For something that only contained eggs, the box was ridiculously heavy.
Viktor shuffled through the doorway into the kitchen, hefting the box higher up in his arms. He glanced at the clock. It was 8 o’clock in the morning. Yuuri was still in bed.
“Ahh, Vicchan!” Hiroko looked up from where she stood by the kitchen counter with Mari, who was bent over a steaming pot of rice. Hiroko pressed her hands together and beamed at Viktor. “Thank you very much!”
Viktor put the box down on top of a stack of other boxes he carried. That’s the last one. Thank goodness. He stood straight and stretched out his arms, feeling the ache in them. He grinned, although the too-wide stretch of his lips to expose his teeth felt wrong, like his smile was sitting oddly on his face. “It’s no problem at all. I’m happy to help.”
“You should be resting on your holiday.” Hiroko shook her head at him, smiling.
Viktor usually spoke to Yuuri’s family in Hasetsu’s local dialect. After having been with Yuuri for more than a year, he’d been able to grasp the language with relative ease (though reading the Hasetsu newspapers was still far beyond him). But Mari had recently persuaded Hiroko and Toshiya to take English classes, for the sake of the increasing numbers of foreign visitors eager to visit the home of Katsuki Yuuri, their new World champion. Hiroko and Toshiya were fond of practising their English on Viktor, and he didn’t mind.
Viktor shrugged. “It’s not as if we’re here to help all year round,” he pointed out, and Hiroko hummed in agreement.
“Your knee, though,” Mari said, glancing up at Viktor, frowning. “It’s still healing. It shouldn’t be taking too much weight.”
“It’ll be fine,” Viktor said dismissively. Mari’s frown didn’t abate. Viktor looked away from her.
“We will continue to make breakfast now,” Hiroko told him. She enunciated her words carefully, her eyes tracking Viktor’s expression carefully as if making sure that he had understood her.
Viktor smiled and nodded. “I’ll go and see if Yuuri is awake!” He waved cheerily and ducked out of the kitchen and into the serving area. Most of the guests were already seated, and the low thrum of conversation dipped momentarily as some caught sight of him. Viktor glanced at the television, and startled a little when he saw himself there. On television, he was dressed soberly in a gray suit, speaking into the microphone in Russian. The media had taken the footage from the press conference he’d held in Moscow to announce his retirement; of course, even if Yuuri was their hero, the Japanese media wouldn’t fail to cover this news. A little unsettled at the attention on himself, he deliberately turned away and into the corridor leading to the resort’s rooms. The conversation in the serving area resumed at a normal volume.
Light shone almost too brightly from the window in the corridor. Viktor avoided looking directly at the window as he passed it. It was August now, and they were in the thick of summer. Yuuri was fond of using the temperature as an excuse for them to sleep in on their free days, which was always a plus.
Viktor pulled open the door to Yuuri’s room and slipped inside, reaching back behind him for the door knob. The sight that greeted him made him smile a little. This time, the little quirk of his lips upwards felt a lot more natural.
When he’d left to wash up and help Hiroko with the delivery boxes, Yuuri had been curled up on his side on the bed, fast asleep. In the time since he’d been gone, Yuuri had sprawled out over the bed on his stomach, his face buried in Viktor’s pillow and the covers kicked off his body. The morning rays of light kissed his bare skin. Yuuri usually liked to sleep completely clothed, but in this heat, that was almost impossible.
Yuuri didn’t stir as Viktor approached the bed, stripping off his shirt as he went. Sitting down on the bed carefully, Viktor touched his hand to Yuuri’s shoulder, squeezing him gently. Yuuri twitched, grunting, and after a moment, he dragged himself up to shift onto his side on the bed, facing away from Viktor, leaving Viktor with just enough space to fit beside him.
Viktor drew his legs up on the bed. He burrowed down against Yuuri, setting an arm down into the dip of Yuuri’s waist, fingers brushing low against the soft cotton of Yuuri’s boxers without any particular intent. Yuuri stretched a little and yawned, a little shiver running through his whole body.
