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As of a Dream

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The first time Victor experiences a soulmate vision, he doesn’t recognize it for what it is.

One moment, he’s sitting at the back of a conference room with the weight of his World Junior Championships gold medal around his neck, flushed with the knowledge that not only had he won, he’d done it by breaking all three junior men’s singles world records in one go; the next, he’s somewhere else, his surroundings blurry and dreamlike. Only a few things stand out in detail – a bench that he’s sitting on, what looks like lockers around him, a television before him showing a blurry figure skating upon the ice, and an overwhelming sense of awe in his chest – and Victor has just enough time to think, locker room at a gym? before he’s jolted back, startled to find himself in his own skin.

Georgi elbows him again. “You can’t space out now, Vitya!” he whispers, and Victor blinks, his hand coming up clutch at his gold medal. It is solid and cold in his fingers, real; Victor raises his head and glances around him, and for one moment the slide of his long hair over his shoulders feels strange and unfamiliar before reality reinserts itself – he’s still sitting at the back the conference room with the rest of the Russian camp, waiting for the ISU to finish setting up for the interview session, and Georgi is eyeing him curiously, his own bronze medal around his neck. Both of them are in their Team Russia jackets, because of course, they’d just finished the free skate and the medal ceremony not too long ago.

“What was that?” Victor says, thrown off-guard but still aware enough to keep his voice low.

“What was what?” Georgi replies. “I know we’re not up yet, but there are already reporters around. You have to pay attention.”

“I mean—” Victor mentally flails. “I had the weirdest vision. One moment I was right here, and then—it was like I was dreaming. It was blurry and I’m not sure…”

He trails off, because Georgi’s eyes have gone very wide.

“Vitya. Vitya.”

“What?”

Georgi leans in closer, whispers it quietly enough that Victor has to strain to hear him. “Did you just get your first soulmate flash?”

“Ugh, Zhora, no,” Victor complains. Georgi is the first of their training batch to receive a soulmate vision, and since then he’s been talking about soulmates constantly and prodding his rinkmates about signs of their own.

And Victor might be sixteen, which in the eyes of the world means he’s more than old enough to get a girlfriend or a boyfriend or a something-more friend, but really, Victor just wants to skate on the ice, is that too much to ask?

“No, I’m serious!” Georgi exclaims, and Victor waves his hands frantically – heads are turning in their direction from Georgi’s outburst, and Yakov is shooting them a gimlet stare from the edge of the crowd, where he’s fielding questions from the ISU team. Victor pastes on the brightest and most innocent smile he can manage, and then jabs Georgi in the arm.

“Okay, okay, oh my god, you can give me your ten-minute spiel. Just keep your voice down.”

“I don’t need ten minutes,” Georgi mutters, ducking his head to avoid Yakov’s glare. “You were somewhere else, right?”

“Yeah,” Victor says reluctantly. “I thought it was a gym locker room or something.”

“And it was like… you were living the experience? Like you’re looking through someone else’s eyes.”

“I guess?” Victor thinks about it. The memory of the vision is fading a little, not helped by how Victor had been jolted out of it, but he remembers enough. “I was sitting down, like now. But there was a television, and I think it—yeah! I think I was watching a figure skating event!”

“Ooooh,” Georgi says, and Victor finds himself scowling defensively.

“What?”

“Was it you on the TV?”

“No!” Victor says reflexively, just barely remembering to keep his voice down. “I don’t think so – I told you, the whole thing was really blurry and vague.”

“It was totally you on TV. Your soulmate watched your Junior Worlds performances!”

“How would you know? Plus, the free skate was like two hours ago.”

Georgi rolls his eyes. “Delayed broadcast, Vitya. It’s like night time in half the world right now.” He brightens considerably a moment later. “That must have been your triggering event. You know, the thing that brings two souls closer together, that starts off your signs? I bet your soulmate has just seen you skating for the first time, and you totally captured their heart!”

“You just made that up,” Victor argues, although – that sense of awe in his vision wasn’t really his, was it? He’s feeling happy and proud and accomplished and now little confused, but awed? Not at all.

“Well, did you feel anything?” Georgi asks uncannily, like he’s read Victor’s mind. “Like an emotion, or maybe tiredness or discomfort, something that wasn’t yours? I felt pinched toes, you know, during my vision, but I don’t know if that means my soulmate wears heels or maybe some other kind of sports shoes.”

“Maybe,” Victor hedges, but Georgi pumps an arm anyway, triumphant. Georgi has always been a romantic – behind the smugness he’s starry-eyed, and he appears even more pleased about Victor’s potential soulmate than the bronze medal he earned.

“Stop that,” Victor growls, to cover up his rising embarrassment. He grew up in the eyes of the public and very rarely feels self-conscious anymore, but – a soulmate?

Less than a quarter of the population is recorded to have soulmates, and Victor has never really thought about it in reference to himself. Victor’s main motivation is to challenge himself on the ice, to drive himself further, faster, higher in the name of the sport. If anything, the only companion he wants – other than his rinkmates, because there’s no escaping the boisterous, ambitious gang at the Yubileyny Sports Palace – is a pet dog, someone he can love unconditionally and without inciting his rather zealous fanbase.

His wish for a pet dog might never be fulfilled, but like his ambitions for his career, Victor knows exactly what he wants. A standard poodle – one of the most intelligent dog breeds, athletic and skilled in many dog sports and activities, and extremely huggable.

A soulmate, on the other hand – that’s nebulous and unexpected. But the more Victor thinks about it—

Although soulmate pairs are considered blessed to the Russians, there’s a cautionary element to their belief of the phenomenon. Soulmates are simply the ones who best complements and understands your soul, and so they can take many forms: more commonly, a lover or platonic partner who accompanies you through life, or rarer, a rival or an adversary to overcome.

Victor doesn’t want a future lover – he’s not Georgi – but a partner or rival who can push him further and challenge Victor to achieve his greatest potential?

That’s quite appealing, actually. As is the fact that his soulmate seems to enjoy at least watching figure skating.

Georgi is still grinning like a cat with cream on its whiskers and a bird between its paws, and Victor pokes him in the arm a few more times for good measure. When they’re finally whisked off to the interviews, however, the reporters will note that Victor seems giddier than usual, and each and every single one of them will attribute it to the incredible way he shattered the junior men’s singles world records.

Only Georgi knows that that’s the not the only reason for Victor’s vibrant smiles, and if he’s grinning a little too widely as well – well, Georgi’s earned a Junior Worlds medal of his own.

*

Between the two of them, Georgi is the one who is visibly enamoured by the soulmate phenomenon; he tracks his visions meticulously, and moons for days each time he gets one. Victor is no less interested in his soulmate, but he learned at a very young age to watch what he presents to the public because the media can and will take everything he says and spin it any way they want. So Victor keeps his secrets close to heart, and when the question inevitably arises in interviews, neither confirms or denies anything.

Besides, he prefers to take the signs as they come and enjoy them for what they are. Soulmate signs, or visions, or flashes – there are so many names for the experience because there are so many varieties of them. Sometimes, it’s just strong emotions or sensory details bleeding through. Other times, it is complete visions, as if you are looking through your soulmate’s eyes. And more nebulously are flickers of familiarity or memories – the feeling of déjà vu or pre-knowledge, because you are experiencing something that your soulmate has lived through before, and your bond is resonating with it. 

It’s hardly an exact science, and that’s partly what Victor loves about it – the surprising nature of it all.

His infrequent signs over the next few years remain vague and daydreamy. The lap of hot water against his skin. The scent of the ocean mixed with the perfume of flowers, the sweet fragrance a subtle note under the headier brine carried by the wind. A studio space with wide mirrors and barres, and many lessons in ballet. A rink, gloriously empty and the ice pristine under his feet, and Victor wonders if he’s projecting his own hopes on his soulmate with that one. A happy, wiggling miniature poodle, butting its head up against his hand, so much smaller than Makkachin but no less friendly.

Then one day, a few months shy of his twenty-third birthday, Victor feels a swoop in the pit of his stomach, like the moment when the plane takes off but gravity still has a grip on him. Victor has flown plenty of times and so he knows the apprehension and shivery excitement isn’t his – but from then on, the soulmate signs he receives are more.

More solid, more detailed, more frequent. Not enough to identify who his soulmate is, but enough to tantalize, to give Victor hope. His soulmate has moved, Victor speculates, because gone is the ocean, the heady scent of blossoms, and even the little dog. Instead, Victor gets the buzz of a busy city, the chatter of English as the predominant language he hears and hamsters scampering over his legs.

There are constants, however, even if they are subtly different; another dance studio and another ice rink, and the first time Victor feels in a vision the shape of a medal in his hand, the tug of the ribbon around his neck, he finally understands why Georgi always crows about his soulmate signs. Victor has no idea what the medal is for; his soulmate is examining the medal, not newly receiving it, and the vision is just solid enough that Victor make out the golden hue of the medal but not the words inscribed upon it. It still makes Victor’s heart sing, however: the knowledge that his soulmate is a fellow athlete.

It should be maddening, to receive all these visions and signs and still have no concrete clue who his soulmate is, but Victor is stubborn and quite adept at twisting things to suit his needs. The unpredictable nature of the signs, the mystery surrounding his soulmate – all of them go into his skating. Victor’s competitive career is going well, and the idea that his soulmate is out there, likely watching him upon the ice, is a driving force all of its own.

But as the Russian figure skating community starts chattering about the ten-year anniversary of Victor’s incredible World Junior Championships finish, meaning that a whole decade has gone by since Victor discovered he has a soulmate, he begins wondering if this is what it will always be like – knowing that his heart’s companion is somewhere out there, beyond his reach, and the constant longing forever lingering in the background of Victor’s daily life, so familiar that Victor can’t quite remember what it is like to live without it.  

He doesn’t really have time to dwell on it, not in an Olympic season, but as always, his soulmate signs have a mind of their own. Victor is standing in his bathroom after a long day of training, and when he looks up at his mirror, a blurry figure stares back at him.

Victor’s first, nonsensical thought is wait, I’m pretty sure I took off my shirt before the rest of the vision actually registers: dark hair, a slimmer profile, and a bathroom behind him that looks nothing like the minimalistic one in Victor’s apartment. His heart thumps palpably in his chest, because for the very first time, Victor is looking at his soulmate – because Victor is experiencing this vision through his soulmate’s eyes, and his soulmate is standing in front of his own bathroom mirror.

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Short dark hair, dark eyes, slimmer profile, what looks like athletic wear – but Victor can’t make out his soulmate’s finer features, not enough to identify him by. Victor tries to squint or at least move closer, but visions don’t work like that, and he finally gives up with a silent huff.

It’s not fair, Victor murmurs in his head. Dark hair and dark eyes – like that doesn’t describe half the world’s population.

His soulmate doesn’t react, of course. Victor resigns himself to the continuing mystery of his soulmate’s identity, and lets himself enjoy being in his soulmate’s presence instead.

As Victor watches, his soulmate suddenly moves; just the slightest change of posture, although it makes all the difference. His soulmate’s spine straightens, chin coming up sharply, and the spark of resolve in his soulmate’s eyes is undeniable. Victor’s soulmate is stubborn and very, very determined, and it appears he has just come to an important decision.

It makes Victor want to grin fiercely, that dark-eyed look. Victor is a fighter, after all, willing to bleed for what he wants, and it seems his soulmate has a similar core of steel under his down-to-earth personality.

The vision fades away soon after, but the memory of it stays firmly at the back of Victor’s mind through the madness of the Olympic season. Victor is the heavy favourite to win, but somehow everything feels so much more strenuous this time around. He hears his rinkmates whispering about it – they think it’s the pressure to defend his title from Vancouver and the fact that as a Russian, it is Victor’s duty to bring back the gold for the host country.

But that’s not it. Victor isn’t worried about medals. Even though the Olympic season brings out the sharpest edges of every athlete’s competitive spirit, no one else’s program technical scores come close to his. The gold is entirely Victor’s to lose, and it’s starting to feel very isolating to stand at the top of the figure skating world.

It is frustrating, and nothing Victor does seems to alleviate it.

He keeps his soulmate firmly in mind whenever he skates and tries to fend off those feelings of frustration with the memory of resolve in his soulmate’s eyes. When Victor clinches his second Olympic gold at Sochi, he lifts the medal to press his lips against the textured surface and silently dedicates it to his soulmate. He smiles dutifully towards the bank of reporters and their many cameras, and that familiar sense of overwhelming awe bursts into existence in his chest, except this time it feels closer—

Somewhere nearby, his soulmate is witnessing him lifting the Olympic gold medal, and Victor glances around frantically, hunting. But there are dozens and dozens of figure skaters at the Olympics and the stadium alone holds twelve thousand people; it is an impossible endeavour to figure out who his soulmate is like this. So Victor closes his eyes, concentrates on his pride and joy and his gratitude for his soulmate, and hopes at least some of it bleeds through their bond.

Then he opens his eyes, grins at the world, and bites provocatively at his medal. He’s making history, his soulmate has their eyes on him, and he’s still standing at the top of the figure skating world.

Victor should be content with that, right?

 

❄ ❄ ❄

 

The Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi might be in an uproar with the end of the Grand Prix Final senior men’s singles event, but for Victor it is business as usual.

Winning gold is nice, of course. Feeling the home crowd roar their approval and support when the ISU official drapes the medal around his neck and hearing their impassioned singing as the Russian national anthem pours over speakers and the tricoloured Russian flag is drawn up – it’s wonderful. Victor skates for the pride of his nation – to win gold in his home country is an honour and his privilege.

It is also terribly, unsurprisingly routine.

Everything had gone just as planned. Victor skated his short program to perfection to lead the standings and posed beatifically for the photos for the media. At the practice sessions, he had charmed his adoring audience with copious smiles and waves and treated them to a run through of his free skate program, which he replicated with more gravitas the next day during official competition. A majestic costume, ethereal movements, his signature quad flip, all leading up to the expected gold – it’s like a perfect formula that turns out the perfect result each time.

Even the things outside of Victor and his team’s control had run along like smooth clockwork. The audience was joyously supportive – as expected – the officials pleased and pleasant – as expected – and even Victor’s fellow competitors had performed as predicted – Cao Bin has been inconsistent all through the Grand Prix series, and so he’d made a series of mistakes in his free program to drop out of medal contention, while Chris had peaked nicely despite the slow start to his season, clinching silver with points to spare, although it hadn’t been enough to topple Victor at all.

Everyone had played their roles exactly as Victor expected – all except for Yuuri Katsuki.

It makes Victor wince a little in sympathy, the way Katsuki’s fall on his opening jump had snowballed into a slew of touchdowns and falls. Victor rarely has that kind of meltdown upon the ice, but off the ice tiny seemingly inconsequential things tend to make him overreact. He covers it well, but Yakov claims that his thinning scalp is entirely due to Victor’s antics, which Victor can’t quite deny.

If Katsuki had nailed most of his jumps, he would have placed quite decently. With the quad toe and quad salchow in his arsenal – as inconsistent as the latter might be – his technical scoring potential is high, and Katsuki’s artistry has always been his strength. Victor recognizes elements of his own style in Katsuki’s skating, but there’s something distinct and extremely emotive in the way Katsuki moves that’s entirely his own. His programs resonate deeply with viewers, lingering in the mind long afterwards, and despite the flaw of all the falls, the choreographic and step sequences in Katsuki’s free skate had been breathtaking.

“Victor,” Chris drawls, and Victor snaps back to attention, turning his head to glance at his friend, “is a goal we relentlessly chase. I mean, for once it would be nice to utterly crush his score during a year when he isn’t injured or sick, but at the end of the day, Victor is an inspiration to us all, a role he inhabits with grace. I mean, it can’t be easy to have the entire senior men’s singles world gunning for him!”

The press audience laughs, and Chris grins at their reaction as a reporter calls out, “But look how Victor still smiles even as you talk about beating him!”

Chris winks at Victor at that, and Victor takes the cue, lifting his microphone to say, “I’ve competed against Chris on the ice for many years, and we are good friends off the rink. Trust me, I’m more than aware of his ambitions, and I look forward to every competition we’re at together.”

The conspiratory look he gives to Chris is just as playful in the eyes of the press, but Chris nods once in acknowledgment. No one but Chris had noticed Victor’s moment of distraction, and his friend had acted quickly to call him back to attention – misspeaking or stepping out of place due to his own carelessness in front of a ravenous press is a mistake Victor knows better than to make.

He’s losing his touch.

Victor takes a quiet, steady breath, and then he tilts his head to let his bangs slide artfully over his eyes, a subtle move that still draws attention to him like a magnet. He gives the cameras his most winsome smile, and gets back to work.

*

He can’t say that he’s exhausted after the press conference is finally done and over with, but there’s an uncharacteristic weariness dragging at Victor’s bones when he packs up his bags and leaves the changing rooms to hunt down Yakov and the rest of his team. He maintains a veneer of charm around him like the Olympic jacket he wears, protective and comforting, and walks purposefully enough that most of the ISU and stadium staff just duck politely out of his way.

He escapes out into the public spaces of the arena, dragging his suitcase behind him, and spots the distinct blue-white-red of the Russian National Team’s jacket. Victor identifies Yuri from the lack of bright blond hair – as usual, the teen has his black hood drawn over his head like a physical barrier to shut out the world – and calls out “Yuri!” as an excuse not to engage all the other people still lingering in the wide hallway.

Yuri, just like Katsuki is Yuuri too, even though Japanese is nothing like the Russian language. Cultural coincidences are a marvel.

“What is it?” Yuri replies waspishly, and Victor can’t help it, he reaches forward to ruffle the front of Yuri’s bangs. Yuri ducks away, scowling, and then his eyes dart to the side, focusing on something behind Victor.

His scowl deepens further, and Victor turns to see what – or who – has managed to offend Yuri more than Victor has.

Katsuki is the one standing behind them, except instead of staring at Yuri, the Japanese skater’s gaze is locked squarely on Victor.

He looks different like this, Victor notes distantly, out of his costumes and with glasses perched firmly on his nose. There is no way that Katsuki can know how much he has occupied Victor’s mind, but Victor still feels caught out, a flush mostly borne from self-consciousness heating up his cheeks. It is sheer instinct to ramp the charm right up; Victor summons a smile, the one that makes his fans swoon, and opens his mouth to give a kind comment.

“A commemorative photo?” is what falls out instead, the English phrase well-worn on his tongue.

Katsuki’s face goes blank, and Victor should stop, regroup, but he’s started down this path and his body follows the ritual automatically through – he turns, one hand coming up in invitation, and lets his smile deepen. “Sure!”

This time, Katsuki’s reaction is strong enough to break through his impassive mask – his eyes widen and a look of hurt washes over his face. Then a spark of resolve flashes through his eyes, Katsuki’s chin coming up sharply, determinedly, and Victor feels the bottom fall out of his stomach.

Katsuki turns, his movements as smooth as an ice dancer performing a twizzle, and walks away with all the grace of royalty, slow and steady. The people around them are reacting – Victor hears a man call out to Katsuki in Japanese, and there’s the quiet susurration of whispers – but Victor doesn’t care because he recognizes that expression.  

It’s the same look Victor has seen in his soulmate’s eyes, during one of the soulmate flashes; a look that strikes Victor deep in the heart with its intensity.

Dark hair, dark eyes. And Katsuki has both.

Part of Victor wants to run after Katsuki, to get close enough to take a good look at Katsuki’s eyes, his expression. The rest of him freezes like he’s rooted to the very ground, stunned.

“I don’t know why everyone says you’re so good at dealing with people,” Yuri says from beside him. “If that were me, I’d do more than just walk away.”

The note of derision in his voice is sharp enough to break Victor’s paralysis, and Victor blinks down at his young rinkmate. “What?”

Yuri jerks his head towards the glass doors that Katsuki had just disappeared through. “You know who that is, right?”

“Of course I do. Yuuri Katsuki – we just skated the free program together.”

“Yeah?” Yuri says. “Well, he’s a shitty skater, but you were still tactless as hell.”

Victor feels his mouth threatening to pull down in a frown and he turns to face Yuri, putting his back towards the oh-so-curious people still watching him.

“It wasn’t my best moment,” he admits. “It’s just – well, you were watching the free skate. I got caught off-guard. I couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t remind him of his disastrous skate at his first Grand Prix Final and that commemorative photograph offer just came out.”

Yuri rolls his eyes. “You’ve been at the top of the world for so long that you must be going senile. He’s your fellow competitor, not one of your annoying fans. If you treated me that way, I would have kicked you in the face.” He lifts one foot as if contemplating putting action to words, and then smiles sharply. “Well, the dead last’s still has some brains to him. It’s a bad idea to confront the living legend in public, in Sochi Russia of all places, and especially not in front of the media. Guess he’s not as hopeless as I thought.”

“Hey.” Victor does frown this time. “You’ve always been mouthy, but you usually ignore people if they’re not on your radar. Why are you being so hard on Katsuki?”

“He needs the kick.” Yuri tucks his hands into his jacket pocket and leans back to stare Victor in the eyes. “You know, everyone supposedly looks up to you because you’re a genius on the ice, but Katsuki looked at you just now and definitely found you lacking. Well, whatever. We’re both champions, so who cares what people think.”

I do care, Victor wants to protest, but Yuri has already turned away, ignoring him with the cutting wilfulness of a teenager. Instead, Victor resists the urge to clutch at his hair, and stares out the wide glass walls to the shadowy expanse of the stadium grounds. Katsuki must be long gone by now; he has no reason to linger, and even if he did, there are too many people milling around for Victor to easily pick him out of the crowd.

Unlike Yuri, Victor is an adult, a veteran athlete on the ice. His rinkmate isn’t wrong – Victor normally doesn’t care for anyone else’s opinion; he breaks boundaries, pushes limits, and answers only to his own convictions, much to Yakov’s annoyance. But Victor has always strived to kind to his fans and respectful of his fellow competitors, and—he hasn’t treated Katsuki very well at all, on either front.

The right thing to do would be to speak to Katsuki again, to patch things up and explain himself, and let the other skater decide how they will interact from then on. And maybe, just maybe, Victor will get another flash—

No. That look on Katsuki’s face is all Victor is dealing with – any similarity to his soulmate is irrelevant. Victor sets that breathless sense of recognition firmly to one side, the way he shuts off his nervousness and thoughts of anything but the ice when he’s about to compete.

Katsuki is still a Grand Prix finalist, and he has obligations left to fulfil. The rehearsals for the gala and the exhibition itself can be too chaotic for a private conversation, but that’s not all they have left.

The banquet. Victor will talk to him then.

---

It’s not that Victor minds attention, per say – he grew up under constant media scrutiny, so learning how to thrive in such conditions is practically a self-defence mechanism – but it isn’t until he wants a moment of privacy that he realizes how difficult it is to come by.

There’s always someone who wants a moment of his time. Victor has to pay his dues to the Russian Skating Union, and his sponsors are a close second. Yakov knows better than to attempt to rein him in after the competition is over, but Victor’s rinkmates are a noisy, boisterous bunch with far too much inside knowledge about Victor’s private life for his peace of mind, and so he lets Yuri stick to him like an irritated burr and makes sure to compliment Mila’s dress and take the requisite dozen or so selfies for her Instagram account. Then there are friends – people Victor normally wants to talk to – and other members of the skating world – including thirty-five bright-eyed juniors – and whenever Victor wants to take a breath, someone new slips in beside him with a hopeful smile or a cheerful word of congratulations, and Victor finds himself trapped in yet another web of social niceties.

It doesn’t help Victor’s fraying patience that he keeps catching glimpses of Katsuki through the crowd.

It’s a little aggravating, at first, that Katsuki is left mostly to his own devices – his coach sticks with him for a while, but even then there’s something about Katsuki that makes him fade into the background, quiet and unobtrusive. It takes work to be that unnoticeable – even more than it is to be eye-catchingly conspicuous – and the longer Victor watches him, from the corners of his eyes and over the shoulders of his ever-adoring crowd, the more forlorn Katsuki appears.  

Like most of the older skaters at the banquet, Katsuki is nursing a flute of something light and bubbly, but when Victor finally gets the tiniest of breaks – the Russian Skating Union president turning instead to engage Yuri – he spots something he hasn’t noticed earlier.

Katsuki is still holding a glass in his hand, but there is a veritable ocean of empty champagne flutes on the table behind him.

Victor blanches, because he might be Russian with a substantial constitution for whisky and vodka, but even he knows drinking that much on an empty stomach is a bad idea.

The moment the RSU president steps away, with an aside to Victor to stay put because he needs to meet someone-or-other, Victor rounds on Yuri.

“Yura—”

“No,” Yuri cuts him off, sounding irate.

“I haven’t said anything!” Victor protests.

“You only call me by diminutives when you want something.”

“Well,” Victor hedges, and glances over his shoulder at Katsuki for strength. The flush on Katsuki’s cheeks and neck is obvious now, and his eyes look increasingly liquid under his glasses, like he’s on the verge of tears; the sight of them, whether they’re drunken tears or not, sharpens Victor’s resolve. He turns back to Yuri. “Yes, I need a favour. Can you go accompany Katsuki for a while?”

“What? No way!” Yuri exclaims. He takes a step closer to Victor, as if determined to physically stick close. “I hate dealing with people, and I’m not dealing with him.”

“I want to apologize for my comment yesterday, the photo thing, but I can’t get away right now. He’s been drinking a lot, and I don’t think that’s good for him.”

Yuri tosses his head, utterly unconvinced, and Victor quickly changes tack – for a moment, he’d forgotten he was talking to a teenager.  

“Look, I know you’re only sticking with me because I deflect attention away from you. If you stay with Katsuki, I’ll keep everyone away from the two of you, how about that?”

Yuri’s eyes narrow, and he does a quick onceover of the crowd around them before craning his head to stare at Katsuki, seemingly calculating the pros and cons as he would technical points on the ice. After a moment, he gives a sharp nod.

“You better keep up your end of the deal, old man,” Yuri threatens, “or I’ll tell Katsuki things about you that will make that commemorative photograph comment seem like nothing. It’s not exaggerating if you actually are that stupid.”

“Yes, yes.” Victor waves Yuri to get a move on, because he can see the RSU president coming back in their direction, with someone who looks suspiciously like the Russian Minister of Sports in tow. Victor bites back a sigh, and takes two steps forward to further block Yuri from view. “I’ll come find you later. Just stop Katsuki from drinking too much, if you can.”

“Of course I can!” Yuri flares right up, even though Victor hadn’t meant anything by it. “Watch me, old man.”

He charges away, bearing down on Katsuki like a miniature blond whirlwind of stubborn wilfulness and teenage scorn. Victor spares a moment of sympathy for Katsuki, who is going to find his drunken solitude quite rudely interrupted in about two seconds, and then he turns his attention to the two Russian officials, running his own calculations in his head.

He knows how to play this game – to make the most positive impression in the least amount of time possible – and now that he has an actual concrete goal, Victor might even enjoy the challenge.  

Deal with the officials. When he’s done, he’ll get to see Yuri and Katsuki.

Victor flips his bangs away from his face and centres himself. Game on.

*

Victor manages to extract himself twenty-five minutes later.

He’s done enough socializing that when he pastes on his “I’d love to talk but I’m a little busy right now, you understand don’t you?” smile people actually take the hint and leave him alone. Chris gives him a two-fingered wave, and Victor lets his smile warm into something more genuine but doesn’t stop; his friend always understands when Victor needs a breather, and even though Victor is sure Yuri and Katsuki wouldn’t have moved far from the drinks table, he could also do with a drink of his own.

He catches sight of them before he hits the drinks table, however, and Victor has to blink several times to be sure that he is looking at them. Yuri’s face is flushed not from alcohol but from annoyance, and he’s mostly unrecognizable by how ruffled and animated he appears. Katsuki, on the other hand, has lost his suit jacket and his glasses completely, and he’s no longer clutching a champagne flute in his hand – a blessing, because he’s currently bent over backwards, spine a perfect arc, feet placed parallel to each other and his arms held out for balance.

It’s a gorgeous ina bauer, made even more impressive by how stably Katsuki holds it, even though he must still be tipsy from all that champagne.

Then Katsuki straightens himself, flipping back upright with a flourish of showmanship, and Yuri makes a scrunched up face that Victor knows is to hide unwilling admiration.

“I’m still the better jumper,” Yuri huffs, and Victor feels his jaw drop a little, because did Yuri actually concede – in a backhanded manner, but still – that Katsuki has a better ina bauer than he does?

He must have made a noise of some sort, because Yuri turns, glare sharpening and mouth opening to ballast anyone who would bother them. He pauses when he sees Victor, although his glare doesn’t lessen one bit. “Finally. You’re getting slow.”

“Huh?” Katsuki says, turning, and squeaks when his eyes meet Victor’s. “Vic—”

He snaps his mouth closed midway through Victor’s name, and drags his eyes away, more in self-conscious embarrassment than affront.

Victor tips his head to the side, watching him. “I see you two have made friends,” he says, to break the ice.

To his surprise, both Yuri and Katsuki protest.

“I’m not friends with him,” Yuri says, sounding scandalized, while Katsuki shakes his head so much that his bangs flutter around his head before he groans lightly, raising one hand to clutch at his temple.

“Are you okay?” Victor asks, alarmed, but Katsuki just holds out his hand in that classic wait pose.

“I’m fine—just dizzy. And—and—he’s a punk! A Russian one. A scary one!”

Yuri’s face goes surprisingly pleased at Katsuki’s words, and he smirks a moment later, self-satisfied. “Yeah, and you better remember it.” He nudges Victor in the ribs with the sharp point of his elbow. “Anyway, I did my job. I’m leaving before anyone else gets it in their heads to talk to me.”

“Check in with Mila, she’s looking for you,” Victor says, and Yuri scowls but doesn’t protest – hanging out with a trusted rinkmate is better than dealing with the crowds alone.

He watches Yuri until the younger skater disappears into the masses, and finally turns back to Katsuki.

There’s a vague look of panic in Katsuki’s wide-eyed expression – mostly held at bay by the alcohol, Victor would bet – and although he hasn’t taken a single step away, Katsuki stares away from Victor. In fact, it’s less that he’s trying to avoid looking at Victor and more that he’s eyeing the bottles of champagne at the end of the table, and Victor steps hurriedly forward, close enough that Katsuki’s eyes flick instinctively back and up.

They pause there like that, and Victor wracks his brain for anything that will keep Katsuki’s attention on him and away from the alcohol.

He thinks of that gorgeous ina bauer, of how good Katsuki looks flushed with exertion, puts that together with the cheerful pop music playing in the background, and asks, “Would you like to dance?”

Katsuki’s eyes widen even more. “What?”

Before Victor can think about it, he takes a step backwards. Raising his hands above his head, he twirls his hands around each other in circles before letting them fall back to his side – the balletic mime for an invitation to dance. Just to make it doubly obvious, he then holds out his hand, fingers curled.

Katsuki stares at Victor, then down at his outstretched hand, and when he glances back up, there’s something lost and terribly sad in their depths, weightier and more intense than simply doing badly during a competition can explain. Victor feels his heart jolt at that expression, a wave of empathy rising up in his chest, but before he can act on it, Katsuki closes his eyes and gives a quiet laugh.

“You know what? Why not,” he says. There’s an odd note in his voice, but then Katsuki places his hand in Victor’s, fingers warm and a little clammy, and there’s the tiniest little spark of life in his eyes when he opens them.

“Okay,” Victor says, for a lack of anything better to say, and they stand there for a long moment as Katsuki stares expectantly at Victor, and Victor stares back. It occurs to Victor then that he might have dabbled in a number of dance styles with ballet being the chief of them, thanks to Lilia’s influence, but he hasn’t actually danced with anyone before – not as a part of a pair, in a duet.

But then Katsuki surges forward in a sudden flash of boldness, fingers sliding against Victor’s until their hands are cupped together, Katsuki’s other hand settling casually against Victor’s hip, and then Victor finds himself following Katsuki’s lead, giving way as Katsuki pushes forward, the two of them twirling easily across the dance floor.

They come to a natural pause, and Victor blinks. The space immediately around them is clear of people and Victor seizes the moment of privacy.

“I want to apologize. For yesterday.”

Katsuki lifts his head up at that. “Yesterday?”

Victor squeezes the fingers within his. “The commemorative photograph comment. It was thoughtless. I’m sorry, Yuuri.” Katsuki’s given name feels odd in his mouth – it should be easy to pronounce it, since he has plenty of practice with Yuri, but somehow, it doesn’t feel the same at all. Then Victor catches sight of Katsuki’s doubtful expression and quickly backtracks. “Or—Katsuki? Was that too familiar? Which do you prefer?”

“Katsuki,” Katsuki says slowly, not like he’s answering Victor’s question but more like he’s repeating it for emphasis, and then he tilts his head to the side, looking up at Victor through his eyelashes. “No. Yuuri… is fine.” Then his words speed up, like he’s rushing to get the comment out. “And it’s fine, about yesterday. I don’t want to think about it.”

That doesn’t sound very promising. Victor draws in a breath to make a better attempt at apologizing, but Katsuki – well, Yuuri – cuts him off before he can even begin, looking up at Victor with a hint of pleading in his eyes.

“Let’s just dance, okay?”

And what else can Victor say in face of such a request? He owes Yuuri, after all. “Okay, Yuuri.”

Yuuri’s shoulders dip as if he’s relaxing, and then his chin comes up. The cheerful, pop music pouring over the speakers seems completely at odds with their current pose, their hands clasp in a ballroom hold, and Yuuri gives Victor a quick look before flitting away, his fingers dragging along Victor’s skin like smoke.

Startled, Victor chases after him before he can think about how it looks like.

Yuuri keeps perfect time, swaying to the beat of the music sensuously, and Victor can’t help mimicking him. They orbit each other, and there’s a certain aesthetic pleasure in executing the moves in perfect symmetry; Victor keeps his eyes on Yuuri and Yuuri alone, trying to read his body language so they’re moving together instead of Victor just copying him.

Then Yuuri draws close once more, catching Victor’s hand and spinning him out, neither of them quite caring about the audience around them anymore.

It’s even easier to just go with the flow when Victor can feel Yuuri against him. Whatever misgivings or discontent Yuuri feels, it’s clear he’s chosen to leave them behind; his feet are incredibly light but his hold on Victor is firm without being forceful, and when Victor steals a glance at his face Yuuri’s eyes are narrowed in concentration. They step and turn and whirl, never missing a beat, and when Victor finds himself being dipped – the strong grip of Yuuri’s hand along his waist the only thing keeping Victor from falling – a bright burst of joy bubbles up in Victor's chest, spilling from his mouth in a delighted laugh.

Is this how Yuuri feels when he dances upon the rink, his blades cutting precise lines on the ice and his hands sweeping beautiful gestures through the air? If so, it’s no wonder he’s so mesmerizing to watch; Victor never wants him to stop.

Yuuri blinks down at him. Then his mouth quirks in a smile, as slow and quietly inspiring as the rising dawn, and Victor feels something catch in his chest, like a hook in his heart.

Yuuri pulls him up by one hand in an impressive show of strength, and, when Victor is on his feet once more, promptly collapses against his chest, arms thrown casually over Victor’s shoulders. Victor’s breath catches once more, and he quickly closes his arms around Yuuri in turn, tilting more of Yuuri’s weight against him.

“Whoops,” Yuuri murmurs into Victor’s collarbone, and then he laughs, a vibration Victor feels more than hears. “I think—yeah—definitely the champagne.”

“You have incredible balance for someone this tipsy,” Victor tells him.

“Thank you,” Yuuri says quite formally, and then he peeks up at Victor through his bangs, his cheeks flushed a rosy pink. When he next speaks, it’s in musical, lilting Japanese.

Victor listens, mesmerized; he doesn’t understand a word, but there’s a dreamlike quality to Yuuri’s voice. Victor’s own name is easy enough to pick out, despite the drawl it gains in Yuuri’s Japanese accent, the two syllables of Victor’s name dragged into a sing-songy three.

“And I think that’s the cue for the sleeping beauty to go to bed,” Chris’s deep voice resounds from behind them.

Victor twitches in surprise, shocked back into a greater awareness of the environment around them; Yuuri just lifts his head and makes a happy noise when he catches sight of Chris. “Chris!”

“Hello to you too, Yuuri,” Chris says, amused.

Yuuri flails a hand in Chris’s direction, although he seems content to stay in the circle of Victor’s embrace; Chris comes closer, lets Yuuri latch onto his wrist.

“Chris?” Victor says, still a little dazed. His skin prickles with an unfamiliar self-consciousness from all the stares they’re getting.

“That’s a prized catch you got there, Victor,” Chris says. “Yuuri and I know each other from our junior years and he’s been in the senior circuit almost as long as I have, but I don’t think you two really met before this.”

“No,” Victor says slowly. “Until today, I haven’t had the pleasure.”

“Well, now you do. I’m glad he’s in better spirits today.”

Victor glances down. Yuuri’s earlier sadness is completely gone now, swept away by alcohol and adrenaline both; he looks sleepily content, murmuring softly into Victor’s shoulder, a nonsensical combination of Japanese and English. When he catches Victor looking at him, Yuuri beams, and sweeps a surprisingly gentle caress against the arch of Victor’s cheekbone.

“Ocean eyes,” Yuuri says, bestowing Victor a single, perfect smile, before promptly falling right asleep.

Silence falls over them, the moment stretching out sweet and tender. Victor has to swallow, his throat suddenly dry, and when he finally speaks his voice comes out soft.

“You’re right, Chris. It’s probably bedtime for all of us.”

“Speak for yourself, the night is still young,” Chris teases, but he shakes his wrist free of Yuuri’s grip, and flashes Victor a keycard. A suit jacket is draped neatly over Chris’s other arm, with the plastic frames of a pair of glasses sticking out of the breast pocket. “His coach gave me his keycard. You carry him; I’ll get the doors.”

It’s easy enough for Victor to sweep Yuuri up in his arms; Yuuri’s weight is solid but he curls instinctively into Victor’s hold and doesn’t struggle. Victor follows Chris out of the banquet hall, and although he catches more than one phone pointed in their direction, he puts them out of his head – per the unspoken rules of the professional figure skating community, what happens at a banquet stays at the banquet. If he can’t keep this experience, this feeling of unfettered freedom to himself, then at least Victor can keep it out of the public’s eye.

Victor’s arms are aching by the time they get up to Yuuri’s room, but he waits for Chris to tug Yuuri’s shoes from his feet and pull back the sheets on the bed before carefully setting Yuuri down. Yuuri doesn’t stir but he also doesn’t let go, and Victor has to carefully untangle Yuuri’s arms from around his neck, and then Yuuri’s fingers from his hands. Folding Yuuri into the blankets is almost an act of self-preservation by then, and not even the sounds of water filling a glass can fully drown out Chris’s quiet snickers of amusement.

Victor finishes tucking the blanket around Yuuri’s shoulders as Chris emerges from the bathroom. His friend is still smiling but his movements are sure and easy; he sets the cup of water on the bedside table and shakes out Yuuri’s suit jacket to drape it over the back of a chair. Yuuri’s phone and glasses – extracted from the suit jacket’s breast pocket – go on the table beside the glass of water, and then Chris pulls out his own phone to swiftly type out a message.

“His coach will check in on him in a while. It should be safe enough to let him sleep it off.”

“Are you sure? He really drank a lot.”

“He was sober enough to dance with you, quite impressively, in fact. You’ve never let me dip you, Victor.”

Victor can’t help laughing, although he quietens when Yuuri rolls onto his side as if drifting closer to Victor’s voice. “You never had the audacity to take me dancing.”

“Your fans would eat you alive,” Chris says, only half-joking, and grins when Victor shoots him a wry look. “Speaking of fans, we should head back to the banquet hall. Put in one final appearance before the rumour mill goes crazy.”

“Do I have to?” But even as he says it, Victor drags himself to his feet. The dim room lights are quite forgiving, but now that they’re away from the hectic rush of the dance floor, Victor can see dark smudges under Yuuri’s eyes. He allows himself to brush a hand against Yuuri’s shoulder, just to feel the solidity of Yuuri’s presence, and then forces himself to step away.

There’s a knowing slant to Chris’s mouth when Victor joins him, but he keeps his peace as he shuts the room door behind them both. Victor doesn’t bother filling in the silence, too preoccupied replaying the events of the night through his head, committing the details to memory, and a little too stubborn to give in to the curiosity in Chris’s eyes.

He’s used to sharing his thoughts and feelings and opinions with the world, through his skating and his social media, but this – this spark, precious and rare and new – Victor wants to keep for himself.

*

It isn’t until Victor gets back to his own hotel room and catches a glimpse of his reflection in the bathroom mirror that he realizes he hadn’t spared a single thought that entire night for his soulmate.

The realization jolts Victor all the way down to his bones, and he grips the edge of the sink, stunned.

He was sincere about apologizing to Yuuri, of course he was, but there had been a very tiny but conscious part of Victor that wanted to see if he could recognize any part of his soulmate in Yuuri. The mimed invitation to dance was made instinctively with his soulmate in mind – ballet is important to Victor’s soulmate, almost as important as figure skating, and Victor had paid particular attention to Lilia’s lessons because of it – but the moment Yuuri reacted in earnest, Victor had forgotten all about soulmate signs and flashes, driven clean out of his mind by the sheer physicality and immediacy of Yuuri’s presence.

Victor studies his own face in the mirror, tries to bring up the memory of his soulmate’s eyes, but all he can think about is the way Yuuri had brushed light fingers against Victor's cheek, the enchanted fondness in his voice when he murmured “ocean eyes” at Victor. The heat that washes over Victor catches him by surprise, and he lets his gaze drop away.

It makes sense, the more he thinks about it. Victor has lived with the enigma of his soulmate for more than a decade, and over the vast years the longing has become a familiar companion. There’s a part of Victor that takes comfort in that feeling: a puzzle he can return to time and again and never quite solve, a safe and nebulous mystery he keeps with him always.  

Yuuri, on the other hand—

Before parting to return to their respective rooms, Chris mentioned Yuuri just once: “It’s a shame he goes to Four Continents and we’re at Europeans. But at least there’s Worlds.”

Victor had only nodded then before stepping out of the elevator, but now, the comment seems to open up opportunities.

Yuuri is here. He exists not as a concept or in vague signs, but is entirely himself, visceral and unignorable, and thanks to the expectations of their chosen career, Victor knows how to find him. As long as Yuuri competes, they are guaranteed to meet again.

(And if Yuuri is his soulmate—)

The World Championships may be three whole months away, but there are plenty of competitions before then. With time, additional practice and a calmer heart, Victor hopes he’ll get to see Yuuri skating his programs cleanly, with the same grace and inner radiance Victor had glimpsed when they danced together earlier that night.

Victor glances back at his reflection, and there’s an unfamiliar smile on his face, strangely soft and tender.

What a delight it is, to have such a wonderous thing to look forward to.

 

---

 

Except Yuuri’s tendency to defy expectations strikes once more.

Victor doesn’t see the news until well after the fact. He isn’t worried about the Russian Nationals, but Yakov doesn’t ever let Victor rest on his laurels and so the days leading up to the competition are as hectic as the ones preceding the GPF or World Championships.

Then, there is Victor’s birthday, and there is no getting away from his ever-adoring fanbase; Victor ends up celebrating it the day before – lunch with Lilia, and phone calls with friends and family – and the day after – a private gathering cloistered in one of the Yubileyny Sports Palace’s conference rooms, organized enthusiastically by Mila and opened only to Yakov’s immediate circle of students. The actual day of is more a workday than anything else: Victor attends an official function organized on his behalf, and at night, spends a few hours interacting with his fans on his social media accounts, accepting their well-wishes and taking plenty of photos and videos of his presents, with Makkachin modelling as many blue rose flower crowns as he can pile on her.

By the time Victor gets a moment to himself, the Japanese Nationals is long over. The first indication that something has gone awry is when Victor comes across a tweet announcing Japan’s picks for Four Continents and Worlds, and Yuuri’s name is nowhere on either list.

Victor stares at his phone. Swallowing, he puts in Yuuri’s name in the search bar. It could be anything, from injury or illness, or perhaps even clashes with his schooling – Victor read somewhere that Yuuri is a semester shy of completing his undergraduate studies, and well, to some people a degree that lasts a lifetime could be more important than a few competitions, right? But never in Victor’s wildest dreams would he have guessed the reason why Yuuri wasn’t chosen to represent his country at two of the figure skating world’s most prominent competitions.

Eleventh at the Japanese National Championships. There are even four juniors ahead of Yuuri in the rankings, with one taking the bronze medal.

It leaves a bitter taste at the back of Victor’s mouth to search for any news indicating an injury on Yuuri’s part – it’s never pleasant to hear of a skater having to deal with career-altering health issues, and he hates the idea of Yuuri being in pain even more. But the alternative worries Victor just as much. It means Yuuri is dealing with something deep-seated and personal, something that cannot be easily resolved or overcome with time and rest and treatment, and—

Victor knows that feeling. He can feel something similar creeping up on him, a discontent that’s starting to tinge everything he does, spreading like the killing touch of the frost.

He watches the videos of Yuuri’s Japanese Nationals programs in silence, biting his lip hard to not wince whenever Yuuri falls. Gone is the infinite grace, the beautiful thrum of emotion in his step sequences; all Victor can see is how increasingly scared Yuuri gets with each jumping pass, how it gets harder and harder to pick himself up each time he falls, the music rushing ahead and leaving him behind.

Victor’s lower lip and inner cheek feel bitten raw by the time Yuuri gets his final scores in the video. Yuuri’s face is blank now, utterly indifferent to all the worried glances his coach shoots him, and when he leaves the kiss and cry, there’s—nothing. No tears, no chagrin, none of the fierce stubbornness Victor had seen when Yuuri walked away from him, and not even the earlier fear.

Such perfect impassiveness can only be constructed to hide a thunderous storm, and the bitter taste at the back of Victor’s throat deepens, turning nauseous.

Still, Yuuri’s status as Japan’s ace is undeniable. He qualified for the GPF, after all, and there are plenty of senior level competitions left in the season. The JSF would be insane not to include Yuuri in their roster, and it would help Yuuri’s faltering confidence to compete in less pressuring environments.

Victor has only properly interacted with Yuuri twice, but he already knows Yuuri is the type to fight. It will be a difficult journey, but all skaters deal with such rough patches. Even Victor has, even though that was mostly back during his junior years.

Yuuri will be all right.

 

---

 

Except the weeks go by, and there is no news of Yuuri participating in any upcoming competitions.

 

---

 

Victor doesn’t spend all his time thinking about Yuuri – he doesn’t always have the time or energy for it. As if in affront for Victor’s distraction over Yuuri, the flashes Victor receives from his soulmate have increased in both intensity and frequency. Time was that Victor could count himself lucky to catch a glimpse of his soulmate five or six times a year; now, barely a week goes by without Victor getting a twinge of feeling or a sudden vision, overlaid over reality like a mirage.

Like an echo of his own discontented feelings, the signs Victor receives of his soulmate are rarely of the happy kind. His soulmate still skates upon an ice rink and dances within a studio, but the emotions associated with either action are muted, as though his soulmate is simply going through the motions mechanically.

The feelings that do break through are visceral, however. Out of nowhere Victor would feel a sudden burst of frenetic panic in his chest or a sense of hopelessness that leaves Victor off-kilter and out of sorts long after the cross-interference has faded away.

The strongest flash Victor receives from his soulmate ends up waking him from a dead sleep. He – no, his soulmate – is clutching hard at a blanket, fingers digging in hard enough that they hurt, and grief pulls at him like the currents of the ocean, dragging him under, suffocating. There is a name on his soulmate’s lips but it is weighed down by loss; instead, Victor calls out another name in his stead.

Mechta.”

His voice barely sounds like his own, rough with sleep and choked with emotion, but Makkachin reacts immediately, moving from where she’s been plastered against Victor’s side, softly whining, to clamber directly over his chest instead. Victor has to force his fingers to unclench one by one before he can reach out for her; Makkachin helps by butting her head right under Victor’s chin, present and unignorable. Her weight feels like it’s crushing the very breath out of Victor’s lungs, but he pushes his face into her fur and just holds on.

Hugging Makkachin has always been a comfort, and it isn’t long before the familiar animal musk and the constant licks she applies to his chin pulls Victor away from that well of loss still resonating in his chest. Something trickles from his eyes, down his face, warm; Victor lifts one unsteady hand to touch his cheeks, but they are dry.

It takes Victor a moment to connect the dots. His soulmate is crying now, quiet and uncontrolled – and the way Victor’s heart clenches this time is entirely due to his own emotions.

He doesn’t know his soulmate’s name, doesn’t even know if his soulmate can feel Victor the way Victor can feel him, so Victor concentrates instead on the one living being present, one he can touch and murmur and call out to.

