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I'm a Stray Cat in Broken Boots (Are You My King and My Heart?)

Chapter Text

Yuuri looks over the ice, body slumped over the railing, the sky dark above him, a single lamp casting its light over the glittering surface.

He’s hungry and he knows, objectively, that he shouldn’t be here at all, should be catching a cat nap before heading for his morning work, but there’s a part of him that doesn’t want to leave – wants to stay there forever, memories of a young boy encroaching on his mind as he raises his cigarette and inhales, allowing the nikotine to dull the hunger, at least for a bit.

It’s cheaper than food but it’s a weak substitute and he knows it and yet he buys them.

Yuuri wonders when it is that he stopped caring.

He’s twenty-one and the world feels like an endless place of rinse and repeat and he exhales, watching the smoke against the cold dark night, snuffing it out and flicking it into a nearby dumpster as he drags himself away and back to his apartment.

-

There’s a point in his life when Yuuri wants – his eyes wide on the television screen as Viktor Nikiforov sweeps across the ice with his silvery hair and blue eyes that threatened to swallow the world.

He swallows Yuuri’s world, becomes it, and his obsession leads him stumbling onto the ice with determination set in his chubby face.

Before that his world is dancing. An escape from everything inside the small studio of his teacher who lets him hide there when his anxiety becomes too much for him, drowns out the world until it’s ringing and he wants nothing more to escape it.

Viktor makes him want to become more.

It’s a dangerous thing, Yuuri knows even then, touching his small fingers to the screen where his idol raises his hands to the sky, his chest heaving, sweat trailing down his neck and a flush to his cheeks as he lowers them to the roar of the public.

I want you, he thinks, with all the feverish obsession in his tiny body.

-

Twenty-one-year-old Katsuki Yuuri wants food.

He can hear his boss yelling as he stares blankly down at the simmering cauldron in the kitchen at his morning work.

There’s a strange ringing in his ears and a desperate craving for a smoke and his stomach feels hollow, turning on itself, an obnoxious reminder that he hadn’t been eating in nearly three days now and he knows he should care but he doesn’t as he scoops up the noodles and adds the toppings like he’s supposed to with a slight grimace.

Work faster, work harder, work more moremore.

He slides it in place and rings the bell to let the server know it was done.

Yuuri is so very tired of the world.

-

There’s a package of hard noodles in his pocket, stolen, and there’s a niggling guilt at it but it’s hard to care when he drops down by the ice and fumbles for it.

The packaging rustles as he pries it open and bites down, the dry noodles crunching strangely in his mouth as he chews them carefully, washing them down with some water from the bottle which he’d filled up in the bathroom before leaving.

It’s only five p.m. but he’s exhausted and yet his gaze lingers, watching the way the skaters laughs as they make their way around – young and old.

He draws some strange looks where he sits with his hood pulled low, huddled up in an old jacket and knitted gloves, one shoe roughly duct taped to keep it from gaping open in the Russian winter weather.

Homeless, they whisper, and in many ways they aren’t wrong for all that Yuuri has an empty apartment waiting for him.

-

Yuuri wakes to a soft touch to his cheek, jerking back, eyes shooting open to find a girl peering at at him, her head tilted, far too close.

Her hair is red, brushing at her shoulders, and her eyes are impossibly dark blue where they peer at him, a slight furrow to her brow.

“Oh, you’re alive. Good,” she says in Russian as he stares at her, heart pounding hard in his chest. “You’ve been here for hours,” she tells him as he takes in the dark sky behind her – a glitter of stars that makes him swallow.

He’s stiff, his limbs colds, but he forces himself to rise – a slight stumble to his steps as he draws away from her.

The girl huffs as she straightens out.

She’s slim, he notes even as he fumbles for his bag and pulls it up onto his shoulder. Muscles built for strength beneath her pale skin – skates dangling from her fingers where she’d knotted them together for easy transportation.

“I didn’t mean to chase you away,” she calls to him as he pulls his hood lower over his face. “You looked like you were enjoying it – before falling asleep, I mean.”

He halts, turning to peer back at her.

“Do you like skating?” she asks curiously as she takes a step closer, head angling to peer up at him in the darkness of the fabric casting its shadow on him. “I love it,” she tells him. “One day I’m going to be the best female skater in the world.”

Her tone is all confidence and it makes him ache as he swallows and gives a rough shake of his head.

“Liar,” she says, all youth-ish charm. “I’m Mila.”

“… Yuuri,” he answers after a brief moment of hesitation.

“Ah, that’s no good,” Mila says immediately, stepping closer, a finger raising to touch against her lips. “I already know one Yuuri, there can’t be two of you. But-“ And here she gives him a critical look. “I suppose you’re the older one so my Yuri can be Yurio.” Her mouth curls teasingly, a glint in her eyes that lets him know that someone is going to be very unhappy with the nickname tomorrow.

“Why are you talking to me?” Yuuri asks in English as he draws away only to have her follow, keeping easy pace with the skates swinging from her fingers. “You don’t know anything about me.”

Their breath ghost in the air and he craves for his smokes, pawing for them to curb the hunger in his gut.

“I know you love ice skating,” Mila says immediately, switching language easily as he gets his cigarettes up, getting a frown and a wrinkle of her nose as he lightened one up. “No one looks at the ice like that without genuine love,” she says when he shoots her a look, drawing a breath of smoke. “Those aren’t good for you,” she tacks on.

“I know,” he grunts but it eases the anxiety from his shoulders as he turns his head away from her and exhales.

“You’re not from Russia, are you Yuuri?”

“… Japan,” he answers after a brief moment.

She whistles. “That’s, like, far away. Don’t you get homesick?”

“No,” he answers immediately, not sure if it was really truthful or a lie but quite unable to care.

He’s tired – exhausted despite his nap and he knows it’s not just a physical thing these days. Everything tires him. Eating. Sleeping. Working.

Existing.

“Oh.” Mila doesn’t look like she knows how to react to that, her dark blue eyes lingering on him for a moment before looking away. “I’d miss Russia, if I were to leave it,” she confides in him. “Sometimes during competitions I want nothing more than to come back here despite only being gone for a week. But it’s worth it – skating.”

Yuuri had known that feeling once, that all-consuming passion.

But that felt like another life-time entirely.

She keeps up a steady stream of chatter until they part ways, her arm waving and he finds himself raising one in response, watching her small figure disappear down the lightened streets.

-

There’s a pole in Yuuri’s apartment – right in the middle of the small living area that doubled as his bedroom.

It had been there since he moved in and during the first months it had remained mostly undisturbed but brief touches to watch it spin had become small swings and, eventually, he’d found himself hanging from it during hours of nothing when work was slow and he was surviving on scraps to keep the bills paid.

He’d started going to the library to use the computer, pick up new things to try, a cheap escape inside his apartment.

It wasn’t home but it was safety inside the four walls of something that was his.

Brought his mind back in time to simpler times and a small ballerina studio which had been more his home than the onsen where strangers came and went.

Stupid, piggy Katsuki Yuuri belonged the best where there were no one to see him.

He hangs upside down from it, stomach rumbling as he stares out the dark window.

-

“Yuuri!” Mila’s excited voice makes him pause, head craning around, hands buried into the pockets of his jacket as he watches her approach.

There’s a heavy backpack secured to her, moving with her eager steps as she practically stumbles into his path.

“Mila,” he greets mildly, mouth curling up faintly.

It’s hard not to like the girl – loud and enthusiastic and with a genuine passion for her ice skating.

Somehow she’d gone and decided that Yuuri was to be a part of her life.

The first time he’d caught her waiting for him it’d been late and she’d been shivering but she’d brightened up at the sight of him and somehow it had just continued like that, no matter how he pushed and prodded and disapproved about her being out late on her own.

“I’m not on my own, I have Yuuri,” she’d tell him.

He finds himself wondering if she’s lonely.

She complains about her rinkmates and it’s clear to him that she’s craving attention but skating with people older than her, more famous than her, hardier, better, brighter.

Mila wants to be the best but she’s still young and frustration and wanting more Yuuri understands.

“I brought my skates,” she tells him as she catches his hand in hers and his eyes turns down to look at the way her fingers curl around his own with a strange feeling in his chest even as she tugs at him. “I want you to watch me,” she tells him. “I keep messing it up but I can’t – I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”

Yuuri hasn’t skated since he was fourteen, nearly seven years out of the rink, but he follows along and he drops down to watch as she secures them on with her lip bitten down on in concentration as she snares herself up.

It’s cold and late but she still shrugs out of her jacket, revealing tights and a simple red shirt that flares at her arms.

Nostalgia tugs at him, a strange heavy feeling in his chest as she inhales before breathing out.

“Don’t take your eyes off me,” she tells him with her blue eyes burning into his and then she moves.

Mila is good.

He understands this, knows that she has to be with her dedication and confidence, but it’s another thing entirely to see it in person. Her form is smooth and flowing and while there’s stumbles and abruptness in her movements that needs to be polished she has all the basic components to make for one of the best.

But then she tries a salchow and there’s a stumble and she falls, frustration flashing briefly over her face as she pulls herself up.  

He’s not there for advice, not really. Mila hardly knows him, just knows that he’s drawn to the ice the same way she is.

But he pushes up, leaving his bag at the side-lines as he hesitantly braves the ice, ignoring the way his stomach swoops from beneath him as he approaches her carefully, her head snapping up to focus upon him.

“Again,” he tells her.

