Actions

Work Header

a magnet for a beating heart

Work Text:

Yuuri glided slowly around the far end of the rink, stepping idly across the path of his other skate. This wasn’t something he could give up. The special on Yuri Plisetsky - and others - the day before had been intimidating, but it made Yuuri want to compete. The thought of letting the Russian Punk win without a fight rankled. He couldn’t let the kid think he’d retire just on some stranger’s say-so. He wasn’t ready to give up even if the thought of calling Celestino still froze his stomach. Yuuri slid into a figure eight and frowned.

Just this once, he decided, he was going to let his anxiety win. He wanted to keep competing and if he tried to push himself to call Celestino first he would be older than – anyone – before he had sorted out a coach for himself. He turned back the other way and ran an old step sequence down the length of the rink.

Phichit might know who was looking for skaters, but he would want Yuuri to return to Detroit. Yuuri leaned into the turn at the far end of the rink and picked up speed, throwing himself into a spin. He knew Yakov was full-up, even if Yuuri were able to imagine training in that rink every day. Leo was the only Senior skater with his coach, but she was new to the senior division, and Leo had even more trouble with quads than Yuuri. The Leroy parents might take someone on since their son had banged up his knee and, according to his Instagram, was taking some time off to do charity work with his girlfriend and give the ligaments time to heal. Yuuri knew very little about the other man except that he was loud and brash enough to rub even Phichit the wrong way. If Yuuri asked the parents to coach him, what would he do when JJ started coming back?

He came out of the spin and stopped. Chris would know who was looking for new Senior skaters and he would tell Yuuri without asking too many questions.

Yuuri skated over to his phone (quick now, before he lost his nerve) calculating the time difference. It might be after hours at Ice Castle, but Chris should be at practice or on his lunch break.

Yuuri held his phone to his ear and tried to breathe normally.

“Yuuri! We missed you at Worlds.”

“Chris.”

“You made a real impression on a certain someone at Sochi.”

This was crueler than Yuuri had expected from Chris. He flinched. “Chris, I really want to forget everything about Sochi. I know it’s not an excuse but,” he pushed forward as his breath caught, “My dog had just died. I was a mess. It was very embarrassing.”

Yuuri couldn’t parse Chris’s tone when he responded. “Consider it forgotten. I’m sorry to hear about your dog.” There was a pause. “What can I do for you?”

Try as he might, Yuuri could search out no sneer or pity in the other man’s voice. “I- I want to come back to competitive skating! Do you know any coaches currently taking on Seniors?”

Chris’s response came slow. “Let me ask around. I know Josef would be interested in you. What are you looking for in a coach?”

“You aren’t retiring?”

“Yuuri, would you miss me? No, not yet. I’ve got a few seasons left in me still.”

Yuuri hoped his sigh of relief wasn’t audible. “And you wouldn’t… mind? Having me as a rinkmate?”

“Yuuri,” Chris’s voice was warm now and amused. “I would be delighted. I will be- I don’t think you understand how many of us enjoy your company.” He paused, and Yuuri got the idea that he was substituting a different topic when he spoke again. “I can email you a list of coaches this evening. Would that be soon enough for you?” And then, “But if there’s anything I can say to sway you towards Switzerland…”

Yuuri swallowed. “I really like the idea of having a rinkmate I already know, one who speaks the language there. I need a more experienced coach? Someone who can help with my quads.” He chewed his lip as he formulated his next question. “I– sometimes my brain– What sort of coach is Coach Karpisek?” It wasn’t exactly a secret that he was mentally weak.

“Hmm. He’s certainly been good for my jumps, but I think the most important thing about Josef for me is, well, he’s a very supportive coach. I sometimes get a little… performance anxiety,” and Chris, Yuuri thought, must be the only person in the world who had both the self-confidence and the impulse towards self-deprecation to turn that into an inuendo, “Josef – I – he makes sure I know, as long as he’s my coach, there’s at least one person in that audience watching me who believes that I can win, that I’m worth watching.”

“I. Oh,” Yuuri blinked, envisioning it. “And he would tell me honestly? If he thought I could win or not?”

“And if he didn’t think you could win, he would help you figure out what needed to change to give you a shot.” Yuuri struggled to sort out what he wanted to say, but Chris beat him to it. “I’ll text you his information now and let you know who else might be looking tonight? I want you to pick Josef only if he’s your best option, not because you think he’s your only option.”

 

“No, Viktor, I’m not giving him your name. He said an experienced coach.”

“I’ve helped my rinkmates.”

“I’m not into sabotaging my competitors.” Chris paused, trying to think of a way to soften the next blow. “Viktor, I- He said he just wants to forget about Sochi. His dog died, and I think it all must have gotten a little mixed-up for him- Look, just maybe give him some time to learn how to see the banquet as a separate thing.”

He could hear Viktor putting walls up before the other man even started talking. “Tell him to consider it forgotten. It was just dancing.”

If it weren’t for the barest break in his voice when Viktor said ‘just,’ Chris might have been furious.

He exchanged a look with his cat as they hung up. “How does he do that? You start off a conversation telling him to lay off Yuuri and end it begging him not to give up.”

Marie leveled her stare at him.

Chris sighed. “I know. You’re right.”

 

“Christophe.”

“Phichit Chulanont. I hope this is OK, I got your number from Sara Crispino. I’m-”

“Yuuri’s old rinkmate and Thailand’s foremost figure skater. I know. Phichit?” Chris did his best to imitate the other man’s pronunciation. “Call me Chris. I’m glad you contacted me. What can I do for you?”

“Yuuri’s always said nice things about you.”

“He’s been practically effusive about you – where your skating and masterful social media usage don’t speak for themselves.”

“Look, I want to know what kind of friend you are to Yuuri. You know how he is, I can’t tell from here.”

“What kind,” Chris let the pause add innuendo to the question, “of friend?”

Phichit laughed. “That much I can gather from your reputation and knowing Yuuri. But he’ll hide himself away,”

“Unless you pour a few drinks in him.”

“Which is bad for his self-esteem. And that’s if he doesn’t black out.”

“Yuuri’s a black out drunk?” Chris sat down and leaned in, as if his body language could contribute to the conversation here.

“He certainly can be.” Phichit’s voice was cautious now.

“I take it you and he are close? I’ve heard him call you a friend, which is more than I’ve been able to persuade him to do for me.”

“I’m Yuuri’s best friend.” The reply was short and staccato.

“Phichit, would you mind telling me what sort of report Yuuri gave of the last Grand Prix Final? I don’t want to bring up bad memories by asking him…”

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”

“How many drinks would you say it takes to make him blackout?”

“Here I heard your kink was consent.”

Chris considered. “Look, I don’t want to tell you anything Yuuri didn’t want told. I just want to know what the chances are that he forgot… Well, let’s say that I had thought those few hours at least would have been better memories for him.”

He could almost hear Phichit adding things together. “Yuuri got drunk… at the banquet?”

Five minutes ago Chris would have laughed if you had told him he would appreciate someone skipping an obligatory innuendo. “He’s a truly talented dancer. I didn’t even realize how drunk he was, but V- someone said he counted sixteen glasses of champagne, and then, well, we didn’t drink most of that final bottle, but…”

“I’d be shocked if he remembered anything.” A pause. “You didn’t… take advantage?”

“Then I’ll make sure not to bring it up. And only of the chance for a dance partner.” He brushed over the type of dance. Yuuri had sounded embarrassed enough at Skate America when he admitted he’d taken Chris’s advice and started pole dancing lessons. “Is there anything else I can do, to be a good rinkmate for him? I think we all want to see Yuuri finally skate his best.”

Phichit’s voice was considerably warmer now. “Just. Don’t push him to do anything he isn’t comfortable with, but keep making it clear that you really do want to spend time with him. Help him with the language, and don’t let him isolate himself.”

“Phichit, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

 

Yuuri exited customs and glanced around at the incomprehensible German signage. He swallowed back the knot of tears in his throat. There were so many tall blond men. They blurred together in spite of him. He turned to the baggage claim desperately. And there was Chris, stepping into his personal space out of the haze. Chris wrapped his arms around Yuuri and squeezed before dropping his hands lower… and squeezing.

“Yuuri,” he purred, “it’s so good to see you. I’m the envy of half the skating world and have received shovel talks from everyone, Phichit to little Yuri Plisetsky to incentivize my best behavior as your rinkmate.”

Phichit made a certain amount of sense, but “Yuri Plisetsky?” Yuuri pulled back to frown at Chris. “We’ve barely spoken. Are you sure?”

Chris paused to side-eye Yuuri’s single rolling suitcase before leaning in. “Not that Yura’s reluctant to threaten anyone, but he doesn’t like to admit to caring. Is that all you’ve got?” He turned to lead the way towards the exit. “I think he’s impressed by your step sequences. And he likes that you have the same name.”

Yuuri just managed to avoid snorting. “I don’t think that can be right.”

“We’ve been friends for a little over a year. Like Yura said, cat people have to stick together.” He turned to hold the door and Yuuri’s gaze. “I promise you, he respects you. He just isn’t good at showing it, and being uncomfortable makes him snarl more.”

“He told me to retire in Sochi.”

“You see? And no wonder he’s threatened me with dismemberment if I scare you off. He probably made himself sick when you didn’t turn up to Worlds after that.” Chris had his phone out and was texting someone. “Phichit says that of course you knew he’d threaten a bitch for you.”

Yuuri’s lips turned up at the corners in spite of the jetlag and the incomprehensible conversations surrounding them that were his new reality now. “Tell him we’ve had this conversation. He knows that’s not our word to reclaim.” He watched Chris pat away at his phone, a smile curling around his mouth. “I didn’t realize you knew Phichit.”

Chris looked at him and grinned. “You’ve got a very good friend there, you know. Went to all the trouble of tracking down my number just to threaten me.”

 

Yuuri’s memories of the first day with Celestino were torturous, rounds of papers to sign and introductions all morning while the smooth ice taunted him. Coach Karpisek had emailed the paperwork to him weeks ago and made a skype appointment to walk Yuuri through it before Yuuri ever set foot in Switzerland. Now, as he walked into this rink for the first time, Coach Karpisek shook his hand and gestured to the ice.

“We’ll figure out what you need from me, but I’ll let you warm up first. Chris can take you around and do introductions on your way to weight training this afternoon.”

Chris matched pace with Yuuri as they circled the rink but allowed the silence to settle comfortably. As they rounded the far end of the rink again, Chris grinned at Yuuri. “I got a new recipe to try out. Pick a night this week and we’ll do dinner at mine. Let me know.”

Yuuri was still flailing for a response when Coach Karpisek called them in.

 

Yuuri had been relieved to learn that Chris lived in the same building but not the same apartment.

“There’s a couple of dance studios downstairs and a gym – I’ll show you – and it’s a pet friendly building if you decide you want a- or you’re welcome to come over and visit Marie whenever you want.”

“I, uh. A new pet?”

“Like I said, you’re also welcome to borrow Marie if you like. It can be difficult to get a new pet right after you lose one, so you know what’s best for you. I got Marie after my grandparents’ dog died. I wasn’t even a cat person at the time, I just couldn’t face getting another dog that soon.”

Yuuri managed a smile. “Does Yuri Plisetsky know about this?”

 

Chris fought to keep the grin out of his voice as his phone rang. He was currently slicing beef very thin and there was juice from the raw meat on both of his hands.

“Yuuri, love, would you please answer that for me? Just pop him here,” he gestured at a clear corner of the counter, “and stick him on speaker.” He kept his back to Yuuri but still heard the muffled squeak as Yuuri found the phone. He waited until it had been deposited in front of him to speak.

“Viktor? You’re on speaker darling, so try not to say anything too scandalous.” He winked at Yuuri, who looked caught somewhere between amused and terrified and prayed that Viktor didn’t fuck this up.

“Is this a bad time, Chris? Bonne nuit, Masumi.”

Chris glanced at Yuuri. “Do you mind?” and when Yuuri shook his head, “It’s not a bad time, Viktor. I’m just cooking a welcome dinner for my new rinkmate.”

“Katsuki Yuuri?” Viktor’s tone was going to scare Yuuri off. Chris hesitated. Reminding Viktor to behave in French would only leave Yuuri assuming the worst. Viktor followed up with some short phrase in Japanese.

Chris’s head snapped around to catch Yuuri’s face. He looked surprised but not upset.

“Umm. Hello.” Yuuri’s mouth curled.

“You’re a beautiful dancer.”

“Viktor.” Chris was going to kill his friend if he couldn’t control himself enough to respect Yuuri’s boundaries.

“What has Phichit been posting now?” Yuuri sounded resigned, and if there had been any doubt left in Chris’s mind that Yuuri might remember the banquet, well. That was it.

“I watched your video last year from Skate America and France.” Viktor sounded offended. “For that matter, I watched your short program in Sochi,”

“Viktor!”

“– And even if I’d only picked any one of those performances and discounted everything else, you make music with your body in a way I’ve never seen before.”

Chris would have clapped his hands to his head and given up if he didn’t have meat juice all over them. Since he did, he settled for a subtle reminder to behave, in French. “Viktor. He doesn’t remember, don’t bully my rinkmate. We talked about this.”

Viktor’s silence reminded him very clearly that Chris had talked about this. For all he knew, Viktor hadn’t listened to a word.

Chris let out a gusty sigh and turned to Yuuri. “Do you ever have friends like this, Yuuri? The friends who just won’t listen when you’re looking out for their best interests?”

Yuuri giggled. “I don’t mind.”

Viktor let the silence drag just long enough to let Chris know that he was right before changing the topic. “Listen, Yuuri, while Chris is sulking and I’ve got you on the phone anyway, I have an idea about your short program.”

“I… My short program? You’d have to ask Coach Karpisek, we haven’t really talked about it yet except to decide he was going to find a choreographer.”

“Yuuri, you misunderstand me. I’m the choreographer Josef found.”

Chris rolled his eyes at the cutting board and took another sliver off the meat.

“I have an idea, but I need to know which quads you’ve got.”

“So far it’s just the Salchow – sometimes – and the toe loop.”

Chris bit his lip and broke in. “Viktor, Yuri Plisetsky said something about you losing a bet.”

“Huh?”

“Just how close are you and Yuri Plisetsky?” Chris could feel Yuuri frowning at his back.

“He thinks you forgot. But apparently you agreed to choreograph a program for his Senior debut. When you tell him you remembered, congratulate him on fulfilling the requirements twice over.” Chris took a breath. “And I just don’t want to see Viktor killed because he choreographed for you and not Yura.”

Viktor’s voice was odd when he spoke. “I’d forgotten. I’ve got something for him though.”

Chris frowned. “And for yourself? Viktor, how many programs have you choreographed lately?” Chris thought of Phichit’s list of ways to care for his best friend and kept pushing where he normally would have stopped. “Viktor, are you getting enough rest?”

“Oh,” Viktor’s voice was airy. “I haven’t figured out yet what I want to do for mine.” His voice was only slightly bitter as he continued. “Which bit of myself I want to chop away and serve up to the masses… Last year,” he broke off, but Chris thought of Viktor’s face while he was dancing with Yuuri at last year’s banquet and his face during the interviews after his fifth medal and filled in the blanks.