Mechta,” he murmurs again into Makkachin’s fur, an old and private pet name. Makkachin was given to him by the city of St. Petersburg after his final Junior World Championships, when he broke all three world records for a junior men’s singles skater; he’d let slip in an interview earlier that year that it was his dream to have a poodle – his only dream, because he knows he can conquer the world with his skating, so all his skating-related aspirations are merely goals. The first time Victor cuddled Makkachin in his arms, he’d murmured what she was to him into her ear – mechta, a dream; his dream.

Even though Victor rarely calls her by that pet name anymore, Makkachin remembers, and always stays contently in the circle of Victor’s arms, letting him fawn over her as he pleases.

He hugs her for a long, long time, hoping some of the comfort she offers him will filter over to his soulmate. When that sense of grief and loss eases away, Victor can’t tell whether it is because his soulmate has spent his emotions or if it is simply their soulmate connection easing apart. There is no way he’s able to go back to sleep after this, so Victor just lies there in his bed, ruffling one hand through Makkachin’s fur, waiting for daylight to break.

There is nothing to do but to think, and so the thought creeps into Victor’s mind. If, a small and private part of Victor whispers, the thought too uncertain to be acknowledged out loud, if my soulmate is Yuuri, then everything my soulmate is experiencing would explain why Yuuri isn’t competing.

It is a selfish sentiment, but that incredibly late hour just before dawn exists for selfish, private thoughts. Victor is tired in that bone-deep way, the kind that can’t be dispersed by a good night’s sleep, and he doesn’t want to have two separate people to worry so much about. He can’t do anything but hug his dog and hope his soulmate feels it, and Yuuri is currently far out of his reach – why can’t he hope that they are one and the same, so that comforting one would be comforting the other?

It’s a pointless train of thought – Victor can’t do a thing to prove it either way – and after giving Makkachin one last squeeze, he carefully rolls her off his chest and sits up. Since he’s awake, he might as well get an early start to his day.

(The hours stretch out before him, long and meaningless; Victor attributes it to a lack of sleep and unease over his soulmate’s state, and takes to the ice viciously, as if he can force the love back into his skating).

 

---

 

The European Championships is a blessing if only for the distraction it represents, and Victor barely spares a thought for the competition itself.

This far into the season, Victor is well aware of his closest competitors’ potentials – even if Victor takes a tumble or two, no one can touch his technical scores, and Chris, the one most likely to contest him amongst the Europeans, typically aims to peak at the World Championships. The gold should be easy enough to obtain, and if not, it would take something catastrophic for Victor to fall off the podium entirely. So he skips his practice session with barely a guilty twinge, and hunts down Chris instead.

There’s a complicated look on Chris’s face when he opens the door to Victor’s knocking. “Isn’t it your practice slot now?”

“Yes.” Victor ducks quickly into the room. The hotel books out entire floors for competitors, but the paparazzi can be tenacious, and there are plenty of rumours floating around about him and Chris as it is.

“Shouldn’t you be on the ice then? Or does this competition mean so little to you?”

Victor pauses.

He knows Chris as well as Chris knows him, and although his friend’s tone is teasing, there’s a slight edge to his tone. Victor blows out a sigh, his bangs puffing away from his face; he may be preoccupied with his own issues, but he hates disappointing his friends.

“I’m really distracted,” Victor admits. “I don’t want to be a risk to others on the ice. There’s another practice session this evening. I’ll get my head back in the game for that.”

Chris’s expression softens. “It’s rare for you to be so distracted that you can’t skate. What’s on your mind?”

Victor gives a half-hearted shrug, and lets Chris steer him into a seat. His friend peers down at him curiously and then leaves him to his own devices. Leaning his head back, Victor closes his eyes and listens to the quiet sounds of Chris packing his gym bag.

“I sent Yuuri your phone number, as requested.”

Victor’s eyes snap open.

“Why do you think—”

“That Yuuri’s on your mind? You two looked happy that night in Sochi, that’s all. Then you asked me to give him your number a few weeks after that, so it’s obvious you want to get to know him better,” Chris says. “And we all know what Yuuri’s public presence on social media is like: utterly nonexistent.”

The hotel room ceiling is a boring shade of dark grey. Victor stares at its blandness for a long moment. “He knows it’s my real number, right? That it isn’t a joke or a prank?”

“You’re hardly one for pranks, and he knows me well enough to know I wouldn’t do that to him. Yeah, I made it clear that you’re the one who wanted to give it to him, and that I’m just the messenger.”

There’s a minute crack near one of the walls, nearly invisible in the shadows. It must be new, for the hotel not to cover it up yet. Victor turns away, glancing at Chris. “So that’s that, then.”

“You shouldn’t worry too much if he doesn’t contact you,” Chris says, frowning down at his skating boots. “From what I hear, he isn’t really talking to anyone right now.”

“Any idea what’s going on?”

“Not a clue. Even his rinkmate has gone silent; otherwise, Phichit Chulanont’s accounts are usually the best direct source of news about Yuuri.”

Victor murmurs a soft sound of agreement, and goes back to staring at the ceiling. Maybe the spark he’d felt with Yuuri when they danced together is utterly common for other people. Maybe—

Maybe Yuuri has his own signs and flashes and visions, and he knows that Victor isn’t his soulmate. Maybe Victor is pushing where he isn’t wanted, and Yuuri has too many things to deal with to tell Victor off properly.

Should he keep trying? Is Victor simply being a nuisance without even realizing it? Perhaps—

The sound of a zipper sliding shut breaks Victor out of his thoughts. Chris arcs an eyebrow in Victor’s direction, and slips gracefully to his feet, slinging his bag over one shoulder.

“This brooding doesn’t suit you. Come on – your practice session will be over by now, but it’ll do you good to get out for a while. You can watch my practice session instead.”

Public smiles are something Victor mastered a decade and a half ago; this smile, a genuine one, feels rusty, like Victor’s body has forgotten how to make them. “And of course, you expect me to give you pointers.”

“Throw some bones to your long-suffering competitors, Mr. Five-Time-Consecutive-European-Champion.”

Chris’s needling is friendly and familiar, and Victor much prefers it to the direction that his thoughts is steering. He nods at Chris, and pushes himself to his feet.

“All right,” he says, “but you might have to wait a while. Yakov’s probably going to yell at me for at least twenty minutes when we get to the venue.”

“He probably will,” Chris agrees, and launches into a retelling of Victor’s antics, one that resulted in Yakov practically pulling his remaining hair out. The rolling cadence of Chris’s voice is soothing, and Victor lets it wash over him all the way to the stadium, drowning out the doubts nagging at the back of his mind.

 

---

 

But as dear and important a friend as Chris is, they live and train in entirely separate countries, and when Victor gets back to St. Petersburg the apprehension rushes back in.

He throws himself upon the ice, the one place where he always succeeded, and although the season hasn’t ended yet, Victor forcibly turns his thoughts towards the future. He is renowned for choreographing many of his own programs and the task of coming up with a completely new idea occupies all his spare time – Victor wants a fresh start, a complete blank slate, free of the expectations of his past.

What he ends up creating, however, is a too honest representation of his current thoughts.

On Love: Agape and On Love: Eros are a pair of interrelated songs – the same melody cast along similar themes, although they inspire different reactions. Agape’s choreography comes easily to him; Victor has experienced pure, unconditional love since the moment of his first soulmate vision, and it only takes him as long as he does to finish the choreography because Agape has to be perfect.

His soulmate deserves nothing less.

Eros’s choreography, on the other hand, was unplanned. Agape is heartfelt enough to make Victor self-conscious, his soulmate one topic he steadfastly refuses to speak about to the public, and he’d constructed a saucy story for Eros, full of drama and flare and entirely fictional. But the more he skated to Eros, the more familiar the movements felt, until Victor recognized that he’d put his and Yuuri’s dance at the GPF banquet into the choreography.

He nearly scrapes the two programs altogether after that, flustered and frustrated at how fixated his mind is. But in the end he doesn’t, and not just because the act of choreographing keeps Yakov from questioning Victor too much.

Of late, Victor’s thoughts keep wandering to places dark and uncertain and it’s draining, to keep circling the same spaces. Makkachin is his constant companion, a bright and loving spot in Victor’s day, but Victor looks at her one day and the thought of just how old and venerable Makkachin is hits him and refuses to go away. She acts like she is still a puppy, active and vibrant and alive, but in terms of dog years Makkachin is undeniably a senior, even if she still has years ahead of her. 

Victor can’t shake away the feeling that he and Makkachin are living on borrowed time.

And then there’s that apathy that’s starting to seep into Victor’s skating. He’s still impressive upon the ice – his gold at Euros is proof as much – but when Victor had ducked his head to accept his medal, all he felt at that moment was uneasiness. Because it meant the competition was over, and soon Victor would be back to the same old routine in St. Petersburg, no closer to an answer about his future.

Compared to those two topics, Victor much prefers skating to thoughts of his soulmate and Yuuri, even if he’s starting to wish he could forget about the latter.

 

---

 

By the time the World Championships comes around, Victor just feels exhausted.

Tokyo is vibrant city, full of life and opportunity, but the constant lilt of Japanese sets Victor on edge, the memory of Yuuri’s voice speaking his mother tongue almost as visceral as one of Victor’s soulmate flashes. Victor receives little from his soulmate himself, however; after months of constant signs they’ve tapered off, leaving Victor feeling oddly bereft.

When the music of his free skate program pours through the speakers, reverberating around Yoyogi National Gymnasium’s immense rink, Victor finds himself moving on autopilot, paying more attention to the music than he does to his own skating.

Stay close to me, don’t go away, the low tenor croons in Italian, I’m scared of losing you

—but Victor no longer has any idea who or what he’s skating for. 

Chapter Text

Yuuri has always had a vivid imagination.

“A good imagination and an eye for theatrics is essential for performers, both on the stage and upon the ice,” Minako says, and Yuuri has never the doubted the truth of her words. Yuuri’s strength is in the emotive, in weaving together a story and painting a vivid image through his skating. Although he loses points whenever he falls on jumps, his performance scores remain consistently high, and his artistry has become one of Yuuri’s trademarks upon the ice, at least according to his fans.

“You always have your eyes on the stars,” Mari says whenever Yuuri has a yet another out of town competition. It becomes something of a recurring motto for them as Yuuri’s journeys grow increasingly further away – from regional events to the big national competitions, and finally, international ones when the Japanese Skating Federation names Yuuri to their certified junior athletes list.

“I just practice a lot,” Yuuri protests each time, and sometimes Mari puts him in a headlock before dragging him off to whichever venue he needs to go, and other times, she just shoots him a knowing look.

“You’re a dreamer, brother mine. One that is practical down to the bone and sometimes a little too self-defeating, but you definitely dream, Mr. ‘I want to skate on the same ice as Victor!’” Mari blithely ignores Yuuri’s splutters and protests, and ruffles his hair. “You’ve gotten really far considering you got serious about competing only at twelve. If thinking and imagining your idol, I don’t know, interacting or skating with you gives you motivation, then why shouldn’t you keep doing it? Keep your eyes on the stars, and one day, you could become one yourself.”

“Try it like this!” Yuuko tells Yuuri, skating a few meters behind him with printed out photos of Victor mid-jump in her hands. She might have given up on competing when she turned eighteen, but she fulfilled another dream of hers when she finally began going steady with Nishigori, and she is even more determined to help Yuuri fulfil his now. “Look, Yuuri, Victor tucks in his arms like this when he jumps, maybe that will help mitigate the wobble when you land. Can you visualize it?”

“I can,” Yuuri says. One day, maybe technology will advance enough that he and Yuuko won’t have to rely on memories and static print outs, but for now, he’ll make do with his imagination. Yuuri is sixteen now and several of his part-time coaches have asked him to consider moving cities to find a full-time coach for his senior debut, and Yuuri isn’t sure, but he’s thinking about it. Somewhere out there, Victor is very likely training yet another quad jump; Yuuri pulls up the memory of Victor skating, checks his speed, and then jumps, tucking in his arms just so—

*

For all of Yuuri’s dreamings, however, he’s not terribly invested in the soulmate phenomenon, an opinion that puts him in the minority in Japan. Soulmate signs are sacred, a symbol that a pair is fated to be together romantically, and who wouldn’t want to know that there is a special someone out there, destined for you and you alone?

But Yuuri grew up amongst those who are untouched by the phenomenon. His parents never received signs – “we obviously didn’t need a helping hand to find each other!” Yuuri’s father proclaims proudly – and neither does Mari, who is perfectly content in the freedom of her singlehood. Minako does have a soulmate, but she’d chosen to give herself to ballet instead, and her accounts of just how scandalized the entire town was over her decision not to date and marry her soulmate makes Yuuri glad he doesn’t have to deal with it at all.

(Minako-sensei and her soulmate are good friends. Yuuri doesn’t get what the problem is).

Then he’d gotten to America where attitudes towards soulmates and the signs are as varied and fluid as its people, thanks to its melting pot of cultures, and most are quite open about it all. People may tease Yuuri about his fixation over Victor and joke that Yuuri must be receiving soulmate signs because he knows too damn much about the man, but it’s all in jest and good fun, because really, which figure skater out there isn’t at least half in love, or at least in envy, with Victor?

Yuuri prefers it this way – not having to deal with the mystery and confusion over soulmate signs, and being able to watch Victor skate and devote all his time to the ice instead.

*

Yuuri has always been a little obsessed over Victor – ever since Yuuri first saw him on the ice, all of sixteen and breathtakingly ethereal, long hair streaming behind him like the tail of a comet. So it makes perfect sense, really, just how much Yuuri thinks about him.

Yuuri has a reputation at the Detroit skating club for being a Victor trivia machine. He frequents the forums and message boards and watches every interview about Victor that goes up on the internet, so of course he’ll know weirdly obscure facts about Victor. It isn’t strange to be the only one to throw Victor a bouquet of miniature sunflowers from the audience stands the one time Victor is assigned – and Yuuri isn’t – to Skate America when it takes place in Detroit, and to feel a burst of surprised joy and warmth when Victor goes out of his way after taking his bows to pick up the bouquet.

There is the ice, of course – always the ice, and sometimes when Yuuri practices a new jump, he gets a sense of déjà vu, like he knows how his body should move. Unfortunately, fantasies have nothing on reality, and no amount of dreaming about Victor performing his jumps can make up for Yuuri’s own shortcomings. For Yuuri, plenty of hard work and practice, practice, practice gets the job done. 

Hours before news breaks that Victor had sustained a serious training injury and would be off the ice for at least half the season, Yuuri feels a sharp pain in his ankle, and very nearly twists it when he lands badly on his attempted quad toe. Celestino’s concern and Phichit’s frantic motherhenning distracts Yuuri from it, but later Phichit notes that it’s a shame that Victor wasn’t as lucky as Yuuri, who after an examination is declared perfectly healthy, without even a mild sprain.

And sometimes after a long day of training, when Yuuri is bruised from falls and aching from exertion, he stares at his one poster of Victor and dreams of nonsensical things. Not often, maybe a handful of times a year. But enough times that Yuuri feels closer to Victor than ever before, as illogical as that sounds.

“You know it’s normal to fantasize about an idol or someone you admire, right?” Phichit says when Yuuri unthinkingly lets it slip one time. “And yeah, some of it can be pretty realistic and, you know, intense. Hormones can really work their magic.”

Yuuri throws a pillow right at Phichit, and even taking a cushion to the face doesn’t stop Phichit from laughing himself silly at Yuuri’s flustered expression.

But all joking aside, Yuuri knows he doesn’t have those types of fantasies. Yuuri himself is never in the picture, and in fact, it’s not like Yuuri ever gets a glimpse of Victor’s own face in them either – Yuuri just sees a flash of silver hair hanging over his eyes or maybe Makkachin, and in the way of dreams, just knows that it’s about Victor (never mind that it’s more like dreaming about being Victor). They are vivid in a way that Yuuri’s childish imaginings back in Hasetsu never were, and Yuuri wonders if that’s a consequence of growing up, of making the all-important decision to further his career – and to get closer to his dream of skating on the same ice as Victor – by moving to Detroit.

Because if Yuuri wants to pin down the exact moment when his odd and oddly realistic fantasies about Victor began, he’d trace it back to that very first flight to Detroit. Yuuri has flown to the United States before, as a representative for Japan at junior level events, but this flight, this journey is entirely different. He’ll be attending university and skating under a proper coach, and with his senior debut coming up in a few months, it’s all about new beginnings for Yuuri.

The plane taxis and lifts off, gravity dragging him back into his seat, and Yuuri clutches at the armrests—

He’s on the ice, skating swiftly, the rink around him vast and flooded with natural light and entirely different from Ice Castle Hasetsu’s homey confines. There’s a confident fluidness to the way he moves, and silver flutters at the edges of his vision, although everything else beyond the rink is blurry. With barely any preparation, he suddenly kicks off the ice, one-two-three-four-revolutions, and as he sweeps his arms out and lands neatly on one boot he is triumphant—

The thrust of the plane’s engines finally overcomes the grip of gravity, and there’s a moment where all of them are suspended in mid-air, a moment of infinite possibility. Then their momentum catches up with them, and Yuuri lets out a surprised breath, glancing around him wide-eyed. The cabin lights are still turned down for take-off, and the passengers around him are quiet. There’s still a faint echo of the earlier elation in his chest, however, with the phantom touch of the cold against Yuuri’s skin; Yuuri folds one hand on top of his heart and lets himself soak in the feeling.

The plane finally levels out, the cabin lights coming up, and the speaker system crackles overhead with an announcement. But Yuuri isn’t paying attention; his earlier apprehension and cautious excitement has morphed into something much simpler – anticipation – and his nerves settle enough that Yuuri thinks, in an hour or two, he might actually be able to catch a few hours of sleep.

Yuuri has always had a vivid imagination, and when they give him fantasies like these – the ice and skating and visions of silver – Yuuri appreciates it all the more. But the path laid out in front of him now is straightforward and clear and real. Celestino Cialdini is a well-known coach who turns out solid skaters and the Detroit skating club boasts of a good reputation; before this, Yuuri never really stood out against the crowd, but maybe under Celestino and the club’s guidance, he can finally make an impression.

Yuuri’s journey has only just begun.

❄ ❄ ❄


There’s a quiet little hollow in his chest, and Yuuri isn’t sure if he likes it better than the familiar sour-tang of anxiety that normally resides beneath his heart.

Yuuri has made this flight dozens of times before, Detroit to Tokyo and back again, and there’s a comfort to the familiarity of it. The cabin is dark around him, and when he slides the window shutters up, the moon is a bright globe suspended in the inky darkness of the night sky, casting silvered shadows in the sea of clouds they’re flying above. The low hum of the engines is a droning counterpoint Yuuri’s thoughts, and for once, Yuuri feels calm, calm, calm—

—numb, actually. If he wants to be more accurate.

The days after the feverish, half-remembered chaos of the Sochi GPF and the utter disaster that was the Japanese Nationals were unpleasant. The constant flying and moving from venue to venue and dodging the terrible, horrible media served as temporary distraction from his constant thoughts, but once Yuuri touched down in Detroit, once it was finalized once and for all that he was off the Four Continents and Worlds list for the first time since he turned senior, then it all came crashing back down on him.

The few times he’d allowed himself to feel had been devastating – like Yuuri would suffocate once and for all in the storm of his emotions – and so he’d focused all of his energy on just… not. Not feeling, not thinking, not taking up space or anyone’s attention, on not being an absolutely disappointment to everyone in his life.

All Yuuri had been left with, as he finished up his studies, as he skated compulsory figures in a corner of the rink – out of the way of his rinkmates, the ones who need to space for their Four Continents or Worlds preparations – was a vague sense of panic and guilt, and a vast well of loss, as deep and unforgiving as the ocean.

It should have been a welcomed change from the loud and overwhelming anxiety that normally drowns out Yuuri’s rational thoughts, except that same detachment had seeped into his skating.

After the third time Phichit had silently handed his phone to Yuuri and they’d both watched the recording of Yuuri’s slow and lackadaisical skating, Yuuri forced himself to think long and hard. He thought about Hasetsu and Detroit, about the ice and figure skating, the dreams he’d spent years chasing, and the people he’d left behind for it—

Yuuri was at Celestino’s office first thing the next morning, dark shadows heavy under his eyes, his knuckles pulled white from the way his hands were clutched in the fabric of his gym bag. But when he walked out of that office an hour later, his coaching agreement with Celestino neatly and clinically severed, it was with a tiny flame in his heart, stubborn and unmovable.

He’s experienced sparks since then. Playing with Phichit’s hamsters, watching as Phichit’s excitement for the World Championships overshadows the melancholy his best friend feels over Yuuri’s decision to leave Detroit. Yuuri begins taking to the ice during odd time slots – early in the sleepless mornings, or during meal times – and finds himself falling naturally into another skater’s programs.

(Yuuri’s mind might shy away from thoughts of Victor Nikiforov, from the phantom memory of hands against sharp hipbones or a strong bicep and a brilliant, startlingly soft smile, but Yuuri has used Victor’s jumps and his choreography as inspiration far too long and too frequently for his body to forget how much comfort and joy those routines give him, sunk deep into his bones like a Pavlovian reaction).

Now, ten thousand feet in the air, apart from Phichit steadfast friendship and away from the potential of the rink, Yuuri feels—

Numb, yes. But there are more emotions lurking in the background now. Trepidation, because he has to face down the Japan Skating Federation upon touching down in Tokyo, and because he’d avoided going home to Hasetsu for five long years for a number of reasons. Stubborn resolution, a continuation of the will that carried Yuuri through home-sickness and culture shock and dozens of international competitions. A soft sense of relief, of coming to a decision instead of lingering in limbo. And that same little flame of hope, flickering but bright, waiting for a chance to catch alight.

Right now, Yuuri might have no game plan, no decision regarding his competitive career, and absolutely no certainty to his future, but he’s still trying. He’s still moving.

That has to count for something.  

Yuuri holds out a hand before him and stares at his fingers, at the tiny, near imperceptible silvery lines from the odd times he nicked himself grabbing the blade of his skates during spins, at the nails he keeps short and neat. He half expects to fall into his odd daydream, the fleeting fantasies of Victor, but not this time.

This time, Yuuri is just Yuuri, yet another dime a dozen skater struggling to make something of himself, plain and normal and bespectacled.

Yuuri lets out a quiet sigh, careful not to wake the sleeping passengers around him. He slides the window shut on the silvery clouds and starry-lit sky beyond and closes his eyes.


---


Tokyo is a bustling, lively metropolis, and politely systematic though the Japanese people may be, Yuuri is still quickly forced out of his quiet bubble of detachment by the sheer crush of the crowds and cacophony of noises that make up central Tokyo.

Jetlag, travel fatigue and the sudden barrage to his senses make a terrible combination, and by the time Yuuri leaves his meeting with the Japan Skating Federation, he wants nothing more than to crawl under the blankets and smother himself in a bed, any bed, he is that exhausted. The Japan Sport Olympic Square where the JSF keeps their offices is only a short distance from Yoyogi National Gymnasium, and Yuuri carefully averts his eyes from the distinctive swooping curves of the stadium roof as he drags his suitcase towards his hotel. , and Yuuri carefully averts his eyes from the distinctive swooping curves of the stadium roof as he drags his suitcase towards his hotel.

It’s two days since the World Championships, and any other year, Yuuri would have been right there in the stadium with the crème of the competitive skating world, marking the end to his season with one of the most prestigious competitions of the year.

This year, however—

Yuuri’s hand tightens around the handle of his suitcase, and he carefully takes that thought and shuts it at the back of his mind.

His jumpiness only increases when he checks into the hotel – one the JSF books out for Worlds competitors, and which they’ve graciously offered to put up Yuuri in – and even though he must look ridiculous, Yuuri can’t help constantly looking around in case he bumps into someone he knows. But it is two days after Worlds and most skaters would have moved on by now; even Phichit and Celestino are on their way back to Detroit, the timing of their respective flights carefully calculated so Yuuri would miss them in Tokyo.

(He loves Phichit dearly and his best friend is a desperately appreciated emotional anchor, but one prolonged, tear-filled goodbye – made before Phichit left for Worlds – is tiring enough, thank you very much).

The staff behind the front desk recognize Yuuri’s name, Yuuri can tell. It’s there in the way the receptionist’s gaze flicks from Yuuri’s passport up to his face, eyes widening, the low whispers he can hear from the concierge counter behind him. Yuuri paws at his bangs self-consciously and wishes he could keep his face mask on. In any other part of the world Yuuri would be utterly invisible in public, unidentifiable without his costumes and with his hair down and glasses on, but this is Japan and a hotel the JSF partners with, at a time when figure skating is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Yuuri supposes he can thank Japan’s culture of professionalism and discretion that he isn’t swamped with questions about his return and his future career.

"Here is your keycard and your ID, Katsuki-san,” the receptionist says, and Yuuri tries his best not to flinch at the sound of his name. He gives her a wane smile, and retreats towards the elevators as quickly as he can drag his suitcase behind him.

The room they’ve given him is a standard one – a twin bed with bathroom attached, and a wide window with a view of Yoyogi Park. Yuuri dumps his luggage and his backpack at the end of his bed and draws the curtains all the way closed, plunging the room into blessed dimness. He opens his suitcase enough to grab at his toiletry bag and a change of clothes, and goes straight into the shower before he can think about things too much.

He stays in the shower long enough to go from alert back to drowsy from the warmth of the water, and gives his hair several quick scrubs with the towel before the siren call of the bed grows too loud to ignore. It’s four in the afternoon in sunny Tokyo, his phone tells him, but Yuuri’s body is still running on Detroit time despite crossing a dozen time zones in just as many hours, and three in the morning is late even for a night owl like Yuuri. He tumbles straight into bed, his hair still damp at the roots, and gives himself over to the welcomed oblivion of sleep.

*

Shrill ringing drags Yuuri back into unwilling consciousness, and he gropes for his phone, sliding one eye open when his fingers just nudge ineffectually against his pillow and soft sheets. The glow of his phone screen blinds him when he picks up the call, and so his voice comes out a strangled moan of groggy pain instead of a more coherent hello.

“Yuuri, you’re half asleep, aren’t you.”

Yuuri identifies the caller more from the blunt way of speaking than from recognizing the voice. It takes an immense effort to sit upright – fatigue weights down his limbs like a heavy blanket of snow, all-encompassing and smothering – and he has to kick away the cosy blanket and let the chill of the room seep into his skin to have any chance of staying alert.

It takes him two heavy swallows against his dry throat to dredge up a proper response. “Minako-sensei.”

There’s a short pause. “Well, it’s good to know you’re alive. Your mother was worried when you didn’t call after touching down at Narita. Jetlag, huh?”

Yuuri makes a sound of agreement and leans his head back against the headboard. He’s conscious now though, and even though his body seems to be waging a war against moving, his mind is alert enough that Yuuri knows he’s not going to fall back asleep as easily as he did before.

“I’m sorry for waking you,” Minako says, because of course she knows all about Yuuri’s insomniac tendencies, having sat up with him at her ballet studio more times than Yuuri can count during his junior figure skating – his middle and high school – years. “Go wash up and drink a big glass of water. I’ll wait for you.”

Yuuri wants to burrow into the shelter of the blankets and go back to ignoring the world, but Minako knows him too well. He has trained under her tutelage for far too long to ignore direct instructions, and she’d kept her directions clear and succinct enough that Yuuri is able to push through his reluctance to comply. He allows himself a minute to just pout into the darkness, and then sighs. “Yes, Minako-sensei.”

Dragging himself to his feet takes immense effort, and Yuuri stumbles almost drunkenly towards the bathroom. The chilly tiles under his feet shocks him into further awareness, and by the time he splashes cold water over his face, Yuuri is horribly, unwillingly but undeniably awake.

He takes out his brewing displeasure on the seal of the hotel-provided bottle of water, and chugs down two big mouthfuls before he can think about it. The water is soothing on his parched throat, and by the time he downs half a bottle, Yuuri blinks, slightly more refreshed, and calmer now. He eyes his phone and then settles in the desk chair instead of the bed.

“I’m back,” he says into his phone.

There’s a crackle as Minako presumably picks up the phone at her end. “Feel better?”

“Mmm,” Yuuri hums noncommittally, because he does feel better now that he’s hydrated, but everything else is still a disaster. He stifles a sigh.

There’s a long pause, and then— “How was the meeting with the JSF?”

This time, Yuuri can’t bite back his sound of distress. “Minako-sensei…”

“There are only a few things going on in your life right now, Yuuri,” Minako says mercilessly. “Either we talk about your meeting with the Japan Skating Federation, or we talk about you returning to Hasetsu for the first time in five years.”

It’s a good thing that Yuuri isn’t prone to biting his lip or fingernails from anxiousness, or else they’d be chewed completely raw even this early in the conversation. He wracks his mind for anything else, but Minako is right. Unless they talk about the weather or some other inane topic, everything comes back to Yuuri’s skating and his decision to move back to Japan – his career, his future, his state of mind. The only way to escape talking about either would be to hang up on Minako, and Yuuri respects her too much to do that.

“It was all right,” Yuuri says, choosing the lesser of two evils, and takes a sip of water to buy himself time. “They’re happy I’m transferring back to Japan, since it makes it easier for them to contact and get a hold of me. They’re a little concerned about my whole coaching situation, but it’s the end of the season. I have to file some official paperwork about it at some point, but right now, having Ice Castle Hasetsu as my skating club is good enough.”

“That’s good. Do they still need to meet with you after this?”

“Not really. Everything else we can do over the phone or email.” Yuuri knows exactly where this is leading to, and he babbles on. “But since I’m already in Tokyo, I was thinking of getting my boots looked at. And get my blades professionally sharpened. And I have some obligations to fulfil. You know.”

Minako just makes a noise of agreement, and then goes quiet.

Yuuri stares at the lamp beside his bed for so long that when he finally glances away, the bright glow leaves white afterimages in his vision. It’s really unfair that she knows him as well as she does; most other people would rush in to fill the silence, throwing questions and comments and generally being noisy enough that Yuuri hide behind their chatter, letting them assume whatever they want. But Minako waits with a patience that demonstrates her years as a professional instructor – because she knows that as reluctant as Yuuri is, some part of him needs to talk about it, and that pushing Yuuri just results in him digging his heels in.

Silence and patient waiting, on the other hand, gives Yuuri the space to reach out of his own will, at his own pace.

“I don’t want to go back to Hasetsu,” Yuuri finally says, and even though the thought lingers constantly at the back of his head, it’s a shock for him to hear it out loud. He draws in a sharp breath, his heartrate spiking—

But Minako doesn’t say a word.

A minute goes by, and Yuuri’s heart finally calms, and the words start tumbling out of his mouth.

“I mean I do. Mom and Dad – they’ve done so much for me – and Mari-nee-chan, and I miss the hot springs, I always do. And Yu-chan and Nishigori, and the triplets, they’ve grown so big, and you too, Minako-sensei, the ballet studio and the Ice Castle, I’m really looking forward, to, to—”

“Take a breath, Yuuri,” Minako murmurs, and Yuuri bites his tongue to stop, sucks in a deep breath.

There’s a pressure between his eyes, the kind that heralds hot tears, and Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut.

“I love Hasetsu,” he whispers. “But I don’t want to go back, not like this.”

He’d promised himself that he wouldn’t go back home until he achieved his dream, that he wouldn’t crawl back cowed and intimidated and beaten no matter how bad things got. He had fought so long and so hard to gain the JSF’s confidence, to even get out of Japan, and after moving halfway around the world on his own, at great expense, how could he return home as a failure? 

And here Yuuri is, going back to Hasetsu a complete disappointment after all.

“But you still made the decision to come back,” Minako says, her voice gentle but factual, and Yuuri blinks rapidly, his mind latching onto that statement and not letting go.

He did. He decided it all on his own, because the worst possible option that Yuuri could choose ended up being his only viable option. Staying in Detroit wasn’t working anymore, and there was nowhere else that Yuuri could think of, and—

There are things Yuuri needs to deal with, things he can only do in Hasetsu. So, back to Hasetsu he must go.

“Yuuri. You made that decision yourself, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” Yuuri says, and saying it out loud, in front of a witness, makes it concrete, makes it real. “I did.”

“Then that’s all that matters,” Minako says, her voice soft and understanding, because she’d had to make the same decision, didn’t she? Yes, she was a success, a Benois de la Danse ballerina with accomplishments aplenty under her name, but she’d still chosen to come back to sleepy, half-forgotten and left-behind Hasetsu.

They’d both made that choice of their own power, deliberate and without duress, and although it is crushingly difficult, it is an act that Yuuri knows he can live with.  

Yuuri draws in a deep breath, one that fills his lungs with clean, cleansing air. “Sensei.”

It’s all he says, his gratitude for her words getting tangled up with his lingering dread and trepidation about Hasetsu. But Minako must hear a difference in his voice because she laughs, and because she knows him so very well, changes the subject.

“So have you watched Victor Nikiforov’s showing at the World Championships yet?”

Yuuri chokes, and wisely decides to put his mostly-empty water bottle away. “Um—I haven’t.”

“Now that’s a surprise. Your idol won the gold again. I liked his performances during the Grand Prix series more, but he was technically perfect as always.”

Yuuri makes a vague sound of acknowledgment, because saying anything would probably give his embarrassment away. How can Yuuri tell Minako that it’s weird to watch Victor in real life when he keeps having eerily realistic fantasies about the man himself, and so much weirder now that Yuuri himself is in the daydream? That whole dancing with Victor thing – Yuuri can feel his cheeks bursting into furious blushes – was definitely a drunken hallucination, no thanks to the GPF banquet’s generosity with champagne, but Yuuri’s been staying well away from alcohol the past three months, so there’s just no good reason he can give for having such vivid visions about Victor that won’t end with Minako teasing him.

Still, it’s Victor. It’s Victor skating, and Yuuri has been teaching himself Stammi Vicino’s choreography because it is breathtaking and emotional and everything Yuuri aspires to.

Well, it’s about time for him to face everything he’s been running away from.

“Someone’s probably uploaded his programs on the internet now, right?”

Minako snorts. “Even if the broadcast copyright holders take them down, Victor’s fans are zealous. The fansites you frequent will have something for you, I’m sure.”

Yuuri shifts restlessly in his chair. Now that he has slept and hydrated and some measure of the tension he’s under has dispersed, other concerns are making themselves known – namely, the grumbling in his stomach. It’s past dinner time and Yuuri doesn’t want to deal with room service, so a dinner scraped together with snacks and maybe a bento from the convenient store with his phone playing figure skating videos for company it is.

“Minako-sensei, it’s late. I’m going to do something about dinner.”

“Right, you’ve been sleeping off the jetlag. Go get food, that’s important. But try to sleep at some point tonight.”

“Okay.”

“And tell someone in your family – or at least me – when you’re arriving in Hasetsu. You haven’t booked your plane ticket to Fukuoka yet, have you?”

“No, I wanted to be flexible in case the JSF needed more than one meeting.” The silence over the phone is expectant, so Yuuri adds, “I’ll let you know when I finalize my plans.”

“Good. I’ll see you soon, Yuuri.”

“Okay.” Then hurriedly, before Yuuri’s stupid anxiety can get the better of him, he mutters a quick, “Thank you, Minako-sensei,” and hangs up before he can hear her response.

It’s probably a little rude, but it’s the best Yuuri can do right now. He stares down at his phone in his hand for a minute, and then goes digging in his suitcase for a fresh set of clothes. Japan’s convenient stores may be opened around the clock, but his grumbling stomach doesn’t wait.

It’s time to get a move on.

---


Yuuri is a night owl not only because insomnia is terrible and annoying, but also because he loves the hours deep in the night.

There’s something about that interval between midnight and dawn, when the world is quiet and still and languid with slumber, that is utterly freeing. Instead of feeling lonely, the darkness and solitude is soothing, because no one ever expects anything from Yuuri like this.  

Yuuri stands in the middle of the empty gym room with only a few spotlights turned on to illuminate the way, and lets his body move as it pleases.

He starts with ballet exercises, because ballet has always calmed him almost as much as skating does, but it isn’t long before he shifts from performing ballet moves to dancing to the choreographies of skating programs instead.

It’s not quite the same as skating upon the ice – Yuuri doesn’t have the breadth of the rink to work with nor the speed and agility moving on a pair of skating boots affords him – but it’s still satisfying to act out the choreographies, to convey the feelings and the passion behind a program. The technical aspects of skating have never been Yuuri’s strength; he has a decent triple axel and some say his spins are beautiful, but it is the artistry and emotion within a performance that draws Yuuri to figure skating the most.

And of all the skaters who have ever performed upon the ice, Yuuri loves Victor’s choreographies best.

Victor is renowned for choreographing many of his own programs, and it is a comfort for Yuuri to mimic those routines. As silly as it sounds, Yuuri feels closer to Victor this way, to move as he does and to imagine the thoughts and feelings that inspired the choreography, and although it’s a one-sided connection that exists only in Yuuri’s head, like all those daydreams he has of Victor, it is Yuuri’s tribute to the person who he admires most upon the ice.

Yuuri doesn’t need music to follow the rhythm; the memory of a low voice singing an aria of love and longing is enough to carry him. He lifts his face, eyes falling closed, and throws his head back in a slow but graceful spin, his hands following the arch of his body.

Stammi Vicino’s choreography is endless majesty tempered with ethereal grace, and Yuuri lets his hands curl through the shadows of the room, dancing in the dreamlike space between light and dark. He’s sunk deep enough in the imagined music that he improvises through the elements that are only possible with skating; even if Yuuri were on the ice he wouldn’t be able to complete many of Victor’s jumps, especially the quad lutz and Victor’s signature quad flip, so here in the confined spaces of the gym room, Yuuri leaps in temps levés and jetés, and turns what would be spins on ice into pirouettes on land instead.

YuuriDancingToStammiVicino_Baph_chap2

It’s everything Yuuri loves coalesced into a single, perfect moment – figure skating and ballet, the dark and the quiet stillness and the thrum of emotion in Victor’s beautiful choreography, nostalgia and yearning and hope – and as he pushes up into that final pirouette-spin that comes at the end of Victor’s free skate program he isn’t surprised at all to catch a flash of silver, almost glowing under the spotlights, and wide, wide blue-green eyes—

ocean eyes

 —except the man standing beside the treadmill is too solid and too detailed to be a dream, and instead of coming gracefully out of the spin and wrapping his arms around himself in Stammi Vicino’s ending pose, Yuuri stumbles, not quite able to halt his momentum, and has to catch himself before he crashes right into the wall of mirrors.

Victor – Victor??? – takes a choppy step forward, his hand coming up in an instinctive movement to help, and then he just freezes there, staring at Yuuri.

Yuuri stares right back, his heart rabbiting in his chest. He’s a sweaty mess, breathing hard from exertion, and although spins and pirouettes haven’t made Yuuri dizzy since he was a child he now feels lightheaded, his thoughts scattered and fragmented.

“Are you real?” he blurts out.

“Are you?” Victor says, sounding faint and shell-shocked, and the entire situation is so bizarre that Yuuri doesn’t bother censoring himself.

“I asked you first.”

“But—” Victor cuts himself off. The silence stretches out with only Yuuri’s soft pants interrupting it, and Victor blinks rapidly as if trying to clear his vision. “Yuuri Katsuki,” he finally says, and Yuuri can’t help the tiny shiver that goes down his spine at the sound of his name in Victor’s voice, “and you were—was that Stammi Vicino? My free skate program.”

The stupid fan side of Yuuri marvels at the fact that Victor thought he had to clarify that Stammi Vicino is his free skate program, as if every figure skater in the world wouldn’t know the songs of Victor’s programs by heart. The rest of Yuuri is swiftly realizing just what Victor had caught him doing, and he can feel his whole body erupting in a furious blush of mortification.

“Congratulations on winning the World Championships!” Yuuri says nonsensically, as though speaking fast enough would gloss over the past five minutes. “And on defending your title. And—and—I don’t know what else.”

“But you weren’t there,” Victor says, sounding confused. He takes a proper step forward now, coming fully out of the shadows into the brightness of the spotlights. “You weren’t skating at all – how are you here?”

Yuuri backs away to maintain the same length of space between them, but the wall of mirrors is cold and solid at his back and he stares down at the floor instead, a mental retreat.

“It’s the off-season,” he says, and winces almost immediately after – what’s the point of the official off-season when he hasn’t skated at any events at all since December? “And I graduated.” Yuuri steals a glance at Victor’s face, and something about his expression makes Yuuri push on. “And I left my coaching arrangement in Detroit?”

His voice goes higher pitched at the end, because Yuuri hasn’t told very many people about his decision, and it’s utterly surreal to reveal such a private and personal announcement to Victor of all people.

But Victor’s eyes go even wider now and something very close to panic flashes through their depths, although Victor’s voice is calm stillness itself when he speaks. “So you’re no longer skating competitively?”

“What?” Yuuri yelps, and the sudden vehemence that rises up in his chest answers the question so very many people have asked him over the past months, and clears away much of Yuuri’s own doubts. He touches one hand to his heart as if he can calm his frantic heartbeat that way, and his next words come out soft, as though he’s affirming the statement to himself. “No, I’m still skating. I mean… I plan to.”

“Oh,” Victor says, his voice breathy and faint. His shoulders collapse a moment later like all the tension has run out of his body, and he dips his head, his bangs covering his eyes for just a moment. “Of course,” he murmurs. “You were dancing to Stammi Vicino’s choreography. A figure skating program. Of course it means…”

He trails off, and Yuuri fidgets self-consciously, rushes to fill in the silence before Victor can jump to conclusions.

“I’m, um, I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to hijack your program like that. I just—” Yuuri catches himself and forces himself to slow down. “I graduated from university, and things just weren’t working out with my skating, and it’s not Celestino’s fault but something needed to change. But I haven’t figured out where or who to go to, so I decided to come—back,” he says, switching away from home at the last second. “Back to Japan. And I’m here now, but everything is still so difficult, and I just wanted to recapture my love of skating again. Which is—” Great, Yuuri’s furious blushing is back “—is why I was, um. Your free skate program. It is really… inspiring.”

He finally clamps his jaw shut with an effort, and peeks nervously at Victor.

The other man is standing stock-still, his head tipped at an angle, his hair a silvery halo under the spotlights. Now that Yuuri has space to think, he notices that Victor is in a sports jacket and training slacks, but despite the casualness of it all, Victor appears as remote and untouchable as he does on the ice – faraway, and far beyond Yuuri’s reach.

Yuuri shivers, and then chafes restlessly at his forearms, the sweat beginning to dry tackily on his skin.

“That makes sense,” Victor finally says, slow and consideringly – which doesn’t make any sense to Yuuri. Victor draws in a breath deep enough to be obvious, and then seems to pull himself together. “Your rendition of Stammi Vicino on land. It was beautiful. It was—I’m glad I got to see it. To see that spark again.”

“Oh.” The sound escapes Yuuri is more a surprised squeak than anything else. Before he can think about Victor’s words too much, Victor continues on.

“So you’re moving back to Japan for good?”

“Yeah. I’m in Tokyo because I had to meet with the Japan Skating Federation, but I’ll be heading back to my hometown soon.”

“I see.” Victor tips his head, and light shifts over his face, his eyes now a mercurial shade of turquoise. “What will you do next?”

“I don’t know,” Yuuri answers honestly. “I guess I’ll figure it out when I get there.”

Victor’s mouth curves up in a strange smile, wry and lopsided, and it’s such an incongruous sight – so far from the bright grins and media-perfect smiles – and Yuuri finds himself daring to ask a question of his own.

“What about you? The World Championships are over, and you don’t have any ice shows in Japan this month.”

Victor eyes him consideringly. “I’m taking a break. A holiday of sorts. I spend a lot of time in Japan for competitions, but I never get a chance to truly explore it.” The strange smile makes an appearance again. “I guess I’m figuring things out as well.” 

It’s odd to see this side of Victor, and Yuuri finds himself running his mouth – anything to stop the silence from settling in and turning the moment awkward. “I wish I could help,” he says, and then flushes. “About exploring Japan, I mean. But I was only ever back in Japan for official reasons, because of the JSF or competitions, so I can’t really give you any meaningful travel tips.”

“What about your hometown?”

Yuuri ducks his head, the familiar guilt settling around his heart once more. “I know Hasetsu well, but I haven’t been back there in five years. So. If you want out-of-date information about a far-off seaside town, then sure, I’m happy to help.” 

“I’ve never left St. Petersburg for more than a month or two at a time,” Victor says quietly. “Not going home to your hometown for five years – that sounds lonely.”

Victor’s words startle a nervous laugh from Yuuri, and he coughs to stop himself, pressing down on his chest again, except this time it’s to hold the phantom pain at bay. “It is, a little,” he says haltingly. “But you get used to it after a while, the constant longing.”

He’s so preoccupied with his own feelings that Yuuri misses the long step Victor takes forward. But it’s impossible to ignore the touch of Victor’s hand against Yuuri’s shoulder, gripping lightly, and Yuuri jerks his head up in shock.

But instead of startling back and away – Yuuri hates unfamiliar people in his personal space – Yuuri finds himself pressing forward instead, leaning instinctively into the touch, and he stares up at Victor’s face, the angle and the position they’re in strangely familiar, like déjà vu.

Like maybe, just maybe Yuuri’s drunken hallucination of dancing together hand-in-hand under the bright banquet lights isn’t a dream after all.

“You’re truly real,” Victor says, breaking into Yuuri’s thoughts, and Yuuri blinks several times in rapid succession. This close, he can see the way Victor’s eyes are blown wide with surprise, as if he’d startled himself as much as he did Yuuri with the sudden touch.

“Of course I’m real,” Yuuri answers, as if he hadn’t just been reassessing what he thought was a drunken daydream and reconfiguring it as a possible blurred out fuzzy memory instead. “I don’t think anyone would dream up someone else unexpectedly dancing to your own free skate choreography, right?”

Victor stares down at him as if he’s on a brink of a revelation—

—and the shrill ringing of a phone startles Yuuri nearly out of his skin.

Victor flinches hard, surprised just as badly, and there’s a confused moment as they try to grab control of their instincts and detangle themselves at the same time. The phone rings again, a generic ring tone that reverberates in the closed confines of the gym, and Victor looks increasingly annoyed as he pulls his phone from his jacket, looking a second away from just declining the call.

Then he catches sight of the name of the caller, and goes still all at once.

“Victor?” Yuuri says.

There’s conflict warring in Victor’s eyes when he glances over at Yuuri, but as the phone rings on he pulls himself to his full height, his thumb hovering over his phone screen.

“I have to take this call,” Victor says hurriedly. “You’re still in Tokyo tomorrow, right?”

The urgency in Victor’s voice makes Yuuri answer honestly. “Yes. I haven’t booked my tickets yet, but I’m planning to head home the day after tomorrow.”

The phone rings again, which Victor ignores with calmness, but his gaze, locked on Yuuri’s, is anything but. “Then I’ll see you tomorrow? At breakfast. This hotel serves breakfast from six to ten-thirty in the morning.”

Yuuri’s head is reeling from the speed of this conversation, from how quick and unpredictable this whole encounter has been, but he pulls himself together to answer, “Yes, all right. I’ll see you at breakfast.”

“You have my phone number. If you can’t find me, just—call. Okay, Yuuri?”

Yuuri’s eyes go involuntarily wide at the sound of his name, but all he says is, “Okay.”

The smile that flashes over Victor’s face is startling in its intensity, like fireworks bursting to life against the dark night sky. “Okay!”

He picks up the call with a quick smattering of Russian, a greeting and a hurried apology if his body language is anything to go by. Then he’s gone out of the gym, the door falling shut with a faint thump, leaving Yuuri in the sudden quiet, his heart pounding in his chest, feeling like he’s standing in the aftermath of a storm.

---


When Yuuri gets back to his hotel room, he spends twenty whole minutes in belated panic over his encounter with Victor in the gym. It’s very clear that it wasn’t another overly imaginative and elaborate daydream, but Yuuri is under a lot of stress. Jetlag and heart-sickness together with the exhaustion of constant, long distance travel can do strange things to the mind, and Yuuri wonders if it’s possible he’s missed the cues, that he’s misread the entire atmosphere. It’s not in Victor’s character to joke or tease to this extent, but the doubt niggles at Yuuri.

Finally, at around three in the morning, Yuuri bites the bullet and pulls up the private message Chris sent him months back, a Russian-based phone number attached to an impossible name. The message he composes is simple and to the point – This is Yuuri. Is nine for breakfast okay? – and then he turns off his phone and rolls over to sleep.

If the number is fake – if it’s actually Victor and he answers with an excuse or a dismissal – then at least Yuuri will have a a couple of hours of rest to bolster him.