Viktor bent his free arm at the elbow to pillow his head on his upper arm. He closed his eyes, pacing his breathing until his heart slowed and his thoughts settled. He pressed his cheek against Yuuri’s head and tightened his arm about Yuuri’s waist. In response, Yuuri pushed his back and hips back against Viktor so that they were closer, curling his fingers over Viktor’s hand on his waist. Yuuri was pliant and relaxed against Viktor; his skin was just a little too warm and sticky with sweat. It was from the summer heat, Viktor knew, and they’d been so tired last night that they had just collapsed into bed and fallen into a deep slumber right away.
Yuuri made a sudden grumbling noise of irritation and fidgeted, tugging Viktor’s arm off his waist and lower, onto his hips. He brought his legs up, curling up so that his lower half wasn’t in contact with Viktor’s body. “It’s so hot. Why didn’t you take off your pants before coming to bed? They’re sticking on my skin.” Yuuri’s voice rasped a little with the tug of drowsiness.
“They’re my softest pair,” Viktor said, opening his eyes, amused. “It’s not my fault you’re all sweaty.”
He glanced up. His eyes caught on the marks on the walls of Yuuri’s bedroom, remnants of Blu Tack and some yellowed tape betraying the positions of the old posters Yuuri used to hang up in his childhood. He hid his smile in Yuuri’s hair, fluffy against his face. Ever since Yuuri had moved with him to St Petersburg, Mari used to dig up Yuuri’s old posters of him and stick them up onto Yuuri’s walls. Of course, when Yuuri came back home for visits, he’d always splutter and rush to take the posters down, sniping at Mari in Japanese. Mari would always say that Yuuri’s room didn’t look right without the posters of Viktor, but privately, Viktor thought that she enjoyed seeing Yuuri squirm in embarrassment as if he was thirteen instead of twenty-six.
“What would teenage Yuuri do if he had me in his bed? Like this?” Viktor asked, rolling onto his back on the small bed. Yuuri made an enquiring noise in his throat and turned around, shifting so that his head rested on Viktor’s shoulder. Viktor put his arm around Yuuri and tugged him closer so that their bodies were flush against each other. Yuuri resisted the contact at first, probably still feeling overwarm, but then he relaxed. Viktor’s fingers slid over the sweat that had pooled in the small of Yuuri’s back.
“Scream and then run to the bathroom, probably,” Yuuri murmured, a small smile curving his lips.
“No? He wouldn’t even give me a little kiss?” Viktor asked, pouting.
No matter Yuuri’s thoughts on the subject, Viktor was certain that Yuuri was the most versatile person he’d ever known, although he was also harder on himself than anyone else was. Yuuri had moved away to America at eighteen and thrived there, but he hadn’t returned home for five years – not even in the off-season – as if he was punishing himself, as if visits home were privileges granted only to those who earned it. And again, soon after he’d met Viktor, he uprooted his life all over again to move with him to Russia.
Viktor loved Japan, and he loved Hasetsu dearly, but it wasn’t quite home to him in the way Russia was. Not yet – things could change, but for now, that was what it was. He knew that Yuuri was aware of his feelings, though, and not for the first time, he wondered if moving to Russia was what Yuuri really wanted. Well, after Yuuri retired, they could work out where they wanted to settle down permanently.
Yuuri started to shift on the bed, oblivious to Viktor’s train of thought. Yuuri sat up and scooted over to the side of the bed, bending over to reach for his pants. Viktor watched the way the muscles in Yuuri’s shoulders rolled as he worked out the kinks in his back.
“It’s time for breakfast,” Yuuri said. He glanced back at Viktor. “Then shall we take Makkachin out? We can visit Yuuko at the rink too. I promised her I’d help with some group classes.”
“Sure.” Viktor only hesitated a little longer before he sighed and pulled himself to sit up.
“Yurio, it’s so good to see you!” Yuuri exclaimed, and rushed over to hug Yuri tight. When Yuri was fifteen, he would have struggled away from Yuuri’s embrace with vehement protests. Now, at seventeen, he accepted the hug with grace, if somewhat reluctantly.
“You saw me just over a week ago,” Yuri said. His eyes met Viktor’s over Yuuri’s head.
Older or not, there were limits to Yuri’s patience. He grunted and let go of Yuuri, approaching Viktor. “It’s about time you two came back. We’ve got a lot to do in practise.”