 

Viktor had choreographed Stammi Vicino when he thought it would be his last year skating. It was supposed to be a plea for the ice (for his inspiration) not to desert him.

He tried to start each year with a feeling, one he could live with for a year, one that would surprise his audience without overwhelming them. He knew how much he could be. For Stammi Vicino, it was desolation. (He knew there was another word for it. He just couldn’t apply it. Not here, not to himself.) It was harder to move, like the air weighed him down, and harder to find inspiration in the neverending grey.

He had a lot of good excuses. It was certainly surprising. The audience would never expect it from him. He didn’t do mournful. He didn’t romance the ice; that was Chris. (Well, Chris didn’t exactly *romance* it either.) It was possible that the cobwebs haunting him were the wrong feeling to choose, but he had his argument prepared if Yakov called him out on it. The story he could tell was a good one, a true one if he were brave enough, and it was seductive. Eight months of living in those emotions would help him learn to throw them off, he told himself. He wasn’t sure when that became a deliberate lie. He was only skating this year because the effort of finding an alternative had felt unimaginable.

(In another life, Viktor would never finish marveling that his desperate pleading program – against all the odds – would actually listen, returning him love and life and inspiration like he hadn’t known in years. It would take a long time, in that world, for Yuuri to admit why the program had called out to him; that he, too, was begging the ice to stay. The program would fill in that hollowness for both of them. The Duetto would practically choreograph itself, steeped in the disbelieving overwhelming gratitude of it all.)

 

“I just have to figure out how to frame it.” Viktor’s voice was tired.

Yuuri was frowning. “You shouldn’t have to chop yourself up. Just be Viktor. If they don’t like it then their opinions don’t matter anyway.”

Chris turned to chopping up carrots in order to pretend he hadn’t heard the way Viktor swallowed at the end of Yuuri’s speech. He hoped that Sober Yuuri would learn to care about Viktor as much as Drunk Yuuri had seemed to, since he seemed fated to inadvertently romance Chris’s friend.

“I’m afraid I’m not very likeable, Yuuri.” Viktor’s voice was soft, emphasizing Chris’s feeling that he was intruding. “I’m too blunt, too dramatic, too much-” he broke off and Chris bit his lip, trying to find the right words whether his friend had forgotten he was there or not. Guilt clogged his throat and Yuuri beat him to it.

“So? Make your theme this year ‘Too Much Drama’ and you have the perfect excuse for the whole year, even if you really are too much.”

Chris had only seen this look on Yuuri’s face once or twice, like he was surprised by his own boldness, but he already knew it was going to be one of his favorites.

“Or are you afraid that you’d lose with it?” Yuuri’s voice was light and teasing, but when Viktor didn’t immediately respond he started backtracking frantically. “Sorry, sorry, I-”

Chris felt frozen.

When Viktor’s voice came through the phone, bright and petulant, Chris concentrated on keeping his sigh of relief silent. “Yuuri! So mean.” There was a giggle through the phone. “No, Makkachin, it’s – Stop! – It’s too late. I’ve been slain. Yuuri, you’ll look after Makkachin when I’m gone, won’t you?”

Chris hurried to cut off that line of discussion, however playful it might be. “Luckily, I hear you’re in good health. I think you’ll live. What’s the diagnosis, Dr. Makkachin?”

At his name, the dog gave a barely audible boof.

“Only a flesh wound?”

Having entered the conversation, the dog seemed loathe to leave it and woofed again.

“Oh, his pride? Well, that’s even better. A man can live with no pride.” And before either of the other men in this conversation could poke fun at him, Chris scrambled to get in on the joke. “Just look at me.”

“Shameless,” Viktor agreed, and he was laughing again.

Chris caught Yuuri’s eye and gave an elaborate shrug. Now they were both laughing. Yuuri’s giggle was adorable.

Chris turned to add the meat to the onion browning in the pan and allowed himself a giddy grin. Maybe they would all manage to stay afloat after all.

 

The news that Viktor would be choreographing a program for Yuuri buzzed in the back of Yuuri’s mind all the time. (The fact that Viktor knew who he was, had watched his programs… It was too much. Yuuri couldn’t think about it, for fear he might explode.) He didn’t have the time to think about it head-on. Coach Karpisek had agreed to find someone to do his short program but had told him that if he wanted to choreograph his own programs, he should do his own free, and never mind waiting until he was good enough. Didn’t Yuuri trust Coach Karsipek to push him until he had made himself a winning program? The weirdest part was that Yuuri did. He liked Coach Karsipek (“Call me Josef, please”) and felt seen and cared for in a way that Celestino had never quite managed.

Even after Viktor had asked for Yuuri’s number to bounce program ideas off of him (program ideas that looked a lot like Makkachin pictures and then, when Yuuri admitted he was thinking about getting another dog, dogs for adoption in Switzerland) all Coach Karpisek would say was that he had found a choreographer who would be there in July, and try that quad again, you almost had it that time. Coach Karsipek was warm but honest enough that Yuuri almost believed when he said that Yuuri was going to be one of the ones to beat this year.

Even with daily updates on Makkachin, Yuuri wasn’t sure he would believe in this short program until Viktor showed up and actually delivered it. (Even then, a snarky voice whispered, maybe he’d wait and see if Viktor actually recognized him this time.)

At the same time though, something weird was happening. Over text, he was slowly learning about another Viktor. A silly man, one who had collapsed on the ice and somehow managed to convince a rinkmate to film it when Yuuri made a quip about his old knees. A loving one who cared deeply about his dog. A thoughtless man, one who said hurtful things or brushed off Yuri Plisetsky’s demands (this Yuuri learned both from Viktor and from conversations between Chris and Plisetsky when Yuuri was over at Chris’) and a giving man who was willing to look over a video Chris took of Yuuri’s quad loop and help them figure out how to fix it. This Viktor was overwhelmingly human, as if Yuuri hadn’t fallen enough already. This Viktor seemed attainable and real, even seemed to enjoy Yuuri and seek him out. It made Yuuri nervous, even as he threw himself into practice with new vigor as his only outlet for this odd joy.

 

“Phichit, I like to think we’ve gotten close.”

“Just tell me what sort of information you’re looking for,” Phichit’s voice was fond.

Chris stroked a hand along Marie where she lay on his chest. “Am I that predictable?” and then, amused, snapped a picture and sent it off to Phichit, then Yuri Plisetsky. “You wouldn’t be so helpful if we were facetiming. I feel like a Bond villain.”

Phichit made an inquiring noise before (presumably) getting the photograph.

Chris’s mouth turned up at his bright laugh. “Now, I can’t give you details – it’s another friend, you understand – but how thirsty would a person have to be to scare off our Yuuri? He doesn’t seem to be running, they talk all the time, but – Well. I’ve seen Yuuri in practice. I don’t want anyone scaring him away now. And when… When they have interacted in person, Yuuri always seems to be running from – Ah – from the physical attentions being showered upon him.”

“Well,” Phichit sounded amused. “Yuuri can be pretty oblivious. It would depend on how attracted Yuuri is and how pushy your,” Phichit’s voice was delicate, “‘friend’ is.”

Chris snorted. “I’m very careful not to be so grabby that I make people unduly uncomfortable. Phichit Chulanont, I think I’m offended. Is my reputation so bad as all that?” He paused to gauge Phichit’s laughter before continuing with the more serious subject. “Yuuri seems to be holding his own so far. But I can’t tell if he’s being mean to flirt or to tell my friend to back off, and my friend’s perception is too skewed to trust.”

Phichit’s breath was audible, but all he said was “I’ve never seen Yuuri be mean to someone he actually disliked.”

 

Phichit disentangled himself from the conversation and stared at the phone. Holy shit. But there was only one friend of Christophe Yuuri had mentioned meeting at all. Constant communication and a limited face-to-face engagement could surely be only one person. Viktor Nikiforov was into Yuuri. So into him that his perception was ‘too skewed to trust.’ Holy shit.

 

Yuuri stared out at the sea of viewers. Minako and Takeshi were here cheering him on somewhere, hopefully taking care of Christophe. He kept reminding himself that Chris and Coach Karpisek had come to a country where they didn’t even speak the language for this competition, but that turned into scolding himself for making them do it which wasn’t helping very much.

Coach Karpisek spoke, closer behind him than he had expected. “Now, Yuuri, just like we did in practice. This is going to be a walk in the park for you.”

“Not so loud!” Yuuri glanced around for his competitors. “I told you, Coach Karpisek, Minami Kenjirou beat me at nationals last year!”

Coach Karpisek’s hand was gentle on his shoulder. “And what did I tell you?”

Yuuri blushed. “That was then. But Coach, just because I can do it doesn’t mean I will.”

His coach studied him. “Just because you can mess up doesn’t mean you will do that either. And I’m not the only one who thinks you’ll blow them all away. Chris, Minako, your friend Takeshi. Chris said Yuri Plisetsky and Phichit are watching. Viktor Nikiforov has never choreographed a program for someone else before.”

Yuuri took a shuddering breath. That was more pressure, but… possibly the sort of pressure that could hold his anxiety as a steadying weight. “You never said how you got him to choreograph this one for me.”

Coach Karpisek smiled, Yuuri assumed at getting his skater to talk about something besides bombing his skate. Yuuri’s anxiety rose again at the thought. “He approached me. He said that he’d heard I was going to be coaching you and that, if you wanted something choreographed, he’d like to do a program.”

Yuuri stared, shocked. Before he could find a response, the announcer called him back out onto the ice.

He skated out to the center and stopped, cocked a hip. Viktor had looked at Yuuri’s skating last season and something about it had inspired him to approach Coach Karpisek. The music began, and Yuuri moved. Yes, he thought to his audience, Viktor had made this program, just for him. Who were they to not be moved when Viktor Nikiforov himself had been impressed? Viktor thought Yuuri could do it, had approached Coach Karpisek specifically to request it. Viktor had wanted to choreograph this program for Yuuri. He finished a seductive step sequence and stretched one leg out, folding his hands behind him as he moved into a spin.

 

It had been difficult to believe when Viktor said that Yuuri was going to be able to handle this program. Yuuri was having enough trouble believing that Viktor was there.

It wasn’t the difficulty of the program components. High base score for a short program, maybe, but ice skating was all about pushing yourself and Yuuri was excellent at that. The seductive nature of the program though. It was like Viktor had choreographed it for Chris. Surely Viktor didn’t think Yuuri was that kind of man?

 

Yuuri had tried taking lessons from Chris’s sometime-boyfriend and choreographer, an expert in pole dancing and seduction. He had given those up though, uncomfortable and unsure how to admit it.

When he stammered his confession out to Chris and Viktor and Coach Karpisek (“I know it’s important for this piece, but I just can’t… If I imitate him then it won’t be me!”) the second afternoon Viktor’s face had lit up and Chris had slipped an arm around his shoulder (a dangerous proposition while they were moving on the ice) while Coach Karpisek looked like he was trying not to laugh.

Viktor had apparently then decided to take it upon himself to help Yuuri with his seduction. That was the only explanation Yuuri could think of for the way Viktor would go quiet staring into his eyes, or slide forward and touch his lips (his LIPS) to see how chapped they were in the middle of practice. Each time, Yuuri had obediently tried harder, digging deeper to consider what seduction might look like when he tried it for himself. He had even skyped Minako one night (morning for her) when Viktor had been especially handsy and Yuuri had realized that, if this wasn’t enough, maybe the key could be taking a different role in the story. He was really proud of the look on Viktor’s face when he ran it the following morning (Viktor’s last morning in Switzerland) like Yuuri had finally managed to surprise him. With his skating. Yuuri had devoted an embarrassing amount of time to trying to surprise him over text and in person. The reward was always that moment of hesitation and that delighted laugh that bought Viktor time to think of an answer, (and Yuuri knew he was in too deep, but he would worry about that when he couldn’t put it off any longer).

 

He stepped out of the final spin, turned away, and wrapped his arms around the next invisible lover.

 

Yuuri threw himself into the flip again and again he crashed to the ice.

“Yuuri.” Coach Karpisek still hadn’t resigned himself to Yuuri’s difficulty with jumps. “What are you thinking about?”

Yuuri could hardly admit that he’d been beating himself up for being a failure. He didn’t want it to sound like he was feeling sorry for himself.

“Alright.” The coach gestured down the ring. “Skate some figures for ten minutes and work it out and then come back here ready to concentrate.”

“I- Yes Coach!” Yuuri knew he’d gone bright red. He fled to the other end of the rink and was halfway through the first figure when he realized that Coach Karpisek had followed him down.

“Slower. Work through whatever you were thinking about. It’s a way to give you space to think without bruising yourself up, not a punishment. Let me know if you want to talk.” He pointed at Yuuri’s left foot as he stepped onto it. “Sharper edge. There. And a clean transition… Good!”

It was very kind of Coach Karpisek to put up with this. Yuuri blushed. Here he was, wasting the time of one of the best coaches in the world on figures.

“Just like that. You know, Yuuri, it’s the time you spend practicing figures that is going to pay off when you start landing more quads. How often do you land on the wrong edge?”

Yuuri flushed and snapped back, “I don’t.”

“Exactly.” Coach Karpisek looked pleased. “So why are you still wasting time beating yourself up instead of working through whatever was distracting you over there?” He waved a hand down at the end of the rink where Chris and the ice dancers were drilling jumps.

Yuuri ducked his head. His lines never wobbled. (If figure skating still involved skating actual figures, whispered a treacherous voice in his head, he’d be the five-time gold medalist. Even Viktor Nikiforov had been know to lose track of his edges occasionally.) “It’s not like it was a change of topic,” he admitted.

Coach Karpisek nodded. “I wondered.”

Yuuri waited.

“Did you know that Chris wanted to learn the flip? I told him to stop.”

Yuuri blinked. “I’m not going to quit-”

“Did you ever wonder why I didn’t tell you to stop?”

Yuuri moved into a new figure, taking advantage of the change to glance away. He couldn’t even begin to answer that.

Coach Karpisek skated into Yuuri’s path so that he had to halt. “Yuuri, if I didn’t think you would get it before you injured yourself I’d have banned it, whether or not Viktor Nikiforov needs a good sharp shock.”

Yuuri ducked his head to hide a smile. Coach Karpisek treated Viktor like an errant nephew, smiling at his stories and vocally thanking whatever powers that be that he was Yakov’s problem. Then he processed the rest of the sentence. “I… Thank you, Coach Karpisek.”

Coach Karpisek raised his eyes and hands towards the ceiling. “Yuuri. I think we’re beyond these formalities, don’t you? Please, call me Josef. It makes me feel better.” Coa- Josef held up a hand as Yuuri opened his mouth. “And I want you to think about what I can do to help you when you get stuck in your head at a competition. I hug Chris, because that’s what helps him. I can do that for you, if you like, or we can try something else if you can think of anything.”

He was already shaking his head as Yuuri opened his mouth. “No, think about it. I’ll ask again in a couple of weeks. I don’t want a polite answer, I want your real answer. If it’s going to feel uncomfortable, I’m just sabotaging my own skater. If it will make you feel secure and ready to conquer the ice, that’s when it’s worth it.”

“I- Yes Coa- Josef.”

Josef gave him a smirk Yuuri would expect more from Chris and skated away back to the end of the rink where jumping was happening. Bemused, Yuuri slid back into his figures.