But Yuuri wakes up to his alarm and a responding message that just says Nine is good. Have a good sleep, Yuuri, and he spends so long staring at the words that he ends up having to speed through his morning routine and getting dressed to get down to the dining room on time.

Victor is sitting at a table at a corner of the vast room, and the spring sunlight spilling through a nearby window lights him up like he’s a flower blooming in the warmth of the sun. The camera loves Victor – it seems almost impossible to get a bad angle on him, if all the fan and paparazzi photos are anything to go by – but that charisma and radiance is even more evident in person, and Yuuri feels his breath catch in his throat.

It’s rare to catch Victor off-guard, in a moment of privacy – the ubiquitous cameras are always present at competitions, when Victor is out in public – and Yuuri doesn’t want to break that fragile peace. But he wants even less for Victor to think he’s standing him up, so Yuuri makes himself a warm cup of tea and heads towards Victor’s table.

Victor’s head turns when Yuuri comes close enough that his footsteps are audible, and the automatic, generic smile on his face dissolves into a look of surprise when his eyes land on Yuuri. Yuuri feels the doubt spike in his throat, but then Victor smiles again, a smaller but more sincere one, and Yuuri lets the sight of it bolster him all the way up to the table, to give him the courage to pull out a chair and take a seat across from Victor, as though he belongs there.

“Good morning,” Victor says.

“Um, good morning,” Yuuri replies, feeling terribly self-conscious, and he lifts his cup, takes a sip of his tea as an excuse to have something to hide behind.

Victor is the complete opposite – he studies Yuuri openly, as if he’s attempting to read Yuuri like a book. The look of interest hasn’t faded away, but it has settled in the background, replaced by something like… concern.

“You’re not eating?”

Yuuri blinks, and lowers his tea cup. Victor himself is settled with a cup of coffee – Yuuri can smell the heady fragrance of it from where he’s sitting – but there are empty plates stacked neatly to one side. The hotel serves a traditional Japanese breakfast alongside a continental one, and from the looks of it, Victor enjoys a hearty appetite and has a taste for Japanese food, which Yuuri knows from experience not everyone can stomach.

“I’m not really hungry yet.” Yuuri doesn’t add that anxiety does extreme things to his appetite – he either binge-eats as stress relief, or gets so nauseous that he can barely swallow. The latter is rarer, but right now a whole flock of butterflies have taken up residence in Yuuri’s stomach, and he’d rather not risk it.

The slight furrow between Victor’s eyes doesn’t fade away, so Yuuri adds, “I’ll eat something later. Sometimes it takes time for my stomach to wake up. I’ll enjoy my tea first.”

The weight of Victor’s gaze feels too much, but all Victor does is nod, not pushing further. Yuuri lets out a quiet breath, relieved.

The silence that settles over them is awkward. Yuuri isn’t sure how to react. As much as his heart is beating at a raised tempo in his chest, it’s steady, elevated but not erratic. Yuuri is nervous, yes, but he’s also oddly – comfortable in Victor’s presence. It doesn’t really match up with Yuuri’s hazy memories and their history of interactions so far. It’s weird that Victor is even interested in Yuuri to begin with, but if the whole dancing together thing was real, then it’s hardly a wonder Victor reacts so familiarly with him.

It is, Yuuri realizes with a start, the first time that he has a chance to talk to Victor in a neutral setting – not through the tension of a competition, free of the haze of alcohol, and without the sudden shock of unexpectedly running into each other.

Yuuri sets his cup carefully down, and looks across the table at Victor. Victor is the one who wanted to meet him here this morning, who was frantic to keep in touch. So, Yuuri will follow his lead.

The change in Yuuri’s body language seems to signal something to Victor; he relaxes, and that smile makes a comeback.

“Did you get enough sleep?” he says, touching one hand towards his phone, lying screenside down on the table. “Your message came in pretty late.”

It’s a simple question that doesn’t require Yuuri to commit too much of himself. “I slept the afternoon before, so my hours are all messed up. I’m tired, but it’s better for me to wake up now, to synch with Japan time. It’s the best way for me to get over jetlag.”

Victor nods, more than familiar with the perils of long-distance travel, and they continue conversing like that, keeping to generic topics, a gentle back-and-forth like the wax and wane of the tides. They exchange travel tips, debate about the best place in the world to get a good cup of tea or coffee. It’s inane conversation but not forced – Yuuri normally hates small talk, but this one feels natural, a gentle thawing of ice rather than an abrupt break.

At one point, Victor gets up to refresh his cup of coffee, and this time Yuuri goes with him. He has missed having good, traditional Japanese food, cooked with local ingredients, and with the easing of his tension his appetite has woken. They return to their table with a bit of everything, and Yuuri doesn’t get a chance to feel self-conscious about eating while Victor isn’t – after Yuuri explains a little about the food, encourages Victor to taste the chiraishi rice he didn’t try earlier, Victor starts stealing bits and pieces of food from Yuuri’s plate, more snacking than anything else.

He’d woken up early, Victor tells him, a residual habit from his training days and also because he just plain likes mornings. Yuuri makes a face over his plate – he’s a night owl, and disgustingly early mornings are his bane – and their conversation opens up further after that, still skirting around sensitive subjects like Yuuri’s skating, but far from the casual talk of before.

“I read an article the other day about escaping to the countryside,” Victor says. He’s switched to rice tea now, had given his cup a look for the unfamiliar grainy taste before continuing to sip at it. “It’s relaxing, I hear, and I was thinking about giving it a try.”

“You’re taking a holiday,” Yuuri recalls from their conversation the night before. “Japan’s outdoors is beautiful, especially in this season. As long as you don’t have a pollen allergy, that is.”

“Fortunately, I don’t.” Victor grins, but it fades a moment later. “I’m looking forward to the break. It’s been a long season.”

Yuuri ducks his head, but the world doesn’t revolve around him. Not every mention about competitive skating or long seasons is a jab at Yuuri’s own terribly short and truncated season. “It might feel long to you, but you performed wonderfully. It was a wonderful season for you.”

“Really, you think so?” Victor says, his voice cryptic when earlier it had been open and honest, and Yuuri glances at him, startled. But Victor rolls on, easily covering over the moment. “But it’s the off-season now, and this is my grand plan: escape to the countryside, take a break, clear my mind.”

“That sounds like a good plan.”

“What about you, Yuuri? You’re heading to—” there’s a minute pause “—Fukuoka next, right?”

“Yeah.” A giggle rises up involuntarily in Yuuri’s throat, and he coughs to cover it. “That’s the way back to Hasetsu.” This time, he doesn’t manage to stifle his nervous laughter.

Victor hums noncommittally. He seems more fidgety than usual, although it’s not obvious to the casual viewer – it’s all in the eyes, the way Victor darts quick looks at Yuuri, his phone, and then tilts his head to hide behind the fall of his hair.

Yuuri is glad he’s not the only one who appears just the slightest bit off-kilter, but at the same time – just what in the world is capable of making ultra-confident and charming Victor nervous?

As if coming to a decision, Victor finally tosses his head, flipping his bangs out of his face. He reaches for his jacket pocket, and casually slides – business cards? slips of paper? – across the table, his fingers obscuring the writing upon them, even though they look familiar.

“You have plans for today, right? So, these tickets are for tomorrow. One of them is for you.”

His hand flits away, and Yuuri stares down at the pair of shinkansen tickets – Tokyo Station to Hakata Station in Fukuoka, eight-thirty a.m.  

The word just falls out of Yuuri’s mouth. “What?”

“You said yesterday that you wish you could show me around Japan,” Victor says, his words tumbling over each other in their haste, although his smile is utterly untouchable.

“What?” Yuuri says, like a broken record.

“And the only place you really know in Japan is Hasetsu. Which, according to my research, is a beautiful seaside town that sounds perfect for a getaway. So, I figured…. Why not? Let’s go see Hasetsu!”

Yuuri opens his mouth again, and then forcibly closes it before he can parrot what at Victor yet again. He takes a moment to gather his thoughts, and then—

“Did you seriously just drop a whole ton of money on bullet train tickets that you don’t even know whether I’d use?”

Victor blinks calmly at him. “You told me yourself that you were planning to head home tomorrow.”

Yuuri ignores that completely. “You know it’s easier to fly right? It’s actually cheaper and faster to just fly to Fukuoka than to take the bullet train.”

“But taking the train sounds so much more fun! I know it goes at really fast speeds, but the route is pretty scenic, and I get to see parts of Japan’s countryside along the way—”

Yuuri tries to cut in, but he has absolutely no idea what to say, and Victor rolls on.

“—and I don’t need your passport or ID to buy tickets for the bullet train,” Victor adds, like that’s the final point to his argument, and finally, Yuuri shakes himself out of his shock, incredulity rising up his throat and washing his surprise and nervousness away.

“Victor,” Yuuri says firmly, and tries not to think of how the only times he takes that tone is when he’s freshly off the ice and still carrying some of the borrowed confidence of the persona he embodies during a routine. “Shinkansen tickets are really expensive. If—” his tongue stumbles over the words, but Yuuri forces them out anyway, no matter how improbable they might be, “—you really want to visit Hasetsu, I’ll show you around, of course I will. But this, I just—I can’t accept something like this.”

Sometime during this monologue Yuuri’s eyes have dropped to the table, and when Victor doesn’t answer, Yuuri risks a peek, glancing at Victor through his eyelashes.

Victor looks—calm. There is something unreadable lurking at the back of his eyes, but he meets Yuuri’s gaze openly, and after a moment, he gives Yuuri a smile – one that is small but understanding.

“It’s your choice, Yuuri. I wouldn’t want to intrude if it makes you uncomfortable.” Victor picks up one of the tickets, and carefully folds it into Yuuri’s hand, his fingers brushing against Yuuri’s skin, warm. “But I’ve already paid for this ticket. The money is spent whether you choose to use it or not. Consider it a coming-home-to-Japan present. Or a graduation present, if you’d rather.”

He squeezes Yuuri’s hand once, and then draws back, curling his fingers around his cup of rice tea. “I really would love to see your hometown, somewhere I’ve never been before, a place that isn’t commonly in the guide books. You know how I love my surprises.”

Yuuri dearly wants to blurt out what at Victor again, but instead, he stares down at the ticket in his hand.

Dreams are safe. Dreams are private, they are fantasies, and so Yuuri has thought of it: of showing Victor the town he comes from, all the quiet spaces and special places Yuuri loves, his home rink where he and Yuuko have spent hours upon hours attempting to follow their skating idol’s footsteps. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime, Victor pretty much offering to make that dream come true, and it would mean a lot to Yuuri, to bring Victor back to the place where all his dreams began.

There is also this: Yuuri is still afraid of returning to Hasetsu.

It’s frightening to return to a place he left behind, not as a success but as a failure. Going back like this with his idol in tow should be mortifying, but instead, Yuuri feels strangely relieved about it. Because sitting here across from Victor makes Yuuri’s heart clamour, but that’s a legitimate thing to panic over. It distracts Yuuri from his other, more irrational fear, and perhaps it’s a selfish thought, but Yuuri can’t help but want Victor with him – perhaps Yuuri can hide behind the radiance of his idol, like a shadow fading in the presence of light.

Yuuri runs his thumb along the edge of the ticket, and then raises his head.

“Are you sure?” Yuuri says, and he could mean any number of things – are you sure about spending this kind of money, are you sure you want to visit sleepy, languid Hasetsu, are you sure you want to waste your time on me.

The corners of Victor’s mouth start to curve upwards like he can sense Yuuri’s crumbling will, and Yuuri has to look away in self-preservation; if he witnesses that smile growing into a full-fledged grin of absolute delight, Yuuri knows he’ll never be able to say no to Victor ever again.

“I’m sure, Yuuri,” Victor says, and the sound of Yuuri’s name in Victor’s voice—

Yuuri draws in a deep breath, closes his fingers tightly around the ticket. “Okay. Let’s go to Hasetsu, then.”
 

---


Tokyo’s transit network is well-established and very efficient, but it is also very, terribly crowded, and by the time Yuuri drags himself and his luggage onto the relative tranquillity of the shinkansen, Yuuri’s nerves are frayed. 

(it’s easier to attribute his anxiety to the rush and bustle of people around him, rather than to his own worries about where they’re going).  

Victor, on the other hand, is clearly happy about their trip. He’d appeared in the hotel lobby in his version of incognito – a pair of fashion glasses over his eyes, scarf wrapped artfully around his throat and lower face, his distinctive silvery hair caught under a neat black flat cap, his phone ever in his hand – a sight that had made Yuuri smile. He followed Yuuri gamely through Tokyo’s extensive metro system and through the numerous floors in Tokyo Station and never once loses his patience or his good humour, and when they finally get onto their compartment and stow their luggage away, Victor turns bright eyes on Yuuri, expectant.

“You can have the window seat,” Yuuri says, because really, it’s only fair.

Victor sets one hand against the wide glass windows when the bullet train speeds out of the depths of Tokyo Station and into the bright daylight. Yuuri watches him, but doesn’t get to stay quiet for long – Victor turns from the window and meets Yuuri’s eyes squarely, and asks Yuuri to tell him about the sights.

Slowly, wracking his head for what he knows, Yuuri begins speaking.

He tells Victor about the custom of hanami – because the cherry blossom trees are blooming everywhere – and then about the tradition of ekiben – how most stations and even bullet trains have their own unique bento meals, typically featuring a food speciality of the region. He tells Victor about Mount Fuji – “if we’re lucky and the weather is clear, you can see Fuji from the train” – and Victor’s excitement is so palpable, it makes Yuuri’s heart flip in his chest.

Finally, an hour into their journey – after the Mount Fuji sighting and two dozen photos – Yuuri and Victor lapse into silence, the rhythmic rumbling of the train and the slow changing landscape lulling them into peaceful reverie. Victor gazes out the window, and Yuuri fingers lightly at the sleeves of his jacket, restless.

He normally sleeps on long journeys, but the jetlag, the disarray of his sleep schedule and the lingering trepidation in his heart keeps Yuuri wide awake. His thoughts wander – flighty and distracted, jumping from concern to concern – and he’s so caught up in his own head that he doesn’t realize Victor has fallen asleep until Victor falls asleep on Yuuri’s shoulder.

All of Yuuri’s attention narrows down on the weight of Victor’s head suddenly slumped against his bicep and shoulder, a half-audible breath escaping him in shock. Victor had removed his flat cap soon after they boarded the train, so Yuuri gets a clear look at Victor’s face: his hair falling over his eyes, his mouth relaxed in sleep, his breathing deep and calm.

Yuuri sits there stiffly, too afraid to move, until it occurs to him that it can’t be very comfortable for Victor to sleep like that. Carefully, Yuuri shifts so Victor’s head falls more naturally into the curve where Yuuri’s neck meets his shoulder, and brushes the bangs out of Victor’s face so the fluttery ends don’t irritate him in his sleep.

When Yuuri turns away, he finds his thoughts empty for once, his attention constantly caught by Victor’s warmth, that long line of contact between them. The train speeds on, rhythmic and constant, and Yuuri finally closes his eyes, lets his head fall against soft silver hair, lets himself sink into the light scent of Victor’s shampoo under the headier smoke of his aftershave. 

It is the most restful sleep Yuuri has gotten in a very long while.

Chapter Text

When Victor steps off the train at Hasetsu station, he is greeted by the fragrance of freshly bloomed flowers, mixed with the brine of the sea. It is worlds apart from Tokyo, and it is familiar enough that Victor relaxes right away, feeling his energy levels rise again after nearly seven hours of train travel.

Victor knows why he recognizes this particularly combination of scents. But he promised himself that he wouldn’t let the mystery and allure of his soulmate and their signs and flashes overshadow Yuuri, that he would let his interactions with Yuuri stand and speak for themselves, and when Victor makes up his mind—

Well, Yakov can attest to just how pig-headedly stubborn Victor can be.

Yuuri is quiet beside him, face mask pulled firmly over his lower face and Victor darts him a quick look, making the assessment once more – is it time to leave Yuuri alone, to grant him space and privacy, or would a timely distraction in the form of Victor chattering his head off work better?

For how emotional and expressive Yuuri can be on the ice, he’s surprisingly mellow in person and when fully lucid. He has tells, of course, present in his body language and his reactions and reflected in his gaze, which Yuuri is rather adept at hiding. But it is a language Victor is only beginning to learn, and for how rare this opportunity is – what are the odds of Victor meeting Yuuri like that, in the gym of a hotel in the great metropolis of Tokyo – Victor doesn’t want to risk alienating Yuuri if he gets it wrong.

Don’t screw this up, Nikiforov.

Yuuri looks slightly wide-eyed to be standing in Hasetsu once more, but after a moment, he shakes himself off and gives Victor a small, if nervous, smile.

“My family owns a hot springs resort; we live in the upper floors. It’s a little bit of a walk, but the weather is good, so I hope you don’t mind too much.”

Distraction, Victor thinks, and gives Yuuri a quick wink. “Of course not. I did say I wanted to explore parts of Japan, and there’s no better way to take in the sights than to do it on foot. I’ll follow your lead, Yuuri.”

Yuuri ducks his head at the sound of his name, as he did the last dozen or so times Victor caught him off guard with it. He doesn’t appear displeased or irritated by it, just a little embarrassed but mostly pleased. Victor wonders about it, can’t figure it out, and so resolves to call Yuuri’s name as much as possible.

“Okay,” Yuuri says, and glances around to catch his bearings. His eyes land on the escalators, and Victor hears a quiet “huh, that’s new” before Yuuri gestures at Victor to follow him. “Let’s go.”

Japan boasts of a number of impressive train stations that are cultural landmarks of their own, and Yuuri goes through them without batting an eye, his attention focused on getting through the crowds and making their way to the right platforms. But now, as down-to-earth as Hasetsu Station is, Yuuri keeps turning to survey the spaces around him, and Victor remembers – five long years away from home.

In some ways, Yuuri is as much a newcomer to his hometown as Victor is.

They get to the bottom of the escalator, and Yuuri stops so abruptly that Victor nearly crashes into him. He catches instinctively at Yuuri’s shoulders to keep his balance.

“Yuuri? Are you okay?”

Yuuri is stiff under his hands, seemingly frozen in place. Victor has to drag them both and their luggage to one side so they don’t trip the people coming down behind them, and then he glances up, trying to figure out what has made Yuuri react like this.

He doesn’t need a second look. The posters – cherry blossom pink and beautifully edited, featuring Yuuri in his monochrome Team Japan jacket and his skating boots posed in front of an impressive looking structure – line an entire wall, and when Victor peeks at Yuuri, he has recovered from his shock and is blushing furiously, obvious even under the face mask.

“No one told me about these posters!” There’s a hint of a mortified wail in Yuuri’s voice. “I can’t believe the municipal council put these up!”

“They’re nice,” Victor says without thinking. He’s done numerous photoshoots and had his image edited into more campaigns than he can keep track of – advertisements, endorsements, marketing for various official organizations – and as far as promotional material go, Yuuri’s posters are very well done indeed. “I really like that they chose a photo of you in your national team jacket. Costumes are flashy and eye-catching, but this one shows you: the athlete behind all the personas. It’s a great choice, to show how much your hometown supports you.”

He gives the beatific, artistically rendered Yuuri on the poster a smile, and then turns to mortified and travel-worn Yuuri at his side, who is real and staring at Victor like he thinks Victor is crazy. Then Yuuri visibly collects himself, and turns determinedly towards the station exit as though he can make the past five minutes disappear just by not acknowledging it.

“We’re going,” he announces, and grabs both his and Victor’s suitcase, forcing Victor to chase after him to get it back.

Once they get out onto the walkway, it becomes even more obvious how laid-back and tranquil Hasetsu is. The streets are lined with walk paths that seem to have more pedestrians than motorists on them, and most of the buildings here are low structures with plenty of space around them. Cherry blossom petals flutter around them, carried by the wind, and Victor lifts his head into the sunlight, breathes it all in.

“You seem to like it here.” In the solitude of the streets, Yuuri has removed his face mask; his voice is cautious, but Yuuri's gaze holds nothing but curiosity.

“I do!” Victor says with a laugh. “It’s so different, and it’s peaceful. What’s a hot springs resort like?”

Yuuri hums quietly under his breath. “Well, you’ve probably heard how we Japanese love our baths. My family’s resort has a natural hot springs on the grounds, so a lot of people come by for a soak after a long day. We have a dining area and serve food and drinks as well, so it’s a really relaxing place for both locals and visitors.”

Victor thinks of sinking into the warmth of the hot springs, the spring breeze cool on his face and the wide skies over his head, followed by a delicious homecooked meal. “That sounds heavenly.”

“It is.” Yuuri darts a look in Victor’s direction; it makes Victor’s heart jolt a little, because that look is knowing and a little conspiratory, like they’re sharing an inside joke. “The springs might be the only reason why I made it through training sometimes. The minerals in the water and the heat do wonders for aching bones and sore muscles.”

“That would have been a godsent during my growth sprout,” Victor murmurs. “Or when I was learning the quad flip.”

“Really?” Yuuri’s eyes light right up. “You kept news about your quad flip well under wraps – no one even knew you were training it until you straight up jumped it during your free skate at the Vancouver Olympics. You didn’t even practice it during the official practice sessions.”

Victor knows he’s famed in the figure skating world, that he has been enshrined as a living legend, but it’s still flattering to realize that Yuuri has been following his progress all the way from Vancouver, more than five years ago.

“I just wanted so badly to do it perfectly the first time. Quads were still quite novel back then, but toe loops and salchows – there were a couple of us that could land them in competition, and I wanted to be the first at something new. Yakov says that’s when he went almost completely bald. I trained the quad flip privately so it had to be at all these odd, secretive times. I probably fell more times than I should have simply because I was too tired or sleepy.”

“How long did it take you? To get it down?”

“Mmm, I was at about forty percent consistency when I put it into my Olympic free skate. We didn’t plan for it, and Yakov yelled at me for about an hour afterwards for my impulsiveness. It’s why he looks so dour in all the medal ceremony photos!”

Victor laughs, and then his wide grin falls into something more neutral. He’s so used to acting in front of the press and his fans that it has become second nature, to spin the truth into a perfect little story. Yuuri is looking at him with a slight smile on his face, taken in by the anecdote, and Victor swallows.

If he wants to truly learn more about Yuuri, to know him the way his heart craves, then Victor will have to be a little bit more honest as well.

“It was difficult,” he admits. “We have all these established training techniques now, and high tech facilities with harnesses or software to analyse the physics of your jumps and everything, but back then, Yakov and I had to pave our own way. No one had ever attempted a quad flip before. It was about two years of off and on practice before I got consistent enough that Yakov stopped muttering about potential fractures and other injuries.”

Yuuri is quiet for a long while, with only the rustle of the wind and the rattling of their suitcases rolling over pavement for accompaniment. 

“That’s amazing.”

Victor startles. “What?”

“That’s amazing,” Yuuri says again. “You’d think that we other skaters would know better, but you’ve been so consistently good for so long that it seems nearly impossible that you aren’t just good at everything, all the time. But in the end, all your accomplishments are the result of hard, hard work.” His mouth curves up into a slight but very gentle smile. “You’re amazing, Victor.”

They shouldn’t affect Victor as much as they do, Yuuri’s words, but Victor feels a lump form in his throat, and he blinks rapidly, swallowing hard and breathing steadily to force himself into calmness. It isn’t anything he hasn’t heard before – the media and press loves Victor – but there’s something about the way Yuuri says it, calm and factual and completely honest, and what he focuses on with his praise. Victor is talented, there is no doubt about that. But it is a talent that is nurtured and grown on a foundation of back-breaking hard work and perseverance – and it is gratifying to have that acknowledged. 

“Thank you,” he murmurs, feeling uncharacteristically shy. And then, because Victor hates feeling self-conscious, he swiftly changes the subject. “So I guess most people in Hasetsu prefer to travel by foot?”

“Most of Hasetsu is walkable, and there’s a bus service too, but yes, by foot or by bicycle works well for most people.” Yuuri points down a side road, and they detour off the main street into a quieter area, where the buildings become more sprawling and widespread. “We’re coming up to the resort now.”

They walk along a neat row of trimmed and maintained hedges and bamboo fencing and finally come upon an ornate gateway, framed by two stone lanterns.

“Here we are.” Yuuri pauses a short distance away, not quite in view from anyone inside the courtyard. “This is… my home.”

He sounds uncertain, and if there is ever a time for a timely distraction, this is it. Victor gestures at the signs hanging from the gateway. “What do they say?”

Yuuri blinks, and tips his head to look at the characters, vibrant red on black.

Yu-topia Katsuki,” he reads off slowly, and Victor tries to memorize the way Yuuri says it, the name of the resort and his family name both. “The smaller sign, that’s Hasetsu onsen, which just means Hasetsu hot springs.”

“Yu-topia,” Victor tries to mimic. “And… onsen?”

“That’s right,” Yuuri says. “Yu-topia isn’t a hotel or a guesthouse; we don’t normally have room for people to stay over. But I’ve messaged my family that I’m bringing a guest back, so you can stay with us here.”

It suddenly occurs to Victor just how much extra work he’s heaping on Yuuri’s shoulders with his impulsive decision to follow him to Hasetsu. And Victor may love grand gestures and over-the-top surprises, but not at the expense of the people he cares about.

“Are you sure? I don’t mind staying at a hotel, and you’d get to spend more time with your family without me underfoot.” Victor struggles to bite down on his next sentence, but he came to Hasetsu for one major reason, and in the end, his longing heart wins out. “Just remember you promised to show me around, okay? I don’t mind waiting, but I want to see you.”

There’s that look on Yuuri’s face again, one that’s rapidly becoming very familiar – mild incredulity mixed with tentative agreement, as if Yuuri isn’t quite sure that all of this is real. But then he reaches out and catches the very edge of Victor’s jacket sleeve, not quite touching but close enough that Victor can feel his body heat through the chill of the spring day.

“It’s not a lot of trouble. Stay.”

Yuuri goes quiet once more, and Victor studies him, wondering if he’s read the signs wrong. Maybe this is one of the times where Victor should give Yuuri space, let him move at his own pace. But then Yuuri draws in a breath, a deep one that lengthens his spine and forcibly straightens his shoulders, his eyes falling shut, and when they open once more there’s a determined light in their depths.

“Okay. Let’s go.”

They drag their suitcases through the walkway, Victor staying a pace behind. Then they reach the main building itself, and Yuuri pushes the sliding doors aside. They both step into the foyer of the resort, and Victor barely gets a chance to let his eyes adjust to the dimmer atmosphere inside the building when a light patter of footsteps makes him turn.

“Yuuri!” he hears, followed by a string of musical Japanese, and a woman who can only be Yuuri’s mother – they have the same smile – stops at the edge of the raised steps, gazing down at her son fondly. The window of the reception counter slides open, and an older man – Yuuri’s father? – chimes in, his tone teasing. Yuuri ducks his head in embarrassment, but under the fall of his bangs Victor spots a tiny smile.

For all that the conversation is incomprehensible to Victor, it’s obvious the Katsukis are delighted at their son’s return, and the warmth of their regard, although felt secondhand, nevertheless lights a contentment within Victor. He lingers by the doorway, unwilling to intrude.

“You know,” a voice drawls from behind him, in accented but decent English, and Victor whips around so quickly that his bangs flutter uncontrollably around his face. “I had a couple of guesses for who Yuuri was bringing back to Hasetsu, but I never seriously thought that it would be you.”

Behind Victor, in a similar outfit as Yuuri’s mother, stands a woman around Victor’s age, with a bandanna pulled over her hair and earrings running down the shell of her ears. She arcs an eyebrow at him, and when she steps through the doorway she brings the scent of tobacco with her.  

“I—” Victor stutters, caught completely off-guard and tongue-tied for once, because this woman may look nothing like Lilia, but they both have that cool demeanour that demands instant respect.

The woman flashes Victor a somewhat toothy grin. “I guess I better finish clearing out that storage room. Oh boy.” She lets the weight of her gaze stay for a long, drawn out moment, and then throws a fond look in Yuuri’s direction. “Don’t mind my parents. It’s been a long time since Yuuri came home.”

My parents. Which means—

Yuuri’s sister steps away without waiting for Victor’s reaction or response. She ruffles a light hand over Yuuri’s hair as she passes him, muttering something as she goes. Yuuri’s startled “Mari-nee-chan” just makes her grin, and she gives him a wave over her shoulder as she disappears into the depths of the resort.

Her interruption finally draws Yuuri’s parents’ attention away from their son, and Victor takes their curious stares as his cue to finally step forward.

“Hi,” Victor chirps; he has interacted with plenty of fans and reporters over the years and speaking normally while letting his body language carry his message has seen him through dozens of language and cultural barriers in the past. “I hope you don’t mind the interruption.”

When he comes more clearly under the lights, Yuuri’s mother lets out a little gasp. There’s a long moment where she stares at Victor and Victor stares back, and then her smile widens.

“Victor-chan,” she says, and while Victor is blinking at her in surprise, turns to Yuuri. She speaks to him briefly, and although her tone is faintly admonishing there is no denying the delight in it.

Yuuri ducks his head even further, but under the fall of his bangs he darts Victor a quick look. He responds to his parents – his father chiming in halfway, sounding very amused – and then gestures for Victor to join him.

“My mom is scolding me for not introducing you,” Yuuri says. “These are my parents, Katsuki Hiroko and Katsuki Toshiya. They’ve been running this resort since my sister and I were kids. And that was my sister just now, Mari.”

Toshiya throws in a very accented “welcome!” at this point, and Victor feels the corners of his mouth tilt up in an involuntary smile. There’s another lengthy discussion, during which Hiroko keeps smiling at Victor, including him in the conversation even if he can’t contribute, until Yuuri responds in faint exasperation, finally showing the bold edge from his competitions and the banquet.

“Okay, if we don’t just go, my parents are going to stand there and chatter at us all day.” Yuuri snags Victor by the jacket sleeve once more, tugging. “Here, take off your shoes, we have house slippers. Let’s go dump our luggage and rest for a while. It’s been a really long day.”

They exchange their shoes for indoor ones – Yuuri carefully tucking Victor’s Oxfords into the shoe rack – and make their way into the resort proper. Victor waves to Hiroko and Toshirou as they go, and then Yuuri is leading him further into the resort, past the public spaces towards a narrow walkway, leading to the family’s private living spaces.

Victor doesn’t get to look around much, concentrating on hefting his luggage through the corridors without scuffing the beautiful wooden panels. He catches a glimpse of Mari, but Yuuri heads towards a set of stairs without pausing, so Victor fixes his gaze on Yuuri’s back and follows him.

They make it onto the second floor with huffs of relief, and Yuuri heads down the narrow hallway. There are two doors, one at the end and one at the side, and Yuuri pauses at the latter, slides the door aside.

“Oh, they got it cleaned out after all,” he says, and moves his suitcase out of the way so Victor can peek in. The room is spacious, storage boxes stacked neatly along one wall and the rest of it entirely bare, but it’s freshly aired and there’s a neat bundle of bedding and pillows that look terribly appealing right now.

“It’s not much,” Yuuri says, wringing his hands together anxiously. “But I promise that the futon is really comfortable, even if you’re technically sleeping on the floor.”

“No, this is great,” Victor cuts in quickly. “It’s more than I could ever expect, especially on such short notice. Thank you, Yuuri.”

Yuuri’s eyes dart away like a bird startled into flight, and only come back after he’s taken a deep breath. “You should thank my family, they did the work.”

“I will. How about you, where’s your room?”

“Oh.” Yuuri blinks. “I’m right next door. Here—”

He steps back out into the corridor, Victor following him curiously. Yuuri opens the door at the end of the hallway, and as it swings forward his head suddenly snaps up, his breath sharp and piercing in the silence.

“Yuuri?”

The door swings all the way open, and through it is a small bedroom, with a bed to one side and a desk to the other, looking neat but unlived in. Victor peers at it – nothing out of the ordinary, really – and then turns to Yuuri, concerned. “Are you all right?”

Yuuri has one hand clutched to his chest, and he’s taking very long, steadying breaths. After a moment, he manages a shaky smile. “I’m good! I was away for a long time, so I wasn’t sure what they did to my room, that’s all. But I guess I have to thank Mari too.”

Things proceed more normally after that. Yuuri helps Victor make up the bedding, and then they each unpack for a while, taking a few moments to rest and pause after a long day of travel. The sounds of Yuuri puttering around his room are reassuring – the walls in the resort are thin, brick and concrete overlaid with wooden panels that muffle but don’t quite drown out sound – and Victor flops across the futon and just absorbs the atmosphere: this homely building warm from the heat of the hot springs and alive with the sound of Yuuri’s family going about their day – nothing Victor has quite experienced before.

He’s not sure how much time has passed when Yuuri knocks on his door, but Victor has to shake himself out of his reverie, focus himself back in the present once more.

“Are you hungry? We snacked when transiting at Fukuoka, but that was hours ago.”

Now that Yuuri has mentioned it, Victor feels his appetite awaken with a vengeance. “Yes!”

Yuuri’s mouth twitches in amusement. "Let’s go down, then. It’s way too early for dinner, but Mom will make us something.” 

They make their way back down the stairs, but this time, Yuuri pauses at the bottom of it instead of continuing towards the narrow walkway that will lead them back to the resort. Mari is nowhere to be seen, and when Yuuri steps into the central corridor his steps echo across the floor.

Victor can’t see the expression on Yuuri’s face like this, but the line of his body – back rigid, shoulders tight – suddenly seems very remote and isolated.

“Could you… give me a moment?” It’s the softest Victor has ever heard Yuuri speak, with something odd lurking beneath his voice, and contrasted with how casual and relaxed Yuuri had earlier been it is incredibly jarring. “There’s something I need to do alone. Please.”

The last word he adds on almost hesitantly, as if he feels he needs it to justify the request, and it jolts Victor out of his surprise.

“Of course, Yuuri. You must have a lot to see to. It’s been a long time since you came back home.”

Yuuri turns then, slow and almost mechanical. His eyes flicker behind his glasses, and then he dips his head, his gaze dropping right down to his shoes. He gives a tiny nod, and his voice is all sorts of wrong when he says, “It has.”

Victor feels his heart flip up into his throat, suffocating, because Yuuri has had his anxious and worried moments, yes, but not like this.

But Victor has been an actor in front of a very public and greedy audience for almost fifteen years of his life now, and with some effort, he shoves that panic aside and keeps his expression pleasant, neutral. Victor has very little idea what is going on, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize that Yuuri is deeply affected by something and that he wants privacy to deal with it. Yuuri’s words say give me space but his body language broadcasts just how desperately he wants someone to snap him out of the thoughts in his head, and in the end Victor ends up somewhere in between: he stays by the stairs, his feet firmly planted, and lets his instincts govern his response – he’s always been able to talk his way out of most situations, after all, and letting his natural charisma take the lead hasn’t steered him wrongly yet.

Tactless commemorative photograph comment aside.  

“Take all the time you need!” Victor says a little too exuberantly, and Yuuri actually twitches back in surprise. Victor swallows, and abandons all pretences of suaveness at that point – if he talks fast enough, he can salvage this, right? “I’ve already met your family, so I’ll be fine, and I’ve never been in an outdoor hot spring before, so that will be fun to explore. Your sister reminds me a little bit of someone I know – that cool, effortlessly-in-control factor, I mean – and that plastic food display at the front desk looked really delicious, what is it?”

What in the world are you saying, Nikiforov, an inner voice that sounds suspiciously like Yakov snaps, and Victor has to bite the side of his cheek to forcibly stop babbling. He peeks tentatively at Yuuri, and—

Yuuri is smiling.

Just a little, more a quiet curve to his lips than anything else, but he’s raised his head, and if he isn’t quite looking Victor directly in the eyes then at least he’s no longer staring at the floor.

“It’s katsudon,” he says, his voice smooth and lilting on the Japanese word. “It’s our resort’s speciality, made with my mom’s secret recipe.”

“Katsudon,” Victor reiterates, because apparently it takes just two times for it to become a habit, to repeat after Yuuri when he mentions a Japanese word. “What is it? We didn’t have that at the breakfast buffet at the hotel.”

“No, it’s a pork cutlet bowl, with egg and onions, and it’s a heavy meal, so you wouldn’t see it at breakfast.” Yuuri pauses, and then adds, softly, “We can have that, if you like.”

“I’d like that,” Victor says, and his own voice quieter now, tempered into something more natural by Yuuri’s unexpected but genuine reactions.

“Mari-nee-chan should be in the public dining room right now, on the ground floor, preparing for the dinner rush in a couple of hours. She speaks English pretty well. Just tell her I said to make the special katsudon set, she’ll know what I mean.”

“Okay,” Victor agrees.

Yuuri’s smile grows, filling out his mouth properly now. He steps towards one of the rooms further down the corridor, and slides the doors to the side, giving Victor a glimpse of the room within.

Sunlight spills through the floor-length windows, and although there’s a treadmill machine installed at a corner, the rest of it is overwhelming bare, hidden away behind screens and panels. There is a stillness to the room, a profound tranquillity and the slightest hint of sandalwood that reminds Victor of old temple halls or village shrines, places that Victor has no cultural or religious ties to but that command his respect nonetheless, and he stays silent as Yuuri steps into the sun-drenched room, dust motes stirring in his wake, as Yuuri gives him one last fleeting smile before sliding the door shut.

Victor stands there for a long while. Then he draws in a deep breath and goes to look for Mari.

The resort isn’t terribly large and its layout is straightforward enough, and Victor makes his way unerringly towards the main dining room, navigating it with confidence. The muted sounds of a cooker hood gusting and porcelain clinking against porcelain tells Victor that someone – probably Yuuri’s mother – is in the kitchen, but it’s too early for customers and so the dining room itself is empty save for Mari Katsuki. She’s preparing the space, wiping down the low tables and refilling the condiment containers of soy sauce and little bright spice flakes, but her gaze cuts right up when Victor pauses on the threshold.

She gives him a long look, and then slides gracefully to her feet, one hand going up to twitch her bandanna back into place. Her smile is nothing like Yuuri’s – there’s an edge to Mari’s, like a blade that is simply sheathed for now.

“Here you are again. Victor Nikiforov, right?” she says, over-pronouncing each syllable in his surname; Victor isn’t sure how he knows, but he is certain that she’s doing it deliberately rather than as a consequence of her Japanese accent. “Where’s my little brother?”

Victor has faced down all sorts of people over the course of his career, from jealous rivals to stern Russian governmental officers to overbearing and borderline harassing paparazzi reporters, but Mari is Yuuri’s family. This is someone who is formidable in her own right – the resemblance to Lilia is more obvious than ever – and so Victor swallows back his instinctive urge to counter her barbs with his own sharp charm, and answers as honestly as possible instead.

“He wanted some time alone. He’s in that room, the one with the treadmill in it.”

Mari winces, all her sharp edges abandoned in an instance, and her eyes dart instinctively to the side. Victor follows her gaze, and they stare at the dog leash looped on a low peg near the dining room entrance. It looks too stiff and neatly coiled to have been in recent use – Victor would know; Makkachin’s leashes always look like that when he hasn’t been home in a few weeks.

When Victor glances back at Mari, she’s staring straight at him, eyes narrowed.

Victor swallows, and instead of asking, says, “We’re hungry after all the train journeys, so Yuuri said to make the special katsudon set?”

He doesn’t mean for it to come out like a question, but he can’t help the way his voice lilts upwards in uncertainty. Mari’s eyes narrow even more in consideration, and Victor can pinpoint the moment she decides to take a risk on him: she lets out a deep sigh, and then she smiles.

It’s obvious, then, that Mari and Yuuri are related; Mari’s smiles are sharper, but they both have that same slow quirk to their mouths, lopsided and terribly honest.

“All right,” she says softly, and then she draws herself up to her full height, bracing her tray against one hip. “Give me a minute.”

She drifts off towards the kitchen and has a murmured conversation through the door, and comes back sans the condiments tray and with a pot of tea and two cups instead. She raises an eyebrow in Victor’s direction – who hasn’t moved out of the doorway – and gestures at a table. “Come on, Nikiforov. Take a seat.”

She turns away, picking up a cushion and sliding gracefully onto it, and Victor takes the seat across from her, finally opting to sit cross-legged on his own cushion. Mari pours them both a fragrant cup of tea before setting Victor’s in front of him, and then slouches on her cushion.

“The katsudon will take about half an hour, but it’s Yu-topia’s specialty and it’s worth the wait. You two came through Fukuoka, right?”

“Yes.” Victor picks up his tea cup. It’s scorching against his fingertips, and he nearly sets it back down, but then he notes Mari’s very casual posture and decides to blow gently across the surface of the pale liquid to cool it down, propriety be damned. “We ate when we were there, but Yuuri was more concerned with getting on the train back here to Hasetsu. It’s been a long day of travelling.”

Mari tilts her head. “Fukuoka is an hour and a half’s flight from Tokyo. It isn’t that long, compared to how far you have to fly from Russia or America.”

“Oh.” Victor sets down his teacup sheepishly. “Well… we took the shinkansen instead. This morning.”

He’s proud of himself for pronouncing the Japanese word correctly – he thinks – but Mari’s eyebrows shoot right up and she lets out a low whistle.

“Talk about adding onto your journey. Let me guess, it was your idea? Yuuri’s too practical for it.”

Mari’s tone is light, but the slightest of hint of a challenge is back in her voice. She’s protective of Yuuri and Victor can’t fault her, so he doesn’t rise to it. “Yes, it was. He said he told you – his family – that he was bringing a guest to Hasetsu, but it seems he didn’t tell you who.”

“No, it was hard enough to get the date of his return out of him, much less other details. My brother may be practical, but he is also as stubborn as a mule.” Mari snorts. “I think he told Minako-sensei the wrong time he was getting in too, just so she wouldn’t show up at the station to meet him.”

Yuuri hasn’t mentioned a Minako, and Victor files the name away. “You were surprised to see me. Who did you think Yuuri would bring here?”

“Phichit Chulanont,” Mari says without missing a beat. “He’s Yuuri’s roommate at Detroit, and he was in Tokyo for the World Championships. As were you.”

It’s not a question, but Victor answers it like one anyway. “Yes, I was.”

“So what brings you to Hasetsu, Mr. Nikiforov? If you are looking for hot springs, Hakone on the outskirts of Tokyo is famed for them, and there are plenty of Japanese seaside towns much, much closer to Tokyo.”

Mari’s tone very clearly says she knows exactly what – who – Victor came to Hasetsu for; she just wants him to admit it out loud.

Victor would be happy to do so. He’d proudly proclaim it from the rafters if he didn’t think Yuuri would either faint in mortification or possibly skin him alive once he got over the shock, and there are enough warning bells hovering around Yuuri – his melancholy at the GPF banquet before the alcohol kicked in, the long months of social and competitive silence, the note of wrongness in his voice when he asked Victor to give him a moment – that even Victor, ever the doer and improvisor, hesitates to act.

So he looks at Mari and picks his words carefully, making sure his voice stays neutral.

“You know who I am in the figure skating world.”

Matching him tone for bland tone, Mari says, “Sure, I’ve heard of you.”

“And it must seem really weird for me to come here when Yuuri has mentioned nothing about me before.”

Mari’s mouth twitches up in something that resembles a smirk, except there’s too much amusement in it. “Well, something like that.”

“But it’s true. I’m here because of Yuuri. He’s had a very difficult season, but we’ve all seen what he is capable of, and—” Victor hesitates, but Mari’s eyes compel him to keep speaking. “It was by complete chance that we ran into each other in Tokyo. I’m happy to visit Hasetsu with him. And I know Yuuri well enough now that if he didn’t want me to come, he’s well able to express his own mind.”

“Hmmm,” Mari hums, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. “Yuuri has always walked his own path. And I think you’re probably a good person, Nikiforov. Everyone puts on a nice face in front of the camera, but you seem different right now, and that makes me think that this side of you is… genuine.”

Victor stares down at the pale liquid in his teacup – fragrant green tea, but it doesn’t mask the hollowness Victor can taste at the back of his throat.

“I try,” he says at last. “To be good. But sometimes it backfires.”

“Trying is something, at least,” Mari says. “So, you’re here because of Yuuri. That’s a pretty broad statement.”

“I’ve seen him at competitions, but we didn’t really talk until the Grand Prix Final banquet. Then, in Tokyo… I guess I just want to know him better.”

“Pretty extreme way to get to know someone better.”

Victor thinks of all the extreme things he’s done in his life and in his career: from quitting school the moment he was legally allowed to concentrate on figure skating and pushing his body to the breaking point to perform new jumps, new techniques, new combinations, to fighting his own skating union to retake creative ownership over his programs and eventually completing a business degree because figure skating is wonderful, but sound investments and financial acuity is what will set Victor up for life.

“Some things are worth extreme measures,” he simply says, and picks up his teacup to drain it.

“Some things are,” Mari agrees. She watches him for a long minute, and finally sits up straighter, reaching for the teapot to refresh Victor’s cup. “I think I like you, Nikiforov.”

Her candidness makes Victor smile. “Then, if you don’t mind – call me Victor.”

Mari smiles back, but instead of asking him to call her by her first name as well, says, “Then, if you don’t mind – do keep a low profile while you’re here in Hasetsu.”

Victor blinks at her. “I don’t plan to make it a big deal that I’m here or anything.”

“You’re a rather popular person. I don’t follow you on social media, but I’ve heard about the crowds you are capable of drawing, even here in Japan. Hasetsu is a unique town. Here, the population is divided quite neatly into two: you either have absolutely no clue who Katsuki Yuuri is, or you are a figure skating fan because Yuuri is currently the most famous person from Hasetsu. And anyone who follows figure skating at all will recognize you on sight.”

Victor gets it immediately. His fame and popularity might bring great prestige to many people and organizations that Victor is associated with, but for others it is at best an inconvenience; at worst, a nightmare.

He’s had competitors that refuse to be at the same practice sessions as Victor, because of how distracting and zealous his fans can be.

“Hasetsu is Yuuri’s space. I don’t want to do anything to compromise that.” Victor gives Mari a lopsided grin. “I’ll keep me under wraps, then.”

“Okay.” Mari laughs then, and finally picks up her own teacup, sips at it peaceably. “I don’t mean you have to stay cooped up in Yu-topia though. There are lots of people who support Yuuri here, and they can keep a secret. Minako-sensei – oh, you’ll definitely meet her, she owns a ballet studio and a snack bar. And the Nishigoris – they own Ice Castle Hasetsu, the skating rink, and they’ve always let Yuuri skate there whenever the rink is closed to the public. They’ll probably let you do the same.” She arcs an eyebrow at Victor. “I think that’s the most important thing for you. I know what you figure skaters are like.”

Victor winks at her, relaxed enough to be playful now. “You do know us very well.”

“Comes with ferrying my kid brother to the rink and then accompanying him to local competitions for six long years before he finally grew up and flew off to Detroit.” Climbing easily to her feet, Mari plants one fist on her hip. “Speaking of my kid brother, Yuuri’s been brooding long enough, don’t you think? Mom should be done with the katsudon soon, too.”

She goes to the doors, takes a good look around and then leans out to yell down the connecting walkway, “Yuuri, if you don’t come over soon, I’m going to eat your portion of dinner.” She throws a grin at Victor over her shoulder. “Also, if no one stops me, I guess I have lots of stories to tell Victor about your and my childhood.”

She slides the dining room door halfway shut again. “There,” she says, satisfied. “This way, he can come here whenever he wants, but hopefully it reminds him that the world exists outside of his head.”

When Yuuri slips in five minutes later, his hair damp like he’s splashed his face thoroughly with water, his eyes go first to Victor, who is working on his second cup of tea.

“Are you okay?” Yuuri asks, softly but much more normally now.

Victor flashes him a bright smile. “I’m good, Yuuri. How about you?”

“I’m… okay.” It’s not exactly the most confident answer, but when Yuuri turns to Mari, it’s clear the dark mood that he was in is past now, because he doesn’t hesitate to greet her in Japanese, sweet and pleasant, the reunion of two siblings, followed by what sounds like a complaint.

Mari laughs, her fingers not pausing in her task of folding napkins into neat triangles. “It’s not polite to speak in a language that your guest can’t understand,” she says teasingly.

Yuuri lets out a long-suffering sigh, takes a seat beside Victor, and grabs half of Mari’s napkin stack to help out. “Fine,” he says, switching to English. “It’s weird to speak to you in anything but Japanese, and I’m sure Victor has better things to do than to listen to us catching up, but if you insist.”  

“I don’t mind,” Victor says. He grew up as an only child and finds the dynamics between the two siblings quite fascinating; the closest person Victor has to a brother is probably Yuri, which is both a daunting and headache-inducing thought.