Mila gives him an unfathomable look but after a brief moment of hesitation she does as told, tucking down all of her frustration and replacing it with determination as she repeats it once, twice, five times, eleven times, stumbling, falling, getting up again with steel in her gaze and what is sure to be bruised knees and elbows.

Yuuri steps closer to her and then touches her elbow, giving it a little tug as she watches him, allowing him to guide her through the motions, her skates sliding obligingly through the beginning motions until he pauses her.

“Here,” he tells her. “Your arm should be straight here but you pull it in and it throws your jump off-course.”

He releases her, stepping back, waiting.

She stares at her arm for a long moment but then she moves into a starting position, mindful of her arm this time and Yuuri holds his breath as she pushes into motion, skates scraping against the ice as she pushes into the jump, turning, spinning and – landing, a bit clunky but not falling.

She turns to him, euphoria filling her gaze and he finds a small nostalgic smile tugging at his lips.

But then he’s squawking as Mila tackles him to the ice, hood and hat the only thing preventing injury as she buries close to him.

“You’re the best, Yuuri,” she breathes into his ear.

-

Yuuri has a secret – one he refuses to acknowledge to himself.

Yuuri never stopped loving ice skating, he just grows tired of the world.

With his family gone he’d been unable to stay in Japan, travelling to Russia of all places on a ticket paid with the last money he had left after settling his parents bills in an attempt to cling to the only thing he had left.

But life is cruel and harsh and instead of finding Viktor Nikiforov he finds himself drowning.

He makes a fool out of himself and his dreams and he has no-one to blame but himself.

-

If Mila was relentless before it’s nothing compared to her after learning he knew enough to help.

He’d always been intuitive to his own faults, practicing endlessly until he could stand confidently on the ice on his lonesome only to crumble under the expectation of others.

Yuuri’s biggest flaw when he skated had always been his lack of confidence, never his skill, he’d always known this objectively but it translates now – during these moments together as he watches her, helps her, corrects her, allows her to vent her frustration and soothes them as best as he can.

He finds that he wants to see her rise above them all – to stand with gold around her neck on the podium.

“I don’t want to be the one to be lifted,” Mila tells him one day when she arrives with frustration written into every line of her body. “Teach me how to be the one to lift.”

He stares at her and she stares steadily back, determination and something hard but also vulnerable in her gaze.

She’s expecting him to say no, he realises.

So instead he invites her to his apartment.

-

Yuuri knows that no matter how one twists and turns it a twenty-one-year-old man inviting a fifteen-year-old girl into his apartment doesn’t look good and a part of him doesn’t expect her to appear – convinced he’d pushed the limits of their acquaintance.

But he also should stop underestimating her because she knocks on his door and they stare at each other as he opens it up.

He’s showered, out of his wintery gear and wearing simple sweats and a long-sleeved white shirt, feet bare, and her eyes widens at the sight of him, head tilting.

“Hello Katsuki Yuuri,” she says, switching his name around for the traditional Japanese way of doing it. “You have very pretty hair.”

Yuuri should really stop finding himself so charmed by the other as he steps aside and invites her in.

-

That afternoon Yuuri strips down to his underwear and he shows her how to use the pole in his apartment, what exercises he did to strengthen his core, how it would translate into movement on the ice, slim but hard muscles regarded with growing consideration.

“If this is not for you we’ll find you something else,” Yuuri tells her as he reaches for his clothes but she’s already shrugging out of hers to leave her in a sports bra and black underwear.

“Teach me,” she tells him as she grasps for it. “I trust you, Yuuri-sensei.”

Yuuri swallows and drops his shirt.

-

“I’m aching,” Mila tells him as he’s feeding her some simple vegetable soup bought in sacrifice of his cigarettes. “But it’s a good ache. I see why you chose this.” A mischievous sort of curiosity creeps into her gaze. “I didn’t know Yuuri-sensei was a master of the pole.”

He nearly chokes.

“Please,” he says feebly, “don’t say it like that.”

She smiles at him, broad and free. “I’m going to become master of the pole as well and then the ice and I’ll never be the one being lifted again. I’m going to conquer the world.”

Yuuri stares at her, hopelessly infatuated with this tiny slip of a girl.

“I’ll watch you,” he hears himself promise her. “Every step of the way.”

“Good,” she tells him, content.

-

It’s a doomed thing from the beginning, Yuuri knows.

Mila is loved, Mila is cherished, Mila has family and she has rinkmates and coach who cares.

It’s only natural for them to get curious when she keeps disappearing, mastering her skills and perfecting her movement and growing in strength as she becomes more and more confident on the pole.

He copies a key for his apartment and allows her to use it when he isn’t there and when he returns from work she’s sweating and aching and turning to smile at him with satisfaction oozing languish from her frame.

Yuuri loves Mila – it’s not a romantic thing but the world feels less like a tired thing and more like something that stings like ozone on his tongue and warms the coldness inside of him when he is with her.

Yuuri knows that all good things comes to an end and this is not an exception.

So he isn’t surprised when he’s dragging himself home one evening and there’s not Mila waiting for him but a tall stern faced man with grey hair and a hat on his head and Yuuri’s mouth dries at the sight of the silver haired man beside him, hesitating for a moment before dragging himself closer to them both, aware of their judging looks.

He’s worked a twelve hour shift, he’s exhausted and he hasn’t smoked in weeks in favour of buying vegetables, stretching what he had in at least an attempt to give Mila something when she gave him so much.

But he craves one there and then as he fishes for his keys and steps inside – quietly leaving it open for them to follow.

Yuuri drops his backpack and steps out of his shoes, throwing his gloves in place and wrestling his jacket and fleece off, pawing tiredly at his eyes as he stares into his small apartment.

He drops down on the floor, waving for the only couch as the door clicks shut.

Yuuri doesn’t know what judgement they make of him – exhausted and grimy from work, smelling of noodles inside the bare walls of his apartment where the only bright colours were a red shirt left from Mila’s training and a picture of a cat which she’d hung on his fridge for reasons beyond him.

“So you’re the Yuuri-sensei that has been helping our Mila.” It’s the man who speaks, Yakov Feltsman, coach of the Russian figure skating team and the one and only who’d raised Viktor Nikiforov to fame under his tutelage.

The famous figure skater is watching him quietly, not speaking, so different from his television persona here and then that Yuuri feels the hair at the back of his neck rise.

“Yes,” Yuuri agrees.

There’s a hole in his sock and he tugs at it a bit absently.

Yakov’s gaze is heavy and Yuuri feels it into his very soul as he looks up.

“You understand why we’re here then.”

“Suppose I do,” Yuuri agrees and he knows he’s going to miss Mila, isn’t looking forward to going back to the endless stretch of tiredness that hounded his steps and robbed will and life from his trembling fingers.

For some reason his words makes the Russian coach frown.

“Tell me,” he says, leaning forward. “Describe to me the changes you’ve made in her routines.”

Yuuri rubs at his eyes, pushing the glasses up on his nose and breathes out noisily.

“You mind if I eat something first?” he asks. “Haven’t eaten since the beginning of my shift.”

His stomach twists on itself at the reminder and Yakov studies him for a moment before turning to his protégé. “Go pick something up,” he tells the Viktor Nikiforov and gives him a righteously upset look, mouth opening. “No arguments,” Yakov says firmly. "Get a pizza or something."

Yuuri hasn’t had pizza in years and it should make him excited but it’s hard to feel anything but resignation and a heavy feeling of deep bitter regret.  

“Yakov, you can’t be serious,” Viktor says even as he rises sharply, his gaze heavy with suspicion on Yuuri before he huffs and leaves, looking positively pouty as he kicked the door shut behind him.

“From the beginning,” the man tells him.

So Yuuri talks.

He tells him about Mila approaching him, about the night at the ice where her blue eyes burned into his and told him don’t take your eyes off me and his advice after, a one-time thing that become something more, became friendship and reliance and trust and something he didn’t dare to name.

“I shouldn’t have invited her here before talking to you,” he says without looking up, his eyes somewhere at his feet without really seeing. “But I think… I think I was afraid.” Of losing her, he doesn’t voice but he think it’s clear anyhow.

Yakov leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees, hands clasping as he studied Yuuri who has taken to tugging at the sleeve of his shirt, worrying the already fraying fabric.

“You are not what I was expecting when Mila confessed to having private lessons in a young man’s house,” the man says gruffly. “She defended you – I’ve never seen her so worked up before in my life. But you know what the situation looks like.”

“I do,” Yuuri agrees quietly. “It was never-“ He halts, face twisting. “I only wanted the best for her,” he says a bit helplessly. “And I allowed that to bypass rationality.”

“You did,” Yakov agrees bluntly. “You love her,” he observes.

Yuuri nods his head, unable to deny it, shrinking on himself.

“But not in the way I feared,” the man says after a long moment. “Tell me, what is Mila to you?”

Yuuri thinks of the blaring light, the crash of a car and the sound of his sister’s scream abruptly cut off, at the bubbly gasp of his mother as she choked and drowned on her blood with his father already dead and impaled beside her.

In the trunk Vicchan’s cage is crushed and his body with it, Yuuri will learn later, and he loses everything in a single night in a drunken accident to a young driver who vomits as they pull him out of the car.

“She’s family,” he whispers, choking on the word as his eyes burns and he paws a hand up against his eye, wiping them away before they can fall. “I-“ But the words tangles in his mouth and he bows his head, mouth twisting as he looks away.

Not soon after the door opens and Viktor halts, staring between the hunched figure of the small Japanese man and his coach as he eases back.