 

It was far too late at night and Phichit was posting on Instagram. This was going to be his excuse. He flipped through his pictures and tried to decide which of his friends would be willing to give him Viktor Nikiforov’s number. What sort of best friend would he be if he didn’t deliver his shovel talk early and often?

Yuuri wouldn’t do it. Chris wouldn’t unless Phichit had a plausible reason for wanting it, and Chris would not think “Viktor needs to know that I will fight him if he hurts Yuuri – oh, no, I know they aren’t dating yet” was a good enough reason, in all probability. It wasn’t like he would open with that. He’d start by… Phichit stopped flicking and studied the picture. This might do instead, at least for a first move.

 

When Viktor Nikiforov (THE Viktor Nikiforov! Himself!) had commented the next morning, Phichit felt more than vindicated. Yuuri’s texts of betrayal were almost inconsequential in the face of Viktor’s comments on Phichit’s story. The story was composed of several pictures and videos of Yuuri in Detriot. He was skating, dancing, petting dogs, laughing… And The Viktor Nikiforov (HIMSELF) had messaged Phichit. Phichit hadn’t even tagged Viktor. He was subtle. He tagged Yuuri.

Viktor’s comments weren’t blatant. No declarations of love for Phichit’s best friend, no keysmashed demands for baby pictures. (Yes, Phichit had copies of Yuuri’s baby pictures. Well, a copy of one of them. No, it wasn’t weird, it was for a class, and Baby Yuuri had been adorable, thank you.) Viktor clearly thought he was being subtle, because each comment was a response to Phichit’s text on the picture. “Yuuri loves the doggos” got a “what a cute doggo! Of course he does.” “Yuuri and I are coming for the men’s singles power couple” on a picture of the two of them in first and second from Yuuri’s last year in Juniors earned a “And I, for one, look forward to it.” Yuuri cradling a hamster got musings about what it must be like to be a hamster that fooled NO ONE VIKTOR, seriously? That was the last one and easily the most blatant.

Phichit hesitated, and then didn’t send his screenshots to Yuuri. Not yet. Instead, he set his phone aside to get on the ice and silently promised himself a nice chat with Viktor later.

 

Yuuri clicked on yet another dog in need of a home. She was a miniature poodle in dark gray and she cocked her head at the camera the way Vicchan used to when he was begging for a treat. There was no moment when Yuuri started to cry. One minute he was looking at her and thinking of Vicchan and the next minute he was sobbing like he would never stop. His phone rang and he groped for it. Phichit was supposed to be calling to grovel after that Instagram stunt he had pulled and he was good at talking Yuuri down.

“Phi- Phichit?”

“Yuuri?”

Oh. That. “Viktor. Sorry, I didn’t…”

The velvety voice at the other end of the phone was full of concern. “Yuuri, I… Are you alright?”

“Yes.” Yuuri hiccupped a little. “Yeah, I- I’m fine.” He sniffed and wiped a hand across his face. The tears weren’t stopping anytime soon.

“Yuuri.” Yuuri distantly noted how small Viktor’s voice had gotten. “I… Am I pushing you to tears?”

Yuuri snorted, scathing. “This isn’t even about you, Viktor.”

“Is it… You thought I was Phichit. I just… I’m not good with crying people. If I were there I could offer to kiss you or something…”

“Viktor!” The frustration and a badly timed sob turned the word into something closer to a scream. Yuuri would be embarrassed later. “It’s not about you. I miss my dog.”

“Oh,” Viktor’s voice dropped away to almost nothing. “Oh, Yuuri.”

“Stop,” Yuuri turned his face away from the phone like that would help to save his dignity. “I don’t deserve your pity. I- I hadn’t seen him in five years.”

There was a little breath against Viktor’s microphone as that statement landed. “Yuuri,”

“Don’t tell me he would have understood. He- He waited! And I never came home! I used to skype with my family and he would hear my voice and come up and lick the computer screen-” Yuuri broke off with a sob.

“Yuuri.” Viktor’s voice was quiet. “I don’t have anything useful to say, except that I’m sure he loved you. And if he loved you then he trusted you to do what was best.”

Yuuri sobbed again. “I- He was wrong to trust me though. Ho- How can I adopt another dog knowing that I’ve already let Vicchan down like this?”

 

Viktor hesitated, glancing around the apartment. Makkachin had her head on her paws as she watched Viktor spend his evening on the phone trying to impress a boy instead of walking her. “Yuuri, would Vicchan have been happier in Detroit with you? Makkachin barely gets to see me. She lives at doggie daycare and comes home to visit me for a sleepover sometimes. Did Vicchan have people he loved spending time with him?”

Yuuri gasped a breath and made a snotty sound, then blew his nose. “But Makkachin loves you. I’m sure she understands.”

Viktor snorted. “Even though I’m selfish enough to keep her here with me?”

Yuuri rustled, hiccupped, and exhaled shakily. “Oh.”

“Vicchan lived surrounded by people who loved him. What dog could ask for a better life, Yuuri?” Viktor sometimes thought he was going to give himself away just by the number of times he said the other man’s name in conversation.

“And Makkachin has an owner who loves her enough to make sure that she has people around her too, even if those people can’t always be him.”

Viktor grabbed a tissue and tried to unobtrusively blow his nose. It trumpeted and Yuuri giggled. “You got to me,” Viktor admitted, sniffling.

“Thank you, Viktor.”

“What for?” Viktor dropped himself to the floor and curled around Makkachin, who thumped her tail at him.

There was a hesitation on the other end. “For… You didn’t have to be so honest. Or nice. You could have put me off for Phichit to deal with on his lunch break, which would be all the bastard deserved.”

Viktor lifted his head and looked at Makkachin. “For the pictures? Yuuri, they’re so sweet!”

“Yeah, yeah.” Viktor could almost hear Yuuri rolling his eyes. “They’re embarrassing.”

“Yuuri.” Viktor wasn’t sure why he was surprised. “I’m being honest with you. Those pictures are lovely. I saved the dog one to my phone. You’re even cuter than the dog, and you know how I feel about dogs.”

 

When Viktor got off the phone there were notifications on his Instagram app. The top one was from Yuuri. “Looking good, Makkachin. You’re even cuter than the boy, and you know how I feel about boys.”

Viktor choked.

 

Chris opened the door to his rinkmate, holding up a hand. “Listen, Yura, Yuuri just arrived,”

“Put me on speakerphone.”

Chris snorted. “Like hell.”

“What- Whatever.”

Chris sighed. God save him from touchy Russians. “It’s not like that Yura. Yuuri had a rough day and we’re cooking. I know you pick on people because you care, but Yuuri never really believes it.”

Yura screeched and Yuuri snorted. Chris put him on speakerphone anyway, just so that Yuuri could enjoy the full effect of Yura spluttering.

“I do NOT! What the fuck, Chris. I pick on people because they need to GET BETTER!”

“Because you like them.” Chris smirked at Yuuri, who giggled again. Yura stopped mid-screech.

“Yuuri?”

Chris silently added this to his list of evidence that Yura respected Yuuri, evidence which was only mentioned when he and Yura were the only ones who could overhear. How else could Yura recognize Yuuri from one little giggle almost drowned out by his own yelling?

“Yuri?” Yuuri looked unsure and Chris nodded at him, trying for silently supportive.

Yura cleared his throat. “Look, I still don’t trust Viktor to be up to any good, but he hasn’t made Yakov worry about him since you started talking so. Thanks, I guess.”

Chris wished that Yura had warned him. That face-journey was one for the ages. Phichit would have liked to see it. “I think you broke him.” (If he was concentrating on the humor of the situation over the impact of that statement in his own stomach, well. Chris was familiar with his own coping mechanisms.)

That was enough to snap Yuuri out of it. “Oh, no, no, I’m sure it’s not- why- How would I-”

“Can it, Katsuki. He doesn’t forget to go get pirozhkis with me because he’s going home to cry into his dog anymore, he ‘forgets’ so he can call you sooner. When he ignores what I’m saying it isn’t because he’s staring into space wishing he could disappear, it’s because he’s texting you dog pictures. It’s gross, but. Well.”

“Depression isn’t something you fix by throwing a friend at it,” Yuuri argued.

Chris broke in. “Depression isn’t something you fix. But Viktor is comfortable talking to you, Yuuri. I’ve learned more about him when you two are on speaker with me than I knew in how many years of friendship. In some ways.”

Yura’s voice was subdued. “He let Yakov talk him into seeing a therapist a couple of weeks ago. Because Yakov said that depending on you for validation wasn’t fair to you. Today was the appointment and he actually went.”

Yuuri made a small noise. He had one hand raised to cover his mouth and his eyes were shining.

Chris filled in the next gap ruthlessly, before Yuuri could try to sneak through it. “Yakov has been trying to talk him into therapy for years. Sometimes he enlists my help.”

A text message from Phichit popped up on his screen and he immediately redirected the other man to Yuuri.

“Phi- Phichit-kun?” He answered the call and listened silently for a moment, then gave Chris a look. “Why would I put you on speaker when you admit that your purpose is to gang up against me with Chris and Yuri Plisetsky?”

Chris could hear Phichit’s response. He hoped the other man wasn’t disturbing anyone around him.

“You think I should LIE? Katsuki Yuuri, I am shocked! Appalled!”

Chris narrated this to Yura in an undertone as Phichit got quieter.

“Put him on speaker, Katsuki. He’ll tell you that I don’t say things just to be nice.”

Yuuri made a choked noise and put Phichit on speaker.

“… cannot believe that you of all people would expect me to feed you some palatable lie instead of giving you the cold hard truth. What have I done to deserve this sort of disrespect?”

Chris chuckled. “Phichit. Welcome to the conversation.”

 

Eventually, Yuuri forgave Phichit the photos and Phichit got off the phone.

“So what are you assholes cooking?”

Yuuri lit up. “Katsudon! It’s a breaded pork cutlet with rice and egg, and it’s the best thing ever.”

Chris made a skeptical noise.

“Just you wait, Chris. It’s better than sex.”

Chris pulled a face. “I’m not sure who you’ve been having sex with,”

Yuuri was already burying his face in his hands.

Yura scoffed. “Listen here, Katsudon. It can’t even be the best food, because that’s pirozhki. It certainly won’t be better than sex.”

Yuuri lifted his face, still burning bright red. “What sort of cook are you, Yuri?”

Chris could practically hear the boy bristling through the phone.

“Very good.”

“Alright then,” Yuuri raised his chin. “I’ll give you a list of ingredients to find, and when you have them we can facetime and cook katsudon. And then if you give me ingredients and cooking assistance I’ll make pirozhki. And you and I and Chris and- and a fourth person of your choice will decide.” Chris had the feeling Yuuri had been very close to inviting Viktor over to Yura’s to eat katsudon and pirozhki.

Yura’s sigh was put-upon. “I’ll include the idiot if you want. But I’m feeding Lilia too.”

If Chris were a better man, he’d be less amused at how fast Yuuri’s face went from red to white.

 

Phichit let his hamsters loose on his bed while he worked on his objectives for this conversation with Viktor. He had to respond somehow, but after listening to Yuri Plisetsky and Chris insist, through varying levels of volume and white noise, that Yuuri was doing great things for Viktor, Phichit wasn’t going to give the man a shovel talk just yet.

Perhaps he should open with an offer of baby pictures.

Phichit settled a hamster just below his ear, took a selfie, and posted it to his timeline. Start with the simple pieces.

‘Hey, Viktor! You’re not the first person I expect to be following me!’ That should be innocuous enough. ‘I have more pictures of Yuuri petting dogs if you want. It’s a whole folder.’ That probably gave the man plausible deniability? ‘I hear that I need to thank you for talking my best friend down this afternoon. He gets stuck in his head sometimes and it sounds like I may have accidentally set him off.’ Grateful, just possessive enough to hint that Phichit would fuck him up if he hurt Yuuri, and a little bit of information about how important and delicate Yuuri’s mental health could be.

The screen informed him that Viktor was Typing before he could even navigate away. He checked the time. Then the time in Russia. He guessed that was almost a reasonable hour, if one were the type to get up before they had to even if when they had to was ungodly early.

‘Of course I follow you! You take the most skillful selfies in men’s singles!’ Phichit’s jaw dropped. He hadn’t… That was. A LOT. It was past his bedtime. He checked again. Viktor Nikiforov had still said that. And now another message followed. ‘I would love to see Yuuri petting dogs, but only if I can see Yuuri’s permission to share the folder with me first.’ Phichit screenshotted that. ‘And it was my pleasure! It didn’t sound like it was you that set him off, but regardless, he helped me too!’

Phichit shook himself (screenshotted THAT) and moved to the text window between him and Yuuri. He sent the first screenshot. ‘Please, Yuuri, let me send the poor boy pictures of you and the doggos?’

He toggled back to Instagram. ‘I’m waiting on his permission now.’

He stared at the digits that appeared. Of all the things he hadn’t expected to see, Viktor Nikiforov’s phone number from the man himself, unprompted, had to make the top five, at the very least. ‘Here, in case it’s easier to text.’

Phichit shook himself again, replied, and got ready for bed.

 

Yuuri accepted the facetime request. “Hello Yuri! Do you have all your ingredients out?”

Yuri Plisetsky rolled his eyes at him and turned the phone to show him the counter full of ingredients. “I told you I did, Katsudon. You even saw pictures of the panko flour.”

Yuuri didn’t think he imagined the relief in the kid’s voice at not being forced to report on how his day was. “Alright then, Pirozhki. This is how we’ll start…”

The other boy didn’t object to the nickname. While they waited for the deep fryer, Yuri Plisetsky sighed. “Look, Chris told me that your dog died while you were at the Final. I’m sorry for being a dick about it, Katsudon.”

Yuuri stared straight ahead at the fryer for a moment. He hadn’t expected… Well. He never would have expected to be cooking with Yuri Plisetsky one timezone apart either. “Thanks, Pirozhki,” or to have a teasing nickname for the other skater, “for the apology. I appreciate it.”

There was a thudding, like Yuri was kicking the counter as he sat. “You don’t mind, right? If I call you Katsudon?”

Yuuri considered this. “I don’t think so. Not as long as you’re OK with me calling you Pirozhki.”

“Maybe…” Yuri looked conflicted. Yuuri was certain that this wasn’t the way Yuri usually negotiated nicknames. “Could you not use it in front of Viktor or Mila? They’ll want to use it too. I won’t call you Katsudon in front of anyone you ask me not to either, if you want.”

Yuuri considered this too. “I can do that. And it doesn’t seem likely you’ll ever meet him, but Nishigori Takeshi from my hometown. It’s no big deal if you forget, it’s just…” Yuuri sighed. How could he explain the ambivalence of his friendship with the man who used to be his bully and was now his cheerleader? “He might not let it go.”

Yuri huffed. “You should meet Mila. You want to meet someone who never knows when to let something go.” He rolled his eyes elaborately. “She found out I was trans and suddenly every time someone said something she had to defend my right to not wear makeup or sparkles or whatever… It’s not like I hate glitz and glamor. I’m a figure skater for fuck’s sake.”