“See, Yuuri, Victor says he doesn’t mind,” Mari says, turning to share a grin with Victor, and when Hiroko comes out of the kitchen with two steaming bowls of delicious looking fried pork and gooey egg atop a bed of rice, chattering happily at both her children and at Victor—

Victor can’t tell if this warm sense of homecoming is his own or an echo from his soulmate, the same way Hasetsu’s scent of salt and blossoms feels overwhelmingly familiar. But that’s a consideration for another time; right now, Hiroko is waving at him to try the katsudon, and Mari is handing one of her newly folded napkins over, and Yuuri, sitting at his side, has a pair of chopsticks in hand but waits patiently, wanting Victor to have that first taste.

It’s all wonderfully perfect. And the katsudon; it’s delicious.

---

 
Hasetsu is a break in Victor’s usual routines.

It is difficult, at first. Contrary to popular belief, Victor knows how to blend with crowds, but he hadn’t realized how much harder it is to hide who he is when he is one of the rare few foreigners in a very Japanese-centric town. So far, Victor has managed to keep his identity under wraps, and the fact that he and Yuuri are not closely linked in the figure skating world works in his favour, but Victor keeps his flat cap and sunglasses ever at hand and is fully prepared to pull a Yuri and just hide under a hoodie, if the situation calls for it.

It takes Yuuri a day to pry Victor away from Yu-topia – the hot springs are as heavenly as he described – and then Victor nearly gives the game away when he snaps photos of Hasetsu Castle and his fingers automatically upload and tag the best of the lot to Instagram. He catches himself just before clicking the post button; there is only one men’s singles figure skater from Hasetsu, and Victor is sure it will take his fanbase as well as Yuuri’s rather stealthy but devoted one about three minutes flat to make the connection.

So Victor learns to keep his photos on his phone and off social media, and throws himself into the experience of experiencing instead.

Yuuri’s Hasetsu-based circle of friends and family are tight-knit and dedicated, and Victor eventually meets every single one of them. Minako Okukawa is beautiful, poised, and incredibly worldly. The first time Victor meets her, it’s because she sits herself right down at his table, no questions asked, no introductions needed; the first words she speaks to him are in Russian, with just the faintest trace of an accent.

(Victor’s soulmate loves ballet, almost as much as he loves figure skating, and his soulmate’s ballet teacher, from what Victor can glean from the visions, is very talented. Somehow, Victor is not very surprised to find out that Minako was once a prima ballerina at St. Petersburg’s famed Mariinsky Ballet, nor that she had taken Yuuri in as her protégé until he’d fallen further in love with figure skating instead).

The Nishigoris, on the other hand, are an enthusiastic, boisterous bunch. Yuuko and Takeshi Nishigori are clearly long-time friends of Yuuri: they greet him with big smiles and loud exclamations and gentle, friendly hugs; Yuuri doesn’t skitter in their presence, melts into their welcoming embrace with a quiet sort of relief until three tiny whirlwinds of energy crash into his shins, high-pitched voices calling out Yuuri’s name like little birds clamouring for attention.

Victor smiles at the sight and keeps smiling until Yuuri manages to detangle himself and flail a hand in Victor’s direction. He gets five very wide-eyed stares of surprise, and then the triplets shriek and run at Victor instead, and that’s his introduction to the Nishigori family, figure skating enthusiasts and owners of Ice Castle Hasetsu – getting buried by three fearless six-year-olds with their phones and cameras because their parents are too shocked to hold them back.

He skates for them afterwards, of course, after Yuuri manages to wrangle promises from the triplets to respect Victor’s privacy and keep news about him off the internet. Skating to Stammi Vicino feels strange – Victor almost picks another program, not wanting to experience that odd detachment of the World Championships – but then he remembers Yuuri whirling and twirling through light and shadows, dancing to Stammi Vicino’s choreography, and then he goes at it with a vengeance he normally only reserves for competitions.

Stay close to me, the tenor voice croons, and Victor is starting to come to a conclusion on who he wants that person to be.

Also, the hectic blush on Yuuri’s cheeks after Victor finishes the program is very charming indeed, and much more flattering from the starry-eyed look of awe on Yuuko’s face.

Yuuri keeps his promise to show Victor around Hasetsu, but Victor still finds himself liking Yu-topia and the Ice Castle best. There’s a peace to the Ice Castle that has nothing to do with the privilege of having the ice all to himself – something that is impossible at the Yubileyny Sports Palace, not with its half dozen coaches and their dozens of students. Victor examines the feeling, pokes and prods at it and realizes, finally, that it’s because no one ever expects anything from him here. He doesn’t have to be Russia’s pride or the world’s living legend, a respected senior on the ice and the face of the Yubileyny Sports Palace – Victor can just be himself, skating simple and outdated compulsory figures upon the ice (almost exactly, he imagines, like his soulmate enjoys doing).

As much as Victor loves the attention, the glitz and the glamour and the spectacle of it all, the peace and quiet of the Ice Castle is a balm after the uncertainty of the past months. 

(And if Victor feels far, far too comfortable within Ice Castle Hasetsu’s confines, well, there are lots of skating rinks around the world. Surely some of them will feel like his soulmate’s home rink).

There are a hundred and one such occasions, little flashes of familiarity and recognition, from the way Victor just knows that Yuuri prefers tea but craves coffee very late at night, to how easy it is for Victor to navigate the streets between Yu-topia and the Ice Castle. But Victor has spent years – more than a decade – living with the enigmatic mystery of his soulmate, and he keeps reminding himself not to jump to conclusions just yet. Not without something more concrete than flashes and an overwhelming sense of certainty. Not when he’s promised himself not to lay his soulmate’s hopes on Yuuri.

But then—

One early morning, when Yuuri is still asleep next door, Victor decides to head down to the dining room himself. He skips a step going down the stairs to the ground floor and then pauses, turning to stare at the step over his shoulder. When he turns back and puts a testing foot on the step, shifting his weight forward, the wooden floor board creaks loudly.

It’s easy to project into this space, this building of rice-straw mats and smooth wooden floor boards over solid concrete, the memory of a miniature poodle charging up and down the stairs, the offending step squeaking and creaking under the small dog’s subtle weight. Victor couches there, right in the middle of the stairs, and reaches his hand down; he imagines excited little yips, warm fur and a cold, wet nose against his fingers, and it’s an image so vivid that Victor could almost mistake it for yet another soulmate flash, except he knows better.

It’s just a memory of a soulmate vision he’s had before, years prior.

There is no miniature poodle at Yu-topia, but there are plenty of signs that a pet used to live here – the leash hanging in the dining room, the chewed up slippers tucked in a corner of the shoe rack, the way Hiroko, Toshiya and Mari instinctively take an extra wide step whenever they cross the corridor into the private spaces of Yu-Topia, as if used to avoiding a tiny furry body curled up by the doorstep.

Victor is a professional athlete, one who competes at the highest level, and so his breathing remains calm and steady even as his heartbeat takes off, a rhythmic gong going off in his chest. Have you figured it out?, it seems to call to him. Are you ready to admit the truth?

Victor lifts his head in the direction of Yuuri’s bedroom, and wonders.

---


He’s still thinking about it hours later, after dinner and a long walk around the neighbourhood on his own, the fragrance of cherry blossoms heavy in the air. Yuuri had gone to Minako’s ballet studio that afternoon; he invited Victor along, but as much as Victor adores spending time with Yuuri he’s aware of just how little time Yuuri’s friends and family have had with him since he moved abroad, and had made his excuses instead.

Now Victor stands in front of Yuuri’s bedroom door, vending machine drinks in hand, and knocks on the door.

“Come in,” comes Yuuri’s voice, and Victor pushes the door open.

The first few times Victor visited Yuuri’s room Yuuri had looked skittish, his eyes constantly darting to the walls. But now, five days into Victor’s stay, Yuuri just glances up from his desk, pulling his headphones away, and graces Victor with a small smile.

Victor lifts a coffee can. “Got you a coffee.”

It makes Victor’s heart flip in his chest, the way Yuuri lights up at the small gift. He hands the can over, seats himself on the edge of Yuuri’s bed, and fiddles with his own drink to distract himself.

“What’d you get this time?” Yuuri asks curiously, snapping the can open. He takes a sip and sighs contentedly.

“I think it’s a milk tea?” Victor answers, holding up the bottle. He gets something different for himself out of the vending machines each time, making his choices based on what colours or designs on the can or bottle happen to appeal to him at the moment.

“Yup, that’s a black tea-based milk tea. I think you’ll like it.”

Victor cracks the seal on the bottle, and takes a sip. The milk tea is sweet and light on his tongue, soothing, and he licks at his bottom lip to chase the taste of it before nodding. “It’s delicious!”

Yuuri makes an inarticulate noise that doesn’t fully sound like agreement; when Victor glances over, he’s staring studiously at his laptop.

“You went for an after-dinner walk? You were gone when I came back.”

Victor hums a little. “I didn’t really go anywhere. Just wanted to enjoy the atmosphere, I suppose, breathe and think a little. How about you, how was Minako?”

Yuuri doesn’t answer right away, which is something Victor has had to get used to. He’s seen Yuuri around his family, around the Nishigoris, and with them Yuuri’s moments of bright boldness are wonderful to behold. But with Victor, Yuuri is quieter, more cautious, and a part of Victor aches for the candidness of the banquet, the giddy recklessness of throwing caution and forethought to the wind.

The rest of him, however, is grateful to be let behind Yuuri’s walls at all – here in Yuuri’s personal space, where Yuuri doesn’t bother putting up much of a front.

The silence stretches out, interrupted only by the quiet clicking of Yuuri’s mouse. Then, Yuuri draws in a deep breath, reaches for his coffee, and turns back to face Victor.

“Minako-sensei is fine. She’s putting me through my paces at the studio.” Yuuri makes a face, and pinches self-consciously at the bottom of his shirt. “I’m not exactly at competitive fitness right now.”

Victor stays very, very quiet, and lifts his bottle of milk tea as an excuse not to speak. He’s well-aware of the pressures of the sport, the extremes coaching teams can go to get their skaters into shape, the efforts the athletes put themselves through to chase greatness. Victor’s been there, done that, suffered the injuries for it, and he will not comment about another competitor’s training techniques. Not unless they ask him for his opinion. The closest Victor has gotten to interfering is to challenge Yuri to win his junior competitions without including quads in his programs, and even then, it had been Yuri’s own decision to accept Victor’s challenge or not.

Right now, it would take a truly unobservant person not to notice the way Yuuri avoids the ice, at least when Victor is there. They’ve hiked up to see Hasetsu Castle, they’ve taken long walks along the coast, they’ve even gone to Minako’s studio where Victor discovers that Minako can be as strict as Lilia, but other than the first time, Yuuri has not gone with Victor to the Ice Castle. He’s seen Yuuri’s gym bag though, which means Yuuri still goes the odd times when Victor is occupied with something else.

But then Victor catches a glimpse of Yuuri’s expression, and something within him prompts him to offer, “I haven’t really been sticking to a training program since I got here, but if you’d like, we can go on runs together?”

Yuuri’s head jerks up. “You’re on vacation, you should be taking a break.”

Victor falters, and scrambles for another angle.

“We could make it an outing of sorts. Pick a part of Hasetsu to explore, tailor a seven kilometer run around it, and reward ourselves with delicious local food at the end of it!” By the end of his spiel Victor has managed to convince himself of the plan, and he caps his milk tea and sets it to one side before he can spill it in his excitement. “There would probably be too much traffic in a bigger town, but Hasetsu seems perfect for it. What do you think, Yuuri?”

He expects several reactions from Yuuri, ranging from surprised incredulity to thoughtful acceptance, and there are certainly traces of that in Yuuri’s expression. But what catches at Victor the most is the amount of fondness in Yuuri’s half-smile, and the way he no longer startles when Victor says his name.

“That does sound like fun,” Yuuri says, and Victor grins.

“Doesn’t it?”

This time, Yuuri laughs, light-hearted, and when Victor’s phone starts ringing it’s only the name flashing up at him – Lilia Baranovskaya – that prevents Victor from declining the call so he can hear Yuuri laugh more.

“Sorry,” Victor says. “Do you mind if I pick up this call?”

Yuuri waves a hand at him. “Go ahead.”

Victor normally goes somewhere private for his calls with Lilia, but he doesn’t want to retire to his room, doesn’t want to give up this moment with Yuuri. So he settles down on Yuuri’s bed and picks up the call, switching automatically to Russian as he does so.

“Good afternoon, Lilia,” he chirps into the phone, not bothering to hide his good humour.  “How is Russia’s premier prima ballerina doing today?”

Across the room, Yuuri’s head tips to the side as if to better hear, a smile slowly curling over his mouth, and Victor wonders – does Yuuri enjoy listening to Victor speaking his mother tongue as much as Victor loves hearing Yuuri speaking in Japanese?

Over the line, Lilia says, “And when will you learn that flattery will get you nowhere, Vitya? What trouble have you gotten into now?”

“Nothing!” Victor says cheerfully. “I’ve been very well-behaved indeed – you haven’t seen any news about me on social media, right?”

Lilia lets out a sigh. “As much as I would like to stay completely clear of the chaos you tend to bring in your wake, I do wish you’d tell me where you are. You are still in Japan, I assume, since you haven’t asked me to adjust for timezones.”

“I’m sorry,” Victor says, and he means it. “I’m staying out of trouble as much as I can. And I also want to stay a while longer. But you’ll tell me if looking after Makkachin gets too much, won’t you?”

“Makkachin is well-behaved and friendly and respectful, which is more than I can say for you. We are keeping each other company very nicely indeed. Now, if only I didn’t have to constantly call a certain wayward skater every day.”

“Thank you, Lilia.” Victor turns away a little, because even he can hear the husky sincerity in his own voice, and it makes him feel self-conscious. There is no way Victor would have pushed to come to Hasetsu if Lilia hadn’t agreed to watch Makkachin for longer than the agreed upon World Championship period. Yuuri – the mystery of Victor’s soulmate – is important, yes, but Victor will not sacrifice his oldest, dearest friend’s wellbeing for anyone.

Lilia makes an impatient noise at the back of her throat, but when she speaks again her words are gentler than usual. “Well, I know it’s not me you want to talk to. Here’s Makkachin – she’s been sitting very patiently beside me.”

“I always want to speak to you,” Victor says teasingly, but Lilia just replies, very clearly, “Brat,” and then in the next moment Makkachin’s excited barking comes right through.

“Makkachin!” Not for the first time, Victor wishes that Lilia was more inclined towards video calls, but as technology savvy as she is Lilia prefers to see people in person, Vitya, I will not take technology as an excuse for you not to make time for people. So, normal voice calls when Victor is abroad, and when he is back in St. Petersburg, face-to-face meet ups.

Still, just hearing Makkachin on the phone is enough to sooth the pang of longing he always has for her when they are apart, and Victor grins, cooing into the phone and heaping plenty of compliments on his best girl.

He looks up in the middle of one such murmuring, and Yuuri is staring at him, frozen half-turned in his seat. His expression is inscrutable, but there’s something in his eyes, dark and yearning, that prompts Victor to make the offer.

After all, here on the line is his beloved best friend, and here beside him is the person who sparked the brightest moment of happiness in Victor’s life this past year – why wouldn’t Victor try to bring them together?

And considering all the flashes Victor has had of a miniature poodle gambolling around Yu-topia, Victor is sure Yuuri will adore Makkachin. 

“Makka,” he says, and Makkachin gives a short whine of inquiry. “Makkachin, there’s someone I’d like you to meet. I’m going to pass the phone to him in a bit; I hope you’ll be an absolutely darling for him.”

Makkachin barks an affirmative and Victor smiles as he switches the phone to speaker mode.

“Yuuri.”

Yuuri’s head jerks up stiffly. “Victor?”

“I’d like you to meet Makkachin.” Yuuri’s eyes go very wide, and even though Victor is sure he knows about Makkachin, he explains anyway. “She’s my dearest friend in the world, and when I’m not at home with her, I have a call with her every night. I’m really enjoying my stay in Hasetsu, so… I’d like the two of you to meet each other.”

He holds out his phone in Yuuri’s direction, and Yuuri stares at it like it’s a viper poised to strike. Suddenly, his body language is very loud and very obvious – uncomfortable and stiff – and Victor blinks, his mouth going dry.

“I-I’m sorry,” Victor stammers, because he’s been so careful with Yuuri, but clearly he’s read the signs completely wrong. He jerks his hand back, but then Yuuri lunges forward, his hand closing around Victor’s wrist, and the two of them freeze there like that.

Between their hands, in the space between them, Makkachin gives an inquiring bark.

“No,” Yuuri says; his eyes are trained on the phone, on their hands. “No, I’m sorry. I’d love to speak to Makkachin.”

Victor’s heart trembles, but he takes Yuuri at his word; he twists his wrist and slides the phone into Yuuri’s hand.

“You can speak to her in English, she’ll understand,” Victor says, just to fill the silence between them. “Makkachin is bilingual, you see.”

The comment makes a tremulous smile come to Yuuri’s mouth, and he nods once before he sits back in his chair, cradling Victor’s phone between his hands.

“Hi Makkachin,” he says into the phone, and his voice is utterly steady. “My name is Katsuki Yuuri. Your Victor is visiting with me.”

Makkachin barks once in acknowledgment, and then descends into a series of happy whines.

Yuuri speaks with her like he would any other person on the phone, his voice going more and more fond each time Makkachin responds to his voice. She could very well just be reacting to Victor’s name, whenever Yuuri mentions him, but there’s also a chance she recognizes Yuuri’s voice from all the times Victor watched Yuuri’s interviews on YouTube, right after the GPF banquet.

Listening to Yuuri and Makkachin interacting with each other, easy and unstilted, fills Victor with the same contentment and homecoming that he felt sitting amongst the Katsuki that very first evening. But trepidation nips at the edges of that warmth, and Victor watches Yuuri’s expression very carefully – sees the way Yuuri’s smile strains at the corners, holding back something heavy behind them.

It feels likes like a reprieve, this conversation with Makkachin – just as Victor can spot the strain in Yuuri’s smile, so too he can see the genuine tenderness for Makkachin in Yuuri’s eyes. But as loathed as Victor is to cut them off, he’s aware that Lilia’s patience is finite, and that there’s no way she would have missed hearing at least some of Yuuri’s conversation with Makkachin.   

He waves his hand to catch Yuuri’s attention, and gestures at his right wrist, where Victor normally wears his watch. Yuuri nods, and makes his goodbyes to Makkachin, his voice going very soft when he whispers a good night to her, and then hands the phone back.

“Makka, sleep well,” Victor says, switching back to Russian, and blows her a kiss. Then, he raises his voice slightly. “Lilia, thank you for making the call for Makkachin.”

There’s a crackle as Lilia presumably picks up her phone and switches it away from speaker mode. There’s a long moment of silence, and then Lilia says, “Vitya, I hope you know what you’re doing.”

Victor lets out a quiet breath. It’s a rare day when Lilia doesn’t push. “I never really know what I’m doing,” he admits. “But that uncertainty makes life interesting, doesn’t it?”

“Brat,” Lilia says again. “Be careful.”

She hangs up on him after that, and Victor listens to the beep and silence in bemusement before he puts down the phone.

Then he looks over at Yuuri.

Yuuri, who is sitting quietly in his chair, staring into the distance. Yuuri, with his shoulders hunched and his head bowed. Yuuri, whose eyes are filling with tears that glimmer under the warm glow of the room light, until they brim over, painting two thin streaks down his cheeks.

Like a ruin buckling under the weight of its own roof, Yuuri’s calm façade just collapses.

The first sob catches painfully in his throat, and then Yuuri is crying in earnest, mostly quiet but painfully emotional, his shoulders jerking with the force of his sobs.

“Yuuri?” Victor says dumbly, and Yuuri’s response is a high-pitched whine, rising painfully in his throat.

The sound of it snaps Victor out of his stupor, and he scrambles to his feet, his entire body feeling like a livewire, at an absolute loss for what to do – he reaches out to touch Yuuri and quickly jerks his hand back, and then he starts babbling, frantic.

“Yuuri—” and Victor manages to bite back the are you okay, because that’s the stupidest question he could ask – Yuuri clearly isn’t. “Yuuri, I don't—what's wrong?”

Yuuri's attempt at a response comes out mangled, half distorted by sobs, and Victor quickly changes tact. 

"Never mind. You don't have to tell me. Do you—I mean, can I help? What do you want me to do?" 

Yuuri tries once more to respond, but he’s now crying so hard he can barely breathe, and Victor feels his own words catch in his throat, desperate.

“Yuuri,” he forces out through the lump in his throat. “I’m absolutely horrible with people crying in front of me, so please, please, just—what should I do?”

Yuuri lifts his head then, and the sight of his face – tear-stained, flushed, his mouth twisted with sorrow – makes Victor panic even more. But then Yuuri draws in a shuddery breath, and before Victor can do something like maybe hunt down Mari – because surely she’ll be a thousand times better at supporting Yuuri – manages to shudder out, “You don’t have to do anything. Just—just be here.”

Victor stares at him, stunned. Yuuri lifts a hand, and Victor doesn’t have to think about it – he reaches forward and catches Yuuri’s grasp, their fingers tangling immediately, Yuuri holding on with aching desperation. Victor goes to his knees so he doesn’t tower over Yuuri, and clenches back just as hard.

Yuuri’s breath rasps in his chest, and then he bows his head over their clasped hands. His next sobs are more obvious, but his shoulders are no longer jerking painfully, as if he’s stopped holding himself back.

Victor kneels there, the hardwood floor painful against his knees, feeling totally and absolutely useless. Yuuri’s outpouring of emotion is painful to witness, but Victor instinctively knows that it is necessary, and he stays quiet, squeezing Yuuri’s fingers whenever they spasm within his grasp.

It shouldn’t surprise Victor that his thoughts eventually turn to his soulmate, to that visceral soulmate flash that woke him in the middle of the night, full of grief and loss. Victor stares at Yuuri’s bowed head, and is suddenly, viciously glad that he is here, physically present, to offer whatever comfort he can give, even if it’s just to remind Yuuri that he is not alone.

Victor closes his eyes, and holds on.                                                               

Chapter Text

It is very quiet, here in Yuuri’s bedroom.

But not silent, never. Yu-topia is built along modern and traditional lines both, and although the structure is solid the entire building still creaks and settles as the day warms up and the night cools, wooden panels and old pipes expanding and retracting. Outside, the hot springs softly bubbles, the constant flow of water running over stone a musical rhythm in the background, and within, the sounds of Yuuri’s family going about their lives is comforting, although that fades as they each retire to bed, Yuuri undoubtedly the night owl of the family.

Once, Vicchan’s sleepy snuffles and curious whines would be Yuuri’s company in the dead of the night when everyone else is asleep. Now, there is Victor, breathing calmly and steadily at Yuuri’s side, his hand curled around Yuuri’s, his thumb sweeping methodically over Yuuri’s pulse point, as if counting time by the beat of Yuuri’s heart.

It must hurt Victor’s knees, to be kneeling there like that. Yuuri isn’t sure how much time has gone by, but he knows it isn’t an insignificant period. His head throbs with each heartbeat, his throat raw from his sobs and his nose stuffy beyond belief, and there’s a bone deep tiredness dragging at his entire body. His chest feels hollow, as if all his emotions have been scooped out clean. Like the calm in the aftermath of a howling storm, trees uprooted and buildings battered but everyone safe.

Yuuri draws in a breath, deep and cleansing. 

(They can repair the cracks, rebuild things, after the storm has passed).

“Hi,” he whispers into the quiet, his voice hoarse and barely audible. 

Victor’s head snaps up immediately all the same. He straightens, shifts on his knees. “Hey,” he murmurs just as quietly, scanning Yuuri’s face, and says nothing more.

Yuuri stares down at their entwined hands. There are red marks against Victor’s skin where Yuuri must have clutched at him too tightly, and Yuuri strokes the tips of his fingers against Victor’s palm in turn, a silent apology.

It lights a very small smile on Victor’s lips, and still Victor remains quiet.

That silence should be strange, utterly out of character for the ever social and friendly and vibrant Victor Nikiforov, but Yuuri knows better now. Victor has his own moments of introspection, very well-hidden from the public eye. He is respectful of Yuuri’s moods and he is more observant that people give him credit for. Yuuri knows, because he’s seen the way Victor adjusts, the way Victor alternately lets Yuuri process his thoughts and runs distraction when those thoughts grow too loud.

And Yuuri told him, didn’t he? He’d said to Victor, you don’t have to do anything. Just be here. And that’s exactly what Victor is doing.

Yuuri waits for the habitual guilt to flare up, but—there’s nothing. Spending his grief and hurt and sorrow has left him in a blank state of calmness, and Yuuri stares into Victor’s face, and for once his thoughts are clear, ruled only by logic and not by the passions of his heart.

Yuuri has been a little selfish, hasn’t he?

He returned to Hasetsu, yes, but he stays either close to home or hides behind Victor’s shadow, using the other skater’s presence as an excuse not to venture farther than he has to. He performed Stammi Vicino for Yuuko as he planned to before he left Detroit, but he hasn’t practiced any other routine since, sticking to familiar, route compulsory figures when he gets on the ice. He finally returned to Vicchan, kneeling in seiza and dry-eyed before the family shrine with his beloved dog’s picture and tags, but he avoids speaking to his family about Vicchan and hasn’t breathed a word about him to Victor.

Yuuri has dreamed of skating on the same ice as Victor, and here he is, with Victor right here in front of him – too afraid to take that single step forward to make that dream a reality.

He’s been running away. It’s not fair to Vicchan, who has always patiently waited. It’s not fair to Victor, who for some inexplicable reason seems to believe wholeheartedly in Yuuri despite the mess he’s been this past half year.

And it’s not fair to Yuuri himself, too.

Yuuri squeezes Victor’s hand and gets slowly to his feet. He tugs gently, and Victor rises as well, careful and in stages – his legs must be half asleep and aching by now – and Yuuri tightens his grip, steadying Victor’s balance; there’s not a chance in the world Yuuri will risk letting Victor fall now.

“Yuuri?” Victor murmurs, once they’re both on their feet. Standing on even ground, Victor is almost half a head taller than Yuuri, and this close, Yuuri can see the silver specks in Victor’s eyes, giving the glorious blue-green of them a mercurial quality.

It’s such a tiny detail to notice, and it is infinitely precious to Yuuri all the same.

“I—” Yuuri swallows; clears his throat. “Let’s go to the Ice Castle.”

Victor’s eyes widen, but all he says is, “I think the Nishigoris would have returned home by now.”

“I have a key. Yuuko and Nishigori gave me permission to skate there whenever I like, as long as I lock up behind me.” Yuuri squeezes Victor’s hand. “Will you come with me?”

Victor immediately answers, “Yes, of course,” and Yuuri closes his eyes, takes a moment to steady himself.

It’s another selfish request, because Yuuri knew Victor wouldn’t say no. But Yuuri has made up his mind now; he’ll make it up to Victor – to Vicchan, to everyone – with his skating.



---

 

This late at night, devoid of people, the air in Ice Castle Hasetsu is frigid.

Yuuri breathes it in, and the cold almost burns in his lungs. With only a few overhead lights on, the ice shines like an iridescent pearl, and the boards and walkways fade into the shadows, turning the entire rink dreamlike.

Fairy tales are created from places like these. Yuuri may be firmly rooted in the anxieties of reality, but even he is not unaffected by it; after all, the ice is where Yuuri goes, to express all the thoughts and emotions and feelings he can’t admit out loud to the world.

The blades on his boots cut crisply through the ice, and behind him comes its counterpart, quieter, more precise. Skating in near silence is a mark of an excellent figure skater, and Victor is undoubtedly one of the best.

Instead of feeling intimidated, it’s a comfort to have Victor at his back, skating in Yuuri’s wake – neither pushing nor leaving him alone. They take several circuits around the rink in silence, warming up, and then Yuuri turns, skating backwards, to catch Victor’s eyes.

Victor tilts his head, and there is conflict in his expression, the challenge of figuring out whether Yuuri wants him to join him at his side or fall back to give him the ice. It’s only there for a few seconds before Victor makes up his mind, cutting his momentum neatly and coming to a graceful halt, his eyes never leaving Yuuri.

Yuuri wishes Victor felt comfortable enough with him to just ask, instead of guessing. He normally hates people intruding in his privacy, their questions feeling like jabs at his sore points, where he is most vulnerable. But with Victor, Yuuri finds he doesn’t mind it so much, because Victor taking liberties with Yuuri is a far cry from taking advantage.

But for now, the ice is silent and tranquil around them, and Yuuri won’t shatter that with unnecessary words.

He skates to the center of the rink, clenching and unclenching his fists to chase the numbness away from them. Without his glasses, he can’t really make out Victor’s expression – he’s retreated to the side of the rink, still on the ice but out of the way – but Yuuri can tell: Victor has his eyes on him.

Yuuri just breathes for a long minute, then he lets his body relax and bows his head in the simple opening pose to Ballade No. 1.

And then he moves.

Yuuri is not particularly a fan of Frederick Chopin, but he enjoys skating to classical music. It reminds him of his earliest days in Minako’s ballet studio, nostalgic, familiar and inspiring. The music may sound deceptively simple, delicate piano notes dancing through the air, but Chopin’s ballades represent some of the most challenging pieces composed for the piano, and the choreography of Yuuri’s program echoes that.   

It has been a while since Yuuri skated this short program – he’d practiced them only sporadically after his disastrous outing at Japanese Nationals and stopped entirely after his discussion with Celestino – but Yuuri rarely forgets his choreographies, even with just the memory of the music in his head for accompaniment. The first jumps – the quad toe and the combination jump – are touch and go. Yuuri’s not really in the best shape, but when he transitions from a spread eagle into a flawless triple axel, something seems to click, snapping right into place, and he flows straight into the step sequence, flying across the ice in perfect pace with the racing music.

When he comes to a stop, Yuuri is breathing hard. From the corner of his eyes, he sees Victor slowly move, still keeping close to the edge of the rink; Yuuri straightens, sets his feet, and curves one arm over his head, the other reaching down towards the ice.

He hears Victor’s sharp inhale from clear across the rink, and smiles, as quick and fierce as lightning, before letting it fade. After all, Turandot is an opera of riddles, death and drama, and there is no place for fond smiles in its performance.

Skating his free skate in full immediately after performing his short program is a pretty stupid decision – Yuuri can hear Celestino barking at him in his mind – but Yuuri isn’t skating for points nor for perfection. It’s almost inevitable that he makes mistakes on his jumps, but Yuuri lets them go. He concentrates instead on his spins and transitions, on the choreographic passes, and when he whirls out from his final combination spin and pumps one fist in his ending position, it is with a flare of pride in his chest that very quickly mellows into soft relief and gratitude.

He did it. Somehow, he did it.

Vicchan, this is for you.

It’s strange, how much lighter Yuuri now feels. His eyes are burning from his vast, overwhelming love for Vicchan, but Yuuri supposes that’s how birds fly, free of the burden of grief and futility and regret.

He collapses on his knees a moment later, the strain and fatigue of skating two full programs back to back finally getting the better of him, and a second later Victor is at his side, coming to a stop with a crisp scratch of the ice.

Yuuri pants and pants, and finally manages to gasp out, “I wish I performed like that at the Grand Prix Final.”

Victor makes a quiet noise at the back of his throat, and when Yuuri glances up, his hands are fluttering around Yuuri’s shoulders, as if he’s not quite sure whether to help Yuuri up or not. Yuuri bypasses the whole issue by snagging Victor by the arm; there’s a moment where they’re both at risk of losing their balances completely, but then Victor shifts his weight back, his hand twisting to grasp back at Yuuri’s wrist, firm, and then he pulls Yuuri to his feet.

“You don’t have to be so cautious with me, you know.” Yuuri is still breathing hard and his legs are wobbly with exhaustion – that’s his excuse for continuing to hold onto Victor even after he’s upright. “You’re always checking on me, on my reactions, and I know it gets tiring, having to do that all the time. You don’t have to.”

Victor is quiet, clearly thinking on his response even though Yuuri just told him not to; he seems to catch himself doing it, because he smiles a moment later, and it’s a chagrined one.

“If there’s one thing I learned from skating at Yubileyny Sports Palace with dozens of younger skaters,” Victor says, and his voice comes out slow and quiet, as if sharing a secret, “it’s that different people have different needs. Some need a cheerleader, to boost their confidence. Others need a mentor, to guide them on the right path. And some just need someone, anyone, in their corner, to just be there. I don’t have much spare time, but I’m pretty good at adapting to what people need.”

It’s not a surprising observation. In fact, the more Yuuri thinks about it, the more he’s berating himself for not figuring it out sooner. Victor is terribly good at adapting – he’s the darling of the media and of figure skating fans alike, and even without interacting with Victor directly, Yuuri has always heard good things about him from other skaters. Some may be jealous of his skating prowess and his accolades, some might turn up their noses at his sometimes unconventional and utterly individual approach to his career, but it’s quite hard to find much fault with the way Victor conducts himself in public. 

But Yuuri has gotten a glimpse of Victor behind his public personas. He’s seen Victor in moments of pensive quiet when Yuuri would have expected exuberance, and he’s also witnessed Victor in absolute and endearing raptures over something as simple as a cute train bento design. There are depths to Victor that Yuuri never realized, but that he desperately wants to know.

It’s a sentiment as heartfelt as Yuuri’s enduring love for Vicchan, and before Yuuri can quite catch himself, he blurts out, “You don’t have to be anyone else but yourself with me.”

He’s still holding onto Victor, so when Victor goes perfectly still, like a hare freezing in a beam of light, Yuuri instantly knows.

He swallows, and squeezes Victor’s hand lightly. “Just be Victor, and act the way you really want to, not what you think I or anyone else needs.”

Victor could have been carved from the very ice itself, he’s holding himself so very motionless, except for the way his heartbeat jumps, frantic and obvious under Yuuri’s fingers. Yuuri strokes at the soft skin of his inner wrist, an instinct to sooth, and slowly, slowly, Victor relaxes. It starts with his hands, no longer so stiff in Yuuri’s grasp, and then his shoulders fall, followed by the rigid line of his spine curving into a more natural posture, and at last, Victor bows his head, his bangs falling in sweeping lines over his eyes. He’s leaned close enough that when he finally speaks, his breath feathers softly over Yuuri’s cheek.

“What if what I want is to take care with you?”

Yuuri’s intake of breath is sharp between them.

“I like spending time with you, figuring out how you think. I like being able to make you smile. I know things are immensely difficult for you right now, that you’re going through incredible hardships, and I want to be there for you. I don’t always get it right, but it’s important to me, that I get to try.” Victor glances up, one eye flashing into view behind the fall of his hair. “That’s what I want.”

His tone is firm, but there’s a rare vulnerability lurking at the back of Victor’s eyes, and Yuuri can almost hear the silent “is that okay?” that Victor does not speak out loud. It rocks Yuuri right back, cuts off his automatic protest that he’s no one, he’s not worth Victor’s time and consideration, because Victor has just proclaimed that Yuuri is that important, and contradicting Victor’s feelings now would be callous.

“Are you sure?” Yuuri can’t help asking anyway, because – he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get how someone like him could have ever caught Victor’s attention, much less his regard, and he has to make sure—

“I’m sure,” Victor says, and his eyes may still be vulnerable but his statement is backed with pure steel, and Yuuri feels his heart flutter because this is Victor, it’s always been Victor, changing his world—

“As long as it’s what you really want,” Yuuri whispers.

Victor nods once, and that’s that.

They stand there like that, in the middle of the rink, hands clasped, and Yuuri tries to figure out where to go from here. He is calm, so very calm from crying his eyes out an hour earlier and from expressing all his emotions in his two programs on the ice, and it feels like for the first time, Yuuri is ready to speak.

“I wish I performed like that at the Grand Prix Final,” he says again. “But something happened, and—I couldn’t.”

Victor stirs at his words, pulls back a little to study Yuuri’s face. Yuuri gives him a wry smile, and continues.

“I had a dog. I had him for many years, but I had to leave him here in Hasetsu when I moved to Detroit.”

“A miniature poodle.”

Yuuri blinks. “Yes. Did… did you see the photos?”

Victor shakes his head. “Just a lucky guess. I saw—signs. The dog leash, scratches along some panels, chewed up shoes.” He presses his thumb against Yuuri’s wrist, a firm and reassuring pressure. “What happened?”

He’s probably already guessed, Yuuri can tell from the way Victor is looking at him, compassion in his eyes. Yuuri wouldn’t have to say much, could probably sum it up in three sentences – Vicchan was my best friend. He died just before the GPF. And I fell completely apart – and leave Victor to fill in the blanks.

But that’s not fair to Vicchan. Vicchan deserves to have his story told in full. He deserves to be heard and known and acknowledged, not shuffled to the back of Yuuri’s memories, to fade with the passing of time.

And of all the people Yuuri could possibly bring himself to speak to, Victor would understand best.

Yuuri locks eyes with Victor and draws in a deep breath, draws strength from the way Victor gazes back at him, unwavering.

“His name was Vicchan,” Yuuri begins, and the words no longer quite choke in his throat. “And he was my best friend, just like Makkachin is yours.”

 

---


Yuuri wakes up the next morning feeling very odd. His muscles ache from overstrain – he really needs to get back in athletic shape – and his head feels overly empty, but not in the numbed way that is Yuuri willfully denying his emotions. Yuuri doesn’t think he will ever get over Vicchan’s death – it will linger at the back of his mind, all the what-ifs and if-only-i-justs – but it doesn’t haunt him anymore. The sorrow will always be there, but the sharp edge of grief and guilt have finally been worn away, and paradoxically, it makes Yuuri feel bereft all over again. 

Then Yuuri turns his head and his heart jolts, because there Victor is, breathing slow and deep in sleep.

Yuuri’s bed is not made to house two people, and their postures reflect that. Somewhere between returning from the Ice Castle and waking up this morning they’d both collapsed on the floor next to Yuuri’s bed. Victor had claimed he didn’t want to mess up the clean sheets after a few hours on the ice, neither of them willing to part long enough to shower for the second time that day. Yuuri was loathed to abandon Victor for his chair, and so they’d both sat there right on the floor, checking over any bruises on their feet and putting away their skating boots properly. Then Yuuri had curled up by the bed and evidently Victor had done the same, and now here they both are, seated on the floor but their arms folded on the mattress to pillow their heads.

Yuuri will count himself lucky if they get away with sleeping like this without a crick in the neck or back.

From this close, Yuuri can pick out the individual strands of Victor’s eyelashes – why did Yuuri never realize that they would be as silvery as Victor’s hair? Victor’s skin is flawless, but near the corners of his eyes and his mouth are little crinkles – laugh lines, barely visible, but a lovely sign of who Victor is at his core.

Yuuri’s heart jolts once more, but like the earlier time, it’s not from shock. It’s finally hitting him, the realization of just how important Victor has become to Yuuri – not the living legend who inspired Yuuri’s whole career, and not the suave idol that is the face of men’s singles figure skating, but just—Victor himself. It feels like Yuuri has spent his whole life searching for the Victor that now drowses in front of him, with all his simple imperfections, and the jolt is his heart finally acknowledging that – how well Victor seems to fit in the odd spaces of Yuuri’s life, and how badly Yuuri wants to keep him there.

It should scare Yuuri, just how much he suddenly wants, against all logic. He’s only really known Victor for all of a week, and Victor has obligations, so very many of them – all of Russia awaits its national hero’s return with bated breath, and so does the figure skating world. Yuuri can’t keep Victor – he doesn’t have the audacity to stake a claim – but as long as Victor is interested and wants to, then maybe… maybe Yuuri can borrow him, just for a little while.

He reaches forward to brush Victor’s bangs away from his face, and Victor stirs then, eyelashes fluttering before they sweep up.

“Hi,” Yuuri whispers, and gets the unparalleled privilege of witnessing Victor waking up, without the bustle of a crowd or the chaos of a train arriving at its destination to distract him. Victor’s eyes are foggy with sleep as he blinks, but his lips curve sweetly when he catches sight of Yuuri, and Yuuri is smiling himself before he realizes it. “Would you like to go for a run to Hasetsu Castle this morning?”

Victor blinks again, and then he’s sitting up properly, spreading his arms out in a stretch and eyes sharpening with anticipation. “Yes, I’d love to.” Then he lets his arms fall to his side and tips his head to the side. “Good morning, Yuuri.”

Yuuri’s heart jolts for the third time – thank you, Yuuri gets the message – and he has to take a moment to center himself. Then, he finally replies, “Good morning,” because it is.

It’s a rather good morning indeed.


---


Things don’t get miraculously better after that, but they do change.

They fall into a new rhythm: breakfast in the morning, followed by a warm-up run and ice time at the Ice Castle when the rink is closed, and strengthening exercises later in the day when the rink opens for the public. It’s a routine Yuuri has sorely missed, and it feels good to have something consistent to cling to when Yuuri is still trying to work out his priorities.

He would be happy to languish into the warmth of springtime, except that spring brings revival, it brings the fresh flush of new life with it, and it seems that Victor is suddenly well and determined to take advantage of that feeling.

It’s hard not to think of the future when Victor pulls Yuuri and the Nishigoris aside, and teasingly swears them all to secrecy. It’s more of an inside joke between him and the triplets – they adore Victor, and no amount of language and cultural barriers is going to get in their way – because for some strange reason, Victor truly trusts them, trusts all of them. He trusts them with the secret of his new programs when Yuuri knows some skating clubs will do anything to control the flux and flow of news regarding their top skaters, and Nishigori doesn’t even have to confiscate his daughters’ filming equipment this time; the triplets put them all away to cling bodily to the boards, their eyes glued on Victor in the center of the rink.

Yuuri very nearly ends up missing half of On Love: Eros. Victor gets into character right away and his performance is intense, but Yuuri is almost used to it now, and so he watches on, squirming a little on the inside. The music is upbeat and playful and the first jumps are integrated flawlessly into the routine, but then Victor sweeps into the choreographic sequence and Yuuri’s face explodes into furious blushes.

He still doesn’t have a great recollection of what happened the night of the GPF banquet – just confusing flashes of memories like overexposed snapshots, and warmth, both of the physical exertion and the skin-to-skin contact variety – and Yuuri would still be half-convinced that it was all a dream except for the roguish smile Victor flicks right at Yuuri when he skates past at the end of the sequence.

Yuuri spends the rest of the program with his hands pressed against his heated cheeks, huddled behind the triplets in the hopes that no one else will look at him, god, he’d die of embarrassment first. Victor has done risqué programs before, once he hit his twenties, and some of his exhibition programs have been downright provocative. But it’s one thing to watch it from afar, to speculate on the story behind the routine – a few steps away, Yuuko is flushing as well, a bright grin on her face – and it’s another thing altogether to know, quite intimately, what the routine directly references.

Really, it’s a miracle in and of itself that Yuuri survives that program. Victor will devastate the competition if he chooses that as his new SP, and Yuuri is nearly convinced that Eros is it when Victor gestures at Nishigori to put on the next track.

On Love: Agape, in stark contrast to Eros, is divine. Yuuri is not particularly devout, but he can’t think of a better word to describe it. The choreography looks deceptively delicate, just like unconditional love seems easy when Yuuri knows how difficult it can be to remain that selfless, to not let resentment or fear overshadow it. Loving Vicchan was as uncomplicated as it gets, but Yuuri just has to look at the past five months to see just how quickly his love for Vicchan can twist him apart.

Watching Victor skate to Agape now makes something deep within Yuuri ache, with the beauty and impossibility of it all.

He joins Axel, Lutz and Loop in their enthusiastic applause, and pretends not to see the way Yuuko swipes once at her eyes or the look of understanding she exchanges with Nishigori. Then the triplets are sweeping onto the ice like miniature hurricanes of enthusiasm, darting straight for Victor, Nishigori following after them in the vain attempt to rein them in, and Yuuko turns to Yuuri, her smile lovely under the rink lights.

“Join me for a cup of tea? I don’t think Victor is getting off the ice for at least another half hour – the girls won’t let him.”

They’re done with their on-ice training for the day, Victor choosing to reveal his programs at the end of their session. Yuuri is looking forward to a shower and then lunch, but he can afford the break. Like the hand of a compass ever spinning to face north, however, Yuuri finds his eyes darting towards Victor.

Victor notices right away, lifts a hand. Yuuri waves back, makes a gesture that hopefully conveys take your time, I’ll wait, and Victor nods before Lutz tugs on his sleeve, her voice indistinguishable at this distance. Yuuri turns away, appeased, and nearly runs right into Yuuko; she’s looking at him with bright and knowing eyes.

“What?” Yuuri asks, tugging nervously at the towel he’s left hanging around his neck like an overlarge scarf. 

Yuuko shakes her head, but she’s still smiling. “Later. Let’s go get that cup of tea.”

The route through the open locker area, where Yuuri exchanges his skating boots for shoes, through the reception area towards the private office spaces where Yuuko and Nishigori handles their administrative work is a familiar one. The Ice Castle is subtly changed, with modern fixtures and minor renovations done and a little display area dedicated to Yuuri that makes him duck his head in embarrassment, but some things stay exactly the same, and navigating the rink with Yuuko at his side is one of them.

She ushers him into the office, hands Yuuri a granola bar – with three children still a year shy of elementary school and constantly underfoot, Yuuko keeps plenty of snacks in storage – and goes to fill the little electric kettle. Yuuri takes a seat in one of the plastic chairs and gnaws on his granola bar. It’s peaceful, here in the quiet space of Yuuko’s office, and when Yuuko brings the tea set and the kettle over, Yuuri says, “Let me.”

Yuuko cedes way immediately; after all, Yuuri grew up in a resort and has brewed plenty of pots of perfect tea. She settles down in her own seat with a sigh, and Yuuri glances at her from the corners of his eyes as he warms the teapot, and then spoons in an appropriate amount of tea leaves.

“Sorry if Victor and I are giving you more work by being here,” he says.

Yuuko waits until he’s poured in the hot water and set the pot aside to steep before kicking him gently in the shin. “Putting aside the fact that you brought Victor Nikiforov to my rink, you know that I prefer lots of trouble and chaos with you here than peace and quiet with you away, right?” She smiles. “And it makes the girls so happy, to see and skate with you.”

Yuuri adjusts his glasses self-consciously. “I guess so.”

Yuuko crinkles her nose at him, but lets it go. She pokes at the teapot, and laughs when Yuuri frowns at her – leave the tea alone, it’s not done yet. “So, you and Victor.”

Suddenly, the teapot is the least of Yuuri’s worries. “Um, what about me and Victor.”

“I guess nothing,” Yuuko says lightly, and easily hops to another topic. “What did you think about the programs he showed us?”

Eros and Agape? They’re both very good but also very different. I have no idea how he’ll decide which to go with.”

“I quite like Agape.” There’s an echo of the earlier gentle understanding in Yuuko’s smile. “It's very heartfelt, and seems quite personal to Victor. I mean, I like Eros too,” she adds with a blush, “but that one feels more like a story he’s playing a part for. The consummate lover, playing a game of flirtation with his partner.”

“It’s the opposite,” Yuuri says without thinking, because he’ll do something stupid if he thinks about Eros too much.

Yuuko’s eyebrows shoot right up, although her voice is mild when she says, “Oh?”

“Yeah.” Yuuri knows he’s falling straight into rambling mode where he says exactly what his head thinks of the moment he thinks it, but knowing it and stopping it are two different things altogether. “I mean, Eros is the personal one for Victor, you know? It’s based on a specific experience he’s had, and sure, he might be playing a character—”

Yuuri pauses then. He thinks back on what he’s learned, about how good Victor is at adopting a persona and adapting to what he thinks is best for a particular situation, and then he wonders – what was Victor thinking, the night he asked Yuuri to dance at the banquet?

“It’s a character, but it’s also a projection, I guess. Something he’s clearly thought about a lot, something that Victor… wants.” Yuuri shakes his head, spots the way Yuuko is staring at him, thoughtful, and hurries right on. “Whereas Agape is… well, it’s a beautiful program. I don’t doubt that it is significant to him, but it’s more of a universal sentiment. Sort of like how people really like stories about soulmates. It resonates with them, whether they have a soulmate or experience the signs or not. Agape is like that.”

The silence of the office seems to ring in Yuuri’s ears once he’s done, and he has to bite his tongue to remain quiet instead of rambling even more to fill it up.

Yuuko’s face softens. She taps her fingernails against the teapot, and Yuuri nods – it’s more than ready by now, might even be over-steeped. He pours out the tea, the fragrance headier and the liquid darker than the green tea that is Yuuri’s preference, but when Yuuri curls his hands around his cup, the warmth it radiates is one and the same.

“I think you’re right,” Yuuko says. She blows gently on the tea, sending ripples across the surface, and then takes a careful sip. “It’s a common saying, isn’t it? ‘Don’t meet your idols or heroes, they’ll only disappoint you.’ Fortunately, Victor is good at breaking expectations. Seeing him with Axel, Lutz and Loop, and with you – I really like him. But he’s not quite what I envisioned, back when we were kids daydreaming about him on the ice.” She lifts her head to smile at Yuuri. “But you seem to know him really well.”

