. Why don’t you see one of the counselors at the health center first?”

He had talked to them many times, and he was finally going to listen. “There’s something I need to do, and I can’t do it here.”

Her face fell even as she tried not to let it show. “Can it wait until after you finish your degree? Or if it’s a family emergency, we can make arrangements—”

She didn’t understand that he needed to do this now. He needed to do this two years ago. “I’m sorry, but this can’t wait.”

Dr. Strickler sighed. “Well, if you’re sure…”

“Thank you.” He wasn’t sure why he was thanking her. Habit, he supposed.

“You’ll be missed.”

Yuuri excused himself and left the office. Now he just had to get a hold of Phichit. This was too important for a text.

“Hi, Yuuri!” Phichit sounded out of breath. “Did you need something?”

It was best to just rip the band-aid off. “I’m going back to Japan.”

“Right now?!”

“Wednesday morning. I need to go back to Hasetsu.”

“Did something happen? Is your family okay?”

“It’s nothing like that! Everyone’s fine,” Yuuri assured him. “There’s just something I have to do.”

“Then you have my full support. I just wish I could come say goodbye in person. I won’t be back to the dorm until next week.”

Yuuri deflated a little, and Phichit sounded even more disappointed than he felt. But they would be friends no matter where they were. He had been baffled before, but now he could understand why Phichit might want to go back to Thailand.

“Oh, well, that’s okay. I’m just packing anyway, so you lucked out, I guess. Now you don’t have to help!” Yuuri tried to laugh it off. He wanted to tell Phichit why he had to leave, but Phichit wasn’t skating either, and Yuuri didn’t want to make him feel guilty.

Part of him needed to know that he could do it before he told anyone else.

“You better call me when you get there! And maybe get on your Instagram once in a while! I’ve been on a roll.”

“I will, I will,” Yuuri said. He would definitely call Phichit, but he wasn’t going to have time for social media. Not until he skated.

“Good luck! Whatever it is, I know you can do it.”

“Thanks, Phichit,” he said. And this time, he really meant it.

Yuuri’s parents were thrilled that he was coming back. They didn’t even mention that he was putting off graduation. Mari had sounded as excited as he’d ever heard her, and somehow that helped Yuuri’s nerves the most. It took a lot to get a response out of Mari.

He didn’t sleep a minute on the flight, and even Agape couldn’t calm him. By the time he landed, he was a caffeinated wreck. He didn’t even remember boarding the train, but at least the station had taken down his old posters. Just the pictures from Mari had been enough to embarrass him, and he had never seen them in person.

His family acted like he had never left, but all he wanted was to get to the rink.

It was late but Takeshi let him in. Yuuri hardly registered his teasing—something about how tired he looked, and Yuuko would be mad that Takeshi didn’t come get her. Yuuri would deal with everything in the morning. He had only one goal.

It hadn’t taken much work to get his skates back into shape. They’d been stored properly, just existing without a purpose. Like their owner.

Lacing them up was like something out of a dream. The motions were familiar but his fingers didn’t move the way he wanted them to, not like the way they once had.

It was going to hurt, but Yuuri needed this. Not for Viktor, not for Phichit, not for his family or for Vicchan, but for himself.

It didn’t have to be complicated. After three years, his skating had to be simple. But he skated, and that was all that mattered.



Chapter Text

Ice Castle still smelled exactly the same, which made it easier to pretend it hadn’t been years.

Yuuri had tried to skate a few times right after quitting, and once again after he met Phichit, but he never did more than a laps around the rink before psyching himself out. Today was going to be different.

He really should have stretched first. He tried to remember his old on-ice warm ups but even those were too complex, so he reverted to the basics he had learned on the very same rink so many years ago.

Finally, finally, Yuuri could relax. He skated lap after lap, picking up speed until his hair and clothes ruffled in the breeze he made. It didn’t matter that the room was silent because the sound of his skates on the ice was the only music he needed.

It was better than his dreams, better than he remembered. Why had he ever quit? This was the only way he was supposed to move.

Yuuri took a chance on a simple step sequence from an old routine, nothing fancy, and nailed it.

Confident, maybe overconfident, he tried something twistier and got caught on his own feet. But even hitting the ice couldn’t stop him today.

Yuuri tried again and again until he nailed that, too. His arms went into the right position on a spin all by themselves. The speed wasn’t there, but at least his muscle memory wasn’t completely gone.

Spin after spin, twist after twizzle, Yuuri skated, unbothered by his dizzy head and aching ankles.

It wasn’t until he heard clapping that he realized he’d been there all night.

“Bravo!” Yuuko was grinning from ear to ear. She looked just like he remembered. “I know I should have announced myself, but I wanted to watch you.”

The flight, the stress, and the skating marathon caught up to him the moment he stopped. “I shouldn’t have stayed all night,” he panted. “I’m sorry, Yuuko-san.

“We didn’t stop being friends just because you moved overseas—call me Yuu-chan!” Yuuko dive-bombed him on the ice. She squeezed him in an impressive hug even though he was sweaty and gasping for air.

“O-okay,” he coughed out.

“You know you’re always welcome here! It’s been way too long. How have you been? Did you graduate? Are you Detroit Boy?”

“What?! No! Definitely not!” That hashtag had made it all the way to Japan?

Yuuko finally released him, looking crestfallen. “Are you serious? I thought for sure it was you!”

Yuuri shook his head.

“Well, that’s all right!” Yuuko beamed at him again and he felt even warmer than before. “It’s wonderful to see you skating again.”

Three little girls popped up from behind her, as if they had been there the whole time. Yuuri almost forgot that Yuuko’s triplets would be walking and talking by now. They all spoke at once.

“Yuuri’s going to skate again?”

“No one’s heard from him in three years.”

“Figure skating just hasn’t been the same without him.”

“How would you know? You were toddlers!” Yuuko cried. She didn’t seem surprised by the interlopers at all. “And what are you doing here? You should be getting ready for school!”

Yuuri couldn’t remember which one of Yuuko’s triplets was which, but they had been babies when he’d last seen them. If they were in school that would make them at least six years old, and Yuuri felt ancient.

“Wow, you girls got big,” he said.

“And you got kind of fat,” said the one in purple.

“Axel! Don’t say things like that!” Yuuko barked. She ushered them to the door. “School, now! Lutz, Loop, that means you, too!”

Yuuri had no idea how she carried all three girls out, but he overheard her making them promise not to breathe a word of it on social media.

She was probably overreacting. Little kids didn’t use social media.

But the rink would open to the public soon. It was time to leave.

“Still skating?” Takeshi called as Yuuri changed into his shoes. “Some things never change!”

His words comforted Yuuri a little, like he still held a piece of his old self. Axel (at least Yuuri thought it was Axel) was right—Yuuri wasn’t at his figure skating weight, but he was glad Phichit had gotten him back to the gym. Otherwise he would have collapsed hours ago.

Takeshi clapped a hand on his shoulder and Yuuri already knew his muscles would riot tomorrow. “You’re welcome to stay, but you look like you could use a nap,” said Takeshi. He laughed and added, “I would know. I raised three kids."

“You’re probably right,” Yuuri admitted. He wanted nothing more than a soak in the onsen but worried he might fall asleep and drown.

“See you tomorrow?”

Yuuri nodded as he headed out. “If that’s all right.”

Takeshi grinned. “Okay, you talked me into it. But next time you pull an all-nighter, I’m charging double!”

Yuuri didn’t need an engineering degree to know two times zero was still zero.

The inn was serving breakfast but Yuuri went straight to bed. Viktor’s face on the wall was the last thing he saw before he crashed, dead to the world for the next six hours. It wasn’t enough sleep, but the smell of tempura was wafting upstairs and he couldn’t ignore his stomach any longer.

The guests had already eaten, so Yuuri helped himself to some warm tempura shrimp and udon.

“You have an American accent now,” Mari said as she dropped into the seat next to him. She smelled like she had just taken a smoke. It must have been her lunch break.

“I do?”

“It’s cute,” she said, taking a bite. “Reminds me of when Viktor tried to speak Japanese on TV. It was all over the news here.”

Yuuri’s ears grew hot. He might have watched that video a few hundred times.

“Mom can’t stop talking about how happy she is to see you,” Mari added.

“She’s not disappointed? I won’t be able to graduate next spring,” Yuuri said.

“You know Mom doesn’t care about that. She just wants you to be happy.” Mari pulled out her phone to check a text. “That’s what all of us want.”

Yuuri nodded. It was hard to believe her, but even with throbbing feet, he felt happier than he had in years. Stepping into the hot springs had never felt so good.

By the end of the week, Yuuko has thrown her daughters out of the rink seven times and Yuuri was spinning like he had never stopped. His feet and legs were killing him but he didn’t feel it when he practiced his footwork. His calluses, like his muscle memory, hadn’t completely disappeared.

“Are you sure you haven’t skated in a while?” Yuuko asked one morning before opening the rink to the public. Yuuri hadn’t pulled another all-nighter, but he was doing his best to make up for lost time.

He laughed, still trying to catch his breath. “You didn’t see me tripping over my skates.”

“No way!” Yuuko said, shaking her head. “Keep skating like that and you’ll be in competitive shape in no time.”

“I’m not going to compete.” Yuuri skated to the edge where Yuuko was waiting with his guards. “This is just for me.”

“Well, you’ll be back where you were, in any case. Probably better.” With a grin, she added, “You weren’t even close to peaking when you stopped.”

Yuuri laughed. Yuuko was as optimistic as ever. He was old and out of practice, but it was a nice thought.

“Oh!” Yuuko dashed over to the counter as he changed into his shoes and grabbed a box. “Happy birthday!”

Inside was a little cake, topped with strawberries and a chocolate sign that read Happy Birthday.  Someone had even drawn a little ice skate next to the kana.

“Thank you,” Yuuri stammered. He had forgotten today was his birthday. He had snuck out before his parents woke up to make sure he had enough time to skate. “You really didn’t have to go to such trouble. You’re already letting me use the rink.”

“It was nothing!” Yuuko said, grinning. “I didn’t make it myself. You still like strawberry shortcake, don’t you?”

Yuuri nodded. He thanked her again and headed home clutching the cake, his skates a comforting weight in his backpack. Phichit had left him a string of celebratory texts and gifs. At least Yuuri had some warning for what awaited him at home.

“Happy birthday!” His family and Minako were all there, waiting with a banner like the ones they made for his competitions.

Yuuri scratched the back of his neck, hoping he wasn’t blushing. “Thanks. You don’t have to make a big deal for me.”

“Nonsense!” said his mother. “I’m so happy you’re here for your birthday. I’m making katsudon tonight, of course. Unless you want it now? I know it’s a little early in the day, but you’ve been up for hours and it is your birthday.”

Yuuri shook his head. If he was going to be eating katsudon later, he just wanted miso soup and maybe a little salad. Somehow, he found himself seated in front of mentaiko over rice, pickles, miso soup, salad, and (as if that weren’t enough) a tray of french pastries.

“Thanks…” Yuuri tried to limit himself to a little taste of everything. As he ate his rice, Mari dropped a stack of magazines on the table next to him.

“Here's my present,” she said. “It’s lucky you came home when you did. Saved me a fortune in shipping.”

Yuuri gaped at the stack—Viktor’s gorgeous face stared back at him from every magazine, sometimes alone, sometimes with Yuri and Anya. He had seen many of the covers before, but not all of them. Some of them were a year old. “Wow, you saved these for me?”

Mari shrugged and grabbed a croissant.

“And my present is not charging you for ballet lessons while you’re here,” said Minako, pointing at him. “That’s assuming you’re not here to stay. No taking advantage of my generosity.”

“I wouldn’t,” said Yuuri. But he still hadn’t figured out a plan. “Thank you.”

He ended up going for a run after dinner, trying to work off the katsudon while everyone else drank. When Yuuri came back, only Minako was still up and about. She stared at Yuuri.

“So does this mean you finally came to your senses?” she asked after a long drink of beer.

“What do you mean?” Yuuri wasn’t sure he could handle drunk Minako right now, but her eyes kept him frozen in place.

“You know what I mean. You’re skating again. You’re not still going to become an engineer, are you?”

“Maybe.” Minako raised an eyebrow and he sat down. “I don’t know,” he admitted.

Minako narrowed her eyes at him. “Bullshit.” She used the English word and Yuuri’s eyes went wide. She continued in Japanese. “Your family has to support whatever you do, but I don’t. You were meant to skate.”

Yuuri didn’t know what to say.

“You’re running out of time to make a comeback.”

Coming from anyone else, this sort of tough love might have made him cry. But from Minako, it was almost nostalgic.

She picked up one of his magazines from the table and flapped it in front of him. “Viktor Nikiforov took a few months off but he knew when it was time to come back to acting.” She slammed the magazine down (Yuuri hoped it wasn’t wrinkled) and held up three fingers. “You took three years off. When are you going to wake up?”

“I have,” said Yuuri. “I’m here. I'm skating."

“And you need a coach before you break your neck! Without a coach, you might as well stick to bunny hops.”

Yuuko and Takeshi were around to help. If all else failed, one of their triplets would definitely know if Yuuri got hurt, but there was no point in arguing with Minako. 

“Every day you’re not focusing on getting your jumps back in shape, you’re wasting precious time! You need at least one more quad to be competitive, and you should be drilling your footwork until you can push beyond where you were when you quit.”

All Yuuri could do was nod.

“You have plenty of time to be an engineer when you’re old, if you absolutely must, but right now you should be skating.” She slammed her bottle on the table, splashing beer. “You should be training for Nationals. I know you have it in you."

Nationals were less than a month away. Yuuri wouldn’t even be able to keep up with the juniors right now, but when Minako said it, he almost believed her.

The next day, he started jumping again—which is to say he started falling again. This time, he got up and kept trying. He practiced at the rink in the morning, with Yuuko offering encouragement and gentle critiques when she could. At night, he trained with Minako, who seemed to have forgotten most of her drunken tirade.

It was almost three weeks before Yuuri could land his triple axel cleanly. The moment he did, he pulled out his phone to call Phichit.

“Yuuri! It’s been a bit! How’s Japan?”

“I have something to tell you,” Yuuri said. There was no time for idle chat.

“Wow, you sound serious! Did you and Viktor elope? I knew you were holding out on me.”

“Very funny,” said Yuuri. His laugh echoed around the rink and the tension left his shoulders. It was now or never. “I’m skating.”

“You are?! Holy shit, Yuuri, that’s incredible!” Phichit let out a whoop and Yuuri had to pull the phone away from his ear. “When? Where? Is that why you went back to Japan? Did you take any videos? Tell me everything!”

Phichit oohed and aahed as Yuuri caught him up, but went quiet when Yuuri finished.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner,” Yuuri supplied, desperate to fill the silence. 

“Okay, don’t apologize, because I have something to tell you and it’s way, way overdue. I'm so happy that you’re skating, but that makes it even worse that I haven’t told you about my thing.”

“Whatever it is, don’t feel bad!” Yuuri was still riding high and nothing Phichit told him could be bad. “I didn’t want to tell you because you weren’t skating, and—”

“See, the thing is, I am skating.” Phichit took a deep breath. “I’ve been practicing ever since we got back from Worlds but I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to feel upset or left out, and I guess now is as good a time as any to tell you I’m competing again.”

Yuuri had not been expecting that.

Now it was Phichit's turn to break the silence. “Please don’t be mad."

“I’m not,” Yuuri said automatically. He didn’t know what he felt but he wasn’t mad. “I’m really happy for you.”

That wasn’t a lie. How he felt for Phichit had nothing to do with how the news made him feel. He wasn’t angry or jealous, but something was bothering him.

“I've been posting about skating on my Insta for a while now. You didn’t mention any of my posts, so I figured you cut yourself off from that world completely,” Phichit said. “I didn’t want to make it worse.”

The guilt came like a gut punch—Yuuri had missed a huge part of Phichit’s life for months. He should have been cheering for his friend, but he had been too busy following (and then not following) Viktor to pay attention. Phichit lived and died by social media, which made it even worse.

“I did cut myself off, but that’s no excuse,” said Yuuri. It all made sense now. All of those projects for Phichit’s film classes were fake, invented to spare Yuuri’s feelings. Worlds had changed things, but not between the two of them. Watching the competition had inspired Phichit to skate again, and Yuuri was so stuck in his own head that he had missed it. “I’m so sorry. I’m a terrible friend.”

“Hey, don't you talk about my best friend that way!” Phichit said. “I should have just told you.”

“And I should have just checked your Instagram.” Yuuri sighed, but he did feel better. “Can you catch me up now? If you have time.”

“Of course! Celestino was really cool about taking me back on. I have to watch the ankle but both my doctor and my physical therapist say it healed up really well.” Phichit talked about his progress and his competition schedule while Yuuri skated idly around the rink, nodding and throwing in encouragements wherever he could. He was intimately familiar with the grind, but somehow, Phichit’s descriptions didn’t fill him with dread.

“Are you thinking about it?” Phichit asked when he was done. “Celestino asks about you. Lots of people do.”

“I don’t know,” Yuuri said. Minako’s words echoed in his head, and knowing Phichit was out there triggered some competitive impulses he had all but forgotten about. “Right now, I’m just skating. I should have just done it years ago.”

“That was my stance all along, but there’s only one person who could convince you.” Phichit knew him too well. “It was Viktor, wasn’t it?”

It always comes back to Viktor. Yuuri should have known Phichit had heard that interview, too. But Viktor was only part of it. “He inspired me to make a change, but I don’t think it was just one person,” Yuuri said. “It was Viktor, but also you, and me.”

“Hell yeah!” Phichit was grinning, Yuuri could just tell. “I believe in you. Whatever you want to do, I’m with you. But also, like, pics or it didn’t happen.”

Yuuri laughed. “I will send you a rink selfie, okay?”

“You should send it to Viktor. Tell him he inspires you.”

“I don’t think so,” Yuuri said, shaking his head. “He’s way too busy for that.”

Phichit sighed. “Okay, I might not be a movie star, but if I inspired one of my fans to turn their life around, it would make me happy.”

“Turn my life around?!” Yuuri laughed. “I was in college, not prison.”

“You know what I mean. Don’t you want to make Viktor smile?”

With the exception of skating it was hard to think of anything he loved more than Viktor’s smile.

But Viktor had more important things to worry about. And Yuuri’s time was better spent on his real friends than his celebrity crushes. He and Phichit had so much to catch up on.

“Oh no.” Guilt flooded Yuuri again. “I made you eat so much junk food!”

“You didn’t make me do anything!” Phichit said with a laugh. “But you know I had to work my ass off those days!”

They both laughed. Yuuri promised to watch Phichit compete online until he could see him in person, and Phichit made him promise to send updates on his progress. By the time they hung up, Yuuri’s spirit was lighter, but he couldn’t stop that nagging feeling that he should have been competing against Phichit. It would probably pass.

“That was Phichit Chulanont,” came a small voice. Yuuri looked down to find Axel Nishigori staring up at him. Loop was taking a video as Axel narrated and Lutz took notes. “Sidelined by an injury for one year, he’s been riding a wave of fan support despite the ignorance of former roommate—”

“How did you get my phone!?” Yuuko rounded on her kids and snatched her phone out of Loop’s hands.

Yuuko was too busy lecturing her daughters to say goodbye, so Yuuri saw himself out. “Thank you, Yuuko-chan,” he said quietly at the door. He'd have to say it again when she wasn't busy. Without her, he might have made an unwitting public debut. 

As he headed home, he wondered if anyone would care if he did. 

Chapter Text

Yuuri had been too focused to notice the Christmas decorations that had popped up around town. It had gotten colder, which Yuuri appreciated since he always seemed to be exhausted and overheated. If he kept up this pace, he might have most of his old skills back under his belt by February.

Not fast enough for Nationals. Not that it mattered. Without a coach, Yuuri was in no hurry to push for quads. He had barely gotten a handle on the toe loop before he retired, and an injury could put him out of commission permanently.

Yuuri helped out at the onsen when he wasn’t skating or practicing but it was more out of obligation to his parents rather than his own desire. He respected his parents and what they had made, but it was not what he wanted to do with his life.

He still assumed he would go back to school eventually, but he didn’t check the deadline to register for classes until after it was too late. He didn’t care.

“You got a boyfriend back in Detroit?” Mari nodded toward some Christmas decorations as they ran an errand for their parents.

Yuuri shook his head.

“Girlfriend?”

“No.” He and Mari didn’t usually talk about relationships, but maybe it was the season.

“Me neither,” said Mari with a shrug. “Makes Christmas easier when you don’t have to do anything.”

“It’s a much bigger deal in America,” Yuuri said. He hadn’t planned it, but it was a relief to spend Christmas in Japan. “The university always had a big holiday party for international students.”

“Sounds all right.” Mari stopped to adjust her parcels and chuckled. “You probably never went.”

Yuuri blushed. “I usually had to study.”

“Uh huh,” said Mari, raising an eyebrow. “Just like you used to study Viktor Nikiforov’s movies instead of eating cake with us on Christmas Eve?”

Yuuri his his face behind the boxes he was carrying. “His birthday is the 25th,” he said, as if the entire Katsuki family didn’t already know.

“You ever wish him a happy birthday?” Mari asked. Yuuri almost tripped over an uneven piece of sidewalk but Mari didn’t seem to notice. “Yurio had a big fundraiser for a cat shelter for his last birthday. I threw in some money, too.”

“That was nice of you,” said Yuuri. He didn’t mention that Viktor had been working with dog shelters for his birthday every year, which was almost certainly where Yuri had gotten the idea. It was all for the best. Yuuri always donated, even when he had no money to spare, and always anonymously.

They walked on in silence until Mari said, “Seems like him and Viktor are getting along again. They’ve been posting a lot together.”

Yuuri kept himself hidden. “I hadn’t noticed.”

“Sure you haven’t. I’m sure you haven’t been paying any attention to Viktor’s interviews, either.”

Yuuri swallowed, but she didn’t mention Viktor again.

“I’m just glad you seem happy again,” she said. “It was hard to tell over the phone, but you seem different lately.”

“I am happy,” Yuuri said. His school problems were so far from his thoughts at the moment, he couldn’t have burdened her with them even if he tried.

“Then you must be doing something right,” Mari said as they reached Yu-topia. She smiled and dumped her parcels on top of Yuuri’s. “Take these. I’m going to have a cigarette.”

Yuuri almost dropped the boxes, but he managed to get them inside without breaking anything.

On Christmas Eve, Yuuri ate dinner with his family. And on Viktor’s birthday, after one too many glasses of the wine that Minako had brought over, Yuuri left his first ever comment on Viktor’s Instagram.

------

The afternoon of December 25, Viktor’s mother called. Viktor paused his playlist.

“I see the package arrived,” said his mother in lieu of a greeting. “It wasn’t damaged, was it?”

Viktor eyed the brilliant blue art glass on his coffee table. “No, Mom, the original Chihuly bowl you sent was not damaged. It is beautiful, and it is way too much.”

“I saw your apartment on Instagram. It’s so drab.”

“So you sent me a $6,000 accident waiting to happen?” Viktor said. “You know I have a dog, right?”

“Be realistic, Vitya. If anyone breaks that bowl, it’s not going to be Makkachin.”

That was fair. Viktor crossed his legs the other way so that they pointed away from the bowl. “Well, thank you.”

“Happy birthday. You’re not spending it with Chris, are you?”

“No, Mom. He and his boyfriend are celebrating Christmas in Switzerland with their families.” Viktor didn’t begrudge Chris for spending the holiday abroad, and he definitely didn’t mind the Swiss chocolates Chris had sent.

“So I won’t see you two in the tabloids again? It’s a Christmas miracle.”

Viktor rolled his eyes and kicked his feet up on the couch, careful to avoid the bowl. “And how are you spending my birthday?” he asked.

“I’m on my way to see your father. I haven’t met Arthur yet.”

Viktor smiled. He couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate. “Careful. Once you meet him, you might not want to leave.”

His mother scoffed. “Is he going to bark at me? He seems like a barker.”

“No, Dad has really calmed down over the years.”

His mother clicked her tongue. “Hilarious. Be sure to include Spain on your stand up tour.” She took a deep breath before adding, “I hope you’re not spending your birthday alone.”

“You should have thought of that before you had me on Christmas,” Viktor replied. He was used to celebrating by himself while his friends and colleagues spent time with their families.

“Well, maybe your father and I should call you tomorrow.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll have better things to do. Besides, he already called me.” Talking to both of his parents at the same time would probably open up some sort of wormhole. At the very least, Viktor might pass out. His father was much better at gifts than his mother. He had sent a box of family recipes and a chew toy for Makkachin to match one of Arthur’s. “I’ll be fine and dandy.”

“What?” Viktor’s mother didn’t catch the reference, but she didn’t give him a chance to explain. “Oh, did you get my card?”

“Probably,” Viktor said. He hadn’t opened any cards yet. Most of them were from work acquaintances and he just didn’t have the patience. They were sitting in a pile by the promotional gifts.

“Didn’t I teach you to open cards first?” his mother scolded. “You’re lucky they’re closing the cabin doors.”

“Have a good flight,” said Viktor. They hung up and he headed over to the corner. He found the card from his mother wedged between greetings from one of his accountants and a watch company.

The front of the card was an intricate cut pattern that reminded him of a doily. But inside, there were a dozen messages, all handwritten by different people. Most of the messages were in Spanish, from his mother’s team. Simple statements like Happy birthday, Viktor! Thanks for visiting us this summer! jumped out at him in neon pink pen. The assistant coaches had written little notes in English, promising him torta the next time he visited. At the bottom, his mother had signed in her tight cursive: Next time it’s your turn to show me around New York.

Viktor couldn’t imagine his mother taking time off to visit him, but then again, he never thought his father would get a dog.

He put the card next to the bowl, which suddenly seemed a lot prettier.

But it was still just him and Makka on his birthday and on Christmas, so Viktor went back to his sad Christmas playlist.

He arranged the card, one of his grandmother’s recipes (strategically covered by Makka’s new toy), gloves from Yakov, and a box of Chris’s chocolates for an Instagram post. His notifications were already flooded with birthday greetings and Viktor spent several minutes liking them. His fans loved when he did things like that, but responding to everything was too daunting a task.

Makkachin snored in the corner and Viktor sighed. It wasn’t like he had anything better to do.

He picked the first comment that caught his eye—a poodle icon with the best username Viktor had ever seen.

poodles-are-love Happy birthday, Viktor. I can’t imagine what you went through this year and you don’t know me, but when you talked about your mental health, you inspired me to change my life for the better. I’m happier and healthier, and I’ll never be able to thank you enough. All I can do is wish you the best birthday ever and a wonderful New Year.

Viktor read it three more times. He had received several messages like this, and each one touched him in a way he had never experienced before, but there was something about this one. Viktor could tell this was someone who had faced their demons head on and come out on top. It probably had very little to do with him, but just the fact that a fellow poodle lover had felt the need to reach out was incredible.

Viktor liked the comment and began typing a reply.

v-nikiforov @poodles-are-love Thank you so much for the birthday wishes! Happiness and health are the best presents of all. Remember that you did that yourself. May all your New Year dreams come true. ❤️

He sent the reply and went to poodles-are-love’s profile. Sadly, there were no more pictures of poodles, and no pictures at all. It wasn’t even a private account—just empty with no bio. They only used Instagram to follow a few dozen people, including Chris, Yuri, Anya, and even Leo. Strangely enough, they weren’t following Viktor.

Viktor hit the Follow button and waited a moment to see if anything happened, but there was no more activity from @poodles-are-love. “Probably spending the holidays with family,” Viktor mused to Makkachin as Dolly Patton’s sang, pure and true, out of his Bluetooth speaker.

Viktor’s doorbell rang and the a voice crackled over the intercom.

“Viktor! Stop listening to Hard Candy Christmas and let us up! It’s cold out here.”

Viktor was extra glad he had given Spencer that $500 giftcard to his wife’s favorite restaurant. Dealing with Yuri was probably the hardest part of being the doorman of this building.

“Yura, I’m touched. You still follow me on Spotify!” Viktor said over the intercom.

“Save it,” Yuri barked. “If my grandpa catches a cold out here I’m blaming you.”

Yuri and his grandfather were here? Viktor buzzed them up, glad his house was moderately clean. Yuri was carrying an armload of bags, but this time he put them down next to Viktor’s door instead of throwing things.

“Viktor,” Nikolai Plisetsky shook his hand. “I’m sorry to come unannounced but Yurochka was just so concerned that you were spending your birthday alone.”

“You’re both welcome here,” Viktor gushed, warmth surging in his chest. “Always.”

“Don’t get excited. You were acting so pathetic that it was making me sick,” Yuri said, crossing his arms.

“Thank you, Yura,” Viktor said. Yuri huffed but didn’t protest the nickname. “I didn’t realize you were in New York.”

“I was doing the stupid parade,” Yuri muttered. Viktor had done Christmas parades before. Maybe Yuri hadn’t told him because he was worried Viktor would be upset. But even though Viktor was still being snubbed, he wanted Yuri to blossom and flourish.

“Amazing!” Viktor exclaimed. “I’m so proud of you! Did you ride on a float?”

“Some chocolate company. Here.” He thrust a bag of chocolates at Viktor. “I don’t even like chocolate.”

“Thank you,” said Viktor, taking the chocolates. “Can I get you something to drink? You’re welcome to sit down and stay but I’m sure you have plans.”

Just being visited was enough for Viktor but he would never turn down company.

“Yeah, we came all the way here to leave,” Yuri said sarcastically. “We’re having dinner with you whether you like it or not. My grandpa wants to cook for you, so you better be grateful.”

Viktor gasped, eyes going wide. Mr. Plisetsky’s cooking was legendary. He still had dreams about the pirozhkis Yuri had brought him once.

“It would be an honor!”

Yuri carried the other bags to the kitchen—they were full of groceries. Mr. Plisetsky started making a dough, clearly a master of his craft.

While the dough was resting in the fridge, Mr. Plisetsky got to work on the filling.

“Yurochka, would you chop this onion for me?” he asked. Yuri grabbed one of Viktor’s knives and proceeded to hack at the onion. Viktor cringed.

“You’re going to hurt yourself,” Viktor said. “May I?”

“Be my guest.” Yuri wrinkled his nose and blinked back tears. “My eyes hurt.”

“If you hold the knife like this and the onion like this,” Viktor demonstrated as he spoke, “you won’t lose a finger. Plus, all the pieces come out the same size.”

“My way was working,” Yuri muttered. “I just don’t like cooking.”

“It never hurts to learn,” said Mr. Plisetsky. “I won’t always be here to cook for you, you know.”

Yuri frowned. “Don’t talk like that. I’ll take care of you forever.”

Mr. Plisetsky laughed. “Then you had better learn to cook.”

“What did you say you were making again?” Yuri asked.

“Kulebyaka,” said his grandfather.

Viktor almost squealed with delight. “I haven’t had those since I was a child!” His grandmother had always just done a single filling, but judging from the groceries the Plisetsky’s had brought, this was going to be a layered beauty.

Viktor made quick work of the onion and Mr. Plisetsky held out a head of cabbage. “I don’t suppose you’d mind tackling this?”

“I'd love to!” Viktor began chopping cabbage into neat strips. Together, they assembled the fillings, Yuri helping with simple tasks wherever he could. Mr. Plisetsky even let Viktor handle the salmon filling on his own while he made the sturgeon.

“You could learn from him, Yurochka,” said Mr. Plisetsky, giving the filling a taste. “This is delightful.”

Yuri was about to protest, but they were both captivated as Mr. Plisetsky assembled the pie. He made a simple but beautiful pattern on the top and put it in the oven to bake.

Yuri's grandfather went to the bathroom once the timer was set and Yuri glared at Viktor. “Don’t say I never did anything for you.”

Viktor knew better than to bite back. “A cooking demonstration from your grandfather is the best gift I could imagine.”

“Just don’t quit acting again because you’re like, Iron Chef Russia or something now,” Yuri muttered.

Viktor had no idea what Yuri was talking about, but he wasn’t a chef by any exaggeration of the word. He didn’t want to quit acting, but if the Agape sequel didn’t take off, he might have no choice.

Maybe he could be Yuri’s manager. Then again, if Yakov was any indication, that would be the end of Viktor’s beautiful hair. And as much as he wanted to help Yuri, he wanted to stay connected to people himself, not just through Yuri.

But what could he do? He couldn’t be a therapist. Viktor would never get through the schooling. And he didn’t have the personality for a talk show like Chris.

Before his hiatus, Viktor had assumed acting was his only talent. But just because he wasn’t a chef didn’t mean he couldn’t cook.

Viktor had connected with his father through cooking. His fans seemed to like when he shared his cooking and his recipes. What if he could share his cooking with his fans and make a little money in case his acting days were numbered?

“That’s it, Yura! I’m going to write a cookbook!”

“What?!”

“A cookbook! I can cook healthy food. I can cook comfort food. I’ve learned some family recipes. I can share my cooking with the world and then it won’t matter if I never get work again!”

Yuri scrunched up his face. “You’ll get work. Once the industry gets its head out of its fucking ass, they’ll see you’re even better than before.”

“Believe me, that might never happen. I have to make a contingency plan.” Viktor was already planning the book. Appetizers, soups, updated classics—accessible but firmly grounded in tradition… “I want to reach people and show them what cooking gave me.”

Yuri scrutinized him but his mouth softened. “If it’s that important to you…”

Viktor nodded.

“What, you want my permission? If you want to do it, just do it.”

“I'm going to do it, but your support means the world to me,” Viktor said.

Yuri rolled his eyes and bent down to look at the kulebyaka through the oven door. Barely audible, he added, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help or whatever.”

“You can be my taste tester!” Viktor exclaimed. “You know good food. I wouldn’t publish any recipe that didn’t meet your approval!”

“Fine! Calm your tits, okay?”

“Language, Yurochka,” said Mr. Plisetsky, who had returned to the kitchen.

Viktor had never heard Yuri apologize before. But as he and the Plisetskys shared the fruits of their labor, Viktor couldn’t ever remember seeing Yuri look so happy. They ended up renting It’s a Wonderful Life because Yuri had never seen it, but both Yuri and his grandfather fell asleep halfway through. With Makkachin dozing in his lap, Viktor checked his phone.

He almost dropped the device on her head when he caught his first glimpse of Chris’s boyfriend, devastatingly handsome (of course) and lounging in a hot tub with Chris. Thank champagne for small miracles, Viktor thought.

Leo had sent him a birthday text even though Viktor would have been hard-pressed to remember when Leo’s birthday was.

And at the top of his Instagram feed was the first post ever from @poodles-are-love, who was now following Viktor back. Viktor recognized his younger self skating on a TV screen with just a glimpse of an elegant hand curled around a glass of wine in the foreground. The caption read, My favorite way to celebrate the holiday #happybiethdyaviktr

Viktor smiled. It seemed like Poodles was a little drunk. Someone named @phichit+chu had left a comment that was just dozens of exclamation points. But when Viktor tried to like the picture all he got was an error message, and when he refreshed, the post was gone.

Maybe Poodles was a little shy, or maybe the whole thing was just a food coma fever dream.

Viktor put his phone down for the night and took a sleepy glance around the room. Despite the lonely start, it was the best birthday he had ever had.

Chapter Text

It had been weeks but Yuuri still wasn’t over the fact that Viktor Nikiforov had followed him on Instagram. How could something so wonderful could come from a moment of drunken recklessness? Why would Viktor follow someone who never posted anything? It was probably a mistake, but Viktor hadn’t unfollowed him yet.

Phichit had never been jealous of him before. It was a weird feeling. Even with his army of followers, Phichit didn’t have Viktor, and it seemed no amount of commenting could get Viktor’s attention. What had Yuuri done that was so special?

“Really, I just want to DM him pictures of you,” Phichit had confessed. “He’s been following you for a month with no payoff.”

Viktor had probably just forgotten. And he probably hadn’t even seen Yuuri’s hastily deleted post. But either way, Yuuri was glad he was ignoring Phichit.

Much to Phichit’s dismay, Yuuri had managed to refrain from posting anything else. New Year celebrations and skating had kept him too busy to worry about trying to make interesting posts for his new follower.

But the holidays were over, and now that Yuuri was streaming Phichit’s competitions and checking social media again, figure skating took over his downtime, too. Back in Detroit, Yuuri had tortured himself watching other skaters succeed where he had failed until he couldn’t take it anymore. Now it was a different kind of torture. Yuuri should have been out there, too.

It was to the point where he wasn’t just following Phichit’s career or even just the big events. He watched Japanese Nationals (with Minako’s words echoing in his head the entire time), Russian Nationals, US Nationals, and any competition he could. Somehow, Yuuko’s daughters always knew where to find streams.

He still wasn’t jumping consistently, but there just wasn’t much more he could do without a coach. Yuuri fell back on his former routines instead. Arabesque didn’t work for him anymore (not that it worked all that well when he had performed it as a Junior). He even flubbed through his old Lohengrin program, but it seemed dated compared to the Lohengrin choreography Minami Kenjirou had just performed at All Japan (the song choice was probably just a coincidence).

He was desperate for inspiration, but he couldn’t afford to hire a choreographer, let alone a coach.

It was Yuuko who helped him.

“What about Viktor?”

“What about him?” Yuuri echoed, hoping he wouldn’t blush. She had been almost as excited about Instagram as Yuuri had.

“Viktor always got you through before, didn’t he? Whenever the pressure was too much."

She knew him too well.

“I guess,” he admitted. Viktor had been on his mind even more than usual lately and it hadn’t made a difference. “But I still don’t know what to skate.”

“Why don’t you pretend you’re skating for him like you used to?” Yuuko suggested. “What would he want to see?”

These days, Yuuri couldn’t even imagine the Viktor of his fantasies wanting to watch him skate. Viktor still followed a few skaters (not that Yuuri had been through his entire list or anything), but there was no way he’d care about some nobody’s hobby skating. It was just a coincidence that he was following Yuuri at all, no matter what Phichit said.

“It was different back then,” was all he said. Yuuko frowned.

“Well, you always used to play a character,” she said. “But I bet you already tried that, huh?”

Yuuri hadn’t. Taking on a role was the only way he could get through performing back then, but the story came entirely from his coaches and choreographers.

“I was never good at coming up with that stuff myself,” he sighed.

Yuuko’s eyes lit up. “I know! Pretend you’re Detroit Boy!”

“W-what?” Yuuri’s cheeks went red. She was just as bad as Phichit.

“It’s perfect! You’re Detroit Boy and you’re skating your feelings for Viktor.” Yuuko smiled and gave him an encouraging nudge. “It’s worth a try, isn’t it? Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”

He had to admit, it was more to go on than he’d had in weeks. But that was only half the battle. “I still don’t know what to do.”

“I know it’ll come to you.” Yuuko patted his shoulder and left to get ready to open the rink.

It was just Yuuri and the ice. He breathed in the crisp air and when he exhaled, there was a song in his mind.

Stay Close to Me.

Viktor’s (really, Dimitri’s) final skate of On Thin Ice. His character was untouchable, outscoring his competition by dozens of points, and the loneliness was destroying him. Stay Close to Me was a desperate plea for someone to see past the champion to the person within. It was asking for permission to love and be loved.

None of Dimitri’s boyfriends could handle his success. Michael got jealous, Nelson felt inadequate, and even when Dimitri tried to throw his career away for love, he was rejected. In the end, he decided to chase gold instead because it was all he had ever known.

Yuuri had gotten in countless internet arguments over Dimitri. Some people saw him as a cold character who made his own bed, but Yuuri maintained that Dimitri was not the problem—it was the people who asked him to change. Yuuri always saw his capacity for love. If someone had only accepted Dimitri for who he was, he would have been the most caring boyfriend in the world.

The finale had cemented Viktor’s place in Yuuri’s heart. Viktor’s acting was nuanced and rich, conveying passion supplanted by technical perfection and grace on the edge of despair. His Dimitri was aloof not by choice but because of other people’s perceptions. It was the most underrated performance Yuuri had ever witnessed, and the fact that it had taken ten years for everyone else to recognize Viktor’s talents was criminal.

Of course, Dimitri was just a character. Knowing Viktor suffered from depression made it all the more personal. Viktor had poured all of himself into his career and found himself with nothing left. Now that he had taken time to himself to rediscover his passions, Yuuri knew he’d come back stronger. 

Yuuri could come back stronger, too.

He watched the performance over and over again. It was a good thing he was at his parents’ house because his old notes on the routine were still there. He’d gotten into a message board war over the program elements and the show’s choreographer, Ms. Yulia Mercer herself, had confirmed that Yuuri was correct.

Of course, that didn’t mean Yuuri could do the program as it was written. Skaters were doing more difficult programs now, but when the show had aired, it was almost unimaginable in competition. Viktor had only pulled it off with a body double and a brilliant editor. The triple axel had come back to Yuuri for the most part, but he'd always had an affinity for that jump. The triple flip and salchow on the other hand were not his friends, and even attempting Dimitri’s signature quad flip was a guaranteed trip to the ER.