Yuuri leaned to check on his pork. “Poke your pork and check to see what it looks like, Yuri.” He paused. “And thanks for sharing. I promise to side with Viktor when he says you need to learn to do eyeshadow from someone who isn’t Georgi. Personally, I recommend Phichit. He’ll be happy to help if you ask nicely.”

“Oh, fuck off.” Yuri shoved the phone close to his pork. “What do you think?”

 

Chris settled in with Marie and Masumi in front of the TV. He had invited Yuuri over as well, but the other skater had objected that Phichit really deserved his undivided attention. Chris had chosen not to ask if he was planning to tell Viktor the same. He’d already sent off well-wishes for the short program.

“Cute,” Masumi observed as Leo de la Iglesia took the ice.

Chris nodded, stroking the cat crouched on his knee. “He’s got a history of matching the music nicely. And his coach is very kind. Did I tell you about watching her try to wrangle JJ Leroy a couple of years ago?”

Masumi laughed and wrapped an arm over Chris’s shoulders. Chris scrunched himself down a little and leaned on his boyfriend.

“This is peppier than last year’s program.” Chris studied the skater. “Last year was- well, maybe I just see it everywhere, but I thought he was depressed.”

“Nothing says ‘never been depressed’ like a song called ‘Still Alive,’ right?”

They watched the rest of Leo’s program in silence. (There wasn’t much to say to that. Phichit was friends with the other skater. Chris trusted him to do his best to keep his friends afloat.) He bowed, skated to the kiss and cry. The stadium erupted in cheers and Chris nodded, impressed. “That’s a pretty good showing for his first skate in Seniors.”

Masumi snorted and reached over to pet the cat. They chatted companionably as they watched Guang-Hong and Otabek, the conversation broken up by Chris’s impressed intake of breath every time Otabek levitated into another quad. He found his phone and texted Yuri, who had been complaining about ballet.

Then Phichit glided onto the ice and Chris was reminded of Yuri’s plea for no distractions. He hadn’t expected to care so much about the skating of a friend who he had never actually talked to in person.

“So this is Yuuri’s old rinkmate?”

“Shhhh. Yes.” Chris sat up, the better to see the screen. The music started. Masumi let the hand that had been around Chris’s shoulders drop to Chris’s hip and squeeze. “Not now, I want to see this.” Masumi withdrew his hand silently.

 

Viktor’s original plan had involved vodka and not bothering to turn the TV on, but Yuri Plisetsky knocked on his door fifteen minutes before Skate America was due to start. (Never mind nighttime, there wasn’t a top skater in the world, Viktor suspected, who was currently asleep, no matter the time of day in their current location.)

“Here.” The boy shoved a covered plate into Viktor’s stomach. “I had more leftovers than I could eat alone. And your TV is bigger.”

Viktor wasn’t sure he believed Yuri. Lilia must have a big TV. Unless she didn’t have one at all. She was one of those people you couldn’t imagine any other way. On the other hand, if Yuri wanted a mentor for how to watch his fellow skaters, Viktor could handle that.

 

Yuri didn’t care about Viktor. He’d just brought the leftover food over because clearly Katsudon (the human one) would be upset if anything happened to this idiot, and Yuri didn’t want to see the man’s skating flop over some outside tragedy again. It had nothing to do with the fact that Viktor had picked at his lunch instead of eating it today, or how satisfying it was when someone ate food he’d cooked. It certainly had nothing to do with the quiet of Lilia’s house, empty when one adult was home and strained when they were both in the same room. Yuri had lived through years of his parents arguing with each other. He didn’t need to listen to his coach and his… whatever Lilia was doing the same.

By the time Viktor turned the television on loud enough for them to hear when things actually started and followed Yuri into the kitchen he’d given up rummaging for clean dishes and started to wash dirty ones.

 

Viktor would be embarrassed, but. Well, being embarrassed cost energy, and he didn’t have that today. The fact that Yuri had already learned from Yakov how to take advantage of the inertia to make Viktor eat… Viktor would worry about that when this cloud blew over.

Yuri carried two microwaved plates back into the living room and called over his shoulder for Viktor to follow with drinks.

Viktor hesitated, and then opted for water. Good examples. He traded a glass for a plate and sat on the sofa next to Yuri. Yuri found a coaster for his water and then the remote to bring the volume back to a reasonable level.

“Eat.”

Viktor sighed, but followed the kid’s example. If he didn’t, he knew from experience, Yuri would only get more demanding. Leo de la Iglesia slipped onto the ice and Viktor, resigned, began to explain.

“See, one of the best things you can assess here-”

“Shut up and eat something. You think I didn’t see you skipping lunch today? You’ll worry Yuuri if you faint halfway through your program next week.”

Viktor would protest, but if he had permission to sit quietly, today he would take it.

Yuri sat silently until Otabek Altin (third at Worlds last year – impressive quads) skated on. “Does the therapy help?”

Viktor blinked, feeling sideswiped by the conversational gambit. “I think it’s too early to say. Yuri, do you feel- ?”

“When’s your next appointment?”

“After Skate Canada. I have a couple of weeks before Rostelecom… Yuri? Why…?”

“Don’t you have a number you can call though? If you’re feeling…” Yuri’s hand wave encompassed Viktor as he sat, food only half-eaten, dog on his feet, and eyes not on his future competitors.

Viktor thought it was probably a good sign that he wasn’t feeling so gray as to not care about being ambushed by an intervention from someone nearly half his age.

“And what makes that any business of yours?” He would feel bad about biting Yuri’s head off later.

Yuri’s chin came up. It probably wasn’t fair to appreciate the kid for the fact that he never made Viktor feel bad about snapping at him because he always matched him for prickliness. “I don’t want to have to bother Chris or Katsudon in the middle of watching Phichit, but I will call them both. I will call Phichit when he is about to skate. All three of them would want to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself over being left in the dark.” The boy crossed his arms. “I know you’ve never minded being selfish, but worrying Phichit when he’s about to skate and keeping Chris and Yuuri from watching him seems malicious even for you, especially when we both know that Yuuri would have exactly the right words to make you call.” Viktor would point out that it would be Yuri bothering the three of them if he didn’t think that Yuri would eventually win that argument. It was so much easier to sit silent.

Yuri’s phone buzzed in his pocket. He ignored it.

Viktor sighed. “I’ll call as soon as the programs are over.”

Yuri hesitated. “Promise?”

Viktor thought of the number of broken promises he must owe Yuri. “Promise. If I don’t you can call Chris and Yuuri to come kick my ass.”

Yuri turned back to the screen as Phichit skated on. “Don’t think I won’t.”

 

Chris got a text from Viktor as he brushed his teeth. Masumi frowned over Chris’s shoulder as he opened the message, but there was a reason Chris’s phone didn’t go on silent even during sex and skating practice and that reason’s name was Viktor Nikiforov. Not that he and Viktor had ever talked about it. But that only made it more important to Chris that he answer any message from Viktor, no matter how light it seemed. He didn’t trust a flirty text not to be a cry for help in disguise. Not when Viktor had shown no sign of knowing how to formulate a cry for help.

‘I hope you appreciated the drama-free short program viewing. YP made me call my therapist so he wouldn’t disturb you’.

Chris spat into the sink and had the phone ringing before he’d even washed his mouth out.

Masumi walked out to go wait in the bedroom, bathrobe flouncing after him. That was fine. Chris had made it clear to him how these things worked years ago.

“Viktor?”

“Chris! I’m sorry, you didn’t have to call.”

“Of course I had to call. That’s a text I’ve never gotten before. I don’t know how it works.” Chris bit his lip and hoped that wouldn’t keep Viktor from sending the text next time. “I’m glad I got it.”

Viktor’s voice was wry. “Yuri said you would be. Or at least that you would rather a call in the middle of the short programs to me not contacting my therapist on a gray day.”

Chris silently thanked any and all powers that had helped create Yuri Plisetsky. “He was right too.”

“I feel better.” Viktor said it so quietly that Chris wasn’t sure for a moment that the other man had admitted it out loud. “I’m glad I called. So… If I ever want to complain about someone bullying me into calling her, or if I ever sound like I’m having a bad day to you…”

“Remind you?”

“Please. I have an appointment first thing in the morning. Yakov will yell,” Viktor was more cheerful now, “but it keeps him young.”

Chris smiled at his reflection fondly. “If Yakov yells, send him to me. I’ll be happy to remind him about all the yelling he’s done to get you here.” His gaze dropped (apparently he couldn’t hold eye contact and say this even when he was the only person in the room, coward). “He’ll be proud.”

Viktor hemmed and coughed and Chris raised his eyes and laughed. “What time even is it there? Go to bed Viktor. And tomorrow talk to me about Phichit’s short. It was lovely.”

 

Yuuri watched Chris and Masumi. There was something off about them. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but they… Masumi suggested a change to Chris’s choreography to take out some of Viktor’s influence. Chris’s shoulders went back and he declined. Masumi pressed, suggesting that the judges might feel it was derivative, and Chris (very politely, considering the provocation, Yuuri thought) disagreed. Then Masumi oh-so kindly wanted to convince Chris that the accents on the costume for his free skate shouldn’t be red. “Don’t want to look like you were trying to match your friends, Chris. You don’t want to look tacky.” Yuuri couldn’t think of a recent costume Viktor had worn that had red in it.

Chris, in his turn, had been polite and firm, then prickly. Yuuri felt himself reacting to the tension in the room by going quiet until Masumi left. Then he took a breath and skated up to Chris.

“I thought that for the free skate tonight I might make pirozhki. I still have leftover ingredients. Would you be interested in helping me eat them? And we could watch together if you want, as long as you’re quiet while Phichit is skating.”

Chris’s mouth quirked to the side. “I would tease you, but I know for a fact that Yura took the afternoon off to make more katsudon.”

Yuuri blinked and refused to rise to the bait. “How interesting. I just got a text from Viktor that Yuri made him dinner last night and watched the short at his place. I wonder if he’s doing it again.” The look on Chris’s face gave Yuuri all the confirmation he needed.

Chris’s face suddenly clicked over to abashed. “Is that what you’re doing for me, Yuuri? Do I look that pitiful?”

Yuuri folded his lips together. “I don’t think Viktor is pitiful.” He wasn’t sure what to say to show Chris that it wasn’t pity motivating him to be friendly tonight. “I figured that you’ve fed me often enough.” This was true. “I noticed that you and Masumi… seemed to be at odds. I thought you might like a friend.” Also true. Hopefully not pitying. Yuuri could acknowledge that in his rinkmate’s place he would seek out quiet and solitude without assuming that Chris would want the same.

Chris made a rueful face. Like most of Chris’s faces, it knew how charming it was and laughed at itself, just a little. “I mean, thank you Yuuri. I apologize for the crabby behavior. I’ll try to shape up before tonight.”

Yuuri offered him a small smile. “I knew you were crabby when I invited you over. And really, how much worse than Yuri can you be?”

Chris stared, then choked on his laughter. “I’m telling.”

Yuuri shrugged. “Sounds like a you problem. I’m going to work on my flip some more.” He flashed Chris a smirk and skated off.

 

Phichit was barely done with his last interview when his phone rang. It was Yuuri. Phichit scolded himself for the moment he had expected Chris and answered.

“Yuuri? Did you see? Shouldn’t you be in bed?”

“Phichit!”

“Phichit-kun!”

Phichit caught himself smiling at Chris’s voice on the other end. “Do you guys have me on speaker?” And then, because he loved to tease even when they couldn’t see the shocked expression he was putting on for them, “Are you having a party without me?”

“Without you,” Chris agreed, “but in your honor. Congratulations!”

Phichit blushed and beamed. “It’s really Leo and Guang-Hong who deserve the congratulations. First and third! But don’t worry, I’ll be coming for gold in China!”

Phichit listened to Yuuri’s nervous giggle and Chris’s chuckle and in his post-competition adrenaline high his thoughts slipped out as words. “Did you practice laughing like that and record it Chris? No one’s laugh promises unspeakable things that way accidentally.”

He didn’t really compute the fact that he’d actually asked that until he heard Yuuri choke. He put a hand up to his cheek.

“I’m so sorry Chris, I don’t know what came over me. That was completely inappropriate.” He dropped his head in his hands. (It was mostly for the drama of it. With one hand holding his phone to his ear and the other one feeling the heat of the blush in his cheek, all the action really required was a gentle tilting.)

Chris’s chuckle was gentler this time. “I’m going to regret admitting this tomorrow, but.”

Yuuri squeaked. Phichit’s jaw dropped. “You did!”

“I didn’t actually record it! But yes, I practiced it. Do you think you can switch from an innocent – what’s the word Viktor used the other day? – cherubic persona to something more… mature just on a whim? If I didn’t practice then how was I going to be different enough for anyone to notice?”

“You’re my favorite, Chris.” Phichit would worry in the morning about giving too much away. Anyway, he trusted Chris not to let things get too awkward. And what the other man expected when he called Phichit practically every day with updates on their favorite rinkmate…

Chris practically purred back at him. “The feeling is mutual.”

Otabek Altin appeared in a corner of the locker room and Phichit blushed. “I should go. Thank you for calling though.” He disengaged and hung up the phone just before the other skater left. “Hey, Otabek, congratulations!” There was no reason for Phichit to blush. He and Chris were friends. Yuuri had already been there as a chaperone. Chris had a boyfriend. He still felt like Otabek had caught him doing something illicit.

 

Yuuri sent Viktor the first photo.

‘!!!!!!!!!!!!’ Viktor sent back and Yuuri cooed at the bundle of fluff in his arm. His phone rang with a Facetime request and Yuuri laughed as he answered.

“She’s too precious Yuuri!”

Yuuri kissed the dog’s nose in answer. “I’m going to make sure she knows it too.”

“Did you decide, are you keeping her name?”

Yuuri pulled a face. “I’m still trying to learn how to say it. S-cha-t-z.” Years of living in Detroit were not enough to prepare him for German consonants.

Viktor laughed. “So what would you change it to?”

Yuuri lifted his face to let the charcoal miniature poodle lick his chin. “I was thinking of Satomi.”

“That’s not too far off. She could learn to answer to it.”

“Exactly.” Yuuri let the dog hide his face as he confessed his other concern. “I didn’t even think about the language barrier until they told her to sit in German before they handed me the leash. Either I have to teach Satomi Japanese or English or I have to learn German to talk to my dog.”

Viktor laughed again. “Teach the dog. She’ll pick it up faster.”

Yuuri’s answering laughter was bright enough that the dog yipped along and tilted Yuuri's head enough that he almost missed the notification that Viktor had taken a picture.

It was a dog picture, Yuuri reminded himself and put it out of his mind.

“I speak Japanese, English, and some French, German, and Thai, thank you very much.” He didn’t mention the Russian lessons Yuri had offered. He was biding his time to surprise Viktor with that.

Viktor’s delight when Yuuri sassed him was wonderful. “And I speak Russian, English, French, and a little Japanese.”

Yuuri blinked. The Viktor on his screen looked suddenly abashed.

“Investments. How are you going to go about teaching Satomi her new name?”

Clearly, Viktor didn’t want to discuss it. Yuuri shrugged inwardly and went with the change of subject. A notification popped up on his screen and he resigned himself to a scolding from Phichit later. Viktor had posted the picture of Yuuri and Satomi laughing on his Instagram. He’d tagged Yuuri. “I was thinking trea- Are you trying to get me in trouble with Phichit?”