Yuuri stares down at his teacup; his reflection in the liquid is shadowy and dark, a caricature of himself. “Too well, maybe. It’s… weird.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s just—” Yuuri sighs. “You say Victor isn’t what you expected, and it should be the same for me. But—”

“But?”

“Victor isn’t what I expected at all, but at the same time, he is.” Yuuri’s sigh this time is much more aggrieved. “I don’t know what I mean.”

“Yuuri-kun.” Yuuko sets down her teacup and places her hand gently over Yuuri’s wrist. Her fingers are warm from the heat of the tea. “It’s okay. Take your time.”

“There’s just this really strange sense of familiarity, when I’m with him,” Yuuri blurts out, and oh, it turns out he’s still in a chatty mood; the words are spilling out without his prompting now, and even though Yuuri still has no idea what he means, or wants, maybe Yuuko can help him figure it out.

She has always been good at that.

“He’s more serious than I expected, and he tries so hard – not just with skating and everything, although he’s amazing at that. He’s been so careful and considerate with me, and he indulges the triplets, and he always asks if he can help Mom and Mari-nee-chan even though they keep trying to swat him out of the kitchen, and most of the time it’s not that he’s doing it to make an impression. He is genuinely that—”

Yuuri has to pause to draw breath.

“—kind. He’s kind, and he’s silly and endearing and just as impulsive as the media makes him out to be, but there are incredible depths to him. There’s a lot he doesn’t show the public. Those are all his surprising sides that you didn’t expect, but for me… it feels like I’ve always known he was like that. Like there’s been a foggy pane of glass in front of me this whole time, and someone’s finally swiping the mist away, and I just think oh, that’s right, I see the actual shape of it now, and it doesn’t startle me, when I discover a new side of him.”

No, the only startling involved had been how much Yuuri’s heart yearns, the more he gets to know the Victor behind the personas and the media-ready smiles.

Yuuko pokes at his hand then, and Yuuri’s eyes flash right up to meet hers. She gives him a calm smile, and gestures at him to drink his tea. Well used to following her guidance, Yuuri lifts the teacup, and instead of the stringent bitterness of over-steeped tea, this brew tastes perfect.

When Yuuri drains most of his tea, Yuuko refills both their cups, and then links their free hands together. 

“It’s why you trust him, isn’t it? That sense of familiarity,” she adds, when Yuuri stares at her blankly.

“It sounds like a horribly cliché plot of a soulmate story,” Yuuri grumbles, feeling self-conscious.

“Well, when you put it like that…”

“Yu-chan, no.”

“You told him about Vicchan,” Yuuko says, and Yuuri very nearly bites his tongue, he shuts his mouth so quickly.

They sit there in silence for a long, long time, Yuuko patient when she wants to be, and Yuuri trying to decide how he feels about it all. Finally, he lets out a deep breath, and with it releases most of his tension.

“I did,” he admits in a low voice. “How did you know?”

“Because I know you very well,” Yuuko says with a gentle smile, “and you two have orbited each other since the day you brought Victor here, but one day last week, out of the blue, you two just clicked. You’re locked onto each other’s gravity now.” She squeezes his hand. “If you could see yourselves, you’d agree with me – it’s definitely as romantic and cliché as one of those soulmate stories.”

Yuuri has never really been bothered by the whole soulmate phenomenon, and doesn’t subscribe the way all of Japan seems to obsess about it. Soulmates are sacred to the Japanese, the sign of a romantic and enduring love, but to Yuuri, if people are privileged enough to receive the signs, then that’s wonderful; if they don’t, then life goes on. Yuuri might have an overly active imagination and he might dream, but he’s practical about his circumstances: he doesn’t get soulmate signs, meaning he doesn’t have a soulmate, and that’s fine.

But now Yuuko’s words keep scratching at him, like an itch beneath his skin.

“I don’t get signs or flashes or anything,” Yuuri says, half to counter Yuuko’s implication, and mostly to get rid of that itch. “And let’s be honest, if Victor had a soulmate, it wouldn’t be someone like me. We literally live on different continents, and that’s counting both the US and Japan.”

“Well, that’s the point of soulmate signs,” Yuuko says. “They bring pairs together who normally would find it quite difficult to meet.”

She squeezes his hand when Yuuri makes a noise of protest, and Yuuri subsides.

“But I don’t really think the signs are that important. Takeshi and I don’t get them, and there are lots of people who wouldn’t consider us a soulmate pair, simply because of that lack. But maybe it’s because we didn’t need them. We grew up together, and then I chose him, and he chose me. We love and cherish each other, and we are happy. As far as I’m concerned, we’re as good as soulmates.”

Yuuko tips her chin up, determination in every line of her body. “Victor inspires you. You skate his programs when you could barely bring yourself to skate your own, and now you’re starting to think about the new season ahead and new routines, when before last week all you ever did was perform compulsory figures. The two of you work well together, and you trust him. That sense of familiarity, that sense of comfort, maybe they’re signs and maybe they’re not, but does it really matter?”

Yuuri stares at her, panic beginning to flutter in his chest. “But we’re not like that.”

“But you’d like it to be,” Yuuko says. “Victor is our idol, but to you, he’s more, he’s always been more. He’s your inspiration, your goal, the sun to reach out towards because even if you never catch him you could still fall amongst the stars. And now… he’s even more than that. Right?”

For all his earlier rambling, Yuuri now feels like there’s a stone wedged in his throat. In the end, he settles for giving a single sharp nod, and the moment it’s done, acknowledged in the open, he feels his shoulders loosen, the tension draining from his body until he’s left loose and achy and really quite tired. He uncurls his hand from his teacup, drags his fingers through his hair.

“I don’t even know if Victor feels the same,” he admits. They’re friends now, that Yuuri is sure of, but close friends can care for each other the way Victor seems to care for Yuuri.

“That’s all right,” Yuuko says. “Half of the joy of the experience is in figuring things out. It can be daunting and difficult, but it makes your connection that much stronger, when it works out. That’s what I think, anyway. In the meantime, just… enjoy being with him.”

She’s always the one to give Yuuri a push forward, when his own momentum and convictions falter. Yuuri feels like he’s never really seen Yuuko slow down, not when they were kids and messing around on the ice and still determined to mimic a junior world champion’s routines, and not when she’d grown up, exhausted with three tiny one-year-old babies and still determined to help Yuuri prepare for his move to Detroit. She has her quiet moments – for all her vibrancy, Yuuko is one of the calmest influences in Yuuri’s life – but her mind is always moving, constantly thinking. It’s why she’s the Ice Castle’s protector, as well as its Madonna; when Yuuko is done putting bullies in their place, she always has the right words to say to the people under her care, kind and firm and incredibly intuitive.

There’s a knock on the office door then, and when Yuuko calls out an invitation to enter, Victor pokes his head in, flushed with exertion and grinning with self-satisfaction. Then his gaze falls on Yuuri, and Victor just lights up, his grin melting into a bright and happy smile.

“Hi, Yuuri, hi, Yuuko! Sorry to interrupt your tea session, but Yuuri, ready to go home? It’s almost lunchtime, and Mari said something about grilled mackerel, which sounds delicious.”

Yuuko laughs and stands up, but not before she gives Yuuri’s hand a final squeeze. “That’s my cue to usher my girls to lunch as well. Victor, I really enjoyed both your short program choices. They were amazing. I don’t think you can go wrong with either of them, and I look forward to seeing what you decide for your free skate. But I’ll understand if you want to keep that one a secret.” She turns, and gives Yuuri a wink, continuing to speak in English so as to not exclude Victor. “Yuuri-kun, remember what I said, okay? And if you want to talk some more, you know where to find me.” 

Yuuri stands as well. “I will,” he says, to both her current statement and to her previous one, from before Victor knocked on the door, and Yuuko nods, waves both him and Victor goodbye as she sweeps out of the office.

It’s suddenly very quiet, without her there. But then Victor steps forward, and suddenly the quiet is the last thing Yuuri cares about.

“Ready to go?” Victor asks once more.

Yuuri tilts his head; it’s not quite an echo of what he said earlier, and it takes a moment for it to click – when Victor asked him that question the first time, he’d said ready to go home, easy and unconscious.

Home. Some part of Victor considers Yu-topia home.

“Yes,” Yuuri says, his voice weirdly calm for how much his heart is tolling. “Let’s go home.”



---

Enjoy being with him, Yuuko had advised, and so Yuuri does.

Victor slots into his life with an ease that Yuuri would never have imagined. Part of it, Yuuri knows, is because they are adapting to life in Hasetsu together – Yuuri is building new routines, new rhythms, and it is easy to fold Victor into his day-to-day life. Another part of it is Yuuri’s awareness of how temporary this arrangement is – Yuuri is only borrowing Victor for now, and so he never takes Victor for granted, and goes out of his way to accommodate the inevitable differences between them.

The training is comfortable, skating on the same ice as Victor daunting but the skating itself soothingly familiar, and in between Yuuri begins throwing in little surprises, things to make each day a little bit more interesting. Sometimes, it’s introducing Victor a new type of food, from Hasetsu’s quirky local specialties to the big Japanese staples. Sometimes it’s translating bits and pieces of Japanese for Victor, and repeating words in his native language as Victor tries to get the pronunciation right. It’s easy to see how much Victor delights in experiencing new things, and although Victor is adamant about keeping his identity under wraps as much as possible, Yuuri does his best with Hasetsu – after all, he has to keep his promise to show Victor around his hometown.

It’s always strange for Yuuri to see Victor with sunglasses on and his jacket hood pulled firmly over his head, or with an ugly fuzzy beanie that Yuuri vaguely recognizes as Mari’s attempt once at knitting, looking odd and out of place in Japan’s springtime warmth. It’s why Yuuri eventually leads Victor towards the wilderness just within Hasetsu’s reach – long trail runs through the rolling hills and strolls through secluded stretches of the beachfront, with nothing but the raucous call of the gulls for company. The isolation means Yuuri has Victor all to himself, but it also means Victor can be himself, his hood thrown off for the wind to ruffle through his hair, and that’s what Yuuri wants most of all.

They’re down at one section of the beach that Yuuri is starting to consider theirs – no one else ever seems to come here, and the only signs of human life that Yuuri ever sees are the two sets of footprints he and Victor leave behind, soon to be swept away by the surf and the wind. There’s a quiet little timer at the back of Yuuri’s head, constantly counting down to the unknown moment when Victor will have to leave, but standing here on their beach soothes much of that anxiety away, and when Victor finally broaches the inevitable, Yuuri is—

Well, not quite at peace, but it’s not quite the blow he thought it would be.

“I need to go back to St. Petersburg soon,” Victor says. They’re seated on some rocks, enjoying the peace and quiet after a long day of training; Yuuri had turned to Victor point out something or other, and Victor had caught his gaze, held it.

Now Yuuri blinks at Victor, his earlier thought completely forgotten, and the silence stretches out between them, punctuated by the soft susurration of the waves and the odd gull call.

“Okay,” Yuuri says at last. He examines the thought a moment longer, and to his relief, finds that it really is mostly okay. “I figured you couldn’t stay much longer, since all you have is your luggage from the World Championships. I mean, that’s mostly your skating boots and your costumes and like a week’s worth of clothing.”

Victor laughs then, his shoulders relaxing. “I really could just buy everything I need, you know,” he teases, and Yuuri rolls his eyes – it still gets to him sometimes that this is Victor Nikiforov he’s talking to, but the wealth and the fame come part and parcel with Victor’s vibrant creativity and stubborn determination, and Yuuri wouldn’t have it any other way, so.

Victor sobers a moment later, however, and he turns to stare out into the ocean, head lifted into the wind. “But I really do need to go back. It’s not just because Yakov is getting more insistent, but—I miss Makkachin a lot. I can’t leave her for too much longer.”

Yuuri’s heart gives a painful thump. He leans forward impulsively, sets his hand over Victor’s wrist. “Of course,” he says softly. “Of course you have to go back to her.”

Vicchan is the unspoken presence that hovers between them, and Victor flips his hand to clasp back at Yuuri, his eyes full of empathy.

“I’m okay,” Yuuri says, although he doesn’t pull his hand away. Victor’s fingers are longer than Yuuri’s, his hand larger, and it’s comforting, to touch like that. Yuuri normally doesn’t like people in his personal space, but for a few treasured, close friends – it’s different.

“Okay,” Victor murmurs back. He draws in a deep breath. “Anyway, I wanted to ask. Do you want to come to St. Petersburg with me?”

Yuuri’s breath catches.

Victor watches him closely, his eyes flicking across Yuuri’s face, reading his expression. After a moment, he continues. “I know you just came back to Hasetsu, that it might be too soon to zip off to another place, but it’s early enough in the off-season, and sometimes, having a breather makes a difference. Coming here is doing wonders for me. Maybe spending a week or two in St. Petersburg will do the same for you.” He smiles then, crooked and a little vulnerable. “Besides, I think it’s my turn to show you around my hometown.”

Yuuri leans back then, not quite far enough to let go of Victor’s hand, but enough to give himself some space.

What Victor is very tactfully not pointing out is that although Yuuri has decided, quite vaguely, that he still wants to compete the next year, he has absolutely no clue what to do with his life and his career. Yuuri doesn’t have a coach or a training camp, and although he still has time, it being only April, those are decisions that he can’t rush into. Yuuri is still sorting himself out, emotions and motivations and all, and he should be putting together a plan to figure things out—

But Yuuri can’t deny it – there’s a part of him that doesn’t want to let go of Victor yet; wants desperately to hold on.

“I’ll get to meet Makkachin, right?” he says suddenly, and now it’s Victor’s turn to blink at him, startled.

“Yes. Of course, yes.”

Suddenly, it’s just that easy. Yuuri has spoken to Makkachin quite a few times now, Victor often seeking him out when he gets his Makkachin calls, but phone calls are nothing to compared to getting to cuddle Makkachin in person and scratch her ears and brush her fur – everything that Yuuri can no longer do with Vicchan. Getting to meet Makkachin, and staying with Victor a little longer – why on earth would Yuuri say no?

“Okay,” he says, and shoves the rest of his concerns to one side – the monetary cost of this impromptu trip, the still nebulous future of his career, everything. “All right. Let’s go explore St. Petersburg next.”

Victor freezes, his hand going very still against Yuuri’s. Then Yuuri’s words finally seem to register, and then he laughs, delighted, his eyes brightening to the most perfect shade of turquoise, almost an exact match for the deep waters shining beyond them. 

“My hometown has gulls too,” Victor says, sounding a little giddy. “Hasetsu’s black-tailed gulls make me feel quite at home, because it feels like I have always heard their call. I hope you’ll feel just as comfortable in St. Petersburg.”

Victor’s joy is infectious, and Yuuri finds himself grinning back. St. Petersburg will be strange, of course – new cities always feel strange – but here’s the big difference: this time, Yuuri will have Victor with him.

“I’m sure I will,” Yuuri says, and means it.  

Chapter Text

St. Petersburg feels different.

Victor has been back for only a handful of hours, and it hasn’t even been a month since he got on a plane to Tokyo for the World Championships, but even though the journey back to his apartment is well-worn and familiar, the air, their surroundings, even the people on the street – it all feels different.

It’s not because Victor has Yuuri with him, even though Yuuri is important and dearer to Victor that Yuuri himself even knows. Yes, Yuuri might have the ability to invoke intense emotion in people around him – through his skating, and, when Yuuri lets down his walls enough to let them truly see him, by simply being himself – but Victor is practical enough to admit that not even Yuuri can change the entire city of St. Petersburg in four short hours.

So the difference must be in Victor himself. 

He hasn’t felt this nervous standing in front of Lilia’s front door in a very long time. Yuuri has been with Victor the past three weeks, and even though Victor now assumes the role of the trusted guide, the one leading the way, Yuuri takes it all in stride, because to him, Victor is Victor.

(Yuuri had even told him so, after Victor had casually flagged down a taxi and chattered his way into getting their driver to make a stop on the way to his apartment, for Victor to dash out and grab groceries and snacks, because undoubtedly, Victor has nothing in his fridge after nearly a month abroad.

“It’s different, listening to you speaking in Russian, and seeing you in a place you’re familiar and comfortable with,” Yuuri said. He’d smiled a moment later, his eyelids drooping with travel fatigue but his eyes still bright underneath them. “But I really like getting to see another part of you.”)

But for Lilia, who has known Victor since he was a feisty novice boldly striking out on the ice, constantly challenging Yakov’s restrictions and guidelines, who has watched Victor grow up and who sends Victor critical text messages on his performances and postures after every competition – Victor wonders how she will react to him now, subtly changed, a champion figure skater who has finally found something – someone – more important than the ice.

Victor draws in a deep breath, and rings the doorbell. Well, whatever happens, he’ll have Makkachin, right?

He strains his ears to listen for a familiar bark, but Makkachin is too well-trained and Lilia’s door too solid for him to hear anything. Victor waits, and a moment later the door finally opens.

Even within the confines of her own home, Lilia is eternally regal. Her only concession to informality is the fact that her hair is down, a long cascade of glossy darkness that spills down her back. It makes Victor smile, because when he’d had long hair, Lilia was the one who taught him how to care for it, to put it up in sleek and beautifully complicated hairdos that will never come accidentally loose. And so Victor knows – Lilia only leaves her hair down with people she trusts, when she can relax after a long day of disciplining her students into some semblance of grace.

“Lilia, I’m back!” Victor chirps, all his earlier nervousness forgotten.

Lilia doesn’t quite roll her eyes, but the look she shoots him conveys the sentiment well enough. “I’m well-aware, since you reminded me of your arrival time three times before you even got out of Japan. Well, don’t just stand in the doorway.”

She sweeps away, disappearing down the corridor, and Victor follows, shutting the door behind him. Each step he takes in her wake seems to fill him with excited anticipation – any moment now, Makkachin’s going to tackle him—

He steps into the living room, warmly lit and well-heated against Russia’s spring chill, and there Makkachin is, sitting next to the armchair Victor knows Lilia favours. She rises to her feet the moment Victor appears, tail wagging fast enough that it practically disappears in a blur, but she stands her ground.

Victor feels his heart flip in his chest, because here is his darling Makkachin, his beautiful, beautiful girl.

“Aww Makka,” he coos, setting down the paper bag he’d been holding. “No flying tackle leap for me?”

“That because Makkachin knows how to conduct herself within another’s house: distinguished and dignified, which is more than I can say for a certain unruly skater I know.” Lilia sets one hand lightly on Makkachin’s head, very nearly a pat, and then steps away. “All right. Just this once.”

Permission given, Makkachin leaps at Victor, who is more than prepared; he goes down on one knee in time to catch her in his arms, and the next few minutes is sheer bliss. Makkachin whines happily, constantly moving in Victor’s arms – she licks at his face, noses curiously at his shirt and hands and clambers right into Victor’s lap, as if determined to physically pin him in place. Victor, for his part, bestows as many scratches and pats as he can manage, and does his best to memorize the perfect, wiggling image of her.

“You’ve been good for Lilia, haven’t you?” Victor whispers in her ear. “Of course you have; just look at how well behaved you’ve been.”

Makkachin gives a low bark as if in affirmation, and Victor hugs her closer.

It hasn’t been that long since the divorce, and as cosy as this living room appears, it must be hard for Lilia still, to try to make this space feel like home on her own when she had had years to change and customize the townhouse she’d lived in with Yakov, until the home had become theirs, with their preferences and habits imprinted on every corner. 

Makkachin is perceptive and very accommodating; she knows Victor’s moods well, and while she is normally quite playful and puppy-like, she knows when he needs her to just be there, letting him hug her to bits. It seems that Makkachin is just as good with Lilia; here in Lilia’s private space she’s quieter but still her cheerful self, and she’ll stick closer to Lilia, taking long peaceful naps at her feet.

It’s true that Victor needs someone to watch Makkachin when he’s abroad, that Lilia is doing Victor a favour by taking her in for weeks at a time. But Makkachin helps dispel some of the lonely corners lingering in this apartment – Lilia may appear stern with her, but just from his limited viewpoint alone Victor can see a dog bed taking up space between the side table and an antique drawer. A woven rug lays next to Lilia’s armchair, where Makkachin can doze comfortably without chilling her paws on the hardwood floor, and on top of the mantelpiece is a beautiful set of brushes, with a special finishing comb designed for detangling curly fur.

Victor likes the image all of these details conjure in his mind – the two most important ladies in Victor’s life, just being elderly and venerable and distinguished together.

Not that Victor will ever tell Lilia that, because she’ll probably murder him.

A soft rattle of porcelain against porcelain snaps Victor out of his thoughts. Lilia is stepping out of the kitchen with a tray in her hands. Victor makes a noise at the back of his throat and leaps to his feet, Makkachin coming right to attention; Victor may break plenty of expectations but he still has a sense of propriety, and he steps forward to take the tray. There’s a whole tea service on it, with a pot of concentrated tea, kettle of hot water and an array of condiments, which means it’s quite heavy.

“Sit,” Lilia says crisply, and both Makkachin and Victor are sitting before they realize it, Victor on the loveseat and Makkachin at his feet, because that’s what you do when Lilia Baranovskaya gives an order in that tone.

Lilia nods approvingly, and sets the tea tray on the table between them. She takes a seat and begins making up her cup – hot water to dilute the concentrated tea, and then jam to sweeten it. Victor waits for her to finish before making up his own cup, because this is their ritual: tea for their meet ups, and whiskey only in celebration, when Victor brings back yet another gold.

There’s a little saucer with dog biscuits for Makkachin, and Victor carefully hands her one before lifting his tea cup. He takes a sip of his tea, and then sets his cup down, waiting.

“Hand it over, then,” Lilia says, tilting her head towards the paper bag Victor had set aside earlier.

Ah. Sometimes Victor forgets just how sharp Lilia is.

He retrieves the bag, fishes Makkachin’s leash from it, and passes it over to Lilia. The Japanese are quite particular about packaging, especially for gifts – the paper bag is well-made, emblazoned with the specialty shop’s symbol, and the package within is wrapped in decorative paper. When Lilia peels it open, the box yields up a dozen beautiful little confections, each one different and shaped like flower blossoms. Wagashi, Yuuri had called them, Japanese tea desserts made from mochi and fruit and bean paste.

Lilia stares down at them, each confection a small but elaborate work of art. And then she looks right at Victor. “This was his idea, wasn’t it? That boy you stayed with in Japan.”

Sharp.

“His name is Katsuki Yuuri,” Victor says in explanation.

Lilia’s eyes narrow in recognition, because she watches all of Victor’s competitions, and so she would have at least seen Yuuri at the GPF.

“Did you bring him back with you?”

Victor twitches with surprise; Makkachin looks up, and then sets her head on his knee.

“I did,” Victor says at last. He strokes at Makkachin’s head; god, he’s missed her, his dearest Makkachin. “He’s here visiting with me for a while, since he and his friends and family were good enough to put me up when I was in his hometown.”

Lilia sets the confection box carefully aside, and picks up her tea, studying Victor over the top of the cup. She doesn’t say a word; silence from Lilia makes him nervous, and Victor fights the urge to fidget like a restless teenager, and starts speaking to fill in the quiet.

“We got into Polkovo Airport this morning. It was a really long journey, since we had to travel from Yuuri’s hometown to a bigger city, and then transit at Osaka before flying to Moscow. He’s back at my apartment taking a nap. I asked him to come here with me, but—” Victor hesitates. “He said homecomings are important, and that he didn’t want to intrude. He’s happy to meet Makkachin when I bring her home.

“Well,” Lilia says dryly, “at least I can count on one of you having some sense. And he’s good with Makkachin, from what I overhear from your phone conversations.” She finishes her tea, and sets the cup down, porcelain tickling against porcelain. “Is he your soulmate, Vitya?”

Victor was surprised earlier, but it’s nothing compared to the shock he feels now. It’s a natural conclusion for Lilia to come to – it’s one of those open but closely kept secrets within Yakov’s camp that Victor receives the signs, and that he’s had them for a long time. And Lilia knows Victor very well: only two things inspire Victor to make wild, grand gestures and giant leaps of faith – the ice, and his soulmate.

It’s just—hearing it so plainly and openly said—

“There are so many signs,” Victor says softly.

Lilia’s voice is almost gentle. “Are you sure?”

It’s a question that could mean many things.

“Not quite. Not a hundred percent. But enough,” Victor answers. He strokes Makkachin’s ears – she’s very still, her head a solid weight on Victor’s knee, her body warm against his leg – and gathers his courage. “I’m not sure I care, that it’s not a hundred percent.”

Because even if Yuuri isn’t his soulmate, there’s something between them that Victor wants desperately to hold onto. His soulmate may be Victor’s catalyst, someone who inspires him to fulfil his greatest potential, but with Yuuri—

—Victor has caught a glimpse of love and life with Yuuri.

Victor is not going to give Yuuri up, not even for his soulmate.

“This is pure speculation on my part, but I do think there’s a good chance that he is indeed your soulmate.” Lilia’s smile is wry. “I don’t know Katsuki, but meeting him has changed you.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“It is neither good nor bad; it simply is,” Lilia says. “Being soulmates doesn’t necessarily mean you are good together, or that you will be good together forever. But they will always be important.” She visibly hesitates, a rarity when she’s usually confidence incarnate, but this topic must chafe at her like salt over still healing wounds. “Yakov will always be an irrevocable part of my life. But right now… perhaps a change of perspective is what we both need. Perhaps we’ve simply moved onto different stages of our lives so it is better for us to be apart. And perhaps, in the future, that will change again.”

There’s a quiet ache in her voice, well buried except to those who know her well. Victor can’t imagine what she’s going through right now. She and Yakov were already married in Victor’s earliest memories; it had seemed eternal, that they would always be together. What went wrong, what could have changed them both so much that a bond as strong as theirs could just… break?

Lilia shakes her head. “But I’ve had my time, and this is yours. This has been very fast, Vitya. I know you’ve always leaped headfirst when you find something you want, but be careful. Be sure, of your heart if not anything else.”

Victor swallows, emotion clogging up his throat. But Lilia wouldn’t appreciate platitudes or Victor’s sympathy, and so he simply says, his voice quite husky, “I will.”

“Good,” Lilia says briskly, and begins making herself a second cup of tea.

---


Lilia sends him home after his second cup of tea, because “you look terrible, Vitya, have you slept at all?” And then Victor had explained that flying economy class was a novelty, but after Yuuri had fallen asleep the narrowness of the seats had made itself known, and he’d stayed awake instead, watching the people around him, and making sure Yuuri is well-tucked under the airline-provided blanket.

Springtime in St. Petersburg is very different from springtime in Hasetsu; here, the temperatures remain easily in the single digits, and Victor lifts his face into the cold, smiling at the chill of it. Makkachin keeps perfect pace beside him, not even tugging at her leash, and Victor has to fight the urge to just hug her again, right there in the middle of the street. He’s done it plenty of times before, but this time he has three good reasons to just hurry back: one, his long travels and the jetlag is starting to catch up with him; two, Makkachin might enjoy stretching her legs but she does get aches more easily in the cold now; and three, Yuuri is waiting for them, back at Victor’s apartment.

“Makka, you’re finally going to get to meet Yuuri,” Victor murmurs to Makkachin. “Remember what I said about Vicchan, okay? Yuuri’s going to need lots of doggy hugs.”

Makkachin gives a bark of agreement, and her tail hasn’t stopped wagging since Victor stepped into Lilia’s living room, but Victor fancies that part of it is for her enthusiasm in meeting Yuuri.

He unhooks her leash when they step into the elevator at Victor’s apartment building, and when they reach their floor, Makkachin bounds forward, leading the way down the corridor.

Victor fishes his keys out of his pocket as Makkachin arrives at their door, but before Victor can even get to the lock, the door swings open. Yuuri peers out, still looking exhausted as hell, but smiling when he catches sight of Victor—

And Makkachin barrels right into Yuuri’s knees, very nearly knocking him over.

Yuuri flails his arms out and catches his balance very impressively, and then he crouches right down, utterly unfazed by Makkachin’s excited barking and bounding around him. He opens his arms, and Makkachin doesn’t hesitate – she clambers close, tail wagging at a hundred miles an hour, and licks at Yuuri’s face enthusiastically.

YuuriMeetingMakkachin_Baph_chap5

Victor doesn’t even care about his neighbours – Makkachin is usually very well behaved, so they can deal with her enthused barking for ten minutes – and just leans against the doorframe, looking down at Yuuri and Makkachin fondly. There’s this warm ball coalescing in his chest, not quite like the welcome he’d felt that first day at Yu-topia, but similar; this is the feeling of contentment, of being utterly at peace with his current state. Victor doesn’t mind that he’s an observer, standing apart from the joyful meeting between Yuuri and Makkachin – he’s just happy to bask in their presence and their delight.

And then Yuuri presses a kiss to Makkachin’s head, and pulls back to smile at her. “It is absolutely wonderful to finally meet you in person, Mechta,” he says, and Victor—

Victor feels his entire world turn over, realigning itself—this is your new reality, you can’t deny it any longer.

His ears are ringing oddly, and when Victor speaks his voice echoes in his own ears. “Yuuri, what did you say?”

“Hmm?” Yuuri hums questioningly. He lifts his head from Makkachin’s fur, and gives Victor a brilliant smile. “I just told Makkachin how wonderful it is to finally meet her. Right, Makkachin?” he says to the poodle, and Makkachin just licks his face in agreement.

That is not what you called her, Victor wants to say, but the words are lodged in his throat, blocked by all the impossible feelings in his chest. His head is reeling, because no one, no one knows about Victor’s private and most important pet-name for Makkachin, an endearment that represents Victor’s hopes and dreams and his history with her. Mechta, Yuuri said, the word slipping out naturally and unconsciously to Makkachin, when no one in the world could possibly know that name—

Except for Victor’s soulmate, if his soulmate heard it through a soulmate vision, a memory.

“Victor,” Yuuri says, “are you okay?”

“I—” Victor stammers, “I—”

His head, his heart—all of them are clamouring at Victor to do something. To blurt out this most incredible revelation to Yuuri, to see if recognition and understanding blooms to life across Yuuri’s face. To leap forward, to hold Yuuri close and never let go, because Victor has suspected and he has hoped and he has dreamed, but there was always a little part of him that hesitated, that will always be devoted and loyal to his soulmate. But now Yuuri is his soulmate. His soulmate and Yuuri are one and the same, and Victor doesn’t have to choose, and it’s all such a chaotic mess of wants in his head that Victor just ends up frozen, still leaning against the doorframe—

“Victor?” Yuuri says, and he’s looking up at Victor in concern now.

Makkachin whines questioningly at Victor, as if to say, “What’s wrong, do you need me?” and although Yuuri has one arm wrapped around her, they’re slowly detangling themselves, Makkachin taking a step forward—

—and that snaps Victor right out of his trance.

“I’m fine!” he says, loudly that Makkachin twitches, shaking her head. Yuuri shoots him an incredibly doubtful look, and Victor straightens, finally pushes away from the door to let it swing shut behind him, moving forward to pat Makkachin. “Well, no, I’m pretty tired, I think the long hours are finally getting to me. And although it was very nice to see Lilia, she never takes it easy on me.” He lets his voice soften. “I’m just… happy, to see how well you and Makkachin get along. It’s… really nice, seeing the two of you like this.”

Yuuri’s eyes go soft, and although he’s worn at the edges, with faint shadows under his eyes, he still looks good like this: in a soft sweater and track pants and his hair falling messily over his glasses, reaching out one hand to scratch Makkachin’s ears. He looks—

Disarmed, and perfectly at home in Victor’s apartment. Like he’s always belonged here, somehow.

“What are you doing up, anyway?” Victor asks. “I thought you were taking a nap when I left.”

Yuuri shrugs, and finally rises to his feet, fingering the edges of his sweater. “I did, for a little bit. But I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep – I think the anticipation of seeing Makkachin kept me up.” He laughs. “Well, and it still shocks me that I’m standing in the middle of Victor Nikiforov’s apartment.”

Victor bites back on the more possessive words that sit on the tip of his tongue, and simply says, “I can assure you, Victor Nikiforov doesn’t mind one bit.”

“I was just standing here, looking around, and then I got distracted by the view through your window. And then I saw you and Makkachin walking up to the building, so I was waiting. I hope I didn’t surprise you too much.”

“I think Makkachin got you back for that, from the way she charged you down.” Victor hugs Makkachin’s head against his hip for a long moment, dragging strength from her, and then he pats her, sending her back to Yuuri. “I know it’s only mid-afternoon, but how about we have an early dinner? We can have a quiet night in, give Makkachin all the pats she deserves, and then tomorrow, it’s my turn to show you the sights and sounds of the city of St. Petersburg.”

“That sounds good. I’ll probably crash an hour after we have food, anyway. Here,” Yuuri steps close, tugs at Victor’s jacket sleeve, “you go shower and change. I’ll go look at the things you bought, figure something out for dinner.”

“But—”

“I promise I won’t fiddle with anything that I don’t know how to use and accidentally set your kitchen on fire. Go—you barely paused after we arrived; you went straight back out to get Makkachin after you showed me around your place. Makkachin and I can handle things now.”

Makkachin butts her head against the back of Victor knees as if determined to push him right into the bedroom, and Victor gives in. “Okay, okay, you two win. I’m going.”

Yuuri grins, and he holds a hand out towards Makkachin, the both of them trotting towards Victor’s wide kitchen space. Makkachin follows Yuuri the way she would Victor, and Victor feels his heart flip in his chest.

He wants so badly to tell Yuuri, to ask Yuuri what signs he’s seen, what thoughts he’s given to the identity of his soulmate. But although Yuuri looks happy and content now, all Victor has to do is think of the way Yuuri’s face went blank and then hurt after his “commemorative photo” comment and the way he’d grieved over Vicchan – they’re perfect reminders of why Victor needs be more careful of his words.

Because even though Victor means well, his impulsivity has hurt Yuuri not once, but twice, and Yuuri has come to St. Petersburg for peace of mind. Yuuri is Yuuri, who also happens to be his soulmate, and so Victor absolutely has to do this right, twice over. He won’t push further than Yuuri is willing or ready to accept, and dropping this revelation here, right now—

It’s not the right time.

Victor glances at the kitchen, where Yuuri is carrying on a conversation with Makkachin quite seriously, while Makkachin barks or tilts her head or nudges Yuuri this way and that way in response.

But soon, Victor promises himself, because he’s found the person he wants to stay close to, and he doesn’t plan to ever let go.

---

 
It’s harder than Victor ever expects, to let Yuuri set the pace for their interactions, because now that Victor knows, it’s as though every atom of Victor’s being yearns to be closer to Yuuri, every second of every day.

It’s hard, to sit beside Yuuri on the couch or across from him at the dining table and having to fight the impulse to cradle Yuuri’s hand in his, to knit their fingers together and press his thumb against Yuuri’s pulse point and count time by the beat of Yuuri’s heart. It’s hard, to stand at Yuuri’s side as Yuuri takes in St. Petersburg’s sights, his cheeks flushed from the cold and his laughter a bright sound in the chilly spring air, and to not just lean forward and press a kiss to a corner of that smiling mouth. It’s hard, to look at Yuuri calculating costs and carefully counting change before purchasing a number of small souvenirs for his family and friends, and not just lavish all of Victor’s considerable wealth and influence on Yuuri – because Yuuri deserves the world, even though he never seems to realize it.

It is the absolute hardest to part ways at night, Yuuri to the guest bedroom and Victor to his own, especially when Makkachin blithely abandons Victor for warm cuddles in Yuuri’s bed, a place Victor does not have permission to venture. Victor loves how close Makkachin and Yuuri are, and he knows they are just a room away, but for Victor’s pining heart, even those five or so meters are five meters too many.

It helps though, that Yuuri has no opposition to spending all his time with Victor. In Hasetsu, Yuuri tended to disappear for an hour or two or a whole evening, although he always sought out Victor afterwards, no matter how late it got, as though there’s a permanent gravity teetering them to each other. But even though Victor knows he’s become important to Yuuri, there was always Yuuri’s family and Minako and the Nishigoris, and five years of separation to catch up on.

Here, in St. Petersburg, Yuuri has no family and no other acquaintances to draw his attention away, and he seems perfectly content to stay at Victor’s side.

And so Victor stays. He doesn’t check in at the Yubileyny Sports Palace, he replies to messages from friends but declines invitations to meet up and doesn’t post anything to his social media until the end of the day, mostly to avoid the more zealous fraction of his fans showing up at his and Yuuri’s locations while they’re sightseeing. It’s an artificial bubble, a private space where Victor and Yuuri can exist without the rest of the world intruding.

It won’t last. But Victor enjoys every stolen moment of it.

Four days after they touched down in St. Petersburg, Victor receives a rather sternly worded voicemail from Yakov. He’s been holding his coach off by spending him video recordings of On Love: Agape and On Love: Eros – courtesy of the triplets – with modified and improved choreographies as proof that he’s not completely neglecting his skating, but that can only divert Yakov for so long. Now that Victor is back in St. Petersburg, it’s only a matter of time before Yakov shows up right on his doorstep, irate and quite ready to drag his champion back to the club for proper training. 

He and Yuuri have opted for a night in this time. Victor sits at the breakfast bar with Makkachin at his feet, elbow on the countertop and his head cradled in one hand, watching as Yuuri bustles around the kitchen, throwing together a simple but delicious dinner. Victor normally gets takeout for dinner or eats before he returns home – he doesn’t often have the patience to cook after a long day on the ice or at a photo shoot or interview or the various obligations and functions he owes his sponsors – but Yuuri enjoys cooking to unwind after a long day, and Victor finds he likes this new ritual and the novelty of having someone in his space, taking the reins.

“I have to go to the Yubileyny Sports Palace tomorrow,” Victor says, idly patting Makkachin’s ears. “It’s almost a month since Worlds, and Yakov is about ready to bite my head off.”

“I’m surprised your coach has held off this long,” Yuuri replies. “From the interviews, he seems pretty fierce.”

“Oh, Yakov is all bark and only a little bit of bite. I mean, he looks really scary and he won’t hesitate to yell at you in the kiss and cry, but he’s a big softie inside.”

Yuuri throws him a doubtful look over a boiling pot, and tips a bowlful of pasta into the water, ignoring the way the water splutters and bubbles. He stirs once, and then puts the lid on. “I’ll take your word for it.”

“You could meet him,” Victor suggests. “Come in with me tomorrow. It’s the off-season, the rinks are a lot emptier since a lot of skaters go off on vacation, or are in ice shows, or head off to summer training camps.”

Yuuri makes a high-pitched sound in his throat, and then waves a hand frantically. “No, that’s okay. I mean, are you even allowed to bring outsiders in? Aren’t the Russian clubs really strict about it?”

“Yakov won’t mind,” Victor says, although Yakov probably would mind – quite a lot, in fact. “Besides, I’ll be bringing you in as my personal guest. And—” Victor hesitates, but they can’t dodge around the subject forever, and there really is no better time to bring this up. “Yuuri, you still haven’t decided about your coaching situation, right? Maybe you can scout for coaches here. Russia is very popular with figure skaters, you know,” he adds impishly.

“Of course it is.” It comes out almost absentminded, as though it’s a given in Yuuri’s viewpoint; Yuuri continues talking as he checks on the pasta sauce. “Russian figure skaters dominate most of the disciplines, whereas most other countries tend to have one or two strong skaters, or maybe excel in one particular field. Japan’s doing really well with the ladies singles, but we’re definitely struggling with everything else.”

Victor opens his mouth to point out that the men’s singles division in Japan can’t be doing too badly, because they have Yuuri, but Yuuri continues on.

“It would be an incredible experience, to train under a Russian coach, but I think I need to stay in Japan, at least for now.”

Yuuri stirs the pasta sauce, seasons it well, and finally turns off the heat under both the sauce and the bubbling pot of pasta. He looks up at Victor then.

“I’ve run away from many things in the past. I’ve been helped by many people in my competitive skating career, but… I couldn’t take full advantage of it. I always thought I was fighting alone. I avoided returning back home for five years, and now I know – there are things that I need to come to terms with, in Hasetsu.”

Yuuri glances down at his hands, self-conscious, but when he glances back up at Victor, a spark of resolution is back in his eyes. “I’d like to spend time with my family, with Yuuko and Nishigori and the triplets and Minako-sensei, and get to know Hasetsu again. I’ll need to find a coach in one of the bigger cities, though. You’ve seen Hasetsu; it’s losing more and more people each year. But if I’m based in Osaka, or maybe Fukuoka, I’ll be able to visit during the weekends or holidays.”

“Of course, Yuuri,” Victor says softly; his heart is doing strange things in his chest, to see that familiar look of determination on Yuuri’s face. “That makes a lot of sense.”

“Mm.” Yuuri darts a look at Victor, and then a blush flushes over his cheeks. “You probably don’t know… but I was really scared to go home. I was trying to find excuses to stay in Tokyo, and Minako-sensei called me out on it, but—it really terrified me, the thought of going back to Hasetsu.”

Victor blinks at the sudden revelation; on his lap, Makkachin gives a soft whine of enquiry. “I knew you were dealing with something heavy at that time, but—no, I didn’t realize that.”

“Yeah. Then you showed up in the hotel gym in the middle of the night, and I honestly thought I must have been hallucinating. Then the next day, at breakfast, you told me you wanted to visit Hasetsu. That you wanted to go with me. I’m really glad you did, for so many reasons, but—” Yuuri draws in a deep breath. “Having you there with me gave me courage. I would have gone home eventually, but it was so much better having you there with me. I never told you how much it meant, having your support and knowing you were looking out for me. So—” Yuuri reaches forward and touches Victor’s wrist, “—thank you, Victor. For everything.”

Then he snatches his hand back, lifts the lid on the pot of boiling water, and deftly pours the pasta out into a strainer in the sink. The kitchen fills with billowing steam, effectively cutting off any possible response Victor can give, which is a minor blessing in disguise, because for one, Victor is absolutely speechless, and for another – Victor would probably do something quite stupid like lunge forward to kiss Yuuri right on the lips, completely forgetting about the very hot pots of sauce and water, and they’ll both likely end up in the emergency room.

Also, Makkachin is plastered half over Victor’s lap, physically weighing him down, and Victor hugs her desperately, trying to rein himself back in.

Yuuri is chattering on now to fill the silence, about all the local Russian food Victor’s been dragging him out to try. It’s clear Yuuri doesn’t want Victor to make a big deal about it, and so Victor tries – when he goes to help Yuuri with plating, all he says is, “I’m always happy to help, Yuuri.”

Yuuri goes charmingly pink again, but he also gives Victor a small but heartfelt smile, so that’s that.

But as Victor follows Yuuri out into the living room – because it makes perfect sense to curl up on the couch with hot bowls of pasta in hand and a movie on for background sound and just talk the rest of the night away, Makkachin somehow managing to drape herself across both their laps – there’s a tentative plan piecing itself together at the back of Victor’s mind. Because Lilia had told him to be sure, and god, Victor has never been surer of anything else in his life, especially having Yuuri and Makkachin right here, and seeing the two of them getting along so well together as if Yuuri was always meant to be a part of their lives—

But everything else is nebulous – Yuuri’s future and career, what the two of them will do once Yuuri’s two-week vacation is over, when they’ll next be able to see each other again. Victor can’t make decisions for Yuuri, but he can change things for himself. It’s probably going to create a huge uproar, but Victor is ready for it – he doesn’t break records and stun the world with his skating time and again by being passive; no, Victor will plan things out, because Yuuri deserves more than a reckless, half-baked plan, but once he’s decided—

Be sure, Lilia had said, and she’s probably going to send him long and annoyed text messages that read along the lines of “that is not what I meant, Vitya” after Yakov has finished screaming at him, because she and Yakov may be divorced now but there are certain things that they both care about and will unite over, and Victor is one of them. 

It won’t repair the rift, but if it gets them to talk to each other more, then so much the better.

“You’re distracted tonight,” Yuuri says, and Victor blinks back to attention. “Is everything okay?”

“Just thinking about the future,” Victor answers quite honestly.

“I don’t envy you, having to face your coach after a whole month away,” Yuuri says with a laugh. “But you’ve been his student for a very long time. I’m sure it’ll work out fine.”

Victor smiles down at his bowl of pasta, and lifts a forkful to his mouth. Tangy tomato and the sharper bite of chilli flakes bursts over his tongue, and he savours the flavour before swallowing.

“Yes, I really think it will,” he answers.


---

 

Victor learned to skate in a smaller and much less renowned rink, but somehow, it feels like he has always skated at the Yubileyny Sports Palace. It is worlds apart from Ice Castle Hasetsu, and although Victor enjoys the solitude and cosiness of the Ice Castle, there will always be a special place for Yubileyny in Victor’s heart.

It seems entirely appropriate to skate a medley of his old programs on the familiar ice, on the first day of what is probably his last few times here.

It’s early in the morning, early enough that the rink is actually empty for once, since most figure skaters are devoted to their careers but also really enjoy sleeping in during the off-season. Victor has the rink to himself, and the faint morning light spilling through the wide windows lights up the ice up like a stage right before a performance.

The sound of another pair of blades hitting the ice barely registers through Victor’s concentration, but the streak of bright blonde speeding past Victor like a comet is unignorable. Yuri keeps out of Victor’s way, but it doesn’t mean he’ll let Victor set the pace – he warms up by skating a few loops around the rink, and then executes a beautiful quad toe loop, landing neatly and without wobbling.

“Good job,” Victor calls, because he has to give Yuri credit where credit is due, and then braces himself, because his next sentence is going to start an argument. “But Yura, you’re not supposed to practice quads without supervision.”

Sure enough, Yuri twirls neatly, reversing direction, and bears down on Victor like a storm. “Well,” Yuri says the moment he gets close enough, his voice as cutting as ice, “I thought Russia’s living legend counts as good enough supervision. Or are you going to tell me that you didn’t play with technicalities and loop holes like this to get past Yakov’s restrictions?”

Fair enough, but Victor has the benefit of hindsight now, and Yuri may chafe at his boundaries, but some of them are there for his own safety.

“You have to play it smart, Yura,” Victor says, because it’s not like he listened to reason at fifteen any more than Yuri would now. “You’re doing to debut as a senior next season, right? Yakov will likely relent and let you jump quads in competition, but if you keep testing his patience now, he’ll make you stick to triples for at least another year just to make you listen.”

Yuri makes a scoffing noise, but his eyes narrow in consideration, and Victor hopes that means he’ll at least think over Victor’s words later. “Whatever. What do you want, anyway?”

“Nothing,” Victor says, blinking. “Wait, why do you think I want something?”

Yuri rolls his eyes. “I don’t know, but you only call me ‘Yura’ when you want something.”

Victor swallows back a sigh, because Yuri and Yuuri are very different in Victor’s mind, of course. Victor even pronounces their names differently, but Victor hadn’t realized that he’d naturally switched to the diminutive for Yuri. But if Victor ever lets it slip that the dominant “Yuri” in Victor’s head is now Japan’s Yuuri, he’ll probably get kicked in the face.

“Maybe I just want to spend some time with my dear rinkmate now that the frenzy of the competitive season is over.” Victor hadn’t really thought about it, but now that he’s facing Yuri, it suddenly hits him how much he’s going to miss him, little Yura, an irritated, grumpy but extremely driven force of nature on the ice who is never content to rest on his laurels. Yuri defers to no one on the ice but has a grudging respect for Victor, and over the years they’ve grown close as two of Yakov’s brightest pupils, but next year—

—next year Yuri will join the senior ranks, and he’ll regard Victor as a direct rival, not a mentor.

Maybe Victor shouldn’t worry so much about Yakov; of Victor’s rinkmates, Yuri is the one who will react most viscerally.

“Yeah, that would be more believable if you actually came back right after Worlds. How is it that you’ve gotten even worse at dealing with people? Did you hit your head in Japan or something?”

“No!” Victor protests, although he knows Yuri is just trying to rile him up. “And I really do mean it, you know. I quite enjoy skating with you; you’re always so innovative.”

“Yeah right,” Yuri says, although behind the irritation there’s a hint of pleased smugness. Then he evidently thinks of something, because the pleasure wipes right out, and the irritation comes back in full force. “You’re going to do something stupid again, aren’t you.”

“Who, me?”

“Stop playing dumb,” Yuri growls. “You disappeared for a whole month. Now you’re back, and you’re acting weirdly sentimental, and you were skating your old programs just now, but they’re coming out all—weird and different. As though you’re reminiscing, like the old man you are.”

“It wasn’t quite a month,” Victor says, because the best way to survive a conversation with Yuri is to pick only one part of his ranting to focus on. 