Hesitantly he deposits the pizzas on the table and sinks back onto the couch, aware of having missed something but not sure what, the feeling of being out of the loop making his mouth flatten.

“Yakov-“

But the man rises and Viktor stares after him, eyes widening as chipped utensils were dug forth and brought back, the first box opened up and three pieces cut off and served onto a plate and nudged across the table to the young man.

“Yuuri.” He twitches. “Eat,” Yakov commands, almost gently, and Viktor bites down hard on his cheek to keep from saying anything.

Yuuri glances up, gets a raised eyebrow in response and hesitantly uncurls just enough to grab for the plate and pull it down into his lap.

He eats without really tasting it, chewing down one piece and then half of a second before his stomach protests and he let it drop a bit reluctantly and Yakov watches him quietly as he places it back on the table.

“Thank you,” he says.

“Think nothing of it,” the man says gruffly. “I have an offer for you and I want you to listen carefully, Katsuki Yuuri.” He leans forward, eyes intent. “I want you to come to my ice rink and I want you to keep training Mila but I want you to do it honestly this time.”

Both Yuuri and Viktor stares at him.

“Mila has flourished under your attention,” Yakov admits a bit grudgingly. “It’d be a trial period, six months, and you’ll take up skating under my care when you’re not with her. She deserves the best and I want to see it for my own eyes why she chose you.”

“Yakov!” Viktor bursts out, rising and the man turns immediately, growling at him only to get a furious response.

But Yuuri hardly hears them.

His heart is pounding in his chest and his world is dark blue eyes as he closes his own and inhales.

“I’ll do it,” he says, raising his voice to be heard.

Viktor falters but Yakov’s eyes glints as their gazes meet, determination burning through exhaustion, leaving a young man very different from the slouched sad wreck he’d been as he places a hand on the table with a rattle of china and leans forward.

“Make me the best damn coach I can be,” Yuuri demands.

Chapter Text

Yuuri isn’t one to worry much about his appearance. He’d spent almost two years on the streets before getting hired under the table and after a year he’d saved enough to get himself a small crammed apartment for twice it’s worth.

He’d spent weeks, sometimes months, grimy and disgusting in clothes threading on his body and he’s so very thankful for what little he has. But it amounts to a pair of sweats and a single pair of jeans which he uses for work and two shirts, one white and one black. His jacket has seen far better days, his knitted gloves has lost their once orange colour into something muddy and brown and his right boot has been duct taped shut.

He can’t afford new things. He’s happy to be wearing anything at all, to be able to regularly scrub them clean in the sink and hang them to dry on the shower railing.

But now there’s Mila.

Mila who had defended him to her coach and team, who had fought and struggled to keep him in her life, and who he was supposed to, officially, take under his wing down at the rink where she skated with her rinkmates.

He doesn’t want…

Yuuri touches his fingers against a stain on the white one, sees the frayed sleeves and the hole on the left side near his hip. The black one is maybe better – the colour hiding the smudges from splattered oil at work better but its sleeves are, if anything, worse than the white one.

He grabs it anyway, shrugs it on with the sweatpants already in place and grabs his least holey socks before shoving his feet into his boots and tying them up. The fleece is decent and makes him breathe easier as he zips it up, dark with blue lines – he’d washed it with soap the last time he cleaned it and there’s a lingering scent of something flowery still clinging to it.

His skate beanie is dark purple in colour and he shoves it down over his hair, hiding the dark strands but for a pair of wisps that curl over his forehead, gloves shoved into his pockets.

Then he sits down on the couch and he waits.

-

Viktor Nikiforov knocks on his door ten minutes after the agreed time and Yuuri twists it open, yanking his backpack roughly along as he sidles out and locks it shut behind him.

How, exactly, the most famous skater in the world had gotten stuck with picking him up and bringing him down to the rink Yuuri isn’t sure but he’s well-aware of the way those heavy ice blue eyes watches him before giving a click of his tongue and turning on his heel.

Yuuri trails after, his mind stuck on Mila, at what she’d say at seeing him there, if she’d be happy or if she’d feel like he was stepping into her world, if she’d be embarrassed to be seen with him as threadbare as he was or-

The anxiety is an old friend but it had largely been absent the last few years, drowned by other feelings entirely, and he straightens his back as best as he can and pushes them down.

Yuuri isn’t even three steps out of his apartment building before realising the first problem with this entire arrangement.

“I don’t do cars,” he tells Viktor, coming to a halt.

“You don’t-“ The skater spins around to stare at him. “What do you mean you don’t do cars?”

For the first time Yuuri finds that he doesn’t like the sound of the man’s voice – thick with impatience and something snippy that told Yuuri that Viktor would rather be anywhere but there and he was regarding Yuuri’s refusal as something akin to childishness. As if he was being willingly difficult.

The entire thing puts his teeth on edge.

“I don’t do them,” Yuuri says, hunching his chin down into the high-collar of his jacket. “You’ll have to get me there elsehow.”

“I don’t have anything else,” Viktor tells him, a hand planting itself on his hips. “So unless you want to walk-“

“That’s fine,” Yuuri agrees, already turning. “This way?” he asks, moving backwards in the direction he’d seen Mila disappear more than once before turning with a little flash of teeth at the outrage that slips momentarily through ice blue eyes.

But then Viktor inhales and he shoves his car keys back into his pocket, snow crunching beneath his boots as he approaches Yuuri and bypasses him, forcing him to stretch his legs to keep up.

Unlike him Viktor is dressed to impress – his scarf is a warm bright red colour against a black coat and fine pants, his shoes leather and new. His hair is long and silver, braided up today and catching more than one eye and whisper as they make their way towards the rink.

“It’s a twenty minutes’ walk,” Viktor tells him without looking at him. “I’m only doing this once.” There’s a warning there but Yuuri hardly notices it as every step brings him closer and closer to the rink and to Mila, his heart pounding loud in his chest.

-

They make their way inside into the warmth of the hallway and Viktor stomps his feet to rid of the snow before stepping breezily over the shoe line and making his way down the corridor that would lead out into the rink, floor soon traded for slushy rugs there to help the skaters not to slip on their covers as they made their way in and out of the changing rooms.

The familiar cold worms through his layers with a little shiver as yelling in Russian turns louder and louder and Viktor pushes his way through a pair of twin doors with dramatic flair, Yuuri dodging through before they could close upon him.

Viktor says something to Yakov in quick Russian that Yuuri doesn’t quite catch but makes the man snarl something in response.

Yuuri ignores them for his eyes are only for the red haired girl in the middle of the rink.

She belongs here, Yuuri finds himself thinking as steps towards her, admiring the way she shone beneath the bright lights, the ice scarred from so many blades digging incessantly into it only to be smoothed over in just a few hours for the entire thing to repeat anew.

She’s in a sparkling red top, a colour he’s come to associate so strongly to her that the sight of Viktor’s scarf had made him strangely envious, and she’s working on her jumps – gliding and snapping into motion with a twirl that sends her dark red hair spinning with her.

The mouthy-blond beside her says something, eyes on Yuuri, and her head snaps up, time frozen at their eyes meet across the ice.

And then she’s heading right towards him.

Too fast, too hard, Yuuri hoists himself over the railing, his shoes finding purchase just as she slams into him instead of the wood, effectively knocking the wind out of him as he collides up against it, her feet already off the ground and around his waist as he wraps his arms around her just as desperately.

How could he have thought, for even a moment, that she wouldn’t want him there?

How could he have thought that something as superficial as looks would make her hesitate when she’d found him asleep on the ground by a snowy rink and still reached out for him?

He holds her there, pressed close to him, feeling the hard muscles beneath his palms as a shudder runs through her.

“I thought I wouldn’t be able to see you again,” she whispers, her breath warm against his ear.

He tightens his grip on her.

“Me neither,” he confesses and she draws back enough to look at him, smudges beneath her eyes and a hint of red, her heels secured at his back to keep her in place as he holds her up easily. “But I promised I’d watch you,” he reminds her because he can now, here on the ice. “Every step of the way.”

She lets out a huff, leaning her forehead against his to swallow up his vision with those dark blue eyes and there’s a stubborn set to her mouth. “I fought for you,” she tells him, with all the solemn importance of youth.

“I heard,” he says, something gentle and warm in his chest as he looks at her. “I came for you.”

“You did,” she agrees, reluctantly loosening her hold on him and he keeps a hand on her hip until she’s secure on the ice again.

Only then to they notice the eerie quiet around them and Yuuri snaps up, eyes darting instinctively to Yakov only to catch Viktor’s flat mouth and narrowed eyes in the path before they settled on grey.

“Что ты делаешь, блядь-?!”

It’s the blond boy who’d been beside Mila, a snarl on his face as he marched towards them, looking rather akin to a ferocious kitten with his fine boned build before a man in his mid-twenties snatched him up by the collar of his shirt, effectively holding him back as Mila melted protectively with her back against his front.

Yuuri knew enough Russian to get by on a daily basis and he heard enough cursing in his work to merely raise an eyebrow a bit bemused at him as the boy struggled against the hold of the older male.

“Apologies for dear Yurio here,” the man says smoothly, ignoring the way the blond swung towards him with abrupt violence only to be held back as he arched his hips and body out of his reach. “He was informed that Mila’s new coach would be joining us today but he must have forgotten.”

Yurio splutters and snarls, eyes furious as they swung back to Yuuri.

“You saw the way he was tou-!“ The man spins him towards him and slaps a well-practiced hand over his mouth, looking sincerely unbothered by the explosive reaction.