Viktor shrugged. “How would I go about doing that?”

Yuuri shook his head and sighed.

 

Yuri was Facetime cooking with Yuuri again. The Katsudon had asked about borsht and now Yuri was coaching him through cooking the soup. It was relaxing. Yuri was thinking about asking to cook with Yuuri again and trying to decide how to frame it (he thought something about it only being fair, since he had taught Katsudon two dishes, but hadn’t quite finished putting the wording together to make sure it wouldn’t sound like he was asking to spend time together.) A door slammed and Yuri jumped. It wasn’t Lilia and Yakov. They had both stalked off to their respective bedrooms already. Just because they had a plane ride to China in the morning, Lilia had told him, was no reason not to get a full night’s sleep. Nevertheless, Yuri had been allowed to stay up.

“Did you slam a door?” He hated that his voice went small.

“I think that was Chris.” Yuuri swallowed and Yuri was reassured by the other man’s uncertainty. “He and Masumi have been going through something, I think. I’m not sure what.”

Yuri nodded at the phone camera. He was suddenly glad that Yuuri had messaged him this afternoon for this cooking lesson and he hadn’t had the time to pick up the ingredients himself. Offscreen, his hands picked up the yarn and knitting needles Lilia had bought for him. (“I tat, but lacework is more complicated. Start with this. It gives you something to do with your hands besides worry.” Yuri’s protests that his hands weren’t worrying hadn’t moved her.) He looped the yarn in comforting circles and watched Katsudon stir his soup.

When a knock sounded on Yuuri’s door they both flinched.

“Hey, Yuuri, sorry to bother- Are you cooking borscht? What do you mean, why would I think that, what else would grow that number of beet tops on your counter?”

Yuri snorted, relieved in ways he didn’t care to mention.

“Hey, Satomi, my love. How clever and kind you are, my dear. Oh, thank you, you’re right, I hadn’t cleaned that ankle very well.” And then his face appeared in the empty ceiling space that showed when Yuuri – Katsudon – needed his hands. “Hello Yuri! You’re supervising this operation? Allow me to facilitate,” and Chris swooped the phone over Yuuri’s shoulder to check Katsudon’s knife technique as he chopped.

“Are you excited for your first event in the Grand Prix series as a senior?” Yuri rolled his eyes.

“I’m delighted to finally get the chance to wipe the floor with a new set of competitors.”

“Leo and Guang-Hong moved up with you,” Yuuri pointed out. “Really it’s just me and Phichit and Chris. And Phichit is only on his second year in seniors.”

Yuri huffed. “But I was bored enough in Juniors that even this will do. And I’m allowed to do quads now.”

The phone moved with Chris’s rumbling chuckle. “We’ll do, Yuuri.” Yuri’s view shifted as Chris presumably draped himself over the other skater.

 

Chris didn’t love leaving Marie with Masumi during a fight. He liked even less leaving Masumi looking after Yuuri’s new dog while they were in a fight, among other things, about Chris and Chris’s friends. However, he knew that Masumi wouldn’t actually take the fight out on their pets, and he was afraid that changing his mind about leaving the pets with him might actually break them up for good. He knew Yuuri was keeping an eye on him during the flight, in between bouts of dozing. He sat up and watched movies and pretended that the shitty wifi was bad enough to prevent him texting Yura or Phichit.

It was a relief when they finally landed. There was only a short cab ride to the hotel, where Chris was planning to collapse into bed and sleep away what was left of the day. He hadn’t slept the night before. Fights were exhausting. (Part of him was mad Masumi had picked a fight the week before his first qualifier, but a larger part of him knew that setting his career ahead of their relationship was part of the problem as well.)

It wouldn’t have been a surprise to him normally when Phichit knocked on their door as soon as he and Yuuri dropped their bags. He’d given Phichit their information when they made the reservations. Come to think of it, he might have made the dinner plans.

Phichit beamed at them. “I caught little Yuri in the lobby and introduced him to Guang-Hong. They’re getting on like a wildfire. Are you OK, Chris?”

Chris righted himself with an effort and smiled. “I’m great. Dinner?”

Phichit looked him up and down. “Dinner? Or wine and dancing?”

Yuuri shook his head. “Not before the competition, Phichit!”

Phichit shrugged. “Chris and I can go clubbing after dinner if he wants a drink.”

Chris smirked at their friend. “I like how you assume that I can’t drink at dinner. Are Yura and your friends coming?”

 

Yuri had made the rules clear when he first befriended Chris, and so he turned to Leo and Guang-Hong as Chris draped himself over Phichit’s shoulder to look at his phone.

“They’re about to get gross. I’m getting out of here,” he paused, struggling with his next request. “If either of you would rather hang out somewhere a little less,” he threw his hand at Chris, who had now settled his chin on Phichit’s shoulder while an arm dragged Yuuri in close, “you’re welcome to come along.”

He watched Leo glance at Guang-Hong. Guang-Hong nodded.

“Sure, that sounds great!” Leo beamed at him. “Hey! Phichit, we’re heading out. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”

Phichit laughed and waved at them and somehow managed to take a picture of himself smushing Yuuri’s cheeks. Oh, that was Chris’s hand on the phone. Yuuri looked resigned and just a little amused. Yuri decided that the Katsudon didn’t need saving and stomped out of the restaurant. If he had invited these two, did he have to come up with an alternative activity?

Leo pulled his phone out as they exited the restaurant. “It looks like there’s a park nearby. Do you want to go hang there? We could listen to some tunes and just relax.”

Yuri nodded, relieved. Leo turned to Guang-Hong. “It says we turn right at- I don’t recognize this character, Guang-Hong?” Guang-Hong removed Leo’s phone from his hands and began leading the way, and Yuri and Leo fell into step behind him. Did Leo read Chinese? Leo kept glancing at Yuri. Yuri was about to say something about it when the other skater spoke.

“Is it true you did a quad Salchow at thirteen?”

Yuri shrugged and opened his mouth to tell him that it wasn’t like it was hard, then paused. The other skater had just barely gotten his rotations on his quad toe loop at Skate America. He bit his lip and settled for a nod. There was no reason to be a dick to Leo yet.

 

Yuuri woke up the morning of the short program to Chris’s phone going off like a volcano. He winced and burrowed back under his pillows. It had been wonderful to see Phichit again. They had gone sightseeing in the dark after dinner. The three of them had taken a series of semi-risqué pictures in famous sightseeing spots… he had a distinct memory of lifting Chris onto his shoulders in Tiananmen Square as Phichit pressed a kiss to Yuuri’s cheek and some half-willing tourist took a picture for them. At least he had told Phichit not to post them. Sometimes Phichit didn’t think and posted things, but he was a good friend and certainly wouldn’t post if you asked him not to.

Chris finally picked up his phone. “Masumi, is everything OK? Yes, I did. I posted them. I generally look at pictures before I post them.” Yuuri groaned into his pillow. “I was out having fun with my friends. We all know who I’m going home to.” A pause, broken only by the sort of angry buzz that generally means someone is gesticulating wildly at an empty room. Chris’s voice was harder as he continued. “You knew what I was- So what, you thought if you dated me I would change for you? Oh, eventually? And that’s supposed to make it better, that it was acceptable the first few years and now you’re changing the rules without even talking to me about it.” Yuuri felt Chris glance at him. “Hang on, let me go somewhere more private. Well, yes, obviously. I’m sharing with Yuuri? I usually share with Josef or a rinkmate- Of course I wouldn’t when you come, no rinkmate wants to be subjected to us having sex in the next bed! That’s- Masumi. You’re blowing this out of proportion.” He stepped into the bathroom and closed the door. Yuuri flopped onto his back and felt his anxiety swamp him.

 

Phichit watched his friends across the room as they slunk in. Both of them looked like shit. He’d been watching the alcohol consumption for all three of them and neither one should be that hungover. He hadn’t thought Yuuri drank anything at all.

Someone tapped his shoulder.

He turned to look at the Russian punk, who was looking sympathetic. “Where’s your phone?”

“I gave it to Ciao Ciao last night.” It was the easiest way to ensure the safety of his promise to Yuuri against his tipsy impulse to document everything good on Instagram.

“Shit.” Yuri muttered a string of Russian to himself as he flipped through his phone. “Well you may as well start with the idiot’s Instagram.”

“Viktor’s?”

Yuri snorted. “Not today.”

Phichit took the offered phone. Here were the pictures Yuuri had begged him not to post. In the light of day nothing looked any more terrible than normal. A little silly, good friends goofing off (and Phichit could tell you he wasn’t delighted that he and Chris had hit it off so well in person, but he would be lying) but even when Yuuri had helpfully lifted Chris’s butt to eye level, none of the resulting pictures had caught Phichit oogling it. He got to the end of the pictures and tried to hand the phone back to Yuri, who shook his head and flipped over to the web browser.

“Some of the articles are sort of gross and racist,” he warned, ducking his head, and Phichit would have been touched if he weren’t so concerned what the paparazzi might have captured.

Chris and Yuuri joined him at his table as he read through. None of these articles looked any worse than the time the media got pictures from a rink party though. It was all the same sort of baseless speculation they all dealt with, if you, like Phichit, counted the oversexualization of Asian skaters as something everyone had to deal with. He passed the phone back with a thank you and frowned at his tablemates.

“Sorry I’m not more cheerful.” Chris essayed a grin. “Masumi broke up with me this morning.”

Yuri Plisetsky picked up his empty plate and slunk away to dispose of it.

“What?” Phichit swallowed his righteous anger. Surely there was a better reason than last night’s articles. There had to be.

Yuuri looked sick to his stomach and had piled pancakes on his plate. Clearly, his anxiety had put his breakfast together for him. Phichit reached over to snag a pancake and scooped half of his fruit onto Yuuri’s plate instead, earning a tight smile. That was as much as he expected.

“We’ve been having problems. It’s difficult to date a skater. And I don’t compromise very well.” Phichit took a breath and tried to distance himself from his indignation and partisanship. It was difficult to date skaters, he supposed.

Yuri stood hesitating at the edge of Phichit’s vision for a moment before joining them at their table with a second plate of dietician-approved breakfast foods. He shoved it towards Phichit and Yuuri, chewing on his lip.

Phichit smiled at him gratefully and turned to Chris. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want, but I’m here if you ever do.” He replenished his fruit and added a little more fruit to Yuuri’s plate and some egg. Yuuri gave him a flat look but began eating anyway. He tipped the rest of the fruit onto Chris’s plate, where it joined his paltry meal.

Chris nodded and continued. “You’re maybe going to be asked about it if this gets nasty, so just know that it’s not about last night, we’ve been fighting since summer.”

“Since I moved in,” Yuuri agreed.

Phichit’s stomach twisted. “Thank you for telling us Chris,” he glanced at Yuuri to check that his friend was listening to this part (it was the day of the short program) “but everyone here knows that when a relationship doesn’t work out it’s because of what’s happening in the relationship, not those outside, right Yuuri?”

Chris glanced at Yuuri and blushed. “It really has nothing to do with you, Yuuri. It’s been… others.”

“It sounded like it was me this morning.”

“This morning was Masumi being a dick.” Chris sighed. Eating seemed to be helping. Phichit glanced at Yuri and tapped his own orange juice. Yuri nodded and popped up again. “We started fighting over Viktor again. It’s always over Viktor. He doesn’t like that I make myself so available to my friends.” He rolled his eyes, then paused. “Actually, that’s not fair. He doesn’t like that he isn’t my first priority, which is a reasonable thing to expect in a relationship where that was the deal. But I told him when we started this,” Yuri dropped a cup of orange juice in front of Chris. It sloshed but didn’t lose anything. A second cup appeared in front of Yuuri. “Thank you, Yura. I told Masumi at the beginning that my career was my first priority and that I would always prioritize a friend who really needed me over the two of us wanting to get off.”

Yuri pulled a face.

“Sorry Yura.” Chris sighed. “It’s just been more of an issue lately and last night turned into an excuse to fight about it all over again.” He took a breath. “And I told him that I wasn’t having this fight this weekend in the middle of my qualifier, and he told me that if I hung up now it was over. And then I hung up.” He looked at Yuuri.

 

Viktor’s phone buzzed again where it sat on the rink wall and Viktor let his momentum carry him over to it. His therapist was helping him talk through his complicated emotions about his Skate Canada win and some days skating didn’t feel completely flavorless. Even so, he was happy to seize an excuse to avoid practice for a few minutes, even if his gut also twisted with guilt over it.

He had a text from Chris. He started to put the phone down – he could look at it later – when a second text came in from Yuri. It started with Yuuri’s name. Viktor sighed and opened that message first. ‘Yuuri could do with a check-in from someone I think. Have you seen the media mess from last night?’ He might as well check Chris's as well.

Chris’s was short and to the point. ‘Masumi broke up with me. Yuuri could use a friend who’s uninvolved.’

Viktor considered this for a moment and then called Chris first.

“I didn’t tell you to call me.”

“If I had sent you that message you think I don’t know you’d have immediately called me?”

“If I’d known you and Masumi were dating I’d have broken up with him sooner.”

Viktor rolled his eyes. “That was a terrible joke.”

Chris was quiet for a minute. “I can push it away though. I’m more mad that he did this to Phichit and Yuuri.”

Viktor breathed and managed to avoid snorting out loud. Chris could hide his emotions. Just. “This is skating though. Skating his program, that he designed to show off how sexy he finds you.”

“I’ll be skating my program. The program I can use to tell him exactly what he won’t be getting anymore.” Chris sounded firm, not sad.

Viktor wished that he was better at reading voices. He hoped Chris was going to be OK. He didn’t ask the question that he couldn’t imagine Chris would have an answer for. The one about the fact that it was an off-and-on relationship and this wasn’t the first time that they had broken up.

Chris answered him anyway. “We’re not getting back together this time. It’s not- This has been a long time coming. It’s about my work and his allergies and my pet and his jealousy and my friends and the fact that he likes time to himself while I like people when I have time.”

Viktor bit his lip and decided to believe Chris. “And you think I should call Yuuri.”

“Please.”

 

Yuuri called him first. It was a half an hour before Yuuri would need to be out on the ice warming up. Viktor had been to too many of these events. Even from another country, he could feel the rhythm of it in his bones.

“Hi Viktor. Sorry to bother you. Josef suggested that I call.”

“He did?”

“I.”

“I’m glad you called.”

“Why did you ask Josef to let you do my short program?”

Viktor spoke without thinking. “This program was yours. It was you I imagined doing it when I created the program.”

Yuuri’s voice was plaintive. “But why me?”

“You seduced me into it.” Too late, Viktor remembered why Chris had asked him to call, but luckily Yuuri didn’t seem upset.

Instead, he stuttered. “I- I what?”

Viktor winced.

“Viktor,” Yuuri’s soft voice was firm, “when did I seduce you into making me this program. You didn’t even know who I was in Sochi. Did you look up my past performances to see how I even managed to get in?”

Viktor’s eyebrows knitted. “Where did you get that idea? Of course I knew who you were in Sochi. We were at the Olympics together two years before that. We’re both friends with Chris! You seduced me at the Sochi Banquet!” Viktor cut himself off and winced. That was exactly what Chris had wanted him not to do. Surely, Chris was wrong about this. Yuuri couldn’t have forgotten-

Yuuri croaked at him. “I what?”