So Yuuri modified the choreography. He downgraded the jumps, both standalone and in combination. It didn’t matter since he wasn’t competing. This was just for himself and an imaginary Viktor.

And it wasn’t just the jumps that Yuuri changed. He couldn’t pull off the perspective of a living legend, detached from reality and clinging to any scrap of affection he could find.

Yuuri took Yuuko’s advice to heart and became the boy from Detroit. With every spin position, Yuuri said, You’re enough. The placement of his hands said, You've already won my love. His footwork said, Please love me in return. Each jump he landed said, Look at the way you make me feel.

Sometimes, figure skating and Viktor got conflated in his head. He’d tried to deny his feelings for both for far too long. There was nothing wrong with admiring Viktor, and there was no need to fear skating. He could embrace both, because they were both a part of who he was.

And it was a damn shame that no one would ever see either.

Spring was warmer than normal and the cherry blossoms were blooming early this year. Yuuri had taken two rest days in a row—the first to cover for his parents so they could view the sakura and the second to see them with Mari.

He sent a selfie to Phichit, who responded immediately with heart-eyes emoji.

put it on your insta!!!
this is the kind of quality content viktor wants to see

But Yuuri just laughed.

Mari frowned at her phone. “I wished Yurio a happy birthday and he didn’t start following me,” she lamented. “Looks like you and Viktor have something special.”

Why was everyone always talking about that? Sidestepping Viktor, Yuuri said, “Yurio’s way too young for you.”

“Of course he is.” Mari looked very serious. “I want to adopt him.”

Yuuri laughed again. Maybe it was the fact that he felt good about his skating for the first time in years, or maybe it was just the beauty of the cherry blossoms, but he felt at peace.

Takeshi waved to him from across the park and Yuuri waved back. He had brought the triplets and for once, they left Yuuri alone to twirl and jump among the petals. Maybe they’d be figure skaters one day, but for now they were just kids enjoying the beauty of nature.

Yuuri felt like a kid again, too, giggling with his sister and sharing snacks.

He didn’t even notice his phone ringing until Mari pointed it out. It was a Detroit number, so Yuuri picked up, ready to say he wasn’t taking any summer classes.

“Yuuri Katsuki?” said a voice he didn’t recognize.

“Yes?”

“Sorry to call so late. This is Denise Alburn from Stratus Systems.”

He recognized the company name. It was a competitor of one the companies where he had interned.

“Good evening,” said Yuuri, remembering the time difference.

“I’m calling to congratulate you on your upcoming graduation.”

That was odd. “Oh, I’m actually not graduating this spring,” he said.

“You’re not? Well, that’s all right. I’m the HR manager for Stratus and I’d like to talk to you about your career plans.”

Yuuri’s stomach went cold. “I haven’t decided yet.”

“That’s just fine! In fact, I’m glad you haven’t settled on a company just yet. Stratus Systems has a lot to offer. We’re on the cutting edge of technology with huge growth forecasted over the next five years. We have the best benefits in the business, generous vacation time, and we offer educational assistance to new hires.”

“Okay…” Yuuri felt like he was listening to a sales pitch.

“I’d love for you to come in for an interview. You come very highly recommended by our new Director of Engineering, Amanda LaPlante.”

Now Yuuri knew how they got his name. Amanda had been his manager at Doleman Science. She had been pushing Yuuri to apply to the company full time after graduation. She was a fair boss, but his apprehension over work had never been about the people.

When Yuuri didn’t respond, the HR manager went on. “Obviously this isn’t a job offer just yet, but we’re prepared to pay for the rest of your tuition and start you around at least $28 an hour, with a raise upon full-time, salaried employment after you graduate.”

Yuuri’s mouth dropped open. That was a lot of money.

“Amanda mentioned that you’re not a citizen, and we’re also prepared to talk about visa sponsorship.”

Yuuri’s heart was beating as if he had landed a quad flip. With that kind of money, he could afford a coach.

But his heart crashed when he remembered that he wouldn’t have the time if he was working and going to school.

“I don’t know what to say,” he finally managed.

“Can you come in so we can meet face to face? Maybe next Tuesday?”

That was less than a week away. How could he get back to Detroit in time? He wasn’t done with skating yet.

Or maybe this was a sign that he was. He still hadn’t managed to skate his Stay Close to Me cleanly after two months of practicing.

Turning down an offer like this was ridiculous. His classmates would kill for this kind of opportunity and he needed the money. If he stayed in Japan too long he could lose his student status, and then he’d really be going nowhere.

He had to go.

“Next Tuesday?” Yuuri repeated.

“How’s eleven o’clock? We’ll take you out to lunch.”

He was being courted. In his fantasies, it was always Viktor throwing himself at Yuuri. It didn’t feel nearly as flattering when it was a company.

“All right. I’ll be there,” Yuuri said.

“Great! I’ll e-mail you an application and some more information about our facility. Can’t wait to meet you!”

“You, too,” Yuuri muttered before hanging up.

“What’s wrong?” Mari asked midbite.

Yuuri was sure his face was paler than the petals that surrounded them. “I have a job interview.”

“Yuuri,” said Mari. “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.” She must have heard the conversation.

“I’d be a fool to turn it down. It’s a lot of money.”

Mari cocked her head. “So’s the Grand Prix if you win. Why not go for that?”

But there was no way he would win. Even if he buried himself in debt to get a coach, he would just be a dime-a-dozen skater, pretty good but not good enough. This job was a sure thing. And even if it wasn’t, maybe it was time to get back to school.

“I have to at least go.”

“Go where?” Mari’s eyes went wide. “Detroit? Detroit by Tuesday? Even if you left tonight, you’d still be jet-lagged.”

But Yuuri had skated all night mere hours after getting off a plane. He could handle an interview. Yuuri got the feeling he could fall asleep during lunch and still get the job.

Why didn’t it feel good to be wanted?

“I have to go book my flight and pack,” he said, starting to clean up their snacks.

“Well, if that’s what you really want, I’m behind you,” said Mari. She stood up and folded up their blanket.

It wasn’t, but having her support meant the world anyway.

Yuuri spent the last of his bank account on a one-way ticket for Saturday. He packed up his things, leaving behind his Viktor posters but taking his favorite magazines from Mari.

“I’m so glad you could stay for so long,” his mother said, giving him a hug. “Let us know how the interview goes, whatever you decide.”

His father put an arm around his shoulders. “Our Yuuri always make us so proud.”

Yuuri let himself soak up their love. It didn’t make him feel any better about the interview but like Mari, the unconditional love and support was enough.

“Thanks for letting me stay,” he said.

His mother smiled. “You’re always welcome here.”

The only one who wasn’t supportive was Minako.

“You said I shouldn’t freeload,” Yuuri reminded her. They both knew it was a weak retort.

“That’s because you were supposed to find a coach in America,” she snapped. “You had better keep practicing. I don’t want to see you let your skills slip again. A job is no excuse!”

Yuuri nodded. Sometimes he felt like Minako was the only one who understood him. Then again, she had lived her dream, and Yuuri was about to give his up.

But before he went to the airport to hand in his dreams, he had one last stop.

“Are you sure you want to skate right before a long flight?” Yuuko wondered at the doors of Ice Castle. “Who am I kidding? Of course you're sure.”

“I couldn’t leave without showing you what I’ve been working on,” said Yuuri. He put his luggage in the corner and changed into his skates. Even if he wasn’t going to skate for Viktor or for a crowd, he could skate for Yuuko. Just like when they were kids.

“You’re going to show me?” Yuuko gasped. She clasped her hands together, watching as he took off his skate guards and his glasses.

Yuuri handed her his phone with the music ready to go. “Well, it was your idea.”

He skated to the center of the rink and nodded at Yuuko. Rapt, she pressed play and Yuuri let the music fill him.

Yuuko melted away and the rink was gone. There was no interview and no flight to catch. He was just the mysterious boy from Detroit who had stolen Viktor’s heart, expressing his love in the only way he knew how.

Yuuri didn’t have to keep score to know he had just beaten his personal record.

He slept well on the plane that night, feeling more accomplished than he had in a decade. The cramped quarters in the basic economy section magnified all his blisters and bruises, but his scars meant more than his old ones.

The high wouldn’t last. It never did. Yuuri would fall and get discouraged and maybe even want to give up again. With school, work, and skating, something would have to give. He would probably need to go back to therapy, maybe medication, but he wouldn’t quit. He had his family and friends to support him, and now that he had skating back, he was never going to let it go again.

----

In New York City, as Makkachin watched a late season snowstorm bury the balcony, Viktor got a text message from Chris.

You’ve got to see this.

Chapter Text

You’ve got to see this.

Chris’s mysterious text was accompanied by a hyperlink. Unsolicited links from Chris were always dangerous, but this looked one like a YouTube video so Viktor was willing to give it a shot. The title was in Japanese, full of characters Viktor couldn’t read, but there was a short English title at the end, too.

RETURN OF KATSUKI YUURI

The video started dark and blurry, like a bad cell phone recording. For a second Viktor worried Chris had led him astray, but the first few muffled notes changed his mind. This was Dimitri’s music, from his final free skate in the series finale. Stay Close to Me was permanently stitched in Viktor’s memory. He’d worked closely with the composers to make sure it fit his character, and he could still hear his mother lamenting the broken Italian.

An ice rink came into focus, then a skater. Lithe and agile, the skater executed the opening of Dimitri’s routine flawlessly. Was this a tribute? The video was only a few hours old. Maybe Chris was right and people were hungry for a reunion special.

But as Viktor watched, he realized this wasn’t his old program at all. The elements were the same but Katsuki Yuuri was on another level of artistry, leagues beyond even the skating double who had done the things Viktor couldn’t. Viktor couldn’t have injected this much emotion into his skating in his wildest dreams. The music—and Viktor’s nostalgia—swelled to the first jumping pass, downgraded from “canon” but beautiful and landed clean, and landed right in front of the camera.

The image was so sharp it pierced Viktor’s heart.

He knew that face.

It can’t be.

But he knew that body, too, tangled inextricably with the music as if one couldn’t exist without the other. He knew the strength in those shoulders and the curve of that spine. He should have recognized him right away.

Katsuki Yuuri was the mysterious stranger, his future husband, the boy from Detroit. Viktor knew it just as sure as Katsuki Yuuri knew every spin, every step sequence, every head tilt and hand position that Viktor had done for the show. But instead of Dimitri’s detached perfection, Katsuki Yuuri called to Viktor with warmth and tenderness, even acceptance. At times, he was almost coy, daring Viktor to look away. Viktor wasn’t even willing to blink.

Even though quads became triples and some triples became doubles, Viktor hadn’t seen footwork this beautiful in years. Katsuki Yuuri had said he wasn't good enough to compete, but he could have held his own at the World Championships with this routine. He was holding back now, limited by choreography designed for an actor and a clever editor, and God, Viktor wanted more.

Katsuki Yuuri had more to give. He built up speed into the last jump, skating around the edges of Viktor’s heart and launching into—Viktor counted the rotations—a quadruple toe loop. He hung on to the landing and Viktor felt the phantom force in his joints and deep in his gut, heard the sound of blades cutting ice louder in his memory than from his speakers.

At some point during the video, Viktor had forgotten how to breathe. Katsuki Yuuri was some kind of superhuman, waiting until the end of a lengthy program to unleash a quad like his stamina was limitless. Viktor was winded just from watching.

Katsuki Yuuri launched into the last spin, a beautiful layback position deeper than what Viktor could have mustered even at his most flexible. It might have brought him to tears if he weren’t in a state of shock. The final pose ripped his wound open, left it raw and bleeding like no time had passed at all since that night in Detroit. The video cut off abruptly, and it felt like another two years before Viktor could catch his breath.

Why now? Why, after years of silence, had he revealed himself now?

There was no way this video could be anything but a confession, laid bare on the ice like Viktor was the only person meant to see it. Katsuki Yuuri had claimed the skate and made it his own, just like he had claimed Viktor’s heart. The video was a study in vulnerability and love, and Viktor wanted nothing more than to run into his arms.

Wasn’t Viktor over him? They had never had anything real, but after watching that program, Viktor could almost believe that their meeting had left as much of an impression on Katsuki Yuuri as it had on him.

Who had posted it? It had been uploaded that day, but maybe it was an old recording. Was this Katsuki Yuuri’s personal account? Viktor clicked the username to check, but when the channel loaded there were no videos at all. His heart seized as he clicked the back button, but there was only a gray box where Katsuki Yuuri had been.

This video is not available.

Viktor sucked in a shaky breath. Gone, just like Katsuki Yuuri had vanished after one beautiful night.

Had he wanted Viktor to see the video or not? Had he even posted it himself? He had called out to Viktor loud and clear—even Yuri or Dr. Rhee would have agreed.

Maybe Chris had been right all along. Maybe Katsuki Yuuri was toying with him. But Viktor couldn’t reconcile that with the man he had met in Detroit, nor the man who had skated that routine the way it was always meant to be skated.

Then again, he hadn’t acknowledged the camera the entire time, almost like he hadn’t even known he was being recorded. Viktor could relate to having his privacy violated. What if Katsuki Yuuri hadn’t wanted anyone to see the video at all?

But even though Viktor didn’t have a video anymore, he did have a name. He went to Google, desperate to know more.

Katsuki Yuuri was trending. There were countless tweets from the figure skating community celebrating his return to the ice like he was some sort of prodigal son. The small but devoted On Thin Ice community was abuzz about the throwback, too. More than a few people had tagged Viktor in their comments (which he would have known if only he had re-enabled notifications), wanting his feedback on the video.

Viktor still couldn’t find the words.

Chris’s texts yanked him out of his search.

Now you know what that routine is supposed to look like.
You saw it, right? It went down but I’m sure someone will reupload.
I’ll keep looking, because you are going to meet him.
That was foreplay on ice and you need it bad.

Chris had no idea who Katsuki Yuuri was. That wasn’t foreplay, it was a love letter—maybe even a proposal. Viktor didn’t dare hope that it was an apology.

The texts continued.

I can’t believe our little show is still relevant.
Does this mean the time is right for a reunion?
Seung-gil is going to be the hardest sell.

Viktor couldn’t be bothered with business now. He put his phone on Do Not Disturb and went back to his search.

According to Wikipedia, Katsuki Yuuri had shot up the ranks in Japan and moved to Detroit to train, only to retire suddenly and disappear from the public eye. Apparently, disappearing was Katsuki Yuuri’s modus operandi.

Don’t be so quick to judge , he reminded himself. Even though Viktor hadn’t disappeared for three years, he understood the appeal of running away. A little empathy had been the key to finally letting go, and talking about his own depression had set him free. None of that would have happened without Katsuki Yuuri.

Viktor only knew a taste of the pressure that Olympic-caliber athletes went through from his mother, and he had no doubt that Katsuki Yuuri had other demons to face. His (second?) disappearance had nothing to do with Viktor, just like Viktor’s breakdown wasn’t really about Katsuki Yuuri.

But where did that leave them? Viktor wasn’t the same person he was two years ago but here he was, ready to put everything on the line for someone he barely knew.

Of course, now that he had a name, he knew a little more. And even with so little to go on, one thing was clear: Viktor wasn’t the only one who had missed him. His fans had never let go, and Viktor wasn’t sure if he could, either.

The only question left was the hardest one to answer: What was Viktor going to do now?

------

Like any good passenger, Yuuri turned Airplane Mode off the moment the flight attendant gave the all clear. Phichit was in town between competitions and he had jumped at the chance to pick Yuuri up from the airport. Yuuri couldn’t wait to catch up in person.

He was expecting a text barrage, but he wasn’t expecting fifty notifications.

The weirdest part was that they weren’t all from Phichit. For a moment Yuuri wondered if his credit card had been stolen or if his phone had been hacked.

His chest went tight as he read Phichit first text.

oh SHIT you posted it??????

Yuuri hadn’t posted anything, but the texts went on and on.

yuuRIIIIIIIII
whyyyy are you on a plane right now????
i need to livetext my reaction
wtf
did you even take time off?
D: hooooow is your 3a still better than mine?
that spin my god
king of step sequences
:’) 
so proud

Phichit had seen his routine. But how? The only person who had watched him was Yuuko, and she had his phone the whole time. She hadn’t recorded anything but Phichit had seen everything. Yuuri scrolled to the end.

oh shit
OH SHIT
YUURI WITH THE MOTHERFUCKING QUAD TOE
im dead
you killed me
and brought me back to life
your plane needs to make an emergency landing so i can scream at you
YES i got the gif

Yuuri’s heart pounded in his ears, hands shaking as he watched himself jump over and over again on his phone. He just didn't know where or why or how.

“Are you okay?” asked the passenger next to him. “You look pale.”

“I’m fine,” Yuuri managed.

Once he willed his hands to move, he checked the texts from Yuuko.

I am so sorry!
They are in so much trouble!!!
I don’t know how they got my phone but I took it down as soon as I found it!

The triplets. He should have known. They were just kids and they were sneaky, so he couldn’t really be upset with them or Yuuko, but that didn’t make him feel any better. Maybe they had just sent it to Phichit.

But his heart fell when he saw he had similar messages from Mari and Minako, too. Maybe it had just gone to his contacts—Yuuri wouldn’t put hacking his phone past the triplets. But it was the Google alert that finished him.

Japanese Skater Performs On Thin Ice Routine—And Absolutely Crushes It

On Thin Ice fans thought nothing could top Dimitri’s haunting final performance—until today. In a shocking move, retired Japanese figure skater Yuuri Katsuki broke three years of silence to post a mindblowing rendition of the character’s iconic swan song.

The video was taken down only a few hours after it was posted, but internet sleuths have tracked the source to a deactivated account in rural Japan.

No word yet from Viktor Nikiforov (who knows a thing or two about making a comeback), but we think even Dimitri would admit that his flower crown’s been snatched.

Snatched? Yuuri hadn’t wanted to snatch anything! He had just skated what was in his heart.

Reality hit him like a crash to the ice. Not only had the triplets recorded him skating, they had posted it online for the entire world to see.

For Viktor to see. Viktor could have seen the video. Yuuri’s entire body went cold.

If he could crawl into one of the overhead bins, he could just stay on the plane forever. He’d never know if Vitkor had seen the video or not and he could pretend it had never happened.

“Excuse me, we’re moving,” said the passenger next to him. Yuuri hadn’t even noticed the crowds exiting the plane. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Yuuri nodded numbly and grabbed his carry on bag. He was in a fog through customs and all the way to the baggage claim, still unable to believe what had happened.

Had Viktor seen him skate?

He almost didn’t want to see Phichit because Phichit would know things and ask questions, but living at the airport sounded miserable, so Yuuri texted him.

At door 3

Phichit responded immediately.

is that all you have to say for yourself young man????

Yuuri’s body felt like a pile of wet noodles and it had nothing to do with the plane ride.

Phichit pulled up and burst out of the car. He threw his arms around Yuuri and launched into accolades.

“You killed that routine! I knew you were still good, but damn! Why did you take the video down, though? Did you pay for WiFi in the plane or something?” Phichit went on until he noticed that Yuuri had nothing to say. “Hey, you okay? Overwhelmed?”

“I...I didn’t post that video,” Yuuri said, shaking his head.

Phichit frowned. “You know, I did think it was a bit weird that the account was called sukeota3sisters.”

That was definitely Axel, Lutz, and Loop. “My friend Yuuko, her kids…” None of that would make sense to Phichit, so Yuuri started over. “No one else was supposed to see it. I was going to skate it for you when I got back, but no one else.”

“You can still show me! You’re going to, right? I have got to see that quad toe loop in person before I die.”

Yuuri couldn’t think about that yet. He and Phichit loaded his bags into the trunk and Yuuri sat in the passenger seat, gripping his phone. It felt like a bad dream. Like he’d wake up and still be on the plane, living his anonymous life.

Compulsively, he went to his neglected Twitter account and the quad toe loop gif was at the top of his feed. Phichit hadn’t tagged him and no one had found his secret account, but the tweet had far too many likes.

“Made that gif myself,” Phichit said proudly. “Chris liked it.”

Yuuri pulled his phone close to hide it from Phichit, too scared to ask if Viktor had liked it. “Shouldn’t you be watching the road?”

Phichit’s shoulders sank and he looked straight ahead. “Sorry, sorry.”

Yuuri felt bad for snapping at him but he had to check Viktor’s profile before he could apologize. He had to see for himself. He held his breath as the page loaded.

Nothing. Viktor’s last tweet was from two days ago, about his cookbook.

Yuuri wasn’t sure if that made it better or worse. “I’m sorry, too. I’m just...this is a nightmare.”

“Is it?” Phichit asked. “Upgrade the rest of those jumps and you could medal with that program.”

Phichit made it sound much simpler than it was. Yuuri had daydreamed about competing again, but right now he could only skate for himself and maybe a few friends. For Viktor, always, but not like this. If he couldn’t handle this, he definitely wasn’t ready for competition.

“Maybe it got taken down before he could see it. Or maybe he hated it. I stole his routine!”

“You didn’t steal it. You did your own version of it. People do that all the time.” Phichit kept his voice even and calm. “Besides, he’s an actor, not a skater. It’s not like you used it in competition—and before you say anything, you could. The pieces are all there. Ciao Ciao agrees with me.”

Celestino had seen it? Yuuri swallowed hard. “I just wanted to see if I could do it. And I barely landed that last jump.”

“I’m still only landing it half the time,” Phichit said stiffly. “Maybe if I had a training partner to challenge me…”

“Please don’t...” Yuuri whimpered, locking his phone and smacking his head back against the headrest. He couldn’t handle the guilt right now. All he wanted to go back to his and Phichit’s old place and go back in time.

“Okay, okay, let’s talk about something else. You never did tell me why you came back to America in such a hurry.”

Yuuri’s stomach turned. He had almost forgotten. “I have an interview for a full time position with a medical device firm on Tuesday.”

Phichit didn’t respond right away, and when he did, all he said was, “Oh.”

That about summed it up. “Yeah.”

“And that’s…good?” Phichit stole a glance at him without moving his head.

Yuuri’s silence said everything.

Chapter Text

Katsuki Yuuri was a study in going off the grid. Viktor stayed up all night searching, but it was like all of his old accounts had never been there at all. Even the archived versions were sparse, with just a few generic messages thanking his supporters and apologizing before his retirement.

His old performances were hard to come by, partly because Viktor’s Japanese was pitiful. He could recognize the kanji for Katsuki Yuuri now, but he kept finding the same recordings over and over again. His senior career hadn’t been very long, and his old videos were surreal. The beauty and the artistry were there, but with none of the freedom and confidence that had been on display during Stay Close to Me.

Back in the present, someone had put both versions of Stay Close to Me side by side. Unsurprisingly Katsuki Yuuri’s rendition put his own to shame. Viktor had always seen the routine as Dimitri chasing something he didn’t truly understand, but Katsuki Yuuri knew exactly what he wanted to say.  

Viktor had already priced out flights to Kyushu, but a voice that sounded a lot like Yuri Plisetsky’s stopped him from buying.

On the one hand, this video was a declaration if not an invitation, and Viktor wanted so badly to accept. But he had worked so hard to become wiser with his affections, and inadvertently or not, Katsuki Yuuri had hurt him. Pretending had only gotten Viktor a broken heart and if something was amiss, he wasn’t sure he could survive another.

If it had been anyone else in that video, Viktor would have been on that flight. But no one else skated like Katsuki Yuuri. Viktor had seen a lot of skaters. He had trained with skaters, sat through dozens of marathon competitions, studied their routines, and even studied their lives. He knew skaters.

Wait. I know skaters. It seemed so obvious now, and Viktor couldn’t call Leo fast enough.

“Hi, Viktor,” said Leo. “I hope you don’t need someone to watch Makkachin, because I’m not going to be in New York any time soon.”

“It’s not that. I’m calling about Katsuki Yuuri.” Viktor was too excited for pleasantries.

“Oh, you must have seen that video.” Leo was far too calm about it. “The whole club was pretty pumped. I hope this means he’s coming out of retirement.”

“You’ve talked to him?” Viktor asked, not caring how desperate he sounded.

“No. We’re not friends or anything. He pretty much kept to himself before he retired.” Viktor pouted and Leo sighed on the other end of the line. “But I can ask Guang Hong if he knows anything. He keeps on top of that stuff more than I do.”

“Please? You can give him my number,” said Viktor.

Leo chuckled. “First Katsuki comes out of hiding and then Guang Hong gets your number? He’s going to pass out.”

“Let me know if you hear anything.”

“Okay,” said Leo. “You know, who I should really talk to is—”

But Viktor never heard what else Leo had to say because Chris was calling. “I have to go. I have another call.” Viktor hung up and switched to Chris, assuming it was work. He had put off addressing the reunion long enough. “Hi, Chris.”

“We need to talk about that video.”

Viktor sighed. “You know I’m on board for a reunion, but I don’t even want to think about filming it until the Agape sequel’s in post-production.” Promoting his cookbook would take him right up to filming, and Viktor was stressed enough as it was. Adding a new project was just asking for another breakdown.

“Put a pin in that. We need to talk about Yuuri Katsuki. I’ve been doing some research.”

“Found anything?” said Viktor, feigning nonchalance. He wasn’t sure he wanted Chris to know just how personal the video was.

Chris matched his tone. “Oh, you know. He’s Japanese, he’s in his early 20s, and he’s been living in Detroit for the past few years.”

“Detroit? You don’t say.”

“Viktor…” Chris tutted. “There’s something you’re not telling me. He’s your Detroit Darling, isn’t he?”

Viktor humphed at the new nickname. Now that he had a name, and a beautiful one at that, it wasn’t necessary. “I thought it was Detroit Boy.”

“You and I were watching the same video, weren’t we? That was a man, not a boy. Would you prefer I called him your Detroit Di—”

“It’s him,” Viktor admitted. “And I don’t know what to do.”

“I figured you’d be on the first flight to whatever backwater town in Japan that account came from.” Chris knew him too well.

“I won’t pretend the thought didn’t occur to me,” said Viktor. “But don’t you think it’s too much?”

“Of course it's too much, but your Detroit Daddy doesn’t exactly do subtle.” That nickname was so bad it made Viktor cringe. “You tried subtle two years ago and look where it got you.”

“But that’s just it, isn’t it?” Viktor sighed. “He didn’t want me then, so why would he share this now?”

“What if he was going through a tough time? Isn't that what you told me?” Chris asked. “What if he’s ready now?”

Was Katsuki Yuuri ready now? And was Viktor? “What if he didn’t want this video out there at all?”

“But what if he did?” countered Chris. “And what if you never meet and never find out? Could you live with that?”

It was all of his deepest fears at once, and Viktor couldn’t decide which was the worst: being hurt again, hurting someone else, or never knowing at all.

“That ass is worth chasing. If you don’t, I might.”

Viktor should have known the dirty comment was coming. “And what would your beau think about that?”

“Florian would understand,” Chris said.

“Florian?” Two names in as many days and Viktor’s head was spinning.

“I can’t tell you what to do, but for me, it was worth the risk.”

The honesty gave Viktor pause. Chris so rarely gave real insight into his life, but he had taken a huge gamble on his Florian. There was nothing wrong with the way Chris had operated before, and Florian hadn’t asked him to change. But Chris had put himself out there for another person, vulnerable and exposed, which was something Viktor had never quite managed to do. Even when he claimed to be an open book, he was guarded.

“Look at it this way: has anyone else ever done a quad for you that you didn’t have to pay them for?”

No, Viktor couldn’t say that anyone had.

Chris was back to his usual swagger. “Want me to get him on my podcast? I’d be happy to do it. He’s buzzy—it’d be good tie in with the reunion.”

It was tempting, but despite his very public display, it took a humble person to talk himself down even while drunk. Even when he was a top skater, Katsuki Yuuri had a knack for avoiding the press.

“I don’t think he’d go for it.”

“Not even if I brought you in, too? We could do it remotely, of course, but let’s say I fly him in, we all have some coffee and chat, and then I lock the doors behind me and let you two get to know each other.”

Viktor didn’t realize his mouth had gone dry until he tried to speak. “That’s…” He licked his lips.

“I mean, I’ll stay and watch if you want, but you’ve never taken me up on that before.”

Could it really be that easy to meet Katsuki Yuuri? Chris’s plan assumed that someone would be able to get in contact with him at all, which seemed impossible after Viktor’s night of searching. Keeping a low profile on the internet was no small feat.

“Or get him on JJ’s show. JJ loves a good viral video. I can drop a bug in his ear. His wife still has one foot in figure skating, so I’m sure she could pull some strings and make it happen.”

If Katsuki Yuuri couldn’t handle being on YouTube for a minute, there was no way he’d go on national television.

“There's just one problem. I don’t think he wants to be found,” Viktor said.

“Did we see the same video? That guy definitely wants you to find him.” Chris sighed when Viktor didn’t respond. “What happened to your optimism? This isn’t like you.”

Viktor swallowed. “I just don’t think this is the right way. It’s so public.”

Chris laughed—not his affected Hollywood laugh but a deep, true belly laugh like Viktor hadn’t heard since they were kids.

Viktor almost hung up, but settled for scolding him. “Don’t be mean!”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Chris gasped out. Once he caught his breath, he said, “I just never thought I’d hear you say something was too public. You’ve really changed.”

Had he? It wasn’t for the better. Viktor had gone from having no heart to give to being terrified to give away what little he had.

“Well, whatever you do, we need to get on this reunion before the buzz fades. Think about it, okay?” Chris hung up and Viktor was alone again.

It didn’t have to be like this. Viktor had been down this road before. He had come back from his trip ready for a real relationship, but here he was, still waiting for Katsuki Yuuri.

Viktor went back to Twitter like a bad habit, in case the 30-odd minutes he had been away had yielded any more clues. He didn’t know what to do with any information he might find, but just having it seemed important.

Katsuki Yuuri was still just a hashtag, not a username. All its variants taunted Viktor—Roman letters, kanji, last name first, last name last, spelled with one “u” like Yuri Plisetsky… Viktor thought he had broken himself of his addiction to social media validation, but if a person didn’t have an online presence, did they exist at all? Maybe his accounts were well-kept secrets, like some of Viktor’s colleagues.

Most of the tweets were in Japanese and autotranslation gave him nothing, but he kept searching for a hint, a shoe, a whisper of something he could latch onto. Had no one else made the connection?

An in-app notification popped up and the name caught his eye. Viktor’s mentions were always a minefield, full of spam and gushing and flames, but this was Yulia Mercer. It had been ages since they had last spoken, but they had worked for years together on choreography for On Thin Ice. Of course the video would have caught her attention. It must have been rewarding for her to see her choreography the way it was always meant to be performed.

The tweet was from the middle of a thread, and Viktor went back to the beginning. He didn’t want to miss a thing.

Yulia Mercer @yuliamercer 2m
Congratulations to #YuuriKatsuki on his return to figure skating! Such an honor to see my choreography executed so beautifully. It’s a full circle moment! (1/3)
|
Seems like just yesterday @v-nikiforov and I were at Junior Worlds watching #YuuriKatsuki skate one of the programs that inspired #StayCloseToMe. [LINK] (2/3)
|
Anyway, #YuuriKatsuki can call me anytime he needs a new routine. Same goes for @v-nikiforov! (3/3)

That was news to Viktor. He followed the embedded link to a video of Katsuki Yuuri he hadn’t found last night. It only had a couple thousand views, but as soon as the music started, he remembered. Arabesque No. 1. Andantino con moto, by Debussy.

The routine was straightforward and pretty but that wasn’t what had caught Yulia’s attention.

Viktor could still remember sitting in the stands, barely an adult himself, marveling at the young skater as Yulia whispered things like “Watch his feet” and “No one else does that.” Viktor had tried to replicate the intricate step sequences that Katsuki Yuuri had inspired, but no one else could do it—least of all an actor pretending to be an ice skater. It was no wonder the show had won awards for editing.

He had watched this program so many times. How could he have forgotten?

Unlike Viktor, who had never had an awkward phase to teach him the value of inner beauty, the gangly teenager skating to Arabesque wasn’t immediately recognizable as the handsome man who had charmed Viktor in Detroit. Katsuki Yuuri was a late bloomer—quite possibly unaware of how gorgeous he truly was—and he probably didn’t panic every time he saw hair in the drain after a shower.

Once On Thin Ice wrapped, Viktor had cut his hair and moved on to more adult roles in independent features because it seemed like the right direction for his career. He had lost his skating skills and lost track of skating altogether, becoming little more than a casual fan. Meanwhile Katsuki Yuuri had grown up, developed his artistry and, apparently, an interest in engineering.

Viktor hadn’t been in love with Katsuki Yuuri back at Junior Worlds, but he’d been inspired. Somehow, he had managed to inspire Katsuki Yuuri.

Today, Viktor was very much in love. Of course, everything he thought he knew about Katsuki Yuuri had been gleaned from a few skating videos and a couple tipsy hours together. Viktor could have him all wrong. But even if it wasn’t love yet, he wanted to find out if it could be.

That didn’t change the fact that Viktor still had no way to find him. He had ideas, each one more hopeless than the last. He could leave comments on all these videos, hoping they’d reach his target. He could record a video confessing his crush and post it online. He could dedicate a special cake or a beautiful roast to him, but he didn’t know if Katsuki Yuuri liked sweets or ate meat. If only Viktor knew his favorite food, he could make a grand gesture.

Then again, maybe he didn’t have to know. If Katsuki Yuuri was still a fan, Viktor could reach him.

His mother had put it all on the line, a gold medal for his father’s heart, and they were still married. Maybe they wouldn’t be if they had to spend more than a week together, but that was beside the point. Viktor would never know if he didn’t try, and his friends would be there to catch him if he fell too far.

This would be unmistakable. Romantic. Something out of a fairy tale. The best (and most terrifying) part was it put the power in Katsuki Yuuri’s graceful hands. If he didn’t respond, then that was the end. But if he did...

Viktor just had to make a few calls.

Chapter Text

Viktor hadn’t said a word about his video and by Monday, the internet had moved on. Yuuri let himself believe that Viktor hadn’t seen it, but that didn’t make him feel any better. Be careful what you wish for had never rung so true.

He skated with Phichit once and it was exhilarating. For two beautiful hours, Yuuri let himself pretend that he had never quit and he could spend his days doing what he loved with absolutely no downsides, but reality came crashing back. Phichit had real practice with an actual coach and Yuuri had an interview to prepare for, but not before an awkward conversation with Celestino.

Celestino had raved about the video and asked if Yuuri had plans to return to competition. There was a clear implication that he’d be willing to take Yuuri on again, but Yuuri hadn’t given him an answer.

And now, instead of researching Status Systems for his own interview, Yuuri was watching Viktor get interviewed on Rise and Shine. Rumor had it Viktor’s cookbook had gone to press in record time to capitalize on his return, but anything was possible with enough money. If his social media was any indication, Viktor really was excited about it.

“Our next guest will star in next year’s hotly anticipated sequel to Agape, but in the meantime, he’s keeping busy in the kitchen. Viktor Nikiforov is in the studio today to show us a recipe from his upcoming cookbook, Memories.

The camera panned to show Viktor, clad in a pink apron over a black shirt, next to the host. Viktor smiled and waved at the camera from behind the counter. “Thanks for having me, Josef!”

“What are we going to be making today?”

Viktor gestured to the little bowls of ingredients in front of him. “This is a take on a meatball ciorba, which is a kind of Romanian sour soup. It can be as healthy as you want it to be. I’ve put a couple variations in the book depending on your tastes, but my personal favorite uses meatballs made with pork and lamb.”

Yuuri loved pork, and even though it didn’t mean anything, knowing Viktor loved it too was exciting.

“He’s got some meatballs ready to go, and let me tell you, the studio smells amazing,” said Josef, earning a smile from Viktor. “So, why did you call your cookbook Memories?”

“Because if I didn’t write these recipes down somewhere, I would never remember them,” Viktor explained. The host laughed and Yuuri couldn’t stop himself from smiling. “But also because I grew up moving around a lot, and all my childhood memories come back to food.”

“Your mother’s part Romanian, isn’t she? Is this something she made for you?”

Viktor laughed so hard he had to stop mixing. “My mom can’t make rice in a rice cooker! This recipe is loosely inspired by something her mother used to cook.”

Viktor walked the host through the steps like a pro, throwing in little tidbits like, “Use fresh herbs here if you can, and don’t be shy,” and, “If you can't find the bors, you can order it from somewhere like Amazon or substitute lemon juice, maybe a little apple cider vinegar.” The segment made Yuuri hungry, and to his surprise it made him want to learn to cook.

“Now, you’ve been very open about your mental health since your hiatus,” said Josef.

“That’s right,” said Viktor as he chopped. “There’s still such a stigma when it comes to talking about mental illness, even though it’s something lots of people deal with. I won’t pretend that cooking fixed me or that I’m an expert, but learning to cook and writing this book was very therapeutic for me.”

“We’re all so happy to hear that. And it’s just wonderful that you’re donating the proceeds to Lifelink. For those of you who don’t know, Lifelink is a non-profit that provides free, safe, and confidential counseling and support services for teens and young adults, and you can find out more at their website.”

Viktor’s life might not have been perfect, but god, it was beautiful. The haters who said he was just in it for the money could shove it.

By the time Viktor was finishing the soup with a dollop of sour cream, Min-so, the other host had joined.

“Delicious!” she said, tasting a spoonful.

“Thank you so much for cooking with us, Viktor!” said Josef.

“It was my pleasure,” Viktor replied, having a taste himself. He savored that bite, closing his eyes and licking a bit of cream from his lip. Yuuri could only imagine what it might feel like to have Viktor cook for him. He’d never know, but just watching him was incredible.

Memories is available digitally next week and in stores at the end of the month,” said Josef, holding up the book.

“Before we go to break,” Min-so said after a bite, “my daughter’s a huge fan and a figure skater herself, so I’ve got to ask if you’ve seen that video.”

Yuuri froze as the screen cut to his video, the version where someone had put his footage side-by-side with Viktor’s. It hit Yuuri deep in his gut. Being on national television again wasn’t so bad when it was next to Viktor. But the feeling was short-lived. Now Viktor had no choice but to react.

When the camera went back to Viktor, his expression was unreadable until he broke into a dashing smile. “It’s fantastic, isn’t it? And just when I thought Katsuki Yuuri was out of surprises.”

Viktor had not just said his name. Yuuri refused to believe it. He had just hallucinated it, that was all. He had fallen asleep. It was impossible.

“Wait, do you know that skater?” The shock on Min-so and Josef’s faces was genuine.

Viktor looked straight into the camera. “He’s been inspiring me for a long time. I can’t wait to see what he does next.”

“Well, that’s, uh, all the time we have! Next up, a cat bit off more than it could chew when it climbed up a tree in Brooklyn…” The hosts scrambled to wrap the segment amid the mild panic that came from going off script, but Viktor just kept smiling at the camera. Almost like he was gazing out at someone.

Yuuri’s panic was the opposite of mild.

Viktor knew his name. Yuuri wanted to go back and hear it again but he stopped himself. He must have misheard it. Watching it again would just prove it wasn’t real.

His phone buzzed and Yuuri looked down.

asfads^[}*#*{|
?????

It must have taken Phichit some effort to type that on a phone.

i KNOW you saw that
viktor called you out BY NAME
that was a challenge
what are you gonna do about it?

Yuuri took several deep, calming breaths. There was a rational explanation for all of this. Viktor was referencing the Yulia Mercer tweets. Was it an incredible feeling to know a piece of his skating had gone into Stay Close to Me? Yes. Yuuri had screamed out loud when he’d read it. But lots of other skaters had inspired that routine, too. The sit spin, for example, was vintage Cao Bin.

As for his next move, even Yuuri had to admit lots of people (himself included) were curious about that. Everyone knew Viktor was a figure skating fan, and he was probably just repeating what someone else had said.

And of course the video was a surprise—it had surprised Yuuri, too. That didn’t mean anything.

He explained all of this to Phichit.

tl;dr
you are in denial
its time to revisit the yuuri = detroitboy theory

It was not time for that. It would never be time for that.

It was the last time they spoke for a week, but with Worlds coming, Phichit was in crunch mode. Yuuri would have vastly preferred that to his week.

He was sure his job interview was only a step or two above a complete disaster. His mind had drifted, to Viktor or the ice, shutting out any good answers to the interview questions. Since he hadn’t prepared, he didn’t have any questions of his own to ask, either. At least he hadn’t cried.

It was almost like he was (subconsciously or not) trying to sabotage himself to make his decision easier, but by some miracle, the company offered him the job the next morning.

“I will have to get back to you,” Yuuri had said. He should have accepted it on the spot.

“If you have other offers, we can definitely work with you,” the HR manager had told him.

The company wanted an answer by the end of the week, but all Yuuri wanted to do was mull it over on the ice. He had to go to unfamiliar rinks at odd times to avoid crowds and people he knew, but it was worth it. That was the only time his head was clear.