“And for the ice show!” Viktor said cheerily. He clasped Yuri’s hand as if to shake it, and then used his grip to pull Yuri to his side. This time, Yuri did protest the contact, grumbling and making to pull away, but Viktor’s hold on him was too tight. Laughing, Yuuri joined Viktor on his other side. “ Viktor and Friends, remember? It’s why we’re here in Moscow, not back home!”
Yuri tugged hard and pulled free with a huff. “I’m still not sure why you had to choose such a cliché title for the show.”
“What would you rather have called it? Viktor on Darkness?” Viktor pressed a finger to his lip. Fine, he would admit it: he was just baiting Yuri.
Yuri gawked furiously at him for a moment. “No, idiot! Can we fucking start walking?!” He strode ahead of them. His ears were reddened. Yuuri and Viktor exchanged amused glances before grabbing their luggage and following.
They took the same taxi to the hotel all the skaters were staying in, but Yuri abandoned them in the lobby, mentioning something about Otabek waiting to meet him for dinner. After they had handed their luggage off to the bellboys, they walked over to the receptionist, who smiled widely at them as they approached.
“A room with a king bed, under Nikiforov,” Viktor told her.
“Alright, sir.” She nodded, her eyes on her computer screen. Viktor leaned against the desk of the reception, turning his head to smile at Yuuri. Yuuri smiled back at him, hiding a yawn behind his palm. Viktor took his free hand, holding it loosely and thumbing at Yuuri’s ring.
“I’m sorry, sir.” The receptionist was frowning. “There’s no room as you describe booked under the name Nikiforov. The only room under that name is one with a single bed.”
Yuuri let go of Viktor’s hand, leaning over the desk to squint at the receptionist’s computer screen, which she angled towards him obligingly. “This is a mistake. I’m fairly sure we booked a different room. Can you get us another room with a king bed?”
She shook her head. “My apologies. It’s pretty clear here. All our rooms are fully booked.” Viktor pinched the bridge of his nose, his eyes aching with tiredness. The next hotel was over a mile away and too far from the rink.
Yuuri sighed and looked back at Viktor. “Shall we just take it?”
Annoyance was building up in Viktor, making him snap. “What, so we’re supposed to squeeze into one tiny bed?” With the state of his knee, there was no way he was sleeping anywhere else but on a proper bed.
“We don’t really have a choice, do we?” Yuuri said testily. “We can switch with Yuri or someone else tomorrow. We’re only practising for the show tomorrow anyway.”
“Fine,” Viktor bit out.
“The room is 33A, on the tenth floor,” the receptionist said, her gaze lowered.
Yuuri took the keys. The air was palpably thick with tension, but something prideful and ugly was keeping Viktor from apologizing. He followed Yuuri into the lift, the bellboys followed them, and they made their way to the room.
They had already taken their dinner on the plane, and Viktor’s appetite was gone. As Yuuri carefully arranged their skating costumes up in the wardrobe, Viktor went to shower. He should clear the air with Yuuri, he knew. They’d never get a proper night of sleep otherwise. But when he finished, Yuuri was sitting at the window, frowning down at his phone. He didn’t even look up when Viktor entered the room.
Viktor huffed pettily, too worn out to make any effort, hanging his towel on a chair to dry. He quickly wrapped his knee up in bandages and climbed into bed. His exhaustion weighed his eyelids down as he lay his head down on his pillow.
The next thing he knew, he was in a fitful haze. He was performing his free skate at his last ever Worlds. He was gathering momentum for his last jump. Everything was fine – he was going to land it. He knew he would, as surely as he knew he was breathing. When he had enough speed, he bent his knee and launched off, striking his toe pick against the ice to propel himself upwards. He rotated – once, twice, thrice, he was starting the fourth, but then something was going wrong, he was teetering, and then he was falling, crashing hard on the ice. The audience was gasping, crying out in horror. His knee hurt badly. He was cold, colder than the ice, yet hot with humiliation. When he rolled onto his back on the ice and looked down, he saw himself. His costume had vanished, he was naked, skin exposed to reveal a mess of torn muscle and broken bones.