Viktor kept his voice level with difficulty. “Seduced me. At the banquet. Very successfully. You were the inspiration behind the story.”

There was a telling silence.

“You really did forget.”

The voice coming through the phone now was even softer. “All I remember is standing next to the table and drinking. A lot.”

Viktor swallowed. “How can I fix this?” He couldn’t be the reason Yuuri blew his first qualifier. He would never forgive himself.

“Tell me I didn’t do anything too embarrassing? I go completely off the rails when I’m drunk.”

“There was nothing embarrassing about anything that you did.” Viktor would stand by that statement until his dying day. “It was the most fun any of us have ever had at a banquet,” he held up a hand Yuuri couldn’t see to forestall any protests, “because you inspired the rest of us to lighten up and enjoy ourselves too.”

“Oh.”

Viktor couldn’t parse that tone.

“Oh, I have to go warm up. Thank you, Viktor.” And Yuuri’s warm voice was gone, leaving Viktor listening to empty air.

 

Yuuri floated out to the center of the rink and stopped. The noise of the crowd was far away. Yuuri wanted so badly not to fuck up here. They were all friends here (And wasn’t that something) but Yuuri didn’t want to just be friends. He wanted to win. How on earth had drunken Yuuri seduced Viktor? What hidden depths did he have? He breathed, and for the first time, maybe, allowed himself to wonder about what silly clingy breathtaking imposing Viktor would be attracted to. Who was the Yuuri who had seduced Viktor, and could he be that Yuuri sober?

The music began. Yuuri cocked his head and hip and licked his lips at the judges. He had already seduced Viktor into giving him this program. Now he just had to seduce the judges into scoring it well.

Serious Viktor, so worried about his image; otherwise a fan as devoted as Yuuri would never have been so surprised by the Viktor he found at the other end of Chris’s phone. A Viktor afraid to be himself, afraid to be honest about himself, might have been seduced as much by Yuuri’s inability to pretend to be suave as anything else. Yuuri thought of how the other man choked sometimes when Yuuri roasted him. He pulled on that attitude like it was a cloak as he skated. If he had seduced Viktor once, he could do it again. He spun, and thought of how disorienting it could be, pretending to be someone else all the time. He flourished a hand up and out as he lifted out of the spin, an offer to help find solid ground, before skating backwards and sliding his hands up his body; Viktor – the viewer – wouldn’t need that much help really, only to follow where Yuuri led. He spread his arms wide. Spread eagle, triple axel.

He let his arms go larger as he danced down the side and into his quad Salchow. He felt looser in the air (which did come in handy when he fell) and recovered with an aplomb he rarely felt at competitions. There was just time for a breath in his ending pose before the crowd roared.

Yuuri joined Phichit and Guang-Hong at the rinkside in unspoken agreement as Leo slipped onto the ice. Chris and Yuri, behind them, were still stretching, but had also chosen to stay out where they could cheer on their friends. Leo was followed by Yuri, and it wasn’t until Chris took the ice that Yuuri felt his anxiety creeping back up on him.

Because Chris? Had dialed the eros way up on his piece. Yuuri had practiced with him all summer now, and he had thought he was used to the idea that they were both showing off a mature sexuality. Yuuri’s was always going to be a different brand of sexuality than Chris’s, one that stripped off of him like his costume long before he talked to the media. Today, though, still stunned by the news that he had apparently gotten drunk enough to seduce Viktor at the banquet and upset over the part he had played in Chris’s breakup, the gulf between them felt raw.

Logically, he knew that Chris was heightening his sex appeal as a huge fuck you to Masumi, but his anxiety whispered that Chris would always beat him out. That Viktor had been Chris’s friend first, cared about Chris first. That Yuuri didn’t want to be seductive, because when he was it got in the way of his friends’ relationships.

Chris was certainly showing Masumi what he was missing. Phichit, on Yuuri’s left, was staring with his jaw dropped open. If Yuuri were a nicer friend who had himself under better self-control, he would reach over and shut it for him before any of the cameras noticed. The thought of the cameras galvanized him and he pulled himself together enough to elbow Phichit.

“I think you’re drooling.”

Phichit’s mouth snapped shut and he elbowed Yuuri back without taking his eyes off of Chris. Yuuri felt his mouth dry out with nerves.

 

Yuuri stared at the scoreboard, uncomprehending, as the six skaters wandered back to the reporters together. The panic was already building in the back of his brain.

“How does it feel to be the one to beat?” The first faceless reporter appeared, looking to Yuuri’s anxious vision more like a disembodied microphone than a person.

He didn’t even listen to his own answer. Josef was making his way over from where he had been next to Chris and Yuuri shook his head desperately and waved Josef back. The least he could do for Chris was to take care of himself for a half hour or less at a press conference and let Josef help run interference against intrusive questions about Chris’s relationship.

His reporter noticed. “You seem preoccupied with your rinkmate. Perhaps you would like to comment on what it was like to move to another country, speaking yet another language you don’t speak? Did Christophe Giacometti make things easier or harder for you?”

Yuuri felt himself relax a little. “Chris is a wonderful rinkmate. He made my move so much easier than it would otherwise have been. He’s a very supportive friend.”

“Care to speculate why his boyfriend was seen kissing another man at a club this evening?”

Yuuri felt his spine straighten. “No,” his voice was cold, though he didn’t know if he was angrier at the reporter or Masumi. “No, I really wouldn’t care to.” He glanced for Chris. The other man was putting a brave face on things at least. “No comment.”

Another reporter jumped in. “What about the rumors that you were involved in a threesome with Giacometti and your former rinkmate Chula- Cholan-”

Yuuri glanced around at the other skaters. Guang-Hong and Leo also looked uncomfortable. Yuri looked five minutes from kicking in the teeth of everyone around him. Phichit’s fixed smile and Celestino’s smouldering glare suggested that Yuuri wasn’t the only one being targeted with inappropriate questions. The panic was simmering closer to a boil. He needed to get out of here.

Yuuri struggled to breathe normally.

“Perhaps you could tell us what you were up to…”

“I understand that you and Mr. Giacometti are sharing a room-”

Small hands grabbed Yuuri’s arm firmly and pulled him along. “De la Iglesia, Ji, come on.” Yuuri concentrated on breathing and let Yuri steer him along behind Phichit and Chris. The coaches were clustered at the back of the group, murmuring. Yuuri allowed Yuri Plisetsky to manhandle him along all the way to the hotel elevator.

The elevator door closed and Phichit nodded at Chris and turned to the rest of them. “Everyone should come have dinner in Chris’s room with us. We’re going to order room service and have a quiet night, coach’s orders.”

Yuuri’s stomach turned. How much more awful would the questions about that be the following day?

Yuri punched Yuuri’s arm gently. “Don’t worry, Katsudon. Yakov and Josef and Celestino are going to sort out those reporters and whoever let slip your room arrangements as well. Viktor volunteered his publicist and she’s on her way.”

Yuuri nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Instead, he patted Yuri’s shoulder gratefully. His anxiety continued to fizzle and teeter at the edge of a panic attack.

 

Breakfast on the morning of the free skate should have been a rowdy affair. Chris had been competing against friends most of his life and in a group as close as this one the morning should have been full of promises for vengeance and threats to crush each other under their skates. Instead, they were subdued, like they were all afraid they would crack themselves or each other.

He had the idea that Yuuri was trying to mother him. Phichit was succeeding a little bit more, by virtue of not being as close to shaking himself apart, as was Yura, who had delivered more food to their table again, proteins and carbs to keep them all going through their free skates.

Yuuri was hovering. There shouldn’t have been anything comforting about it when the anxiety was coming off of his friend in waves large enough to swamp them both, but it was oddly reassuring to have his friends focused on him. Proof that Masumi was wrong, that there wasn’t anything wrong with Chris, that people could care about him and take him as he was without trying to change him.

Yuuri leaned over and took the phone out of Chris’s hands as his thumbs grew a mind of their own and opened the browser, clearly about to go looking for the pictures of Masumi kissing another man already that the press had been going on about the night before. It wasn’t like they hadn’t already been through this whole song and dance before – the choreography had been perfected – but it felt different to Chris this time, simultaneously more raw and more removed. It felt final in a way that previous iterations hadn’t, and the fact that Masumi was treating it the same way as always hurt unexpectedly.

He didn’t register at first, the way that Yuuri froze, staring at Chris’s phone. It was the whisper that drew his attention first. Chris had been rinkmates with Yuuri long enough now to recognize Yuuri’s favorite Japanese curses. Yuuri had translated this one as “shit” for him after he had fallen out of a Salchow one day. Chris reached over and took the phone back from Yuuri’s unresisting hands to scan the article.

“Crap.” He took a breath and reminded himself that it wasn’t the worst article they could have written about him today. It was a trash rag, this was what they did.

Chris was familiar with how they got these quotes. How they gave you the worst version of the story and then asked for your comment. He unfisted the hand that wasn’t holding his phone and imagined the creak of tendons that didn’t want to pull his fingers straight. Perhaps he shouldn’t have snarled that he was through with Masumi and that he didn’t care as the reporters had continued to ignore the reason they were all there. He was, and he didn’t (he did), but he had meant that he expected them to ask about the competition.

Masumi had made claims. Chris pressed his lips together and looked at Yuuri. “Even he doesn’t believe this Yuuri. Don’t let him psyche you out.” He turned to look for Phichit. Celestino was slipping Phichit’s phone into his pocket as he looked. Chris breathed out and looked around. He’d eaten enough.

“I need to go for a run. I’ll see you guys at the rink later.” He tried to catch Yuuri’s eye and then Phichit’s. “Try to give me some competition for my gold medal?”

He had said the right thing for at least three of them. Leo shouldn’t have been as affected and… Maybe Viktor could help Yuuri.

 

Viktor was in therapy. Yuuri knew that. He turned his phone over again in his hand. He ought to be able to handle his own mental health for eight hours. He swallowed, hard. The things Masumi had said… Yuuri had liked Masumi. Had Masumi been thinking those things this whole time, those awful racist things? And not just about Yuuri. He had insulted Viktor and Chris, had accused Phichit of- Well, of things Yuuri’s best friend would never consider.

Yuuri slipped into his costume jacket and stole another glance at Chris. Chris had gone for a run that morning and come back looking almost peaceful. If Phichit had seen anything that rattled him, he was hiding it well. Guang-Hong and Leo looked OK. Yuri Plisetsky’s jaw was clenched in a way that couldn’t be good for it, but that might just be determination. It was just Yuuri feeling like he might shake right apart. He looked again at his phone and then tucked it away into his pants pocket. He turned towards the ice.

 

After breakfast, Leo and Guang-Hong had agreed to divide and conquer. Guang-Hong hadn’t quite come out and said it, but Leo suspected that he had chosen Phichit because Leo wasn’t Asian. He hoped that Guang-Hong would be able to relate to the other man, who’d had a quiet talk with Celestino that left him looking unusually upset, and trotted to catch up with Yuri Plisetsky.

“Plisetsky.”

Yuri turned his head and nodded. “de la Iglesia.”

Leo hesitated, worrying at his lower lip. What sort of help would Yuri take from him? “I have a playlist I usually listen to, to psyche myself up,” although that wouldn’t be the one he would play for Yuri, “if you have some time? You might like some of the music. Do you know Otabek Altin?”

Yuri blinked at him. “Altin? He’s that Kazak skater, right? Took second in Skate America?”

“Exactly.” Leo might have nodded more enthusiastically than that snippet of information warranted. “He was my rinkmate a couple of years ago. He DJ’s in his spare time, and a bunch of it is music he turned me onto. He’s cool.”

Yuri looked like he still wanted to ask why he cared, but he nodded instead. “Cool. I might have some time. Let me check.” He turned down the hall towards his severe choreographer. She inclined her head to listen and then raised it and awarded Leo a long stare. He swallowed but held his ground and tried to return it. Her lips pursed and she turned back to Yuri.

A blond woman said something loud in Russian at the other end of the hall and the ballerina nodded at Yuri and turned away to greet the newcomer. Yuri slunk back.

“She said OK. Viktor’s publicist is finally here to sort things out too.” Yuri rolled his eyes and fell in beside Leo. “About time.”

 

Yuuri drifted out onto the ice and stopped. Swallowed. This piece was about his skating. His story. At the moment, all he could feel was the panic overwhelming him. All he could think was how it would look when he bombed this free skate the way he had the one in Sochi. His few sponsors would pull out. He would have to move home. Satomi would have to learn Japanese. He would spend the rest of his life working in the onsen after all. He struggled to breathe. The first notes of the music dropped through the panic and, on autopilot, Yuuri began to move.

The first movements became about containing his panic, although they had been choreographed to show the way he had fallen in love with skating. The next piece of it, after the background, was when he’d moved to Chris and Josef. Thinking about the stabilizing effect they’d had on him helped get him head and shoulders above the anxiety that was still threatening. The glide centered him before he popped into the jump combination of Viktor popping into his life. Unexpected, but somehow (Yuuri still couldn’t comprehend how) fitting into the song. He struggled to hold himself together. This should be where he could showcase his skills, but his mind was defeating him again, he knew it.

He finished in a blur.

Josef sat with him in the kiss and cry, a hand on his shoulder. He’d fallen out of his quad Salchow. Yuuri fought the urge to bury his face in his hands. This was it for his dreams of redeeming himself at the Grand Prix with a program Viktor had made for him. He forced a slow breath and was startled by Josef grabbing him into a hug.

“You’re in fourth place, Yuuri. We’re still in the running.”

Yuuri pulled a face while he was hidden by Josef’s shoulder, one that pointed out how unlikely he found the idea of catching up at Rostelecom, where he would be competing against Viktor Nikiforov himself.

 

Otabek looked at his phone again. The text was still there.

‘You probably don’t know who I am,’ it began. As if Otabek had ever forgotten those eyes challenging the world. ‘Leo played me some music and said if I wanted to hear more I should contact you. My name is Yuri Plisetsky.”

Otabek’s mouth had gone dry. He swallowed, put the phone down and went back to practice. When he picked it up again at the end of the day, the other skater had added one more line.

‘Good luck at NHK. Not that you need it.’

Otabek tried not to smile.

 

“I don’t know what to do with him. He’s taking that fourth place so hard.”

“I know. I’ve sicced Viktor on him, but he seems convinced that he’ll never make up enough ground.”

Chris let his head fall into his hands and peeked at his phone from between his fingers. “I mean, he’s practicing like a madman. Something about facing Viktor and making Viktor proud even if he can’t come to the Grand Prix final… He’s already written it off.” Chris spared a thought for Yuuri’s quad flip, coming along like a dream. If he could land it at Rostelecom… “I can’t figure out why, or if I need to change his mind. I’d be more concerned if he didn’t have Satomi keeping him in line. You should have seen his face when she rushed him the night we came back.”

Phichit shrugged philosophically on his screen. “Sometimes only Yuuri can figure out how to dig himself out of his anxiety. I try not to worry as long as he isn’t binge-eating and self-sabatoging.”

Chris considered that. “I think he’s been eating well. We’ve had dinner together four nights this week. He and Yuri have been cooking together and Viktor and I get to enjoy the spoils.”