This had been the plan ever since he quit skating. Study hard, get a good job, and the rest of his life would fall into place. He was so close to step two, so why did it feel like everything was falling apart?

The offer didn’t excite him. It didn’t even terrify him. It was just an offer. All he had gathered from the interview was that the company culture was built around long hours and taking work home. No wonder his old boss fit in so well there.

Yuuri understood pride in a job well done, but if he was going to be devoting all his waking hours to something, it might as well be something he loved. But how could he explain that the only competing offer was a slim chance as figure skating success? And at an age where many skaters were starting to think of retirement, no less.

A notification interrupted his playlist. It was probably the one he had already snoozed six times, telling him to call Stratus.

But it was his eReader app, not his alarm, and the whole rink seemed brighter. Even without his glasses, he knew what it said.

Digital preview of your pre-ordered book is now available!

There was no reason for Yuuri to be so pumped about a cookbook, but it was Viktor’s cookbook so he had ordered both the digital copy and the physical version. It was the only thing he had been looking forward to all week. Yuuri could make simple things like rice porridge and green salads from scratch, but he was ready to study Viktor’s cookbook harder than any of his textbooks.

Now was as good a time to start as any. He skated to the boards to get his glasses and tapped the link. He would have to wait for the full color cover of the print version to destroy him, but for now he was just happy to read the dedication.

For my parents, neither of whom can cook.
For Yakov, who never made me learn.
For Chris and Yuri, who gave painfully honest critiques.
For Makkachin, who never turns up her nose.
And as for the one who inspired me at the very beginning and hasn’t stopped surprising me since? I won’t know until we meet again.

Yuuri blinked. He cleaned his glasses on his shirt, but the words didn’t change.

It was uncanny. That dedication was so close to what Viktor had said on Rise and Shine that for a second, Yuuri almost believed it was for him.

Almost.

Like clockwork, Phichit called him.

“If this is about the dedication, I don’t want to talk about it,” Yuuri said.

“What dedication? Hold that thought, because I had a speech planned and you’re going to listen.” Phichit cleared his throat. “I have stayed quiet for too long, but I can’t focus until I get this off my chest.”

No one who had ever met Phichit would accuse him of staying quiet, but Yuuri didn’t mention it. The last thing he wanted was to get in the way of Phichit’s training. “I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me.”

“It’s a father’s job to worry,” said Phichit. “And don’t interrupt me. I know you’re thinking about taking that job, but I’m just going to say it. I think you should give skating another shot. For real, and not just for my own selfish reasons. I’m not saying it will be easy or perfect, but when we practiced the other day, that was the happiest I’ve ever seen you and you were damn good.”

It was nice of Phichit to say that. “Thanks, but—”

“I’m not done yet,” Phichit snapped. “I have some information and if you know what’s good for you, you’re going to use it.”

Yuuri didn’t say anything. He didn’t want to get yelled at again.

“Leo dog-sits for Viktor Nikiforov. I know, I know, I’ve been in the presence of someone who has pet Makkachin and yes, it’s as amazing as you think.”

“Leo?” Yuuri cut in, confused.

“Leo de la Iglesia! Keep up, Yuuri! This is important. Leo gave me Viktor’s number.”

Viktor’s number? Phichit had Viktor Nikiforov’s phone number? It had to be a joke. Yuuri imagined Phichit faking a thick Russian accent and delivering a flowery motivational speech. “Very funny. I appreciate you trying to cheer me up.”

“Viktor said your name on national television,” Phichit reminded him. “Leo says Viktor wants to know more about you. Why is that so hard to believe?”

Because when good things happened to Yuuri, there was always a catch. He trusted Phichit, which left only one other option. “It has to be some sort of prank.”

But why would Leo play a trick on Phichit? Yuuri had only met Leo a few times, but he seemed nice, and he and Phichit were friends. Viktor did follow Leo online and even liked his pictures sometimes, but there was no way they really knew each other. Leo trained with the same coach who had trained Viktor for his show. That was all.

Maybe Leo was trying to stop Yuuri from coming back to competitive skating. The joke was on him because Stay Close to Me was a fluke. Leo was way better than he was, and Yuuri had someone else’s dream job waiting for him.

“I would bet my fuzzy babies that this is Viktor Nikiforov’s actual number.”

Phichit didn’t joke about his hamsters, but this was just too much. “Sure. I believe you.”

Phichit groaned. “Yuuri, I can't help you if you won’t help yourself. Do you want the number or not?”

“No,” Yuuri said. Phichit was a broken record. “But you can tell Viktor if he wants to sue me for using his music, he should wait until I graduate. That company’s going to give me a bonus.”

“Oh, you got the job?” Phichit didn’t sound all that happy. “Congrats.”

“Yeah.” Yuuri dug one of his toe picks into the ice. “I guess I should just take it, right? What else do I have going for me?”

“Nothing,” Phichit said, his voice thick with sarcasm. “Oh, except spins that have somehow gotten better with age, transitions that would bring Ina Bauer herself to tears, and a solid quad after three years of retirement with no coach. No big deal.”

All luck. That video didn’t show all the times he had fallen in practice. He was lucky he hadn’t broken any bones. Phichit’s voice was getting louder and Yuuri’s heart was beating faster.

“Not to mention the attention of an actual movie star who happens to be the same one you’ve had a crush on since you hit puberty, but who’s counting at this point?”

Speculation. It was getting hard for Yuuri to swallow, literally and figuratively.

“And a friend who’s been dying to skate against you for years, plus legions of skaters and fans who would probably die of happiness if you came back.”

No pressure. Tears stung his eyes.

“Oh, and a baller job offer. Fuck, Yuuri, if you think being an engineer will make you happy, take the job and I will be behind you all the way.” Phichit had never raised his voice with Yuuri like this before, and tears were streaming down Yuuri’s cheeks. “But only if it’s what you want. Don’t take it because you think you have to.”

“You don’t have to yell at me!” Yuuri’s outburst echoed around the rink.

“Well, I’ve tried joking and hinting and talking and I am fresh out of ideas,” Phichit fired back.

“Fine. It’s about time you gave up on me.” Yuuri choked out a sob, and for a moment, he thought Phichit had hung up on him. He already regretted lashing out. If Phichit messed up at Worlds, it would be another thing Yuuri had fucked up, and it might cost him his best friend.

“I’m not giving up on you,” Phichit said quietly. “I’m stressed about Worlds and I took it out on you. I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too.” Yuuri tried to steady his breathing. Phichit deserved a gold medal just for putting up with him. He didn’t even notice he was skating again until he found himself on the other side of the rink. “You were just trying to help.”

“But I shouldn’t have yelled,” said Phichit. “It’s just kind of hard to watch you do nothing when I know you can do anything.”

Even though Yuuri wasn’t so confident, he had to admit that Phichit had a point. By not deciding, Yuuri was literally just skating in circles, going nowhere.

Phichit broke the silence again. “I saw the dedication. I think it’s a sign.”

Yuuri had almost forgotten about that. “A sign?"

“A sign that it’s time to be brave. You don’t need to be drunk to take a chance,” said Phichit.

“But it’s just...” Yuuri let out a heavy sigh. Which chance was he supposed to take? The stakes of going back to competition were so high. The field had filled up with younger, stronger skaters. Was there room for Yuuri? And if he was talking about Viktor? Even if Yuuri had made a drunken pass at Viktor in some alternate universe and somehow forgot about it, there was no way Viktor was still thinking about it now. Taking the job was a low risk, high reward option, but it closed the other two doors. Could he live with that? Could he live with himself?

Yuuri finished his own sentence. “Impossible. It’s impossible.”

“You were the top skater in Japan when you retired. What are the odds of that?” It had never seemed like a big deal to Yuuri, but the odds were probably pretty slim. Phichit went on. “Look, I’ll make you a deal. I’ve been working on two short programs this whole season. You’ve only seen one of them. Can you guess what the other one is?”

Yuuri didn’t even have to think about it. "Shall We Skate? Phichit, you have to do it.” Phichit had been struggling to get on the podium since his return. Changing to a new program right before a major competition was a huge gamble, but it could be just what Phichit needed.

“I will do it at Worlds, but only if you take a chance, too,” said Phichit. “Go back to skating, or go for Viktor. Take the job, if that’s what you want. Those are my terms.”

Yuuri stopped skating, and he found himself dead center on the ice.

“Okay.”

“Okay!” Phichit exclaimed. “Okay! Can I show you Shall We Skate? Sometime this week? Ciao Ciao says it’s ready but I could really use your feedback.”

“I’d love to see it.” And Yuuri meant it—he couldn’t wait—but his heart was still racing. Watching Phichit’s routine would be easy, but what else had he just agreed to?

“I’m going to go run through it now. I believe in you, Yuuri!” Phichit hung up but Yuuri stayed frozen in place, pulse pounding in his chest. He had no doubt Phichit would crush his new shirt program, but he wasn’t sure he could live up to his end of the bargain.

Yuuri had to calm himself down. Open hockey practice would start soon and he had to drive home. Out of habit, he fell back on the safety of Viktor’s Instagram. If he went back in time a few years, he wouldn’t have to risk getting hurt by a celebrity crush or a cutthroat sport or a job he didn’t really want.

All that time off hadn’t tempered his glass heart.

Yuuri scrolled with both thumbs, flying all the way back to when Viktor had filmed in Detroit. The same morning Yuuri had experienced the worst hangover of his life.

The Detroit skyline wasn’t much compared to New York, but the caption almost brought Yuuri to his knees.

Until we meet again ❤️  

It was the same as the dedication in Viktor’s book.

That couldn’t be a coincidence.

Maybe he was Detroit Boy. Maybe he wasn’t. But it was a sign.

Yuuri could keep dragging his feet, or he could make a decision. He could be the person Phichit, Mari, Minako, his parents, and maybe even Viktor Nikiforov believed he was.

It all started with a phone call—one he should have made a long time ago.

Chapter Text

Viktor hated waiting.

Coming up with the new dedication had been the easy part. It had taken some begging to persuade his publisher to make last minute changes to a book that was already rushed but even that wasn’t as hard as waiting for a response. Now it was done, out in the open for everyone to see (at least everyone who had preordered). There were probably hundreds of theories and hot takes on Twitter, but Viktor only cared what one person thought.

Had Katsuki Yuuri gotten the message? And if he had, would he even know how to get in touch Viktor?

All he had to do was get a Twitter or Instagram account, get verified, and answer Viktor’s call. How long could that possibly take? A couple hours should have been more than enough time.

Doubts began to creep into Viktor’s mind. What if he hadn’t preordered the book? What if he wasn’t going to buy it at all? What if he hadn’t seen Rise and Shine, either?

Viktor had to admit that, in his haste, he might not have thought everything through.

He stared at the new proof copy of his cookbook. Viktor was proud of his accomplishment and excited about putting his heart on the line, but each time he read the new dedication, his nerves got to him a little more. Maybe the wording was too vague or too confusing. He’d done it without his co-writer, and Viktor was the first to admit that he didn’t always choose his words wisely.

Viktor’s phone buzzed and he almost silenced the ringer on instinct. He didn’t have time for Yakov to yell at him for delaying the print release. But his hand froze when he saw the incoming number—313 was Detroit’s area code. Was this it? Had Katsuki Yuuri finally found him?

Heart pounding, Viktor picked up. “Hello?”

“Oh, shi—um, excuse me.” Viktor’s heart sank. Unless his voice sounded very different over the phone, this was not Katsuki Yuuri. The person on the other end coughed and tried again. “Is this Viktor Nikiforov?”

“Who is this?” Viktor asked, suddenly feeling very tired.

“I’m—Leo de la Iglesia gave me your contact information. Sorry, who is he to you again?”

Viktor heart jumped. Of course Leo had come through! He always did. But something didn’t add up. Was this Leo’s little skater friend from China? Viktor could have sworn his voice was higher. And why wouldn’t Leo just tell him about dog-sitting?

“He watches my dog,” Viktor said slowly.

“Holy sh—Right. Of course. Just checking. Anyway, um, this is Pete. I’m Yuuri’s agent.”

Viktor held his breath. Both of his plans had worked! He was surprised that Katsuki Yuuri had an agent, but he supposed it made sense. Athletes had agents. Pete sounded a little young to be an agent, but maybe that was all Katsuki Yuuri could afford. He had probably been inundated with media requests after the video; it had made huge ripples in Japan, after all.

But if this was Katsuki Yuuri’s agent, that meant Katsuki Yuuri didn’t trust him, and the realization sent Viktor’s heart crashing back to earth. Having his agent call for him was so cold and impersonal. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be. If Viktor was going to back out, now would be the time.

No. It was worth hearing what Pete had to say, even if Viktor couldn’t speak to Katsuki Yuuri directly just yet. Agents usually called other agents, so there had to be a reason Pete had called him directly. “Can I help you?"

“Um, yes.” Pete cleared his throat. “The reason for my call is to make sure you’re not going to file a cease and desist for using your song.”

“What?” Cease and desist? For Stay Close to Me? The song didn’t belong to Viktor, and the thought hadn’t even occurred to him. Maybe that was why Pete was so nervous. He thought Viktor was going to sue him! Hadn’t Leo told him anything? Or maybe Viktor had forgotten to tell Leo exactly why he wanted to find Katsuki Yuuri. That seemed much more likely. “No, it’s fine. He can use the song all he wants. Is that why he took the video down?”

“No, Yuu—my client didn’t take the video down for that reason.” Pete coughed again, and Viktor wondered if he had a cold. Maybe he was a smoker. Yakov had smoked for a while after his divorce and his voice had never recovered. “Is it true that you were inspired by my client’s skating?”

Pete must have been on Twitter as much as Viktor was. “Yes, that’s true,” said Viktor, laughing. “He’s not going to sue me , is he?”

“No way!” Pete was a very strange agent, but at least he got the joke.

“That’s a relief.” Emboldened, Viktor added, “Can you ask him to call me directly? I’d love to talk to him.”

Pete sighed. “My client is...difficult to reach these days.”

Viktor knew how that went. “Well, then can you ask him something for me?”

“That depends on the question,” Pete replied.

“Did he mean to post that video?” It was the main thing that still nagged at Viktor. If he hadn’t wanted the routine out there, if he didn’t mean it, then Viktor would abandon his plan.

Pete took his time responding, and Viktor’s stomach fluttered with nerves. Was he asking Katsuki Yuuri now or was he trying to let Viktor down slowly? Finally, Pete said, “The intention behind my client’s video was 100% sincere.”

Viktor wanted to explode with joy. It didn’t get much clearer than that. “Thank you.”

“Can I ask you another question?”

“Sure,” said Viktor. Pete had just made his day, so Viktor would answer as many questions as he wanted.

“Did you meet my client in Detroit at a bar about two years ago?”

Viktor frowned. Didn’t everyone know that by now? Maybe Pete wasn’t as Twitter-savvy has he thought. “I did.”

“I knew it! And might you have occasion to run into my client in Detroit again soon, maybe filming a certain sequel?”

That was an interesting question. Maybe Pete wasn’t an agent. Maybe he worked for TMZ. But Viktor didn’t care anymore. All that mattered was Katsuki Yuuri wasn’t in Japan. He was in Detroit, he had meant everything, and it sounded like he was open to meeting Viktor. “My contract doesn’t allow me to say, but it’s definitely possible.”

Pete let out a whoop, then coughed again. “Just one more question. Have you seen The King and the Skater ?”

“I have,” Viktor said slowly. He had met some oddballs in the business but Pete took the cake. “I love that movie.”

“Fucking knew it. I’m a big fan of yours, by the way. Anyhow, I’m sure you’re busy. But Viktor? Can I call you Viktor?”

Viktor raised an eyebrow. Pete was definitely not an agent. “Most people do.”

“Don’t give up on Yuuri, okay?”

Viktor swallowed. He didn’t know what to say to that. Maybe Pete was putting on act, but that sounded like the sincere concern of a friend.

“Have a nice day,” said Pete. The line went silent and Viktor stared ahead. Who the hell had he just talked to?

He sent a text to Leo, asking how he knew Pete. Leo didn’t respond right away, probably skating or traveling, and Viktor sulked. He went through the facts he had gleaned from the phone call to distract himself.

1. Katsuki Yuuri was in Detroit, or he would be soon.
2. The video (or at least the emotion behind it) was not a mistake.
3. He wanted to meet up with Viktor, but didn't want to talk to him yet (possibly for legal reasons).

What was he afraid of? Maybe Viktor had been too subtle. The thought of meeting up in Detroit made his heart skip a beat, but  the movie was still months out from shooting. Viktor didn’t want to wait that long.

He looked at his cookbook again. Once the print version came out, he had a book tour to do. Viktor was lucky that Yakov had enough pull to set the terms of contract, so the schedule wasn’t as hectic as it could have been. It left him plenty of time to relax and time to help Yuri (who had yet to like any of the parts Viktor had found for him).

But it also left ample time to squeeze in one more city. Detroit wasn’t on the list, but it could be. All Viktor had to do was make a few more phone calls, starting with Yakov.

“No. Absolutely not,” said Yakov. “It’s bad enough that you dedicated your book to some clickbait flash-in-the-pan hashtag.”

Viktor let the buzzwords slide. “He skated my routine, Yakov! I have to see this through!”

Yakov made a frustrated noise. “I am not changing your contract so you can hook up .”

It was probably the first time that Yakov had used the words “hook up” in that context in his life. “If all I wanted was a hook up , I could pick up any old tourist in Midtown. This is special.”

“It was a miracle the publisher even changed the dedication,” Yakov said. “And we got very generous terms on this tour. They won’t do us any more favors.”

“But we filmed in Detroit! Think of all the fans there.” All Viktor heard on the other end was grumbling. It was time to bring out the big guns. “We’re shooting there again this summer. What better way to pay the city back than with publicity?”

“Shooting on location is not free, Vitya. And your cookbook has nothing to do with the movie.”

Of course Viktor knew that. But if this went well, he would owe Detroit more than he could ever repay. "But it's for charity!" 

"The book sales are for charity. The tour is not."

"But the tour will generate sales," Viktor reminded him. He had Yakov now. He could feel it.

“Fine,” Yakov muttered. “I will call Melody. Don’t do anything until I get back to you, do you understand?”

“I have complete faith in you,” said Viktor. Yakov would get the job done, and he wasn’t Viktor’s handler. Viktor could do whatever he wanted.

“Vitya…”

“I promise I will be fine no matter what,” Viktor assured him. Yakov would know he wasn’t just talking about the book tour. “I’m not going to disappear on you again.”

“I know that,” Yakov said, and Viktor was touched. But the moment was over as soon as it arrived. “The things I do for you.”

“That’s why I dedicated my book to you, too, Yakov! Didn’t you see?”

“Just make sure you meet up with this Detroit Boy on your own time and not during the signing,” Yakov said. “You’re doing this for all of your fans, not just the one.”

“Of course,” Viktor replied. “And he has a name. It’s—”

“Yuuri Katsuki.” It even sounded pretty when Yakov said it. “I had Tom from legal look into that video. He says it’s fair use.”

Viktor grinned. “Good, because I told his agent we wouldn’t sue him.”

“You talked to his agent?! When?”

“Actually, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t his agent,” said Viktor. He could almost see Yakov’s nose going red.

“Then who did you talk to? What did you tell them?”

As Yakov yelled, the sound cut out for a moment and Viktor checked his screen. Leo has gotten back to him.

I don’t know a Pete.
I did give your number to Yuuri’s friend Phichit.
Maybe you misheard him.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Viktor, smiling down at his phone. He hadn’t misheard anything, and the phone call with Pete made a lot more sense now. Phichit had nothing to worry about. “I know you’ll take care of everything, Yakov.”

Viktor hung up on Yakov and called his publisher himself. Yakov was a shrewd businessperson but he lacked Viktor’s charm. The best course of action was for Viktor to make the pitch and let Yakov work out the details.

He had a new tour date in Detroit before the end of the week, and with his favorite pen in hand, he was ready to announce it.

Chapter Text

Turning down the job offer had been even harder than Yuuri thought it would be, but not because he wanted it.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But I just can’t accept your offer.”

“Give me a number. We can do better.”

Yuuri shook his head even though the HR rep couldn’t see him. “There’s no other offer. This just isn’t the right job for me.”

“Do you need more time to decide? We can wait.”

Yuuri held in his frustration and said, “My answer would still be no.”

“Mr. Katsuki,” she said his name like Cat-ski, “Amanda said you threw yourself into your work without ever complaining, and your grades are excellent. You’re bilingual and clearly a fast learner.” She chuckled. “We have a few weekend hockey players but you would be our first former figure skater. I know that takes a lot of hard work and attention to detail, and now you can put it to practical use. You have all the qualities we want, and I believe Stratus Systems can shape you into a leader.”

The word former stung even harder when she said it, negating anything positive she had said before that. She made it sound like skating was a waste of time. He was a hard worker. What he lacked in natural ability he made up for with perseverance, in skating and in school. But Yuuri didn’t want to be shaped into a leader. He didn’t want to be molded into someone else’s idea of the perfect manager, left to skate only on weekends when he wasn’t working overtime. It had taken him a long time to get where he was, but he had to find his own way.

Even if he wanted to be an engineer right now, Stratus Systems wouldn’t be the place for him. “Thank you for the offer, but I just can’t accept.”

She sighed. “Well, I can’t say I’m not disappointed.”

“Sorry,” Yuuri mumbled. Apologies always came out when he didn’t know how to react.

“Don’t be. I can’t say I’m surprised, either. I did a little research, and you’re still quite the skater, aren’t you?”

A laugh escaped Yuuri’s lips, surprising even him. Of course they had seen his video, but it didn’t bother him as much as he thought it would.

“Good luck, Mr. Katsuki,” she said before hanging up.

Turning down a lot of money should have felt bad, but Yuuri’s shoulders felt lighter and looser than they had since he got off the plane in Detroit. That had to mean something.

It wasn’t quite the chance he had promised Phichit, but the only way Yuuri could do this was to take it one step at a time. He had to figure out what he really wanted.

Of course he wanted to marry Viktor and ride off into the sunset, but even with the (admittedly, rather compelling) evidence in front of him, that was a long shot.

He wanted to return to skating, but there were logistical concerns.

Once he had accepted that the video was out there, forever, those dreams collided in a fantasy where Viktor found him and insisted on sponsoring his career personally. Yuuri wasn’t proud of that one, but it seemed about as likely as any other scenario.

Yuuri met Phichit at the rink later that week, and by the time he had laced his skates he was ready to burst. Everything would make more sense on the ice, he was sure. Plus, he couldn’t wait to see Phichit’s new program.

If Yuuri was ready to burst, Phichit was primed to explode.

“Hey, can we talk?” Phichit asked, tapping a hand on the boards like he couldn’t keep still.

But for once, Yuuri didn’t want to talk. He didn’t want to overthink or exchange apologies again, or even talk about turning down the job just yet. He just wanted to skate with Phichit. “Only if you show me your program first,” said Yuuri.

Phichit didn’t need much convincing. It was like someone had lit a fire under him, and Yuuri could only watch in awe. His Shall We Skate? choreography was brimming with joy and Yuuri couldn’t ever remember a routine making him smile this much. Even more than most skaters Yuuri had met, Phichit lived to get the audience on its feet, and this was bound to win them over.

Yuuri burst into applause the moment Phichit hit his final pose. “That was amazing!”

“It felt amazing!” Phichit said, trying to catch his breath. ”Now tear it apart!”

“What?” Yuuri had noticed a couple things that he would have done differently, but that didn’t mean that Phichit’s way was wrong.

“I can see it on your face right now,” Phichit said, sweeping his hair out of his eyes. “You’ve got critiques. Be brutal. I’ll pay you for consulting!”

“You don’t have to pay me!” Yuuri insisted. He hadn't been thinking of money when he'd promised to give feedback. “I mean, I guess I’d need to see the step sequence before the first jump combination again to really say.”

“Absolutely!” Phichit took off and launched into it, repeating it until Yuuri could copy him. But something felt off, so he tried something else. Phichit watched Yuuri’s feet and his eyes went wide. “Oh, so that’s how you’d do it?

“Your way was good!” Yuuri said. “I didn’t mean to change it, that’s just what felt natural to me.”

“No, I like it! Can I keep it?”

“Of course you can,” said Yuuri. It wasn’t even a major change—Phichit didn’t have time for that and the choreography didn’t need it—but Phichit was already repeating Yuuri’s way over again and again.

“Thank you! I’ll pay you for choreographing, too!”

“I said you don’t have to pay me!” Yuuri repeated, but but Phichit was already halfway across the rink.

Phichit started up his music and ran through the program again, minus the jumps to save his energy for later. Yuuri skated along with him, doing as much as he could remember and freestyling the rest while staying out of Phichit’s way. He knew the song almost as well as Phichit did.

Phichit let out a holler of pure happiness and Yuuri’s cheeks hurt from smiling so much. Adrenaline surged within him as he watched Phichit skate, and he longed to dive back in and keep his skating career going for as long as his body allowed.

But he still didn’t have a coach. If he just talked to Celestino they could probably work out some sort of arrangement, but Yuuri didn’t want to impose. Yuuri could just owe him his firstborn or his liver and it would be worth it.

For a moment, he wondered if he should have taken the Stratus job just for a few months to save money. But by the time he quit, the new season would be here and he’d be at an even bigger disadvantage. It wasn’t fair to the company, either, and they expected him to go back to school. Detroit loved the ice but in the working world, the rink was for weekends.

Yuuri didn’t want that life. He just had to figure something out. Maybe he could get a part time job.

“Think you’re up for a jump?” Phichit asked. Yuuri nodded eagerly. Against Minako’s advice and his own better judgement, Yuuri had continued to work on his quad toe loop and his triples. But now he was glad he had.

“Well, now I can check Get pointers on triple axel from Yuuri Katsuki off my bucket list,” said Phichit after they had done a few.

Yuuri shook his head. “You’re the one who made the Grand Prix Final this year. I'm just me.”

“Hey, skating with my amazing roommate Yuuri was on my bucket list, too,” said Phichit with a smile. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “You still don’t realize what happened when you retired. That triple axel inspired a generation of figure skaters, with that entry? You left this vacuum behind you for a while, and no one could fill it. Everyone sort of moved on eventually, but you wouldn’t know it from the way people are talking about your video.”

Yuuri frowned at Phichit in confusion. The internet had moved on to the next meme, but he hadn’t realized other skaters were still talking about him. “Well, I’ve wanted to skate with you ever since we started rooming together, so this is a dream come true for me, too.”

“Hell, yeah!” Phichit said, clasping Yuuri’s hand. Competing against Phichit was another dream of his, but it hadn’t come true yet. Yuuri wanted to tell him, but his grin was turning into something kind of manic.

“What is it?” Yuuri asked, remembering that Phichit had wanted to talk.

“Well…” Phichit’s face fell. “As long as we’re confessing stuff, I did something kinda bad.”

Had Phichit been putting this whole session on his Instagram story? Yuuri was surprised that the idea didn’t fill him with dread. “Just tell me.”

“I kinda sorta called that number Leo gave me and it was most definitely Viktor,” said Phichit.

Yuuri’s eyes went wide. He had forgotten all about that. “I-it wasn’t a joke?”

Phichit grimaced. “I might have pretended to be your agent. And, well, the good news is he’s not going to sue you!”

Yuuri couldn’t wrap his head around it. Not only had Phichit had just called Viktor Nikiforov like it was a thing normal people could just do, he had pretended to be Yuuri’s agent. And great, he wasn’t going to sue Yuuri for using his song and his choreography, but…

“What’s the bad news?” Yuuri asked, bracing himself. Had Viktor found the video creepy? Had he told Phichit to make sure Yuuri left him alone? Had he said he hated it?

“Huh?” Phichit tilted his head. “There is no bad news. He just wanted to know if you posted the video on purpose.”

Oh. No, that’s even worse. If Phichit told him it was an accident, then Viktor would think Yuuri was a weirdo or a coward or worse—a jerk.

“I told him the video was totally sincere. And he kind of told me some stuff, too.” Phichit chewed his lip. “I’m dying to tell you but like, I don’t want you to freak out.”

It was far too late for that. Skating and jumping had bolstered him up, but it was about to come crashing down.

“Do you want to sit down?” Phichit asked.

Yuuri shook his head. If anything, the ice gave him strength and (with the exception of when he was drunk) he was steadier on skates than he was off of them.

This seemed to satisfy Phichit and it was like a switch flipped. “He says you met him in Detroit two years ago and he’s open to meeting up with you again when they film in Detroit and he likes The King and the Skater so you totally have my blessing!” The words came out in one big blast and the sheer force of them shook Yuuri.

He couldn’t believe it. It just wasn’t possible. Someone was playing an elaborate trick on the both of them. It was a catfish or a hidden camera show. Any second now, JJ and Emil were going to pop up from behind the boards and yell, “Gotcha!” Anything was more likely than this.

Phichit tried to ground him with a hand on his shoulder. “I see you overthinking this. Let’s just look at facts. Viktor knows your name, he’s been watching you skate since you were 14, he dedicated his cookbook to you, and he wants to marry you and cook you katsudon on your honeymoon.” At Yuuri’s shock, Phichit added, “Okay, I made up that last part, but the rest is true!”

Yuuri opened his mouth but no words came out. His heart threatened to escape the confines of his chest and the ice could have swallowed him whole and he wouldn’t have noticed. This couldn’t be real.

“You talked to him?” he finally managed to say.

“I’m sorry! But in my defense, you said I could.”

Yuuri blinked. “You really had his number?”

“Leo gave it to me,” Phichit repeated. He whipped out his phone, and Viktor Nikiforov was listed in his phone contacts, complete with a photo—the goofy smile Viktor reserved for Makkachin. Yuuri remembered that one from Dog Fancy magazine.

Phichit wouldn’t lie to him, but Yuuri didn’t know why his brain just wouldn’t let him have this one. “That could be anyone.”

“Want to call it and find out?”

Yuuri was so tempted, but he couldn’t. Phichit saw his hesitation and put a hand up.

“Wait. You got digits that night, didn’t you? You said you blocked that number. I bet you anything this same number is in your block list.”

If Yuuri had actually blocked Viktor Nikiforov, then his number would still be in Yuuri’s phone. All this time. He believed Phichit, but maybe seeing it would help.

“How do I—”

Phichit snatched Yuuri’s phone before he could even finish his question. “Hold this,” he said, handing Yuuri his own. “Please don’t drop it.”

Yuuri clutched Phichit’s most prized possession like it might give him strength. But before Phichit could work his magic, a notification popped up on both of their phones.

v-nikiforov just posted a photo.

Yuuri was too afraid to tap it. Phichit wasn’t.

The first thing Yuuri noticed was Viktor’s hand, elegant and perfectly kept. Then, the dedication page of his cookbook.

Then, the pen in Viktor’s hand. It was blue and silver, with a squishy gel grip.

Just like the pen he had lost two years ago.

Viktor had drawn a heart right below the last acknowledgement. The line that was allegedly for Yuuri. And that caption.

Come say hello.  

A list of dates and places followed, for his book tour. There was a signing in Detroit that Yuuri didn’t remember seeing from the leaks, but it was a week away. The first one in New York was this Wednesday.

Either Viktor had excellent taste in pens or that was Yuuri’s pen. Either Phichit was right or he was just as deluded as Yuuri was.

Yuuri didn’t care. What did he have to lose? If his hunch was wrong, Viktor would sign his cookbook and that would be the end.

If he was right…

Yuuri would figure that out later. Right now, he had to get to New York.

“I have to go,” said Yuuri, switching their phones back and skating off toward the edge of the rink.

“Don’t you want to check the number?”

The number didn’t matter. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t but he had to pack, he had to find a way to New York, and he had to do it before he lost his nerve.

“He always says he loves surprises,” Yuuri called over his shoulder.

“Damn, Yuuri!"

Yuuri had never unlaced his skates so quickly. He heaved them into his bag and headed for the door before realizing he hadn’t explained himself to Phichit. Then again, he didn’t have to.

Yuuri turned around to find Phichit watching him with a hand over his chest like a proud parent. Phichit had his own travels ahead and his own battle to fight.

“I’ll be watching you at Worlds, no matter what,” said Yuuri. He couldn’t afford to fly overseas—he wasn’t even sure how he was going to get to New York—but no matter where he was, Yuuri was going to watch Phichit debut his new program. “You can show me your medal when you get back.”

“And you can show me yours,” said Phichit with a wink. “Now go get him.”

Viktor wasn’t a prize. He was a person with feelings and fears and dreams of his own. Maybe he dreamed about Yuuri, and maybe he didn’t, but if Yuuri had blocked him two years ago, a grand romantic gesture was the least he could do.

Yuuri booked the cheapest bus and hostel he could find and left that night.

Chapter Text

“What the hell did you do?”

At this point, Viktor knew better than to expect a real greeting out of Yuri.

“Welcome back,” Viktor said, moving in for a hug. Yuri side-stepped him and crouched to pet Makkachin instead.

“My grandpa and I go to Russia for a couple weeks and you go off and dedicate your cookbook that skater you met in Detroit?” he retorted, not looking up. "I can't leave you alone for a second."

“He skated my song, Yura!” 

Yuri stood and brushed off his hands on his pants. “No, he skated Dimitri Vaschenko’s song. Best case scenario he’s just a massive nerd. Worst case, he’s a creeper with no grasp on reality.” He shuddered. “So either way, I guess you’re perfect for each other.”

Viktor didn’t miss the fact that Yuri knew his character’s first and last name. He was tempted to ask if he knew Dimitri's patronymic, too, but he put a pin in it and said, “I thought you'd be proud of me for not rushing off to Japan.”

“At least that way he could dump you in private.” Yuri pointed at the cookbook on Viktor’s coffee table. “That shit is permanent. If he turns you down, he’ll always be The Guy Who Rejected Viktor Nikiforov.”

Viktor’s eyes went wide in horror. Yes, the book was permanent, but he had never meant for it to be an obligation.

“I didn’t think of that,” he admitted.

“That’s a good line for your tombstone. Here lies Viktor; he didn’t think of that.

Maybe that was why Viktor had felt so uneasy since his last Instagram post. There’d been no response from Katsuki Yuuri or even Phichit/Pete. Viktor didn’t really expect to hear anything until he got to Detroit, but if he had screwed up as badly as Yuri made it sound, maybe he'd never hear back. Did he need to ask Phichit to make sure Yuuri knew he didn't have to do anything unless he wanted to? Had he done too much already? Viktor didn't want to make anything worse. 

“Do I have to move to New York just to babysit you?” Yuri asked, crossing his arms.

“You know, Yakov said the exact same thing,” said Viktor. The truth was he wouldn’t mind more company. 

“I blame Chris.” Yuri went on as if Viktor hadn’t said anything. He flipped Viktor’s cookbook open to the dedication. “I still can’t believe you put his name before mine.”

Chris and Yuri weren’t nearly as enamored with each other as Viktor was with both of them, but he’d keep working at it. If Yuri moved to New York, he was sure they could all be friends. Or at least cordial.

“Save the attitude for Ilya,” he said, tapping Yuri on the nose.

Yuri‘s nostrils flared as he recoiled. “Hey, Ilya is a changed man! Didn’t you read the script?”

Viktor was only too happy to talk about the film instead. “I did. And that reminds me, how was the screen test with What’s-his-name?” Alton. Albin. Or something. It would come to him. 

“We don’t have to talk about it,” Yuri muttered. “Let’s talk about your thing.”

Viktor raised an eyebrow. “If you want to hear about my lovelife, then I’m guessing it either went very poorly or very well.”

“I was talking about your signing, not your lovelife!” Yuri snarled. The tips of his ears were turning red. “Besides, it was no big deal.”

“Oh, but Yura, your first on-screen romance is a big deal! I remember my first. The butterflies, the sweaty palms, the awkwardness of your first kiss happening on camera…” Those were all such fond memories for Viktor. After an adolescence spent alone, it had been as good as real.

“Keep that shit to yourself, old man,” Yuri snapped. “Besides, there’s no kiss in the script—thank God.”

“Well, we can keep him in mind for your show.” Viktor wasn’t going to forget his promise, even though Yuri had rejected all of his leads. It showed his good sense. The right project hadn’t come by yet, but Viktor had faith. Just like he had to have faith that he and Katsuki Yuuri would be okay, no matter what happened. Having Yuri around helped. “Want to come to my signing?”

Now Yuri raised an eyebrow. “You really want me to steal your thunder, old man?”

Viktor laughed. Yuri should have known he didn’t care about that. “It’ll get people talking about the movie," he sang. 

“Whatever. I guess I don’t have anything better to do,” said Yuri, blowing a stray hair out of his face. “But you have to buy me food after.”

“Don’t you want me to cook for you?” Viktor teased, grabbing his coat.

Yuri pulled a face. “I don’t want to eat any of your recipes again for at least 5 years. Besides, I’ve been in Moscow for weeks and now I want the greasiest pizza you can find.”

Yuri and Chris had dutifully sat through dozens of test batches of each recipe, even stumbled through the recipes by themselves a few times, so Viktor supposed pizza was the least he could do. He had no idea where to find greasy pizza, but maybe someone at the signing could help them out.

The signing was at the Barnes & Noble on Fifth Avenue, and Viktor grinned when he saw the line. He didn’t miss the paparazzi but he had definitely missed meeting fans.

Since his return, Viktor couldn’t walk down the street without being photographed and today was no exception. There were people waiting with cameras around the entire store and Yuri would be like free dessert. But Yuri just flicked his thumb across his phone screen the entire ride, completely unbothered. 

Viktor hadn’t gone out much over the past few months, but it was different this time. He’d been busy working on his cookbook and more than a little preoccupied. Even now that it was done, he’d avoided any non-Yakov-sanctioned media—mostly so he wouldn’t have to answer more public questions about Katsuki Yuuri.

In his absence, Yuri had become an old pro. Security nodded at him and he flipped up his hood, put on his sunglasses, and got out of the car. He ignored the shouts and didn’t even give anyone the finger.

Viktor followed, proud. Once they were inside, he said, “Why don’t you sign with me? You did help with the book, and I bet some of your Angels are out there.”

“I’m not signing shit. I’m going to check out the graphic novels.” But as Yuri wandered off, Viktor saw him stop to take a picture with a sharp-eyed young shopper.

The signing was just what Viktor needed to take his mind off of Katsuki Yuuri. This was his first chance to interact with fans since  Agape blew up and he couldn’t wait to meet everyone.

A roar went up when he was announced, growing louder as he walked out, and he summoned a charming smile. This was the easiest and most rewarding part of his job, not to mention the perfect way to put the mess he had made for Katsuki Yuuri out of his mind for just a little longer.

Or it would have been, had the first person in line been anyone but Katsuki Yuuri himself.

-----

It was a long bus ride, but Yuuri had deliberately arrived in New York without a plan. If I stop and think about this, I’m going to back out, he had thought. So instead of planning, he had just put in his headphones and tried to sleep. In a flash of productivity, he had made a new Twitter account and even tried to get it verified (Phichit would be so proud) but he hadn’t heard anything yet. 

Once he got to the city, all of his phone battery went to Google Maps. He had done a few competitions there before and he knew how to read subway maps, but none of that prepared him to actually get around on his own.

The hostel was so dingy that Yuuri spent most of his time locating food he could afford or hanging around the bookstore where the signing would be. He had foolishly left before his preorder arrived, so he had to buy another copy of Viktor's book. He had gone so long without school, work, or training that he never had any idea what day it was anymore, but he had definitely left Detroit too soon. 

By the morning of the signing, Yuuri was lucky he hadn’t been suspected of casing the bookstore. He was the first person in line, but as Viktor’s fans arrived and lined up behind him, Yuuri realized some of them had probably seen him skate. He had blended in easily on the streets of New York, but now he pulled his hat down and his scarf up, just in case.

He put his headphones in and gave off his best Do Not Engage vibes to stay in the zone. The only time he took out his earbuds was when a coffee cart rolled up.

“Hot coffee on Viktor?” the barista asked.

“Huh?”

“Viktor Nikiforov paid for all you guys to have coffee or tea if you want it. Interested?”

“Oh.” Yuuri blinked. “Tea, please.” Viktor was so kind to his fans. The barista handed him a cup of hot water with a teabag in it and Yuuri fumbled in his pocket for cash.

“Don’t worry about it. It’s on Viktor, remember? He’s a good tipper, too.”

Of course he was. Yuuri let the cup warm his hands, but he didn't take more than a couple sips. He didn’t want to have to leave the line to go to the bathroom, and he had to lower his scarf to drink.

It almost felt like a competition. He steeled his nerves and focused on his goal, blocking out all other stimuli until someone came to open the store. Yuuri took his earbuds out again but he could barely hear the crowd over the blood rushing through his ears. He didn’t register anything until he saw Viktor.

Yuuri took off his hat and shoved it in his coat pocket.

How can he be even more handsome in person?