“You must be Yuuri,” he says as Yuuri stares, feeling increasingly like he’d stepped into something quite over his head. “I’m Georgi Popovich and this mouthy one is Yuri Plisetsky.”

“It’s good to meet you,” Yuuri says a bit hesitantly, his hand still resting on Mila’s midriff, drawing strength from her with a brief squeeze before he released her and stepped closer, keeping steady even with his worn shoes, a curious glint in the other’s eyes as he stuck out a hand. “We’ll be seeing a lot of each other I suspect, please treat me well.”

Yurio snarls but Georgi looks positively delighted as he frees the boy’s mouth and clasps his hand after wiping it on Yurio’s shoulder to a livid explicative.

“Oh I like you already,” the man says with a flash of a smile and a firm squeeze.

“Yuuri.” It’s Yakov and he turns instinctively to the man, releasing the male skater as he threads his way towards the coach with Mila skating slowly along as he made for the door to the rink. “We need to discuss your schedule,” Yakov says gruffly as he steps out, Mila folding her arms on the railing. “Girl, you’re already up to date,” he says shortly to the redhead who makes a face at him.

“Talk to you after?” she asks of Yuuri and he nods, raising a hand as she straightened out and kicked back, swooping in with Georgi and Yuri hot at her heels, Russian snapped between them.

Yuuri isn’t worried – he knows Mila could take care of herself and there’s something settled inside of him as he follows Yakov to a bench and drops down.

Vitya,” the man growls dangerously when Viktor invites himself down beside them, doing an obnoxious show of sprawling his skates down on the floor before bending to fiddle with them, turning them this and there as if to check for damage.

“It’s fine,” Yuuri murmurs, tugging his beanie off and tucking it into his pocket.

Yakov hisses something in Russian before turning his back to his student and fixating on Yuuri with intent grey eyes.

The coach of the Russian team has a very stern face, Yuuri finds himself thinking, and he knows that fourteen-year-old Katsuki Yuuri would have been terrified to find himself under the intensity of his gaze.

But twenty-one-year-old Yuuri’s world is dark blue eyes and a sweep of red hair and he’s here to learn for her. To become better, to become more, for her.

The girl who looked at the slumped form at the skating rink and saw the love for the ice in his eyes.

“You’ll be here from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. sunday through thursday,” he’s told and Yuuri nods shortly, having expected nothing less. “You’ll join the rest of my students for their morning training until 12 p.m. and after that Mila is all yours. I want you to stay in the rink for now but I’m having a pole for your use set up in one of the training rooms and you’ll be alternating as you see fit between them.”

That… is infinitely more freedom than he expected and he feels the weight of it as he looks into the older man’s eyes.

“You have a week to write down a schedule for me to look over and approve and I’ll stop by to regularly watch.”

“Understood,” Yuuri agrees, his mind already running through possibilities, things she needed to work on, better, and he knew he needed to sit down and properly talk it through with her.

This was her future and Yuuri will not fail her – not here, not ever.

Yakov studies him for a moment before nodding shortly. “Do you own a pair of skates?”

“No,” Yuuri admits and Viktor makes a noise beside them, like a cat being trodden on.

“I will take you after lunch then,” the man tells him shortly. “You’re my responsibility now and I will not have a student without skates.” He raises his head, barking out a reprimand to Yurio who was practically frothing at something Mila had said, her smile mischievous and just a tad fiendish as she glided away from him.

“It’s a lot of trust you’re putting in a stranger,” Yuuri hears himself saying.

Yakov grunts. “If I hadn’t seen the evidence of her training beneath you I might agree,” he says finally with a grudging sort of approval that makes Viktor jerk to give him a look that Yuuri can’t quite read before he stands abruptly, skates long-since in place.

“I still think you’re making a mistake,” Viktor says sharply without looking at them as he threads towards the ice. “But who am I to judge?” he says with a sharkish sort of grin to Yuuri as he yanks his guards off and pushes backwards off from the railing and onto the ice, his movements impossibly smooth, more than one pair of eyes instinctively drawn to him even in simple black tights and shirt.

“That boy….” Yakov huffs, mouth flattening. “He needs to learn to listen to his elders.”

Yuuri isn’t quite sure what to feel about the clear antagonism from his once idol but he pushes it all down with a swallow.

“Breakfast and lunch will be served here in the hall – all my skaters are on a strict regime on what they can and cannot eat and while I tolerate the occasional indulgence you’re not to make a habit of it,” Yakov says after a moment.

Not a problem, Yuuri thinks idly to himself, mentally picturing his fridge and the carrots and cauliflower crowding on a single shelf, joined only recently by a pizza that he’d indulged a single piece of for breakfast before storing into the freezer to heat for himself and Mila at a later occasion.

The second pizza Viktor had taken as they left, possibly out of spite if the look in his eyes were anything to go by.

Yuuri rubs his hands against his knees, a self-soothing habit that makes him relax slightly at the feel of clean fabric beneath his palms.

“Today you will watch and you will tell me what you see, what you think can be improved,” Yakov tells him as he rises, eyes flickering down with a studying gaze before giving a little jerk of his head and Yuuri rises to follow, heart pounding in his chest as he stepped up next to the famed coach.

-

Yakov is a gruelling man, pressing Yuuri into talking more than he had in years as they break down the strengths and weaknesses of his skaters, discuss potential routines, how to work around problems and long-term solutions – all theory and on the spot things that either gets dismissed or considered, sometimes to a hm and a wave of his hand to continue.

Mostly he watches Mila – the way she shines on the ice, dark blue eyes darting to his frequently to make sure she had his full attention as she spins into one beautiful salchow after another with a private smile exchanged between them.

She’s gotten even smoother on the ice since the first time he saw here and he admires the lines of strength in her muscles as she moves, the pole having served her well in strengthening her core, her arms and her legs.

You’re beautiful, he thinks, so soft, so warm, so infinitely proud as he watches her.

You’ll rise above them all.

-

Yakov makes good on his promise to take him out after a lunch served in a mess hall of sorts – chicken and vegetables settling heavy in his gut even as he does his best to chew slow and careful as he washes it down with frequent sips of water.

A part of him balks at the prices but he finally settles down on a couch and forces himself not to think too hard about it as he tries on one pair after another, Yakov kneeling down with a serious face as he presses his thumbs along the arch, turning and his ankles and making him walk back and forth on the guards.

It’s all very strange – overwhelming in a way that Yuuri is hard to put a finger on, his skin itching beneath the man’s touch for all that he desperately wants to keep it there and there’s a strange tug in his chest when they finally settle on a pair.

Yuuri is delighted to discover they come in bright red, quite unable to deny himself this simple pleasure and he cradles the bag close to his chest as they make their way back to the rink.

His own pair of skates. How long had it been? Almost seven years.

The reality of it sits heavy in his gut and he wonders what it’ll be like, to once again stand on his own two feet on the ice that had been his home and life and world.

-

“Yuuri, answer me honestly,” Yakov says at they’re making their way back, snow crunching beneath their boots. “How often do you eat?”

Yuuri flushes faintly, aware of the fact that his relation to food wasn’t exactly the healthiest.

“Not often enough,” he admits quietly.

It had been almost seven years since he had a reliable food intake and he’d been prone to getting chubby quickly if he wasn’t careful. These days what he eats translates into muscles and he’s wired but thinner than he’s supposed to be – his stomach hollowed out in a way that was far from pretty, his ribs visible for counting where his skin strained over them.

“Is it a mental thing or…?” The man is clearly uncomfortable asking for such private info but his eyes are serious when they regard Yuuri and he feels himself inexplicitly warmed by this man’s off-hand care for the stranger that had invited himself into his student’s life.

He supposes it’s natural – Yakov wanted what was best for his skaters and an unhealthy coach was not a good thing in anyone’s eyes.

“No,” he admits. “At least – I don’t think it is. It’s just… hard to get most days. I guess I just got used to it,” he says a bit lamely. “Being hungry.”

It’s a strange thing to admit to but it’s better than Yakov thinking he was intentionally starving himself.

He ducks his chin into the collar of his jacket, feeling the cold air against his weather reddened cheeks as he breathed in, allowed it to fill up his lungs.

“When was the last time you had a check-up?”

Yuuri shrugs. “Seven years or so,” he admits quietly.

A considering hum.

“I will book you one and you will go,” Yakov says finally. “I know someone who won’t ask too many questions.”

And that’s the end of that conversation.

-

When Yuuri is six-years-old he falls in love and it changes his entire world.

Every stumble, every fall, every anxiety ridden moment when he’d curled up in Minako’s dancing studio with tears and snot running down his face, laughter and mocking words running through his mind, it had been nothing but a small price to pay to stand on the ice.

He’d train his feet bloody, learns how to stitch shut the worst injuries and hides it from his parents but never his sister who plants herself down beside him and allows him to press his tear-stained face against her shoulder to avoid looking down at his ruined feet.

It’s the reality of dancing, it’s the realty of skating.

And Yuuri learns to suffer for his love and obsession for just a chance of standing on the same ice as Viktor Nikiforov.

-

Yuuri secures the last knot in place and rises tall with a sharp inhale and exhale.

The distance between the bench and the ice stretches like a yawning pit and he feels the judgement of the skaters as he takes a hesitant step forward and then another, a sick twisting in his stomach.

What are you doing? his brain demands and Yuuri regrets the food as nausea climbs up his throat.