Yuri’s eyes narrow dangerously. “Your social media accounts were uncharacteristically light on updates, and the photos you did post were either selfies or all generic and non-specific. But you’ve got eagle-eyed fans in every damn corner of the world, and someone ID-ed you in this little Japanese town called Hasetsu.”

His pronunciation of Hasetsu is off, all harder Russian sounds instead of the lilting way the Japanese pronounces it. Victor itches to correct him, but all he says is, “Oh?”

“Yes, oh. You should thank Mila – she insinuated in one of her posts that you were back in Russia and off on personal vacation. And Georgi backed her up. News from rinkmates always trumps fan speculation.”

“That’s very good of them; I’ll talk to them later,” Victor says, although that means his rinkmates have already come up with their own theories on just why he’d been gone for so long.

“I can’t imagine why they bothered; they should let you clean up your own damn messes. And you know what else your fans dug up? Hasetsu is pretty much a generic town with nothing to boast about, except for the fact that a Japanese men’s singles figure skater was born and raised there.”

There’s a derisive edge to Yuri’s voice that makes every one of Victor’s protective instincts flare up, but he keeps his voice even. “You sound like you’re implying something, Yuri, but if you want an answer you’ll need to add a question somewhere in there.”

“So it is Katsuki,” Yuri murmurs, and then he jerks his chin up, and manages to stare Victor down even from his shorter height. “You want a question? Here’s my question: what stupid thing are you planning to do next?”

There’s a part of Victor – the one that has faced down paparazzi and anti-fans and all the naysayers who have ever attacked him for his unconventional programs and seemingly flighty habits – that wants badly to put Yuri in his place. Another, fortunately louder, part of him knows that he and Yuri are always going to have this confrontation, and that Victor is the senior and more experienced of them two. He can’t rise to Yuri’s deliberate baiting.

Well, Victor knows he’s going to have a blazing row with Yakov over his decision, so what’s adding another confrontation to his list?

“I’m sitting out the Grand Prix series next season. As a courtesy, I’m going to speak to Yakov first, but I’ve already drafted a message to the Russian Skating Union.”

Yuri is quiet for a long while. “Are you retiring?”

“No.” At least, Victor doesn’t think he is, not when he’s starting to find inspiration once more, and especially because he loves skating on the same ice with Yuuri. “But I don’t plan to stay in St. Petersburg. I haven’t decided whether I’ll be back for the Russian Nationals or not.”

Yuri doesn’t react, at least not visibly. The both of them are just standing there in the middle of the rink, and the cold is starting to settle around them, heavy and intent.

Victor waits, and still Yuri doesn’t react. It’s strange, because Yuri is normally quite vocal about his feelings – he’s volatile and feisty and so full of life – and Victor steps forward to study him closer, feeling concerned.

He doesn’t get a chance – the moment he moves, Yuri rears back, and when he raises his head, his eyes are glittering like diamonds, full of cold rage.

“So, Victor Nikiforov is dead. And you’re going out with a whimper, not a bang.”

Patience, Victor reminds himself. “It’s only for half a season, at least for now.”

“The figure skating world moves at lightning speeds. And even you can get left behind in ‘just’ half a season.” Yuri lets out a harsh laugh – it sounds almost frightening coming from a fifteen-year-old. “You’re going to give up on all your accolades, just like that.”

“There are more important things to life than just winning.”

“Like your soulmate?” Yuri shoots right back, because of course everyone at the damn rink knows about Victor and his soulmate signs, and thanks to Georgi, no one ever forgets about them either. “It’s Katsuki, isn’t it?” Yuri continues, eerily perceptive, and Victor would be impressed if not for the next words coming out of his mouth. “What, you’re going to run off to Japan to live with him? The fucking dead-last at the Grand Prix Final, and that’s who you’re giving up your career for.”

Victor smiles; it’s not a particularly pleasant one. “Did you want to compete against me, Yuri?”

“Don’t be so full of yourself. Not every skater looks up to you.” Yuri gives Victor a sharp-toothed smile of his own. “But I won’t deny it; I would have enjoyed ripping your titles out of your hands.”

“Then I suppose you’ll have to settle for battling Yuuri for them instead,” Victor says silkily. “Because he’ll come back stronger next season, I can guarantee you that.”

“Oh, I will.” Yuri stabs his toe pick into the ice, breaking the pristine smoothness of it. His eyes are still glittering with anger. “You know what, I get it. Soulmates are important. But you have a whole lifetime to do something about it – find your soulmate, build a relationship, whatever. The life of an athlete, however, is short and limited, and I don’t have time for romantic flights of fancies. I don’t know what the future holds, so I’m going to maximize my potential now to win. And if I have to trample your precious soulmate to do so, I will.”

“You’re young, Yuri,” Victor says. “So I’m going to give you a pass for your attitude. But you’re going to find that the senior division is much more cutthroat than you realize, and if you don’t watch yourself, you’re going to make unnecessary enemies who would love nothing better than to cut you down to size.”

“Don’t you fucking dare patronize me just because I’m younger than you,” Yuri snarls, and there’s the fire that he’s known for, wild and explosive. “I’m not skating to make friends. My grandpa sacrificed everything so I would have the opportunity to skate, and I’m not going to throw all of it down the drain simply because I have to play nice. I’ve fought – I’m always fighting – and I’m not doing it just for me.”

The angry glimmer in Yuri’s eyes is starting to become liquid, tears of frustration gathering at the corners of his eyes, and maybe Victor is becoming a little better at dealing with tears after Yuuri, because Victor’s instinctive reaction is to catch Yuri close, hugging him around the shoulders.

“Of course, Yuri,” Victor murmurs, careful to look over Yuri’s head at the expanse of the ice; he bets Yuri is very much like Lilia – they both hate to show their vulnerabilities. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to make light of your efforts.”

For a moment, Victor thinks he’s gotten it all wrong, because Yuri is stiff under his arms. But then, Yuri doesn’t quite relax, but he does punch Victor in the side, as much as he can at that angle, and then latch onto Victor’s jacket.

“Your stupid soulmate thinks I’m a scary Russian punk,” Yuri mutters. “Take a fucking leaf from his book, you stupid old man.”

Yuri’s words make Victor smile, and he feels the last of his ire drain away. For all of Yuri’s insults, it seems there’s a part of him that actually acknowledges Yuuri; otherwise, Yuri has a tendency to ignore and outright forget people, even the other junior skaters who should be his rivals on the ice.

“Honestly, your mouth.” Victor gives Yuri a final squeeze, and then pulls back with a sigh. “As a junior, your interviews are quite scripted and very well monitored, but for goodness sake, try not to swear when you’re speaking to the reporters next year.”

“This is who I am,” Yuri says dismissively. “I’ll tone it down – I’m not stupid – and I’ll keep improving myself, but I’m not going to change who I am.”

God, when did Yuri grow up so much? Victor remembers being just as competitive at fifteen but infinitely sillier and more playful, while Yuri is quite a lot like Victor now – incredibly self-driven with an unshakeable will, even though their priorities are different.

Victor finds himself hoping that Yuri has a soulmate, someone who can temper the fire in Yuri’s soul, to direct it purposefully rather than having it run wild. Yuri is brilliant now; how much brighter will he shine with an unshakeable presence at his side?

“You’ll do great as a senior,” Victor says, because he’s not sure when he’ll next get to say something like this to Yuri. “I’m really going to enjoy watching you as an audience member, without getting distracted by my own competition preparations.”

Yuri’s face twists in displeasure at the reminder that Victor is sitting out the next half-season, and for a moment, it looks like he wants to pick up the fight again. But finally, he just scowls deeply and kicks at the ice, spraying frost in Victor’s direction.

“Fine. Fine, you’re going to go do something unbelievably stupid, and no one can stop you. So I guess I’m going to have to pick up your slack and carry Russia’s pride instead. But you better not have forgotten – you promised to choreograph a program for my senior debut if I won Junior Worlds without using quads. And I totally won, by almost twenty points.”

Victor did actually forget, what with the whole downward spiral he’d been fighting the last few months, and then with the flurry over Yuuri and his soulmate. It’s clear Yuri expects it; the younger skater is already giving him a look that says he knows Victor forgot, but that he’s not going to let him off the hook.

“Well,” Victor hedges, and then the thought occurs to him: he’d choreographed two short programs, didn’t he? And he’s not going to use either of them at this point.

And considering Yuri’s feelings about his grandfather, On Love: Agape would be a perfect routine – and a challenging one – for him.

“You forgot,” Yuri says, apparently getting tired of the silence.

“I did,” Victor admits. “But I’ve got something for you! Remember how I was working on two versions of my short program for next year? One of them would work really well for you. I changed up the choreography when I was in Hasetsu, but I’m almost done with them. I’ll teach it to you later.”

Yuri looks up. “You’re giving me a program that you choreographed for yourself?”  

“Yes.” Victor runs the program components through his head. “Although it has two quads in it; maybe I’ll simpli—”

“No. Teach it to me the way you planned to skate it. I’ll do it.”

Victor looks down at Yuri, at the fire in his eyes. “All right,” he says slowly. “All right, I’ll do that. I’ll let you know when it’s ready.”

Yuri leans back, appeased. Without another word, he skates off, not really sticking to any particular training routine, but just doing whatever he pleases. After a moment, Victor follows him, because they probably won’t have many chances to skate together after this.

Fifteen minutes later, Yuri chases Victor down. “Actually, since Yakov’s probably going to skin you alive, can you like, send me a recording of the SP choreography first? Just in case you disappear before you can teach it to me.”

Victor rolls his eyes. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Yura.”

Yuri smirks at him, and then skates off, laughing, and Victor finds he doesn’t mind very much at all.

 

---

 

Yakov is away from the rink on business and won’t return until the afternoon, Victor found out when he got into the rink that morning, but Yubileyny is practically Victor’s second home, and the hours go by in a flash.

Yuri gets in an hour’s practice before seemingly losing interest; he bestows a number of parting insults in Victor’s direction before disappearing, and Victor knows he won’t see his younger rinkmate for the rest of the day. Yuri still a teenager and getting him to practice consistently is something not even Yakov can manage all time. Perhaps he’s picked up on one too many flighty habits from Victor – Victor is very good, so he takes shortcuts and does brilliant things because he has almost twenty years of experience and a lot of talent to carry him through.

Yuri is also very good, and he thinks he can take shortcuts, but he doesn’t have those twenty years of experience to bolster him. Victor dwells on the issue for some time, but ultimately, it is Yakov’s headache to figure out, and with Victor’s plans to leave – well, there’s only so much well-meaning advice Yuri will tolerate before he explodes at Victor again.

Once the rinks start getting busy, Victor spends some time greeting the other skaters and then steps off the ice, trading his skates for normal shoes. He hits the rest of Yubileyny instead – catches up with the other coaches, laughs with regular staff who help maintain and man the stadium, cheekily flirts with the servers and cooks down at the cafe. He walks the familiar corridors and the locker rooms and the gym and studio spaces, and a part of his heart is whispering a silent goodbye to every inch of them.

He finally hears, from messages passed from a coach to one of the rink’s ticketing staff to a hockey player, who waves Victor down when they cross paths somewhere down in the lobby, that Yakov is back and is pretty irate that Victor is in the stadium but not on the ice, because almost everyone in Yubileyny knows of Victor, of course. Victor laughs and jokes with the hockey player about cranky coaches, and then takes the walk to Yakov’s office slowly, paying more attention to his surroundings then he normally does.

Victor will be back – St. Petersburg is his hometown and Yubileyny currently the most enduring of his home rinks – but this conversation with Yakov is a turning point. Victor is standing at a crossroads and he knows what path he wants to take, but the moment he steps upon it, things – Victor himself – will no longer be the same.

Yakov has had the same cluttered office since Victor came under his tutelage, and the man himself is the same as always, glancing up irritably when Victor comes right in after the shortest perfunctory knock. His glare deepens when he registers that it’s Victor, and Victor grins, sliding into the uncomfortable chair in front of Yakov’s desk that his coach probably keeps around to punish his students – after all, the only times Yakov drags them into his office are for private, RSU-restricted conversations, or to yell at them without disrupting the other coaches’ training sessions.

“Hi Yakov!” Victor says in face of Yakov’s ire, because truly, his coach is very much all bark and very little bite. Case in point—

“Don’t you ‘Hi Yakov” me,” Yakov growls, but he’s looking Victor up and down as if assessing Victor’s state. “One whole month, and without telling anyone where you’ve gone.” He crosses his arms and glares down the length of his nose at Victor, but it’s all annoyance, and very little actual anger. “What do you have to say for yourself?”  

And because Victor has very few filters with his coach, he ignores the question all together to point out, “You’re not actually mad, Yakov.”

“You are a persistent headache, Vitya. I’m almost used to it.” Yakov lets out an aggravated sigh, and then shoots Victor a narrow-eyed look. “It’s still early in the off season, and you’ve already gotten a start on new programs. You take things to the extreme as always, but it’s actually good for you to get some time off to recharge.”

Victor pauses, surprised. It’s a rare day indeed for Yakov to advocate rest and relaxation over training – competition in Russia for figure skating is cutthroat, and Yakov has fought hard to bring the Yubileyny Sports Club where it is today.

“What’s that shocked face for?” Yakov grumbles. He eyes Victor again. “You’ve been off-kilter these past few months. That melancholy doesn’t suit you.”

His words fall like stones into still water, sending ripples across the surface. Victor leans back in his seat and tries to figure out how he feels.

Yakov is a good coach, someone that Victor trusts implicitly, but that feeling of loss and detachment that’s seeped into his skating and permeated every aspect of his life – Victor could barely acknowledge it to himself, much less admit it out loud to anyone else. It seemed easier to shove everything aside and pretend that everything is fine, as though acting it can make it true, but now—

What’s the point of keeping it secret when Yakov already knows?

Victor’s voice comes out rusty, like the words have been fermenting in his throat for all those months. “It has been hard. It’s been really rough, Yakov.” He looks up, because he can’t stand for Yakov to comment further on it. “I didn’t realize that you noticed.”

Yakov sighs, and this time there’s not a hint of exasperation in it – just a little ruefulness, perhaps. “I’m a coach, a damn good one, and I’ve mentored you for years. I don’t just train you and make sure you’re as competitively fit as possible; I must also guide and support you properly. If you could see everything that I see, then skaters wouldn’t need coaches. And if I didn’t notice such a drastic change in you, then that’s my failure as a coach.”

“Oh,” Victor says very softly, but Yakov hears it anyway.

“But it looks like you’ve gotten your head back on straight. A vacation and break away from the ice did you good after all.” Yakov shoots Victor another glare that’s almost halfway fond, and then draws himself up. “Now that you’re back, it’s high time we return to proper training.”

Yakov looks like he’s gearing himself up for a long spiel about Victor’s training schedule, and Victor quickly shakes himself out of his pensive mood, shelving the realizations about his coach for another time. “Wait, Yakov, I already have plans for next year.”

“Of course you do,” Yakov grumbles, but he doesn’t look surprised. Victor has had control of his creative process for a long time now; Yakov’s role is mostly to steer him in a vaguely more successful direction. “Let’s hear it then.”

But suddenly, Victor is tongue-tied. His heart and his head are finally in agreement, but for once, Victor is… terrified. He has always known what he wants, and he has never hesitated in pursuit of those wants, everything from world-records and titles and endorsements to shattering the preconceived stereotypes that he hates and breaking the control the RSU has tried to assert over him. But this path he’s choosing is fraught and uncertain and Victor can’t control it, he can’t manipulate the situation the way he does with his public image, showing the world what they think they want so Victor can get his way after the fact.

Not when it’s Yuuri standing in front of him. Oh, Victor will put up a confident front, but Yuuri has a way of worming his way under Victor’s skin, not invasive but subtle and welcoming, like the warmth of a hot shower sinking in his bones, chasing the cold away.

Victor wants to be honest with Yuuri. It’s safe, he knows any hurt that Yuuri causes him will never be malicious, but what if he steps off the precipice and Yuuri rejects him?

It’s been a long time since Victor has panicked like this; Yakov is eyeing him with poorly concealed concern, eyebrows furrowing. Victor forces himself to take a deep breath, and then there’s a feeling catching in his chest, warm and supportive. It feels a lot like confidence, certain and strong, the moment before Victor takes an incredibly difficult jump that he knows he’ll land, perfectly.

“I’m sitting out the Grand Prix series next year. I won’t participate in any competitions before the Russian Nationals.”

If Yakov’s words earlier is like stone dropped into water, then Victor’s is like a rock thrown bodily through a window, shattering the glass beyond repair. Yakov just stares at him, his expression completely blank.

“I’m not announcing my retirement,” Victor quickly adds, in case that makes a difference. “But I’m not making any commitments on the rest of the season either.”

There are storm clouds gathering in Yakov’s expression, the volatile, deeply ominous kind that heralds a truly spectacular tempest. But when Yakov speaks, it’s in a quiet, almost calm voice.

“That is a selfish decision, Victor.”

Victor’s heart sinks, because Yakov means it. The tone, the switch away from the diminutive – Yakov means every word.

But then again, so does Victor.

“It is,” he agrees. “But it’s my life to live.”

Something flickers at the back of Yakov’s hard gaze, something that seems like grudging respect, and then Yakov picks up a glass on his desk, knocks back its contents like a shot of vodka, and then slams the glass back on the table. When he glares at Victor, the gruff bluster is out in full force now, thunderstorm warning: severe.

“I thought I taught you better than this.” Yakov’s voice is almost a roar, and it’s insane how heady the wave of relief crashing through Victor feels. This is normal, this is Yakov, and Victor feels the world settle back under his feet, steady and solid one more.

“—is not a game, this is not an impulsive decision that you can just laugh off and muscle your way through. Cropping off all your hair before the photoshoot with the sponsors, jumping the quad flip at the Olympics without any warning, that’s all on you

It’s really tempting to fall back on his usual tactics for handling Yakov at his blustery-est, like two actors settling into their respective roles and running through a familiar script. Victor tends to act sillier and more oblivious the more annoyed Yakov gets – it drives his coach utterly up the wall – but well, Victor’s on a bit of a time crunch. He’d like to table his decision to the RSU as soon as possible.

“Hey, Yakov,” he tries.

“—sitting out the next season has real world consequences on me, your entire team here at Yubileyny and the federation—”

“There are always consequences, but I know how to deal with them, so—”

“—I’ve put up with your flights of fancy over the years, and Vitya, you are no longer a child—”

“Yakov,” Victor says in his loudest voice, and deliberately says the next words in English, the way he would make a statement at a press conference for international audiences. “I am not skating next season. I’m sitting out the Grand Prix series. It’s happening, no matter how much you yell at me.”

The language switch cuts through Yakov’s ranting, derails his train of thought, and silence settles over the room. Yakov looks a moment away from blowing a blood vessel, but he draws in a deep breath, and then digs under his desk. Victor can’t quite get a look at the label of the bottle Yakov is holding, but as he pours out a shot Victor can smell the sharp, smoky scent of whisky from across the desk.

The glint in Yakov’s eyes just dares Victor to ask for a glass of his own, and Victor decides not to push his coach any further. Besides, he only drinks whisky in celebration of a gold medal, and Victor’s not sure if he’s won this battle yet.

Yakov doesn’t down the shot in one gulp this time; he sips slowly, and then puts his glass to one side as if to say he’ll need to partake of much more of it to get through this conversation. When he finally speaks, his voice is so grumpy that the question comes out flat. “What will you do if you’re not skating, Vitya.”

Victor pauses, considers the question, and makes a call on how much to admit. “People, the reporters especially,” he says slowly, “they keep asking me what my plans are for the future. It’s like everyone assumes that I’m going to retire one day even though I never considered it; not yet, anyway. But they kept asking, and so I kept thinking about it, and finally I realized – I have absolutely no idea what to do if I’m not skating.”

He looks up at Yakov, a little shock of surprise going through his chest, because Victor doesn’t remember looking away. “This is me, trying to figure it out on my terms. To see if beyond the ice there’s a life, or maybe a love that I want.”

Yakov twitches at the word ‘love.’ “You fancy yourself in love with that boy, don’t you?”

“What boy?” Victor dissembles, although he has a feeling he knows exactly who Yakov is referring to. 

“I am neither deaf nor blind,” Yakov barks, and his fingers tap against his glass like he’s considering more alcohol. “Anyone who has eyes saw you at the Grand Prix Final banquet. I’ve always allowed you to do as you please with your private life. I may not approve, I may yell at you because it seems the only way to get any advice through your skull sometimes, but you’ve been in this industry for a long time, and you know how to be discreet when you want to be. So, I let it slip. If mooning after Japan’s ace gets you out of your head and your slump, then so be it.”

“You,” Victor pauses, “know of Yuuri?”

He was that close to asking if Yakov approved, but he doesn’t want Yakov to throw the glass at his head.

“I keep an eye on the competition. Katsuki is younger than you and Georgi, so he has the potential to stay in the competitive circuit longer. He’s not a threat to you, but he’s decent. When Yuri,” here, Yakov shoots a glare at Victor as if to remind him of where his loyalties should lie, “debuts as a senior skater, he’ll be competing in Katsuki’s tier.” There’s a moment of silence, and then Yakov grudgingly adds, “You could have picked worst targets to fall head over heels for. At least there are no scandalous rumours about Katsuki.”

Victor wants to smile, because Chris’s flirtatious ways have gotten them both into hot water more than once, much to Chris’s coach’s amusement and Yakov’s ire, but then Yakov slams his hand against the desk, capturing Victor’s attention anew, his eyes narrowing dangerously.

“But not if Katsuki is the reason why you’re making foolhardy, monumentally reckless decisions about your future. You’ve interacted with him once. He hasn’t been in any competitions since the GPF, and you’ve never cared to mingle with the Japanese team beyond polite greetings at exhibition practices and at banquets. It’s been months, Vitya. There’s no point holding onto an infatuation.”

“He’s my soulmate,” Victor says sharply, without a single moment of hesitation.

“What.” It’s more a quiet expression of surprise than a question, but Victor treats it as one anyway.

“Katsuki Yuuri. He’s my soulmate.” And then, once more in English, because that’s the language Victor shares with Yuuri, “He’s my soulmate.”

The words in Russian feel like fact, immutable; in English, it comes out tender. Victor wonders how they would sound in Japanese, how Yuuri would react to hearing that declaration in his mother tongue.

“Now that I found my soulmate, I’m want to make more time for him,” Victor half murmurs to himself. He’d really need more time if he wants to pick up Japanese at least conversationally – amongst so many other things. “I want that chance to be with him.”

Meanwhile, Yakov is splashing yet more whisky into his glass.

“How do you even—” he begins, and then he pauses. A frighteningly calculative and sharp look flashes through his eyes, the kind that marks Yakov as one of the world’s veteran coaches. “You were in Japan the past month. And Katsuki has left his coaching arrangement with Cialdini.” Yakov caps the bottle and stares balefully at his now full glass. “And here I thought that Mila had lost her head, the way she and Georgi kept giggling over your social media posts.”

At some point, Victor really needs to have a conversation with Mila and Georgi about fuelling the Yubileyny rumour mill.

“If you think about it, I’m not just doing this for Yuuri. I’m doing it for Makkachin, because she deserves spend more time with me, rather than being cooped up at someone else’s house for weeks on end while I’m traveling.”

Yakov takes a large swallow of whisky at that, and Victor wonders if he’s thinking of Lilia – because of course his coach knows just who Victor entrusts Makkachin to.

“And taking time away from competitions,” Victor continues, “I’m doing it for myself, as well. Yuuri and I – I’m doing it for us.”

“Not everything is a fairy tale, you foolish—” Yakov cuts himself off, and this time he does down the rest of the glass. When he glares at Victor afterward, it’s anyone’s guess whether it’s the alcohol, the frustration or the rest of his muddled feelings about Lilia that’s causing the livid redness in his features. “Vitya, you cannot throw away everything that you’ve built for yourself over the last two decades. Being soulmates doesn’t guarantee happiness. And if you and Katsuki are the type of soulmates that are good for each other, romantically or otherwise, then… he’s a figure skater. You’ll see him on the ice.”

Victor shakes his head. “It’s been hard, Yakov. This past season. I’m still medalling, but… something has to change. I need to change, to push myself forward. Yuuri inspires me to do that. He’s so strong, even though he thinks he is weak. But he doesn’t ever give up.” His fingernails are biting into his palm, his hands are clenched so tightly. “Do you regret it? Meeting Lilia?”

For a moment, Yakov’s hand twitches so violently that Victor really thinks he’s going to get the glass thrown in his face, but Victor doesn’t back down.

“You were in figure skating and she ballet, and you were both in the prime of your careers,” Victor presses, because he’s heard this much from Lilia, although she won’t say a word on what eventually drove her and Yakov apart. “You had to work hard to make time for each other, to nurture your relationship through both your hectic schedules. Lilia had just been named prima ballerina, and she told you she had already sold her soul to the Bolshoi Ballet. But you didn’t give up. You did everything you could to prove your devotion and your commitment, and somehow, somewhere down the line, she fell in love with you. Her soulmate, who understood that loving her meant loving her love of ballet.” 

“And then she returned that devotion and commitment twice fold, all while staying a principal dancer at the Bolshoi for the next decade.” Yakov lets his eyes fall shut for a scant second, the only moment of weakness he allows himself. “She truly is a remarkable woman.”

“She is.” They lapse into an almost companionable silence, and then quietly, Victor says, “I want that opportunity, to be as happy as you two were. And I know you were happy, because I grew up watching the two of you. Maybe Yuuri and I will just stay friends, maybe we’d get together and crash and burn later down the line, but I want to know that I’ve tried. And we’ll make good memories along the way. We already have.”

“You’ve made commitments to Katsuki, and he doesn’t even realize it, does he,” Yakov growls, but he sounds resigned now. “Has he figured out his plans? If he doesn’t yet have a coach—” a sour expression crosses Yakov’s face, like he’s bitten into a lemon, “—I suppose you could make him an offer. To train here.”

Victor’s mouth actually falls open, because he knows what it means for Yakov to make that offer to a skater he’s yet to personally assess, much less a foreign national skater which will raise plenty of heckles at the RSU. He has to swallow a few times to get the words out. “Yuuri says he wants to stay in Japan, at least for now.”

“And what, you’re just going to show up on his doorstep in Japan and throw yourself at him? While he skates and you… I don’t even know what you’ll do.”

Victor quickly calculates the chances that no one will figure out the fact that right now Yuuri is probably curled up on Victor’s couch in Victor’s apartment with Makkachin draped over his lap, and decides that’s a yelling he’ll save for another day.

“Well, I’ll talk to Yuuri first. And I guess I’ll figure things out? I’m sure I can find plenty of things to occupy me in Japan. It’s a country that loves figure skating as well, after all. So,” Victor takes a careful peek at Yakov’s expression, “are you okay about it?”

“No, I am not ‘okay’ about anything you’ve told me today,” Yakov grumbles. “But when has my disapproval ever stopped you? You were willing to break bones just to unveil your quad flip at the most surprising moment possible; I should have guessed you’d be just as dramatic now that you’ve found your soulmate. You’ve only been pining for the past twelve years about it. Do what you want – you’ll charge ahead regardless of what I say, anyway.”

“Yakov, you’re the best!”

Enthused, Victor leaps to his feet, not quite able to contain himself – he might be aiming for a hug, or maybe to dash right out the door to send that email to the RSU, except Yakov roars, “Sit back down, Vitya!”

Pouting, Victor slides back onto his chair, which really is very uncomfortable, now that Victor has time to consider it. “What?”

“There will be consequences,” Yakov threatens, “no matter whatever flights of fancy you are indulging in your head. So you will sit there, and you will listen to me as we go through your entire plan with a fine tooth comb so we can mitigate the effects of your leaving. It’s not an announcement of your retirement, but you will be leaving a void in the Russian ranks. You need to be smart about this so you can make the transition out without losing your Russian-based endorsements or falling from grace with the RSU.”

“Okay,” Victor says.

Yakov shoots him a gimlet stare, full of suspicion. “‘Okay?’ Just like that? No moaning, no dramatic complaints on why you have to listen to me?”

Victor smiles. “No moaning, and no complaints. I'm all ears.”

Because Victor is self-aware enough that to know that his leverage over the RSU and the Russian Ministry of Sport is due to the medals and prestige he brings back under the Russian flag, but if he’s not competing then Victor is opening himself up to plenty of criticism and backlash. And here Yakov is, offering to help; Victor’s not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

And besides, Victor may have readied himself for the yelling of a lifetime from Yakov, but he was never actually afraid to break the news to his coach. Because Yakov may be gruff and angry and a difficult taskmaster with extremely high expectations, but he’s Yakov. Victor could probably murder someone, and as long as Victor had a good enough reason for it, Yakov would scream at him and yet end up helping him cover it up.

Right now, Yakov is eyeing him like maybe Victor is indeed hiding a dead body somewhere, suspicious and a little wary of Victor’s uncharacteristic capitulation.

Cheekily, Victor blows Yakov a kiss. “You’re the only coach for me, Yakov.”

Yakov shoots him a look of pure distaste. “You really are the worst possible student a coach can have.”

Victor laughs, and settles himself as comfortably as he can on the worst chair in the entirety of the stadium. Yakov isn’t going to let him out of this office for a long while yet, and he wonders if he can wheedle a shot of whisky out of his coach if he asks nicely enough.

After all, Victor feels like he has achieved many wins today.

Chapter Text

Yuuri blinks awake and spends long moments just lying there.

It’s warm here. It’s an important observation, because St. Petersburg is so much colder than Hasetsu is at this time of the year. It’s nothing compared to how cold Russia likely gets in the heart of winter, but Yuuri remembers stepping out of Victor’s apartment the first time after his arrival and squawking in dismay at the way the wind gusted at him, sneaking its chilly touch under each and every one of his layers.

Victor had laughed at him, cutting it off into a cough a moment later, like he hadn’t intended to let it out. Yuuri glared at him and went back into the apartment to steal Victor’s scarves and gloves, settling for a beanie out of his own suitcase because, of course, Victor only wore misshaped, handmade woollen hats when he needs to go incognito.

Yuuri smiles at the memory and rolls over to obscure the grin that’s spreading over his face. The lump next to him snuffles at the movement; Makkachin sits up, lifting the covers momentarily, and promptly drops her head and her entire upper body over Yuuri’s chest like she’s made it her life mission to smother him to death. Yuuri can’t quite catch enough breath to laugh – Makkachin is so much larger than Vicchan had been – but he hugs her close, breathing in the animal musk of her.

The other reason why Victor’s apartment feels so warm and welcoming is undoubtedly due to its residents. 

The past five days should feel dreamlike, completely different from Yuuri’s mundane everyday life, but instead he feels oddly grounded. Yuuri knows how to handle himself in foreign cities; he’s lived abroad for years, and while St. Petersburg is as different from Detroit as night and day, he’s used to figuring things out as he goes. But just because he appears confident doesn’t necessarily mean he likes having to deal with change. St. Petersburg, with all its differences – the chill in the air, the mostly incomprehensible familiarity of its language, the unaccustomed flavours of its local food – should scrape against all of Yuuri’s anxieties.

Except this time, Yuuri has Victor.

St. Petersburg is so much bigger than Hasetsu, and here, Victor doesn’t draw attention the way he would in Yuuri’s hometown. They slip almost unnoticed amongst all the other anonymous faces of the city, and Yuuri gets a taste of what life is like here.

They visited a few famous sights, tried lots of delicious food, and spent quite a bit of time just lounging around the apartment with Makkachin. Victor kept eyeing Yuuri like he’s thinking ways of spending unimaginable amounts of money on Yuuri; he’s proud of his home city and his heritage and wants Yuuri to experience it all, but Yuuri’s conscience can only accept so much before the guilt gets to him. He placed his foot down and continued putting it down, until Victor finally managed to find Yuuri’s weak spot.

“We’re doing this for Minako,” Victor said seriously, although the sparkle in his eyes told Yuuri that that’s not the whole truth. The pair of tickets lay nestled within a creamy envelope: the Mariinsky Ballet’s Giselle, performed in two acts. “Come on, Yuuri. You told me that Giselle was Minako’s first role as a principal dancer, and she performed it with the Mariinsky Ballet. The stars are aligned! We are fated to watch this performance!”

Victor stopped short of tucking one of the tickets into Yuuri’s hand, but Yuuri couldn’t help feeling a sense of déjà vu anyway. He gave in when Victor sprung the bullet train tickets on him back in Tokyo, and Yuuri already knew he’ll give in this time too. He tried not to look at the tickets too closely, but Yuuri is very familiar with the Mariinsky Theatre – there was a time when Minako had seriously considered sponsoring Yuuri’s name to the Vaganova Ballet Academy, the Mariinsky Ballet’s associated school, except Yuuri’s love of figure skating ended up taking precedence – and those seats are very good, and hence, very expensive indeed.

“I don’t suppose you’d allow me to pay for my ticket,” Yuuri said, narrowing his eyes.

Victor pressed one hand dramatically to his chest. “A gentleman never reveals the price of a gift. And it’s a gift, Yuuri.”

“A gentleman would respect another’s request instead of finding sneaky ways of getting around the agreed-upon rules,” Yuuri retorted mercilessly, but Victor gave him a beseeching look that looked remarkably like Makkachin’s woeful puppy dog eyes. “Okay, all right. Just this once, then. I’ll join you for a night of tragic romance.”

“What happens to Giselle is tragic,” Victor said, sounding far too gleeful for the content of his words, “but her love for Albrecht is what saves him from the Wilis’ vengeful magic.”

“Love wins,” Yuuri agreed, and found that statement resonating in his heart somehow.

The performance of Giselle was utterly magical. It wasn’t just the incredible emotion that the ballerinas and danseurs evoked through their dancing, but the many layers of significance attached to the night and to that particular ballet. Minako was dancing a section from Giselle the first time Yuuri followed Mari into Minako’s ballet studio, and even in a plain leotard and skirt, she had thoroughly captivated Yuuri. And that night, Yuuri was seated next to Victor, the person who lit the fire for competitive figure skating in Yuuri’s heart.

It should feel like a dream. But when he and Victor returned to the apartment where Yuuri made them a midnight snack of poached eggs in a spicy tomato sauce, since they’re both too keyed up to sleep, and as Yuuri set the saucepan between him and Victor, Makkachin pressing against his legs in hopes of a treat of her own, watching as Victor dipped his toast right into the eggy gooey mix, utterly carefree and without a hint of self-consciousness – Yuuri knew.

It should feel like a dream, a beautiful, fantastical dream, but it’s not.

It’s real.


---


Eventually, Yuuri drags himself out of his drowsy reminiscing and nudges Makkachin until she clambers off him. It’s mid-morning now; not terribly late by Yuuri’s night owl standards, but later than Yuuri is used to during his training days, and he stretches, feeling a coiled restlessness in his muscles. He hasn’t gotten a proper workout since he arrived in St. Petersburg; the long walks with Victor and Makkachin are wonderful, but they’re hardly challenging.

Since Victor is at the Yubileyny Sports Palace today, perhaps it’s time for Yuuri to get some skating of his own in.

The hardwood floors in the hallway are definitely chillier than those inside Yuuri’s designated room, and Yuuri knows even without Makkachin’s quiet whine that Victor must have already left the apartment. The curtains in the living room are pulled open, and Yuuri leaves Makkachin to investigate the warm patches of light as he heads to the kitchen to fix the both of them some brunch.

He spots the note from Victor almost immediately – it’s the only thing stuck to the gleaming refrigerator door, after all. Yuuri moves the little dog-shaped magnet and pulls the note down. On closer inspection, Victor has written his message on the back of a used envelope; it makes Yuuri shake his head, smiling in amusement, because it would just like be Victor to forgo technology to write a note, and then not have any proper note or writing paper in his apartment to do so.

The note says:

Yuuri, good morning!

I’m off to Yubileyny today. I hate to leave without greeting you, but I think you and Makkachin both appreciate getting to sleep in more. I’m not sure how long I’ll be out – I have a number of affairs to settle after almost a month away – so I guess you have a free day all to yourself today. My spare keys (and my scarf, and my gloves) are hanging behind the front door if you can bring yourself to brave the cold outside.

Please give Makka an extra kiss from me and take care of each other! I will see you tonight (hopefully – I will find a way to escape Yakov if he lectures me past midnight).

It’s signed with Victor’s actual signature as though he’d scribbled it automatically, and then marked with his initials as a sheepish afterthought. His penmanship is beautiful, different from the legible but hurried dedications he writes when he’s signing autographs, and Yuuri wonders if it makes him an absolute Victor Nikiforov fanboy if he preserves this envelope note in the plastic folder he uses to safeguard photocopies of his passport and travel insurance documents in.

Who is Yuuri kidding. He is a Victor Nikiforov fan, even if he’s also Victor’s friend. He’s going to do it.

Note carefully squirreled away and breakfast eaten, Yuuri takes Makkachin out for a walk before heading back to the apartment and changing into sportswear. His skating boots travel with him wherever he goes, and Yuuri looks up indoor skating rinks in the vicinity on his phone; chilly though early May may be in Russia, it’s unfortunately too warm for the winter outdoor rinks to still be in operation.

“Makka, I’ll see you later, okay?” Yuuri murmurs to her, pressing his forehead against the side of Makkachin’s head. She whines mournfully at him, but she is also comfortably sprawled out on top of a bright patch of sunlight spilling through the windows, tail happily wagging, so Yuuri knows she’ll be all right for a couple of hours.

He hadn’t allowed Makkachin to go above a slow jog on their walk earlier – a running athlete and a racing standard poodle is likely to knock everyone else off the sidewalk, and Yuuri isn’t sure he can rein Makkachin in if she gets too enthusiastic, leashed though she is. On his own now, Yuuri pushes himself into the run, the cold wind reminding him of all the hours he spends on the ice.

Just a little bit more, now.

He smiles sheepishly at the employee behind the counter at his chosen rink, and manages to pay his entrance fee with minimal gesturing and the handful of Russian words he knows – fortunately, pretty much all of it is related to figure skating, thanks to how often he watched Victor’s interviews. When he steps onto the rink, the ice beneath Yuuri’s feet is smooth, and the first sprinted lap Yuuri takes around the rink feels like shaking out cramped wings and spreading them out into the wind, unencumbered.

At this time, smack in the middle of the school and work day, Yuuri has to share the ice with just a few people. One is clearly an employee of the rink, checking the quality of the ice every so often. The couple skating slowly hand in hand, murmuring softly to each other, are likely on vacation – they have that unhurried, relaxed look of people who momentarily have not a care in the world but the partner beside them. There’s a cluster of five around Yuuri’s age who are chatting more than skating, and Yuuri pays them no mind – if they’re standing around it simply means more space for Yuuri to manoeuvre.

The rink is near empty, but it’s still a public one, and Yuuri decides not to call more undue attention to himself by going through his usual training plan – he’s getting curious stares simply for being the odd Asian visitor out. He mentally stakes out a corner of the rink furthest away from everyone else, and begins skating his usual compulsory figures, carving clean, precise figure eights, feeling his concentration narrowing down to just himself – tracing the same lines perfectly on top of each other, breathing steadily, keeping his edges deep and edge switches as smooth as possible.

It’s soothing, to let himself sink into the motions of skating like this. Yuuri loves skating with Victor – how can he not, when Victor has been his inspiration and impetus and goal all at once, for so much and for so long? But Yuuri has been with Victor practically every day for the past month, and whenever they skate together, a part of Yuuri is always aware of Victor’s presence, even if they’re skating on opposite sides of the rink. Now, with Victor at Yubileyny, Yuuri can concentrate wholly on himself, and the change is like stepping out into the open space of the outdoors after a day curled up cosily by the fireplace – not better, not worse, just different.

Yuuri hadn’t realized how much he craved the peace and solitude until he’s on the ice on his—

—well, perhaps not quite on his own.

It’s the flick of a ponytail that catches his attention, and Yuuri’s head snaps up and turns to follow that hint of silver.

The little girl’s hair is not platinum blonde, however, but a shade more golden; still, her hair is long and glossy enough that Yuuri is reminded of Victor’s hair during his junior years. She’s tiny, almost elfin-like, and Yuuri is not an expert on judging children’s ages, but he guesses that she’s about Axel, Lutz and Loop’s age, maybe a little older. She’s skating determinedly around the rink, confident and steady, and when she reaches the curve and turns, she flashes a smile at a woman standing rinkside, watching over the boards – her mother, if the pale blonde hair and delicacy of her features is any indication.

Now that his focus has been broken, Yuuri finds himself keeping an eye on the little girl. It’s not just because of the resemblance to what Yuuri imagines a tiny Victor to have been like; she’s good, a natural on the ice, and she goes systematically through what must be her practice plan, which her mother tracks with a little hand-sized notebook. She probably takes figure skating lessons and is here at the public rink for additional practice, and Yuuri wonders if she’s aiming for the competitive track – she certainly has the aptitude for it.

She works her way up from the basics, and then spirals, and then jumps, all the singles and a double toeloop. Then, she moves on to spins, and that’s when the first hint of frustration breaks through.

She goes through the upright spins, and although her speed is decent for her current level, she keeps glaring down at her feet when she finishes, where the blade marks clearly show how she’s moved across the ice as she spins instead of staying neatly centered in almost the same spot. She tries, again and again and again, and perhaps it’s the fatigue of a long practice session, but even across the rink Yuuri can feel her discontentment getting the better of herself, causing her to make more mistakes.

Her mother senses it too, and calls out, “Masha!” before her temper can snap. The girl – Masha – comes to a halt. She simply breathes for a few moments, and then skates to her mother, back straight and chin up, grabbing her ponytail and biting at the very end of it in a fit of pique.

Yuuri’s heart thumps in sympathy, because he knows all too well what it’s like to try and try and yet continue failing– how hard it is, for one’s skills to fall short of what you know in your heart you should be able to do correctly. Little Masha steps off the ice and drinks the bottle of juice her mother hands her, nodding distractedly as her mother murmurs comfortingly; she’s too busy glaring at the ice, and Yuuri can’t clearly tell without his glasses, but the corners of her eyes are glimmering like she’s holding back frustrated tears.

If Victor were here, he’d know exactly what to do. Yuuri has seen him with the triplets, language barrier notwithstanding; with Yuuri, Victor only ever offers advice when Yuuri brings up his skating himself, but he’s good with the triplets. He guides them through new elements, making it a game and correcting their mistakes without letting them feel self-conscious, and he changes things, to suit each girl – Axel is trying to master jumps ahead of her sisters, Lutz is fast but her edges tend to be flat, and Loop has the same problem as Masha, her spins go all over the place.

Yuuri won’t ever dream of gently correcting Masha’s posture and her spin entry the way Victor did with Loop, and he wouldn’t be able to analyse and calculate until he figures it out on his own, the way Victor probably did when he was learning his spins. Yuuri’s way of overcoming his shortcomings is to practice and practice and practice until he gets it right, testing by trial and error what works best for him.

And he often does it by watching videos of Victor performing those same elements as a reference – many of the skaters at the Detroit skating club do.

Yuuri takes a lap around the rink to give himself time to think about it, but he has already made up his mind. The couple have left the rink now and the group of five are still chatting, mostly skating close to the boards; Yuuri moves to the middle of the rink, takes a deep breath, and goes into a scratch spin.

He has to remind himself to keep his movements slow, to not speed up until the entire world blurs into a kaleidoscope of colours. Yuuri loves spins, and according to Minako, his spins and footwork are some of his very best elements, and when he comes out of the spin, gliding languidly on one foot, the scratch marks his blade leaves behind is perfectly centered in one spot. 

He does it again with a camel spin, just for variety, and then goes back to the scratch spin. When he comes out of that one, Masha is standing straight up, her eyes fixed on Yuuri, her juice bottle nearly forgotten in her hands.

Yuuri pretends not to notice, and the next time he steals a look in her direction, Masha is back on the ice, murmuring to herself, glancing back and forth between Yuuri and her mother and the rink beneath her feet.

Now that he has her attention, Yuuri repeats his spins, varying his speed as he goes, although he makes sure that his entries are always measured and done in clear view from Masha’s corner of the rink. She’s going back to her spin practices with renewed determination now, and Yuuri gets the sudden urge to practice his jumps, particularly the dreaded quad salchow; looking at Masha’s resolute face makes Yuuri feel like leaping feet first at his obstacles as well.

He’s not sure how much time has gone by when he hears a sudden cry of excitement. When Yuuri whirls around, Masha is gesturing at the ice, chattering at her mother. There are still multiple circlets marking the surface, but they’re clustered closer together now instead of wandering across the ice; Masha skates further away and tries the spin again, and when she gets the same results, she bounces on her skates.

Yuuri’s heart leaps, and he feels a smile stealing across his mouth at her success.

Masha whips around then, staring right at Yuuri. She points at him and lets out a burst of Russian, quick enough that Yuuri is left completely lost. What little Russian he’s picked up is no match for a gradeschooler speaking a hundred miles an hour, and Yuuri glances helplessly at Masha’s mother.

She smiles and mimes a spin, twirling her finger in a circle and then speeding up, before gesturing in Yuuri’s direction, much more politely than her daughter. Yuuri glances back at Masha; she’s tipped her chin up, staring at Yuuri imperiously, and Yuuri has to stifle a self-conscious laugh.

Well, he’s a competitive figure skater, right? He should be used to skating in front of an audience, and evidently, Masha wants to see what he can truly do.  

Yuuri thinks for a minute, and then skates away. He doesn’t go into the spin straight away; instead, he performs the final segment of Ballade No. 1, the complicated step sequence that flows right into the final combination spin. This time, he takes it at his usual whirling speed, and when he comes out of the spin and halts in the ending pose of the program, Masha bursts immediately into applause as if Yuuri had just performed at a competition. 

Her eyes are sparkling. The other people on the rink are staring at them, perplexed and possibly annoyed by the commotion, but Masha’s delight is palpable, and Yuuri knows he’ll likely see her in competitions in the future. There’s a fervent love and passion for the ice in Masha’s eyes and her grin is bright and glorious, so very like Victor’s joyful exuberance the first time Yuuri saw him skating, all of sixteen and beautiful on the ice.

Normally, Yuuri isn’t great with attention, not outside of competitions. But now, in face of Masha’s delight and her mother’s quiet smiles, he can’t help it; he grins right back.

---


This time, when Yuuri opens the door, he’s ready to catch Makkachin before she can bowl him over in her enthusiasm.

It’s yet another wonderful moment in what is shaping up to be a perfect day, and Yuuri laughs, hugging her. When he finally disentangles himself from her, Makkachin trails after him like a faithful shadow, going as far as to sit patiently outside the bathroom as Yuuri showers off the exertion of the day. Her tail thumps happily against the hardwood floor as he fixes himself a light meal, and she doesn’t even have to beg; Yuuri pulls out the bag of frozen blueberries from the freezer, dessert for him and a snack for Makkachin.

Yuuri ends up on the couch because it reminds him of all the late night conversations he has with Victor there, and Makkachin drapes herself over his feet, paws and head propped on Yuuri’s thigh. She’s wonderfully warm, and Yuuri ends up giving her her allocated handful of blueberries one by one.

“It’s a good day, Makka,” Yuuri says as the last berry disappears, Makkachin licking at his hands and then settling her head back down on his thigh with a soft sigh. He rubs her ears and relaxes back into the cushions.

It’s been a fruitful day. It’s not as rigorous as the training plan Yuuri should be following, but it feels right – spending time with Makkachin, skating at the rink, returning here afterwards. Yuuri doesn’t mind too much that Victor isn’t around; here, in Victor’s private space, Yuuri feels utterly at home, and although he had enjoyed the opportunity to sort through his own head, the moment of solitude and space to himself, Yuuri knows he enjoys it all the more knowing that he can come back here and be with Victor soon enough.

“Is it silly to say I miss him, even though it hasn’t even been a day?” Yuuri asks Makkachin. She just whines contently at him, appearing prepared to fall asleep right in Yuuri’s lap, and Yuuri cards his fingers through her fur, scratching lightly. Victor has started draping a fuzzy blanket over the back of the couch for Yuuri to curl up in; the thought of a nap sounds terribly appealing, and Yuuri glances up to look for the blanket—

—except suddenly, Yuuri is staring right at Yakov Feltsman.

Yuuri startles, trying to skid backwards, but—it doesn’t work. The room around him feels blurry and dreamlike, but a few things stand out in clear detail; there’s a desk with a computer setup between him and Feltsman, papers strewn across it in a controlled sort of chaos, and Feltsman himself is distinct, concern poorly concealed behind his gruff expression.

Feltsman doesn’t say a word, and it’s clear the ball – whatever that ball is supposed to be – is in Yuuri’s court. Yuuri finds himself straightening his shoulders, staring right back, because if he’s stuck in some kind of weird dream that involves Victor’s coach, he’s not going to back down.