Yuuri unlooped his scarf and let it hang around his neck.

He probably looked terrible, with hat hair, frostbitten cheeks, and bags under his eyes, but he was meeting Viktor. No matter what happened, no one could take that away from him. Now he could die happy.

Maybe Viktor wouldn’t recognize him. 

He’ll say something kind, I’ll mumble something bland, we’ll take a quick picture, and he will never think of me again.

Yuuri’s brain never quit while it was ahead.

Or maybe I’ll trip over the table and land on him, breaking his nose and ruining his career forever. Even though he’d still be hot with a broken nose.

But maybe Viktor would recognize him.

Maybe he’ll take one look at me and throw me out for blocking him and being an oblivious jerk.

There were other possibilities, but Yuuri didn't dare let himself imagine them.

Everything leading up to this moment flashed before his eyes until he looked into Viktor’s for what may or may not have been the first time.

His mind went clear.

Viktor stared back, eyes wide and unblinking.

Well, Yuuri had wanted to surprise him.

“Hello.” Somehow it was Yuuri who spoke first.

If he had been more aware of the world around him, he would have heard voices rising up all over the store.  "Detroit Boy..." "...the one who skated..." "Yuuri something, right?"

But all Yuuri could hear was Viktor.

“It’s you.”

They stared at each other and Yuuri couldn't tell which one of them was more panicked. He hadn’t just surprised Viktor—he had put him into shock. Viktor Nikiforov, who had never been stumped by a reporter in his entire career, had run out of words.

Now that Yuuri was in the thick of it, he realized just how dramatic his slapdash "plan" actually was.

“I can leave...if you don’t want...” A lump rose in Yuuri’s throat and he couldn’t remember what he wanted to say.

“Wait!” Viktor called out. He threw up a frantic hand, tugging at Yuuri’s heart. “Will you wait for me? Somewhere over there?”

“I...huh?” Yuuri had no idea where over there was, but he couldn’t process thoughts because he had never seen Viktor look like that before. Not on TV, not in his movies, and never in print.

Viktor was pale as a sheet except for the faintest splash of pink across his nose. Lips parted, he stared at Yuuri like he was a ghost or naked or...something. Viktor swallowed, dry and slow, breaking Yuuri a little bit more. 

When Viktor spoke again, it was barely above a whisper. “Please.”

All Yuuri could do was nod. His brain was two steps behind his body as he turned to walk away. How long was he supposed to wait? Where was he supposed to go? He had spent the past two days in this bookstore and now he had no idea which way was up.

What had he been thinking? Viktor was working. Did Yuuri really expect him to drop everything, disappoint all his fans, and then do what? Get coffee with Yuuri? He had already bought coffee for everyone there.

If Yuuri hadn’t been stuck in his own head, he would have heard a chair clatter to the floor. He would have heard the gasps and squeals from the crowd. But Yuuri didn’t turn around until someone caught his hand. He knew who it was before he looked up, but he could hardly believe it.

Viktor.

Viktor stood behind him—even pinker now—almost smiling. His hand, warm and soft, grasped Yuuri’s own like a lifeline. Yuuri was too scared to breathe and wake up from this beautiful dream. Viktor’s eyes were as blue and bright as Yuuri had ever seen them, and for the first time, he believed.

“May I?” Viktor asked.

Yuuri nodded.

In two steps, Viktor was in front of him. Instinct took over and Yuuri shifted, fingers sliding against Viktor’s but never breaking contact, then up, up, up until Viktor pressed a kiss to the back of his hand. If Viktor's hands were soft, his lips were silk. His eyes fluttered shut even as Yuuri’s went wider, taking in everything in case this was his only chance.

Viktor’s eyelashes were impossibly long, his nose was sharp and delicate and, yes, he did have pores, but they were tiny. Yuuri was dying to touch Viktor’s hair but the moment was slipping away and he couldn’t move. Viktor opened his eyes and smiled against Yuuri’s skin.

“The world is watching,” he murmured. "What do you want them to see?"

Yuuri let himself blink. Reality came rushing back and he swayed on his heels. A hand (Viktor’s?!) steadied his back as he took in the sea of phones and cameras recording their every move. Viktor was trying to save him from himself, but Yuuri wasn’t sure he wanted to be saved. Somehow, even if it was only for a minute, he had gotten Viktor’s attention, and these people all had proof. Viktor was going to meet legions of fans today, but he wasn’t going to kiss anyone else. Just Yuuri. And everyone knew it.

The crowd cheered and Viktor released his hand.

“There’s a lot more to say,” Viktor said, voice low so only Yuuri could hear. “Will you wait for me, Katsuki Yuuri?”

Yuuri wanted to say that he would wait for Viktor forever, but he had yet to string a coherent sentence together in front of him, let alone say his name. He almost wished he were drunk so he could be smooth and charming. Then again, it had taken a while for Viktor’s charm to kick in.

Yuuri nodded.

Viktor gave him one last sweet smile before he shook his hair out and turned back to the crowd.

Yuuri’s back was cold without Viktor’s hand there, colder still when Viktor returned to the table. Viktor didn’t look the slightest bit embarrassed as he bent down to pick up his overturned chair. The crowd laughed, as if the whole thing had been staged.

Yuuri might have believed it too, if it hadn’t been for the look on Viktor’s face just before he said “please.” No matter what else happened, that look would stay with Yuuri forever.

Chapter Text

Yuuri had no idea what to do with himself. People were still taking his picture and some of the photographers looked like professionals. He had forgotten what that was like. Yuuri stole a glance at Viktor only to find Viktor looking back at him.

Still not a dream.

Viktor beckoned a bookstore employee over and whispered something behind his hand. The employee nodded and approached Yuuri.

“You can hang out in the break room,” they said, leading him from the crowd.

Yuuri locked eyes with Viktor one more time and mouthed “thank you” but Viktor didn’t react. He turned back to the fan in front of him and smiled, wide and giving, just like always. Yuuri tore his eyes away and tried to tell himself Viktor wasn’t sending him away.

Viktor had just kissed his hand in front of hundreds of cameras, and Yuuri still had the sheen of transferred lip balm on his hand to prove it. That alone was enough inspiration to get him through to next season. Viktor was just going back to work.

“So you’re really the skater from that video?” the employee asked.

It was a good thing Yuuri looked up then because he almost ran into a chair. “Yeah.”

“Wow. Viktor Day is turning out even wilder than I thought it would.”

They reached the safety of the break room but the peace only lasted a second before Yuri Plisetsky himself kicked the door open and Viktor Day spiraled completely out of control.

Yuuri almost bolted for the fire exit.

“I’m so glad I switched shifts with Clint today,” said the employee.

“Out!” Yuri thrust an arm out the door behind him, pointing. Yuuri didn’t want to be left alone with the other Yuri, but Not-Clint just sulked and obeyed. Yuri Plisetsky charged, backing him into a table and yelling in his face. “What the hell are you trying to pull?”

“N-nothing!” Yuuri squeaked out, feeling tiny. “I was just here for the signing like everyone else.”

Yuri sneered and jutted out his chin. “I knew Viktor had bad taste, but this is pathetic. You should have just stayed missing.”

Part of Yuuri believed him. It was probably only a matter of time until Viktor came to the same conclusion, but he was going to make the most of what little time he had. For a moment, he’d had all of Viktor’s attention, and even a small chance of that happening again was worth the discomfort.

“I’m not leaving,” Yuuri said, bolder now. “He asked me to wait for him.”

Yuri narrowed his eyes and kept staring him down, which was impressive considering Yuuri had several inches on him. “What’s your game, Detroit? Why now? You after a few minutes of fame to restart your career? Or is it his money you want?”

“No!” But Yuuri couldn’t fault him for being suspicious. People probably tried to use both of them for their fame all the time. “I read his dedication and I thought he wanted to meet me because of the video, but—”

Because of the video?” Yuri mocked his voice. He looked like a tiger up close, all sharp teeth and claws. “Where the hell were you when wanted to see you two years ago?”

“I…” Yuuri swallowed and gave voice to what he had been denying for months. “I think I forgot.”

“You forgot? Viktor went on and on about how you were his biggest fan and you fucking forgot?”

Yuuri was desperate to look at the floor or the ceiling—anywhere but Yuri’s eyes, but then Yuri might think he was lying. Saying it to anyone before he told Viktor felt wrong, but Yuri’s glare was like truth serum and things Yuuri didn’t even want to admit to himself came spilling out. “I was drunk the night we met. The next morning, I had texts from a strange number, and I didn't remember anything so I deleted them.” He didn’t mention the crippling shame. He didn’t need to.

Yuri shook his head, but he finally took a step back. “Either you’re lying or you’re just really fucking stupid.”

“It's happened to me before.” Yuuri was just babbling now. “It’s like I’m a completely different person when I drink. I go off the rails. It’s not pretty.”

“Yeah, no shit,” Yuri snorted. “Get some help. Viktor doesn’t need that in his life.”

“It hasn’t happened since that night.” And it wasn’t like it happened a lot before then, but Yuuri didn’t want to fight. He just wanted to live long enough to talk to Viktor again. How long could a signing possibly take?

The door opened and the two Yuris turned to look. It was another employee, mouth open wide to take a bite out of a candy bar. Yuri glared and Yuuri pleaded silently for help, but the employee turned right around and left.

When they were alone again, Yuri leaned against a wall. He still looked primed to strike but at least his posture was a little less threatening.

“I don’t want anything from Viktor,” said Yuuri, his voice quiet. “I just want to apologize. If he doesn’t want anything to do with me after that, then that’s fine.” It had to be.

“Ugh,” Yuri wrinkled his face like he smelled something rotten. “I don’t even want to know what he wants to do with you.” But he didn’t explain himself. He just pulled out a chair and dropped into it, kicking his legs up on the breakroom table. “Whatever. If Viktor wants to ruin his life for some hasbeen skater, that’s on him.”

“I don’t want to ruin his life,” Yuuri said, straightening. But Yuri was already absorbed in his phone. Did I win his approval, or does he just not care? Yuuri was afraid to ask.

He took a deep breath and checked his own phone. He had probably been shaking too hard to feel what must have been non-stop buzzing in his pocket. Phichit was losing his mind. He had sent Yuuri videos, stills, gifs, tweets—every take on the kiss he could find. Yuuri scrolled past the links and the incoherent screaming texts to the first one that made sense.

change of plans
just gonna play this for the judges tomorrow instead of my sp
+3 MILLION GOE

Yuuri tried to reply but tapped the video beneath it by mistake. The speaker blared and Yuuri almost dropped his phone trying to silence it. Yuri shot him a dark look.

“Sorry,” Yuuri mumbled.

Yuri rolled his eyes and looked back to his phone. He wasn’t in any state to reply to Phichit yet, anyway.

All Yuuri needed was for Anya Garina to walk in so he could embarrass himself in front of her, too. Why hadn’t Yuuri just called Viktor’s number from Detroit? He could have apologized over the phone and he wouldn’t be Yuri Plisetsky’s hostage…

The video was still playing (muted) on his phone and Yuuri’s mind went still.

Viktor had stood up so fast he’d knocked his chair over, just to chase Yuuri. Viktor had kissed him. He still couldn’t believe it, but he was watching actual proof. Viktor had held his hand and placed a gentle, perfect kiss on his knuckles. Had someone slowed the video down? No one had ever kissed Yuuri’s hand before, so he didn’t know how long it was supposed to last. In the movies, it was always a peck, but from this angle, it looked like Viktor had savored it as much as Yuuri had.

It was all worth it.

Yuuri wondered how the signing was going. Was Viktor thinking of him? Yuuri hoped not. He hadn’t meant to steal the moment from all of Viktor’s fans but he had always been a bit single-minded when it came to Viktor.

He had to calm down. Yuuri snuck another glance at Yuri. He wondered if he could sneak a picture for Mari, but Yuri didn’t just act like a cat—he had the reflexes to back it up.

Yuuri cleared his throat, then again, louder, until Yuri looked up.

“You sick or something?” Yuri snarled. “If you give me or Viktor a cold I will straight up murder you.”

Yuri was every bit as ornery as the media made him out to be, but the look on his face took Yuuri back to elementary school. Some kids had been picking on Yuuri for being chubby and Mari had scared them off without laying a hand on them.

Suddenly, everything made sense. He should have seen it sooner. Yuri was trying to protect Viktor because they really were like brothers. It was sweet, if a little terrifying, and Yuuri allowed himself a brief fanboy moment.

“My sister back in Japan is a big fan of yours. Would you mind if I took a picture for her?”

“Whatever.” Yuri put his phone down on the table and stood. Yuuri started to frame the shot and Yuri frowned. “Don’t you want to, like, be in it?”

“Oh, um, I thought…” There were a lot of ways Yuuri could have finished that sentence but all of them seemed likely to get him throttled.

“I’m not gonna bite you or anything,” Yuri said, rolling his eyes again. “Viktor better appreciate this.”

Yuuri was so dazed he barely managed to get the picture. Had Viktor asked Yuri to keep him company? This day was getting stranger and stranger, but at least the silence was less menacing after the selfie. He sent it to Mari, hoping too late that she silenced her phone overnight (she always did, but there was a chance that this was the one time she forgot).

Yuuri tried to play a mobile game, but he was still too nervous to focus. He stared at the company policy posters on the walls, the lockers, and the extra aprons. Employees came and went now that Yuri had cooled down, and a couple of them asked for pictures, but no one said much. Yuuri tried standing and sitting but no matter what, he just felt out of place. Yuri paid him little mind. It went on like that for hours.

Yuuri almost jumped when Yuri broke the silence.

“Finally. I’m starving.” He pocketed his phone and made for the door. When Yuuri just stared at him, he added, “You coming, Detroit?”

Yuuri scrambled to his feet. He didn’t want to question it in case something went wrong.

He followed Yuri to the back of the store. There were a few security guards which meant Viktor was close.

Yuuri heard him before he saw him.

“Thank you all so much. You’ve all made me feel at home today!”

Viktor was signing autographs and taking pictures with the bookstore workers. Yuuri hadn’t gotten a good look at him from a distance before. Designer sunglasses adorned his head like a crown, and his tailored wool coat probably cost more than a semester of Yuuri’s tuition.

He hovered a good ten feet from the crowd surrounding Viktor but Yuri pushed through.

“So where are we going?” Yuri asked as he signed something an employee thrust at him.

“I got lots of recommendations,” Viktor said, smiling for a picture. “But I don’t remember any of them.”

“Of course you don’t.” Yuri posed for a picture with him and Yuuri was tempted to take a picture himself.

Viktor looked up and brightened when he saw Yuuri. It couldn’t have been someone behind Yuuri because he was standing in front of a bookshelf. “Don’t be shy! Come over here.”

“No, no, it’s fine,” Yuuri said, eyes going wide as half a dozen store employees turned to look at him.

One of the security guards moved between Yuuri and the group. “The signing is over,” the guard said. “I’m going to have to ask you to keep moving.”

As if today hadn’t been humiliating enough, as if Yuuri needed any more evidence he didn’t belong there, now the hulking guard was going to lift him by the shirt and throw him out like some old movie.

But Viktor came to his rescue again, walking through the crowd and past security. “He’s with me,” he said, taking Yuuri’s arm and guiding him to the door. “It’s been lovely, everyone, but we must be going.”

Yuri just flipped up his hoodie and nodded at the crowd, and the three of them left. Together. Yuuri had no idea what was happening.

“Would you like to join us?” Viktor asked. His arm was still hooked through Yuuri’s, and when they looked at each other their noses were only inches apart. “I would love to cook for you or take you somewhere romantic, but I promised that one pizza.”

Yuuri suddenly couldn’t remember if he had brushed his teeth that morning and slipped his arm out from Viktor’s under the guise of putting his hat and scarf on.

Yuri poked Viktor hard in the ribs. “Chill. You’re going to scare him off.” With a snort he added, “Probably won’t take much.”

Viktor pouted and Yuuri panicked.

“I like pizza,” he said. Viktor shot Yuri a triumphant look.

“Yura didn’t give you any trouble, did he?” Viktor asked, putting a hand on Yuuri’s shoulder.

Yuuri shook his head, assuming Viktor was talking about Yuri.

“What about me?” Yuri protested, wrapping his arms around himself. “I wasted my whole day babysitting this loser just so you two could have your slow motion booty call or whatever this is.”

Yuuri almost choked but Viktor just smiled.

“Should have brought a coat,” he teased.

“Russians don’t get cold,” Yuri barked. “You’re just a wimp.”

Viktor laughed. “Maybe I am. Or maybe I just don’t worry about looking cool all the time.”

Even Yuuri could tell that was a lie. Viktor didn’t have a single hair out of place and everything in his outfit was carefully selected to match his “look.” Yuuri’s own coat had a few stains and the down was poking through the lining in one of the sleeves.

“Just get in the car,” Yuri muttered. He got in the passenger seat of the Lexus that must have been waiting as long as Yuuri had.

Viktor opened the rear door and gestured for Yuuri to get in, but Yuuri just stared at him. He was bound to wake up at any minute.

“I really hope you’ll come. But I would understand if…” Viktor’s smile faltered. “I know I can be a little much.”

Viktor wasn't too much. He deserved everything he wanted, and by some miracle, Yuuri and Viktor wanted the same thing. There was no guarantee it would happen again, and Yuuri said, “I want to."

“Wonderful!” Viktor exclaimed. Yuuri climbed into the backseat, leather cold beneath him, and buckled himself in. Hearts didn’t have seatbelts, but he had already come this far. He wasn’t going home without giving it his all.

Chapter Text

Viktor was smiling on the outside, but his mind was flailing. This was not how he wanted his reunion with Katsuki Yuuri to go. To have him ripped away so soon after getting him back was torture and Viktor had barely gotten through the signing. He didn’t want their first date to be in a dingy pizza place with one tiny and incredibly loud third wheel, either, but he was determined to make the best of it.

“This is really good,” said the little third wheel as he polished off his third giant slice of pizza.

“You chose well, Katsuki Yuuri,” said Viktor, purposely brushing knees with him.

“It was the top result on Yelp, and just Yuuri is fine,” Yuuri said, blushing a lovely shade of pink. “Thanks again for paying.”

It was a start. Viktor smiled back. He held a finger to his lips and said, “Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t eat pizza often. I know, I’m a terrible New Yorker.”

“That’s because you’re a California boy,” Yuri cut in.

Viktor sniffed. “I prefer to think of myself as a citizen of the world.”

“Oh, stop trying to impress him. He’s just happy you know who he is.” Yuri might have learned how to handle paparazzi, but he still talked with his mouth full.

Viktor was sure Yuri was exaggerating, but to his surprise, Yuuri blushed deeper and said, “Is it that obvious?”

Viktor wanted to throw his arms around Yuuri. “The feeling is more than mutual! I want to know everything about you, Yuuri! What have you been doing since we last met? Besides sharpening your skating skills—but I want to talk about that, too!”

“I…”

Viktor would have waited forever to hear what Yuuri was going to say.

A loud, rattling slurp from an empty cup of soda startled them both.

“You’re just going to gloss over the fact that he ignored you for two years?” Yuri deadpanned.

Viktor had not forgotten about that. He hoped Yuuri would explain eventually but he wasn’t going to push, and it was definitely none of Yuri’s business.

“It wasn’t on purpose.” Yuuri’s voice was so quiet Viktor had to lean in to hear him. The restaurant was bustling and Viktor didn’t want to call any attention to their table, but at the same time he wanted to ice his fame to kick everyone else out. He must have misheard Yuuri because it sounded like the next thing he was “I forgot.”

But that couldn’t have been right. “Could you repeat that?”

“He forgot,” Yuri said, even though Viktor wasn't talking to him. “He got totally smashed and he didn’t remember meeting you at that bar. He only figured out what happened after your extremely aggressive public flirting.”

Yuuri’s brow was knitted tight, like he was sad. “I didn’t think it was aggressive.”

Yuri gave a snort. “That’s because you’re just as bad as he is, driving halfway across the country to meet an actor.”

“Stop talking,” Viktor said to Yuri. “How do you know all this?”

“I’d tell you but I’m not supposed to talk.” Yuri crossed his arms and slouched in his chair.

“I told him. Back at the bookstore,” said Yuuri. “He’s right. It sounds completely unreasonable now that I hear it out loud, but I didn’t really think about what I was doing. I just wanted to meet you.”

The restaurant might as well have cleared out at that moment. All Viktor could see and hear was Yuuri. His voice was beautiful, and he was describing things Viktor had felt and thought. Still felt.

“I think it’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.”

Yuuri’s hair was longer now. Viktor hadn’t noticed it in the video. He was trimmer now, too, but his face still had most of the same soft lines. He had the same glasses, the same perfect lips and smile (when he chose to bless Viktor with it).

“I’m sorry I forgot about you, Viktor.”

“Oh, Yuuri…” Viktor took his hand from across the table and Yuuri dropped his fork. “You have nothing to apologize for.”

“Uh, yeah, he does.” Yuri’s voice was like a record scratch.

Viktor’s smile went from soft to venomous. “Oh, Yura, you’re still here?"

“He owes you the full explanation, at least as good as the one he gave me.”

“I hardly think—”

Yuuri cut Viktor off this time. “No, he’s right. The night before you left Detroit, I wasn’t in a good place.”

Viktor wasn’t happy to be right about that, but a strange sense of kinship with Yuuri blossomed within him.

“It’s not an excuse, but when I saw,” Yuuri swallowed and Viktor watched his throat, “your messages the next morning, I panicked. I thought it was a total stranger.”

“It was. You guys still don’t know each other.”

Viktor ignored Yuri and tried to smile at Yuuri. “I guess I should have put my real name in your phone.” He could have sent a picture or flat out said who he was, but he never imagined something so monumental for him would be so forgettable for Yuuri.

“I don’t think it would have helped,” said Yuuri, shaking his head. “Sometimes, when good things happen to me, I have a hard time believing it. I blocked you.”

Even though Viktor knew it wasn’t intentional and it wasn't something Yuuri could control, it felt like a stab in the heart. But it did explain a lot. “You did?”

Yuuri buried his face in his hands. “I had no idea it was you. I thought it was a mistake or a prank or…” His hands fell to the table and Viktor reached for them.

“It’s all right,” he said. “You did what you had to do to take care of yourself.”

Yuuri stared at their hands, clasped on either side of the red pepper shaker, in disbelief. He swallowed, still unable to meet Viktor’s eyes. “You mean I avoided my problems instead of facing them.”

You would never do that, would you, Viktor?” Yuri cut in. “Anything you want to come clean about?”

Was Yuri a couples’ therapist now? Not a couple, he reminded himself.

“You don’t have to explain anything to me,” Yuuri said. “You’re not the one who flaked for two years.”

Viktor twisted a stray lock of his own hair. “You might be surprised.”

He wondered what Yuuri would have thought of his dark hair. And what did Yuuri think of his natural color? Did he like it?

Yuri grunted in frustration.

“That’s it? What about the texts? All that Japanese food on Instagram? Your playlist? That Detroit Boy bullshit?” Yuri was ranting and Yuuri was bewildered and Viktor was overwhelmed. He just wanted to enjoy the moment and yet Yuri was doing all the talking (even worse, he was right). Viktor would get to that stuff eventually, but was it so wrong to indulge the fantasy for a minute? “Maybe you could start by apologizing for sending him on a guilt trip from Detroit to New York.”

“Eat your pizza, Yuri,” Viktor snapped. Yuuri flinched and Viktor realized he would have to be careful since their names were so alike.

Yuuri spoke up before Viktor could apologize. “I didn’t come here because I felt guilty. I just had to find out for himself.” With a self-deprecating laugh, he added, “I thought at the very least, you could sign my cookbook.”

Viktor gasped. Everything Yuri said, everything he didn’t want to deal with right now, flew out of his head. “I never signed your cookbook!”

“It’s all right,” said Yuuri. “I mean, you kinda kissed me, so…”

“You kissed him?!” Yuri looked at Viktor sideways. “What the fuck is wrong with you?!”

“Just my hand!” Yuuri pulled the hand Viktor had kissed to his chest as if to protect it.

That quick motion had Viktor reliving the moment over again. What was it he had said to Yuuri? They still had a lot to talk about, and talking wasn’t going to happen here, no matter how much Yuri thought he was helping.

Viktor pulled his pen—Yuuri’s pen—out of his coat. Yuuri gasped and Viktor felt around with his foot, brushing against Yuuri’s leg not quite on purpose. Yuuri shivered and Viktor smiled his warmest smile as he continued his search. His foot hit Yuuri’s backpack and he grinned. Ducking under the table, Viktor unzipped his bag and pulled out the cookbook.

Yuuri and Yuri watched him, the former in wonder and the latter in disbelief, as he opened the cookbook to the dedication and began to write.

My Dearest Yuuri,

When we met, you changed my life in an instant. Now we have the chance to do it all over again. You showed me your heart through your skating, and all I ask is a chance to show you my heart in return.

Yours,
Viktor

“That’s corny as shit.”

“Good thing I’m not writing it for you.” It was time for Yuri to go. Viktor closed the cookbook and handed it back to Yuuri, who hugged it tight. Viktor wanted to lean over the table and kiss his cheek, but he pulled out his phone and hired a ride instead. “You can read it later. Let’s make plans. I want to show you the city!”

Yuri snorted, still eating pizza like he was stocking up for an overnight growth spurt. “You don’t know this city at all. All the touristy stuff is about to close. Besides, we just ate. What else do you even do? Drink? Because that’s what got you into this mess.”

Viktor ignored him. “We’ll do what we can today and spend the whole day together tomorrow. If you want.”

Yuuri’s face fell. “I can’t tomorrow. My friend is competing in the World Championships and I promised I’d watch him.” He looked like there was more he wanted to say but he fell silent.

“What a coincidence! My friend is competing, too,” said Viktor. “Let’s watch it together. You can come over to my place.”

Yuuri flushed and Yuri fumed.

“Viktor! You can’t invite him to your house!”

“Or we can watch it at your hotel,” Viktor offered, unsure why that would be better. Maybe Yuuri would be more comfortable there? “Where are you staying?”

Yuri had a sudden coughing fit that sounded suspiciously like the word “stalker.” Viktor stood up and grabbed his coat from the back of his chair.

“Um, my hostel is pretty small,” said Yuuri, standing up, too.

“Your hostel?” Viktor gasped. He wasn’t entirely sure what a hostel was. “You mean like that horror movie?” He hadn’t even been able to get through it.

“Yeah, Viktor, Yuuri’s gonna get murdered tonight if he doesn’t sleep in your bed,” said Yuri, voice thick with sarcasm. He was still slouching in his chair. “It’s just a cheap hotel where everyone sleeps in the same room and shares a bathroom.”

That sounded worse than a horror movie to Viktor. How was Yuuri surviving? “Well, then you have to stay with me.” When Yuuri’s eyes went wide, Viktor added, “I have a whole furnished guest unit upstairs that I’m not using.”

Yuuri looped his scarf around his neck and waved his hand in front of himself. “No, it’s fine! It’s just for one more night.”

“Just one more night?” Viktor’s heart sank. That was hardly any time at all. “Then what will you do?”

“I’m going to take the bus back to Detroit tomorrow night.” Yuuri looked down at his feet. “I needed to make sure I'd be back in time to watch the free skate on Saturday.”

The bus?! Yuuri had to stop living his life on the edge.

“Don’t you have to leave for Chicago on Sunday anyway?” Yuri said, jabbing Viktor’s leg.

It was true. The next signing was in Chicago, but that would have given him another day to show Yuuri around and cook for him and fall in love. Now he had less than 24 hours. He had to think fast.

“What if we went to a restaurant and watched the short program there?” Viktor offered. “Together.”

Yuuri’s reply was barely above a whisper. “I’d love to watch it with you.”

Yuri rolled his eyes. “Oh, right, because some cafe is going to leave ESPN 27 on the TV for 12 hours just because Viktor Nikiforov wants to watch figure skating.”

“That’s exactly what’s going to happen,” said Viktor.

Yuuri was mostly obscured by his winter gear now, but he looked surprised, maybe even excited.

“How the hell are you going to pull that off?” Yuri demanded. He finally got to his feet, pulling his hoodie over his head and zipping it up to his chin.

“Don’t worry about it!” Viktor sang, dropping his wool coat onto Yuri’s shoulders. It almost skimmed the floor on him.

“What the hell?!” Yuri tried to take it off but Viktor was already buttoning it up. He grudgingly worked his arms into the sleeves as Viktor ushered them to the front of the restaurant. Two cars pulled up and Yuri narrowed his eyes.

“It’s time for you to go back to your hotel, Yura,” said Viktor. "That blue one's yours."

“Why’d you give me your coat if you were just gonna call me a ride?”

“I wanted you to be warm on the way!” Viktor said, patting his back. He glanced at Yuuri and was struck by a sudden fear—maybe he wanted the buffer of a third person. “That is, unless Yuuri wants to spend more time with you?”

Yuuri set his brow determinedly and he pulled down his scarf to speak. “No. I want to be with you.”

The words were music to Viktor’s ears. Yuri flicked them both off but kept the coat and got in the car. He could have set Viktor on fire and Viktor would have been floating on air.

“But aren’t you going to be cold?” Yuuri asked.

Viktor smiled at him. “I’ll just buy another coat. Care to join me?”

The signing had been too long and the detour with Yuri felt even longer, but now that Viktor had Yuuri all to himself, he was going to enjoy every moment.

“I’d love to,” said Yuuri.

When Yuuri smiled back at him, Viktor didn’t need a coat at all.

Chapter Text

Yuuri imagined his trip to New York going a lot of ways (most of them bad), but he never imagined they’d end up at a Neiman Marcus because Viktor treated coats like handkerchiefs.

“Holy sh—are you Viktor Nikiforov?” the sales associate gasped as soon as Viktor took off his hat and scarf. Yuuri kept pinching himself every 20 minutes for the same reason.

“What’s your name?” asked Viktor with a smile.

“Oh, i-it’s Linda,” Linda pointed at a name tag and Viktor laughed.

“Of course, Linda! I should have read that myself.”

“It’s okay! I’m such a big fan. I’ve seen all of your movies. You don’t suppose—could we take a picture? I’m sorry, I know you came here to shop.”

“I don’t mind at all, Linda,” Viktor said, flashing another brilliant smile. He was so sweet to his fans.

Was Yuuri just another fan to him? Viktor probably didn’t invite all his fans to stay in his penthouse apartment, but Yuuri couldn’t really be sure. Left to its own devices, his mind tended toward doubt.

But before long, Viktor was back at his side, close but not touching. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to be on my way.”

“Oh! Of course! Thank you, Mr. Nikiforov!”

“Please, just Viktor is fine.”

Linda exploded into giggles. “V-Viktor, then! Sorry! I’ll let you get back to your, um...assistant?”

Viktor’s smile thinned and Yuuri looked from him to Linda. He didn’t know what possessed him but he unwound his scarf and said, “I’m his date.”

It had been a long time since Yuuri had won any medals, but the full force of Viktor’s grin was better than gold.

“Wha—whoa!” Linda’s voice shattered the moment. “Thank you so much for spending your date at my store! I mean, this store! Can I get you water or cookies or champagne or something…”

Viktor put his arm around Yuuri’s shoulder. “We have everything we need,” he said. “It was nice meeting you.”

They left Linda stammering and Viktor led Yuuri through the store, seeming to know intrinsically the path that would get the least attention.

“Usually, designers just send me clothes, but when I do shop, I do it online,” Viktor said. “I love meeting people, but it does make it tough to do any actual shopping.”

Please bring up what I just said, Yuuri thought. Please tell me if it was too much. Or don’t. Tell me it was perfect, or tell me it wasn’t enough…

“I want to commemorate our first date!” Viktor said. “How much space do you have in your luggage?”

Yuuri’s brain didn't kick back in until Viktor stopped to look at a shelf of outrageously priced sweaters.

“I don’t need anything!" It wasn't just the guilt—everything Yuuri had packed was in his backpack, on his person. He wasn’t comfortable leaving anything at the hostel.

“Are you sure? You got some pizza sauce on your shirt,” Viktor pointed out.

Yuuri’s cheeks warmed. He hadn’t even noticed. Viktor was suddenly behind him, pressing his chest into Yuuri’s back as he stretched their arms out together.

“I’m guessing you’re about 14 and a half inches in the neck? And your arms are quite long, aren’t they? Maybe 26 inches?” Viktor hummed right in Yuuri’s ear, giving him goosebumps even under his heavy coat. “Does that sound right?”

“U-um,” Yuuri wished his voice hadn’t just cracked, “I don’t really know? What’s a size small?”

“Oh, Yuuri…” Even though Viktor was shaking his head in disbelief, Yuuri would never get tired of hearing Viktor say his name. “Someone here can measure you! It’ll be fun to see how close I got!”

Yuuri almost melted into a puddle of his own feelings before he realized he was actually being tugged towards the dress shirts. “Wait! You don’t have to buy me anything!”

“I know I don’t have to.” Viktor turned back and winked at him. “I want to!”

Yuuri was reborn on the spot. “Let’s just find a coat for you and…” And then do what? Yuuri didn’t want the night to end, but Yuri had been right. Stores stayed open later in New York than in Detroit, but soon it would just be bars and restaurants and he didn’t want to get drunk, but he want to say goodbye, either.

“You can help me pick!” said Viktor. “It’ll be fun to shop off the rack.”

Off the rack?” Yuuri repeated as they reached the outerwear.

Viktor was already leafing through the jackets. “The coat I gave Yura was one of a kind.”

“Then why did you give it to him?” The words left Yuuri’s mouth before he could stop them.

“I’ll get it back eventually,” said Viktor with a breezy wave of his hand. He picked up a navy trench. “What do you think of this? Would it help me blend in?”

Yuuri caught a glimpse of the price tag. “That’s a $3,000 coat!”

“Hmm, you’re right. I’m not sure it would hold up very well.” He went to a different rack and the prices doubled. How much did Viktor’s normal clothes cost?

Viktor looked good in everything but gravitated toward a black coat without much help. The next thing Yuuri knew, he was watching in horrified shock as Viktor dropped almost $9,000 without batting an eye. After another photo with a sales clerk, they were back on the street. Viktor could have easily called another ride, but Yuuri was glad he hadn’t.

“This was the right choice. Feel how soft it is,” said Viktor, rubbing his arm against the only exposed skin on Yuuri—his cheek. Each excuse to touch Yuuri was flimsier than the last, but he didn’t mind.

“It’s very nice."

“You can take it back to Detroit with you if you like it,” said Viktor. “It’ll only be a little big on you.”

“You don’t have to give me anything!" Yuuri repeated. "I’m just happy to spend time with you.”

Viktor didn’t seem to know how to react at first, but he settled on a smile. As they walked together, Yuuri fought the urge to reach for Viktor’s hand or arm. They had already done it a few times, but Yuri Plisetsky was right—they just didn't know each other that well.

“It really is better in New York,” Viktor said out of nowhere. “The paparazzi, I mean. But I miss LA weather sometimes.”

“I’m glad people leave you alone here." Yuuri was glad Viktor lived in New York for other reasons, too—taking the bus all the way to California would have been complicated.

“Oh, they don’t,” said Viktor with a laugh. “We’re quite lucky today. Everyone says people in New York live and let live, but in practice they’re just less aggressive. And they don’t hang around my house.”

“They waited outside your house in LA?” Yuuri gasped. He couldn’t even imagine, but Viktor sounded so nonchalant about it.

“It’s part of why I left,” he said. “There was a bit of a frenzy when I first moved, and again when I came back, but I think it will settle down. Chris never has any problems.”

Yuuri nodded. There was so much he didn’t understand about being a celebrity. He wanted to ask Viktor about his time off, but it was too personal.

“How about your fans?” Viktor asked. “Are they very polite?”

“I don’t really have fans,” Yuuri said. "Not anymore, at least."

Viktor’s mouth fell open. “That’s not true! I’m your biggest fan! And have you been on Twitter? People have been asking about you since you retired—I checked!”

Yuuri was still wrapping his mind around that. But that reminded him. “I just started a new Twitter account, but it hasn’t been verified yet.”

“You did?!” Viktor pulled out his phone. “Can I follow you? What’s your name?”

Yuuri spelled it for him, impressed that Viktor’s touch-screen gloves actually worked.

“I’m your first follower!” Viktor announced.

“Let me follow you back.” Yuuri grabbed his own phone from his pocket but it wouldn’t turn on. “Oh no, my phone died.” He thought he had charged it, but maybe the outlets in his hostel didn’t work.

“You can add me later. Do you have Instagram, too?”

Yuuri wasn’t prepared for that question, and he was glad most of his face was hidden. "Oh." He should have mentioned it sooner. “We sort of already follow each other.”

“We do?” Viktor almost dropped his phone. “Why haven’t I seen you on my feed?”

“Because I only posted one picture and immediately deleted it,” Yuuri blurted out. “But you replied to me once. On your birthday. When I told you that you inspired me to change my life. You probably don’t remember.”

“Oh, Yuuri...” Viktor smiled at him and shook his head. “Do you already know me well enough to say things like that?”

“I’m sorry,” Yuuri had read somewhere that Viktor could memorize lines in seconds but tended to forget everything else. How much of what he had read was true? “I just meant you must get those kinds of comments all the time.”

“Those are my favorite comments, but I do get a lot of them.” Viktor looked sheepish even though there was nothing to forgive. “But I remember everything you told me in Detroit. About your skating, your engineering classes, how my show wasn’t authentic…”

Yuuri winced. Had he really said that? “I don’t remember anything.”

“It’s all right.” Viktor tucked his phone back into his pocket and sent Yuuri a faint smile. “Although, you did lie to me that night.”

“I did?”

“You said you weren’t good enough to compete.”

Typical, he thought. Even drunk off his ass, Yuuri had talked himself down. “My senior career was a nightmare, especially my last competition. My…my dog had just died.” He didn’t want to use Vicchan as an excuse, but for some reason, he wanted Viktor to know about Vicchan.

Viktor’s smile faded. “Oh, Yuuri, I’m so sorry.”

Yuuri tried to smile but couldn’t manage it. At least Viktor had learned something new about him. “It was a long time ago.”

“But it still hurts, doesn’t it?” asked Viktor. It did. “You skated admirably, especially knowing that.”

“You watched it?” Yuuri looked up and cringed. “I missed every single jump.”

“All skaters fall. And you finished.” Viktor’s lips parted and his chin trembled. “If I lost Makkachin…”

Yuuri knew exactly how old Makkachin was, and if he were Viktor, he didn’t know if he’d be able to finish that sentence, either. If Viktor allowed it, if this went anywhere, Yuuri swore he would be there for him when that day came. He hoped it wouldn’t come for a long time.  

He took Viktor’s hand and squeezed it.

“I didn’t lie to you back then,” said Yuuri as Viktor beamed down at him. “I really didn’t think I was good enough.”

“And what do you think now?”

“I…” Yuuri dropped Viktor’s hand. He wanted to skate. He wanted to compete, and he wanted to win. He still needed a coach and a few miracles, but the fact that he didn’t immediately think he wasn’t good enough had to mean something.

“You don’t have to answer that.” Viktor’s eyes sparkled like he already knew. “You know you can ask me personal questions, too, Yuuri. As many as you want.”

He had a thousand questions, but “Did you think about quitting acting?” came tumbling out of his mouth.

“Yes.” Viktor answered without hesitation.

“Why didn’t you?”

“Smart to get away from the yes or no questions,” said Viktor with a wink. “I like acting. I’m very good at it. I knew they wanted to do a sequel to Agape and people’s jobs were depending on my comeback. But do you know what really did it?”

Yuuri shook his head. He hoped Viktor didn’t just come back out of obligation.

“Promise not to laugh, but I missed being recognized.”

It was such a cocky thing to say, but from Viktor, it sounded innocent and sweet. “Didn’t anyone recognize you while you were taking time off?”

What if he had spent his entire hiatus indoors? Yuuri’s heart ached and he regretted the question.

Viktor pulled out his phone again, scrolling up, up, up before presenting it to Yuuri.

Yuuri’s eyes went wide. On the screen was a selfie of a raven-haired Viktor in front of a shop. Yuuri only recognized him because he was crouching next to Makkachin. Viktor had changed his hair for roles before, but never quite that dark.

“Whoa.”

Viktor grinned. “Didn’t you wonder how I hid for so long?”

The sign behind them was in Russian, one of the few words Yuuri recognized. “Is that market in Russia?”

Viktor gasped in excitement. “It is! You didn’t tell me you could read Russian, Yuuri!”

“Maybe five words…” But Viktor was glossing over something important. “You went back to Russia?”

He nodded. “To visit my father. Then I went to Spain—”

“To visit your mother,” Yuuri finished for him.

“That’s right!” Viktor took one more look at his phone before putting it away, then sighed. “No one liked my hair like that.”

“I like it,” said Yuuri. Viktor looked good no matter what, and he always looked more relaxed with Makkachin. “You looked happy.”