His ears rings with his sister’s screams, the bloody choking of his mother and the whimpers from Vicchan, the world narrowing strangely, his vision fluctuating and he can’t do this, he can’t, hecan’t-

“Yuuri.” Mila’s gentle voice draws his gaze up, his eyes finding dark blue. “I’ve got you,” she tells him, a hand reaching out.

And Yuuri reaches desperately back, his clammy hand finding hers, allowing her to pull him the last bit onto the ice with a scape of his blades.

And just like that he’s home.

Chapter Text

The first two steps are stumbling, Yuuri’s other hand coming to grasp desperately at Mila’s before his body remembers with the next jerk of his leg and he slides, pushing into the movementt, blades angling for better grip and Mila’s dark blue eyes glitters as she draws him in.

Mila-“

“I’ve got you,” she repeats, firmer now, and he instinctively goes up on his toes as she loops his arm above him with a swoop of his belly as he shifts, compensating, doing the full spin before settling with both feet on the ice, her hand pulling him along as she glides back.

“See,” she tells him, releasing his hand. “You’ve got this, Yuuri-sensei.”

She turns and he pushes to give chase, picking up momentum as familiarity returns, gliding into a smooth easy step sequence he’d been practicing with her only days earlier, picturing the movement of her body, knowing instinctively what his needed to do as he followed in the path of her ghost.

He turns, skates shifting as he pushes into a salchow and then a second one just because he can.

It all comes back to him, with every twist and turn, his legs burning as he pushes himself, his arms moving in the fluid echo of a young boy who had loved the ice more than he loved the world.

But it’s different now – there’s someone there with him and his eyes chases dark blue, the flash of red that made him turn and catch her hand and draw her close, lifting her up in a hug as he spun them both until they were both bright eyed and grinning as he deposited her down, finally coming to a halt in the middle of the rink.

“I knew it,” Mila breathes as she looks at him, so close and warm and alive in his arms. “I knew it.

Yuuri has nothing to say in response – hand pushing against his chest, flattening over the pounding of his heart, her hands coming up to grasp as his arms as if to steady him.

This is what he’d lived for. The sound of the ice, the scraping of his blades against it, the feeling of being able to do anything, to rise up and become more than he was.

“You’ve been holding out on me, Yuuri,” Mila grins but it’s a soft thing now and he presses forward, pushing his forehead against hers.

“Thank you,” he tells her, with all the warmth and love in his body. “If it wasn’t for you-“

She gives a small shake of her head. “You were made to stand on the ice,” she tells him gently and there’s a strange burn in his eyes as he reluctantly draws back from her, his body tall and straight as he turns towards Yakov who is watching them both with a an unreadable look in his grey eyes.

“Yuuri,” Yakov calls and he reluctantly detaches herself from Mila, feeling the burn in his legs as he makes his way towards the Russian coach.

Once an hour of two on the ice would barely leave and ache in his body but it’s been years and muscles he barely remembers having is letting him know they’re very unhappy to be reminded of their existence as he comes to a gliding halt in front Yakov.

“You’ve had professional training,” the man observes and Yuuri swallows as he nods to a hm. “Your form is sloppy,” he says bluntly and Yuuri knows it is. “But your core strength is solid and your jumps aren’t half-bad for someone who hasn’t been on the ice in a long time.” There’s a grudging sort of consideration in grey eyes. “Not as bad as I feared,” he finishes and Yuuri draws a breath, allowing it to fill his lungs before breathing out.

“I’ll work on it,” Yuuri promises him solemnly.

“As if I’d allow anything else,” Yakov says with a narrowing of his eyes. “There’s something else to – dancing?”

“Ballet,” Yuuri agrees.

“Thought as much,” Yakov grunts. “You’ve kept your body limber – that’s unusual for someone in their twenties.”

Yuuri kept up regular stretches because of his use of the pole which demanded a languish sort of body for some of the more technically difficult moves. It hadn’t been like that in the beginning but after stumbling to work with a limp on more than one occasion he’d pushed it into his morning and night routine and he’d kept it up even during days when he wanted nothing more than to stay in bed.

“Get some water,” Yakov tells him. “And eat something small if you think you can stomach it – there’s fruit inside the kitchen.”

Yuuri bows his head and thanks him, making his way for the entrance of the rink as Yakov raised his voice and barked for attention.

-

Yuuri wipes down his skates carefully to keep them from rusting and dulling before securing the red guards, his fingers trailing over the familiar hard surface before gently dropping them into his backpack, shuffling things around to make sure they were at the very bottom of it.

Mila is waiting for him outside, dressed in jeans and a soft green shirt, her jacket open over it and a blue scarf wrapped twice around her neck. It deepens the blue of her eyes and he finds a soft smile curling his lips as he approaches her.

“I was thinking,” she hedges as she falls in easy step beside him. “That maybe we could go over some ideas for my schedule.”

“You were thinking that, were you?” Yuuri hums. “It does sound like something a responsible coach would do.”

“Mm-hmm,” she agrees, her boots threading the snow easily. “And you’re a good coach, aren’t you, Yuuri-sensei?” 

“I must be,” he says as he tilts his head up, watching the darkening sky. “Because you deserve nothing but the best.”

-

Mila reaches for her key first and he allows her to get the door open, her movements familiar and at home as she strips off her outerwear and hangs it on the hook he’d secured to the wall beside his own, red beside blue. Small splashes of colour in an otherwise bare apartment.

“You mind if I do some stretching?” she checks.

“Go for it,” he encourages. “I need to outline some things anyway.”

She strips down to her underwear before rummaging forth a black t-shirt that pools on her, hair secured back in a tie as she folds down easily on the living room floor while Yuuri goes on the hunt for his old notebook, relieved to find a decent pen strapped to it inside the bedside table.

He puts it aside, pulling out the carrots and cauliflower, measuring a third of it with a cut of a knife and securing away the rest for dinner another day.

He chops it all up as he puts water to boil and dumps it all in together with some salt and a tiny spoon of curry he’d bought on a bargain to add some flavour to it. He waits for it to boil up before turning it on low and putting the lid in place and turns his battered wrist watch to check the time.

“Dinner in twenty?”

“Sounds good,” Mila agrees, her body nearly flat against the floor between the spread of her legs and he gives form a critical look before nodding and sinking down onto the couch.

Yuuri already knows the schedule Yakov has her on so he scrawls it out on one page to compare to it before settling on a new one, the scratch of his pen, the rustle of clothes as she shifts, and the low bubbling from the kitchen the only noise for a long stretch of time.

Silence with Mila never feels strained – she fits here in his apartment and life and he feels the tension from the day slowly drain from his shoulders.

-

Yuuri places the bowls down on the table and Mila fills their glasses with water and grabs the spoons before sinking down, legs folding up against him and making sure she was tucked tight to his side.

“I think Yakov likes you,” Mila says as she spoons a mouthful after blowing carefully on it, pillow on her lap to balance the hot bowl she’s drawn close to herself. “He didn’t yell at you once – it was a bit strange to see.”

“Yeah?” Yuuri says, stirring his spoon through the orange and yellow liquid. “You sure that’s not just because he was relieved to have someone finally listen to him?”

The Russian team was an eclectic gathering of personalities and it had been interesting to see them in action. But between Yurio, whose explicatives were terrifyingly vulgar for a thirteen-year-old, Georgi’s dramatic reactions, Mila’s mischief and Viktor just straight up doing his own thing…

Yuuri felt just a teensy bit bad for the famed coach.

“Rude,” she says with a small pout. “I listen to you, don’t I?”

“When you want to,” he agrees contently to a soft push of her shoulder and an exchange of looks that makes them both grin before looking down at their food.

“I don’t think Viktor likes you though,” Mila muses with a contemplative little crease of her brow. “He’s always been there just… doing his own thing, I guess. But today he kept close. Was pretty damn obnoxious about it too.”

Yuuri hums, spooning soup into his mouth – deciding it wasn’t too bad as he flattened his tongue against it to lick it clean.

Whatever opinion Viktor had on Yuuri it wasn’t a good one and he only has himself to blame. He’d kept his relationship with an underage girl a secret from her coach, had invited her into his home to teach her pole dancing, knowing full-well that it wouldn’t look good but being too selfish to risk giving her up.

“-Yurio just don’t straight up like anyone and Georgi is pretty friendly overall so I guess it could have gone worse.”

“I had fun,” he tells her. “I liked seeing you up there, on the ice.”

“You liked being on it, too,” Mila observes with those knowing eyes of hers. “Did you ever skate professionally?” she asks curiously.

“Just small competitions,” Yuuri admits, not really tasting the soup as he sticks the spoon into his mouth with a little grimace before he dropped it back into the bowl. “I was slotted for the Junior Grand Prix but there were a lot going on the year I was old enough to compete and after that it just… wasn’t an option anymore.”

“How long?” Mila presses inquisitively. "You're, like, twenty-ish, right?"

“Twenty-one,” he tells her and blue eyes searches his before turning back to her soup.

“I bet you would have been wonderful,” she tells him with all the confidence of youth.

It startles a laugh out of him.

“No,” he tells her genuinely. “I was a bit of an anxious mess when I was younger – couldn’t stand anyone looking at me, as much as I wanted them to do nothing but look.”

“You don’t really look like the worrying type,” Mila tells him a bit bemusedly.

“I worry about you,” Yuuri tells her as he leans back. “I worry about not being enough and just this morning I worried about not looking good enough to turn up on the ice with you.”