Viktor jolted and sat up in bed, his breath coming in harsh pants. He fisted a trembling hand over his mouth to keep himself contained. Yuuri was still fast asleep – wasn’t he? He glanced down, squinting to see in the dim light coming in from the window of their hotel room. Yes, Yuuri’s eyes were closed, his breaths even, deep in the hold of his slumber.
Viktor inched his way out of the too-small bed, sliding out from underneath the covers. His muscles were tense as he tried not to shift the mattress with his weight too much. He slipped his feet into his slippers and moved off the bed, heading to the bathroom. He exchanged slippers and switched the bathroom light on, closing the bathroom door behind him so the light wouldn’t disturb Yuuri.
He walked to the sink and turned the tap. He cupped his hands under the stream of water flowing onto his fingers and splashed his face. He gathered up more water in his hands and dampened his shoulders, his neck, and his chest. His eyes ached fiercely, a consequence of waking up in the middle of the night. There was a fleeting thought of taking a quick shower to wash off any more sweat on him, but he was so exhausted. He just couldn’t be bothered. He twisted the tap closed and took the towel hanging off the side of the sink, patting it over his face.
As he ran the towel down over his torso, he caught the motion of his hair falling over his face in the mirror. He looked up, eyes trailing over himself. His face looked drawn tight, too pale. He looked old. He was just thirty now, but he looked even older than that. He wasn’t sure he could recognize what he saw in the mirror.
They had just come off the end of the season, so Viktor was still fit. But the time had come when he could no longer ignore the aches and pains in his body; the way doing quads took so much out of him already; how he sometimes felt almost drained by the time he reached the halfway point in his free skate.
His body would grow softer as he got older, his muscles weaker and less defined. He rested a hand on his chest, self-conscious in a way he hadn’t felt since he was a teenager and having to work to conceal the pimples sprouting on his face, to deal with his suddenly too long limbs. It was different now, very different. From this point onwards, there was no way for him to turn back to a life of competing. Eventually, he wouldn’t be able to perform quads, and then triples. His hair would start falling out. His eyesight would deteriorate. Getting on the ice and doing a simple spin would take more and more effort, until he couldn’t do it anymore. Maybe he’d lose his memory.
It was more than a little terrifying. He’d never known anything other than this life for over two decades. Viktor dropped the towel back where it belonged, moving slowly, discomfited with the train of thought his mind had taken. He slipped out of the bathroom and paused. The light from the bathroom fell over the bed. Yuuri had turned over in his sleep, and lay with his lips parted, an arm thrown out onto Viktor’s side of the bed. He looked so at home there, in their bed.
He was too tired to feel irrationally angry with Yuuri anymore.
Viktor reached back to thumb at the switch to the bathroom lights to turn them off, closing the bathroom door. He walked the short distance to the bed and sat down. Yuuri’s features were slack, his expression serene; he was blissfully unaware of what was going on in Viktor’s head. Viktor felt something like envy. If only being together meant that you could escape into your lover’s head whenever you liked.
Viktor reached out a hand to gently trace his fingers down Yuuri’s cheek. Yuuri’s skin was so smooth. Yuuri stirred, and Viktor jerked in surprise, retracting his arm, an apology blooming on his tongue.
“Viktor,” Yuuri murmured, his eyes still shut, before Viktor could say anything. “Come to bed.”
“I am in bed,” Viktor said, smiling.
Yuuri cracked an eye open to frown at Viktor. He snatched out his hand, grabbing hold of Viktor’s arm and tugging sharply. Viktor let himself collapse into bed on his side, gasping dramatically. “Wow, Yuuri, you’re so strong!”
“Hush,” Yuuri complained. His hand was still holding Viktor’s arm, his grip loose, as if to keep Viktor there. He pulled up the duvet higher up to his shoulders and held up part of it, looking expectantly at Viktor. Viktor slid under the duvet. Warmth enveloped his body, and he reached down with his free hand to pull on the duvet and cover his back with it.
Yuuri moved closer. He slid his hand so that he was circling his fingers around Viktor’s wrist, pulling it closer to his face. He turned his head to kiss Viktor’s palm gently. He reached up to touch Viktor’s face with his free hand. “Vityenka. I love you.”