Viktor stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, just like all the NYC tourist guides said not to do. People had to step around them but Yuuri didn’t care.

“I’m even happier now,” Viktor said.

Yuuri had to memorize that smile. It held shades of the look in the bookstore, bewildered, overwhelmed, and beautiful, only softer, warming him from the inside out. He couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, lest it slip out of his reach like the last of a sweet dream.

Viktor pulled him forward and they were walking again. “I can’t believe I’ve been following you for months.” Throwing a smirk over his shoulder, he added, “Pete must have forgotten to mention it when he called me.”

“Pete? Who’s Pete?” And then it hit him. Phichit. Viktor winked.

“Next, you’re going to tell me you were at the World Championships in Boston last year,” he mused.

Yuuri stopped so abruptly someone ran into him. Viktor only turned back when Yuuri’s hand slipped out of his.

“I...was.” Yuuri frowned. “Were you?”

Viktor opened his mouth to reply, looking almost embarrassed.

“Viktor Nikiforov?” A voice came from behind Yuuri. “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, I know I’m supposed to be cool, but wow!”

And like that, Viktor was on, smiling like he was on camera and not on a date.

“What you said about your mental health, it just meant so much to me! Thank you for being so open. And I bought your cookbook! I would have come to your signing but I had to work,” the fan went on.

Viktor smiled and posed for a picture and said all the right things. He touched so many people’s lives, and Yuuri adored that about him. But really, what was the difference between Yuuri and this guy?

“Okay, sometimes I don’t love being recognized,” Viktor admitted once the fan moved on. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to dye my hair again.”

“Why were you at Worlds?” Yuuri asked. “For Leo?”

“Partly.” Viktor shivered for the first time that night and Yuuri saw the difference. Viktor had canned statements and faces for his fans, but Yuuri had stumped him multiple times that day.

He wasn’t sure if that was good or bad.

“Can we warm up?” Viktor asked, gesturing to a nearby coffee shop. “Yura’s right about me after all.”

They went inside and ordered with surprisingly little fanfare. The baristas seemed to follow the rule of “be cool” and Yuuri spied a little “Featured on Coffee with Chris” sign by the milk and sugar. Maybe they were used to celebrities here.

Yuuri let Viktor buy him a tea and they sat at a table in the back. He hadn’t realized how cold he was until he got inside, and he felt even better after a few sips of hot tea.

“Before I show this to you, I want you to know I’m not proud of it,” said Viktor after a sip of coffee. “I was drunk and upset and it felt like moving on at the time, but now it just feels like a pity party and a guilt trip.”

“Viktor…” Yuuri whispered. “You don’t have to show me anything.”

“No,” said Viktor. “Yura’s right about this, too.”

He pulled out his phone, found what he was looking for, and slid it across the table to Yuuri like he was handing over something valuable.

It was a text message. A long one. Yuuri swallowed and began to read.

I’m sure you blocked me or changed your number or just don’t want to hear from me, but I need some closure. I’ve built you up in my head to be this perfect person, my one true love, but it’s a fantasy no one could live up to. I should know. I did the same thing to myself. I’m tired of trying to live up to my own expectations so I’m letting them go. Maybe I don’t know who I am, and I definitely don’t know you, but I do know the night we shared was the closest thing to a connection I’ve felt in years. But I’m ready to let go of that, too. If you want to start over, I’ll be watching the Men’s Short Program at the World Championships in Boston tomorrow. It’s a long shot, and I’m sure you won’t be there, but if by any chance you are, find me in section 22 row 10.

The words echoed through his head in Viktor’s voice, all the way to the end.

And if I don’t see you, then I’ll let you go.

“If you want nothing to do with me, I’d understand,” said Viktor.

Yuuri didn’t know what to say. He could have written some of the message himself if he only had the guts. He had put Viktor on a pedestal, too—made him into a paragon above human flaws like anxiety and depression. Yuuri knew better now, but this message was cold, hard proof that he had hurt Viktor.

Yuuri’s negligence, his denial, his drinking, and his own stubbornness had caused Viktor pain, and he hadn’t even known it.

“I’m so sorry,” Yuuri whispered. If he had known, if he had given those strange texts a chance, then maybe…

No. He couldn’t make excuses. This was his fault.

“I’m the one who should apologize. I got carried away, and all of this,” Viktor scrolled through the wall of text, “I brought it on myself. I know that now.”

“But none of it would have happened if I hadn’t ignored you.” Yuuri drank his tea too fast and it scalded his throat.

“It’s not your fault!”

But Yuuri couldn’t look at Viktor anymore. He was going to cry, and not just because of the scorching hot tea.

“I didn’t show you this to make you feel guilty,” Viktor stammered. “I don’t know why I showed it to you. I guess I wanted you to know what you were getting into so you could back out if you wanted to.”

All Yuuri registered was back out. He didn’t deserve Viktor. The last of the adrenaline that had carried him since he boarded the bus in Detroit drained and every single muscle in his body ached like the day after a full body workout. He pushed his tea forward, tears escaping when he squeezed his eyes shut. “Thank you for today,” he said.

“Yuuri...”

Yuuri forced a smile and looked up. Viktor was a doe in headlights on the verge of panic, and Yuuri took a deep breath.

“I'm not backing out,” he said. “I just...I need some time to process this.”

Viktor nodded, but Yuuri knew it wasn’t what he wanted to hear.

“Today was amazing.” Yuuri poured all of his emotion into his words, even though it wouldn’t make up for leaving.

Viktor’s response was automatic. “The pleasure was mine.”

“I think I should go back to my hostel for tonight,” said Yuuri, picking up his backpack.

“Of course. Can I call you a ride?” Viktor asked. “Please?”

Yuuri couldn’t say no when Viktor said please.

They sat in silence waiting for the car, but there were a lot more drivers in New York than there were in Detroit. The driver was there in a heartbeat and Yuuri stood up. Viktor looked like he wanted to reach for him but pulled back at the last moment.

“Thank you for today, Yuuri,” said Viktor in a soft voice that would surely haunt his dreams tonight and forever. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Viktor. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

The hope in Viktor’s eyes as he nodded was the only thing keeping Yuuri from crying.

He held his breath until he got in the car, and it came out in a choking sob. He didn’t say a word to the driver and went straight to his bed to draw the curtains and plug in his phone. When it finally came to life, he had another 36 texts from Phichit and 4 from Mari.

He ignored them all and went to Twitter in search of something to convince him Viktor would be better off without him.

He had multiple notifications on his new account, but he ignored them in favor of Viktor’s mentions, ignoring usernames in his compulsive search for proof he wasn’t worthy.

bet you anything #yuurikatsuki is consulting on oti. that’s the only possible reason @v-nikiforov would hang out with him.

UMMM HOW ABOUT BECAUSE #YUURIKATSUKI IS #DETROITBOY AND THEY’RE MEANT TO BE?!!!?!

it was all a publicity stunt. @christophe-gc has been teasing this reunion forever.

IT’S NOT PUBLICITY IT’S TRUE LOVE

The conversation devolved into gifs worthy of Phichit retweets, and Yuuri let them loop until his heart stopped pounding so hard.

The feedback actually wasn’t bad. If he scrolled far enough there would be something, but for the first time in his life, he stopped. Maybe, just this one time, he could let himself be happy.

He closed Twitter—the notifications could wait until morning. Right now, he had to talk to Viktor.

Shit. He had left without his number.

A direct message on social media didn’t seem personal enough, and there was a chance it would get lost among the thousands of messages Viktor probably received every second.

Yuuri scrolled through his contacts as if it might make the number magically appear.

It did. Viktor’s name was the last in the list, adorned with a string of hearts, boys kissing, and an eggplant emoji—thank goodness for Phichit Chulanont—and Yuuri sent a text before he could stop himself.

When and where can I see you tomorrow?

Viktor was typing immediately—Yuuri’s breath caught, half-expecting Viktor to tell him he’d blown his last chance.

Breakfast at 7:00?

Yuuri exhaled, tears in his eyes again as Viktor sent details on a cafe in Brooklyn.

They had one more day together, and Viktor seemed to know know they’d have to start early, so maybe he was serious about watching Worlds. Yuuri hadn’t said it out loud, but didn’t just want to see Phichit. He wanted to watch everyone to get an idea what he was up against.

There was another reason he wanted to watch. For the first time in years, he felt like he would enjoy it—and not just because of Viktor.

Chapter Text

The last two hours had been the hardest of Viktor’s entire life. Even reading unfamiliar lines in front of Lilia Baranovskaya as a teen heartthrob/niche actor had been easier.

Yuuri’s tentative I’ll see you tomorrow was the only thing keeping him afloat.

But what came after tomorrow?

Would someone as private as Yuuri even want to be with him? He seemed to like having Viktor’s attention, but that was just for a few hours. And what if Yuuri wanted to relaunch his figure skating career? Would he even have time for a relationship? Either way, Viktor’s filming schedule was a problem. Would they ever have any time together?

Viktor had sat alone in the coffee shop for a long time, questions rolling through his head. He didn’t even move until his phone buzzed. Viktor’s heart surged to his throat.

It was the wrong Yuri.

you better not bring him home

Viktor let out a bitter laugh. There was no danger of that. He gave the briefest possible description of what had happened—at least Yuri would be happy.

wtf
and you just let him go?

Or not. Confused, Viktor typed his reply.

I had to.
I thought you’d be proud of me.

Yuri’s texts came back at rapid-fire pace.

dont make this my fault
i just meant don’t fuck him
you probably didnt even tell him everything did you
god
its like you don’t want to be happy

The typing animation blinked for ages, and Viktor used it as an excuse not to think. Not until he knew what Yuri wanted to say.

youve got noone to blame for your unhappiness
you got yourself into your own mess

Viktor gasped. That was unkind, even for Yuri. Except...it also sounded familiar. Almost like a song, because Viktor could hear the next line in his head: Let your worries pass you by…

He couldn’t type his reply fast enough.

Yura! You’re still listening to my music!

And he had branched out from the original playlist! That lifted Viktor’s spirits a bit.

shut up
you dont own it
and thats not the point
you guys were supposed to figure stuff out and then live happily ever after or whatever

Viktor’s heart seized. On the one hand, he was touched that Yuri wanted him to live happily ever after. But on the other, nothing was that simple. There was still so much to tell Yuuri and so much to talk about.

Yuri and Wilson Phillips were preaching to the choir. Plenty of Viktor’s struggles were out of his control, but the mess with Yuuri wasn’t one of them. He should have been upfront to begin with, but trying to come clean had sent Yuuri packing.

What would happen when he heard everything? Viktor might never hear from him again.

If they glossed over the worst of it and just enjoyed the time they had, then maybe they could enjoy the day and just have a second and final, beautiful moment together.  

A beautiful moment they hadn’t even planned.

Viktor stared at his phone, long- and short-term happiness waging a battle in his head. Couldn’t he have both?

Had Yuuri unblocked him? The realization sent another wave of regret through his body. How were they going to make plans if Yuuri couldn’t see his texts? And Yuuri’s phone was dead…

His finger hovered over Phichit’s contact information before he thought better of it. Like Leo, he had other things to worry about, and Viktor didn’t want to distract him.

Instead, he went through all of his social media apps and turned notifications on. Viktor didn’t keep any private accounts—too much hassle—so meaningless notifications rolled in by the dozens until he was numb. This was a bad path.

Viktor stood up. Cuddling with Makkachin was exactly what he needed right now.

Back at home with a large poodle on his lap and Hold On playing on his phone, he got a text.

From Future Husband.

When and where can I see you tomorrow?

“Makka!” Viktor exclaimed. He sent the time and place, then checked in with Chris to make sure everything was set at the cafe.

The last thing he did before he went to bed was change Future Husband to Yuuri. No expectations, no resentment. Just Yuuri.

That sense of calm that had soothed him to sleep had completely disappeared by morning. Makkachin paced the cafe in circles, toenails clacking on the tile, and Viktor was tempted to copy her.

“Relax!” Chris said, rubbing Viktor’s shoulder. “Have some more coffee.”

“Bad idea,” Viktor replied. Caffeine had a bizarre calming effect on Chris, but it turned Viktor into a live wire. He could barely hold the HDMI cable steady as it was.

“Just take a deep breath and stick it in, Viktor. Has it really been that long?”

“I tried that,” he replied, ignoring the innuendo. “It didn’t work.”

“Are you sure you picked the right hole?” Chris asked innocently.

Viktor pasted a saccharine smile on his face and held out the cable. “If you’re such an expert, then why don’t you try?”

“I was just giving you a hard time. I can’t figure out what’s wrong, either.” Chris stroked his chin. “Maybe your adapter’s broken.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m being serious,” Chris said. He pulled out his phone. “I’ll have my assistant bring us one of those streaming devices.”

“I’ll pay him for it. And for his trouble.” Viktor grabbed his own phone. “Does Charlie have PayPal? Is three hundred dollars enough to cover it?”

Chris shook his head. “You don’t have to pay my assistant, Viktor. I’m trying to do you a favor here.”

Viktor tossed a ball around the cafe for Makkachin to pass the time. Chris got him to sit down, but he couldn’t get Viktor to stop bouncing his leg. This was why more coffee was not a good idea.

Finally, Charlie showed up with an electronics store bag. Viktor had never met him in person before, but with his curly blond hair and pink cheeks from the cold morning air, he looked like a young Chris.

“You are a lifesaver!” Viktor said, clasping Charlie’s hand as he took the bag. “Now what do I do with it?”

“I think you just stick it in the hole, Mr. Nikiforov,” Charlie replied.

Chris grinned and slipped him some cash. “Good work today.”

“Did you pay him extra to say that?” Viktor asked, glaring at Chris.

“Me?” Chris feigned innocence. “Absolutely not. I’m just tipping him for his excellent service.”

Viktor struggled with the packaging while Chris poured Charlie a cup of coffee, but Viktor’s laptop recognized the device right away and that was worth a little ribbing.

“It wants me to give it a name,” Viktor muttered to himself.

The Hook Up?” Charlie suggested. Just how much had Chris told him?

“Not specific enough,” said Chris. “How about Inside Spread Eagle? Layback Position? Oh, I know! Russian Split.“ Chris had a very good memory for figure skating terms.

“I’m just going to call it Charlie,” Viktor said.

Maybe the name was the trick, because the screen came to life and when Viktor clicked the icon on his laptop, a duplicate of his desktop appeared on the television.

The three of them cheered and Viktor hurried to the kitchen. The livestream hadn’t started yet but he had to start cooking.

“Please thank your yoga instructor and her wife again!” he called to Chris as he unloaded groceries.

“Rina and Ellyn said to make yourself at home,” Chris replied, adjusting the Closed for Private Event sign on the door of the restaurant. “You forgot their names, didn’t you?”

“I promise I’ll leave the place even cleaner than I found it,” said Viktor. He looped his apron over his head. “Do you two want food? I think I have time to make you something.”

He wouldn’t mind the chance to practice, and he definitely had enough food. He was going to make Yuuri breakfast and lunch today, but he had to account for allergies, preferences, and whims.

He had bought out an entire grocery store.

Viktor tapped his foot as Chris and Charlie finished their Western omelettes. Yuuri would be there any minute.

“Well? Were they fluffy enough?” he asked. He bent down to examine what was left of Chris’s food. “I might have browned them a tad too much. I’m not used to cooking on a commercial griddle."

“Viktor,” Chris dabbed his lips with a napkin, “if I weren’t in a committed relationship, this omelette would absolutely seal the deal.”

Charlie nodded. “The hot peppers really make it.”

“It wasn’t too spicy?” What if Yuuri didn’t like spicy food? Viktor plugged in the waffle iron, just in case, then put some bacon on the griddle. Yuuri deserved options.

Makkachin finished her scrambled eggs and curled up on her bed in the corner, looking content. That was the highest praise Viktor could imagine, and it eased his nerves.

“How come we didn’t get bacon?” Charlie whined once the fat began to sizzle.

“Because Viktor’s saving the meat for his Detroit Daddy,” Chris replied.

Viktor swiped their plates and glared at Chris. “Out!”

Chris and Charlie put their coats on in slow motion. If Viktor didn’t have a grill to watch, he would have pushed them both through the door, but he couldn’t risk burnt bacon.

“Oh, Viktor,” Chris crooned. “He’s gorgeous.”

Viktor looked up, flushed from more than just the hot kitchen, and locked eyes with Yuuri from across the restaurant and through the door. Most of his face was obscured by a scarf but his eyes were eager and wide, and maybe a little anxious.

Yuuri tapped on the glass and Makkachin roused. She bolted to the front of the restaurant, tail wagging all the way from one side of her hips to the other. As soon as he noticed, Yuuri lit up with delight from head to toe. Viktor smiled, even if he was a little jealous. He wanted to be the reason for Yuuri’s smile, but he understood. Makkachin was pure joy.

Chris opened the door and Yuuri gaped up at him in awe. Viktor could barely hear Yuuri over the sizzle of the bacon, but it didn’t take a skilled lip reader to know he had said “Christophe Giacometti.”

“Yuuri Katsuki,” said Chris with a winning smile. “The pleasure, I assure you, is all mine.”

Viktor narrowed his eyes. Chris had stolen Yuuri’s first words of the morning. He could never hold a grudge against Makkachin but Chris was not Makkachin.

When Yuuri finally met his gaze again, all of Viktor’s ire faded. This look—softer, sweeter, full of unspoken promises—was just for him.

“Yuuri!” he exclaimed.

Yuuri unwound his scarf, flushed from the cold (and, Viktor hoped, from seeing him), and took off his hat. “Good morning, Viktor,” he said. He ruffled his hair to undo what the hat had done to it and a few strands stuck up with static electricity. It was so cute Viktor could have cried. Makkachin tried to push her way into Yuuri’s full hands, and he looked around the room desperately.

“Put your things anywhere,” Viktor said. “The place is ours for the day!”

“Really?” Yuuri tucked his hat and gloves in his pockets and folded his scarf over the back of a booth. Then, he removed his coat, draping it neatly on top. He took a deep breath and blurted out “May I please pet Makkachin?” like he had been waiting his whole life to ask.

Viktor grinned. “Absolutely!”

Yuuri squealed and dropped to his knees to lavish Makkachin with attention and praise. Viktor had never seen anything more heartwarming. They were soulmates, Yuuri and Makka.

Chris cleared his throat. He was watching Viktor watch Yuuri with a glint in his eye. “Well, Charlie and I will leave you to it, then.”

“Oh.” Yuuri stood up and wiped his hands on his pants, noticing Charlie for the first time. He gave a stiff half bow. “It’s nice to meet you, Charlie. And you, Mr. Giacometti.”

“Please, you’re a friend of Viktor’s. Call me Chris.” Chris didn’t extend a hand to shake, but he did give Yuuri a long, lascivious once-over. “If figure skating doesn’t work out, would you consider modeling?”

Yuuri froze. “N-no?”

“Pity,” Chris sighed. “I know at least three casting directors who are looking for someone with your exact assets.”

“Weren’t you just leaving, Chris?” Viktor said through gritted teeth. He barely got the bacon off the heat in time. Charlie plucked a piece off the cooling rack before Viktor could swat his hand away.

“Of course,” said Chris with a chuckle. “I hope I see you again, Yuuri. I truly do.”

Charlie waved and then it was just Viktor, Yuuri, and Makkachin.

Viktor rushed to Yuuri, stopping just shy of hugging him. How were they supposed to greet each other? They had held hands yesterday, even kissed (a kiss on the hand counted), but Viktor had no idea what level of physical intimacy Yuuri was comfortable with. Years ago, he might have swept Yuuri into a tight embrace, maybe even put his lips to his neck, but something held him back. If Yuuri ran from him now, he would need lots of tearful, in-person sessions with Dr. Rhee.

Yuuri hesitated, too, before taking the tips of Viktor’s fingers in his hand. Viktor’s heart jumped at the contact and a sigh slipped out before he could contain it. Yuuri smiled. He wasn’t going to run.

Time froze until Makkachin nudged Yuuri’s free hand. She rubbed against Viktor’s, too, and they both laughed. Yuuri pet her head while Viktor stroked her back, and she was in rapture.

“It smells good in here,” Yuuri said.

“Do you like bacon?” Viktor squeezed his hand before letting it fall. “Or how about coffee?”

Yuuri nodded. “Both, please.”

Viktor went back to the kitchen and washed his hands. A thrill shot through him when Yuuri took a seat at the counter right across from him.

“Don’t worry,” Viktor said, partly to calm himself. “Chris made the coffee. My cooking’s come a long way, but coffee continues to elude me.”

“I usually have tea.” Wincing, Yuuri added, “Not that I don’t like coffee! I just mean I don’t really know much about it, either. Aside from the stuff I’ve picked up from Chris’s podcast.”

“Oh, you’re a fan?” Viktor brought him a mug of coffee and moved the cream and sugar closer.

Yuuri’s cheeks went pink again. “Of certain episodes.”

“My episodes?” asked Viktor. He was shameless.

Yuuri nodded. He focused on pouring a single cream into his coffee. “Thank you.”

Viktor allowed himself a little moment of pride before retrieving the bacon. He snuck a piece himself to test it, then arranged a few strips on a plate—he should have done roses but it was too late now. At least what he had was perfectly cooked. Would his building be okay with him getting a commercial grill for his apartment?

“Sorry it isn’t pretty,” he said, placing the plate in front of Yuuri. “I didn’t make anything else yet because I wasn’t sure what you wanted.”

“Bacon is perfect.” Yuuri eyed the food like it was gold. “I love bacon.”

“But you can’t just eat bacon!” Viktor clasped his hands. “What do you like? French toast? Pancakes? How do you like your eggs? I can do a souffle but it’s going to take a while.”

Yuuri chewed his bacon like a deer in headlights. He swallowed hard and Viktor couldn’t tell if the bacon was bad or if he was overwhelming Yuuri. Maybe the tester piece had been a fluke? Or maybe he was just pretending to like bacon?

Yuuri took a deep breath and nodded, expression solemn. “I want to eat what you like to eat.”

Viktor hoped his little sigh of relief went unnoticed. He smiled and leaned over, resting his elbows on the counter and his chin on his hands. Yuuri tilted his head down but didn’t look away. Just a push or a pull and they’d be kissing, but Viktor controlled himself.

That didn’t mean he was above a little close talking. “As my fan, you should know that doesn’t really narrow it down,” he teased.

The corner of Yuuri’s mouth turned up in an almost cocky smirk and Viktor’s stomach flipped. He couldn’t move, dared not breathe until he heard Yuuri’s request.

“Surprise me.”

The rush those two simple words spurred in Viktor left him shaking and speechless. How did Yuuri keep doing this to him?

He took a moment to let his heart recover, then he reached across the table to stroke the back of Yuuri’s hand. Yuuri’s confidence was fiery and charged, but Viktor’s was cool and collected.

“Nothing would make me happier,” said Viktor, his voice low.

Yuuri’s pupils dilated and the fork he had been clutching clattered to the floor, startling Makkachin.

“Sorry!” Yuuri said to Makkachin, bending over to scratch behind her ears. Viktor fetched another fork, but all he wanted to do was throw his arms around Yuuri. Kind, sweet, dog-loving Yuuri.

Viktor was going to cook him a breakfast fit for a god.

Chapter Text

Viktor didn’t do anything halfway. What he had called Liège waffles were piled high on one plate and cheddar bacon jalapeno corn waffles were stacked on another. Yuuri was glad he’d limited himself to one piece of bacon so he could try both.

Watching Viktor cook had been so compelling that hunger was easy to endure. Viktor let the Liège waffles rise while he made the corn waffles, making light conversation with Yuuri as he went. By the time the aromas from the waffle iron hit his nose, Yuuri wasn’t sure if he was salivating more for the food or the chef.

It was definitely both.

Honestly, Viktor could have served him steaming hot garbage and he would have savored every bite, but that was probably the wrong way to phrase it.

He started with the savory waffle, dipping his fork in what Viktor called crema Mexicana before taking a bite. The waffle was perfectly browned but still tender and warm on the inside. Cream balanced the punch of salty bacon and sharp cheddar, giving rise to pleasant heat from the jalapenos.

He moaned. He didn’t mean to.

Viktor looked like he was starving, but he was too busy staring at Yuuri to eat his own food. He had done a lot of tasting in the kitchen.

After a sip of water, Yuuri served himself a Belgian waffle. Viktor had marbled the batter with a striking vein of pink.

“Hold on!” Viktor stopped him before he could stick his fork in, holding up a dish of vanilla bean whipped cream. “I would have made ice cream, but there’s no machine.”

Yuuri was so wired he had almost forgotten, but he would never forget the way Viktor’s arms had looked as he whipped the cream by hand earlier that morning. Yuuri spooned some on and it began to pool on contact with the still-hot waffle. The crust yielded to his fork with a satisfying crunch. Yuuri’s mouth watered before he took his first taste, and Viktor’s lips parted in anticipation.

Sweetness, intense but not cloying, kissed his tongue. The buttery waffle melted in his mouth as he chewed, rich and almost velvety with the cool vanilla cream. But what really stood out were the crispy, playful bits of sugar peppered throughout the waffle. Yuuri tried to remember what the special sugar was called. It reminded him of Japanese sugar candy, but all he remembered was the way Viktor had touched his mouth when he’d fed him a piece of it earlier.

Viktor watched Yuuri eat as closely as Yuuri watched Viktor’s movies, scanning his face for even the subtlest change of emotion. It should have been embarrassing but Yuuri found himself shifting in his seat for other reasons.

Today was a fantasy he never thought he’d get to live out, and it had only just started.

The video on the television came to life, startling both of them.

Right. They were here to watch figure skating. It was just the zambonis clearing the ice now, but it was enough to break the moment.

“I’ll get you some more coffee,” said Viktor, standing up.

“Thanks.”

Viktor returned from the kitchen with the carafe and poured the remaining contents into his empty mug. “So, which did you like better?” he asked.

They were both amazing, but Yuuri’s eyes drifted back to the bacon. Simple, delicious, and made by Viktor. Nothing could compare to that, and words came spilling out. “The bacon was my favorite.”

“Really?” Viktor didn’t look hurt, just surprised.

Yuuri nodded. “Both waffles are amazing. I love them, and watching you cook was incredible.” A little embarrassed, he added, “But the bacon was the first thing you gave me.”

“And here I went out of my way to impress you,” said Viktor, smiling.

“You did.” Yuuri had never seen such incredible food in his life and it was just breakfast. “Do you cook for yourself like this every day?”

“Of course not,” Viktor said with a laugh. “I don’t have the time to cook like this, and I don’t have the time to run the extra ten miles I would need to run to keep in shape. This is just for special occasions.”

Today was special, but something tore at his heart. He wanted to see what Viktor was like every day. Yuuri reached for the creamer and Viktor stopped him again, this time with fingertips on his arm.

“Try this,” he said, spooning a dollop of vanilla bean whipped cream into Yuuri’s coffee and stirring. “I’ll figure out how to make you a fresh cup if you don’t like it.”

Even though the coffee had been in the pot for too long, it tasted incredible.

“I have been known to put a little whipping cream in my coffee,” said Viktor before licking the spoon.

An indirect kiss, Yuuri thought. He took a long drink, and knowing that this was how Viktor took his coffee made it even better.

Viktor smiled down at him, resting his elbows on the counter again. For a moment, Yuuri wondered if Viktor might lean in and kiss him, but then Viktor’s eyes flicked away.

“The first group,” he said.

Yuuri whirled in his seat. Skaters took to the ice on the television, getting ready for their routines. His nerves flared every time he saw it, even if he wasn’t skating, instantly transporting him back to the ice and back to his state of mind before a competition. Sometimes they were good nerves, sometimes they weren’t.

“I never made it to Worlds,” Yuuri said. “Not as a senior.”

“You still could,” Viktor replied. From anyone else, it might have been an empty platitude, but Viktor knew enough that it pushed Yuuri toward the good nerves. The ones that told him, Today, you fight. But he wasn’t at Worlds today.

They hadn’t talked much about skating at all, he realized. Not even his routine.

“But I’m sure you know how they feel,” Viktor went on. “I can’t even imagine it.”

Yuuri frowned. “Sure you can. It can’t be any harder than auditioning for a movie.”

“I didn’t have to worry about landing jumps,” Viktor countered. “The worst I can do is screw up a line, and I can’t remember the last time there was a part I really wanted.”

“What about Agape?” Yuuri asked. He wondered if the Viktor was still in the mood to answer questions.

“I didn’t actually audition for that,” Viktor said. “Katrina even had me in mind when she wrote the graphic novel.”

He didn’t answer the question, but maybe Yuuri hadn’t phrased it right. He was tempted to ask what the last role he really wanted was, but instead, he watched the skaters leave the ice. The first skater was a young man from Brazil in his first season as a senior.

“You landed plenty of jumps yourself,” Yuuri pointed out.

“It’s different when there’s no pressure,” said Viktor. He laughed to himself and Yuuri tilted his head, curious what was so funny. Viktor smiled. “Do you want to know a secret?”

Yuuri did. Badly.

“I could land a triple toe loop and a triple salchow. I was working on a triple flip when the show wrapped.”

Yuuri’s mouth dropped open. He was the foremost internet authority on Viktor Nikiforov’s career, but even he didn’t know that. Viktor had essentially been raised in gymnastics thanks to his mother, but he still had a late start and a filming schedule working against him. Even if he spent every waking moment skating (which he must have), to progress that far in just 4 years was...

“Incredible!”

Viktor flashed a preening smile. “I wasn’t allowed to do them—liability, you know—but I could.”

“You really were a prodigy,” Yuuri said, still in shock.

“Now you know why my mother was so disappointed when I picked acting,” Viktor said. His eyes went a bit distant, and several questions sat just at the tip of Yuuri’s tongue.

Was Dimitri the last role you wanted?
Do you wish you picked skating?
Just how much did it take out of you, skating and acting?
How bad was the adjustment to just acting?

“But that was years ago,” Viktor said. Like flipping a switch, he was breezy again. “I probably can’t even do crossovers anymore.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Yuuri. The Brazilian skater hung onto his triple flip and Yuuri smiled. “It might come back to you easier than you think.”

They watched him finish his routine in silence—he had promise, but he wasn’t there yet. He was getting his scores (a season’s best) in the kiss and cry when Viktor spoke. “Can I ask you questions, too, Yuuri?”

“Of course.” And if Yuuri had an answer, he would give it.

“Can we talk about your video?”

The next skater was from Spain. Yuuri had only seen his name.

“Yes.”

Viktor didn’t say anything at first, just watched the Spanish skater muddle through a creative (if ill-executed) step sequence.

“It was an accident, wasn’t it? I was never supposed to see it.”

The popped triple axel was a little harder to watch, but still not as hard as answering Viktor’s question.

“My friend, her kids are,” Yuuri fished for the English word, “ fanatics. About figure skating. They posted the video. I didn’t even know they were recording.”

And even though Viktor had asked the question like he already knew, his shoulders sagged. Yuuri had hurt him again. Lying would have been worse, but Yuuri’s heart ached anyway.

“But it was for you.” The words came spilling out of his mouth. “It was always for you. I started skating because my friend did, but everything changed the moment I saw you.”

“Yuuri?” Viktor whispered his name, a cue to continue. Everything had to come out anyway. What better time than while they were watching a skater fold under the pressure?

Yuuri imagined something more pleasant: the opening sequence from On Thin Ice, Viktor sweeping across the ice with more grace and poise than most of the skaters performing today. He had watched it so many times, pictured it, almost frame-by-frame, when he needed to calm himself.

“You inspired me like no one else had, or ever could. I pretended to be you.” He swallowed, not sure why his next confession was more embarrassing. “I pretended to skate for you. Like you were watching.”

Knowing that he had watched, at least once, didn’t make it any less embarrassing. Viktor didn’t say anything, but he wasn’t running away.

Neither was Yuuri.

“I told myself quitting was the right decision. On paper, it was. But I was just going through the motions until you inspired me again.”

Even ISU officials had never watched Yuuri as closely as Viktor watched him now.

“After I heard you on Chris’s podcast, I knew I had to skate again. But this time, I didn’t pretend to be you. I pretended to be,” Yuuri could barely say it, “the boy from Detroit. I didn’t even believe it then, not really. It's still hard to believe it now.”

“It was you,” Viktor repeated, like he might sear the words into Yuuri’s soul.

Yuuri was that boy, and yet, he wasn’t. Two years of school, friendship, and life without skating had changed him. Now he had skating again, and, at least for today, he had Viktor. He had gone viral, was probably still going viral after yesterday. The anxiety never went away, but he could change the way he responded to it.

Viktor was different now, too, and the realization was freeing. Yuuri couldn’t go back and remember Viktor at that moment in time, but so much had happened since then. He could get to know Viktor now.

“I skated that routine for you, but I did it for me, too. For who I wanted to be. Not just Detroit Boy, but someone who knew what they wanted and made it happen.”

Viktor’s eyes were shining, but he still didn’t say anything. He didn’t move. He just watched Yuuri, like there was no one else in the entire world.

Yuuri was ready to admit it to himself now. He liked when Viktor watched him.

Yuuri dropped his voice to almost a whisper. “It was an accident, but I’m glad you saw. I forgot what it was like to have an audience. It’s not always good.” He sighed and shook his head. “I don’t know why I’m telling you that. You know that better than me. But...it’s not always bad, either.”

Viktor nodded slowly. Yuuri was voicing thoughts that had barely taken form in his own head, and only recently.

“I’m glad you saw. I guess I’m glad everyone saw,” said Yuuri. “I like performing. I just needed a reminder.”

The Spanish skater was in tears, hugging his coach as his low scores were announced. Yuuri had been there. But in the engineering world, failures were just opportunities for improvement. He would learn from what had happened and keep moving forward. They both would.

“Beautiful.” Yuuri wasn’t sure what Viktor was talking about, and before he could figure it out, Viktor asked, “Where do you want to go from here?”

Yuuri didn’t know what that meant, either, but he had an answer. He took Viktor’s hand. “Right now, I just want to be here with you.”

“What a coincidence,” Viktor said, smiling that beautiful smile that Yuuri had only seen in person. “I’m exactly where I want to be, too.”

Like a weight off their shoulders, the conversation lifted. They made comments on skaters’ costumes, Viktor called jumps and tested his memory, and Yuuri clarified the things Viktor forgot, holding hands all the while.

When the group before Phichit’s was warming up, Yuuri’s heart began to race. Phichit was probably stretching, listening to his playlist, bouncing with energy. Yuuri took a deep breath “Can we…”

“Yes.” Viktor agreed before he could even form the sentence, and Yuuri had a feeling Viktor would go along with anything he wanted. He was going to do his best to be worthy of that trust.

But, for now, his request was easy. “Can we take a picture for Phichit?”

Viktor broke into a grin. “Of course we can!”

Hands shaking, Yuuri pulled out his phone. Viktor dropped his hand to put an arm around his shoulders instead, leaning his head on Yuuri’s. He smelled like the wonderful food he had cooked, and Yuuri took a deep breath. It was so domestic he could have gotten lost in fantasies of living with Viktor, but he focused on his feet on the ground and kept himself in the present.

The shaking stopped and his smile was as wide as Viktor’s.

“You’re so photogenic, Yuuri!” Viktor exclaimed. He squeezed Yuuri tighter until their cheeks touched. “Send it to me, too!”

So warm, Yuuri thought. “Okay.”

He sent it to Phichit first, along with an encouraging message. Viktor held onto Yuuri until he sent the picture to him, too, sliding his hand down Yuuri’s back as they parted to touch him for as long as possible. At least, Yuuri hoped that was why he did it.

“I should clean up before the next group,” Viktor said. “These waffles will freeze well. I’ll give some to Yuri while he’s in town. Unless you want to take them all?”

“I don’t think that would work on the bus,” said Yuuri, kicking himself for bringing it up.

“Oh,” Viktor sighed. “Right.”

Yuuri hated that he had to leave today, almost as much as he hated seeing Viktor sad. “But I’ll definitely take one to eat on the way!”

That made Viktor smile. While he was collecting plates, Yuuri sent the picture to Mari, too. She had been so jealous of the picture with Yuri, but all she said about this one was, What took you so long?

“I’m excited to see Phichit skate live,” Viktor said. ”I watched some of his old programs and I could see your influence in his skating.”

“You could?” Phichit was always talking about how he looked up to him, but Yuuri couldn’t really see it—aside from the little changes he had made to his latest routine. Maybe he hadn’t looked hard enough. “I mean, we did have the same coach.”

“It’s not that. It’s mostly the way he jumps.” Viktor put down the plates he was holding to devote his full attention to Yuuri. “He can’t match your artistry, or your stamina.”

“I can’t match his energy,” Yuuri pointed out, once he climbed out from under the weight of Viktor’s gaze. “And his new short program is incredible.”

Viktor’s eyes went wide. “New short program? Isn’t it a little late to switch?”

“It’s ready,” Yuuri said firmly. Phichit responded with a bunch of exclamation points (because even at Worlds, he couldn’t leave Yuuri on read). Yuuri couldn’t wait to talk to him, but by the time they got to talk, his day with Viktor would be over.

He helped clean up, floating on air over getting to do something so very mundane with Viktor. But he kept an eye on the television, too, as the seeds got higher and Phichit’s skate got closer. The caffeine buzz added another layer of excitement, and Yuuri didn’t think he would be able to sleep for days.

By the time Phichit’s group was on the ice, Yuuri could have skated a marathon. Phichit, resplendent in red, was calm and relaxed while he warmed up—he always made skating look effortless.

Passion burned in Phichit’s eyes as soon as the ice was his, like he was born to skate this program, to this song that meant so much to him. He was going to nail it, and Yuuri wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

The moment the music started, Viktor exclaimed, “Oh! He mentioned this movie!” He slapped a hand over his own mouth, silently apologizing for disrupting the show. Yuuri didn’t mind, but wasn’t going to ask about it until Phichit was done.

Phichit had only performed the routine for Yuuri a couple times, but this was the best he had ever done it. Yuuri could tell. The crowd was on their feet, and Phichit’s grin lit up the ice as he nailed every element. He had come such a long way.

But an urge lurked beneath Yuuri’s pride and happiness, like a story left unfinished. He grinned at the TV anyhow, feeling Viktor’s eyes on him as Phichit waved at the crowd. Phichit picked up a hamster plush and gave it a kiss on the head as he exited the ice. Yuuri finally turned to Viktor, who looked just as impressed.

“He’s going to be in first place today.”

“Yes, he is,” Yuuri said. The scores hadn’t been posted and the top seeds hadn’t even skated yet, but that was a gold medal performance. Yuuri couldn’t wait to see his free skate.

If only he could watch it with Viktor.

Yuuri pulled out his phone and tried to form some semi-coherent compliments. Viktor pulled his own phone out for the first time and squealed.

“Yuuri! This is the most beautiful picture I’ve ever seen.”

“You just saw it on my phone,” Yuuri reminded him, still shaking with adrenaline.

“No wonder Phichit did so well,” Viktor went on. “I’m keeping this forever. I’m going to text him, too. Do you think he’ll mind?”

He definitely wouldn’t mind. He would probably go wild. Yuuri could imagine Phichit uploading the photo himself, and for a split-second, he panicked.

Force of habit.

Thousands of people had seen Viktor kiss his hand on Twitter, and if they knew he and Viktor were spending the day together today, too…

A little jealousy wouldn’t hurt anyone.

Yuuri let out a whoop at Phichit’s score. It was a new personal best and the highest score of the day by a lot. Phichit threw his arms around Celestino, then kissed his hamster plush again.

Viktor was across the room, but he locked eyes with Yuuri and, had they not been so far apart, they might have hugged.

The missed opportunity made him shiver.

“Look, Makka!” Viktor pointed at the TV. “It’s our friend Leo!”

Makkachin only seemed mildly interested as the last group skated out to warm up.

Unlike Phichit, Leo didn’t have any quads, but he was definitely a podium contender. He did his own choreography and had this air of cool that Yuuri couldn’t achieve even on his most confident day.

“I met his small friend, too,” said Viktor. “Ah…”

“Guang Hong?” Yuuri filled in as the young man in question skated past the camera.

“That’s it!”

“Phichit trains with them sometimes,” Yuuri went on.

Viktor watched the TV with a finger on his chin. “He’s better off training with you.”

Yuuri didn’t know what to say to that.

Guang Hong was good today, but not better than Phichit. Neither was Leo, though he did land in second place.

The closer the last skater’s performance came, the closer Viktor and Yuuri got.

Even the veterans couldn’t top Phichit’s score.

“YES!” cried Yuuri. Viktor clapped, and the next thing Yuuri knew, Viktor’s arms were around him.

The emotions overwhelmed him, and a sob forced its way out. Why was he crying? Viktor was hugging him, Phichit was poised for a medal, and today was the best day of his life.

Viktor didn’t say anything, but he stroked Yuuri’s back until Yuuri returned the hug.

Their phones started buzzing on the table. Was Phichit texting them both at once?