“That’s silly,” she says immediately. “Yuuri is Yuuri, I don’t need to you to be anything you’re not.”

“I know,” he tells her but there’s still that niggling sense of not being enough as Mila pushes her bowl onto the table and turns to him.

Yuuri blinks at her, stilling as a palm pressed flat against his chest only to find himself pushed back, her body following to flatten him down to a sharp inhale as she wrapped her arms around him and wormed her red head beneath his chin.

He feels the hard pounding of his heart, is acutely aware of the fact that she must hear it too, but she only draws him closer.

“You’re supposed to hug me back,” she tells him, voice muffled against his chest.

Yuuri swallows before he hesitantly, and a bit stiffly, wraps his arms around her, feeling the way she relaxes against him as he does.

It’s different from the hug on the ice – here inside the walls of his apartment, the silence heavy around them, the occasional sound of a car passing by, a neighbour treading above or below.

He feels her warmth seeping through his clothes, hears the calming beat of her heart that his slowly comes to echo.

Yuuri hadn’t hugged Mari nearly enough.

It’s something he regrets every day. He’d always been shy, anxious and skittish at the simplest touch and it was only when it was the two of them that he’d been able to relax, just enough to allow an arm around his shoulders away from prying eyes that ate too much of him.

“You need to be more confident, Yuuri,” she had told him more than once but it was a like a faulty wire inside him, the world too loud and too bright and he ill-fit in his place in it.

He’d always felt ten steps behind everyone. Didn’t know the right words, didn’t know what to do with his body, didn’t know how to function when confronted with another living, breathing human.

Dancing had offered him an escape from it, had given him order and structure and something to reach for and then the ice had offered him a world of his own.

Even now, so many years later, it had been like coming home.

He thinks, as he draws her closer, that Mila feels a bit like home, too.

-

It’s late when they bid each other goodbye, Yuuri having walked her most of the way, and she gives him a quick hug before stepping back.

“I’ll see you bright and early,” he calls.

“You better!” Mila says as she waves before turning and burying her hands into the pockets of her jacket as she hurries the last bit beneath the spiralling snow.

Yuuri copies her, breathing in the cool air as he turns around and trudges his way back.

The key slides smoothly into the lock and he lets himself inside, ridding himself of the outer layer and placing his boots aside.

He hunts for his backpack, rummaging for his new skates and giving them another wipe-down to make sure no liquid had remained on them before placing them down beside it to be packed in the morning.

Mila had finished her soup but he had about half left and he reheats it on the stove to finish up before he folds down on the floor and leans back against the couch with the bowl once again steaming beside him and a small glass of water.

He opens up his notebook, lingering on the beginning structure of her schedule before turning to a new page near the back of it.

Working with Mila meant that he was off the day schedule Sunday through Thursday but if he’s lucky he’ll able to get one or two night shifts to compensate for it and he’d call in the morning to see about working twelve hour shifts Fridays and Saturdays, two of the busiest days and sure to need the extra hand.

If he works out of the kitchen and on the floor he’ll be able to score some tips, too. 

He doesn’t have a lot saved up but there’s enough for three months’ rent if it was that he had to travel somewhere with her for a competition and he mentally tallies what little he’d put away for a new pair of shoes and a shirt into his new food account.

If he goes late on the market day he’ll be able to buy some vegetables cheap, he knows, because people rarely wanted the things that didn’t look much for the world and they’d be happy to get rid of it. He thinks he might be able to make the Thursday or Monday one, pen tapping against the page.

The Thursday one was sure to be the busiest with restaurants preparing for the weekend... 

He underlines the Monday one and breathes out as he leans back, studying it critically but decides that it’s – possible.

He’s had worse schedules and working down at the rink meant that he had breakfast and lunch served there, something that still sounded almost too good to be true.

Yuuri rubs at his eyes, tired from the day, from nearly loosing Mila, from meeting new people, and there’s an ache in his calves and thighs from standing on the ice again.

He folds the notebook together and puts it on the table before reaching for the cooling bowl of soup.

As he eats he mentally considers his own schedule and change in routine, eyes lingering on the pole shining blankly in the middle of the room.

-

Yuuri’s alarm goes off at three-thirty a.m. and he rolls off the bed and stumbles into the bathroom to brush his teeth and run a wet hand through the strands standing up messily on his head.

He doesn’t bother putting anything on as he stretches his body out with a crack of his spine before sinking down on the floor in the beginning of his first stretch, focusing on the familiar burn as he worked through his routine for the next forty minutes.

The exercise brings some warmth to him, shaking off the cold from the night and he can’t resist pushing up with a small leap as he trades floor for pole, gliding around it as he folds his legs up high and clamps it between his thighs before allowing his body to smoothly fall back and down, arms folding up behind his neck before he started doing sit-ups.

At five-thirty a.m. he calls work, relaxing at the grudging agreement and thanking the man three times before his boss simply hangs up on him.

Yuuri takes a quick cold shower, dresses himself up, packs his skates and locks the door shut tight behind him before taking the steps two at a time and setting off in a light jog down towards the rink.

-

Yakov’s students are already there – not yet changed, Georgi with a toast hanging out of his mouth as he nudged at a half-asleep Yurio into eating while Viktor had a small book folded up, half of his attention on it, Mila spooning porridge into her mouth with her chin resting in the palm of her hand.

Two tables had been pulled together and unlike yesterday the most noise were from the low voices and clink of silverware.

These were the people who would stand at the top of the skating world, the best of the best from Russia. All gathered in the same room to share breakfast together, a small moment before the ice demanded their full attention.

Viktor quiets mid-word, his eyes sharp as they settle on Yuuri and Mila cranes around with a brightening grin at the sight of him as he let his backpack drop.

“Доброе утро,” she greets him.

"おはよう,” he echoes back, making his way to the small buffet table and grabbing for a plate.

He knew porridge would sit too heavy in his stomach and he hesitates for a moment before simply grabbing for one half of a dark nutty bread, some butter and a single piece of cheese. He ignores the coffee entirely, contemplates the juice but finally sticks with water – deciding that it wasn’t worth risking it when he didn’t know his body’s response to heavier and richer food.

Mila has the chair between her and Viktor kicked out and waiting when he turns around and he pretends not to have heard their low argument as he places his breakfast down and pulls it in closer to the table and the redhead, half-expecting a disparaging comment.

But Viktor gives him a side-glance and then proceeds to ignore him completely, striking up a largely one-sided conversation in Russian with Yuri Plisetsky who looked ready to fall asleep in his breakfast food despite Georgi’s holding him up by the back of his shirt while chewing through the last of his toast.

“Are you joining us for the morning training, Yuuri?” Mila asks curiously.

“Mm,” he agrees, biting off a corner of the bread and chewing it carefully with a sip of water to soften it up. “I’ll oversee your training after lunch,” he tells her, despite knowing full-well she already knew as much. “Until Yakov has agreed to a new schedule we’ll stick to his. With minor adjustments.” 

Mila makes a face. “Step sequences?”

“Step sequences,” Yuuri agrees, taking another bite and getting some cheese with it, humming in surprise at the rich taste. 

“Aah, I guess that’s fine,” she sighs dramatically.

Yuuri had always been good with step sequences, it was the foundation for everything in skating and allowed for the smoothness of movement that was needed for a fluid program. He used to skate them in the middle of the night, just listening to the scape of the ice beneath him as he moved, circling and dancing around an invisible partner.

Perhaps it was because he was a dancer first but Yuuri had always enjoyed them.

“You don’t have to do them if they aren’t in Yakov’s program,” Viktor says beside them, leaning back, having apparently given up on Yurio for now as a soft snore floated up from across the table, the boy now half-slumped with his head on Georgi’s shoulder, mouth open.

“Viktor, Yakov hired the boy for a reason,” Georgi says as he steals Yuri’s food closer to take a spoon of cooling porridge.

“He didn’t even own a pair of skates until yesterday,” Viktor says with a wave of his hand. “Really, Yakov is the expert here so-“

“If Yuuri-sensei says we’re doing step sequences then we’re doing step sequences,” Mila interrupts him, leaning half-way across Yuuri to poke the older skater in the chest to a surprised blink from ice blue eyes. “Don’t be mean to Yuuri,” she warns.

“Ah, Mila-“ Yuuri tries but now Viktor was leaning forward and Yuuri shrinks slightly in his seat as they face off in front of him.

“Yakov is your coach Mila-“

“You never listen to him anyway so why should I?” she demands. “And Yakov’s the one who agreed to Yuuri coming here-“

“You know nothing about-“

“- you know-“

“You’re too young-“

On the other side of the table Georgi is watching the happening with the spoon sticking out of his mouth, looking a bit taken back if Yuuri read him correctly, and the strange frustration on Viktor’s face looks nothing like what he was used to seeing on the screen from the living legend.

“Viktor-“ His voice snaps ice blue eyes to him and Yuuri finds that he doesn’t like the look in those eyes, something strangely frustrated but also something like a deep livid anger that momentarily steals the breath from his chest before he catches himself. “If-“ he says with a slightly stumble. “If it makes you feel better I’ll run it by Yakov first,” he says, willing the older man to believe the earnestness of it.

But Viktor scoffs, kicking his chair back as he rises up. “Do as you wish,” he says as he shoulders his satchel and leaves as Yuuri’s brows furrows, watching him saunter down the hallway to the changing rooms.

“Don’t take Viktor’s anger to heart,” Georgi says across them as Mila’s hand seeks his and he turns his palm, allowing their fingers to slot together. “He's a bit of a grouch before his morning coffee.”