And then Yuuri hears himself speaking – except it only seems to come from him. The voice in his ears isn’t his own; it sounds familiar, and it’s speaking in Russian, and Yuuri concentrates, trying to figure it out, because—

Victor? Yuuri blurts out, but no audible sound accompanies it.

It startles him, and then a moment later Yuuri startles even more, because Feltsman begins shouting at him.

If Yuuri thought Masha’s excited chattering is incomprehensible, then it’s nothing compared to Feltman’s enraged bellowing. There is no way Yuuri’s fledgling knowledge of Russian can keep up, and it’s overwhelming; Yuuri can’t make heads or tails of this situation, confusion and anxiety pooling in his chest, and then, Yuuri distinctly hears it.

Vitya.

Feltsman is glaring right at Yuuri, and he called Yuuri Vitya.

Yuuri has heard about this kind of phenomenon, of course. In the days of old, they called this kind of thing a hallucination, a self-delusional flight of fancy. Of course, now everyone knows that a vision like this commonly takes place as a soulmate sign, except maybe Yuuri is delusional after all because Yuuri doesn’t get soulmate signs.

And even if he did, his soulmate surely wouldn’t be—

“Yakov,” Yuuri hears Victor’s voice again, although it sounds subtly different in – their ears? Victor’s ears that Yuuri is somehow listening through like he’s some kind of creepy ghost quietly possessing Victor’s body? Yuuri doesn’t even know how to deal with this, and then Victor says, clearly and in English—

“I am not competing next season. I’m sitting out the Grand Prix series. It’s happening, no matter how much you yell at me.”

—and it doesn’t matter, nothing else matters.

Yuuri just stays there, his head utterly blank.

Yakov looks just like Yuuri feels. The man visibly gathers himself, and then reaches under the table to produce a bottle whose contents he pours right into a cup. Yuuri watches on, passively absorbing the following conversation between Victor and his coach – it’s all in Russian once more, and there’s a frantic kind of panic beating at the edge of the numbness surrounding Yuuri’s heart.

Is Victor hurt? Is there something wrong with his health that Yuuri missed, an injury that would take him out of competitions?

No, Yuuri decides a moment later. No, he’s been skating and going on runs and eating and basically living hand in pocket with Victor, and Victor is happy, healthy and whole. In fact, Victor is arguably in the best shape Yuuri has ever seen him in, although perhaps that’s because of the way he keeps smiling – his own genuine smile, not the affected public one.

Then—

Victor, deliberately sitting out competitions when he’s hale and hearty? The idea alone feels blasphemous, because everyone knows: Victor belongs to the ice. He thrives on it.

The sound of his own name cuts through Yuuri’s spiralling thoughts, and he mentally jerks up, focusing back on the conversation. He hears “Yuuri” first, and wonders if they might be talking about Yuri Plitsesky, but then Yakov starts saying “Katsuki,” his accent making it nearly unrecognizable, and finally, Victor puts all Yuuri’s doubts to rest.

“Katsuki Yuuri,” Victor says clearly, followed by a short sentence in Russian, followed by, in English, “He’s my soulmate.”

Yuuri’s heart spikes up into his throat.

“Now that I found my soulmate, I want to make more time for him,” Victor continues, his voice low, half murmured to himself. “I want that chance to be with him.”

Yuuri freezes, and his no, the utterly denial of it, is automatic—

—and abruptly, Yuuri is back in Victor’s apartment, curled up on the couch, safe and warm, except his entire body is trembling like he’s been plunged straight into cold water, and Makkachin has clamped her teeth around his arm.

She isn’t biting down hard enough to hurt or to puncture through Yuuri’s sweater, but her hold is tenacious. She shakes his arm again, growling lowly, and it finally jostles Yuuri all the way out of his stunned shock.

“Makkachin,” he chokes out, and Makkachin drops his arm. She’s fully on top of the couch now, her weight heavy on Yuuri’s legs, and she pushes her head insistently under Yuuri’s chin until he lifts his hands, locking his arms automatically around her neck, hugging her close.

He’s hyperventilating, just a little bit; Yuuri can hear his own gasping breaths in his ears. Yuuri’s not sure if his disorientation is due to the lack of air or from what he’s just heard, what he’s just witnessed; he doesn’t want to think about it, but the thought keeps intruding, relentless—

Victor won’t be competing next season. The sheer power and passion and dominance that is Victor in competitive mode, accompanied by that elegant grace and innovativeness that makes him so beloved around the world – they won’t get to see it. Victor, held up so long as the standard for men’s singles figure skating, has chosen to leave the ice.

And he’s doing it because of Yuuri.

The sandwich and the blueberries he ate earlier sits like a stone in his stomach, and Yuuri feels a hint of bile burning in his throat.

“Why would he do that, Makka,” Yuuri rasps. “It’s not worth it, I’m not—”

His throat closes up too much to go on; Makkachin whines and presses closer.

The facts seem undeniable, but Yuuri doesn’t understand. The realization that he and Victor might actually be soulmates is secondary, because soulmates are supposed to complement and understand each other. They’re destined pairs, and although Yuuri knows real life is very different from fairy tales or storise, surely soulmates are soulmates for a reason.

If not, what’s the point?

Yuuri sits there, grounded by Makkachin’s weight, and tries to make sense of a world where he, as Victor’s soulmate, ends up being the reason for tearing the greatest figure skater the world has ever seen from his rightful world.

---


When Victor walks through the front door, the first thing Yuuri notices is how much freer he looks.

He was given a rare and privileged glimpse of the true Victor behind the media perfect personas in Hasetsu, and Yuuri doesn’t doubt that Victor was genuinely happy then. But even on vacation, Victor always knew there were responsibilities he had to return to – the future to plan for, an adoring fanbase to please, and dues to pay back to his skating union.

But now—now the difference is mostly in the way Victor holds himself, loosed from the trappings of his chosen career and with a bright spark of life in his eyes. There’s a lightness to the way he moves, and when he spots Yuuri, the smile that spreads across his face is small but radiant.

This is a Victor, Yuuri realizes with a jolt, that is utterly at peace with the decisions he’s made.

Yuuri wants so badly to return that smile, to share in Victor’s joy, but he can’t. He can’t, not when he knows what Victor is sacrificing, just what Victor will be giving up when he says he chooses his soulmate over the ice.

No. He’s choosing Yuuri over the ice, and Yuuri can’t bear the thought that he will be the one responsible for killing Victor as a competitive skater.

Yuuri has no idea what his own expression is like, but it’s severe enough to wipe the happiness from Victor’s face. Instead, his mouth tightens in a worried frown, and Yuuri hates it, he hates that he keeps doing this to Victor.

“Yuuri, what’s wrong?” Victor doesn’t even bother removing his jacket; he hurries right up to the couch, and Yuuri tries, he really, really tries, but—

“I don’t understand,” Yuuri says, trying not to sound as miserable as he feels. “I don’t understand why you would stop competing. God, Victor, you don’t have to stop skating to—to be with—.”  

The words stick in Yuuri’s throat, but the implications are there. Victor goes still, and they pause there like that, Yuuri still seated on the couch, his fingers digging into the cushions, and Victor barely three paces away, backlit by the light of the setting sun spilling through the wide windows. Makkachin hasn’t left Yuuri’s side since the vision, but she stays on the other side of the couch now, head down on her paws but alert, a silent sentinel watching over them both.

“You didn’t hear that from the news or through the rumour mill,” Victor says very calmly, and he knows. He knows that Yuuri now knows, and Yuuri still has to close his eyes and center himself before he can force himself to say it out loud.

“No. I—heard it. Your conversation with your coach. I saw part of it—through your eyes.”

Victor’s eyes flare with triumph, and that’s an expression that Yuuri has seen before. It’s a look Victor always wears when he’s challenged himself to do something impossible on the ice and he came up on top despite the odds – he had it the first time he landed the quadruple flip in competition, the first time he won the Olympic gold. He looks like Yuuri’s admittance that Yuuri receives soulmate signs, that he gets visions from Victor, is the equivalent of some world-shattering record, and Yuuri—

Yuuri doesn’t get it.

His head reels with all the confusing, conflicting emotions in his heart, and apparently it must show, because Victor’s face softens. He kneels in front of Yuuri, holding out his hands, and Yuuri doesn’t have to think about it – he latches on, like a drowning figure clinging to a lifeline.

Victor carefully laces their fingers together, and then he looks up at Yuuri, catching his gaze.

“I’ve informed the RSU, and there is no way they’ll let this particular piece of news break so quickly. So far, only two other people know about my decision to sit out the Grand Prix series, and neither of them reacted well to the news, initially. I know it’s shocking, Yuuri.”

Oh, apparently they’re going to gloss right over the whole soulmates thing. That’s fine with Yuuri – he can barely deal with the idea of Victor giving up his career as it is.

He tries for a smile and manages a wobbly one. “The reporters always ask you what your plans for the next year are. And logically, we know that you’ll have to retire at some point. But I don’t think anyone truly believes that you are ever going to leave.”

Victor gives Yuuri’s hands a little shake. “I’m not announcing my retirement, I promise. I just want to try something different, for a change.” He hesitates, and then his voice comes out low when he continues, “I can’t say that I haven’t thought about retiring, however. I’ve even considered it, for next year.”

It takes a moment for Yuuri to realize how tightly he’s squeezing Victor’s hands, because Victor doesn’t complain about it, doesn’t make a sound, even though his knuckles are almost white with how hard Yuuri is grasping at him. Yuuri attempts to pull his hands back, but Victor doesn’t let him, and finally, Yuuri just stares down at their tangled fingers.

“I’ve spent half my life looking up to you,” Yuuri admits, and Victor’s breath audibly catches. “I know it’s impossible, but I want to stay in competitive skating with you forever. Even in my darkest moments after Vicchan passed away, when I could barely perform properly, I still had that one dream – I wanted to skate on the same ice as you.”

Now Victor is clutching back at Yuuri just as tightly as Yuuri is clutching at him, and Yuuri lifts his head, looks into eyes that are as variable as the ocean, with depths just as vast.

“This is your life, Victor. It’s your decision. But—I want to understand. Because skating is intrinsic to you, I know it absolutely is. It’s your life. And I know you told Yakov you wanted to make more time for your soulmate, that you wanted a chance to be with—with—” 

Victor is looking at him calmly, utterly accepting, and Yuuri finally gives in.

“—with me,” Yuuri whispers, his voice hoarse as if he’s been shouting. “You want to be with me, and Victor, you can. You don’t have to stop competing to do that.”

“Do you actually want me to?” Victor says. “I told Yakov I wanted to stay in Hasetsu, but I’ll go only if you are comfortable with it.” He gives Yuuri a small smile, but behind it is a vulnerability that Yuuri has never seen before. “I don’t know how the Japanese regard soulmates, but being soulmates is not a binding contract. I don’t care what other people think – I only care how you feel.”

This is the most gratifyingly frustrating conversation Yuuri has ever had – he feels dizzy with the extremes of his emotions, the guilt and misery mixed with hope and joy and everything in between. It’s worse than finally telling his family that he plans to move abroad after high school to further his skating career, or that meeting with Celestino, when Yuuri ended their coaching arrangement. It is even harder than the silent apology he’d spoken only in his heart, kneeling in front of Vicchan’s altar his first day back in Yu-topia.

“Do you know what I thought to myself, the day after I told you about Vicchan? You were sleeping next to me, just slumped on the floor, and I thought – you fit so strangely well into all the uncertain spaces of my life, and I wanted so badly to keep you there. You didn’t belong to me – but maybe, maybe I could borrow you, for a little while.” Yuuri draws in a deep breath. “But not at the expense of your skating. I always knew I had to return you to Russia at some point, that even if you belonged to no one else you still belonged to the ice.”

Victor’s eyes are sharpening, not in anger but in determination. Yuuri leans forward, because he’s not done yet.

“I know it’s true,” he says firmly. “I know, because it’s similar for me. The ice is where I go when I need to escape from the world, when I need to calm down, a place where I can be completely and utterly myself. And for you – the ice, skating competitively; it’s intrinsic to you. It’s one thing, to retire at the end of your career, when your body can no longer keep up with the rigors of the sport, but you’re in your prime right now. I don’t know how you will cope without the one thing that’s sustained you for so long.”

The fight has left Victor’s stance halfway through Yuuri’s speech, and he stares at Yuuri silently, the tension in the room thickening. It must be the quality of light shifting in the room – Victor’s eyes are dark now, a deep azure like the sea just before a storm.

“You’re right,” Victor says at last. “Skating is like breathing for me.” He’s speaking slowly, testing each word before he utters them. “I can’t recall a single memory that doesn’t involve the ice in some way – my earliest memory is of my mother holding my hands, so I could balance properly on my skates. I took to skating faster than everyone expected, I think – I was skating on my own a few months later. I’ve never needed anyone to hold my hand on the ice since.”

He smiles fleetingly, but there’s something fragile behind the curve of his mouth; lost.

“Although breathing is natural and utterly necessary for the living – you don’t really think about it, do you? You just do it automatically. It’s intrinsic, but no one is passionate about breathing. It’s just a part of you, nothing more, nothing less.”

It’s ironic, but Yuuri is suddenly very aware of his own breathing – it’s coming faster than usual from how hard his heart is beating. He’s starting to put the pieces together, and the conclusion that emerges makes his heart ache, badly.

The ice had once been Victor’s greatest love, but as the years go by, his relationship with skating has changed. He’s lost the lustre of it, and like Yuuri soon after the GPF and his disastrous Japanese Nationals, Victor knows he has to change something, lest that lost feeling turns into ambivalence – or worse, resentment.

That, Yuuri realizes with a fearful thump of his heart, would kill Victor’s career and love for the ice faster and more decisively than retiring prematurely would.

Victor is looking up at him, quiet, and Yuuri starts panicking a little bit, because he has no idea what to say. Victor has opened up his heart, has confessed his fears to Yuuri – and here Yuuri is, sitting like a useless lump on Victor’s own couch.

Some kind of soulmate he is. Yuuri is terrible at expressing his feelings; they only ever come out fully and genuinely on the ice, through his skating—

—his skating. Yuuri is always most confident on the ice. 

“Let’s go,” Yuuri says, giving their clasped hands a warning squeeze before he stands up and pulls Victor up to his feet.

“Yuuri, what—”

“We’re going to skate.”

Now that he has a plan of action, no matter how impulsive and unplanned it is, Yuuri feels himself back in firm ground. He lets go of Victor’s hands to grab his backpack, his skating boots still packed neatly within from earlier that day, and leans over to press a kiss to Makkachin’s head. She leans into his touch and licks at his cheek, and then she jumps off the couch to rub her head against Victor, who is still standing in front of the couch, his eyes wide.

“Victor,” Yuuri says. He’s suddenly very calm – it’s as though only one of them can be panicky and anxious at a time, and since Victor now looks very lost and uncertain, it’s Yuuri’s turn to take the reins. “Trust me.”

Victor’s eyes flicker, and then he’s finally moving – he hugs Makkachin to his thigh, his fingers running through her fur in a gentle caress, before grabbing at his own bag.

Then, he’s standing in front of Yuuri. “I do,” he murmurs. “You know I do, Yuuri.”

Yuuri smiles – it’s strange, but he does know. “Let’s go.”

---

The sun sets in St. Petersburg much later than it does in Hasetsu, but it’s late enough now that it’s dark out, the street lamps and the building lights burning against the darkness. Undoubtedly, the Yubileyny Sports Palace is opened twenty-four seven to its brightest and most famous figure skater, but there’s no way they’re going there. Victor has too much history, too many memories associated with Yubileyny’s rinks, so Yuuri just drags them both to the indoor skating rink he was at earlier that day; some of St. Petersburg’s rinks have public night skating sessions, from sunset to sunrise, and fortunately this rink is one of them.

Yuuri had garnered a few odd stares earlier, but it’s nothing compared to the wide-eyed look the employee at the counter now gives them. Sure, it’s uncommon for an Asian skater to appear at a public rink in St. Petersburg, especially one who speaks only a handful of Russian words; to see their national hero, especially one who has his home rink in the city—

Yuuri calmly pays their entrance fees, sends up silent thanks that he and Victor have their own boots and don’t have to deal with skate rentals, and hopes to hell that the late hour keeps the persistent gawkers away if the employee decides to post about them on social media.

The rink itself is blessedly empty. Although it is not the familiar sight at the Detroit skating club or Ice Castle Hasetsu or how Yuuri imagines Yubileyny to be, the ice is pristine underneath Yuuri’s feet, and he feels himself relaxing. He probably should warm up properly, but for all the emotional upheaval of the day Yuuri’s muscles still feel limber; now that he doesn’t have to worry about disturbing other amateur skaters, Yuuri whirls impulsively across the ice – you and your twizzles, Minako teased him once, you would make a good ice dancer if you could find yourself a decent partner – and then skates to pick up speed, trying for a triple axel, his favourite jump.

Landing it feels like he’s jarring all the awkward and misplaced pieces of his life back into place; Yuuri’s confidence soars, and he glances instinctively around for Victor.

Victor is standing by the rink entrance, skate guards off, but not yet on the ice. His eyes don’t waver from Yuuri but he also doesn’t come closer, and Yuuri feels his resolve crystallize, harden into something unshakable.

Yuuri has danced to this routine in the shadows of a hotel gym room, and he has skated it in full to Yuuko. Now, he’s going to skate it for the person who choreographed it; someone who is rapidly becoming the single most important person in Yuuri’s life.

Yuuri might not know what to say, but he knows how he feels. And through his skating, he knows he’ll be able to express it all.

He holds Victor’s gaze as he skates backwards to the center of the rink; holds it until he takes the familiar opening pose.

Victor’s eyes go wide, and he takes an involuntary step onto the ice. Yuuri closes his eyes and lets the music play in his head: he lifts his face, throws his head back in a slow but graceful spin, his hands following the arch of his body.

Stammi Vicino is Victor’s free skate, a competitive routine, and so the program is absolutely gorgeous but also incredibly difficult. But even though Yuuri performs triples in place of the quad lutz and the quad flip, he otherwise stays true to Victor’s choreography, sticks as close to it as possible.

Still, Yuuri knows that his rendition of Stammi Vicino comes out quite differently from Victor’s. Victor is regal and graceful and utterly untouchable on the ice; he is the stars high up in the sky, while Yuuri is far more mundane, much more down to earth. But there is still beauty in earthly creatures, and so Yuuri pours his heart into the spins and the footwork and dances through the difficult transitions.

Yuuri isn’t sure he can ever express out loud just how much this program means to him. It’s Victor’s routine, one he personally choreographed and commission the music for – that’s part of it. But after four months of constant practice Stammi Vicino is as familiar to Yuuri as one of his own programs; when Yuuri’s own routines no longer called to him he had set himself this challenge instead: to try to recapture his love of the ice through Victor’s skating, through his choreography, because if that didn’t work – if Victor, who was the first to light the competitive fire in Yuuri’s heart, could not rekindle a spark in the ashes that had so smothered Yuuri’s spirit – then Yuuri knows no other power on earth could never move him to return to the ice competitively.

It hadn’t been easy, because it’s hard, it is so, so hard to hold onto hope, to keep trying and yearning and reaching out. But all those hardships, the painful falls, the heartaches – it is worth it. Yuuri leaps on a quad salchow and fights to hold the landing, refuses to let himself fall, and when he lifts his head he catches a glimpse of Victor: one hand covering his mouth, the other clenched to his chest, his eyes huge, gaze fixed unwaveringly on Yuuri.

Yuuri goes into the triple axel-single loop-triple salchow jump with a vengeance, and when he transitions out of it, he whirls towards the rink entrance, where Victor is still standing. He doesn’t have the breath for it, so Yuuri mouths along to the lyrics instead, echoing the resonant tenor voice in his head—

“Stammi vicino, non te andere,” Yuuri silently sings, and he’s stepping out of Victor’s choreography, he’s changing it, but this is more important: he keeps looping back, and when he passes Victor again he holds his hand out, palm up and fingers curled, an invitation, an entreaty—

Take my hand, and dance with me; meet me halfway, and let me stay close to you

—and then Victor is skating towards him in a flash of golden blades, the rink lights lighting up his hair like a halo; he speeds up and Yuuri slows down, and then their hands catch each other, hold on tight, and Yuuri pulls Victor in, joyous laughter bubbling up his throat.

There’s no sticking to Victor’s choreography now that the two of them are tangled together, but Victor is utterly graceful and Yuuri is quite good at improvising. They whirl and dance across the ice instead, and Yuuri keeps one hand constantly on Victor – a caress across his cheek, fingers sliding across Victor’s waist or shoulder as they glide past each other. Each time they slide apart their hands constantly reach out towards the other, never moving far enough apart to break out of mutual orbit.

This version of Stammi Vicino is no longer a program full of Victor’s soaring jumps or the impossibly fast spins that Yuuri loves so much, but something entirely new, theirs: not a solo performance but a duet, a pas de deux on ice.

And because Yuuri’s gaze is locked on Victor, it doesn’t take him long to realize it – Victor is mouthing Stammi Vicino’s lyrics back at Yuuri.

Yuuri wishes they could continue doing this forever, but songs are finite for a reason, and all performances must eventually come to an end. But it doesn’t mean they can’t dance anew. Yuuri gathers that hope close and pulls Victor into a ballroom hold at the crescendo of the silent music; they’re spinning almost in place now, and Yuuri can finally hear it, over the rasp of their blades: Victor singing the last part of Stammi Vicino, the Italian rolling smoothly off his tongue, his eyes never breaking away from Yuuri’s gaze.

They finally come to a halt, their hands clasped together, Yuuri’s free hand on Victor’s hip, and there’s a long moment of silence before Victor crushes Yuuri in a hug, pressing his head into the curve of Yuuri’s neck.

Yuuri hugs him back immediately; they’re both panting hard, Victor’s breaths puffing against Yuuri’s skin, his fingers digging deep into Yuuri’s jacket. Yuuri lifts one hand and brushes it through Victor’s hair, near the nape of his neck where the silver locks are short and fluttery. The ice is where Yuuri can be most honest, where he allows the world a glimpse of his heart, raw and emotional. But there are times when words are necessary, and so Yuuri takes a few moments to catch his breath – he knows what he wants to say, now.

“Breathing is natural and automatic,” he says. “But sometimes, it can be miraculous.”

Victor’s arms tighten around Yuuri.

“There’s that preparatory breath you take right before a competitive performance, or the air you gasp in after you’ve successfully completed the program. You can feel it, how hard your body has worked.” Yuuri worms a hand between them, presses his palm against Victor’s chest, where it’s still rapidly rising and falling from Victor’s breathing. “You learn a lot of things by breathing in the air – I’d been away from Hasetsu for years, but all it takes is breathing in the ocean and the sakura blossoms and the mineral-rich scent of the hot springs, and it all slots back into place, familiar and comforting.’

“There’s the ozone-tinged air after a storm, or the scent of warm laundry baking in the sun. I used a dryer in Detroit, but in Hasetsu my mom always hangs the sheets out to dry when the weather is good. And with Vicchan, and Makkachin now,” Yuuri shifts his hand so it’s pressed over Victor’s heart, “it’s always reassuring to hear their breathing at night, especially when I can’t sleep, knowing that I’m not alone. And then there’s that first clear breath after an anxiety attack – just pulling oxygen into your lungs and feeling yourself breathe calmly, no longer choking on it, and knowing that you’re still alive, that you can still keep going—”

Yuuri’s voice is starting to crack now, and Victor pulls back, but only so he can cradle Yuuri’s head with both hands, fingers curling along Yuuri’s jaw, thumbs brushing over his cheeks, trying to soothe.  Yuuri smiles up at him, because even though his heart feels overfull, brimming over with the enormity of his emotions, he also feels remarkably okay. He raises his own arms and slides his hands over Victor’s shoulders, holding him close.

“I understand now,” Yuuri whispers into the scant space between them. “And I’m sorry I never noticed how troubled you were, how much you were struggling over this. You present such a perfect, flawless image to the world; I need to learn to see you behind all those masks.”

“You already do,” Victor whispers back.

“Then I have to do better. I want to take care with you too, you know.” Victor makes a soft sound at the back of his throat, but he’s still tense; Yuuri rubs the tips of his fingers against Victor’s neck, where a sliver of skin shows above the line of his jacket collar. “Breathing is miraculous, and so is skating, for us. I want to help you rediscover that spark again, and if you think you can find it in Hasetsu, then of course I want you there.”

“Not just Hasetsu,” Victor murmurs. “With you. You’ve already shown me so much. And you want to stay in Hasetsu, so that’s where I’ll be, if you’ll have me.”

“I do,” Yuuri reassures him. “I do, I always will.”

And Victor finally relaxes all the way, bending to press his forehead against Yuuri’s. It should feel unbearably intimate – skin-to-skin contact, their eyes just a scant inch apart, breath shared between them – but Yuuri feels—

Settled. At home, like two halves finally coming to roost together, whole.

Yuuri has never felt like this before. He and Victor have only known each other for a few weeks – but that’s not true, is it? They’ve known each other for years, through peeks and glimpses, through small moments of shared experience. Yuuri just never realized.

“How long have you known?”

Victor makes a quiet noise of enquiry.

“That we are soulmates,” Yuuri clarifies, and this time, the words are sweet in his mouth. He savours them for a moment, and then considers his own question. “I think I’ve been getting the signs for a while, I just never realized that they were, you know. Soulmate signs, specifically. I, um. I’m a pretty big fan of yours. So. I thought it was normal? To keep daydreaming about you? Or about being you? I mean, you pretty much set the bar, for men’s singles figure skating.”

His voice is going higher pitched with embarrassment; Yuuri can feel himself blushing. But Victor is smiling, a slight curve to his lips that seems so much more tender and real than his bright, brash smiles, so that’s okay.

“What happened this afternoon, however – I’ve never had a vision as real as that. I recognized your coach, and I couldn’t understand why he was yelling at me in Russian. I was so confused. It wasn’t until he called me ‘Vitya’ that it clicked. And then I heard you. You were speaking in English, and you said – well, you know what you said – and then all the soulmate signs in the world didn’t matter.”

Victor’s eyelashes sweep low over his eyes. “I didn’t realize that my decision not to compete next year would affect you so much.”

“I’m a really big fan of yours. I was always worried when you couldn’t compete, because you only ever sat out of competitions when you were badly injured.” Yuuri rubs one hand protectively against the arch of Victor’s shoulder. “But now, you have to what’s best for you. Just… promise me something?”

“Anything,” Victor murmurs, and Yuuri pinches him lightly, because what did he just say about Victor doing what’s best for himself? But Victor merely laughs, waiting patiently for Yuuri to continue.

Yuuri lets his gaze flick away, studying the scratch marks on the ice, before he looks back up at Victor. “When you find the right inspiration or rekindled the fire in your heart – when you’re ready to make a comeback on the competitive circuit… promise me that you won’t let me hold you back.”

Victor actually pulls back, his eyes widening. “Yuuri, what—”

“If Yakov is the right coach for you, if you need to come back here to St. Petersburg, then come back. I told you – I want you to be you, and do the things you want to do, not what you think I need.”

A streak of stubbornness flashes through Victor’s eyes. “And I told you that I want to be there for you, to take care with you.”

“Well, you still can, I’m not asking you to stop.”

“But I’ll be in Russia and you’ll be in Japan and we’ll be so far away from each other.”

“I know,” Yuuri says, because now that he has Victor in his arms the thought of being apart is almost physically painful, his heart is rebelling against the thought so much. “But it won’t be forever. We’ve found each other, and I’m staying with you.”

“Then why are we arguing about this?”

“I don’t know!” Yuuri exclaims. “You’re supposed to come to Hasetsu with me, we’re going to be together, I just—”

He cuts himself off with a huff, because it seems silly to argue about something that hasn’t even happened yet, but that’s what Yuuri does. A vivid imagination is good and all, but it also means Yuuri overthinks a lot of things, and he can’t ignore it, the future that will rush upon them some day.

He peeks back at Victor, and Victor’s cheeks are a little puffed out in frustration. It’s a sight that shouldn’t look so endearing as it does – Yuuri can’t help it, he lifts one hand from Victor’s shoulder and pokes at Victor’s cheek.

Victor blinks. “Yuuri, what are you doing?”

“Um, I’m not sure.”

Victor lets out a stuttery laugh, like it’s startled out of him. The laughter seems to loosen something in him; his eyes soften, and after a moment, Yuuri finds himself smiling in response. Victor’s expression softens even further. He’s still holding Yuuri close, his thumb rubbing rhythmically along the line of Yuuri’s jaw, as if he can’t quite bring himself to stop touching Yuuri now that he has permission to do so.

“How about this,” Victor says slowly, consideringly. “After the Grand Prix series, or if something comes up sooner, we’ll talk things through. I will make my own decisions, but I want to hear your thoughts and your concerns too. I will let you know if I get the urge to compete again, or if you decide to train abroad one day, or if anything else comes up that will affect circumstances for one of us. We’ll figure things out together. Okay?”

It’s a compromise, a meeting in the middle. Yuuri pokes at the idea of it, because it seems too simple to be true – but maybe some decisions really are just that simple. “Okay. That works.” 

“Good!” Victor says, sounding relieved.

Yuuri feels his heart lighten with that same heady sense of relief, like swallowing a mouthful of bubbly champagne. Thinking of champagne makes him think about the GPF banquet, the feverish, half-remembered recollection of it, and Yuuri bites down on his lower lip, trying not to grin in embarrassment, because he really does have a habit getting into impromptu dances with Victor, doesn’t he?

He glances back at Victor to distract himself. “You never did answer my question. How long have you known that we were soulmates?”  

“How long,” Victor says contemplatively, and Yuuri has the feeling that the entire story is a fairly complicated one, that Victor is trying to condense down into a succinct answer. Sure enough, Victor strokes Yuuri’s cheek one last time before reaching for Yuuri’s hand and beginning to skate again. It seems Yuuri is not the only one who finds his thoughts come better when moving, and so he just holds on and skates at Victor’s side, the two of them gliding slow and languidly across the ice.

They loop the rink twice before Victor finally says, “I got my first soulmate sign when I was sixteen,” and Yuuri bites back a surprised gasp, because that was so long ago.

“I knew that I had a soulmate and I learned a lot of things about you,” Victor continues. “I knew my soulmate skated, that they loved ballet, that they moved abroad at some point, but I couldn’t figure out your identity from just the signs. Then, I met you at the Grand Prix Final, and I—recognized you. The look you gave me, after I made that commemorative photo comment; I recognized that determination, that pride.”

Yuuri remembers that moment, the sharp sting of that comment, the way it had pierced through the numbness around his heart. He hadn’t bothered gracing Victor with a response; all he had left were the tattered pieces of his pride, and Yuuri had walked away to preserve at least that much.

It’d hurt, in a way that Yuri Plisetsky’s intimidation tactics and yelling hadn’t. But Yuuri also vaguely remembers contrite eyes, beautiful under the banquet lights, and a sincere apology. He hadn’t trusted his memories of that night, dismissing the dancing and hugging as a drunken fantasy – but the apology stayed with him. Yuuri didn’t dwell on the commemorative photograph comment after the banquet, and so he doesn’t comment on it now, letting it go.

Victor squeezes Yuuri’s hand lightly. “You walked away, and I was just standing there frozen, thinking, could it be? But I’d said something quite tactless and I felt terrible. I wanted to apologize to you, and that had nothing to do with soulmates or signs or anything. Then I danced with you at the banquet, and—I didn’t think about my soulmate at all, that entire night. I was too focused on you.’

“Months went by. You weren’t in competitions at all. I couldn’t sleep well, in the days after the World Championships. I didn’t know what I was doing or even what I should pursue next; I won the gold, and I felt nothing. Then I walked into the gym, and I saw you. Dancing the routine I choreographed, with all the emotions and depth and passion I’ve been missing. There was no music, only light and shadows, but I could hear it. You made music with your body, and you were beautiful. I haven’t been able to look away since.”

Victor puts in a burst of speed to pull slightly ahead, and then turns to face Yuuri, skating backwards. They’re still going slow, but Yuuri grasps his hand tighter, ready to steer him clear if he skates too close to the walls. Victor doesn’t even twitch, however; he keeps direct eye contact with Yuuri, and Yuuri swallows, because the trust Victor has in him—

“I knew I wanted to know you then, that I couldn’t lose sight of you again. After Hasetsu, I knew I wanted to stay with you. I knew for certain that you were my soulmate the day you met Makkachin in my apartment. But my heart had already decided, long before that moment.”

“Victor,” Yuuri whispers, because his heart is in his throat again.

“You said you always wanted to skate on the same ice as me. I never realized how much I wanted to skate on the ice with someone – how different it feels, to stand on a rink with someone who loves the ice as much as you do.”

How is it possible to feel this much? Maybe that’s why soulmates exist – to share feelings and dreams that are too large to bear alone. Yuuri is back to being speechless, so he settles for a sharp nod of acknowledgment. A slight tug at their joined hands makes Victor spin, falling back to Yuuri’s side, and Yuuri tucks closer, until he’s practically hugging Victor’s arm.

A life together on the ice. Yuuri wants it with sudden fervency, but with Victor choosing to forgo competitions, is that possible? Yuuri’s situation is a huge question mark, and although he is sure Victor will follow him to whichever Japanese city Yuuri ends up in, they won’t have the freedom and privacy that Ice Castle Hasetsu offers.

And as for Victor, there are ways to stay involved with the ice without competing; Yuuri wonders if they’ll be enough to satisfy him. Victor could likely make quite a career as a choreographer or even by producing his own shows. He’s also a good mentor – one who is very knowledgeable, if unconventional and at times quite frustrating, because Victor never takes the easy route; he rarely gives straight answers, preferring to poke and prod and push until Yuuri figures things out himself.

Yuuri can’t conclusively say that he’s a better skater for skating with Victor, absorbing his advice and watching him demonstrate those technically perfect jumps, not after just a few short weeks. But Yuuri does feel more confidence, surer of himself with Victor at his side. In fact, combine all of Victor’s strengths upon the ice, and he would probably make a very well-rounded coach—

Yuuri’s thoughts screech to a halt, even as his body continues automatically moving. Victor flicks him a look but doesn’t ask – he just takes the lead, his turn to steer Yuuri carefully around the rink, letting Yuuri furiously figure things out in his head.

It seems too perfect. Yuuri needs a coach, and Victor needs something to occupy his time, something that keeps him firmly tied to the ice. This way, they can stay in Hasetsu, train at the Ice Castle – Yuuri already knows Yuuko and Nishigori will insist – and more importantly, they would be together.

It will also be difficult. Victor may be a good mentor, but coaching takes things to a whole new level and places a heavy responsibility on Victor. And adding a coach-and-student element to their relationship when Yuuri and Victor have barely established themselves as soulmates and together will make things that much more complicated.

But Yuuri has fought and worked and persevered for every single accomplishment in his life, and he’s hardly going to give up simply because things are difficult. Victor is worth it. And it is no longer just Yuuri’s decision alone, now.

Yuuri sets his blade flat against the ice, bringing the both of them to a gentle stop. He doesn’t let go of Victor’s hand.

“I thought of something, and I want to hear your feelings about it.” Yuuri says. He and Victor are soulmates, but more than that, Victor wants him, and Yuuri wants him back in turn, and now that that’s all out in the open Yuuri never wants to let him go.

For once, Yuuri dares to be selfish.

“Victor, will you be my coach?”

Victor is just as quick off the ice as he is upon it; he stares down at Yuuri for a second before the question – the proposal – really hits him. A myriad emotions flit across his face as he works out the logistics of it, considers the pros and cons, weighing and evaluating their options, and then—a small but beatific smile, as he makes his decision.

Carefully, gracefully, Victor raises Yuuri’s hand and kisses at his fourth finger, right below the knuckle where a ring would sit.

Yuuri’s heart leaps

—but it’s his right hand, he realizes a moment later, and wills his heart to calm down; this is not the time to jump to conclusions. It’s far too soon anyway, Yuuri thinks with a nervous giggle, but well.

Maybe one day.

“Is that a yes?” he asks breathlessly.

Victor brushes his lips against Yuuri’s finger again. “Yes,” he says, voice low and solemn, a vow in his voice. And then, again, joyous, “Yes, Yuuri, I would be honoured. We’re going to win everything together!”

“I don’t know about everyth—” Yuuri begins, but then Victor tackles him in an all engulfing hug, his laughter bright and exuberant. Yuuri hugs him back automatically, his own laughter spilling from his mouth, unchecked, because Victor has a point.

They’ve already found each other; all they have to do now is keep going – for a long time to come, if Yuuri has any say about it.  

But first, they’re going to have an amazing season together.

Chapter Text

 

Double Olympic champion Victor Nikiforov announces break from competitive figure skating

Victor Nikiforov, two-time Olympic men's singles figure skating champion and five-time world champion, will not be competing in the 2015-16 season. The announcement was made early Friday morning by the Russian Skating Union, just weeks ahead of when the ISU is expected to publish assignments for the upcoming Grand Prix series.

Details are sparse, but Nikiforov will not be competing either domestically or internationally for at least the Grand Prix season. The RSU stressed that the figure skater, beloved in his home country and hailed as a national hero, is in good health, and made the decision based on personal reasons. Previously, the athlete has only ever skipped a competitive season due to serious injury – Nikiforov sat out the Grand Prix series of the 2008-09 season because of a back stress fracture, and missed most of the season after his historic gold at the Vancouver Olympics due to a persistent ankle and thigh injury.

Nikiforov, renowned for his social media presence and openness with fans, had been quiet of late, leading some fans to speculate of an imminent retirement announcement even after Nikiforov decisively clinched the crown at the World Championships in Tokyo this past March. At 27, Nikiforov is one of the oldest athletes still competing in men’s singles, and the RSU statement has left his fervent fanbase in an uproar.

Two hours after the RSU's announcement, Nikiforov broadcasted a live video on his Instagram, in which he thanked his coaching team, his fellow competitors and all his fans. Nikiforov did not give details on his future plans, but reiterated that he is not retiring, and that his break was due to something he had been dreaming about for a long time. He appeared happy with his decision – Nikiforov was all smiles during the livestream, with his poodle Makkachin putting in an appearance in the last seconds of the broadcast.

No press conference has been scheduled at this time, but Nikiforov's coach, Yakov Feltsman, also confirmed the news. Speaking from their home base at the Yubileyny Sports Palace, Feltsman appeared to be exasperated but ultimately supportive of his star skater’s decision. He refused to answer most questions on Nikiforov’s future, but added that a season without their strongest athlete might spur the Russian national figure skating team to greater heights, citing current junior world champion Yuri Plisetsky as one of the driving forces of this wave. Plisetsky trained with Nikiforov under Feltsman and will be entering the senior circuit for the 2015-2016 season.

Requests for comments from Nikiforov’s rinkmates yielded no additional information, with most of them expressing just as much surprise as the rest of the figure skating world. Only Plisetsky seemed blasé at the news, appearing mostly irritated at not being able to go head-to-head with Nikiforov in competitions. “He’s going to crack at some point,” the teen added, presumably referring to the secret reason why Nikiforov is on break. “The old man loves attention too much. It isn’t the last you’re going to hear of him.”

The entire figure skating community certainly hopes the same.

---


To everyone’s surprise, it’s Yuuri’s phone that blows up in the hours after Victor’s announcement breaks.

In hindsight, it makes perfect sense. Victor has been popular for a very, very long time, and he learned to safeguard his privacy years ago. Only a trusted few are given the privilege of his direct number, especially after he switched to a local Japanese telco, and those people already know of Victor’s decision. Victor wisely turned off notifications on all his social media the night before, so his phone mostly stays peaceably quiet.

Only a few people have Yuuri’s number and his private social media accounts too, but all of them know about Yuuri’s obsession with Victor, and each and every single one of them sends Yuuri a message or text to ask if he’s heard the news.

He even gets an email from Morooka-san, asking him for an official comment. Yuuri’s almost tempted to answer that one, but Morooka-san, tenacious as always, had tacked on a few questions probing about Yuuri’s future, and Yuuri’s not quite ready to make an official statement on that yet.

(Anyway, these few weeks are all about carefully managing Victor’s transition from an actively competing figure skater to – well, something else).

But then Yuuri’s phone chimes about twenty times in rapid succession from incoming texts – “did you change your ring tone?” Mari asks, fascinated – and then rings with the main theme from The Skater and the King, and Yuuri realizes that maybe he should have taken a leaf from Victor’s page and told a few more people about Victor, and the soulmate thing, and the coaching thing, and also Victor, specifically in how he relates to Yuuri now.

(In Yuuri’s defense, his family and Minako-sensei and the Nishigoris know. That’s plenty of people, right?)

Yuuri squeezes Victor’s knee as a warning that he’s moving, grabs his phone from the table, and ducks out into the corridor to pick up the call.

“Yuuri!” Phichit exclaims the moment the line connects, and he’s so loud that both Mari and Victor turn to stare through the open door, startled.

Yuuri just sort of shrugs at them helplessly – this is why he has to go out to the corridor – and waves their attention away before replying, “Hi, Phichit.”

“Yuuri, are you all right?”

Yuuri makes a noncommittal noise in his throat; Phichit, well-used to Yuuri’s ways, just barrels on.

“You heard about Victor, right? You definitely saw the news.”

Yuuri stares at Victor’s profile, studies the way he sits so comfortably at the low dining table, back in conversation with Mari once more. “Mmhm.”

“Silly question, of course you did. Did you catch his live video on Instagram?”

“I… did…” Yuuri says slowly, because he’s absolutely useless at lying to Phichit. Does it count if he was listening to Victor from the next room? He’d debated with himself on whether he wanted to watch the broadcast on his phone when the notification went up, but then Makkachin jumped on his bed and stared at him mournfully until he started petting her, so that was that.

“I can’t believe Victor is taking a break! This is going to be the first time we’re going into a Grand Prix season without him!” And then, because Phichit is Phichit, his next sentence comes out completely different, calm and serious and completely focused on Yuuri. “Seriously, are you all right?”

“I’m okay,” Yuuri says quite honestly, because he is. Of course, Phichit doesn’t know the full picture, so he doesn’t buy it.

“Really?” There’s a note of concern in Phichit’s voice. “I know we haven’t spoken much after you left, but… changes like these always threw you off. You lose a bit of your motivation whenever Victor’s not on the ice, when he’s injured; even Ciao Ciao could tell.”

Okay, now Yuuri actually feels guilty. He knows Phichit would never begrudge Yuuri his silences, the way he keeps his deepest feelings to himself, but the younger skater is one of his closest friends in the world. Phichit may post far too many photos and news about Yuuri on his social media platforms, but he’s also the only one Yuuri told about his entire Grand Prix Final experience – from Mari’s urgent phone call right after the short program, to the sting of Victor’s comment after the free skate, to the drunken haziness of the banquet. Those details, Yuuri knows, Phichit will keep safe and completely off his social media, and if Yuuri trusts Phichit with that secret, then he can trust Phichit with this one.

The line is quiet, because while Phichit is very, very good at filling up dead silence, chattering to keep the attention off Yuuri, he’s also intuitive and knows when Yuuri needs just a little space to gather his thoughts. Now, Yuuri takes a deep breath, and makes his decision.

“Thanks for checking up on me.”

“… you’re welcome. You know I always will, and you know you don’t have to thank me for it, so that actually worries me even more.”

That bit of Phichit logic makes Yuuri laugh. “Look, I’m going to get off the line to send you something. You can’t tell anyone, okay?”

Yuuri hangs up on that note, because theirs is a friendship where Yuuri can get away with doing that, and also because Phichit is like a hound when there’s a mystery abound; he’ll keep asking questions instead of letting Yuuri get off the phone.

He fiddles with his phone for a few moments, and then turns towards the dining room door, hovering on the threshold to study the scene within.

Victor had spent quite a lot of time in Yu-topia during the two and a half weeks that was his first stay in Hasetsu, but now, he truly seems at home. He and Mari are watching something on Victor’s phone, which they’ve propped up against the teapot, and Makkachin has taken over Yuuri’s empty cushion, her head flopped on Victor’s lap.

Yuuri loves how contented they all appear; he loves it even more, knowing that he can walk right into the room and be folded into that comfortable embrace, both metaphorically and literally – Victor is very much a tactile person, and so is Makkachin.

He pulls up the camera app on his phone and raises it to capture the moment. Then, Yuuri pauses.

“Victor,” he calls, and Victor turns immediately, eyes flicking unerringly in Yuuri’s direction, as if he can always tell where Yuuri is.

Victor’s smile is already slipping halfway towards that private, tender one he reserves only for Yuuri, and Yuuri snaps the picture before it can quite get there – he shares a lot of things with Phichit, but some things are special.

And well, Yuuri’s a little possessive. Who can blame him?

Victor’s smile widens at the click of the camera.

“Need anything else?” he asks teasingly, and tilts his head back in invitation, revealing the long line of his throat, a move that makes his bangs fall artfully over his eyes.

“No, the earlier one will do,” Yuuri says coolly, and if there’s also a blush rising on his cheeks, well—

—Victor looks really good.

“Okay,” Victor chirps, and turns back to Mari, unconcerned. They’ve talked about this before; Yuuri might crave his privacy, but if given a half a chance, Victor would gladly crow about Yuuri and their soulmate bond and their coaching arrangement to the world. The only reason Victor hasn’t, Yuuri knows, is because they both want this time to themselves, a honeymoon period away from the very zealous and intrusive public, and also because Yakov pretty much demanded that Victor stagger out his announcements over several weeks, instead of shocking the world with his absence and the existence of his soulmate in one go.

In fact, Yuuri has a feeling that Victor hasn’t told Yakov the coaching thing, since it hadn’t come up at all, but that’s between Yakov and Victor – Yuuri is staying out of that argument for as long as he can.

The minute chime of an incoming message interrupts Yuuri’s thoughts, and he looks down at his phone. Phichit’s sent him a snarky text that says, If you told me you were sending me something just as an excuse to hang up and avoid talking to me, you and I are going to have Words. I will find a way, you know I will.

Two seconds later, he adds, And yes, I promise I won’t tell anyone.

Yuuri grins and sends him the photo of Victor.

There’s a long, long pause, and then the telltale ellipses appear in the chatbox. They stay there for an even longer interval – Phichit is normally lightning quick with his responses, but evidently he has plenty to say this time, and Yuuri feels laughter bubbling up in his throat.

Finally, the ellipses disappear, but no new message comes in. Then—

I’m calling you. You better pick up.

This time, the laughter escapes into open air, and Yuuri answers his phone midway through its first ring.  

“You have something to tell me, right, Yuuri?” Phichit says immediately. “Something that would explain why Victor Nikiforov is currently sitting in what looks like your family’s hot springs inn with your sister and his dog, smiling at you while you take his photo, when the entire figure skating world is freaking out because he’s supposed to be taking a freaking break from competing. You’re going to give me the answer to this mysterious mystery, right?”

“Well,” Yuuri says, because he so rarely manages to surprise Phichit like this. “Where should I begin? From the beginning?”

“With the most important facts, Yuuri!” Phichit nearly shrieks, and Yuuri hopes that he’s calling from – well, Phichit’s back in Bangkok now, isn’t he? So hopefully from the privacy of his own home, and not standing on the ice at his new home rink.

“Okay, okay!” Yuuri says, before Phichit can work himself up into a proper frenzy. “Remember all those odd daydreams and fantasies I used to have about Victor?”

“Yeah.”

“And remember how I said I didn’t get soulmate signs?” Yuuri says, and Phichit gasps, because his best friend has always been a romantic and he’s really good at reading between the lines. “Turns out, that wasn’t exactly true.” 

This time, Phichit really, truly does shriek at him, a high-pitched squeal of utter delight. Yuuri can’t stop laughing even as he holds the phone a distance away to preserve his eardrums.

He lets Phichit babble on excitedly for another few minutes, until Phichit finally calms enough to say, “but that doesn’t explain why Victor’s on break, or how you actually met him, or, or—”

“Want me to start from the beginning this time?”

“Yes, tell me everything!”

Yuuri laughs once more, and proceeds to do just that.

--- 

Top five reasons why Victor Nikiforov is on a break from competitive figure skating

You’ve all seen the news, and you’ve all heard the cries of anguish from figure skating fans when it was announced that Victor will be sitting out the next competitive season. But now, one week on from the announcement, the shock and worry has worn off, and the main question on everyone’s mind is – why?

Victor, his coach and even the RSU have been very secretive about it, but with a fanbase that spans the globe, there is no shortage of speculations. Here are the top five theories we’ve come across.