Viktor pressed his forehead to Yuuri’s, his eyes feeling wet. He closed them. In Yuuri’s words, there was forgiveness and acceptance all in one. Yuuri may not have known what was really on his mind, but somehow, he always knew what Viktor needed. “I love you too.”
They slept like that, foreheads pressed together, their hands clasped between them.
Ice shows were always hectic affairs, but they were very fun. Viktor loved performing at ice shows – the energy of the crowd was amazing, and they got to perform the programs they enjoyed without the pressure of competing. But lately, what Viktor had come to appreciate the most about ice shows was the fact that everyone was in the same city, together, free to gather for lunches and dinners. They could rarely hang out like this during the competitive season, practices taking up all their time, and more often than not, at most competitions other than Worlds or the Team Trophy, they were thousands of miles apart from each other.
Viktor’s life had always been so focused on the ice that he had no time for gallivanting about the city, and even less time for deepening his relationships with his fellow skaters. But he remembered when he first started to coach Yuuri. Yuuri was so different from him. Just as focused, but he knew that the relationships you cultivated mattered too. Yuuri had no idea just how much he inspired those around him, but Viktor saw it.
“The transition from juniors to seniors is so tough,” Cao Bin said, propping his chin up on his hand, his elbow on the table. His eyes were fixed on Yuuri. “My younger sister was asking me about it the other day, but I had no idea how to advise her. I stumbled all through my debut season, really. I had no idea what I was doing. But you, Yuuri… I’m sure you have a lot of advice!”
“Me?” Yuuri looked startled. Viktor chuckled in amusement, leaning back in his chair and slinging an arm around Yuuri’s shoulders. Yuuri leaned into Viktor almost absently.
“Yes, you!” Phichit swallowed his mouthful and pointed his spoon at Yuuri. “At your senior debut, you were already the three-time Japanese national champion; in addition to that, you got silver at Skate America, another silver at Four Continents, and you placed fifth at Worlds! And you have the audacity to act clueless?”
“I’m not acting clueless!” Yuuri squawked. “How did you remember all that?! I just, well, the transition is difficult for everyone. Everyone has to deal with growth spurts, everyone has to practise harder. There’s even more talent in the ladies, too, so your sister’s got to be prepared for that. I guess the only thing I wish I had known before making the transition was everyone’s been in the same boat before, and that it’s okay to talk to older skaters about it.”
Cao Bin was listening intently, his soup forgotten.
“And don’t underestimate how important support is,” Yuuri continued. “From your friends, from your rinkmates and your coach, from… your family too. Skype with them often if you’re in a different country! Visit them when you can.” Yuuri’s mouth twisted a little as he said this, and Viktor tightened his arm about Yuuri’s shoulders. It made him sad to think of Yuuri, all alone in America, so far from his family.
“Don’t you look proud of Yuuri, sitting there like a king,” Chris said to him, looking at him askance.
“I sure am,” Viktor said, smiling. “How’s your fiancé?” Chris brightened, leaning closer as he chatted.
Nodding along as Chris spoke, Viktor reached for a French fry from one of the shared bowls on the table. Now that he was retired… well, he could help himself to as many fries as he wanted. Within reason, of course. He had an ice show to run.
The rink was brightly illuminated by the sunlight shining through the grand windows of the building, just as it always was when they were just starting preparations for the new season. Viktor stood where Yakov usually stood, near the middle of the ice, his arms folded over his chest as he watched Yuuri go through the new version of his step sequence in his free skate. He felt almost wistful – it was the first time he’d ever spent in his home rink solely as a coach, not as a skater. Even his garb was different from the skaters in practice wear around him. The jacket he wore felt a little heavier than usual on his shoulders. Yakov wasn’t there, that day – he was on leave to visit his sister in Moscow.
There were a couple of little Junior girls standing at the edge of the ice, watching him and Yuuri with wide eyes. Yakov had recently accepted them – they were Zhenya and Katya, if Viktor was remembering their names right. When they saw Viktor looking, Zhenya jumped in surprise, and then she tugged at Katya’s arm. The girls hastily sped off to start laps around the rink. Viktor found himself smiling as he turned back to Yuuri, who was running through his step sequence again and hadn’t even noticed the girls.