Yuuri gives him a strained smile.

"It's fine," he lies.

-

Viktor is half-way into his pants as Yuuri slips inside and he averts his eyes, twisting the code to his locker and opening it up as the other straightens up, knotting the tie on the inside of his waistband. 

Yuuri had washed his sweats in the sink last night and worn his jeans to change into afterwards for his night shift. Sweatpants aren't exactly skater wear but it's the best he's got and he keeps his back to the other as he changes into them.

He folds the sleeves of his dark shirt up to hide the frayed ends before sinking down on the bench with his backpack beside him, fishing up his skates with a gentle thumb over their red surface before opening up the first and wiggling it on.

Yakov had paid for three pair of skater socks for him, dark so they wouldn’t stain from the blood when he, unavoidably, tore the places that would thicken to build callouses with time. Yakov had also given him a warning about just what he thought about his skaters hiding injuries so Yuuri knew to seek him out at the end of the week at the latest.

He’s careful to pull hard from the very bottom, working his way up and tying them tight, tucking the end of his sweats down into them.

Viktor’s locker slams shut and Yuuri startles, straightening up and then stilling in place as Viktor stepped in front of him with his skates knotted and thrown over his shoulder, held up by two fingers.

It’s silent, not even a muted brush of Russian voices reaching them from outside.

“I don’t know what kind of intentions you have with Mila,” Viktor says, his tone chilly. “But I’m watching you. Men like you always slip up sooner or later. Mila is young, she doesn’t know yet but she will and if it’s up to me it won’t be because of someone like you.” His ice blue eyes digs into Yuuri’s brown. “Give this up, go home,” Viktor tells him. “Before someone gets hurt.”

Have you always been this cold? Yuuri wonders, staring at the famous skater as he straightens up, silver strands sliding over his shoulder. You’re like another person entirely.

“I can’t,” Yuuri tells Viktor as he pushes up as the older skater steps away and to the door where he stills, head tilting. “I promised Mila.” His voice gains strength, solidifying with the weight of the vow he’d made to them both. “I’ll be right there beside her to see her stand above them all.”

“We’ll see about that, Yuuri.

Viktor draws the door shut behind him as he leaves, leaving Yuuri alone in the silence with a strangely heavy chest.

And for all that this is the closest he's ever been to his idol, Viktor had never felt further out of his reach.

Chapter Text

Yuuri wakes with a choked breath and the taste of blood on his tongue, hand grasping and curling over the stretch of skin above his heart as he draws one desperate breath after the other, gasping for air that he knows is perfectly within his reach but won’t work to fill his lungs properly.

He stumbles to his feet, nearly slams his head against the doorway to the bathroom and sinks to his knees in front of a toilet with the lid already up and waiting.

Nausea bubbles and crawls, icy chills running up his arms as he pats blindly for the switch, nearly blinding himself as it came alight with a bright neon blink before settling.

His stomach cramps and he throws up with the ringing of his mother’s desperate voice echoing through his mind, chunks of brown splattering against the porcelain and water with a splash, acid on his tongue as one hand curls white-knuckled around the rim.

He shivers, spitting with a grimace as he slowly slumps beside it.

Drags a tired hand over his face as he blinks a bit blearily as he cranes his head around and sees the darkness from his living room window.

Groans as he reluctantly drags himself up and sets to getting ready for the day, knowing better than to seek sleep when his mind was dead set against it.

-

It’s Thursday and Yuuri frowns at his feet, prodding a bit gingerly at the places where his skin had been rubbed raw from the skates and making a mental note to talk to Yakov after lunch as he wraps them in the roll of bandages he’d found beneath the sink.

Thursday meant that he wouldn’t be skating Friday and Saturday and he wasn’t exactly looking forward to working with his feet in such a state when they should be getting rest but there wasn’t much he could do about it.

So Yuuri rolls his socks on and pulls his white shirt over his head as he climbs to his feet with a little shake of his head, tugging a bit absently at the too long strands as they wisp across his eyes.

He gives a thoughtful little hum and goes for a hunt inside his bathroom on the shelf that had become Mila’s – containing, as of recently, hair ties and clips, deo, a spare menstrual cup and a small ask of Band-Aids after she’d cut her finger on a chip in one of his plates only to discover he didn’t own any.

Small instalments where she left her imprints in his life.

He grabs two of the clips, making sure to get most out of his face before securing them in place.

There’s still some evidence of his last attempt with the kitchen scissors, clumsy slips with flat little ends shorter than the rest and Yuuri isn’t too keen on a repeat of it but he knows it needs to be done soon.

Putting it out of his mind for the moment he grabs for his skater cap and crams it on over it and drags the hoodie of his jacket on top of it before braving the icy snowstorm outside.

-

Yuuri spends a moment stomping his shoes clean off the snow, grimacing a bit when he realises some of it had leaked into his boot despite the duct tape wrapped around it and regretting putting his socks on before leaving.

But – hindsight and he resigns himself to wearing a wet sock as he slips his boots off in front of the shoe line and pads his way down to the changing room, dodging a sleepy Yuri and entering the code to his locker. He changes quickly into his sweats and hangs his jeans to dry in the heating cabinet in the corner of the room.

Contemplates and then drags his sock off and hangs it there as well.

There’s only some twenty minutes until training so it won’t dry through but he’s reasonably optimistic as he makes his way to the small mess hall with one sock in place and greets the four skaters there before swooping for a plate.

He’s unusually hungry from having thrown his dinner and it’s a relief to grab a small cup of yoghurt along with the standard fare of the nutty bread, daringly putting two pieces of cheese on top of it before dropping into the seat beside Mila and biting down with some relish.

“You want some tea, Yuuri?” Georgi inquires, lifting the steaming thermos in the middle of the table.

“I’m fine,” he says with a little toast of his water. “But thank you for asking.” He takes a large sip, relaxing back as Georgi pours himself a cup to the brim.

“If the snow keeps up it’s going to be a wonder we’ll get home,” Georgi muses – by far the most awake during these moments before training shook some heat and energy into them.

His tea smells of soft flowers and Yuuri has come to associate it with these quiet moments together.

“Maybe we can make a snowman during break,” Mila suggest, perking up at the idea. “Have you made one before, Yuuri?”

“Mm,” he agrees, swallowing. “It snowed a lot where I grew up. We used to make these little snow dogs outside the house.”

“I can picture that,” Mila says with some consideration. “A tiny Yuuri on top of a giant snowy dog.”

It wasn’t too far off the mark – Mari had been really good at making them and Yuuri had enjoyed climbing all over them, imagining himself a valiant skater knight as he sat astride a large back.

One such year, just before Christmas, Mari hade made a large snow poodle. He still has the photo in the box beneath his bed with Mari grinning up at his eight-year-old self on top of it with Vicchan in his arms, eyes sparkling, both of them wet and cold but so very proud.

“My brother and I used to make snow mermaids,” Georgi comments with some nostalgia. “Of course, they were mostly fish heads with legs sticking out of their lower bodies because we delighted in doing everything the opposite.”

“What about you, Viktor?” Mila asks, turning expectantly.

“None, I’m afraid,” he responds without looking up from his book.

Yuuri carefully doesn’t look at Viktor but the easy admittance tugs at something inside of him.

“I’m almost afraid to ask what Yurio considers snow art,” Georgi muses as the boy blindly shoves porridge into his mouth with a grumbled curse in Russian and a flash of teeth as he viciously swallows it down without chewing.

-

Yuuri makes careful loops on the ice, fighting down a grimace at the wetness in his socks, a sure sign that something had torn to bleed through the bandages.

He’s sweaty from the gruelling training and he watches the way Yakov keeps a careful eye on his skaters, his shouts ringing over the ice.

Yuuri had been sent off to cool down a bit after his fifth stumble, chest heaving and muscles aching.

Viktor looks unfairly untouched by it all as he pushes up into a beautiful triple axel with more than one pair of eyes drawn to him as the hall slowly filled with other skaters. All of them professionals, none of them on the level of those who would rise to claim places in the Grand Prix.

Perhaps there’s one or two among them just doing it for fun but Yuuri doesn’t doubt that a lot of them had grown up to see the famous Viktor Nikiforov on the television screen. For such a niche sport as ice skating his fame was wide spread, admired for his style, his flourish and his easy charisma.

He was practically a household name in this time and place in history despite only being twenty-five.

Yuuri sucks a breath, holds it, forcing his heart to calm to a steady beat.

Ten minutes before the end of training he dons his guards as Yakov gathers his skaters and he wipes sweat from his cooling brow as he sinks down on the bench reserved for the Russian coach.

No matter how many entered the rink it was always free for his use and it spoke of how well-respected he was here in the world of skating.

As the skaters disappear off the rink Yuuri waves Mila off with a reassuring smile and she glances between him and Yakov who was making his way over and gives a sharp nod before hurrying to catch up to Georgi, her arms wrapping around the older skater’s with was clearly a bid back to their morning conversation.

“My office,” Yakov grunts and Yuuri heaves himself to his feet, following a bit hesitantly at his heels down the corridor and into a small clean room, the desk heavy with paperwork and a sleek laptop folded up beside it.

Yakov gestures to a wooden chair as Yuuri closes the door behind them while he drops himself down on a stool on wheels and makes his way closer, hat put aside on the shelf filled to the brim with books on skating, healing and psychology interspersed with little niche topics.

Yuuri’s eyes are lingering on one about house plants when Yakov pats his knee, drawing his attention back.