 

5. Victor is hiding a medical condition of some kind, contrary to all the reports

There’s a track record for this – Victor is stubborn and fiercely competitive, and it takes a serious injury or illness for him to miss a competition, much less an entire season. But both the RSU and Yakov Feltsman, Victor’s coach, have taken great pains to confirm that Victor is physically well, so we propose a related theory: Victor is taking time off for mental health reasons.

A few things support this theory. Although Victor performed well this season, it can be noted that his reactions to his wins were often lackluster, and he has appeared at times distracted or troubled in public when not directly engaged by the media or his fans. He also disappeared from the public immediately after his Worlds win in Tokyo, with unconfirmed fan reports ID-ing him in parts of Japan miles away from Tokyo and his rinkmates stating that he is back in Russia but busy with personal business. Victor himself, famously active on social media, went quiet on his accounts, save for a few odd selfies here and there.

And although there is now a greater acceptance and understanding of mental health, the topic is still somewhat taboo in competitive circles, where athletes with acknowledged mental health conditions are sometimes accused of being weak, or of “cheating” when taking approved medication for their conditions. That might be one of the major reasons for the secrecy, as well as Victor’s right to medical privacy.

Nah, you’re totally off the mark – Slumps are normal in any athlete’s career, and having an off year (arguable, with Victor’s accomplishments this year) is hardly an indication of a possible condition. And so far, Victor has had no public history of mental health issues.

 

 

4. Makkachin  is ill, and Victor wants to spend more time with her

Possibly the most famous poodle in the world thanks to her owner’s superstar power and social media presence, Makkachin is beloved by Victor’s fans and certainly by Victor himself. Makka, as he fondly calls her, appears in many of Victor’s Instagram posts and videos, and she accompanies him at competitions in the form of a cuddly tissue box holder. Makkachin and Victor met when Victor was sixteen, when the city of St. Petersburg gifted Makkachin to him for his accomplishments at the 2004 Junior World Championships. Eleven years on, Makkachin is at a venerable age in dog years, and illness at this stage of life becomes increasingly common. We all know how much Victor loves Makkachin – she would certainly be one of the major reasons why Victor would ever leave the ice.

Nah, you’re totally off the mark – From the constant glimpses we see of Makkachin in Victor’s posts, she looks in tremendously good health – happy, active, and very content around her owner. Although the average life expectancy for standard poodles is around 13 years, it is not uncommon for well cared-for poodles to live well into their twenties. And well, Makkachin is certainly very, very well cared for.

 

 

3, The “break” is a precursor to a formal retirement announcement.

Having clinched the much-coveted gold time and time again at the Grand Prix Final, European Championships, World Championships and the Olympics, some might argue that Victor has seen it all and done it all. Still ranked number one in the world as of March 2015, Victor seems nigh untouchable, and some might say it’s only wise to retire while he’s on top of the world, without needing to risk future injury. After all, let’s face it – Victor is turning 28 soon, and even he has to retire at some point. So, announce a break to ease his super fanbase into the idea of it, and then announce his retirement properly some time later down the road.

Nah, you’re totally off the mark – Victor has never been one to beat around the bushes; when he decides something, he goes for it wholeheartedly. Suffice to say, if Victor does plan to retire this season, he’ll announce that directly, and he’ll make sure his final competition is a spectacle to behold. He respects his fanbase and fellow competitors too much not to be outright with the truth.

 

 

2. Victor is planning some kind of super project or has been tapped for a position that takes precedence over competitive skating.

It’s no secret that Victor loves to skate – most people don’t have an illustrious 14-year competitive career if they didn’t have the passion for it – but competitive skating is not the only thing you can do on the ice. Since the RSU and coach Yakov Feltsman is in on the secret, is it that impossible for Victor to be chosen for another role instead?

Perhaps Victor is planning a series of shows or activities that take him out of competitive eligibility (the ISU governs what productions eligible skaters are allowed to participate in) to promote tourism and goodwill for the Russian government – Victor famously choreographs many of his competitive programs. And although Victor has had clashes with the RSU in the past, with his incredible competitive track record and worldwide renown no one can argue that he wouldn’t make a very good sports ambassador or spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Sport.

More Victor in business wear and formal suits? Yes, please.

Nah, you’re totally off the mark – well, we can’t imagine any organization or production getting their hands on Victor Nikiforov and not wanting to announce that right away, especially when interest in Victor is at an all time high. As time goes by, the lack of news from any formal organization or governmental body makes this theory more and more unlikely.

 

 

1. Victor is on sabbatical to search for his soulmate

At first glance this seems like the most out-there theory, but there is a trail of clues that makes this plausible. Tenacious and eagle-eyed fans have dug up old interviews with Georgi Popovich, Victor’s long-time training mate – they’ve both trained under Feltsman since their junior days. Georgi mentions his soulmate constantly during those early day interviews and has implied more than once that his rinkmate – unspecified, but widely believed to be Victor – also receives soulmate signs.

Other clues are more subtle. Victor has choreographed programs to music from the movie Starlight and the Russian series Unwritten, both of which centre around the soulmate phenomenon. And during his Sochi Olympic season, a few weeks before the Games itself, Victor posted a photo of a mirror, in which his reflection is blurry and indistinct, with a caption in Russian that translates roughly in English as “I must make sure that I do not lose you.” This baffled his fans, and Victor has never given an explanation for this post, but one fan suggested that Victor is quoting from a famous soulmate poem, whose last line ends with “I am to see to it that I do not lose you.”

And at nearly 28, after years of bringing home accolades for his country – Victor certainly deserves the chance to find happiness for himself. He arguably spent several weeks after this year’s Worlds traveling around Japan. And with rumours that Victor is currently back in Japan once more, a place he previously never had formal ties to, there’s a growing number of whispers that Victor is searching for his soulmate, who is Japanese and lives in Japan.

Which, if true – wow.
 

Nah, you’re totally off the mark – Victor has never once answered questions regarding soulmates, neither affirming or denying that he receives soulmate signs. When talking about his programs from Starlight and Unwritten (choreographed nearly three years apart), Victor only spoke about the universal sentiment around the idea of soulmates, something he hopes to capture the essence of in his skating. Nothing personal, nothing indicative. And although we’ve had more than a dozen superfans declare themselves Victor’s soulmate (in jest or otherwise), no one has ever dared step forward to formally make the claim.

 

 

+1. Victor has already found his soulmate, and is taking time away from competing for them

We know what you’re going to say – none of us can even prove that Victor has a soulmate, and you want to take this theory further? The answer is yes. Yes, we do.

The reason is Victor himself. In the live video he broadcasted shortly after the official RSU announcement, Victor said that he was taking the break due to “something I’ve been dreaming about for a very long time.” Which, yes, could possibly mean any number of things (including supporting theory #2!) but towards the end of the broadcast, Makkachin leaps into the frame, and Victor looks away from the camera to hug her, laughing. And then, his gaze goes higher – like he’s looking at someone who entered the room together with Makkachin – and his smile goes utterly radiant.

Watch the video again (Instagram live videos disappear once the broadcast ends, but fan archives don’t). His laugh is for Makkachin. His smile is for someone else. And we think that that someone else is his soulmate, or at the very least, someone he’s fallen in love with. And if you look closely, the room Victor streamed from looks nothing like his apartment (we’ve seen his living room plenty of times), but Victor and Makkachin look very at home there.

Nah, you’re totally off the mark – Yeah, we’re not even going to try. Everything in this section is pure speculation, anyway. 

 

 

So, which is your favourite theory? We won’t ever know for sure unless Victor confirms it himself, but let us know what you think in the comments!


---

 
The first time Minako sets a shot of Japanese whisky in front of Victor, telling him in Russian that he’s to drink it all because “you’re at my bar and you’re not competing, so your I’ll only drink when I bring back a gold medal rule doesn’t work anymore” – that’s when Victor realizes just why Yuuri respects her so much.

Minako was the one who initiated their friendship, days after Victor returned to Hasetsu – officially Yuuri’s soulmate, unofficially his coach, and absolutely here to stay. He has yet to find a situation where he would willingly want to be apart from Yuuri, but Minako had marched right into Yu-topia, and this time she doesn’t stop at just a conversation; she hauls Victor right off to her snack bar, because according to her, soulmate couples are famous for being inseparable, but a little bit of space some of the time would do both him and Yuuri a world of good.

Victor had enjoyed the hour at her bar, but he wasn’t particularly convinced that he needed space, of all things. In fact, he nursed his doubts until he found himself unconsciously walking into Minako’s bar two weeks later, a little confused and with a lingering restlessness under his skin. The whisky soothed some of that strange unease; the small talk in Russian – Minako is fluent, and only her Japanese accent marks her as a non-native speaker – was what finally settled Victor’s restless heart.

“It’s normal to be homesick, you know,” Minako eventually said, still in Russian, while switching out Victor’s drained tumbler for a tall glass of water, “even if you’re deliriously happy the rest of the time.”

Then she’d turned away to count her inventory, murmuring quietly to herself, giving Victor space and privacy to process that revelation. 

They’d talked more in the days afterwards, Minako sharing her own experiences of moving to St. Petersburg, how she’d be radiant on the stage, living her dream as a member of the Mariinsky Ballet, but still feel hollowed out when she returned to her room at night. It’s something, Minako pointed out, that Yuuri is also familiar with after his years abroad in America, but while Yuuri may understand and can help sooth that constant longing, he’s also dealing with a bevy of major changes himself. So in the meantime, Minako is happy to be a listening ear and Victor’s in-person connection back to Russia, if he needs it.

I can only find new strength on my own, Victor used to think – only then can he be worthy of his soulmate. Now, he knows better.

This evening, Yuuri is out with Mari and Makkachin (they’re on one of the walks Mari used to take Vicchan on, and Victor now understands giving people space enough that he’s content to wait for them at Minako’s), and Minako is chortling over her laptop, catching up on the latest gossip over Victor’s announcement. Victor doesn’t bother trying to keep up; between the Hasetsu figure skating enthusiasts (consisting of the triplets, Yuuko and Minako), Mila’s constant messages and Chris’s sly commentary from the European side of the figure skating world, Victor figures he gets a good enough picture.

“This article has managed to cover quite the breadth of reasons for your break,” Minako says, and slides her tablet on top of Victor’s notes, where he’s been scribbling down different technical component configurations for Yuuri’s free skate. Victor sighs and takes the tablet, because Minako has been feeding him plate after plate of snacks so he rather owes her some conversation, and also because he’s starting to get a headache.

Why is it so very easy to piece together his own programs, but when it comes to Yuuri’s it’s like his first time choreographing all over again, all uncertainty and second-guessing himself?

(It’s a silly question, and Victor knows the answer – it’s because it’s for Yuuri and this program is important, and Victor wants desperately to make it perfect).

“Do I have to read this?” Victor whines, because he’s been a darling of the figure skating world for a long time and he’s a popular subject matter, but some of the articles they’ve written about him are downright mind-boggling.

“Don’t worry, it’s not one of those air-headed sensational gossip rags,” Minako assures him, and pours herself a cup of black tea from the pot – it’s not whisky, and she’s speaking in English, so Victor supposes he must appear in good condition today. “They raised a few solid points, actually – and they’ve also theorized, quite accurately in my opinion, about the existence of your soulmate. Someone’s done their research.”

“What, really?” Victor says, and begins swiping through the article. “They didn’t guess about the coaching thing, I hope.”

“Arguably, theory number two in that article could cover that, but no. You still have one proper surprise up your sleeve.”

Victor grimaces through the first two theories – neither are things he wants to linger on – nods in appreciation to the rebuttal for theory three, laughs at theory two – because the RSU and the Ministry of Sport both were that close to having his head at the suddenness of his decision – and reads the final and the bonus theory twice over.

“Well, they’re not wrong,” Victor finally says.

Minako takes the tablet back from him and begins typing in a comment, no doubt to fan the fires. “Between such pinpoint speculation and the fact that it’s a near miracle that no one in Hasetsu has properly outed your presence here to the public yet, I give you about another week before things blow up on you and Yuuri.”

This time, Victor pinches the bridge of his nose, trying to ease some of the tension in his eyes. He actually doesn’t mind the public spectacle and the absolutely furor that’s going to happen once word gets out just where Victor is and what he’s doing – in fact, he’s looking forward to it, because Victor has plans about Hasetsu and what Victor can do with his star power – but right now he wants to concentrate on Yuuri’s training and choreographing that free skate program.

(Victor’s not worried about any amount of public outroar or media presence getting in the way of his and Yuuri’s relationship – they’re too close and too united for anything to really get between them. Sure, the lack of privacy when the media gets wind of their multiple levels of connection will be trying. But then again, Victor’s not exactly shy about exhibiting his affection, and as the days go by, it’s becoming clear that Yuuri is the same).  

“I just want to finish this free skate program,” Victor grouses. “Yuuri’s conservatory music friend is still working on the final version of the music, too – we need more time to pull things together.”

“You’ll have time,” Minako says airily, which makes Victor wonder what schemes she and the Nishigoris have cooked up to ensure that. “You know, I’m a little surprised to see you worrying about this. You and Yuuri look quite good on the ice, the few times I’ve come by the Ice Castle during your training sessions.”

Victor stares at his notebook, at the messy columns of scribbling and cross outs. “Coaching is harder than I expected,” he admits, “but it’s mainly a matter of experience. It’s a little hit and miss at the moment, but I know I have the knowledge and skills and aptitude to do it, so the more I work with Yuuri, the better I’ll get at it.” He glances up. “Coaching Yuuri, my soulmate, someone I adore – that’s much harder.”

“Ah,” Minako says, and for one moment, Victor thinks she’s going to bring out the whisky bottle again. But instead she just swipes up a rice cracker and eats it neatly in three bites, without leaving crumbs all over the place. “That, I agree, is a fine line to walk.”

Victor stares narrow-eyed at his notes, because it’s been a while since he’s struggled with a new skill or venture, and even if he savours the challenge it still grates that he isn’t perfect at it. 

Minako chuckles at him, which just makes Victor pout. Then, she wipes her hands on a napkin and meets Victor’s gaze. “Want some advice?”

Because of course Minako understands. She’s had the same dilemma herself, since she loves Yuuri like a son but also has to wrestle with his insecurities and his training and his growth as his ballet teacher. 

Victor’s pride wants him to refuse, because Victor has always done things on his own, grown stronger from solving his own problems. But he’s learnt better now, and this is for Yuuri’s sake; Victor could not find a better supporter for Yuuri than in Minako, his longest and most enduring mentor.

Victor reaches for the teapot and pours them both fresh cups of tea and snags a rice cracker of his own to nibble on. “Yes,” he says, and it’s almost a relief to admit he too needs help sometimes. “Yes, please.”

There’s a complicated slant to Minako’s responding smile, a little bit of acknowledgment and a little bit of approval, like maybe Victor has lived up to one of her very high standards. “All right. Listen up…”

--- 

KatsuKatsu said:

Hey everyone, I know this place has been really quiet on quality Yuuri news since last year’s GPF and that announcement that he left the Celestino and the Detroit Skating Club to move home to Japan, but a new season is coming up, and Grand Prix assignments are out! Our boy has two assignments – Cup of China and the Rostelecom Cup! Congratulations to Yuuri, I was so scared he would get dropped out of the listings because he didn’t compete at all the second half of last season.

Thoughts? Reactions? More importantly, speculation on Yuuri’s new coach and upcoming programs?? Hit me, ya’ll.

 

skateashley said:

Oh my god, is it that time already?

I’m kind of sad he didn’t get the NHK Trophy since he’s finally back in Japan ❤❤❤ but this means Yuuri got his assignments on his own merit!

The Cup of China participants list looks pretty good (Phichit is going to be there too!), but Rostelecom might be a bit of a blood bath, just saying. Gosh, I wonder how Yuuri is doing, I hope he’s had a good break at home and got to recharge and everything!

 

talesoasp said:

I think you guys are forgetting that Yuuri made the GPF last year, and that he’s still on the Seasons Best list from his showing at last year’s Trophée Éric Bompard. He’s guaranteed at least one GP assignment, and considering he was a finalist last year, his odds were always good for a second one. I was more worried that he’d announce his retirement, especially after he moved back home and we got zero news on who his new coach is or where he’s training. So I’m very relieved and super excited he’s back! Fresh year, fresh start!

 

inspi'aisha said:

China and Russia are good assignments! They’re both closer to Japan than the North American competitions (jetlag is killer), and they’re later in the GP season, so Yuuri should have plenty of time to polish up his programs.

No speculation on programs whatsoever, I just hope we get something that truly showcases Yuuri’s musicality and artistry. Like, I don’t even care about technical content at this point, I just want him to skate clean and be happy on the ice. And – this is my own selfish wish – but I want something different for at least one of his programs. He does classical and instrumental music beautifully, but if say he did a tango or an upbeat pop song, it’ll really give him a chance to branch out. I really liked his Photograph program for that reason, but that was a pretty mellow song too.

Coaches – oh boy. If Yuuri is staying in Japan, then I’m not sure where he’d go, to be honest. Hasetsu’s quite dead for top-level figure skating unfortunately, so unless a coach is willing to drop everything and move there, Yuuri will have to go elsewhere for his training. As for a few places that are close by, Osaka’s probably his best bet – there’s Hamada-san or the team at the Kansai University. And if he wants a real fresh start, maybe Odagaki-san (Minami Kenjirou’s coach!) over in Fukuoka. There are more options in Tokyo and other regions of Japan, of course. Gosh, I just want the JSF (or even the ISU) to update Yuuri’s profile already! They still list him as belonging to the Detroit Skating Club, which makes me cry a little – he did so well there. But if Yuuri feels he needs a change, then he’s gotta do what’s best for his career and wellbeing o/

 

skateashley said:

Is Yuuri confirmed back in Hasetsu? Our boy is so stealthy, without Phichit we Yuuri fans are starving.

 

JuctionFiction said:

Yuuri’s Hasetsu fans respect his privacy and tend to post about him without using his hashtags, so it’s been pretty hard to track their posts. But the consensus from Japanese fandom in general seems to be that he’s back in Hasetsu.

Omg yeah, I really hope that wherever Yuuri ends up, he’ll have good friendships with his rinkmates or at least have someone he trusts enough that he’ll allow them to post news about him. Yuuri pleaseeeee, feed us.

 

Moonie said:

I’m so happy that this fanfest is finally picking back up, we Yuuri stans may be quiet but we are strong!

Yuuri is still on the Japanese National Team, so I’m hoping we’ll get plenty of interviews and news out of JSF soon enough! I’m guessing after the year he’s had, Yuuri would be keeping his training quite private. Like, I honestly think we might not find out who his coach is and what music his programs are set to until lol the practice run-throughs at his first competition.

Which!! Will be in early September!! At the national level, because Yuuri needs to go through the Japanese regional competitions to qualify for Japanese Nationals in December. Can you imagine?? He hasn’t needed to do that since he turned senior. But it means we should get lots of local reports about his programs and his coach at least a couple of weeks ahead of other international competitions, which is a super plus.

 

KatsuKatsu said:

I’m so excited YAYYYYYYYYY

 

talesoasp said:

me too, I’m so glad we’re all still here!

 

hananosajou said:

Hi everyone! I’ve been a long time lurker, but seeing the sudden outpouring of love and excitement for Yuuri makes me want to join in! I’ve loved Yuuri’s skating since I saw him skating in person at Skate America a couple of seasons back, and I’m really glad he’s still competing despite all the changes he’s made to his life (moving across the world is no joke).  

Is anyone else a little bit sad that Victor is on break this season? Yes, I know this is Yuuri’s fanfest, but Yuuri really admires Victor. Didn’t he say once that it’s one of his dreams, to skate on the same ice as Victor? Like, they’ve been in a bunch of competitions before, but Yuuri’s usually in the second final group on the ice, while Victor’s pretty much always in the final one. They were finally on the ice at the same time at last year’s GPF, but I’m sure Yuuri would have wanted to do much better than that. I wish he’d get another chance to skate with Victor and really show his talent.

 

JuctionFiction said:

Welcome! Post often!

Half the figure skating world feels the same, to be honest. Victor has been such a mainstay in men’s singles figure skating – well over a decade, if we count his junior career. I mean, we all can see hints of Victor’s style in Yuuri’s skating, right?

Maybe one of Yuuri’s programs will be a tribute to Victor? Oh man, I have a feeling lots of exhibition programs are going to be tributes to Victor.

 

Moonie said:

Welcome to Yuuri’s fanfest, hananosajou.

We all can see hints of Victor’s style in Yuuri’s skating, right? ß Spread eagle entry into the triple axel, yo. But – I am absolutely serious here – Yuuri’s is more beautiful.

It’s pretty far into the off-season, I really want Yuuri to have his programs choreographed already so he has lots of time to practice and get used to them.

 

skateashley said:

I can’t believe it’s only June (okay, almost July), I want more Yuuri news haha.

 

inspi'aisha said:

We’ll get more soon, we just have to be patient. Yuuri’s Japanese fans seem to be optimistic about things too.

NGL, I’m really tempted to go up to Hasetsu for a bit of my summer break – not to be a stalker or anything, but because I’d like to see what Yuuri’s hometown is like. There’s been some buzz about Hasetsu lately. I’m working in Fukuoka, honestly I should have taken the trip ages ago!

 

talesoasp said:

Wishing you blessed Yuuri sightings if you do end up going, inspi’aisha.

 

KatsuKatsu said:

Do fill us in on all the Hasetsu scoop, inspi’aisha! (I really want to taste the katsudon from Yu-topia, Yuuri mentioned it in an interview once and I still dream about it sometimes, it sounds amazing).

 

inspi'aisha said:

We’ll see how it goes, I’ll let you know! 

---


The thing is, training under Victor doesn’t feel all that different from training with Victor, at least at first – just more intense, perhaps. Now that he’s set his competitive career to the side, the full force of Victor’s focus settles solely on Yuuri, and after all the crises they’ve gone through, it isn’t long before they find a balance with each other as coach and student, related but separate from their other, more intimate relations. They still go on runs together, and Victor is always on the ice with Yuuri, and although Victor’s concentration is incredible when he’s truly in the midst of coaching, there’s a playful element to their time together.

It’s a little ironic, considering his words to Victor back in St. Petersburg, but Yuuri feels like he can breathe better under Victor’s tutelage, like his anxiety won’t smother him when he’s under pressure.

So the training feels familiar and comforting, but it’s in choreographing Yuuri’s free skate program that Yuuri gets to see another side of Victor.

Yuri on Ice is special, for many reasons. It is the first time Yuuri is responsible for and feels confident enough to take creative control of his program's music; his friend Ketty composes it, and Yuuri wants Victor’s approval to go forward with it, but Yuuri is ultimately the one to make the choice, to give Ketty the inspiration and specifics for what he wants the music to sound like. It’s terrifying to take a leap of faith into the dark like that, but when Yuuri listens to the final version, the piano gentle and poignant on its own, and soaring so high when twined with the passionate violin – that’s when Yuuri finally realizes just why Victor commissions music for so many of his programs.

Yuuri’s free skate is special because of how much Victor pours into the choreographing of it. The entire world knows just how incredible a figure skater Victor is. But choreography entails entirely different skillsets from skating and performing, and now Yuuri gets to see the creation of it, the way the program layout is built in layers and constantly tweaked and adjusted, as Victor gains inspiration or as Yuuri masters a segment.

Finally, Yuri on Ice is special because the program is a true partnership between Victor and Yuuri. It marries the best of their respective strengths – Victor’s technical prowess and his challenging layouts with Yuuri’s artistic expression and emotive transitions; Victor is the one to choreograph it, Yuuri the one to skate it, but in so many ways it is theirs—

Yuuri never realized that a program could mean so much, before.

He still wonders, sometimes, if Victor will miss the adrenaline rush of performing in front of an audience, the weight of a nation’s pride and the razor-sharp rivalry that comes from skating in competition. But Victor in the midst of creative inspiration is a sight to behold – he is quiet, his skating more self-contained and contemplative, and there is a lightness to the way he moves, utterly free of rules or expectations; a deity with a blank slate at his fingertips, contemplating how he next wants to shape the world.

One day, Yuuri very much hopes he’ll see Victor back in competitions once more. But Victor as a coach and choreographer is still someone who loves the ice dearly, and Yuuri wants to be the conduit of that love, to perform Victor’s choreographies and showcase the skills that Victor trains him in, to demonstrate to the world the sum of his and Victor’s partnership. 

Yuuri is slowly learning that they don’t both have to be on the ice to be skating together, and—

—that, that is a truly a beautiful, wonderful feeling.

--- 

MEN
Yuuri Katsuki
JPN

 

Date of birth: 29.11.1991
Place of birth: Hasetsu
Height: 173 cm
Home town: Hasetsu
Profession: university student
Hobbies: music, dance
Start sk / Club: 1997 / Ice Castle Hasetsu
-----
Coach: Victor Nikiforov
Choreographer: Celestino Cialdini, Minako Okukawa
Former Coach: Celestino Cialdini
Practice low season: 25 h / week Detroit
Practice high season: 25 h / week Detroit
-----

---


It comes out in the most innocuous way possible – not a paparazzi exposé, not a fan-sighting of Victor in Hasetsu that gets plastered all over the internet, not the triplets posting a video of Victor and Yuuri skating at the Ice Castle (they’ve been very good, but they are also very precocious children who want to show the whole world their favourite skaters skating in their rink), and not – Yuuri’s wishful best case scenario – at the last possible moment at a competition, which was a pretty farfetched idea to begin with.

No, the world finds out that Victor Nikiforov has decided to be a coach – and more specifically, is now coaching Yuuri Katsuki in the latter’s hometown of Hasetsu – through the most official and unbiased source: Yuuri’s official biography on the ISU website.

It takes one eagle-eyed reporter – to Yuuri’s immense surprise, not Morooka-san – to find it, slap it on an article and publish it in one of the world’s most popular figure skating websites, and then it goes downhill from there.

While his family and the Nishigoris deal with the sudden influx of rabid reporters, curious gawkers and figure skating enthusiasts at Yu-topia and the Ice Castle, Yuuri ends up spending most of his time fielding calls from the JSF, who are either concerned or ecstatic enough at the sudden attention that they want to send him an official JSF representative to help manage the situation. Yuuri doesn’t think they need the assistance – language barrier aside, Victor is almost single-handedly handling the mass of reporters and admirers with his usual charm and social acuity, seemingly unfazed by the attention.

After ending his call, Yuuri goes online to check his ISU biography, absentmindedly petting Makkachin, who has decided she’s had quite enough of the noisy crowd and snuck her way into Yuuri’s room once again. His official profile is a mess, with a mix of updated information and old content because they don’t know what to change it to – Victor isn’t listed as his choreographer and the field for Yuuri’s current programs are still marked with last year’s music choices, because he and Victor have kept On Love: Eros and Yuri on Ice very close to heart.

His social media is an even crazier mess. Victor is popular, will always be popular, but this revelation involves two people, and it seems all the Yuuri fans (he still has fans?) have come out of hiding now that they an official source on their side. Yuuri sees photos of himself, of Victor, of them both captured in blurry phone camera shots – questionably identifiable out of context, but entirely too obvious now with the truth revealed. 

Yuuri stares down at an out-of-focus shot of him and Victor, captured just outside the Ice Castle, blurry enough that Victor’s silvery hair stands out all the more in contrast to Yuuri’s dark hair and jacket. It’s hard to tell what expressions they’re spotting, but there’s no mistaking their body language – both of them turned to each other like a matched pair of parentheses, like two flowers casting their faces towards their respective suns.

Yuuri blows out a quiet breath, grounding himself. Then, with a final hug to Makkachin, he shoves his phone back in his pocket and goes down to join Victor against the hordes, because they’ve always been stronger together.

So that’s day one of the world finding out that Victor is his coach.

Day two of the world finding out that Victor is Yuuri’s coach starts with Yuuri fighting the crowd to get to the Ice Castle (Victor having left at some ungodly hour to avoid all but the most tenacious of reporters), and then getting drop-kicked right through the Ice Castle’s doors by a particularly irate Yuri Plisetsky.

“You two are the absolute worst,” Yuri hisses, standing over Yuuri, managing to give an impression of looming by the thunderous look of derision on his face.

“You’re really scary when you’re angry,” Yuuri says somewhat nonsensically, because his head is still reeling from the force of that kick.

Yuri’s expression wavers like he’s not sure whether to be pleased at the comment or continue holding on to his anger, and in the end he settles into a huffy sort of annoyance. Yuuri has to suppress his instinctive smile, because he’s learned from his time in St. Petersburg that it’s one of the surest ways of riling Yuri up.

“So Victor decides to run off into the sunset and rainbows – that’s particularly stupid of him, but if he wants to be an idiot no one can stop him. You two can be sickeningly lovey-dovey all you want, because I’m going to win everything.” Yuri crosses his arms and glares. “But coaching you? Leaving the Russian team to coach you? I’m not letting you get away with an unfair advantage!”

Yuuri barely manages to protest before Yuri fists one hand in Yuuri’s jacket and hauls him bodily towards the ice with that uncanny sense of direction all skaters seem to have in a venue that boasts of a rink; Yuuri manages to flap a gesture of reassurance at the triplets, who are staring at them wide-eyed with their phones and camcorders out.

None of them can do anything about the hungry horde of reporters outside the Ice Castle, but the rink itself is blessedly peaceful. Yuuri breathes in the cold air and relaxes almost immediately; the sight of Victor skating on the ice, graceful and carefree, soothes the rest of his anxiety.

He glances at Yuri, who is staring at Victor with an unreadable look on his face. Then, Yuri shoves his jacket hood down, cups his hands around his mouth, and roars.

“You look like you’re having fun, Victor.”

He spits out Victor’s name like it’s a curse, but Victor whirls around, and he’s already smiling even before he spots Yuri and Yuuri by the rink entrance.

“Hi Yura!” Victor chirps. “You’re a long way from home.”

Yuri gestures violently in Yuuri’s direction. “That’s because you’re coaching him!” Then he switches to Russian, presumably so he can properly ballast Victor in the language he knows the most insults in.

Yuuri listens to the flow of the conversation, amused despite himself. It’s like watching a storm gust against a supple willow tree, Yuri all fight and fury and Victor smiling like a Cheshire cat in face of that ferocity, too pleased to properly take offense.

“But Yura,” Victor finally cuts in, and his eyes flicker towards Yuuri – because Victor always keeps his eyes on Yuuri – before settling back on his younger – former? – rinkmate. “I didn’t have time to teach it to you before Yuuri and I flew back, but I left you a recording of On Love: Agape just like you asked! And I gave you all my notes. And Lilia keeps me updated with the tweaks she’s made to the choreography, so I know you’ve made good progress with it.”

“I didn’t know you were going to coach the dead last!” Yuri exclaims. “If he gets your tutelage and direct feedback for his programs, then you better coach me on Agape in person too!”

“That sounds fair,” Yuuri says, because it’s not like they can put Yuri back on the train and plane and send him home if he doesn’t want to go, and there’s something really quite admirable about Yuri’s sheer tenacity and stubborn entitlement. “But you know you can call me by my name, right? I mean, we’re all aiming for gold, so I don’t plan to be dead last at the GPF again this year.”

Yuri flashes Yuuri a dead-eyed look of sheer disbelief. “You two are hopeless, hell, you do deserve each other.” Then he cocks his head to one side, arrogance dripping from his voice. “You sure you can even make the Final?”

Yuuri can never prove it either way, but he has a feeling that that comment might be the reason why after watching Yuri perform On Love: Agape, Victor purses his lips, gives a few comments on areas to improve, and then says, quite cheerfully, “But you know what I think will really help?”

“What?” Yuri snaps.

Victor’s smile is nigh untouchable. “A waterfall.”

(But then again, Yuuri ends up at the waterfall too, Victor snaps dozens of photos of the two of them, the beautiful waterfall and the summer foliage around it because Victor has some mad hatter tourism promotion scheme cooked up with Minako, Yurio receives a new nickname courtesy of Mari, and Yuuri gets a new nickname courtesy of the wonderful bowls of katsudon Yuuri’s mother cooks up to celebrate Yurio’s visit.

It’s one of the best days Yuuri has had this summer).

*

One of the benefits of living in Hasetsu is undoubtedly its distance from St. Petersburg and one Yakov Feltsman, and more importantly, Yakov’s yelling.

Victor is being good for once and actually listens for the entire call, letting Yakov rant himself out without adding too many smart comments. It appeases his coach – former coach – enough that the call only lasts thirty-two minutes, and ends with Yakov grudgingly admitting that Victor taking up coaching isn’t the worst idea he’s ever heard of, although he declares that dealing with the RSU from here on is entirely Victor’s own problem.

Still, Victor isn’t terribly surprised when his phone rings again an hour later.

“I saw your photographs of that waterfall,” is the first thing Lilia says.

“Isn’t it picturesque? Hasetsu’s natural beauty is wonderful!” is Victor’s reply.

“It it weren’t for those shots of your soulmate and Yura standing in the waterfall, your posts would appear quite like a sponsorship post. Promoting tourism for your soulmate’s hometown now, are you?”

“It’s just so easy, though!” Victor says. “Yuuri wants to relearn the rhymes and rhythms of his hometown, so a big part of his training involves long runs through and around Hasetsu. And where Yuuri goes, I go, and you know how I love taking my photographs.”

Victor is learning to love Hasetsu with Yuuri, and it’s natural enough for him to want to share that love with the world. If it drums up interest in Hasetsu and encourages people – foreigners and locals alike – to visit, then that’s a bonus. Let it not be said that Victor doesn’t know how kill two hares with one shot.

“You do take plenty of them. I suppose it’s nice that your social media accounts are picking back up again.” Then, in the same mild tone, she asks, “Is Yura is staying with you at the inn?”

“Yes, he’s with us here at Yu-topia. Hiroko-san, Yuuri’s mother, wouldn’t hear of any other alternative.” 

“Good. Yura is my student now, so I expect you to look after him and not let him get into bad ballet habits. Your Yuuri is a danseur – let them practice together. After all,” Lilia says dryly, “Yura is as stubborn as you are. He’s quite determined that you demonstrate that short program to him properly, and coach him through the nuances of it. Perhaps you can treat his time with you as a training camp of sorts.”

“Oh?” Victor says casually.

“I say perhaps, but what I mean is that you should. Your reputation is on the line right now, Vitya. You and Yakov planned well for the announcement of your break, but you sprung the idea of coaching on him and the entire world as a complete surprise.”

“Yakov already yelled at me a lot for my plans to take this break,” Victor says, pouting. “I thought he might throw the whole bottle of whisky at me if I said anything about coaching afterwards.”

“Perhaps you deserve to be yelled at,” Lilia says mercilessly, and then adds, “Don’t be silly, Vitya, like we would waste an entire bottle of whisky on you. Perhaps one of those water jugs, that would do nicely.”

“Liliaaaaaaa.”

“The Federation is not pleased with you.” Lilia’s voice is stern. “There’s been a lot of criticism about you coaching the competition, and that’s only been tempered by the increasingly popular theory that Yuuri Katsuki is your soulmate. The public will probably fall on your side because people are enamoured by the romanticism of soulmate pairs, but that matters little to the RSU. So, host a training camp for Yura. He wants it badly, and if you can show that you are still associated with your countrymen, that you are choreographing routines and mentoring Russian athletes in addition to coaching your Yuuri, then it will do your reputation a world of good.”

It’s a brilliant bit of maneuvering, Victor has to admit. Let it not be said that Lilia doesn’t know how to kill two hares with one shot as well; Victor learned from the best, after all.

“Okay,” he agrees. “I mean, I was already planning to give Yurio tips and feedback on how he performs Agape, you know. And Yuuri was on Yurio’s side right from the start; he wants Yurio to stay too.”

“I knew I could count on at least one of you having some sense. And Vitya, when I told you to be sure, I didn’t mean all of this.”

“But I am sure,” Victor says, half joking but also completely serious. “Coaching Yuuri is a great challenge, spending time with him has been absolutely wonderful, and adapting to Hasetsu has been an incredible experience. The reporters and paparazzi, having Yurio show up here, dealing with the RSU – I can take it all in stride.”

Lilia sighs. “Somehow, you’ve become even more impulsive after meeting your soulmate.”

“But Lilia,” Victor says cheekily, “even though Yurio is here in Hasetsu, you’re still staying with Yakov. This phone number is for the townhouse, not your apartment or your mobile phone.”

Lilia goes quiet, and the silence over the line feels dangerous. For his own safety, Victor cheerily says his goodbyes and hangs up – the distance between Hasetsu and St. Petersburg is really quite useful at times.

(Later that evening, Yuuri pokes Victor in the side and asks what he’s done to pique Lilia’s ire; apparently, Yurio received a series of messages that detail how much trouble he’s made for Lilia and Yakov, and how she’s staying put in the townhouse because it’s too much effort to move out and then move back in when she expects Yurio to return in two weeks.

Victor barely makes it through the beginning of his explanation when Yurio bursts in on them, annoyed that he has to suffer the consequences of Victor annoying Lilia.

Still, the thought that Lilia and Yakov might finally be reconciling with each other goes a long way to preserving Victor’s good mood, even in face of Yurio’s blustery complaints.)

---

Ice Castle Hasetsu @IceCastleHasetsu

[ENG] \ Onsen on Ice Announcement!! /

Ice Castle Hasetsu will host a figure
skating preview show produced by
@vnikiforov, featuring Japan’s
#KatsukiYuuri and Russia’s
@yuri-plitsetsky!!

[Time/Date] 15 July, 19:00 – 19:50
[Location] Ice Castle Hasetsu
[Admission] Free, donations welcomed

INFO: linky.jp/~88

---


As with so many things that happen around Victor, the showcase comes together quickly: suggested as a throwaway thought one evening and made a reality through announcements on the Ice Castle’s various social media by the next morning.

Victor in a moment of peaceful quiet is something Yuuri will always be grateful to witness – to inspire, at times – but it is an utter delight to see him in his element like this. They’ve yet to test Victor’s mettle as a coach in competition yet, of course, but Yuuri knows his own feelings when he trains, and they are good ones. But Victor has always been a performer, a choreographer and someone who loves challenging himself with creative endeavours, and pulling together a show in a week is the sort of thing that puts a wild glow in his eyes.

Yuuri adores it.

Their entire circle of friends gets pulled into it, helping with organization and logistics, but Yurio and Yuuri, they are told quite firmly, are responsible only for themselves and their skating. Victor pulls them in to teach them a group number, but after that they are shooed off to practice and train.

It’s not a competition and not even a proper ice show, but the showcase will feature Yuuri and Yurio’s short programs for the upcoming season – “Performing in front of an audience will push you and highlight areas that we need to work on for actual competitions, but this is a low-stakes event so it shouldn’t be too stressful,” Victor says – and Yuuri feels the familiar jitteriness jumping under his skin in the days leading up to the show. It’s a good idea to get used to the feeling and work through it at this point of their off-season, but Yuuri finds himself spending quite a bit of time with the triplets during his breaks, just soaking in their bright enthusiasm and incredibly cheerful approach to life.

“Yuuri, hold this,” Axel demands, and shoves a knot of vericoloured cords into Yuuri’s hands. She fusses at him until he’s holding it to her satisfaction, and then she begins weaving the strands together.

Yuuri watches for several minutes – Axel has a look of intense concentration on her face, her small fingers a little clumsy on the fine cords of string – and then asks, “Braided bracelets?”

“Mmhm. You know, ice shows always have cast and crew T-shirts? Mama and Papa say we don’t have time for that, and all of us will be in different skating costumes, but—”

Lutz plops down at Yuuri’s other side, a handful of flyers in her hands. “We thought we could make bracelets for everyone! So we all have something that matches, you know?”

“But in different colours,” Loop calls from the couch, where she’s still staring intensely at Yuuko’s laptop. “Same design, but each person gets their own personal bracelet.” She looks up then, and holds out her arm, where a pink and black braid is already wrapped around her wrist.

Axel and Lutz do the same, and Yuuri studies their bracelets, made out in the same colours of their respective skating vests: powder blue, lavender and pink matched with black cords.

“They’re great,” Yuuri says, and satisfied, Loop turns back to the laptop.

The triplets are only allowed to use the laptop because Yuuri is in the room, but he has a feeling that there is no way of stopping all three of them if they really want to do something the adults would disapprove of. To distract them, he asks, “So only the ones skating will have bracelets?”

Axel giggles. “No, Minako-san and Mama and Papa will get one too! This one’s for Mama, see?” She knots off the braid – woven with three colours, maroon, black and white – and takes the finished strand away from Yuuri so she can loop it into a bracelet.

“We’re thinking of matching colours for Papa, but it’s hard getting three colours that look good,” Loop sighs. “We haven’t decided for the rest of you either.”

“Axel’s the best as braiding,” Lutz pipes in. “So she’s making all the bracelets, because they have to perfect!”

“Don’t say that!” Axel wails. “Two colours are okay, but the three coloured braids are really hard! I had to redo Mama’s three times.”

“You should learn to put charms and beads in too,” Loop calls.

“Snowflake charms! Or skating boots!”

“Stop making it more complicated!”

“Can I help?” Yuuri says and three heads turn immediately in his direction. “Axel can teach me. I… wouldn’t mind making mine and Victor’s bracelets, actually.”

Maybe keeping his hands occupied and his mind concentrated on weaving a whole bunch of strands together in the right order would shove the anxious energy out of his mind. That’s Yuuri’s intention, but it’s clear the triplets are thinking of something entirely different, because all three of them are staring at Yuuri with starry eyes.

“I can do that!” Axel declares, and Loop actually leaves the laptop to drag the entire box of neatly coiled cord over to the table, which she presents to Yuuri with a flourish.

“Start with one colour first,” Lutz suggests. “That way it’s harder for people to see any mistakes you make, and you can still use the practice braid later, like for a keychain or something.”

“I wonder if Yurio wants to learn too! Let me get him!”

“He’s with your mother,” Yuuri calls after Loop, because it’s not like he can stop her, not with Axel and Lutz surrounding him. He has a feeling neither he nor Yurio will get much time in training today.

(It’s a chaotic afternoon, but for beginners, Yuuri and Yurio don’t do too badly. Axel ends up making all the showcase bracelets after all, but Yuuri gets two decent single-coloured braids by the end of the day, and Yurio ends up repurposing all of his messy braids into a bunch of cat toys for his pet cat back in St. Petersburg, so it’s all good).

*

Perhaps it’s the nature of the show – held in Yuuri’s beloved home rink, pulled together by his friends and family, more of an exhibition than a competition (although with Yurio there there will always be an element of rivalry) and lovingly presided over by Victor – but Yuuri finds himself enjoying the evening immensely.

The triplets get a number of cute acts together, including one with their parents, Yuuko laughing all the while but radiant as she skates hand in hand with Nishigori, but the highlight of the show is undoubtedly the first public showing of Yuuri and Yurio’s short programs for the upcoming season. Skating them back to back showcases how complementary the themes and music are but how different each are interpreted and skated to. It takes a moment for Yuuri to let go of his self-consciousness and truly let his flirtatious side come to life, but with Victor’s eyes on him, well—

Yuuri may be an anxious mess, but he’s also the type that rises best to challenges.

Yurio does tremendously well with his short program as well; it looks different from when he first arrived in Hasetsu – less a mash up of Victor’s powerful but graceful performance and Lilia’s focus on balletic lines, and more of his own skating, swift and understated and all the more impactful for it. He takes the applause from the audience completely in stride but gets flustered by Yuuko’s sincere praises. Yuuri watches from the sidelines, and is incredibly grateful that of all the skaters Yurio chose to intimidate that evening at last year’s Grand Prix Final, Yurio chose Yuuri as his target.

No exhibition showcase that has Victor anywhere on its listings could possibly happen without Victor taking the ice, and this one is no exception. Hasetsu adores its local skater turned international athlete, and Yurio has his own draw of supporters, but Victor is undoubtedly the star of any figure skating venue he steps into, and the small but extremely vocal audience makes this sentiment known in the cheers and chants of his name.

Victor takes to the ice to perform a medley of his old programs, and he doesn’t get even halfway through the performance before tears start flowing freely in the audience. Yuuri understands; it’s always incredible watching Victor performing in person, and many in Hasetsu – and those who traveled from nearby cities – wouldn’t have had that opportunity before. There’s also the general awareness that this might be one of the last times they’d get to see Victor skating like this – with that extra flair and presence that comes from performing in front of an audience – for a long while, and when Yuuri thinks about it in that context, he can fully empathize with everyone’s feelings.

But unlike the others in the audience, Yuuri knows the best of Victor’s skating is yet to come. Whether he returns to competitive skating or chooses to revere the ice in a different way, Yuuri can already see how much lighter, how much brighter Victor now moves across the ice.

Yuuri has seen Victor practicing this medley, of course, and he knows how it ends – with the programs to Starlight and Unwritten, and finally, Stammi Vicino. They are the programs that Victor choreographed with his soulmate in mind, and watching Victor skating to them never fails to make Yuuri’s heart swell with pride and happiness. But now, under the shining spotlight, upon the pink and bluelit ice, performing to an intimate audience that seems to be holding its breath, Yuuri finally realizes—

—the final part of this medley is an open declaration of love – Victor’s love for Yuuri – to the world, spoken in the most heartfelt language they both share.

There are tears welling up in Yuuri’s eyes too, but he doesn’t bother brushing them away, just keeps his gaze firmly fixed on Victor as he whirls in his final combination spin. Stammi Vicino has gone through so many rounds of transformation by now, permeated by Yuuri’s dancing in a dimly lit hotel studio and that duet they both skated that night in St. Petersburg. But Victor is a performer to the last and he knows what the audience wants; for once, he doesn’t bother surprising them but takes his original ending pose, the one that he won the European and World Championships with, and this, Yuuri knows, is Victor’s own tribute back to an audience that adores him so much.

And it’s that kindness, that unwavering love for the ice and the performance that Yuuri—

Victor takes his bows amidst a roar of applause, and then the triplets are on the ice, swarming around Victor excitedly. It’s the end of the show, and Victor had insisted that they free-style this part; his only instructions are that the performing skaters get on the ice and react to the audience, and they’re all doing that – Yuuko and Nishigori following after their girls, and Yurio too, after shooting Yuuri a piercing but uncharacteristically serious look.

Yuuri stands in the shadows of the rinkside for a moment, just watching. Then he removes his clenched hands from his pocket, shrugs off his jacket, and steps on the ice.

There’s a slight but noticeable increase in the audience’s raucousness when Yuuri skates into sight. In the periphery of his vision, Yuuri absently notes all the video cameras and broadcasting equipment, the local TV stations all here in full force; the glint from dozens of phones. But he only has eyes for one person.

“Victor,” Yuuri says, barely audible amongst the cheers and clapping, but Victor immediately turns, detangling himself from the triplets. His smile is dazzling, sweat dotting the line of his throat and his hairline, and Yuuri feels his heart turn over in his chest.

He catches Victor’s hand, Victor giving it over easily. Yuuri glances down at the bracelet Axel made, and then he reaches for Victor’s other hand; he loops one of his successful single-coloured braids around that bare wrist, knotting it snuggling so it won’t come loose.

“Yuuri?” Victor asks curiously, but he takes the second braid when Yuuri holds it out, and ties that one around Yuuri’s wrist in turn.

When he’s done, Yuuri laces their fingers together and holds their linked hands up to study the red-stringed bracelets circling their wrists.

“Have I ever told you about this Japanese belief, the red string of fate?” he says.

Victor shakes his head; over his shoulder, Yuuri can see cameras swinging in their direction.

“Remind me to tell you later, okay?” Yuuri says, and doesn’t wait for Victor to nod – he wraps his free hand around Victor’s neck and tugs, and Victor goes willingly, leaning down to meet Yuuri’s kiss.

The roar from the audience spikes in reaction. Yuuri can hear Yuuko’s laugh of delight, Yurio grounding out an exasperated “must you do that on the ice??” but he doesn’t care, because—

Victor may have told the world that he is in love. I am telling the world that we are soulmates.

—Victor’s mouth is warm against his, and there’s a smile curving Victor’s lips, and that’s really all that matters.

There’s a time and place for public displays of affection, and Yuuri is not quite ready to share everything with the public yet. He pulls back, opening his eyes, and Victor is already looking back at him.

They stare at each other, just soaking in the moment, even though Yuuri can hear the shocked and speculative whispering amidst the noise of the crowd, Morooka-san speaking at about a hundred miles an hour at his cameraman, reporting everything. 

“Ready?” Victor asks, and it’s a question that could mean so many things. Ready for the upcoming season, to face the Ice Castle audience, to deal with the undoubtedly vocal reactions the entire figure skating community will have in regard to their relationship, ready for the life that’s ahead of them.

Yuuri’s answer is the same for all of them. “Ready.”

Victor squeezes Yuuri’s hand with his – their hands with their red-stringed bracelets bound around their wrists – and then they skate forward to join Yurio and the Nishigoris, facing the world together as one.