Phichit laughed. “I’m going to have to move to Europe. You guys have all the fun.”

Chris smiled at the other man and tried not to look tired. “We’d love to have you. There are rumors that Georgi is retiring. Maybe you could join Yakov.”

The other man pursed his lips. “How are you doing, Chris? I can see that you’re holding together, but…” he trailed off delicately, earning an honest smile from Chris.

“I’ve been better, of course, but, God, Phichit. I hadn’t realized how exhausting carrying that relationship was for me. I have a mutual friend who tells me that Masumi looks better too. It was past time. We just didn’t want to admit it. Now that we have,” he sighed, “it’s a little embarrassing, what a relief it is.” Maybe it would be more polite to check that Phichit actually wanted to buckle in for the ride first, but Chris had been doing a lot of quiet thinking and he wanted to share his conclusions with someone.

Phichit laughed brightly. “I’m so glad then.”

Chris’s lips curved up of their own volition. “We’d been dating – off and on – since I was eighteen. That’s seven years. It’s taking me a little time to untangle who I am,” Chris bit his lip. “I- I’d. It feels weird to me, that he’s already dating someone else. Like, I want to know who I am first, you know? On my own, outside of a relationship.” Oops. That sounded like he wasn’t going to be interested in another relationship for years. “I just think it’s a good idea to take a couple of weeks to myself before tumbling into… another relationship.”

Phichit’s snort said that he had made the assumption Chris had maneuvered him to make. “At least!” Phichit sounded indignant on his behalf.

“And it’s not that I wouldn’t start another relationship in a few weeks or a month, if the right person fell into my…”

“Bed?”

“Lap.” Chris grinned, “But I don’t want to jump into-”

“The pool?”

Chris laughed. “Bed, with someone who’s just going to feel neglected about my career and my friends and have the same arguments all over again.”

Phichit’s answer was slower this time. “It sounds to me… like maybe- Maybe you should consider dating someone with similar interests? When you’re ready for another relationship. There must be someone else who cares deeply about their own… career and friendships.”

Chris swallowed. His voice was quiet and scraped through his mouth when he responded. “I hope so. If there is though,” he didn’t dare glance at Phichit here, “what do you think the chances are that he would be willing to wait for me?”

Phichit sounded like he was picking his words carefully. “If he’s as interested in his other friends and his career as all that, I would expect him to be able to entertain himself and be happy being your friend until you start looking for something more. If he isn’t, it would probably end up being a mess anyway, don’t you think?”

Chris felt his shoulder slump as he relaxed. “Does it get boring, being so right all the time?”

Phichit laughed.

 

JJ was feeding the homeless in Toronto when he got the call. He looked at the caller – he always did, these days, just in case it was news about his knee. (He was due to get the latest test results any day now, and chances were he would be allowed back on the ice.) - and excused himself. Isabella took one look at his face and replaced him in the line.

“Otabek?”

“JJ.” The Kazak skater had always been a man of few words. JJ hadn’t been sure Otabek liked him that much; this call was the first contact since the other man had moved home last summer.

“What’s up? Is everything alright?” He listened to Otabek’s hesitation and tried to imagine what manner of problem would have driven the other skater to call him.

“Everything’s fine.” Pause. “It’s just. Well, I had a text the other day, and I wasn’t sure who to call. I need advice.” Otabek seemed to think better of that as soon as he had said it. “Well, I need someone to listen while I figure it out, and not go plastering it all over Instagram or something.”

“Instagram is for pictures,” JJ returned, before remembering that wasn’t the point. “I won’t say anything if you don’t want me to.”

“Thank you.” Otabek sighed.

“Congratulations on NHK, by the way.”

“That’s the problem!”

“Oh?” JJ was fairly confident that this rush of emotion – he didn’t think it was anger, exactly – from the usually stoic Otabek wasn’t directed at him.

“I… YuriPlisetskytextedtowishmeluck.”

“O-kay?”

“I never texted him back!”

JJ ducked his head and tried not to laugh. This was a side of Otabek he had never dreamed of. “So text him back.”

“I don’t know him. What if he hates me? He hates you.”

JJ bit his lip. He knew that, it just. He had no idea why. “I know. Makes me not the best person to ask for advice. You could try Leo. It sounds like he hit it off with Yuri.”

“And that’s another thing. He wants me to send him some more cool music. How am I supposed to know what music Leo shared with him?”

JJ blinked. That much seemed straightforward to him. “Ask Leo? If you don’t want to ask Yuri himself which ones he liked.”

“I guess I could ask Leo.”

“And then tell Yuri thank you for the well wishes and now that you’re done with NHK you’ll put together a mix for him in the next couple of days.” He paused.

“And relax. Everyone loves your mixes. Even fucking Yuri Plisetsky, apparently.”

A sigh whooshed into the phone. “Thanks, JJ. You’re right.”

Several things clicked into place for JJ at once. “Do you have a crush on Yuri Plisetsky, man?”

“What?! NO!” A breath. “Do you have a crush on Katsuki Yuuri?”

“Point taken.” JJ considered that for a moment. “But Yuuri is older than we are. Isn’t Plisetsky, like, five?”

“And you wonder why he doesn’t like you.” Otabek sounded fond. “He can do a lot of things I can’t.”

“And you can do a lot of things he can’t.”

Otabek’s voice was doing the thing JJ liked to hear as “fondly resigned.” “You can land quads Katsuki Yuuri can’t land.”

JJ’s lips parted in surprise. He’d never thought of it quite like that.

“I guess,” he admitted. “But his musicality is still unparalleled.”

“And I can only dream of having half of Yuri Plisetsky’s flexibility.”

JJ considered that. “But you have your own- You’re brilliant. Plisetsky would kill to be half as innovative and different as you are, I’d bet my recovery on it. He’s always grumbling around all rebel without a cause. I bet he can’t stand the way you’re sticking it to the man. I mean, you skate programs specifically designed to show off your strengths and lack of ballet. You DJ, you ride a freaking motorcycle.” He might have miscalculated that one.

“He thinks I’m cool? What’s he going to think when he finds out that I’m just…” Otabek’s voice was practically frantic, for him.

JJ answered before Otabek could bother turning the hand gesture he couldn’t see into words. “I know you, right? Leo knows you. We both think you’re cool. Yuri will think you’re cool too if he has half a brain. That’s what I’m telling you, Otabek. Who you are is cool.”

Otabek made a strangled sound. JJ thought it might be a laugh.

 

Viktor was early. He would claim that he’d gotten out of therapy early, but he’d lied about when it was over to try and catch Yuuri still on the phone with Yura. The Japanese skater hadn’t been answering his calls for over a week, ever since China.

Lilia let him in and watched down the length of her nose as Viktor slipped off his shoes and began soft-footing it towards the kitchen. It sounded like Yura was off the phone and talking to himself as he finished. “Spoon. Fork. Bowl.” It wasn’t until Viktor got close enough to hear the quieter echo that he realized what was happening. He should probably be ashamed of the effect Katsuki Yuuri saying “bowl” in Russian had on him. He bumbled loudly into the wall. Yura swore impressively.

“No, Katsudon, that’s not- Yakov?”

“It’s me!” Viktor straightened with a wave and hurried towards the kitchen.

“Oh,” Yuuri sounded flustered. “I should go. Let you two…”

“Don’t you dare leave me now Katsudon. You said the next bit is tricky. I’ll kick Viktor out if he’s done something to make you uncomfortable.”

Viktor was torn between cooing over Yura’s defense of his friend and worry that he had done something to make Yuuri uncomfortable.

Yuuri just sounded resigned though. “No, it’s ok.” They sat in silence for a few uncomfortable minutes.

Viktor broke first. (He always did.) “Yuuri, if I’ve done something wrong- I understand, I’ll leave you alone if you want, I just… Can I know what I did?” Yura looked ready to throw him out of the house. Viktor didn’t even blame him.

“What? No! Viktor, you didn’t- you haven’t- I’m not good enough. I melted down in the free again, just like in Sochi. I’m not- you deserve better friends!”

Yura had gone from ready for a fight to this strange tensed boredom in record time. “I thought we’d been through this, Katsudon.” His eyes were half-lidded. Yuuri wouldn’t be able to see the way his fists were clenching.

“Yuuri,” Viktor’s throat was closing up. “Is that still all you think of me?” The air was resting very heavily on his shoulders and chest. He wondered if he’d managed to say that lightly enough. Not for Yura, of course – the younger skater’s sharp eyes were studying him – but for Yuuri, who after all couldn’t see him.

He had thought that they’d moved beyond this. The Viktor Nikiforov whose only use was as a gold medal machine, who would, of course, only consort with other medal winners. He groped through the gray until he found a thin edge of anger. “You are certainly capable of being competition for me, Katsuki Yuuri. But that’s not how I choose my friends. I thought you knew me better by now.” He turned to his rinkmate. “Thank you for the invitation, Yura, but I don’t feel very hungry right now.” He hurried out of the house before anyone could stop him, grateful that his shoes were slip-ons and barely slowed him down. His phone was ringing before he reached the road. He let it ring.

Once he was home, huddled against Makkachin, he forced himself to check it. Four missed calls from Yuuri, two from Phichit, and one from Chris. He called Chris.

“Viktor.”

Chris must have had his phone in his hand; it hadn’t even had a chance to ring. “Chris.”

“Do you want company?”

“What, you’re going to fly to Russia if I say yes?”

“We could facetime. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s a little bit better. Plus, I’ll call off Yura and your dinner if you want to be left alone, as long as I think you’re safe to be left alone.”

“I already called off dinner with Yura. I’m home.” Viktor frowned. “What’s up?” If Chris didn’t know that, why had he called?

“If you really think Yura won’t show up at your door in forty-ish minutes with dinner- Never mind. I shouldn’t take responsibility for disabusing you of that notion when Yura will take such pleasure in explaining it to you and your neighbors if you don’t let him in.”

Viktor’s sigh would have been a laugh under other circumstances, but at least there were no tears.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Chris’s voice was like Makkachin, warm and soft enough to rest your head on.

Viktor swallowed. “Yuuri didn’t mean it,” he tried. “It must have been his anxiety talking, and I shouldn’t take it personally. I’m sure I’ve done worse to you.”

“Just because it was his anxiety talking doesn’t mean you can’t be hurt. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t owe you an apology.”

“I guess.” Viktor cuddled Makkachin tighter. “Why do you put up with me, Chris? Is it just because I’m- because we’re the two high-scorers for the past several years?”

Viktor yelped and pulled the phone away from his ear as Chris blew into the receiver.

“That’s ridiculous. That’s ridiculous even for you. I’m friends with you because you’re Viktor. Apparently I like impossible and ridiculous in a friend.”

Viktor sighed. “It’s not just because you think we deserve each other? Because we win so much?”

Chris was quiet for a moment. “I promise. I’m friends with you because I like who you are, and I’m sorry if I’ve ever done anything to make you doubt that. Feel free to ask me as often as you need to until you start believing it, OK?”

There was a lump in Viktor’s throat. He spoke around it hoarsely. “OK. Thanks, Chris.”

“Don’t thank me,” Chris’s amused voice twined around him like a cat. “I haven’t done anything to deserve it yet.”

Viktor swallowed. “What do you do with me? When I let my depression talk for me?”

It was only when he heard Chris’s breath catch that he realized he’d named it aloud. Chris’s voice was steady, if slow, when he answered. “I tell you. Remember when you said something – it must have been in the days leading up to Sochi – about how you were surprised they still required you to go to the competitions before they handed over your medal?”

He did remember. Viktor winced. “You were really polite about it, considering. I… wasn’t.”

“He hit a sore spot.”

“But still.” Viktor buried his face in his dog’s side. His voice was still understandable. “I could have explained why I objected without running off to sulk.”

“If you’re going to expect yourself to understand Yuuri’s anxiety then you can expect Yuuri to understand your depression too.” Chris’s firm voice wobbled a little on the last word. Viktor pretended not to notice. “The two of you can learn to do better together.”

“That’s why he asked you to call me?”

“Yura asked me to call you. Yuuri, as I understand it, has been calling you himself.”

“I guess I should go return that call.” Viktor’s stomach turned.

“Only if you think you can handle it.” He could practically feel Chris’s assessing gaze through the phone. “If you’re still putting yourself back together you don’t want to rush to return the call and push one of you into saying something worse.”

It was tempting to take the out Chris had offered him.

“I should go call Yuuri back. Thank you, Chris. You’re a good friend.”

“So are you,” Chris’s voice beamed at him.

Viktor hung up and glared at his phone.

 

Yuuri had just given up on Viktor and called Yuri (Pirozhki) back when his phone rang.

“I-”

“Yeah, yeah. Call me back when you’ve worked it out, Katsudon.” Yuri turned away from the stove long enough to hang up. Yuuri bit his lip and answered the call.

“V- Viktor? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean-”

“I’m sorry Yuuri, I know better than to take that sort of thing personally. It just… Accidentally hit a sore spot. I swear I’ll do better. Please forgive me?”

Yuuri’s throat filled like he was going to cry. “Of course I forgive you, Viktor. There’s nothing to forgive. I didn’t-” Satomi yipped and he scooped her up in his other arm and cradled her against his chest. “I don’t blame you for anything.”

“I- Chris would never have reacted like that. Phichit would never have reacted like that. Yura would never have reacted like that.”

Yuuri snorted. “And name one of them who would imply that you’re a- a skating-” Sometimes English wasn’t good enough. He struggled for a phrase to encompass the enormity of his crimes. “A machine, when all that you’ve showed me all year is your kindness and generosity.”

“Yuuri.” Yuuri loved the way Viktor said his name, conscientious about the elongated vowel. It sounded indecent in his mouth. “If you think I’ve been building a relationship with you out of impersonal kindness and generosity, I’m not sure what to say.”

Yuuri smiled weakly. That didn’t sound exactly like the Viktor he had come to know, now he thought about it. “You… enjoy spending time with me?”

“I’m very selfish, Yuuri. I don’t do many things that I don’t enjoy.”

“Just figure skating then?” Yuuri drew a quick breath at his own audacity. “Sorry, I don’t know what- That crossed a line.”

Viktor’s voice was sober. “I used to enjoy it. And I enjoyed it this summer in Switzerland with you.”

“Maybe it’s the competition then?” Yuuri gulped. He had started this conversation. “I- I don’t want you to retire, Viktor, but if you’d be happier choreographing or coaching or something… You deserve to be happy too.”

There was a long silence. “Thank you, Yuuri.” His voice was soft.

 

‘Thanks. I’m working on a mix for you. I’ll send it later this week.’ Yuri scowled at the message before screenshotting it and sending it to Leo and Guang-Hong.

‘What’s this bullshit? He waits a full week and then sends two lines?’ He wasn’t really mad at the other skater, but neither Yuuri nor Viktor were convenient to yell at, and since he wanted to yell at both of them for being assholes to each other the yelling sort of cancelled itself out.

Yuri blew a breath out his nose and picked up his knitting. The scarf was getting longer.