Viktor coughed. “You get started on quad toe-triple axel combinations after this go, I need some water.”
Yuuri nodded, although he didn’t look up, his brows furrowed in concentration.
Viktor turned to skate to the side boards. Mila was there, leaning against the barriers and frowning down at a practice video of her doing a triple axel. As he approached, she looked up and blinked. She smiled. “Vitya, how are you doing?” She glanced down at her phone one more time and then put it down on one of the high tables at the side of the rink.
“I’m fine,” he said. He took his bottle off the table and twisted it open, gulping down a good amount of water. He lowered the bottle and wiped at his mouth, peering at Mila. “And you? How’s your progress on the axel?”
“My success rate on it has improved to about eighty-five per cent,” Mila said, beaming. “So I think it’s ready for competition. Taking your new role as assistant coach seriously, are you?”
Viktor shrugged, smiling ruefully. “Well, I’ve only experienced coaching Yuuri, but it’s a start. I’d like to branch out a little.”
“Right, Yuuri can’t compete forever.”
Viktor waved a hand dismissively. “Yuuri has several more years left in him before he needs to think of retirement. He hasn’t quite reached his peak yet.”
“That’s right, Yuuri’s on fire,” Mila agreed. “He’s broken six records already, hasn’t he?”
He nodded in agreement, his eyes straying away just in time to see Yuuri launch into his combination jump. The height Yuuri achieved on his quad was insane, he thought, but the following triple could have had more ice coverage. He’d tell Yuuri that later.
He turned back to Mila, who was looking at him contemplatively, her eyebrows furrowed. He cocked his head at her.
Mila shifted in her skates. “You know, back then, before Yuuri, I always wondered. We’d see you every day at the rink, but we never really knew you. You were always so distant… Approachable, sure, but you held something back.” She paused, clearing her throat.
Viktor watched her, letting the spout of his water bottle rest against his lips.
“In my braver moments, though, I always imagined asking you things like, are you happy? Do you sleep through the night? Do you have good dreams? What do you think when you look at yourself in the mirror? Do you buy your groceries alone? Do you have company over on the weekends? What do you do when you’re not skating, or sleeping, or eating? Exactly who are you, when you’re not being Viktor Nikiforov ?” The words seemed to tumble out too quickly, and she took a breath, pausing briefly. She looked at something behind him, then back at him, a smile curving her lips. “Now I see how you are with Yuuri, and I don’t think about asking you those things anymore.”
There was silence as Viktor took in her words. Those were intimate questions to ask, and in the hustle and bustle of their home rink, it would have been out of place and presumptuous of Mila if she had ever ventured to actually ask him those questions. Mila, who was nine years his junior, who had come crying to Viktor when her first girlfriend had broken up with her, who had always looked at everyone with those keen, intelligent eyes, constantly assessing. If Mila had asked him those things back then, he didn’t think he would have responded very well. They all had masks, and he had worked for years and years to hone his façade – Viktor Nikiforov, his decisions calculated so that he was untouchable. But now, he found himself appreciative of the thought that yes, there had been more people than he’d thought who had cared about him as a friend.
Before he could respond, there was the sound of skates scraping across the ice, someone approaching them on quick, intent strokes. Chilly fingers wrapped around his arm and Viktor turned to see Yuuri, smiling beatifically up at him, his cheeks flushed pink with exertion.
“Viktor, you didn’t see my quad toe combination. Come back to practice!”
Viktor glanced back at Mila, but she was smiling at him and Yuuri. It seemed that she didn’t need a response. He dipped his head towards her, a small but respectful motion, and she nodded.
Viktor turned back to Yuuri. “Show it to me now, Yuuri. I’m watching you.”
He was always watching Yuuri. He’d happily spend a lifetime doing just that.
As he stood at the centre of the ice, watching Yuuri gather speed to launch into his combination, he knew – Yuuri was his love, his home. There was nowhere else he belonged right now but here, on this rink in Russia, Yuuri with him, working on making something beautiful together. With Yuuri, life was a universe of possibilities. Yuuri would reach his peak and win many more competitions, Viktor would grow into his role as a coach, and, most importantly, they would be together through it all.
The future no longer scared him, not with Yuuri by his side.