If anyone could do it, it was Phichit. Yuuri would answer in a minute. Just another minute.

“Thank you,” Yuuri said. “For watching with me, for cooking, for the restaurant. You didn’t have to go to all this trouble just for me.”

“Oh, Yuuri…” Viktor held him tighter. “And you haven’t even seen the skywriting yet.”

“What?!” Yuuri choked out.

“I’m only kidding.” Viktor pulled back, taking Yuuri’s hands in his own. His eyes were low, a little sad. “I’d love to cook you one more meal before you go. Anything you want. I can’t promise it’ll be good, but I’ll do my best.”

Yuuri could think of only one thing that would make today even better. “Let’s make katsudon.”

Viktor had never had it before, which meant Yuuri got to help him. It didn’t come out perfect. Yuuri wasn’t a great cook even when his hands weren’t shaking and the recipes they found online weren’t as good as his mother’s. Still, sitting across from Viktor, eating katsudon, Makkachin curled up at their feet...

It was the best meal Yuuri had ever had.

“I don’t want this to end here.”

Maybe it was selfish. This could have been the perfect ending to a perfect vacation from real life. But Yuuri wanted it to be a beginning.

“It doesn’t have to end,” Viktor said. “If we could stay in each other’s hearts for two years, surely we can survive a few weeks at a time.”

Was Viktor proposing a relationship? Yuuri didn’t dare hope.

“I can’t promise it will be easy. We only got away without any paparazzi today because Chris is a wizard.”

Yuuri hadn’t even noticed the lack of photographers. He felt guilty; of course Viktor had made arrangements for that, too. He didn’t care if Viktor’s fans knew they were together, but he didn’t want to draw even more tabloid attention to Viktor.

“My life is,” Viktor trailed off. “It’s complicated. If you don’t want to, I would understand. I just know I don’t want this to end, either.”

If Yuuri tried to go back to skating, then his life was about to get more complicated. Adding a relationship with anyone, let alone an actor, was another layer of trouble.

But if Yuuri could hire a skywriter on short notice, he would.

Viktor had gone to so much trouble for him, and Yuuri wanted desperately to return the favor.

“I want to.”

Viktor’s smile carried him all the way back to Detroit, where he couldn’t ignore reality any longer.

Chapter Text

Viktor was inspired.

And, for the first time in a long time, it wasn’t just because of Yuuri. Yuuri had always been his inspiration, but he was so much more to Viktor now. He was a real person, living and breathing, and currently on his way back to Detroit on a bus (of all things). They hadn’t put a name on what they were to each other because he was trying not to dive in head first these days, but he could confidently say that Yuuri wasn’t just some distorted romantic fantasy to him anymore.

Their conversations earlier today were surely only the beginning, and Viktor couldn’t wait for the rest. He was ready to talk on the phone all night, to exchange texts and pictures between meetings and shoots, and most of all, he looked forward to continuing their discussions in person in just days—days!—when he went back to Detroit. Yes, he’d be there for work, but with all the writing practice he was getting tonight, he would surely be able to sign books faster. Every minute, every extra second he could spend with Yuuri would be worth it.

But first he had to write, and he had just the pen.

Just like when he wrote his cookbook, the early phase was rough. Viktor was not one of those actors who also wrote, directed, and produced their own projects, but he knew what worked. He had ideas, too, and maybe he was still coming off the high of his near-perfect day with Yuuri, but they were good.

He had learned so much about Yuuri today. He had so much more to learn, but by talking with Yuuri, he had figured out a few things about himself, too. About his feelings toward acting.

Movies had seemed like the logical next step after his show had wrapped, but Viktor hadn’t been happy with his work ever since. There were moments he enjoyed, but most of the time he was just waiting for it to feel right. Agape was a once in a lifetime experience (twice if lightning struck again), but the best parts had been meeting Yuuri and spending time with Yuri. That sense of fulfillment never came, and if it didn’t come with Agape, it never would.

It wasn’t just the relative anonymity of his youth that he missed. That ship had sailed. No, he missed television. He missed the predictable schedule, the longer stories and slower character development, the challenge of memorizing new scripts every week, the skating, the people…

Guest arcs on TV shows had given him a taste of what he had loved so much, but the fleeting jobs just left him wanting more. Like visiting a happy family for an amazing meal, knowing you couldn’t really fit in or stay for dessert.

Viktor was done with movies, at least for a while. He had to make one more, but he could live with that.

For the first time in years, he was excited about his career.

Chris and Yakov wanted a reunion. Yuri wanted a vehicle. But Viktor wanted a revival.

Ever since Chris had asked him where Dimitri was now, random ideas would pop into Viktor’s head. Dimitri would definitely adopt a rescue greyhound. Dimitri would choreograph routines in his head and never perform them. Dimitri would win his fifth World title on the heels of his second consecutive Olympic gold and disappear.

Life inspired art. Viktor wasn’t a World Champion (although he was quite proud of the “Best Hero” golden popcorn award on his bookshelf), but he knew all about disappearing. Maybe Dimitri had dyed his hair red—Viktor didn’t think he could pull that off, and Mi-young would kill him if he tried.

He also knew a talented skater who might not have been a World Champion (yet), but who was an expert in living under the radar.

Viktor was going to ask for Yuuri’s blessing before he did anything, but he wanted to get his ideas down on paper first.

He wasn’t just looking at his past with rose-colored glasses, though he had to admit there was some of that. Viktor suspected he felt the same way about his beloved show as he might feel about college or high school, had he gone. Going back wouldn’t be the same. Streaming content had changed the television landscape and the learning curve was going to be steep. Even worse, sequels and revivals were often abysmal failures, but getting shot down by a cruel industry was an acceptable risk. It happened every day. What he couldn’t risk was not even trying.

He had ideas to keep it fresh. For starters, it wouldn’t be Dimitri’s show anymore. Viktor knew just how to write himself into a supporting role—by bringing the character he imagined for Yuri to the foreground.

Assuming Yuri would want to do it. Assuming he would want to skate. He was a little older than Viktor had been when he started, but Yuri was more energetic, more dedicated. Plus, all Yuri really had to do was look coordinated and confident. They could fix the rest in post.

But first, Viktor needed to get the ideas out. He’d worry about whether or not anyone wanted to execute them later.

Chris, of course, would have a part. Michael wouldn’t have given up like Dimitri had. Michael would still be skating, thinking about the next phase of his life. Per Chris’s request, that phase would involve a smoking hot boyfriend, and Viktor knew just the man for the job.

Seung-gil Lee, aka Nelson Choi, Canadian skater and Dimitri’s second love interest. Earnest Michael and cynical Nelson had been rivals, both on the ice and for Dimitri’s affection. Neither of them had made Dimitri happy, and neither of them had bested him in competition, either. As much as Chris loved to tease the Dimichael shippers, the show had dropped some heavy hints that Michael and Nelson had bonded over their shared heartache. The “ship” names weren’t as good, but Viktor loved the rivals to lovers angle.

Chris kept saying Seung-gil would be the hardest sell. Seung-gil had a steady TV gig already—main cast billing on a cop procedural. It had been a ratings monster when Viktor had done his guest stint as the murderer-of-the-week a few years ago, and it still dominated.

Viktor was far more optimistic about Seung-gil joining the reboot. He and Seung-gil were still on good terms, although their relationship was nothing like Chris and Viktor’s. Seung-gil had made it clear from the beginning that he wasn’t interested in any off-screen romance and, maybe as a result, he and Chris had never clicked. But he and Viktor still talked every now and then, even though it had been a while. What better reason to check in than a job offer? Viktor would set the role up to be whatever Seung-gil wanted: a cameo, a recurring role, anything. If the show went forward, Viktor would make sure he was accommodated.

But something was still missing. Viktor’s fatal flaw as an actor had always been paying too much attention to his critics, but sometimes it came in handy. More than a few reviewers had commented on the lack of female characters in On Thin Ice, and Viktor agreed with them.

A face popped into his mind.

Mila Babicheva. She had stolen every single scene in Agape but she still wasn’t getting the attention she deserved. She had amazing chemistry with Yuri, too. Viktor didn’t even know if she wanted to do a show, but she was incredibly Hollywood-savvy for her age, and if nothing else she’d offer an honest opinion. Best of all, she had an apartment in Tribeca.

It wasn't that late yet, so he texted her. It felt wrong to tell someone before Yuuri, but Viktor wanted to have everything perfect first.

22:07
Have you ever considered making the switch to TV?

Mila was typing immediately.

22:07
They don’t call this the golden age of scripted tv for nothing! What have you got for me?

She was there in under an hour. Viktor pitched his ideas at his kitchen table and she listened, a contemplative look on her face. She took her glasses out of a case in her tote bag, put them on, and beckoned with one hand. “Your notes. Fork ‘em over.”

Butterflies tumbled in Viktor’s stomach, just as badly as if he were presenting to a major content producer. Mila muttered to herself as she read his scribblings. Viktor wanted to pry when she mumbled things like, “Well, that’s not going to work,” but she just held up a hand and kept reading. His heart sang when she nodded and said, “Oh, this is perfect for Yura,” but she followed up with, “Just need to fix this and this…”

She was completely unsympathetic to the turmoil she was putting him through, but he knew the business, too. It wasn’t personal. He couldn’t do this alone, and Mila could rip his ideas to shreds if it would get them one step closer to the screen.

Finally, Mila lay his notes on the table and drank the tea he had made to keep his hands busy.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it, Viktor. It’s all over the place. But I think you’ve got the bones.” She pulled out her laptop and said, “Let’s step into this century, shall we?”

“Yes, please.”

“You realize now you’ve got to give me a co-creator credit,” she added. “I’m not doing this for free.”

Viktor nodded. “You can have all the credit!”

“Let’s wait and see how it goes first,” said Mila with a chuckle.

If their first revision was any indication (it wasn’t, but Viktor liked to be optimistic), it was going to go well. In just a few hours, she had worked his clumsy notes into a neat, succinct outline. Every character had a blurb, much more concise and coherent than what Viktor had managed to come up with by himself. When they decided to call it a night, Mila saved their work to a flash drive and handed it to Viktor.

“I watched your show, you know,” she said.

Viktor’s eyes went wide. No matter how many times he heard that, it never got old, and it never got any less flattering. “Now I know why you picked up these characters so quickly.”

“I’m also just good at this.” She winked at him and he couldn’t argue with that. “But seriously, I grew up in the middle of nowhere. I was the only Russian kid for miles, so you were one of my heroes. I even tried to learn to skate like you.”

“Really?!” Viktor beamed at her. “Wonderful! You’re all set!”

“I’m not the only one, you know.” Mila puckered her lips, like she was deciding whether or not she should say something. “Oh, he’s gonna kill me if I tell you.”

“Tell me what? Who?” Viktor wondered. Mila didn’t know Chris or Seung-gil, or any of the old actors from the show. That left… “Yura?”

Mila’s eyes said he was on the right track, but she shook her head. “I’m not going to ruin the surprise. Let’s just see what he says.”

“Well, first I want to talk to Yuuri,” Viktor said. “Yuuri Katsuki, that is. He helped me realize I’ve been waiting for a reason to go back to TV.”

“Do you think he’ll mind?” Mila wondered aloud.

Viktor frowned. “Mind?” He wasn’t expecting Yuuri to be involved in the show, although that would be a dream come true. He would be busy enough with school and maybe skating. It wasn’t like he was stealing Yuuri’s life story, but he would give him all the credit anyway—Yuuri and Mila could share the credit. Yuuri could have all the money Viktor made from it, too.

Oh. Maybe he was getting carried away.

Mila shot him a patronizing look. “I don’t know the guy, but you better be sure he’s on board before we do anything else.”

“I’ll talk to him,” he assured her. “Then we can work on the pilot.”

“Do it soon!” Mila said. “I want to be there when you tell Yura. He’s going to flip. Literally.”

Before he could ask what she meant, his phone rang. Yuuri’s picture appeared on the screen and Viktor dove for it.

“That’s my cue to leave!” Mila announced, packing up her things and seeing herself out.

Viktor answered the phone with an eager “Yuuri!”

“Hi, Viktor. I hope it’s not too late?” Yuuri sounded a little apprehensive, but he had called and that was what mattered.

“Never! You can call me any time.” He wanted to add that sweet dreams of passionate sex and/or delectable food couldn’t compare to the sound of Yuuri’s voice, but he restrained himself to “Are you home?”

“Just a pit stop,” Yuuri replied. Viktor frowned in concern. “I was getting lonely.”

It must have been lonely. Did anyone else still use busses? “I’ll keep you company!” Viktor offered.

“I don’t want to keep you awake…”

Viktor chuckled. “Yuuri, nothing would make me happier than you keeping me up all night.” He was fine with however Yuuri wanted to interpret that.

“Ah—” For a second, it seemed like Yuuri wasn’t sure how to respond, but then he gave a little laugh and said, “I’ll try to let you get some rest.”

“Uneventful ride so far?”

“Extremely,” said Yuuri. “I slept. I’m sorry I didn’t call you sooner!”

“That’s all right! You needed your rest. And I kept myself busy.”

“Yeah? What did you do?” Yuuri wondered.

Viktor bit his lip. How was it going to sound? You inspired me to revive my show, please take all the credit. Let me throw my money at your problems and kiss it all better.

He hadn’t even kissed Yuuri yet. The thought made him shiver. “Mila came over to help me flesh out some ideas.”

“Ideas?” Yuuri let out an excited little gasp. “For a new project?”

“Mm-hmm.” He was about to rip the bandage off when Yuuri spoke.

“That’s wonderful, Viktor!” Yuuri's genuine happiness was the most beautiful thing in the world. “Don’t tell me anything. I want to be surprised! I’m sure it’s top secret anyway, right?"

“Not exactly.” But if Yuuri wanted to be surprised, Viktor wasn’t going to deprive him. “I want to tell you everything, but—”

Yuuri breathed in, so deeply Viktor heard it over the line. “No, don’t! I have something to tell you, too. But first, I need…I need time.”

“Time?” Viktor wondered, unable to keep his voice even. Time apart? Time to think?

“Not that kind of time!” Yuuri said quickly. “Time to—ah, how do I say it? Time to figure some things out!”

Figure things out?” Viktor took a deep breath. If Yuuri needed time, then…

Yuuri grunted in frustration. “No, no—time as in logistics! For the thing I want to tell you about. That’s all!”

“Oh!” That sounded promising.

“I want to keep seeing you,” said Yuuri. Viktor hadn’t known him very long, but he had never heard him sound more confident. God, Viktor should have kissed him before he left. “But I might not have it ready by the time we see each other again.”

“I understand,” Viktor said, nodding. “It’s only a few days.”

"I know.” Yuuri's excitement was palpable, and Viktor’s chest tightened again. “I’m counting the hours. I know you probably won’t have a lot of time, but we’ll make the most of it.”

“Cherry cookies?” Viktor asked, remembering his favorite bakery in Detroit. “I’ve been dreaming about sharing one with you.”

“Sharing? I don’t think so, Viktor,” said Yuuri, and there was something so seductive in that taunt. “If we're going to Athena, I want my own cookie.”

Viktor chuckled, lowering his voice. “I suppose I can live with that.”

They settled into a comfortable silence, and Viktor imagined kissing cookie crumbs off of Yuuri’s lips, tasting cherry on his tongue in a kiss sweeter than any confection.

Oh, this was a treacherous path. Except for a heated gaze or a teasing line, Yuuri seemed to want to take things slowly, and Viktor would crawl like a turtle if that was what it took.

He’d crawl right on top of Yuuri and kiss him into a writhing mess until—

Until Yuuri flipped him on his back, leaving him at the mercy of those graceful hands, that beautiful mouth, those sturdy thighs…

Viktor cleared his throat. Just holding Yuuri’s hand was a revelation. Slow was perfect.

“Ah, but now I’m keeping you up!” Viktor cried. “You should rest so you can be at your best for Phichit’s free skate!”

“I have to get back on the bus soon,” said Yuuri. “But you should get some sleep. You haven’t started packing for Chicago yet, have you?”

Viktor laughed. “You know me so well already, Yuuri.”

“Well…” and Yuuri sounded sheepish now. “I did spend the better part of a decade studying you. But actually getting to know you—it’s better than I ever could have imagined. Probably the best experience of my life. I think I could spend the rest of my life getting to know you.”

“Yuuri,” Viktor breathed. Yuuri had accomplished so much in his young life, and even though he was exaggerating, his words were better than any accolade Viktor had ever received.

“Sorry, that probably sounds creepy,” said Yuuri. “Traveling messes with my head.”

Viktor understood that feeling well, but it didn’t sound creepy at all. “I feel the exact same way. And I have a feeling,” now he was going to sound too forward, “that this is only the beginning for both of us. We have a chance to reinvent ourselves, and I don’t know about you, but there’s no one I’d rather take that leap with.”

As soon as the words left his mouth, Viktor realized he had left let’s take it slow in the dust.

Yuuri took in a sharp breath, and Viktor worries he had gone too far, but Yuuri’s chuckle was like a balm for his soul. “When you put it like that, it almost sounds like a proposal.”

Viktor laughed, easing the rest of the tension from his shoulders. “Oh, Yura would kill me. That’s not my surprise.” On a whim, he added, “Not today, anyway.”

“I’ll see you soon, Viktor,” Yuuri promised.

Viktor closed his eyes, as if that might sear Yuuri’s words, his voice, into his brain. “Talk to you sooner.”

“Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

Yuuri hung up first, considerate person that he was. The least Viktor could do was follow his orders and get some sleep. He let Makkachin out one last time, humming all the while, then went to bed.

The ideas he’d hammered out with Mila last night still felt good the next day, and he went about his schedule with a spring in his step. Talking to Yuuri throughout the day was a new part of his routine, in the same way sunshine was new in the spring. For the next 24 hours, nothing could bring Viktor down. Not even when Yuuri's responses slowed.

Everything was perfect until halfway through Makkachin’s walk, when he realized he was missing the men’s free program.

“Fancy a run, Makka?” Makkachin barked in agreement and they took off for home, jogging at a pace she could handle. Viktor kicked off his shoes and hurtled into the kitchen, opening his laptop with one while filling Makka’s water with the other.

He fired off good luck texts to Leo and Phichit, relieved that he hadn’t missed their performances. He wasn’t too upset about missing the previous groups, and now he knew why Yuuri had stopped responding to texts. Viktor loved figure skating and he watched when he could, but he didn’t have the same vested interest as Yuuri.

Now, if Yuuri were competing, Viktor would watch every single minute of every single one of his competitions, in person, and Yakov would just have to work around that.

Viktor made himself a quick lunch and tried to pay attention, but without Yuuri by his side, he found his attention drifting to his phone. He wanted to text Yuuri but he knew better. Yuuri hadn’t explicitly said he was going to start competing again, but he had watched some of the short programs yesterday like he was keeping score. This was research for him.

Phichit and Leo both sent their thanks, but Viktor didn’t want to disturb them any further, either. He turned to his neglected social media to catch up on what he had missed yesterday.

The first picture that popped up was only minutes old—it was Chris, with Seung-gil of all people. Catching up with an old friend, the caption read. On the television in the background was the exact same live feed Viktor was watching.

They were watching the World Championships, too? Oh, that was going to fuel speculation. Viktor didn’t bother reading the comments, but he liked the picture. He really didn’t want to bring more people into the loop before Yuuri, but Chris had connections that Viktor didn’t, and Chris was the type to run with ideas without consulting anyone else. Just like Viktor. They needed to get their heads together. Well, Yuuri had said he wanted a surprise.

Viktor’s phone vibrated in his hand. It was Chris.

12:39
We were just talking about you.
How about a private reunion?

If he left now, he could make it to Chris’s before the final group. He told Chris he was on his way, and he texted Mila with his plan. The last thing he wanted was for her to feel left out of the loop, but her response assured him that he had made the right choice in involving her.

12:45
Go have your little threeway! It can’t hurt to get more buy in. Chris and SGL pull a lot of weight. Besides, if this gets off the ground, the stuff we came up with last night is going to be completely unrecognizable by the time it gets to pre-production.

Viktor kissed Makkachin goodbye and hailed a taxi. Yakov was always pushing him to plan out his next move, so he would definitely approve of this one. Besides, who needed to pack when they had perfectly good stores in Chicago?

Chapter Text

Yuuri’s Twitter mentions were really getting out of hand. He had tried to tackle them on the bus ride back from New York, but one look at the intimidatingly high number had him so tired that he’d dozed off with his phone in his hand.

He had briefly considered checking them on Saturday, but there just hadn’t been time between texting with Viktor, watching the free skate, and jumping and down when Phichit took the silver medal. Cao Bin had managed a dream free skate to snag the gold, but neither Phichit nor Yuuri was disappointed with a silver medal and a small gold.

Despite the exhaustion from the marathon bus ride and the emotional roller coaster that was the World Championships, Yuuri had still managed to drag himself to the gym, too.

Sunday had also been too busy for social media. Yuuri had squeezed in some early rink time, pondered the logistics of a hypothetical return to competitive skating until his head was primed to explode, watched the exhibition gala, and of course, talked to Viktor every second he could manage. Viktor seemed constantly on the verge of divulging his secret, which meant he actually had a project (unlike Yuuri, who only had a few half-assed plans and a handful of applications to part-time jobs). But Yuuri couldn’t wait to find out what Viktor was planning.

He forgot all about Twitter until Monday morning, and even then he only checked it because he needed a way to occupy himself until Viktor was available to talk. When he finally logged in, his notifications and follower count were nearing quadruple digits. What the heck had happened?

The person he really needed to help make sense of it was Phichit, but Phichit had a media tour to focus on.

That hadn’t stopped Phichit from texting him nonstop since the medal ceremony. Yuuri was happy to text him back and gush about his performances, but Phichit kept fishing for information about Viktor. Yuuri kept it short and steered the conversation back to Phichit every time. As special as Viktor was, the last thing Yuuri wanted was for his date to overshadow the biggest moment of Phichit’s career so far.

But despite his best efforts, Twitter and Phichit and Viktor’s project collided. It started with a string of texts from Phichit.

UNFAIR
no shoutout for phichit (ㄒoㄒ)
you weren’t even competing!
(i’m just kidding bc this is amazing but also i’m jealous don’t forget me when you move to hollywood)

Yuuri was completely in the dark until Phichit sent him a link to a tweet that explained a whole lot of the notifications.

Seung-gil Lee
@seung-gillee 12h
Enjoyed the #WorldChampionships. Interesting how the base value of @Yuri-Katsuki’s version of Stay Close to Me would have put him on par with the second to last group. I’m guessing 9th place.

Yuuri almost spat out his coffee. Why was Seung-gil Lee tweeting about him? And how had he found his new account when Yuuri hadn’t even used it yet? Did Viktor have something to do with this?

Yuuri went to the replies.

Iced Coffee ;)
@christophe-gc 12h
What @seung-gillee is trying to say is that @yuri-katsuki should probably DM one of us...if he can tear himself away for a moment, that is. ;)

If Viktor hadn’t seen Seung-gil’s post, he had probably seen Chris’s. But he hadn’t said anything. Was this part of his surprise?

Or maybe he hadn’t seen any of it yet. Viktor was just as prone to ignoring social media as Yuuri was, for different reasons, and he was on a flight from Chicago to LA at the moment, headed to some early promotional shoot with Yuri and Anya.

Tomorrow, Viktor would be flying to Detroit. Yuuri was just starting to be able to wrap his mind around it.

Viktor had a hotel room booked, which was another part of the reason Yuuri hadn’t checked his Twitter account; he’d been busy imagining what might happen if he spent any time in Viktor’s room. Or what might happen if Viktor visited him. Both scenarios played out pretty much the same way, though he’d pictured plenty of variations on that theme.

But the truth was, he would be happy no matter what they did or didn’t do, so long as they were together. He and Viktor hadn’t even kissed yet, not really, and despite having Yuuri listed in his contacts as Future Husband at one point, Viktor seemed to want to take things slow.

It was probably because Yuuri had inadvertently broken his heart, but he was trying not to dwell on that. Viktor sure seemed to have put it behind him.

In the meantime, a little idle fantasy couldn’t hurt. Yuuri hadn’t come right out and said it, but he had been fantasizing about Viktor for years, and Viktor could put two and two together. Now that those fantasies were—Yuuri swallowed hard—within the realm of possibility, he was surprised by how unashamed he felt. Maybe it was because Viktor was so very encouraging.

Viktor had encouraged Yuuri to keep him up all night. Maybe he wasn’t looking to take things slow after all.

But thinking about that wasn’t going to get the Twitter situation under control.

Yuuri didn't send direct messages to Chris or Seung-gil, but he did follow them both back.

They weren’t the only ones who had found Yuuri. He waded through informal interview requests from gossip sites and even a few figure skating blogs, along with greetings from other skaters he remembered. Yuuri followed both Leo and Guang Hong back, vowing to congratulate them on their respective third and fifth place finishes once he had a handle on his notifications.

Yuuri almost dropped his phone when he saw that Yuri Plisetsky was one of his new followers. He had to double check to make sure it wasn’t a fake, but just like Yuuri’s new account, @yuri-plisetsky was verified.

The next notification had him even more starstruck. Yulia Mercer, Olympic gold medalist, two-time World Champion, and, most importantly, choreographer for the television show that had changed Yuuri’s life, was following him. Hands shaking, he scrolled through her feed—she had offered to choreograph a routine for him. He had to put his phone down for a second to catch his breath.

She was probably just joking, but he followed her back, anyway.

A text from Phichit brought him back to reality.

guessing you haven’t checked your mentions at all so here are the highlights

When had Phichit had time to go through Yuuri’s mentions? Yuuri had barely found the time himself.

But Yuuri had already seen most of the tweets Phichit sent, until he reached one from the company that made his skate blades.

Yuuri read it aloud, because it had to be fake. “ Loved your video but we noticed those @CampbellBlades could use an upgrade. Give us a shout—we’ve got some new moves, too!

They just wanted to sell him new blades, new blades he definitely couldn’t afford right now. Yuuri liked the post anyway and followed them back, but only because they had always been good to work with.

There was no way they’d want to actually sponsor him. He wasn’t competing. Not yet, he told himself. But even if he got there, he doubted anyone would want to sponsor a quitter. Maybe Minako, but she wasn’t exactly rich and he would never ask.

The last link was a tweet from Phichit himself, with an accompanying text: but y u no follow back?????

“Ah!” Yuuri couldn’t believe he forgot, and he remedied it right away. Phichit noticed right away.

(*≧▽≦)
but don’t forget your bf

BF? Yuuri wasn’t forgetting his best friend. He had just added Phichit.

As if he knew Yuuri would need an explanation, Phichit sent a link to Viktor’s profile.

Boyfriend. BF meant boyfriend. A warm little shiver passed through him, and he didn’t bother correcting Phichit.

Yuuri followed Viktor back and scrolled through his feed. He hadn’t checked Viktor’s Twitter account in days. He didn’t need to, because Viktor was part of his life now.

Damn, that was a good feeling.

Yuuri had missed a few posts. Viktor had retweeted a message congratulating the medalists at Worlds, and there were hundreds of comments speculating about who he had watched it with. Let them talk, he thought, a slow smile spreading across his face.

Viktor had also shared a picture of Makkachin, but he had sent it to Yuuri a full day before posting it. And Yuuri hadn’t just gotten the picture; he’d gotten a detailed (and much appreciated) breakdown of the new puppy care package from Viktor’s father, not to mention videos of Makkachin enjoying the toys and treats. This was on top of dozens of selfies and pictures of random things that amused Viktor or made him think of Yuuri.

On Twitter, there was just the one picture and it was just captioned Happy.

No, Yuuri wasn’t missing anything by not checking Twitter. But Yuuri liked the picture and retweeted the congratulatory message.

Oh, he realized, maybe my first tweet shouldn’t have been a retweet.

Within seconds, notifications of likes and retweets were popping up like dandelions. What the heck? Even when he competed, things weren’t like this. Was it just because of all the buzz about him going out with Viktor?  

Well, if they weren’t talking before, they were definitely going to talk now.

A number 1 popped up on the envelope icon—a message. Yuuri tapped it.

It was from Campbell Blades.

Welcome to Twitter! All of us here at Campbell were so happy to see you back on the ice. We’re very curious about your plans. If you’re considering returning to competition, we’d love to set you up with some new blades, on us.

“Seriously?!”

That wasn’t quite a sponsorship, but gosh, it was close. Yuuri needed all the help he could get.

But free blades hinged on the million dollar question: Was he returning to competition?

Yuuri wanted to, needed it like he needed air and Viktor. But this was about more than just wanting. Blades were just one small piece of a complicated, expensive puzzle, and Yuuri had already leaned on his family enough.

This time, he was going to do it on his own.

He didn’t know how yet, but when he figured it out, Viktor was going to be the first to know. Then Phichit, and his family back in Japan.

Then Campbell Blades.

But his internship experience told him he should probably send them a message before they withdrew their offer.

Hi, he typed, feeling ridiculous. I’m still working out the details, but I hope to make a decision soon.

And he hit send before he could chicken out.

They responded almost immediately with a gif of a young Chris, as Michael, clapping.

Twitter was surreal.

Just when it couldn’t get any weirder, another message popped up. Yuuri yelped when he saw who it was from.

Yulia Mercer
@yuliamercer
Sorry to message you out of the blue, but I still can’t get over your video! I’ve been a fan of yours for a while, and I just had to tell you, it was such a treat to watch you skate my choreography. I’d love to meet up some time to talk new programs if you’re in the market!

She’s not joking, Yuri thought.

Memories came flooding back: watching Yulia win Olympic gold in ladies singles back in 2000, going all the way to Tokyo to see her in an ice show that summer, losing his mind when she was hired to work on a TV show about ice skating…

Yuuri would have to compose himself before he responded. But she would see that he had read the message!

He started composing a message of his own.

Wow! Thank you. I’m a huge fan of

But his screen went dark before he could finish, signaling an incoming call. Yuuri frowned at the unfamiliar number, but call was coming from Los Angeles.

Could Viktor be calling him from a landline?

“Hello?” Yuuri answered.

“Yuuri Katsuki?” The person on the other end spoke in a gruff voice with traces of what Yuuri guessed was a Slavic accent.

He hesitated for a moment. “Yes?”

“This is Yakov Feltsman. I understand you’re friends with Vitya now.”

Vitya? Yuuri gasped. He means Viktor. This is not a prank call. This is Viktor’s manager. His mind spiraled. What if Mr. Feltsman was calling to tell him to stay away from Viktor? What if he was going to sue Yuuri? What if something had happened to Viktor?

And why would Mr. Feltsman call him personally for any of those things?

Yuuri forced himself to speak. “Um, that’s right.”

“And you’re a figure skater.”

Yuuri nodded, even though Mr. Feltsman couldn’t see him. “Yes.”

“And you’ve met Yuri Plisetsky.”

Where was he going with this? “Yes?”

“Good. I want you to teach him how to skate.”

“What?!” Yuuri had no clue what to expect from this call, but that was so far out in left field, he wondered if he was hallucinating. Why would Yuri Plisetsky need to learn how to skate? For a movie?

“We would pay you, of course. My assistant will send you an offer.”

“What?” Yuuri repeated. None of this made any sense.

Mr. Feltsman heaved a sigh. “Vitya didn’t tell you.” It wasn’t a question.

Was this Viktor’s surprise? Teaching Yuri how to ice skate? Yuuri adored Viktor, but it was a bizarre surprise.

“Vitya has an idea for a sequel to his old show. He wants Yura to star in it, with Mila Babicheva. She already hired her own coach, but Yura insists on you.” He let out a grunt, as if this whole conversation was an annoyance. “I can’t imagine why, since he already knows how to skate.”

Yuuri was sure he was dreaming now. It was hard to focus once Mr. Feltsman said “his old show” but every sentence was wilder than the last.

There was no way Viktor was making a sequel to On Thin Ice. Surely the teenage soul that still lurked in Yuuri’s heart would have known about it. But more importantly, there was no way Yuri Plisetsky would want Yuuri to train him.

And since when did Yuri know how to skate?

Yuuri’s mouth fell open. The show was the surprise.

“Are you still there?” Mr. Feltsman demanded.

“Yes!” Yuuri yelped. He cleared his throat. “Yes, Mr. Feltsman. I’m here.”

“I understand you live in Detroit.”

Oh god, does he know I’m Detroit Boy? Yuuri thought with a gulp. “Yes.”

“Then I’m sure you know we’re filming in Detroit in May. You can train Yura after that. My assistant will send the dates, but it would only be for a couple months, assuming we get greenlit.”

But Yuuri hadn’t agreed to anything yet! He had only just gotten back to skating himself. How could he train someone else?

Mr. Feltsman went on. “We’ll pay for the ice time, and whatever supplies you need.”

The company would pay him AND pay for the ice? To train Yuri, not me, Yuuri reminded himself. He had no idea what it took to train an actor to skate, either, but it was a job. A job that involved skating. “You’re serious?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Feltsman, exasperated.

Being part of an On Thin Ice revival, even indirectly, would be a dream come true.

“You’d receive a credit on the show, of course.” It was like Mr. Feltsman could read his mind.

Teenage Yuuri would have died for that. Adult Yuuri was a little worried he was on the brink of a heart attack. But how much time would training Yuri take up? Mr. Feltsman said Yuri already knew how to skate, but there was a big difference between skating loops at a rink and doing loop jumps. Viktor had trained for years and he was a natural. Yuuri didn’t have years to give. He had his own career to think about.

A career that won’t get off the ground without money. But would this job even pay enough? Probably not. And he still wanted to finish his degree, eventually. That took time and money, too. Plus, Yuri really didn’t seem to like him. How could Yuuri train someone who hated him?

But working on the show that had inspired him, on Viktor’s show, would make it all worth it.

“I need to give it some thought,” he finally said.

Mr. Feltsman made an agreeable sound and said. “We’ll email you the specifics.”

“But wait! You don’t have my—” the line went dead—“Email address.” Yuuri deflated. Maybe they would text him the offer.

But just how had Mr. Feltsman gotten his number? From Viktor?

If this was all the surprise, Viktor would never be able to top it.

Yuuri’s phone buzzed, and he hoped it was a text from Viktor. They needed to talk, and Yuuri’s heart couldn’t take any more notifications.

But the texter wasn’t in his contacts.

what the hell
did you say no?

Yuuri asked who it was, even though he had a feeling.

it’s yuri
the REAL one
why the hell won’t you train me?
i already know how to skate but i need to be better

Setting Yuri’s questions aside for a moment, Yuuri tapped out his response.

Did Viktor give you my number? What’s going on?

Yuri didn’t respond for a long time.

god
he didn’t tell you shit, did he?

Was this all Viktor’s idea? Mr. Feltsman has said that Yuri had asked for him, but maybe Viktor had suggested it.

More texts arrived from Yuri.

cat’s out of the bag
now say yes

Yuuri had to put his phone down after that. At this rate, he half expected Christophe Giacometti and Seung-gil Lee to come bursting into his room with job offers.

But would any of this be enough to afford a coach? Phichit had said Celestino would be willing to take him on again, but Phichit was an optimist. Would Celestino even want to work with Yuuri after he had just up and quit?

An ungrateful part of Yuuri wondered if Celestino was the right coach for him at all.

Yuuri’s phone started buzzing on the table again, but he was almost afraid to look.

When he was brave enough to peek, he found Viktor’s sweet face smiling up at him from his phone screen. Yuuri scrambled to answer the call before it went to voicemail.

“Viktor!” he cried, hoping he didn’t sound accusatory.

“Yuuri! It’s so good to hear your voice. I just landed in LA. What did I miss?”

Yuuri didn’t even know where to begin.

Chapter Text

“What do you want, Yura?” Viktor wedged his phone between his ear and shoulder as he rushed through LAX’s private lounge. He had neither the time nor the patience to talk to Yuri right now. “You already ruined my surprise. Are you going to make me miss my flight, too?”

“I didn’t ruin shit,” came Yuri’s loud retort. Viktor winced, wishing his phone wasn’t so close to his ear. “I thought you guys weren’t keeping secrets from each other anymore.”

“Secrets, no. Surprises are completely different!” Viktor explained. Of course Yuri didn’t understand. He was the type to hunt for spoilers, and even worse, he found a sick delight in “accidentally” blabbing them to anyone in the vicinity (especially Viktor). But Viktor had a bigger bone to pick with Yuri at the moment. “And how can you be so selfish? What makes you think Yuuri will have time to train you? Honestly, Yura, you’re just as bad as Chris and Seung-gil.”

“Hey! Don’t compare to those two! Seung-gil is a goddamn robot and don’t even get me started on Chris—”

Viktor was never so grateful for a security gate. He put his phone down, Yuri ranting all the while, and went through the scanner. Unfortunately, when he got his phone back Yuri was still going.

“—not like I asked him to be my goddamn body double! Your stupid boyfriend can train me during his off season. Besides, you’re asking him to be a consultant or whatever. Isn’t that going to take up a bunch of his precious time? Or are you just going to list him as Lead Piece of Ass in the credits and be his sugar daddy?”

“If you’re quite finished.” Viktor narrowed his eyes. Yuri grunted but said nothing, so Viktor went on. “First of all, Chris and Seung-gil know this business inside and out so you should count yourself lucky if you get to work with either of them, and second, Yuuri is perfectly capable of making his own decisions about what to do with his time.”

Privately, Viktor agreed with Yuri—not about the robot comment (or whatever terrible things Yuri said about Chris), but about monopolizing Yuuri’s time. Yes, Viktor had hoped Yuuri would be a consultant for the show, but after the disastrous reveal, he hadn’t even mentioned it. Now, poor Yuuri was probably too overwhelmed to even consider Viktor’s offer.

“He won’t even have to do much to train me. I’m fucking good,” Yuri muttered.

“Training you during his off season won’t be enough,” Viktor pointed out. “If we go into production, you’ll need to keep it up the whole time we’re filming.”

“I—that’s—well, obviously.”

Viktor shook his head. This was clearly new information to Yuri. Still, Viktor couldn’t pretend he wasn’t intensely curious about Yuri’s skating experience. That must have been what Mila was getting at the other day, but everything had gotten so out of hand that Viktor hadn’t bothered investigating any further.

(Though, as Yakov had pointed out, if Viktor had actually read Yuri’s acting resume way back when, he would have seen figure skating listed among Yuri’s special skills.)

If only Viktor could go back to those moments of blissful ignorance before he’d landed in Los Angeles yesterday. He’d called his sweet Yuuri, hoping to make plans for their time in Detroit and squeeze in a little shameless flirting, but all they had talked about was how everyone wanted a piece of Yuuri.

Viktor had known this would happen eventually. Yuuri was irresistible and it was only a matter of time before the rest of the world caught on. He had just been hoping to keep Yuuri all to himself for a little longer—at least long enough to be the first one to tell him about the show.

“We’ll see about that,” Viktor said. He kept moving through the hallway to the main terminal.

It had all just happened so fast. Viktor had told Chris and Seung-gil, Mila had told Yuri, Yuri had told Yakov, and Yakov had told Yuuri. Viktor should have known it wouldn’t stay a secret for long. At this point, he’d be surprised if The Hollywood Reporter didn’t have all the details.

“I’m better than you were,” Yuri shot back. “I’ve been training since elementary school!”

Viktor had a working theory about that. “Uh-huh, and why did you start skating?”

“None of your business!” But Yuri’s riposte was a little too quick. Just like how, after turning down dozens of projects that were much more likely to get made, he had agreed to Viktor and Mika’s proposal immediately with almost no information.

Viktor broke into a grin. “I still have my last pair of skates from when I played Dimitri. You know, the ones with the gold blades? I was thinking of giving them to Yuuri, but maybe I’ll give one to each of you.”

“Shut up! I don’t want your disgusting old skate!”

“Sorry, didn’t catch that!” Viktor said breezily. “Now if you'll excuse me, Yura, I have a plane to catch. Try not to spoil any more surprises until I land in Detroit, will you?”

Viktor hung up before Yuri could reply. He took a couple photos with fans but boarded the plane without much fuss.

The first thing he did when he sat down was text Yuuri to let him know he was on his way. Yuuri was practicing and probably wouldn’t see the text until Viktor was in the air, but it didn’t matter.

All that mattered was that he would be with Yuuri in 4 hours and 27 minutes.

Viktor resisted the urge to pass the time with vodka. He only had 24 hours in Detroit and he didn’t want to waste any of them drunk—not unless he was getting drunk with Yuuri.

LAX to DTW wasn’t even a long flight, but it felt like an eternity. He must have looked at the same line in the book he was reading dozens of times before he gave up, and movies were a non-starter. He jotted down a few stray ideas for the show but scribbled them out.

The only thing that successfully distracted him was the sudoku puzzle in the inflight magazine. He’d have to get a book of these, or maybe an app.

But he wasn’t going to dwell on the revival mess. Not when Yuuri was so close Viktor could almost reach out and touch him.