 

Yuuri took the ice at Rostelecom feeling reckless. He’d ended the short program in second place. He had nothing to lose here. Everything to gain. If he could beat Georgi and Michele he would go to the final. And- He lifted his cupped hands like a benediction. This was the ice and him. The piano talked softly in the background. It was a delicate piece they had put together, him and Josef. Chris and Viktor had offered advice. Phichit. Minako. His whole invisible support network coming out of the woodwork.

He bounced through the jumps, staying on his feet somehow, and slid down, letting his leg drag behind him across the ice. He was nearly done when it happened. He thought, what if? And didn’t stop himself. Josef had told him not to add it yet, not until he could land it, but it was the true culmination of the story – it felt like it, since that terrible phone conversation – and part of him still wanted to prove he was worthy of Viktor’s friendship, and part of him wanted to tell Viktor that if he left the ice he would still have a legacy, and most of all he wanted to surprise his friend. He gathered speed for the last jump, set himself, and kicked into the flip instead. He touched on the landing, but he recovered, finished, stopped. He glanced around in spite of himself, wondering where Viktor was, if Viktor had seen. He was too blind to pick out that flash of bright hair if it was anywhere he looked.

He began to skate over to the kiss and cry. Viktor would see sooner or later, and if he hadn’t seen now Yuuri would get to see his face… There was Viktor, skating towards him. He opened his arms and Yuuri lifted his to hug Viktor back. His brain froze as they connected and Viktor slid a gloved hand behind Yuuri’s head and… Oh. Yuuri fell back on the ice and Viktor lifted his head to smile dazzlingly at Yuuri.

“That was the only thing I could think of to surprise you as much as you surprised me.”

Yuuri felt that there was only one responsible way to react to that. Besides, Viktor liked it when he got sassy. He grabbed the other skater by the collar and dragged their mouths together again.

He placed second.

 

Chris was relived to find that two of his best friends dating changed very little about how they interacted with him. On the contrary, instead of the abandonment fantasies that had kept him up at night occasionally, if he saw the past six months as buildup to the main event he’d actually gotten much closer with both of them through their relationship with each other. And it was how he had met Phichit.

Phichit was currently forwarding him cryptic texts from Leo.

‘Do you ever have two friends you think would really hit it off and you just can’t get them to talk to each other?’

‘How much more plainly can I put it then ‘I think you’ll get along?’

‘And the other one. This one finally contacted him and the other one is all “What even is that? He waits a week and sends me two lines?” He still hasn’t texted back!’

‘Now this one thinks the other one hates him.’

Chris’s fond smile froze. That phrasing sounded… Someone had just said that to him. He supposed that Leo was going to some lengths to keep names out of it. It wasn’t Leo’s fault that Yura had made the same complaint to him.

‘Tough luck’ he texted to Phichit. ‘What did you tell him?’

Phichit sent him a new set of texts.

‘Patience, grasshopper.’

‘Yuuri got his man. Your friends will be fine.’

‘I can’t believe you aren’t giving me names. Do I know them?’

Chris texted back quickly. ‘I think it’s sweet that he’s protecting their anonymity.’

‘So does he’ Phichit returned and added Leo’s text.

‘Uh-uh. You never told me about Yuuri’s epic crush. Why would I tell you about the friends I’m trying to set up?’

Chris laughed out loud. ‘I’d better get back to practice. Have a nice day and good luck with Leo’s friends.’

He put the phone down and skated away.

 

Yuuri spoke to Phichit about it first. “Viktor and Yura both told me that Georgi is retiring. I thought. Well, I was thinking about emailing Yakov to see if he would take me on. He’s the best coach in the business, and I love having Chris as a rinkmate, and Josef has been amazing… But my boyfriend,” Yuuri allowed himself to pause for a second in awe of the fact that he was allowed – obliged, even – to use that word to describe Viktor. “Is in Russia, and I’d like to surprise him. I think he’d like to have me closer.”

“Of course he would.” Phichit was clearly in favor, but Yuuri rarely came up with an idea Phichit wasn’t in favor of. Phichit supported his friends indiscriminately.

“I don’t know if I should talk to Josef and Chris first though.”

Phichit made a considering noise. “I think you should maybe give Josef a heads up in case Yakov contacts him, but let Chris wait until you’ve heard back. Josef might have some insight about whether Yakov would be a good fit for you too. You don’t want to move to Russia after a boy and then find out that Yakov won’t support you the way that you need.”

Yuuri deflated. “Or Viktor might decide to retire someday.”

“Or that.” Even a few months ago, Phichit would have protested that Viktor was still going strong and wouldn’t retire anytime soon. Yuuri was constantly being surprised by how close the other two were becoming. He bit his lip and nodded.

 

Chris was ambushed by Yura one night.

“How would you feel if Yuuri left your rink?”

Chris blinked. “Is he planning on it?”

“Georgi is planning to retire. And now that Yuuri and Viktor are dating, it might make sense for Yuuri to join us. I thought I might suggest the idea to Yakov, just so he has a chance to get used to it before one of the idiots approaches him.”

Chris had been having daily talks with Viktor too. “How would you feel if Viktor left you? Maybe he’ll come join us with Josef.”

Yura scoffed. “No one leaves Yakov.”

Chris licked his lips. He couldn’t tell Viktor’s secrets. “You think that would stop Viktor?”

Yura paused. “I… don’t think he’s as stupid as he lets on.”

A laugh snorted out of him. “I think the words you’re looking for are ‘flighty’ and ‘thoughtless.’”

“Oh, he’s just as thoughtless as he lets on.” Yura’s voice was grim.

Chris let that be. “I’m just saying. Would you be ok giving him up? If you needed to?” Yura was almost sixteen. That was awfully young to carry the weight of Russia’s expectations. Viktor had been shielded (much like Chris himself) by older skaters until he was in his early twenties.

“Of course.” Yura didn’t sound sure. Chris thought that was a good sign he was taking the possibility seriously. “I’ll figure it out. I always do.”

“You do,” Chris agreed. “And you’d still have all of us to back you up if you needed.”

“Yeah,” Yura agreed. “Thanks, or whatever.”

Chris laughed silently until the cat ran away.

 

Yuri was trying to lurk unobtrusively until Yuuri and Chris came in. It should be soon and he wanted to catch Yuuri before Viktor did. He was concentrating so hard on people coming in that it took him a few extra seconds to register the man going out.

“Hey, uh, Otabek.”

Otabek turned back to look at him. “Yuri Plisetsky.”

Yuri flushed. “Yeah. Listen, I just wanted to thank you. That mix you sent me was pretty cool.”

Otabek’s gaze tipped towards the floor. “Thanks.”

Yuri bit his lip. “I guess everyone else is doing dinner together in a couple of hours. If you aren’t busy and wanted to come.”

Otabek’s mouth tilted into a smile. “I’d like that. In the meantime, I have a bike. You want to come give it a whirl with me?”

“A- A moterbike?”

“Are you coming or not?”

 

Yuuri caught Viktor’s hand as they went up the elevator after dinner.

“Come to my room?” Yuuri’s ears went pink as soon as he heard what he had said. “Not like that! I mean, just for a bit. I thought- I had something I wanted to talk about.”

Viktor brought their hands up to his face and kissed Yuuri’s knuckles. “It’s good to see you. I’m not going to let you leave my sight before I have to.”

Yuuri ignored Yura’s muttering about “… giant DORK, thinks he’s so suave…” in favor of running his thumb along Viktor’s pinky finger. Maybe it wasn’t too soon to think about a ring.

He sat on his bed and tried not to be disappointed when Viktor chose the chair.

“What did you want to talk about, Yuuri?”

Yuuri nodded to himself. “I’ve been thinking about this. Long-distance… Sooner or later, you get problems, it gets difficult. We should nip that in the bud.”

Viktor’s hand fisted convulsively and a tear dripped onto it from behind the screen of his hair.

Yuuri leaned forward and lifted Viktor’s bangs curiously. “Are you crying?”

“I’m not sad, OK? I’m angry!”

They had talked, a little bit, about how fraught the accusation was for Viktor, being sad. “OK, but it’s my career.”

Viktor blinked. “Your… career?”

Understanding doused Yuuri. “You thought I was breaking up with you.”

Viktor swallowed and didn’t say anything. Yuuri ran over his words in his mind. He supposed they were a little bit ambiguous.

“I don’t want to lose you, Viktor. I’d rather quit now – I’ve probably peaked anyway, and I could move to Russia, get an apartment, be near you, meet Makkachin eventually…”

“Yuuri,” Viktor tilted his head to catch Yuuri’s eyes from behind the curtain of his bangs. “Are you unhappy skating?”

“No? But I’d rather-”

“What if I told you that you could have both?”

“I thought about it, but then Yakov said he wasn’t replacing Georgi, that he was going to start phasing himself out…”

“Yuuri, if you still love skating, don’t let me be the reason you retire. I’m tired, Yuuri,” Viktor had shifted to catch Yuuri’s hands in his, “And I’ve been thinking too.”

Yuuri realized what was coming and braced himself. “You’re retiring.”

Viktor nodded. “And I thought, I could coach you! We could stay in Russia, or Switzerland, or move to Japan. You could go home.”

Yuuri blinked, blindsided. “I… I could.”

“You asked me, you know.”

Yuuri stared at Viktor, feeling like his brain had gone fuzzy.

“At the banquet. You asked me to coach you. I begged Chris to tell you I was available, last spring, but he said you wanted an experienced coach.” And now Viktor looked nervous. “I’m happy to move to Switzerland if you want to stay with Josef. I can choreograph and do ice shows.”

Yuuri blinked. Ten minutes ago he’d been prepared to give all of this up just to stay with Viktor. “I- Can I think about it? I just… wasn’t planning for the rest of the season five minutes ago.”

Viktor laughed. “Of course. Take all the time you want. Yuuri?”

Yuuri looked at him.

“You don’t mind? If I retire, and you aren’t dating Viktor Nikiforov?”

Yuuri reached over and cupped Viktor’s cheek in his palm. “Viktor Nikiforov is more than just the medals you’ve won. He’s funny and kind, and you’re so brave to have kept going this long. I’ll be very upset if you try to stop dating me just because you finally retire, Viktor.

 

Chris stopped in the middle of the story he was telling when the door closed behind Viktor and Yuuri. “Actually, Phichit? Would you like to relocate out of the hallway too?”

“Why Chris,” Phichit dropped his gaze demurely but didn’t bother hiding his smirk. “I thought you’d never ask.”

Chris closed the door behind him and turned to find Phichit standing back watching him, not crowding him like he (he could admit this to himself) had expected, or even hoped.

He swallowed and hoped he hadn’t read all those interactions wrong. If he had, he was about to make quite the fool of himself.

“So, uh. Remember, that conversation we had, about- Will you just kiss me already?”

Phichit beamed. “I thought you’d never ask.”

 

Viktor took his spot on center ice, still feeling a little askew from Yura’s record-breaking program. He was proud, of course. That was his program, and it was going to be excellent advertising if he went into choreo. It should have been exciting to have a challenge. He knew it used to be, back when it happened regularly. Now he just felt useless. What good was a medal-winning machine if it couldn’t even bring home the gold? He missed his music cue, popped his first quad and turned it into a single…

It wasn’t until the second half that he even began to find his place. Near the kiss and cry, his competitors had clustered, screaming encouragement. Yuuri was half over the boards in his enthusiasm.

Viktor stepped down the length of the rink like there were weights on his skates and tried not to remember the terrible moments last night when he had thought he wasn’t enough for Yuuri, that he wasn’t going to be able to keep the first good thing to enter his life in a long time after all.

Yakov frowned at him in the kiss and cry. “I’ll deal with the press. You go hide. Take Yura.” Viktor nodded, numb. He hadn’t had a score like this in years, maybe not since he had moved to seniors. And now it was going to take Yura away from his adoring public, either because Yakov didn’t trust Viktor to be alone right now or because he was worried that Yura would be asked about Viktor instead of about his own record.

 

Phichit stepped in front of Yakov and shook his head. “Oh, no, Yuri doesn’t have to give up his moment for this. I’ve got Viktor.” He looped his arm through Viktor’s without glancing to see Viktor’s reaction. Yakov looked like he didn’t believe Phichit was actually standing in front of him contradicting him. That couldn’t be right though. Phichit had met Viktor and Yuri. There was no way they listened well. Unless it was foreign skaters Yakov didn’t expect this sort of trouble from. But then, Phichit had met Chris too. Maybe Yakov was just grateful for a solution to his dilemma. Chris had told Phichit that Yuri needed all the sponsors he could get.

“You don’t have to babysit me, you know.” Viktor’s voice echoed in the empty locker rooms.

“Nonsense! It’s not babysitting, it’s some quality friend time!” Phichit assessed the other man. “Put on some clothes. We’ll go back to the hotel and have some dinner and then you, my friend, are in luck. I just so happen to have The King and the Skater with me, and a little Yuri told me that you haven’t seen it yet. It’s going to be a treat.”

Viktor looked better with someone else telling him what to do. The movie would be an easy thing to watch. It had helped Yuuri through many anxiety afternoons and Phichit wasn’t going to pass up the chance to check and see if it worked as well for Yuuri’s boyfriend.

Phichit drew a careful breath. “And if you want to talk about it, you can, and if you don’t, we’ll ignore it. It’s not that important in the grand scheme of things, is it? Just a score.”

He watched Viktor look at him with something like awe and allowed himself a second to enjoy the fact that he had done this to Viktor Nikiforov. Then he looped an arm around Viktor’s waist and pulled him out the far door.

He kept up his chatter on the shuttle ride back to the hotel. “You know, I thought about giving you a shovel talk, but I don’t think I see the point. We’re all friends here, and besides, then you’d have to give me one over Chris, and don’t you think at some point they just cancel out? Besides, we’re all adults capable of making our own judgments, don’t you think?”

Viktor nodded and, Phichit thought, looked relieved not to have to carry a conversation. (Later, he would choke "Chris?!" in the middle of the opening number and Phichit's smugness would be complete.)

 

Viktor skated back in from his free skate and looked, relieved, at the passable score he had managed. He knew he wasn’t good at confrontation, so he waited until Yakov had to go out with Yura to give him the news.

“I’m going to retire, Yakov. This is my last competition. I just wanted you to know before I told the reporters.”

Yura grabbed his arm as he was turning to flee. “What about Katsudon? If you’re retiring…”

Viktor shrugged. “He’s got a bunch of options on the table right now.”

It wasn’t until he got the chance to watch Yura’s free skate, later that night curled under Yuuri’s arm, that he wondered if the interaction had thrown Yura. It wasn’t that often that Yura fell out of a jump. It hadn’t stopped him from beating Viktor and Yuuri though.

When he responded (to the win? To the less than stellar free skate?) with a teen angst exhibition in clothes that, in Viktor’s opinion, only deserved the name in the broadest sense, Viktor was only grateful that the boy Viktor was certain Yura had gotten the music from wasn’t joining him on the ice. It was that sort of program.

 

Yuuri waited until Yura had invited him and Viktor to join him on top of the podium. He waited until the paparazzi had gotten their pictures and Yura was stepping towards the front to get down. Yura stepped to the edge and Yuuri turned and grabbed Viktor’s bronze medal, pulling him closer and into a kiss. Yura was on the ice before the sound of cheers made him turn around.

“Gross,” he told Yuuri cheerfully, and turned to escape.