A plane was definitely the wrong place to think too hard about touching Yuuri.

Text after text came in once Viktor turned airplane mode off, but everyone else could wait. He only cared about texts from one person.

Have a good flight!
See you in Detroit!

Those were the most beautiful words in the English language.

Yakov had arranged for a private car so Viktor could get through the airport as quickly as possible, but the minutes seemed like hours as he made his way to the private lot.

Viktor had to double check the message, but Yakov had indeed sent a ten year old Camry to pick him up. Wow, he really wants me to keep a low profile, Viktor thought.

The door opened, the driver hopped out, and Viktor’s heart jumped from his chest.

Yuuri was there. Yuuri had picked him up. Every fiber of Viktor’s being screamed Yuuri, Yuuri, Yuuri, but he was speechless.

“Surprise,” said Yuuri, voice as soft as his smile. He rounded the car and Viktor rushed to him. Viktor could have kissed Yakov for agreeing to this.

They met in the middle and Viktor dropped his bags on the ground so that he could hold Yuuri’s shoulders over his puffy coat. Oh, he could have kissed Yuuri everywhere, but he had to get this right.

“You came.” Viktor matched Yuuri’s tone, and Yuuri just kept smiling.

There was a twinkle in Yuuri’s eye that Viktor didn’t recognize. Then, Yuuri nodded, like he had made up his mind about something.

Whatever he had decided, Viktor agreed wholeheartedly.

Even more so when Yuuri pressed his lips to Viktor’s.

It only took a fraction of a second for Viktor to react, though his shock might have been the only thing keeping him from dipping Yuuri in a deep, tango-style bend.

Yuuri’s kiss was gentle but insistent —I want this, I want you—and Viktor was elated to let him take the lead. Even when it was over the warmth remained, and when they broke apart, the once drab concrete looked brand new. This humble garage would always be sacred, because it was where Yuuri had kissed Viktor for the first time.

Viktor wondered if the airport would let him rename the parking structure in Yuuri’s honor, but that was probably going overboard.

“I’ve always loved Detroit,” Viktor told him. “Since the first time I visited.”

Yuuri flushed, his breath visible in the cold air. “I’m so glad you came back.”

And Viktor would be back again and again, before filming if he had his way (and he would). But he’d cross that bridge when he got to it.

“You have me all to yourself for the next 24 hours, Yuuri.” Give or take a few for the signing, he added mentally. But now wasn’t the time to think about that. “What are you going to do with me?”

Yuuri’s smile broadened, and this newfound confidence kindled the affection already burning bright within Viktor. Was it new? Maybe it had always been there and Yuuri was just now ready to let some of it out.

“I thought I might show you around,” Yuuri said.

Viktor nodded and clasped his hands, gloves over gloves. “Show me everything.”

Yuuri’s eyes held promises Viktor had only dreamed of, but he released Viktor’s hands and crouched to pick up his luggage.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that!” Viktor cried.

“I don’t mind. But,” Yuuri’s flush deepened and he looked down, “could you get the keys out of my pocket?” He stuck one hip out ever so slightly and Viktor’s lips parted.

This—that request—was the entire reason Viktor had been put on the planet.

Yuuri could have just put the bags down. Viktor didn’t have to step so close to Yuuri that their calves brushed. But he did have enough self control to reach into that pocket without stroking Yuuri’s leg. His jeans weren’t tight, but they weren’t loose either, and both Yuuri and Viktor sucked in a tight breath, never breaking eye contact. Viktor delved deeper, past the smooth surface of a phone screen, until his fingers hit sharp metal, warm from close proximity to Yuuri’s thigh (the lucky key). Viktor withdrew the keychain—exhale—and dangled it between them. A plush hamster mascot hung from the chain.

“Cute,” Viktor whispered.

“It’s Phichit’s car,” Yuuri said, finally blinking. “He loves hamsters.”

“I hope I can meet him in person soon,” Viktor replied, even though he hadn’t really been talking about the stuffed animal. He reached back down where Yuuri’s hip was still extended, running a finger over the outline of the phone. Relishing Yuuri’s little gasp, he added, “You shouldn’t keep your keys in the same pocket as your phone. It’ll get scratched.”

“Phichit says the same thing.” Yuuri went rigid as soon as the words slipped out. “Not that Phichit sticks his hands in my pockets!” He looked away and let out a nervous giggle.

“You’re so much cuter than the keychain,” said Viktor, pressing the button to open the trunk.

Yuuri kept laughing as he shuffled to the back of the car. Viktor took one of the bags from him, cursing the cold weather for keeping him from brushing hands with Yuuri. Maybe he could “accidentally” lose his gloves so Yuuri would take pity on him and hold his hand.

Yuuri pushed a duffle bag out of the way and they loaded his bags.

Yuuri cleared his throat. “I thought we could check you into your hotel room first, and then we can go downtown. I’m sure you’ve seen all of the sights anyway, and there really aren’t that many, but—”

“I want to see them with you, Yuuri.” Viktor didn’t care what they did or where they did it, just so long as they were together.

That wasn’t quite true—he desperately hoped that bag in the trunk contained Yuuri’s ice skates.

But he would be happy with anything. If Yuuri asked him to stay at his apartment and watch TV all night, Viktor would forgo his luxury accommodations in a heartbeat.

Or Yuuri could stay in his hotel. The bed was probably bigger, and the bathtub, too. But Viktor was getting ahead of himself.

Just because Yuuri had invited Viktor to stick his hands down his pants, that didn’t mean he wanted to sleep with Viktor, literally or figuratively. And that was perfectly fine.

It would also be more than fine if Yuuri did want to sleep with him, in either sense of the phrase. Or both.

“Do you live close to downtown?” Viktor asked as they got in the car. “I’d love to see where you live.”

“It’s really not that exciting,” Yuuri said, sheepish. “I live halfway between the university and my old rink, but there isn’t much to do there.”

Another hamster plush dangled from the rear view and Viktor tapped it, watching it swing in place. Yuuri still didn’t understand.

“You may have guessed,” Viktor began, “but my interests don’t exactly align with the typical tourist.”

“Typical tourists don’t really come to Detroit,” Yuuri pointed out.

“Well they should.” Viktor had to push the seat back a little to accommodate his legs—did Yuuri usually sit here when Phichit drove? Riding in this was another mundane little piece of Yuuri's life, but everything about Yuuri’s life was exciting to Viktor. He wanted to know every last detail. “What I’d really like to see is a day in the life of Yuuri.”

Yuuri chuckled. “I wish I had a routine to show you. Everything’s been so hectic since I came back from Japan. I haven’t had a chance to catch my breath.”

“Then let’s just relax! We can stay in the hotel and order food and you can put your feet up.” Viktor stopped shy of offering to massage them.

“Won’t you be bored?”

Viktor shook his head as emphatically as he could. Doing everyday things with Yuuri would be a dream come true. In the privacy of the hotel room, he was free to devote all of his attention to Yuuri. The signing in the morning would be more than enough fan interaction, and right now, time with his fans wasn’t what he was craving.

“Who knows when we’ll be able to relax next?” Viktor felt a little guilty even posing the question. He had wanted to wait for Yuuri to bring up the revival, lest it sully the joy of being together.

But Yuuri just chuckled to himself. “That’s true. It’s funny, but it’s actually kind of nice. When I’m busy, my mind doesn’t wander so much.”

“Then we can do something more stimulating!” Viktor offered, shelving the show for now. “There are casinos, aren’t there? Museums? Clubs?”

Yuuri stopped at the base of the parking garage, but instead of paying right away, he turned to Viktor and smiled. “I think I can handle some downtime with you.”

Viktor smiled back, and they might have sat there at the gate forever if someone hadn’t pulled up behind them.

Yuuri rolled down the window and put his ticket in the machine, and Viktor resisted the urge to throw his wallet at Yuuri and insist on paying.

“Although,” Yuuri continued, once they were on the road, “there is one thing I’d really like to do.”

Viktor raised his eyebrows, heart quickening as he remembered Yuuri’s bag in the trunk. “Oh?” He could barely contain his mirth. “What’s that, Yuuri?”

“You’ll have to wait and see.”

That promise was so enticing, the reward almost didn’t matter.

“How was your flight?” Yuuri asked, his voice more subdued but no less lovely.

“Not bad.” But Viktor wasn’t going mention Yuri’s call just yet. “How was your morning?”

“I, um, only just woke up in time to pick you up,” Yuuri admitted. “If you weren’t coming, I’d probably still be sleeping.”

Viktor imagined a sleepy Yuuri, with unruly hair and peaceful features, curled up in his arms. His glasses would be perched on the nightstand and their clothes would be on the floor… Viktor shivered. “Do you need some coffee, my little night owl?”

Yuuri shook his head. “I had a lot. I am hungry, though. Did you eat?”

“No!” Viktor had been saving his appetite for Yuuri, in every sense of the word. “Take me to your favorite place, Yuuri.”

“Won’t you get recognized?” Yuuri asked. “I mean, I know you don’t mind that, but…”

But neither of them wanted to share.

Viktor revised his words. “Let’s get takeout from your favorite place, Yuuri.”

Checking in at the hotel was quick and the food was still hot when they got up to the room. Viktor had limited himself to just five things from the menu “to get a representative sample,” assuring Yuuri that there would be plenty of space in the room.

“Wow, you weren’t kidding!” Yuuri spun in a little circle once they were inside, taking in the suite. “This is bigger than my apartment.”

“It’s really too much, isn’t it?” Viktor sighed, spreading the food out on the dining table. “I should try a hostel next time!”

“Or you can stay with me,” Yuuri offered, only a slight tremble to his voice. “If you don’t mind close quarters.”

Viktor slipped over to Yuuri’s side, wrapping an arm around his waist to demonstrate just how little he minded. “Not at all.”

“And Phichit?”

“I can’t wait to meet him!”

Yuuri grimaced a little but he didn’t move away. “Even if he takes pictures of you? Of us?”

“I’m used to it,” said Viktor. “At least he’ll be nice about it.”

“You’d think that,” Yuuri said. He didn’t elaborate, but he leaned against Viktor and slowly curled an arm around him. The contact warmed Viktor from the inside out.

They gazed at each other, and it would have been so easy to just bend down and bridge the distance.

Yuuri looked away, bashful, and said, “The food’s going to get cold. We should eat.”

“Of course!” Viktor gave him one more squeeze and headed for the table. He was pretty hungry, although he could think of no better feast than Yuuri’s lips. This morning's tiny taste would sustain him for a while, if that was to be all, but just one kiss could never be enough. He hoped Yuuri felt the same way.

They sampled crepes with strawberry and cream cheese, eggs Benedict with spinach and tomato, breaded catfish on waffles, Monte Cristo-inspired French toast, and decadent red velvet pancakes—just a few bites of each.

“Delightful!” Viktor exclaimed. “I think the catfish is my favorite. Most of the restaurants I end up in act like it’s beneath them. Which dish did you like best?”

“The French toast,” said Yuuri.

Viktor grinned. “I should have guessed! It hits a lot of the same notes as your katsudon.”

“I didn’t realize,” Yuuri admitted. He flushed a little bit and pushed his plate away. “But I can’t finish it. I’ll never be able to skate if I do.”

Viktor’s fork clattered to the table and he couldn’t stop himself. “Yuuri! Are you going to skate for me?”

“Oops!” Yuuri hunched up his shoulders. “It was supposed to be a surprise. But I do have to watch what I eat while I’m training.”

“Don’t worry!” Viktor leaned across the table and took Yuuri’s hands. “I’ll have to cook healthy foods while I’m filming, too. But there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself sometimes.”

Yuuri nodded, eyes fixed on their clasped hands.

“I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you there are a few shirtless scenes in the sequel,” Viktor went on. He ran his thumbs over the backs of Yuuri’s hands and Yuuri looked up, a little dazed. Just like Viktor wanted. “We can work out together!”

“I would love that,” Yuuri replied. “We might not get that many chances, though.”

Viktor’s heart sank a little at that. Yuuri’s old coach was in Detroit, so even if he decided to consult or train Yuri, they would be apart most of the year.

But they would make it work. “We can FaceTime while we work out! Sometimes I video chat with my trainer when I’m traveling.”

“That’s a good idea,” Yuuri began. “At least temporarily.”

Viktor tilted his head. “Temporarily? Do you have a long term proposal?” He stopped short of inviting Yuuri to move in with him in New York.

“That depends.” Yuuri pursed his lips. “Your show…”

Viktor filled the silence. “I’m sorry you had to find out this way. I really wanted to tell you myself.”

Yuuri shook his head. “It’s not your fault. I don’t know Chris and Yuri well, and I’ve never met Seung-gil, but they all seem like the kind of people who don’t ask for permission or forgiveness.”

“That’s an understatement.” Viktor wasn’t sure where Yuuri was going with this. He didn’t look mad, but he didn’t look thrilled, either.

“I guess I was just hoping to get your take on, you know, everything,” said Yuuri. He sounded a bit disappointed and Viktor’s eyes went wide. “I thought you might have some advice, or maybe an idea of your own.”

“An idea?” Viktor echoed. He had lots of those, and opinions to spare, but he confessed his hesitations instead. “I didn’t want to influence your decision…” He couldn’t finish his sentence, not while Yuuri was looking at him so expectantly.

“I just thought—seeing how this show was your idea—you might have a vision for, I don’t know, how you wanted things to go?” Yuuri slipped his hands out of Viktor’s and folded them on the table. Looking down, he added, “Regarding, you know, my involvement? If you even want me involved?”

Viktor’s stomach flipped. He had been trying not to overwhelm Yuuri by tossing yet another job offer on the pile, but in so doing, he had given Yuuri the wrong idea. Instead of letting Yuuri decide for himself, Viktor had been foolishly trying to protect him, and it had backfired.

“Oh, Yuuri!” Viktor scrambled to grab Yuuri’s hands again, lacing their fingers together. “Of course I want you involved. You were my first thought! I was going to surprise you, but things just got so out of hand and I was afraid you had enough on your plate already.”

Yuuri studied their entwined hands a bit longer, then looked up at Viktor. “I want to be part of your show, if you’ll have me. It was my favorite, and you’re my,” he swallowed, “my favorite person.”

Viktor gasped and the ideas came flooding out. “I was hoping you would be a consultant. You wouldn’t even have to be on set that much—you could do a lot of it over the phone! All you would have to do is keep us honest about skating and costumes and ISU rules, and you could help us choose body doubles and trainers and choreographers. It can be as many or as few hours as you want and you’d get your name in the credits and of course, we would pay you! I just didn’t want to assume you’d be interested just because you’re...”

And Viktor ran out of gas. Yuuri hadn’t breathed or moved for the entire speech, but he finally blinked.

“Because I’m what?” Yuuri asked. “Because I’m your boyfriend?”

If Viktor could have leapt over the table, he would have. “I was going to say because you’re thinking about competing again, but I like what you said much better!” Why were they so far apart? Viktor let go of Yuuri’s hands and pushed the food to the far side of the table. Then, he climbed up on the table so that he was kneeling in front of Yuuri. This was a good start, but he wanted to be closer. He just needed the signal.

Yuuri stared, mouth agape and eyes wide. “D-does this make us official?” he finally managed.

“Yes, Yuuri!” Viktor cried. “I only wish I had asked you first!”

And Yuuri let out the cutest laugh, his expression melting into the most beautiful smile Viktor had ever seen—so beautiful that Viktor had no choice but to lean down, cradle Yuuri’s face, and kiss him. Yuuri pushed up, returning the kiss with gentle, steady pressure, building until Viktor realized that Yuuri was half-standing. He rose, too, just enough to wrap his arms around Yuuri’s back. Without that bulky coat, he could feel Yuuri—his shoulders, his neck, the curve of his spine. A thin shirt was all that separated his hands from Yuuri’s skin.

Yuuri’s hands settled on Viktor’s waist, fingertips tracing tiny tracks back and forth, leaving his skin tingling. Was this really only their second kiss? Yuuri seemed to know everything about Viktor, so it only made sense that he would know how Viktor liked to be kissed, too.

No, that wasn’t it. Viktor just liked being kissed by Yuuri, and if Yuuri’s soft moans were any indication, the feeling was mutual. Yuuri pushed his fingers into Viktor’s hair and the sound that escaped Viktor’s throat was decidedly not soft. Yuuri echoed him, and maybe he didn’t want to go slow after all. Viktor took a chance and slipped his hands under Yuuri’s shirt, pulling Yuuri closer to him by the small of his back. The skin there felt divine, and Viktor longed to see it and taste it, to trace the length of Yuuri’s spine with his tongue, up and back down…

Yuuri pulled back a fraction and said Viktor’s name, half muffled by the kiss.

“Too fast?” Viktor whispered. “I understand.”

But Yuuri shook his head, his breath still coming out a bit ragged. “It’s just—about that other thing you said.”

“What thing?” Viktor couldn’t remember anything but the feel of Yuuri’s mouth against his own. Focus, he scolded himself.

“Will you come with me?” Yuuri asked, brown eyes sparkling with more than lust. “There’s something I want to show you.”

Viktor nodded. “Anywhere, Yuuri. I’ll go anywhere.”

Yuuri smiled and backed away from the table. Reluctantly, Viktor climbed down. Putting the leftovers in the fridge was a good way to calm himself, and stepping out into the cold parking garage was a really good way to cool down. It wasn’t until they were driving that Viktor remembered.

“Are you going to skate for me, Yuuri?” he asked, almost shaking in anticipating.

Yuuri smiled. “Not exactly.”

They pulled up to a nondescript ice rink—not the major rink Yuuri used to train at, but a smaller one, a bit run down. The ice time there was probably cheaper. Yuuri got out of the car and retrieved his duffle bag from the trunk. He stopped in front of Viktor and took his hand.

“I was hoping you would skate with me,” Yuuri said.

“Of course!” Viktor’s response was automatic. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t skated in almost a decade; if Yuuri asked him to strip naked and run around the building in the freezing cold, Viktor would have done it.

But skating with Yuuri sounded even more promising than the direction things had been heading back in the hotel room.

Well, maybe it was a tie.

The rink was deserted, but Yuuri already had some rental skates set aside for Viktor.

“I should have known you’d know my shoe size,” Viktor said. Yuuri flushed.

Yuuri had his skates on before Viktor’s hands even remembered what to do. The rentals pressed on his ankles, but they fit well enough.

“Let me,” Yuuri said, crouching down to pull the laces and tie them. “Too tight?”

Viktor could hardly breathe let alone respond, but somehow he managed to shake his head.

Yuuri led him to the rink by the hand and they took off their skate guards. Viktor took a deep breath; this was a dream come true for him, but there was a good chance Yuuri had been dreaming about it for even longer.

When Viktor’s blades hit the ice, it didn’t feel like a homecoming. It felt like a new beginning.

Yuuri turned back and smiled at him. “All right?”

“Perfect,” Viktor replied just as his left leg wobbled. “As long as we go slowly.”

“Whatever you want.”

This was harder than Viktor remembered, but once he got past the initial shock, he relaxed. They skated easy laps around the rink, Yuuri offering encouragement about Viktor’s “technique” as they went. Viktor was just glad he didn’t fall on his ass. Yuuri pulled him a little faster, turning around to skate backwards but never letting Viktor go.

“Show off,” said Viktor with a grin.

Yuuri shrugged. “Well, I have been practicing a lot more lately.”

“You misunderstand,” Viktor said. “Please show off for me, Yuuri. I want to see.”

Yuuri lit up with that same glow from back in the hotel. He held Viktor’s gaze for a long moment, then said, “Don’t take your eyes off me.”

It was all Viktor could do to coast to a stop when Yuuri let go. Lips parted and heart pounding, Viktor watched as Yuuri danced across the ice to music only they could hear. Every twist, spin, and jump was a new thrill. As long as Viktor lived, he would never look away.

Yuuri met his eyes from halfway across the rink and Viktor dared not even blink as Yuuri picked up speed. He took off and Viktor gasped. A flip!? He was so caught up in counting rotations—four—that he didn’t see Yuuri’s bad landing coming until it was too late.

Yuuri hit the ice and Viktor rushed forward, faster than he thought he could skate. But Yuuri was already up by the time Viktor reached him.

“Yuuri! That was—are you all right?”

“Ah!” Yuuri winced, not in pain but in embarrassment. “Sorry, I really wanted to get your jump right for my big announcement, but I screwed it up.”

Dozens of thoughts raced through Viktor’s brain all at once: That was Dimitri’s jump! So beautiful. What announcement? Wow. It’s Yuuri’s jump now. So amazing. He should be competing now! Gorgeous. Why is he learning new jumps without a coach? So, so, beautiful.

But only Yuuri seemed able to find words. More confident than Viktor had ever seen him, he said, “I’m going to compete again.”

Viktor gasped again, still speechless.

“I don’t have it all figured out yet, but if I don’t give skating at least one more season, I know I’ll regret it,” he said. Viktor still didn’t respond and Yuuri did a nervous little shuffle on the ice. “Okay, I know you’re an actor and it’s not really your jump, and the real you is better than anything I could have imagined, but I really wanted to—”

Screw words. Viktor cut Yuuri off with a kiss, and Yuuri picked up right where they left off on the table. Even though on-ice kisses had launched Viktor’s career, none of them could compare to this one, and taking it slow went out the window.

“We need to get back to the hotel,” Viktor gasped out, barely able to break away. “That is, if you want—”

This time Yuuri interrupted him. “I have condoms in my bag.”

Viktor grinned—he had packed some too, just in case. Maybe slow was never on the agenda to begin with.

From then on, it was all about speed. How fast could they get their skates off? How fast could they (safely) get back to the hotel? How fast could they get back up to the room and undress each other?

Only once they were stripped down to their souls on the bed was there time to slow down. Even though they had just a few precious hours to spend together, this was too important to rush. Viktor and Yuuri focused on each other in the here and now, book signings, schedules, and careers far from their minds.

And even when real life came back to haunt them in the morning, it wasn’t so bad.

“Good morning,” Yuuri whispered. He reached for his glasses on the nightstand and Viktor’s heart skipped a beat.

A tap at the door signaled the arrival of coffee. Viktor slipped on a robe, thanking his past self for having the foresight to put the order on the door before bed last night. He tipped the hotel employee and accepted the service tray.

“How do you take your coffee, Yuuri?” he asked. Yuuri retrieved his glasses and pushed them up the bridge of his nose.

“Black,” he replied.

Viktor grinned. “So bold.” He poured a cup of black coffee. Chris probably wouldn’t have approved of generic hotel coffee but the bitter, toasty aroma suited Viktor just fine.

Really, it was the company that aroused his senses. Viktor passed the cup to Yuuri and he couldn’t think of a moment in his life when he had been happier.

If only he had brought Makkachin, it would have been perfect.

Yuuri thanked him and took a sip while Viktor poured himself a cup with cream and sugar.

They lazed around drinking coffee until Viktor had to tear himself away to shower.

When he returned, Yuuri was dressed and staring at his phone in disbelief. “Look at this.”

Viktor crossed the room and leaned over Yuuri to see the screen, resting a hand on his shoulder. Yuuri didn’t flinch.

“Yulia Mercer wants to meet me,” Yuuri said, still in shock. “She wants to fly me out to New York to talk about choreography.”

“Yuuri!” Viktor could have read the words himself, but it was so much better to hear them from Yuuri. He wasn’t surprised at all; Yulia was a longtime fan and Yuuri was amazing. “You should call her! You would make a phenomenal team.”

“But I don’t even have a coach yet!” Yuuri protested. That didn’t sound like a no, but Yuuri had more to say. “I haven’t worked with a choreographer in years. Even then, Ciao Ciao always did everything.”

Viktor straightened, but he didn’t move his hand from Yuuri’s shoulder. “But you're older now. Think of all the things you’ve done since then! You’ve worked, you’ve traveled alone, and you’ve faced some of your worst fears.”

Yuuri looked thoughtful, then he chuckled to himself. “It can’t be any harder than going to New York to meet you.”

“And look how well that turned out!” exclaimed Viktor, throwing his arms around Yuuri.

Yuuri turned his head to the side to kiss Viktor on the lips, short and sweet.

“Would you come with me?” Yuuri asked, nose brushing against Viktor’s cheek. “To meet Yulia. You know her, and I’m sure she’d love to see you. I know you’re busy, but I,” he swallowed, “I’d feel more confident with you there.”

It was probably too soon for what Viktor was about to say. He probably should have just pulled Yuuri close and said yes. But something possessed Viktor to give voice to a promise he had only dared to think up until now.

“Oh, my Yuuri. You know I would do anything for you.”

Yuuri answered him with one more lingering kiss.

Maybe it wasn’t too soon after all.

Chapter Text

Hey, have you guys been following the whole Viktor Nikiforov-Detroit Boy thing?

Yuuri’s eyes went wide and he tried to sink into the backseat of the cab as the radio blared. He had allowed Viktor to use miles to buy him a plane ticket this time, but Viktor and Mila were deep in talks about getting their show produced this morning so he was on his own for a couple hours.

All he wanted to do was get to Viktor’s apartment (the doorman was going to let him in) and play with Makkachin, but if he made a list, hearing about himself and Viktor on Emil Nekola’s radio show would have been at the very bottom.

Of course! You know Viktor came on the show right before he went on hiatus, right?

I forgot about that! He played charades with JJ, right?

The DJs laughed and Yuuri pulled his coat around his face. The taxi driver didn’t seem to notice him but he wasn’t taking any chances.

Well, anyway, someone on Instagram posted a picture of that skater—

Yuuri,” Emil’s voice cut in, and Yuuri jumped. “I think his name is Yuuri.

That’s it! Someone on Instagram saw Yuuri on their flight to New York this morning. You can see the picture on our website.

Someone had taken a picture of him?! He hadn’t even been in New York for an hour and everyone already knew he was there.

That’s so interesting, because didn’t Viktor just add a stop in Detroit for his book tour?

He did!” said Emil’s cohost. “So do you think this is because Chris and Seung-gil are trying to revive their old show?

Yuuri sat up straighter. Is that what people thought? That was Viktor’s idea!

The driver looked into the rear view as Emil let out a blast of a laugh, and Yuuri quickly looked out the window.

No way! Didn’t you see the skating video?

Call me a cynic, but—

Oh, come on, the New York signing? They’re a couple for sure.

While Yuuri appreciated Emil’s support, he couldn’t believe anyone cared. Oh, please, he thought, the little voice in his head sounding suspiciously like Phichit, you’d be eating this up if it weren’t you.

At least the cab driver wasn’t staring anymore.

Well, Viktor isn’t the only one with a new beau. Did you hear about Anya, dating that hockey player? Henri something?

Ooh, yeah, Georgi’s still subtweeting about it. I hope he’ll still do JJ’s suits…

“You awake back there?” The driver’s voice startled Yuuri. He hadn't even realized they'd reached Viktor's unit.

“Yeah, thanks.” Yuuri paid the fare and tip, avoided eye contact as he got out of the car. Even though the driver probably didn't care, Yuuri watched the taxi drive off before he walked up to Viktor’s building.

“Mr. Katsuki,” said the doorman, right before he took Yuuri’s suitcase out of his hand. Yuuri was pretty sure Viktor had said his name was Spencer, but he was suddenly terrified to get it wrong.

“Thanks,” said Yuuri instead. “You can just call me Yuuri.”

The doorman smiled. “You’re much more polite than the other Yuri.”

Yuuri laughed in spite of his nerves. He followed the doorman to the marble-floored elevator—this place was even fancier than he had imagined—but he didn’t even get to push the button for Viktor’s floor himself. Spencer(?) did everything.

“Everything all right with your flight? Cabbie was nice to you?” the doorman continued, leading the way up to Viktor’s door.

Yuuri mumbled an affirmative. Was the doorman going to come inside with him? Was that what doormen did? Yuuri had so much to learn.

“Prepare yourself,” said Spencer (Yuuri was 95% sure that was his name), glancing back at him with a smile. “Makkachin is excitable for an old girl.”

Claws scraped tile behind the door as Spencer turned the key; Yuuri had never been more ready for anything in his life.

Makkachin nearly toppled Yuuri to the floor with kisses. He surrendered to her affection, looking up just in time to see Spencer put his bag down.

“Anything else I can do for you, Yuuri?”

“No, thank you,” said Yuuri. Was he supposed to tip?

But Spencer smiled and said, “Just press the buzzer if you need anything,” before taking his leave.

Yuuri sighed and knelt on the floor to give Makka the greeting she deserved. “I missed you!” he cooed. “Have you been a good girl for Viktor? Of course you have!”

Once he could tear himself away, he took off his shoes and sent Viktor a text to let him know he was here (even though Viktor probably wouldn’t see it until after the meeting).

The hour Yuuri spent lavishing Makkachin with cuddles was easily one of the top five moments of his life, and it got even better when Viktor texted that he was on his way.

“Yuuri!” Viktor flung the door open and glomped onto him with even more enthusiasm than Makkachin, showering him with kisses and sweet nothings.

“I missed you, too,” Yuuri murmured, holding Viktor tight enough to make up for all of their days apart. They only had a few minutes before their meeting with Yulia Mercer, but both of them were determined to make those minutes count.

“I have a good feeling about this,” said Viktor as they headed for the rink where Yulia practiced.

“But how was your meeting?” Yuuri wondered.

Viktor winked. “I have a good feeling about that, too.”

But that was all he had to say before picking up where they had left off inside. If Viktor was worried about their driver snapping a picture of them kissing in the backseat, he didn’t show it.

“Viktor! Look how grown up you are!” said Yulia once they got to the rink. “I mean, I’ve seen your movies but you’ve gotten so tall!”

“Have I?” Viktor kissed her cheek. “But enough about me, this is about Yuuri.” He released her and she took a deep breath, gaping at Yuuri like he was the famous one.

“Wow.”

Yuuri flushed and waved, then dropped his hand to his side. “Hi. Um, I’ve been a big fan of yours for a long time.”

“Wow,” she repeated. “I’m a huge fan of yours, Yuuri. You set the bar for innovating step sequences as a junior, and skaters are still trying to catch up. I hope it’s not too presumptuous of me, but I’ve been working on something for you ever since I saw your video.”

“N-not at all!” Yuuri replied, his cheeks burning hot. “I want to see it.”

Viktor put an arm around his shoulder and took in an excited breath. Yuuri’s own heart began to pound in anticipation as Yulia took her starting pose.

Gracefully, she soared around the rink to music that resonated with Yuuri’s soul, even though he had never heard it before. She blended pieces of Yuuri’s style with poise and elegance that transported him straight back to his childhood, staring at the television set, afraid to blink lest he miss even a millisecond of one of Viktor’s performances.

This program was made for him, like none of his other programs were before.

“Wow!” Viktor exclaimed, bursting into applause when she finished. Yuuri was too stunned to move.

“It’s not quite done. The footwork really needs your touch, and obviously, I can’t do quads.” Yulia skated to where they stood at the boards and took a few deep breaths. “But I’m open to any changes you want to make.”

“It’s amazing!” Yuuri blurted out. Viktor squeezed him to his body and Yulia beamed at them.

“Wow,” Yulia said again. Was that where Viktor got it? “I’m so flattered!”

“Could I…” Yuuri looked down at his skate bag and back at Yulia, pushing his glasses back up his nose. “Could I skate some of it with you?”

“Of course!” Yulia cried. Her expression went serious. “But only if you stretch first.”

Viktor insisted on helping him with his shoes and skates (while Yulia grinned and pretended not to notice) before squeezing Yuuri’s hands and sent him onto the ice. Almost like his coach.

Time flew by as Yulia and Yuuri went back and forth, tweaking this and that, laughing with Viktor, and making the choreography even better.

Yulia encouraged him at every turn, but she didn’t cut him any slack, either. That almost felt like having a coach, too, but something was different. Maybe he was just older, or maybe he was in a different frame of mind. Maybe it was just because he felt like he could do anything with Viktor’s support, but Yulia was a natural coach.

“That was fantastic!” Yulia said on a water break. “But we had better stop for today. We both need rest, and you'll be paying for it if you don’t break those new skates in slowly.”

She was right about everything.

“Amazing!” Viktor agreed once Yuuri was back in his street clothes. “Are you hungry?”

Yuuri nodded, still floored by how good that skate felt.

“Can we take you to lunch?” Viktor asked Yulia. Being part of that we lifted his heart even more.

“I’d love to!”

They ended up at a swanky restaurant, but that meant it had the sort of security that prevented prying eyes and ears.

“How long are you staying in New York?” Yulia asked Yuuri. “I’d love to keep working with you.”

“I’d like that, too,” Yuuri began with a sigh, “but I’m only here for a couple of days.”

Yulia caught on quickly. “I don’t want to take away from your time together. I could always come to you. You’re in Detroit, right?”

“Really?” Yuuri’s mouth hung open. “That’s a lot of effort to go to, just for me.”

Viktor nudged his shoulder and Yulia smiled.

“Maybe it’s too early to say this, and I completely understand if you’re uncomfortable with the idea, but...” She put her fork and knife down and looked straight at Yuuri, and he sucked in a deep breath, anticipating her words. “I think we worked really well together out there. I know it was just one day, and I know it won’t always be that easy, but I’d love you keep working with you.”

Viktor found his hand under the table and held it for encouragement, but he said nothing. This was Yuuri’s choice.

“I’d like to keep working with you, too,” Yuuri said. He gripped Viktor’s hand tighter and added, “I’m actually looking for a coach, i-if that’s what you’re asking.”

“That’s exactly what I’m asking!” she replied. Yuuri sighed in relief, warmth spreading from his heart to his shoulders.

“Champagne!” Viktor cried, summoning a waiter with his free hand. Yuuri could have almost sworn he had planned this, but the surprise on his face was too genuine.

Yulia laughed, looking relieved herself. “I know there are tons of details to work out, but I at least had to ask before you went back to Detroit.”

“Details,” Yuuri repeated, his heart sinking a little. “You should know that I don’t exactly have an income right now.”

“And you already know I don’t exactly have a proven track record as a coach,” Yulia cut in. “Let’s do this on a trial basis before we settle things like that. This has to work for both of us, and I wouldn’t take any of your money before we were both sure.”

“If you’re sure,” Yuuri said. He would find a way to pay, even if the show didn’t work out. He was dying to ask Viktor about it, but Viktor seemed intent on making today all about Yuuri. The server approached with the champagne and three flutes.

“You’ll draw up a preliminary contract,” Viktor picked up his champagne, “and settle on a final one when the time comes.”

Minako had always helped his parents with contracts before, but Viktor was probably an even better resource (Yuuri cringed at thinking of him like that, even though Viktor would probably welcome it).

Yulia and Yuuri took their own glasses as Viktor raised his, and Yuuri was happy to let Viktor speak.

“May your future endeavors as coach and student be rewarding, fulfilling, and paved in gold medals!”

“Viktor!” Yuuri and Yulia chided. But they both clinked glasses with Viktor and drank. Viktor kept it to one bottle and Yuuri kept himself to one glass, but the conversation was so easy he didn’t miss the buzz. They parted with a wealth of ideas and a plan to meet up again before Yuuri left and in Detroit the week after.

It still hadn’t sunk in by the time they got in the car, and Yuuri tugged at Viktor’s sleeve, hoping to occupy his racing mind. “Are you going to tell me about your meeting now?”

“I’ll tell you the moment there’s something to tell,” said Viktor, tapping his nose and pushing his luck once more.

The driver didn’t care this time either, but kissing was enough to distract Yuuri for the rest of the ride.

“Yuuri.” Viktor pulled him close once they were inside his apartment, ridding him of his coat like a magic trick. “You have a coach.”

“I have a coach,” Yuuri echoed. It took about 20 more times of repeating it in his head but with Viktor’s hands in his, he could almost wrap his mind around the concept. Joy bubbled out of him in a laugh, and he threw his arms around Viktor. “I have a coach!”

Viktor returned the hug, happiness emanating from every pore. “I’m so proud of you,” he said, sliding a hand into Yuuri’s hair.

That felt good, all of it. Being proud of himself felt pretty good, too. He had to tell Phichit, had to tell Yuuko and Mari, Minako and his parents, but first…

He drew back, locked eyes with Viktor, and said, “Let’s celebrate.”

They had just wrapped up their second round of celebrations when the intercom buzzed.

“No,” Viktor whined, clamping his arms around Yuuri’s waist. “Not getting out of bed until tomorrow.”

“But it’s only seven,” said Yuuri, though he understood the sentiment. Viktor made a huge show out of dragging himself out of bed and getting dressed—Yuuri was fully clothed before Viktor even had his shirt on—but he finally answered the buzzer.

“The,” Spencer cleared his throat, “other Yuri is here.”

Viktor heaved a sigh. “Tell him to wait. I’m—”

“He says he’s here to see Yuuri.”

Yuri’s voice cut over the intercom, “And you two had better be decent.”

Viktor pouted but Yuuri just offered him a smile. “We’ve got time, Viktor.”

“Fine,” Viktor groaned. “Send him up.”

Yuri was covering his eyes when Viktor opened the door.

“It’s safe, Yura,” said Viktor. “You’ve killed the mood.”

“Good,” Yuri snapped, slowly lowering his hand. “I’m not taking any chances after your lock screen.”

Yuuri turned to Viktor, who tried to look innocent. “It’s not a naked picture if that’s what you’re worried about! You just can’t tell from how I cropped it.”

“It’s fine,” said Yuuri even as a flush crept up his cheeks. He was pretty sure he knew just the picture.

“Is it?” Yuri demanded, shooting a glare at Viktor. “What if your phone gets hacked? Is it gonna be some kind of ISU scandal? You don’t think about any of this shit.”

Viktor kept cool. “Why do you?”

Yuri curled his lip. “Didn’t you see the news? Some creep already found Yuuri and blabbed it to the world.”

He held up his phone to Yuuri and Viktor, showing them a blurry picture of Yuuri captioned Viktor’s Detroit Detour.

“Wow!” Viktor shook his head. “Next time, I’m getting you first class, Yuuri. Coach seats are really cramped.”

“Not the point, asshole!” Yuri growled, thrusting the phone at Yuuri. “Does this shit bother you? Because this is kids’ stuff. Everyone has phones, and everyone wants to tear you down. Can you handle it?”

If Yuuri could handle being interrogated by Yuri this many times, he thought he stood a chance, but it was a fair question. “It’s nice of you to worry—”

“Shut the hell up!” Yuri retorted. “What I’m worried about is your chicken ass running off and leaving him again!”

“You're so sweet to both of us, Yura,” Viktor said, reaching out for him. Yuri twisted away.

“Did you even prepare him for this shit?” he tapped the pocket that held his phone. “It’s your fault he’s gotta deal with it now. You didn’t, did you?”

Viktor’s smile faltered. “Is this really why you came over?”

“No.” Yuri put his hands on his hips and looked to Yuuri once more. “I’m not leaving until you agree to train me.”

“Yura!” Viktor’s jaw dropped. “You hypocrite!”

“Why? It’s not like I’m asking him to be in the spotlight. Besides, it’s still a conversation you need to have.”

Yuuri was less surprised. He hadn’t wanted to give an answer until he knew more about next season, but Yuri had been hounding him about it at least once a day for a week. Now, he was bouncing on the balls of his feet like an eager child.

Even with the offer from Yulia, Yuuri had no idea where they would be training or if he’d have time, but he had a feeling Yuri would work around his schedule. Yuri wanted this.

“I’ll help you,” Yuuri promised.

“Wait, you will?” For a second, all of Yuri’s posturing disappeared and he looked like the teenager he really was, naive and hopeful.

Yuuri knew it wouldn’t last.

“You’d better not screw this up. I know you’re not back up to your full potential but I want you at your best. You have two months to train up!”

“Okay,” chuckled Yuuri. He really had no idea how good Yuri was, but at this point, he was ready for anything.

“Let’s celebrate!” said Viktor with a wink in Yuuri’s direction. “Won’t you stay for dinner?”

“I already ate,” Yuri replied. “No way I’m watching you two make goo-goo eyes at each other all night.”

Yuri missed a delicious dinner of salmon and roasted vegetables, plus lots of syrupy looks and lewd footsie.

They cleared the dishes together but Viktor wouldn’t let him help wash pans, so Yuuri went to check his phone. He hadn’t told anyone about Yulia yet—tomorrow.

Should he tell Celestino? It was probably kinder to tell him than to let him find out secondhand, but just the thought of telling him made Yuuri’s hands shake.

Maybe Phichit would tell him.

Yuuri put his phone away for the night and went back into the kitchen to find Viktor still washing the same roasting pan. Either it was really stubborn or he was deep in thought.

“Viktor?”

Viktor looked up but only managed a half-smile. He turned off the water and took off his gloves. “Do you mind it, Yuuri? The pictures, the gossip…” He took a deep breath. “The video?”

Yuuri wasn’t sure if he was talking about his skating tribute or the hand kiss. “You can’t help what other people did.”

“But I said your name on TV. I dedicated my book to you. I put you in an awkward position.”

There was some truth to all of that, but Yuuri hasn’t given it much thought before. “It’s okay,” he said.

“Don’t just say that, Yuuri.” He put his palms down on the counter, like he needed it for support. “Maybe it’s not okay. We haven’t talked about it.”

“It’s,” Yuuri began, not sure how to phrase it, “it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.”

“Not...as bad?” Viktor’s lower lip quivered and Yuuri rushed to the counter.

“The media exposure,” Yuuri explained. “I don’t hate it like I thought I would.”

Viktor didn’t respond right away. He shook some of the water off of his gloves and said, “You know Yura is right. This is just the beginning.”

“I know,” Yuuri replied. “I mean, I can only imagine, but it’s worth it, to be with you.”

“Really?” Viktor perked up, the beginnings of a new smile on his face.

Yuuri nodded. Quieter, he said, “I don’t mind the whole world knowing that we’re together.”

Now, Viktor wore a full-on grin. “Yuuri, are you using me for my fame?”

“Viktor!” Yuuri coughed out. “You don’t really think that, do you?”

“Of course not!” Viktor said, abandoning the sink to embrace him. “And even if you were, I’m okay with that. You deserve all the perks of being with me, since you have to deal with the hassles.”

Yuuri laughed as Viktor swayed him back and forth in a rhythmless dance. “We need to talk about your sense of self-worth next.”

“Tomorrow,” Viktor promised. He stilled, squeezing Yuuri tighter. “Can you forgive me?”

“Of course,” said Yuuri, burying his face in Viktor’s shoulder. He smelled of dill and dish soap, and the front of his shirt was damp from pressing against the sink. No matter what the world saw, no matter what gossip bloggers wrote, moments like these were theirs and theirs alone.

Chapter Text

Yuuri couldn’t remember a busier summer. He was so busy that he could barely remember what he ate the day before, but on the bright side, he didn’t have time to second guess his good fortune, either. 

Training with Yulia was easier than he ever imagined it would be. It was hard work to be sure, but they worked so well together it felt like they had been training for years, not weeks. Celestino hadn’t taken the news hard—he had even come to the rink to meet Yulia and wish them luck. 

Yuuri’s short and long programs were polished and ready to go. As for his exhibition, well, he’d had it put together for a while now. He just hoped he’d get to perform it this season. 

But he wasn’t just doing tributes to his favorite show anymore. On Thin Ice was making a comeback, and Yuuri was so excited to be part of it, he felt like a teenager again. 

Consulting for the revival meant a lot of phone meetings and reading script excerpts. The show hadn’t been picked up yet, but multiple streaming services had put bids in. Viktor and Mila had pulled together a couple of the old writers and a few new ones to flesh out the scripts. Yuuri had even been out to New York a couple of times to work with them but everything was still up in the air. Viktor didn’t seem concerned. He said television was always touch and go, and even getting the show filmed was no guarantee it would air. 

In the meantime, Yuuri was getting good at making time for himself—most of which he wanted to spend with Viktor, either in person or on the phone.

It was harder now that Viktor was in LA filming his movie (which was officially called Eros, even though Yuuri was sworn to secrecy for another several months), but they had weeks of practice staying connected by phone, and Viktor’s months of distance therapy made him an excellent video chat communicator.

Years of longing for each other made doing other things on video chat surprisingly easy, but snuggling with a phone just wasn’t the same. 

“It won’t be like this forever,” Viktor said, face flushed and eyes shining even on the phone screen. 

Yuuri nodded. “Just three more weeks and you’ll be here.” His entire Detroit apartment could fit in the living room of Viktor’s rental house, but he had a feeling Viktor was looking forward to the close quarters just as much as he was. 

“But what are we going to do after that?” Viktor asked dramatically, rolling over so his head dangled off the edge of the bed. He held his phone above him, and only Viktor could look good from that angle. 

“Let’s not think about that yet,” said Yuuri, admiring Viktor’s nose. At least they wouldn’t have to go as long without seeing each other after the movie was done filming. 

“But we have to think about it, Yuuri,” Viktor insisted. “We’re going to be filming the show in New York this fall and I was really hoping you’d have time to come visit me for an extended stay.”

The show?!” Yuuri parroted, back going rigid. “You’re going to film this fall?” 

Viktor nodded proudly, his hair seeming to defy gravity at that angle. “We’re moving forward with Hulu.”

“Viktor!” Yuuri cried. He wanted so badly to hug Viktor that he had to stop himself from clutching his phone to his chest. “Congratulations! Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“Because you looked really sexy today,” Viktor explained with a blissful sigh. “You were so excited about nailing your salchow, and your hair was all wet from your shower, and you weren’t—”

“So how’d you get them to film in New York?” Yuuri had to stop him or they’d be back where they started. He had assumed the show would be filmed in LA, like the original. 

Viktor sat up, and the blood must have rushed to his head because he closed his eyes for a moment before answering. “It just makes the most sense. I live there, Mila lives there, Chris lives there, Seung-gil lives there—and you know he’s contractually obligated through the 97th season of Pride and Procedure, so his schedule’s tight enough as it is...”

“You pulled the movie star card, didn’t you?” Yuuri asked, seeing through Viktor’s explanations and hyperbole.

Viktor flashed him a cocky smile. “What’s the point of being a celebrity if you can’t work the perks?” 

“What did Yurio say?”

“I haven’t told him yet, but when he finds out, I fully expect him to invite himself to stay in the unit upstairs,” said Viktor. 

Yuri moving in with Viktor without asking sounded about right. 

But how would he feel about me moving in with him?

The thought swept in out of nowhere, but the longer Yuuri dwelled on it, the more sense it made. Yulia swore she was happy to coach Yuuri wherever he wanted to train, but her home was in New York and she hadn’t relocated to Detroit yet.

Yuuri still needed to finish his degree, but he wasn’t enrolled in any classes right now. He could always talk to Phichit about online classes, maybe pick some up in the winter semester once the Grand Prix was over and the show was filmed. 

Yuuri wanted to do it all while staying close to Viktor, but moving in was a huge step, and unlike Yuri he couldn’t just invite himself.

Or could he?

He took a long look around the apartment. Phichit had followed his heart back to Thailand, and in his heart, Yuuri knew this wasn’t his home anymore, either. 

“Yuuri?” Viktor has been talking about the meeting and Yuuri hadn’t even been listening. “Did the video freeze again?”

“I’m still here!” Yuuri cried just as Viktor was lifting his phone to the ceiling in search of a better signal. “Sorry, what were you saying?”

Viktor shook his head. “It can wait. Tell me what’s on your mind.”

Yuuri took a deep breath. 

“Let’s move in together.”

Viktor gasped and the image on the phone went peach then dark. “Oh, Yuuri! I thought you’d never ask!” he exclaimed. 

Two things occurred to Yuuri: first, he shouldn’t have worried, and second, Viktor was hugging his phone. Yuuri hugged his own phone right back. 

Yuuri was mostly done packing up his apartment by the time the cast and crew of Eros came to Detroit. He couldn’t help but marvel at how much had changed since Viktor had filmed on location for Agape.

His skates weren’t buried in a box in his dorm room anymore—he was training with Yulia for international competition. He didn’t have to drink alone anymore, either—he had Viktor to drink with (and talk to, kiss, and hold), he had weekly FaceTime chats with Phichit, and he was about to start training Yuri Plisetsky. Okay, maybe Yuri wasn’t his friend yet, but they were getting there. Progress towards his degree was stalled for the time being, but Yuuri was okay with that. 

Viktor had changed, too. He wasn’t grasping for whatever scraps of love he could get this time. He and Yuri weren’t at each other’s throats (most days) either, and he had projects he was passionate about. His friends and family were just a phone call away, and his boyfriend was moving in with him in a couple weeks. 

Life was good.

“...but if he breaks his back on your watch, it’s over. You’re over.”

Yuuri flinched under Yakov’s glare, but Viktor and Yuri, seated on either side of Yuuri, were completely unphased. 

“As if,” Yuri retorted, stretching his legs and slouching in his chair. “I’m more worried about dying of boredom.”

“Good,” Yakov grunted. “I don’t want you to have fun. Your idea of fun ends with you in traction.” He flipped a few pages of the printed contract and slammed it down in front of Yuri. 

No triple jumps?” Yuri read, shooting upright. “This contract blows!”

“They’re really hard on your body,” Yuuri tried to explain. “Even for professional skaters.” 

But Yuri just rolled his eyes, ignorant or maybe unafraid of pre-arthritic hips and sprained ankles. “I’ve already done a triple salchow. If I trained enough, I bet I could land a triple axel!”

Yuuri had to force himself to close his mouth. Was Yuri just exaggerating, or…? He snuck a glance at Viktor, who was watching with his arms crossed and one eyebrow raised.

“Absolutely not!” Yakov stood up and pounded a fist on his desk.

“It doesn’t say anything about quads,” Yuri went on. Yuuri choked on a gasp. Yakov snatched the papers out of Yuri’s hand and flipped to another page.

“Oh yes, it does!” he growled. He turned his fury on Yuuri and Viktor. “If he so much as thinks about attempting a quad on your watch, there’ll be hell to pay. For all three of you.”

There was no way Yuri could even attempt a quad. Right?

An hour later, Yuuri was picking his jaw up off the ice. Yuri had a clean double axel, better than most juniors. 

Viktor was frozen in place on his skates, eyes wide. He broke into a grin and skated over to Yuri, picking him up by the waist. “Yura!”

Yuri flung his arms out and for a second, Yuuri worried Viktor would get stabbed by a skate blade. 

“Put me down! You’re gonna pull a muscle, old man!” 

Viktor shook his head, spinning Yuri in a circle. “Nonsense, you’re light as a feather! But why didn’t you tell me you could skate like that?”

“You never asked, you jackass!” Yuri clawed his way out of Viktor’s arms and landed on the ice with a soft crunch. Yuuri marveled at his steadiness. “Save that shit for your boyfriend!”

Viktor took off in Yuuri's direction, calling his name. “Isn't Yura amazing? He’s perfect for Alex because he’s all power and no grace!”

“Hey!” Yuri protested from across the rink. “I’m graceful as fuck!”

“Is that so?” Viktor locked eyes with Yuuri and Yuuri skated into his waiting arms, helping Viktor hold him in something pretty close to a simple hand-to-armpit lift. Yuuri tried to hold his legs in an elegant way—they were demonstrating, after all—but it was hard to focus on his posture when Viktor’s sleeves were tight and he was in shirtless scene shape…

Carefully, slowly, Viktor spun him and placed him back down on the ice. Yuuri didn’t let go, instead, pulling him in for a kiss and running his hands up and down Viktor’s muscular arms. Viktor let his hands fall to Yuuri’s waist, then lower for a shameless squeeze.

“Cut it out! It’s gonna be bad enough living with you jerks in New York! You’re not being paid to make out!”

Yuuri sighed, reluctantly putting some space between Viktor and himself. Yuri was right—but skating with Viktor felt right, too. All the pain, all the self-doubt, and all the years of hiding from his true self were worth it, because they were here now. Viktor eyed him curiously. 

“I love you, Viktor,” he said, keeping Viktor’s hands in his.

All of Viktor’s features softened, from eyes to cheeks to lips. “I love you, too, Yuuri. So much.”

“Oh, for the love of...” Yuri grumbled as he streaked past them. He launched into an over-rotated double toe loop. “Coach me, dammit!”

“Right,” said Yuuri. He and Viktor would have time to bask in each other’s love off the clock. “Let’s hold off on jumps for now and see your other skating skills.”

“Like what?” Yuri asked, chest heaving as he caught his breath.

“Well, your edges are pretty good, so why don’t you try a forward inside spiral?”

Yuri did. Viktor’s critique was spot on—Yuri’s back was barely arched, and he didn’t extend his lines at all. Yuuri had his work cut out for him.

But he was a fast study, and the more the three of them practiced together, the more Yuuri knew this was the way things were supposed to be. 

The only way things would have been better would be if Phichit could have practiced with them, but Yuuri kept him abreast of their progress. Phichit made up for the distance with volume and enthusiasm. 

He still hadn’t stopped screaming about Yuuri’s return or about the show getting greenlit, and when Yulia and Yuuri made the coaching arrangement official, Phichit had just screamed louder. 

Yuuri figured Phichit had lost his voice (and Yuuri had lost his hearing) so it was safe to make another announcement.

“I told Seung-gil I’d be his skating double.”

“WHAT?!” It seemed Phichit’s voice was just fine, and Yuuri yanked the phone away from his ear.

“It’s just a couple days of filming,” Yuuri went on once the screaming had subsided, “and none of them interfere with competitions.”

“I’m in the wrong industry,” Phichit moaned. “Are you sure you’re not stretching yourself too thin? Because I will totally take that bullet for you.”

Yuuri shook his head and laughed to himself. “Phichit, you look nothing like him.”

“They can fix all that in post! And I happen to be an excellent video editor.” 

Yuuri laughed. With his classes, competition schedule, and the future ice show that was always on his mind, Phichit probably had even less time than Yuuri did. 

“You know, if you just want to meet him, you can come and stay with me and Viktor and I’m sure we can work something out.” 

“YOU’RE MOVING IN WITH VIKTOR?!”

Yuuri pulled the phone away from his ear again, but even Phichit’s screech couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. 

He was still smiling when he moved the last box into Viktor’s apartment.

“You live here,” Viktor said, clinging to Yuuri’s back rather than helping him unpack his clothes. 

“And I’ll be here every day until the season starts,” Yuuri replied, a pleasant little shiver traveling up his spine. 

Viktor nuzzled his cheek. “As hard as it’s been, the distance isn’t all bad. Something Dr. Rhee said got me thinking.”

Yuuri nodded, urging Viktor to continue.

“I know it wasn’t your fault, but part of me was still hanging onto the fear that you were going to,” Viktor lowered his voice, “abandon me. Being apart was a little bit like exposure therapy.”

“I never thought of it that way,” Yuuri admitted. He wasn’t sure when his own fear—the fear that he would run away from Viktor yet again—had faded. Now, even when they were apart, he could still feel Viktor’s love as certain as he could feel Viktor’s arms around him now. 

Not that Yuuri wasn’t fighting other irrational fears. In the back of his mind, he still worried that Viktor would get bored with him or want someone who was home more, but Yuuri didn’t give those fears the power he once had.

“Plus,” Viktor added, his eyes sparkling, “every time we say goodbye, it means we get to reunite.”

Yuuri loved that part, too, but it steered his brain to even more fears. Was that all there was to their relationship? Coming home and saying goodbye? What would happen when there was no absence to make the heart grow fonder?

At least he didn’t have to fight his thoughts alone. He repeated them to Viktor now.

“We’ll figure it out together, of course,” said Viktor, taking Yuuri’s hand and kissing it. “And Dr. Rhee mentioned an excellent marriage and family therapist not too far from here.” 

Yuuri melted a little whenever Viktor kissed his hand, and he was so enraptured he almost missed what Viktor said. He was all for therapy, but… “Marriage?!”

Viktor grinned. “Don’t you want to get married one day?” 

That wasn’t why he hesitated. Marriage didn’t scare him—they just hadn’t talked about it much before. But it didn’t take much thought to realize he couldn’t imagine his future any other way. The answer was easy.

“I do.”

But there was no time for engagements, not when Viktor had a show to film and Yuuri had events to compete in.

“Aren’t you glad I played the movie star card?” Viktor asked, resting his head on Yuuri’s shoulder in the airplane. 

“Very,” said Yuuri. He was too nervous to sleep on the plane and he felt a little guilty about delaying shooting, but if Viktor hadn’t come, he would probably be pacing the aisles right now. Yulia let out a snore from his other side, and Yuuri pulled down his mask to give Viktor a quick kiss. 

Rationally, getting a qualifying score wasn’t a problem, but Yuuri’s nerves had gotten the best of him too many times for him to coast. Plus, he was introducing Viktor to his family, and that scared him for a whole host of other reasons.

Even if Mari and his parents hated Viktor—Yuuri couldn’t imagine anyone hating Viktor, but anxiety was a powerful thing—he wouldn’t let that get in the way of their relationship, but he really didn’t want to start a family rift. 

He should have known everything would be fine.

“Vicchan!” was the first thing out of his mother’s mouth. Strange as it was to hear her use the nickname of his dearly departed poodle on his boyfriend, it lifted a weight from his shoulders. “Thank you for taking care of Yuuri!”

“We watch all your movies,” said his father in rehearsed English. “You are a good actor.”

“Oh, really?” said Viktor in smoother Japanese, though it wasn’t in him to deflect a compliment in true Japanese fashion. “But I’m not an actor right now. I’m here to support Yuuri.”

Only Mari eyed Viktor skeptically, but it wasn’t far off from the look she usually gave Yuuri. “Why is your Japanese so good?”

“Is it?” Viktor beamed at her, eyes sparkling. “I’ve been studying for two years now, but it’s so difficult.” 

Mari’s raised an eyebrow. “Two years?” 

Yuuri tried to duck behind Viktor, but Viktor just put an arm around him. “Did you tell them?” he asked, switching to English.

“Not exactly…” said Yuuri, tapping his fingers together. Mari turned her expectant look on him, but his parents just looked on blithely.

Viktor let out a little laugh. “Well, I don’t mind if you don’t, but I’m afraid it’s rather beyond my Japanese.”

“Try me,” said Mari in English. 

Yuuri gulped. “It’s a bit of a long story. Why don’t we get some food and I’ll,” he took a deep breath, “I’ll try my best to do it justice.”

Beer helped (even though Yuuri had to abstain for the upcoming competition), but Yuuri’s parents found the whole story charming. Mari was warming up to Viktor by the third round, and a signed photo of Yuri Plisetsky and a promise to introduce them at the Eros premiere did the rest of the work. 

But now that he was feeling better about his family, he had ample brain cells left to worry about the competition. 

“You’re skating again,” said Yulia, putting a hand on his shoulder. “That’s the hardest part. Today is just another day on the ice.”

It sounded nice when she said it, but Yuuri couldn’t focus on anything until Viktor was standing in front of him. They didn’t have to worry about cameras and gawkers back here, so Viktor slipped off his sunglasses and tucked them into his jacket. Looking into Viktor’s eyes calmed him like nothing else could. 

“Maybe it’s selfish of me, but since you’re skating to music from my movie, it almost feels like you’re skating just for me,” said Viktor, hooking a finger under Yuuri’s chin.

“I like that idea,” Yuuri replied, hoping the pleasant chills would overtake the nervous ones.

“But you’re skating for yourself, too.” Viktor nodded to himself and his fingers trailed up Yuuri’s jaw, careful to stop before risking any damage to his gelled hair. “Let’s say you’re skating for us.”

Yuuri couldn’t help but smile, warmth spreading from his stomach to his limbs. It was only natural to be nervous—this was his first competition in years, after all—but he’d never had love on his side before. Not like this. “I like that even better.” 

“Maybe you should seduce me with your skating,” Viktor mused. “You’re quite good at that.”

Visions of crashing through the apartment door after practice (and that time they didn’t even make it out of the rink) flooded Yuuri’s mind, dulling his nerves even more. 

That might actually work. 

“I like Yulia,” Yuuri began, lowering his voice to just the right pitch. He fingered the collar of Viktor’s shirt and Viktor sucked in a tight breath. “But sometimes I wish you could be my coach.”

Viktor’s eyes burned like blue-hot flames, like maybe Yuuri wasn’t alone in this fantasy. “Let’s pretend,” he whispered. “She won’t mind.”

If it motivated Yuuri, Yulia definitely wouldn’t mind. Half of skating was playing the part and selling the choreography, so in a way, Viktor really was one of his coaches. It was time for Yuuri to show him what he had learned. 

Yuuri wrapped his fingers around Viktor’s tie, pulling him close enough to kiss, close enough to feel the heat off his lips, but just like Yuuri, he’d have to wait for his prize. 

“Then watch me, Viktor. Don’t ever take your eyes off me.”

As if there was any doubt.

Viktor’s heated gaze got him through the warm up; he couldn’t see it but he could feel it. It didn’t stop Yuuri’s stomach from lurching when the announcer said his name, but fear didn’t control him anymore. 

Yuuri couldn’t kid himself; regional events didn’t get this much attention for no reason. Half these people had only come to catch a glimpse of Viktor, but when the opening notes to On Love: Eros echoed through the rink, all eyes were on Yuuri. 

This was his revival. The stage was different, but it was a performance just the same. Yuuri locked eyes with the one person in the room who understood, the only eyes that mattered, and began.

It wasn’t perfect—a two-footed landing here, a popped jump there, and a handful of minor mistakes—but it was enough to meet the score requirements for the Grand Prix and more than enough to win. But Yuuri was proud of himself, mistakes and all, and that made it a new beginning.

Chapter Text

A livestream opens with a panoramic shot of Midtown, Manhattan, followed by quick cuts to the exterior of an ornate theater, a red carpet, and people in black tie attire bustling around amid photographers and reporters.

Two gentlemen in well-cut suits stand on a balcony above the theater. One is smiling and the other is stoic. 

The smiling man speaks first, in an easy, studio-ready voice. “Good evening, movie fans! This is Chris Giacometti, coming to you live from the Beacon Theater in New York City for the premiere of Eros.

“My delightful cohost for the evening is known for his role on NBC’s Pride and Procedure, as well as a little series called On Thin Ice: Razor’s Edge, coming to Hulu this fall—and also featuring yours truly. It’s Emmy Award winner Seung-gil Lee!” Chris applauds his cohost and gives him an encouraging nod. “Say hello to our viewers watching the livestream, Seung-gil!”

Seung-gil blinks. “Hello.”

“Effervescent as always, Seung-gil!” Chris flashes a knowing smile at the camera. “Not a cloud in the sky on this fine day, and the arrivals are really starting to pick up. Let’s check in with our gracious sponsors while my cohost and I head down to the red carpet to chat with the cast and crew.”

The camera pans over a crowd of waving, screaming fans behind ropes and an advertisement for the upcoming Hulu show appears at the bottom of the screen.

The camera switches to one by the red carpet, where Chris and Seung-gil are standing with two women: one with short red hair and the other with long black hair, both wearing haute couture gowns. 

“Welcome back!” Chris says. “We’re here with one of the talented young stars of the film, Mila Babicheva, accompanied by her lovely girlfriend and makeup artist extraordinaire, Sara Crispino.”

Mila, the redhead, poses with poise and sophistication, while Sara grins and waves excitedly at the camera. 

Seung-gil squints at something off-screen and shakes his head. “I’m not saying that. I don’t care what they’re wearing.” 

Sara giggles and Chris clears his throat.

“Would you believe this is Seung-gil’s first red carpet? He’s always had other engagements before, but tonight is a personal favor.”

“I was bribed with twelve ounces of A5 wagyu—” 

Chris steps in front of Seung-gil before he can finish his sentence. Smiling too widely, Chris asks, “So who are you wearing, ladies?” 

“Would you ask a man that question?” Mila counters, cool and collected. 

“Actually, I would, but point taken,” says Chris, not missing a beat. “Moving on. In Agape, your character was revealed to be a double agent. Are we going to find out where her loyalties lie?”

Mila breaks into a smile. “Without giving anything away, I think it’s safe to say her motivations will be clear after tonight.”

“Fantastic,” says Chris. “And how are you liking your move to the silver screen?”

“I’m loving it!” Mila replies. “Learning how to skate has been challenging, but it’s wonderful to write and produce, and of course, the cast is great”—this gets a wink from Chris—“and I love that I get to work with Sara again.”

“Working with both of you is delightful.” Turning to Sara, Chris adds, “I can’t wait to see your makeup magic tonight.”

Sara is giddy. “Thank you, Chris! We had a lot of fun with this movie, and we have so much fun on the show! Oh!” She whirls around to face Seung-gil, speaking very fast. “This is my first red carpet, too, Seung-gil! But you look great and you should totally hang with us at the afterparty.” 

“No,” Seung-gil says, deflecting her warm smile.

Unbothered, Sara strikes one last pose for the camera and says, “By the way, Chris, I’m wearing Givenchy, and these earrings are worth eight thousand dollars!” 

“And you look marvelous,” Chris replies as Sara and Mila walk on to pose for more pictures. A pair of gentlemen approach, one of whom looks dejected while the other appears to be living his best life. 

“Ah, here’s Sara’s brother, also from makeup,” says Chris. He turns to the happier man and grins. “And his very handsome date is none other than Thailand’s top figure skater and current Four Continents gold medalist, Phichit Chulanont!” Chris kisses Phichit on the cheek. “Congratulations, Phichit!”

“Thanks, Chris!” Phichit pulls out a phone and takes a quick selfie with Chris and Seung-gil, then looks Seung-gil up and down, eyes wide. “Wow, you look hot! Do you remember me from when I visited your set?”

Seung-gil doesn’t smile back or answer the question, but he does say, “You were underscored at Worlds.”

“You really think so?” Phichit beams and gives him a slight bow with his palms pressed together. “Thank you so much for watching me!” 

Seung-gil barely shrugs, but Chris smirks and says, “Be still my heart, am I sensing a love connection?”

“No,” says Seung-gil.

Chris winks. “Oh, go on. I have it on good authority that Phichit and Michele came as friends tonight.” 

“Oh, so you do know my name,” Michele grumbles. “We’re not even friends—he just wanted to come to a red carpet.”

“And who are you wearing, Phichit?” Chris asks, gesturing to Phichit’s unique, modern suit. 

Phichit’s eyes light up and he poses. “Isn’t it cool? This is by a designer from Bangkok, Chanchai—”

“Phichit had literally nothing to do with this movie!” Michele protests.

An unseen crew member pushes Michele and Phichit away. Chris, still smiling, elbows Seung-gil. “Oh, is that Otabek Altin I see?” 

“Yes,” says Seung-gil.

Otabek walks up, adjusting his collar. “Good evening,” he says in a stiff voice.

“My, don’t you look dashing, Otabek!” Chris croons. Otabek swallows and stares at the camera but says nothing, and Chris goes on. “Now, this is your first major motion picture, but you’re getting a lot of early buzz about your performance,” his smile turns sly, “and your body. Care to share your workout regimen?”

Otabek frowns, a tiny bead of sweat glinting on his forehead. “I worked with a trainer. I ate a very strict diet.” 

“Fascinating!” Chris says. His tongue darts out to lick his lips as he gazes at Otabek’s broad chest. “Anything to add, Seung-gil?” 

“What was your daily protein intake?” Seung-gil asks, squinting as if sizing him up. Unlike Chris, there’s no hunger in his eyes. “Fifty seven grams?”

Otabek shifts his weight from one foot to the other. “I guess.”

Seung-gil nods and his face goes blank once more. Otabek clenches his teeth and tugs at his collar again. For several seconds, the microphones only pick up background noise. 

Chris brightens at something off camera. “Oh, thank god, it’s Yuri Plisetsky!” 

Yuri approaches, wearing a genuine smile and a leopard-print velvet suit. Otabek exhales, relaxing once Yuri reaches his side.

“Yurio!” Chris booms, patting him on the back. “Man of the evening.”

Yuri’s smile sours. “I’m in a good mood, so I’m gonna let the nickname slide, Frosty Tips.”

Seung-gil snorts, and Chris shoots him a dirty look. Seung-gil doesn’t notice, his face going analytical once more as he turns to Yuri. “Based on Ilya’s character arc in Agape, he’s going to have to kill to protect the innocent in Eros, isn’t he?”

“Hey!” Yuri’s eyes go wide. “No spoilers! But you better believe his character arc is amazing!”

“Oh?” Chris asks. “And do we get to see Ilya’s true Eros?”

“Gross,” says Yuri, curling his lip. “You spend too much time with Viktor.”

Chris feigned innocence. “You know everyone’s talking about your on-screen romance with Mr. Altin here. Can we expect a kiss?”

Yuri’s cheeks redden. “You’ll just have to watch the movie, okay? We’re done.”

Yuri pulls Otabek off-screen and the background chatter ramps up to ear-splitting shrieks.

“Yuri’s Angels are out in full force tonight,” Chris chuckles. Something catches his eye and he corrects his posture, then clears his throat. “Why don’t you introduce our next arrival, Seung-gil?”

“Director Lilia Baranovskaya,” says Seung-gil as Lilia walks up. Neither smiles.

Chris clears his throat. “Congratulations on your new film, Lilia.”

“Thank you.”

“So,” Chris begins, gathering himself, “Agape had a gritty, dark mood, but from the previews, Eros feels brighter. Dreamier, maybe. What was your approach for the sequel?”

Lilia lifts her chin, cutting an imposing profile. “The tonal shift is intentional. I wanted my actors to show different sides of themselves while staying true to the source material, and everyone rose to the challenge, especially young Yura. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that reinvention is the hallmark of a good actor.”

Chris nods and says, “Indeed.” It’s clear he would have agreed with whatever Lilia said. 

“But at their cores, both films are about love, and they’re meant to complement each other.”

“And speaking of love,” Chris points at something off camera, “here comes another one of the movie’s stars, and his handsome date!” 

Lilia closes her eyes, exasperated. “I said the films were about love, not public displays of affection.”

“And on that note, it seems Viktor’s been held up,” says Chris, shaking his head fondly as Lilia takes her leave. “Why am I not surprised? But here’s Anya Garina to save our fashion-starved souls!”

Anya wears a showstopping gown, done in deep, glittering red with a dramatic slit. She sweeps her glossy curls out of the way and exchanges kisses with Chris. She moves to do the same with Seung-gil and he goes ashen.

“Congratulations, Anya,” says Chris, gently taking her arm to center her on camera while Seung-gil takes a deep breath. “Been hearing wonderful things about your performance.”

Anya nods. “The response has been fantastic. I’m so grateful for Lilia, my cast mates, the crew, and of course, the fans.”

“Sounds like you’re all set for your acceptance speech,” Chris says with a smile. 

Anya’s own smile doesn’t falter, and her diamond choker glints in the camera like a solar flare. It’s definitely worth more than eight thousand dollars. “Just throwing it out there.” But the crowds are calling her name, and she struts past Chris to greet them.

Seung-gil seems to have recovered from the shock, but he taps his foot and glowers, no longer trying to hide his displeasure. 

“Well, I suppose we can talk to JJ Leroy while we—” Roars from the crowd drown out Chris’s voice and the camera cuts away to Viktor and Yuuri.

They’re a vision, holding hands and gazing at each other in coordinating white suits. Subtle gold embroidery along the right lapels glitters in the sunlight, but it pales in comparison to their glowing smiles.

Chris throws his arms around both of them. Seung-gil backs away a few steps.

“Look at the two of you!” Chris releases them, beaming like a proud father. “Wow, where do we start? Viktor, congratulations on the movie, congratulations on the television show, congratulations on Yuuri.” Chris runs his hand down Yuuri’s arm as he says his name.

“Chris…” says Yuuri, blushing even as he grins from ear to ear. 

“And Yuuri! World Champion and Grand Prix winner in your first season back! What’s next for you two?” 

“Well, Yuuri’s going back to school this year so I’m sure he’ll be busy with homework,” Viktor says, pride written all over his face. “And he’s already training hard for next season, not to mention consulting for our show, On Thin Ice: Razor’s Edge, coming to Hulu this fall!” Looking directly at the camera, he adds, “I hope everyone out there will watch it!”

“And what about you, darling?” Chris asks.

“Viktor really put his heart into the show,” Yuuri says, smoothing the front of Viktor’s tuxedo. “And I don’t want to give anything away, but he’s also been trying lots of new recipes at home.”

Viktor punctuates Yuuri’s statement with a wink. 

“Oh ho?” Chris raises his eyebrows. “Perhaps another cookbook in the works? Or maybe another foray into television?” 

“You’ll see,” says Viktor, raising his right hand to his chin.

Seung-gil frowns at Viktor’s hand, then points. “You weren’t wearing that ring on set.”

“Wasn’t I?” Viktor asks, coyly biting his ring finger. 

Chris holds up Yuuri’s right hand. “Yuuri has one, too! Do you have something to tell us? I sincerely hope you didn’t do anything rash without informing your dear friend Chris.”

“Your dear friend Phichit would also like to know so he can send you a congratulatory fondue pot!” Phichit adds, barreling into the shot out of nowhere to grab Yuuri’s arm. 

“Well,” Viktor begins dramatically, “it all started almost three years ago, or maybe it started thirteen years ago...”

“Viktor, they're about to start the movie!” says Yuuri, shaking Phichit and Chris off his arm.

“Right!” Viktor grins. “We’re engaged!”

And with that, he and Yuuri charge off for the theater to screams and gasps, leaving Chris and Phichit dumbfounded and Seung-gil confused. 

Chris recovers first. “Well, you heard it here first, folks! Viktor Nikiforov and Yuuri Katsuki are engaged! And that about does it for the red carpet coverage of the Eros premiere. From all of us here in New York, thanks for watching, and be sure to check out Eros in theaters next week.”

Before the sound cuts out, Chris can be heard saying to Phichit, “Well, there’s our viral moment.” 

Phichit is still reeling with excitement. He turns to an impassive Seung-gil to shake his hand, then hugs Chris just as the video cuts off.

———

Viktor was plotting his escape even before the credits rolled. He could feel his mother’s presence even six rows back, just itching to press Viktor about the engagement. Once the screen went black (Lilia didn’t believe in “after the credits” scenes) he grabbed Yuuri’s hand.

“Let’s skip the afterparty,” he whispered in Yuuri’s ear. He pulled back in time to catch Yuuri’s radiant smile. 

“I like the sound of that.”

It wasn’t that he and Yuuri had tried to hide the engagement from anyone—it had only happened the day before the premiere. They had just “happened” across a jewelry store, and Yuuri had pulled him in to get something “to celebrate.” The next thing he knew, they were buying rings and exchanging promises that felt more like vows, and then they were off to the premiere with matching gold bands.

To anyone else, it might seem like an impulsive decision, but Viktor knew that once Yuuri had his mind set on something, he did it. 

He was beginning to think it ran in the family, because Mari was on them before the lights went up. 

“Great movie,” she said casually. “Anything you want to tell us?” 

“Whatever do you mean?” Viktor asked, smoothing his hair with his right hand and putting his ring on prominent display. Yuuri’s eyes darted toward the exit, his hopes of slipping away fading by the moment. 

Mari frowned. “Don’t be cute—”

“Viktor Petrovich.”

A stern voice interrupted Mari, so severe that even she looked up in surprise. Viktor didn’t have to turn around to know who it was.

“Hello, Mom,” said Viktor. “Glad you made it to the premiere.”

“Turn around, Vitya,” she snapped, and Viktor did. He almost did a double take when he saw his father next to her. There might as well have been a unicorn on her other side, but Viktor pasted a recovery smile on his face. 

His mother didn’t look as mad as he thought she would, but she wasn’t smiling back. 

“Congratulations. I’m so happy for you.” She pursed her lips into what was probably supposed to be a smile. “Even if I had to find about your engagement at the same time as all of these people I’ve never met, oh, and thousands of strangers on the internet.”

At least his father looked happy. “Oh, I bet more people watched the livestream than that,” he said. Turning to Yuuri, he added, “Congratulations! It’s nice to finally meet you!”

Viktor nudged Yuuri forward without letting go of him.

“This is the engineering student slash figure skater?” his mother asked, sizing Yuuri up. Yuuri swallowed and Viktor squeezed his hand. There was no hint of disapproval in her voice, but Yuuri didn’t know that. 

“This is Yuuri Katsuki, my fiance,” Viktor said, running his thumb over Yuuri’s ring to reassure him. 

“H-hello.” Yuuri’s voice was so soft it was hard to hear him in the crowded theater. Mari stood tall at his side, having regained her composure. 

Without warning, Viktor’s mother stepped forward and embraced Viktor and Yuuri at the same time. “Welcome to the family, Yuuri,” she said. The hug was brief, but Viktor would have to explain to Yuuri later that this gesture meant they were as good as married in her eyes. Her hug was followed by a longer hug from Viktor’s father, which needed no explanation. 

“So, when’s the wedding?” he asked when he pulled back. 

“Well—” 

A shrill scream cut Yuuri off. 

“IT’S YURIO!” 

Since when was Mari even capable of that vocal register? Viktor followed her gaze to where Yuri and Otabek were trying to sneak out the same side door that Viktor had been eyeing. Her shout alerted Yakov, who shot off to drag Yuri back. Mari covered her mouth, realizing her crime.

It was for the best—Viktor and Yuuri had promised her she could meet Yuri, and it wasn’t going to happen if he was on the back of Otabek’s motorcycle.

By then, the rest of Yuuri’s family had found them and offered their elated support, and now Yuuri was making introductions. Viktor’s mother was in as good of a mood as he had ever seen her, smiling at Yuuri’s parents and making small talk right along with his father.

“Have you set a date?” she asked, turning to Yuuri and Viktor once more. She pulled out her phone, looking every inch the no-nonsense coach she was. “I’ll need plenty of notice to clear my calendar.”

“Of course,” Viktor said seriously, tapping his chin and pretending to give it a lot of thought. He and Yuuri shared a look, and a shiver of excitement rolled through him as he imagined how much better they would get at wordless communication after years of marriage. 

“We thought long and hard about it,” Yuuri went on, nodding at his own parents. “And there was really only one day that made sense for us.”

Their families nodded in anticipation, and Viktor grinned.

“So,” Viktor began, “how does this Sunday look for everyone?”

There was nothing as fulfilling as the immeasurable love and devotion he felt every time he looked into Yuuri’s eyes, but Viktor had to admit, the incredulous look on his mother’s face came surprisingly close.

#Viktuuri is Official! 

Viktor Nikiforov and Yuuri Katsuki tied the knot in not one but two private ceremonies in Brooklyn last Sunday! The wedding came just days after announcing their engagement at the American premiere of Viktor’s new film, Eros.

The couple shared two adorable wedding photos on their Instagram accounts.

[embedded Instagram post from @yuri-katsuki, Yuuri and Viktor kissing, surrounded by flowers, in matching white tuxedos]

[embedded Instagram post from @v-nikiforov, Yuuri and Viktor smiling at each other in formal men’s kimonos]

“They timed it so their parents could attend the weddings and the premiere,” a source tells this reporter. 

“The grooms couldn’t stop smiling all night,” adds another source. “But you could hardly tell because they couldn’t stop kissing, either.” 

In contrast to their very public courtship, the ceremonies were well-kept secrets. The only other public photos of the night have come from the Instagram account of Yuuri’s close friend and competitor Phichit Chulanont. A video of the first dance was uploaded and promptly deleted by now-deactivated YouTube user sukeota3sisters2.

The Japanese ceremony was said to be simple and traditional, while the Western ceremony and reception were anything but. Trimmings reportedly included custom Popovich tuxedos, a champagne fountain sculpted from ice, and a menu of culinary delights from internationally renowned chefs.

Guests in attendance included A-listers like Christophe Giacometti, Anya Garina, and Yuri Plisetsky, the entire Yakov Feltsman production company, multiple Olympic figure skaters, as well as family and friends. Even Viktor’s famous pooch Makkachin took part in the festivities! 

The couple is currently honeymooning in Japan, so check back here for all the latest #Viktuuri updates! Be sure to follow the happy couple on Instagram, but don’t let the boss catch you—those stories are [flame emoji]! 

“Are our stories really that bad?” Viktor asked, hooking his chin over Yuuri’s shoulder.

Yuuri locked his phone and put it on the floor next to the futon. “The JSF did sort of slap me on the wrist for that last one, so we should probably keep them PG from now on.”

It wasn’t so much that the videos were explicit, but Yuuri’s drunken self wasn’t the best decision maker. After three cocktails, he had decided that the world needed to see him, er, necking with Viktor on the beach. Necking with clear intent and a rather loud soundtrack.

Sober Yuuri was a little embarrassed, but not embarrassed enough to take it down before it expired. 

“PG? That’s no fun,” whined Viktor. Yuuri turned to capture that protruding lower lip in a kiss, and that cheered his husband up quickly. When he pulled back, Viktor looked thoughtful. “Now that you mention it, Yakov told me to knock it off, too.”

“Did he?” Yuuri asked with a chuckle. He had figured out early in the relationship that Viktor didn’t really listen to Yakov.

“And Yura says he’s not speaking to us until we can ‘keep that shit where it belongs.’” 

“Yeah, he sent that to me, too,” said Yuuri, recalling the angry text message.

Viktor wrapped his arms around Yuuri, pulling him flush against his chest. A mischievous spark lit up Viktor’s eyes when Yuuri turned to face him. “It’s almost like they want us to go off the grid,” said Viktor, voice low.

Yuuri and Viktor were both experts in disappearing, but this time, they were together, and that made all the difference. They only had nine days of honeymoon left, and Yuuri intended to make the most of them. 

“Then who are we to deny them?” He returned Viktor’s sly smile, reached for his phone, and powered it off. Viktor did the same with his own, then tucked both phones away in a suitcase. 

The rest of their honeymoon was decidedly not PG, and the 2,986 missed messages between them when they returned to New York were totally worth it.