He hoists his leg up, ankle on the older man’s thigh, careful to keep the wet skates away from his pants as old hands reaches to nimbly undo the knot before dipping down to carefully loosen the strings before wiggling it off and placing it down to lean against the bottom shelf.

Yuuri’s careful not to make a sound as his sock is carefully rolled off, revealing bandages red with blood where it had chafed ruined skin.

Yakov doesn’t look surprised as he undoes it and drops it into the trash, inspecting the damage with a critical eye as his large hands cradles Yuuri’s foot with surprising care.

“I’m going to clean and re-bandage this and you will change them once in the morning and then again before bed,” the Russian coach says finally. “Wet it with lukewarm water before removal- it’ll help the crusted blood from sticking to it – and try to keep from irritating it too much.”

The way he says too much echoes with the resignation of bothersome youth not bothering to listen to him and Yuuri’s mouth twitches despite himself.

“Thank you,” he says softly as one foot is traded for the other, the same care and patience here and that strange itch back beneath his skin as warmth melts through his cold skin where the other is touching him.

“It’s my job,” Yakov grunts.

But they both know it’s more than that.

Yakov had no reason to take a gamble on him but he had. He'd bought Yuuri his skates, made sure he had access to food twice a day five out of the seven days of the week and, more importantly, he had allowed Mila to keep spending time with him despite having appeared at his door expecting the worst of him.

Yuuri doesn’t understand and he’s afraid to ask – is afraid to press at doubts that must still be there least the older man was to see reason and boot Yuuri out.

He doesn’t have money to pay for any of this, could hardly imagine a world where he’d be able to afford the cost of having someone of Yakov’s calibre as his coach, and yet here he was.

It feels like a dream, one he’s so very afraid of waking up from.

Yakov’s hands are warm and deft as they clean the blood away and wraps him up in bandages that, somehow, feels far softer than his own before giving his ankle a little pat before Yuuri pulls his leg back, tucking it beneath the chair next to the other.

Yakov rolls back to his desk and slides one of the drawers open and Yuuri catches the woolly socks he throws him.

“I’ve arranged for a check-up next Tuesday,” Yakov tells him as Yuuri rolls them on, delighting in the warmth as he wiggles his toes. “I won’t take you, those brats would probably get into all kinds of trouble without me there, but Georgi has agreed to accompany you.”

“Ah-“ Yuuri hesitates but. “Is it far?”

Yakov slants him a look as he grasps for his hat. “Does this have anything to do with Vitya muttering about you having forced him to walk you?” he asks as he settles it over the bald spot on the top of his head.

Yuuri flushes faintly. “I’m not being difficult I’m just… not very comfortable with cars,” he admits. 

Yakov grunts. “You’re going to have to figure that out if you want to accompany Mila to her competitions,” the old man finally answers. “I’m not saying it will happen but in the eventuality that it does you won’t make it far if you can’t take a taxi. Sometimes it takes hours, travelling from the closest airport.”

Yuuri’s shoulders draws up.

“Have you tried the bus?” Yakov asks as he rises, staring down at the younger man. “Depending on what exactly has you knotted up it might be a good alternative.”

“I… haven’t tried,” Yuuri admits, blinking a bit in surprise at the lack of anger or annoyance.

“I’ll get you a temporary pass,” the older man tells him. “Listen to Georgi and don’t be a fool about it. Some things take time.”

And with that little nugget of wisdom Yakov gave him a pat on the shoulder.

-

Mila excitedly shows him the snowman they’d made as he finished up a late lunch that consisted of fish soup in some sort of saffron heaven that he felt bad about not finishing up all of.

Someone’s scarf had been sacrificed and Yurio looked mulish between his two grinning teammates, arms folded and a tick in his brow but his hat proudly crowning the head of the snowball on top, carrot sticking out and stone mouth in a wide-grin, a hockey stick lodged visciously half-way into its chest and a stolen sweater sticking awkwardly to its lumpy frame.

It was a bit atrocious looking, if Yuuri was to be honest, but he finds himself complimenting it anyhow.

“I wish you had a phone,” Mila tells him as he pushes down on her back, aiding her in the deeper stretches for the more strenuous jumps and movement’s she’d be making now that the morning training was over. “Then I could send it to you.”

“I’ll just have to steal yours when I want a look,” Yuuri responds, mindful of her body’s limits as he allows her up, arms shifting as she tipped over to the side instead as he knelt, palm pressing against her shoulder.

“I spoke to Yakov about your schedule. He approved it but he said to tell you to stop by his office so he can talk to you about it. The key differences is really the focus on what kind of jumps you’re building your body up for the future and the musculature you’ll build accordingly to avoid long-term damage.” Yuuri’s brow dip in thought. “You’re going to have to get quick on your feet so we’ll be doing a lot of step sequences.”

“I know that already,” Mila says a bit impatiently. “We already talked about it and I was right there when you wrote it.” There’s some fond exasperation there and his mouth twitches.

“Yakov also told me to let you know you should watch Georgi more.”

“Just because I don’t get so enraptured in music that I cry on the ice doesn’t mean I’m unfeeling to it,” Mila exclaims indignantly. “Maybe I should watch Viktor’s fans,” she mutters. “They certainly cry enough to make up for any tears unshed when he performs.”

She yelps as he gives her side a little tickle in response.

-

Yuuri’s boss phones the moment he’s through the door and he’s barely out from the cold before he’s once again ploughing through it. Thankfully the worst of the wind had died down even if the flakes were big and wet and melting against his cheeks when he finally reached work and his jeans were chafing.

Thankfully they were dark and any dampness hidden as he shrugged out of his outerwear and grabbed for his apron, rolling his sleeves up nearly to his elbows as he stepped into the mess of the kitchen were voices were already thundering loud, the clink from china and the ding of the bell letting him know he was in for a busy evening.

“You’d think people would have better things to do in this kind of weather,” one of Yuuri’s co-workers mutters to him in Russian as he breezes by with three full bowls of noodles.

Ramen was ideal food for cold weather, Yuuri thought personally, but does not voice as he relieved a near-tears busboy who thanks him profusely before fleeing the loud voice of their boss for the chatter of their guests.

“You’re late,” Cheslav grunts to him when he spies him and Yuuri ducks his head and apologises to a huff.

His boss is tall and gruff and broad with a dark beard and finely braided hair and for all his harsh words, for all his yelling, he’d never taken the step to fire Yuuri – no matter how he messed up, turned up late or practically fell asleep at his work station.

He also hadn’t hesitated to shuffle Yuuri’s schedule around despite it having to have been an inconvenience.

“Is it possible that I might be able to work the tables Friday or Saturday?” Yuuri asks as he lowers the temperature of the boiling water and dips down to fish up the noodles to give them a critical once over.

“You looking to make more money?” Cheslav asks in heavy English.

Yuuri dips his head.

The man grabs for the handles of the heavy pot as Yuuri reaches for it and together they pour it into the sink as the noodles had practically been boiled to bits and Yuuri gives it a rinse before turning the handles and aiming the hose to refill it.

“I cannot allow that,” his boss says. “You are one of the few who will not bring this kitchen to ruin.”

Yuuri nods, having half-feared it and not terribly surprised.

“How long have you worked here now, Katsuki? Four years?”

“Five,” he admits as he stares down at the water, waiting for it to boil up again.

Cheslav considers that, his gaze lingering on the boy’s messy head and rag-tag shirt.

“I will give you raise. Small one-“ he cautions with a warning in his harsh expression when Yuuri jerks up to look at him with hopeful eyes. “I do not hire you to stay,” the man grumps. “You come, you leave – that is my business. You have been here too long! So I will give you raise and I expect you to make good of it. да?"

“T-“

“Spare it,” the man grumbles as he turns. “Asch, look at me – soft! Yulana, какого хера ты творишь, девушка!?”

-

Work is familiar, work is aching feet and blood stained socks, and Yuuri sends a mental apology to Yakov as he peels the bandages off and throws them into a pot to boil clean for reuse before he limps his way to the shower by Friday night.

He spends far too much time scrubbing at a new oil stain in his shirt, counts the minutes it takes for the vegetables to boil up, and is frustrated when he’s finally gotten the entire bowl down almost an hour later only to remember he still had his work-out program to run through.

He’s asleep before he hits the bed almost four hours after returning home from work.

-

The alarm blares five hours later, startling Yuuri so badly that he rolls off the bed and bangs his cheek on the bedside table.

-

Yuuri’s cheek is swollen and bruised and he’s half-asleep on his feet as he works by muscle memory only half-way into the Saturday shift – tuning out the worst of the yelling as he stares a bit blearily into the boiling water.

He’d done his morning work-out bright and early and spent almost three hours on the pole to make up for the work he was missing by not being down on the rink. Thankfully it didn’t aggravate his feet and it had felt good to feel the burn of his muscles but it costs him now in attention and sleep.

Yuuri might not train Mila Friday and Saturday but it wasn’t like skaters had two days off and he refuses to feel bad for himself, imagining Mila pushing into Yakov’s hard routines with all the fierce determination he knew her capable off and drawing some strength from that as he stirs and scoops the noodles out, decorations chopped and arranged before he dings the bell.

Somewhat unwanted he finds his mind drifting to the katsudon his mother had made at the inn in Hasetsu – his stomach grumbling at the missed breakfast he hadn’t found the time to make.

He forces the thought away with a little huff of breath.

-

Yuuri drags a hand through his hair at the end of his shift, fingers snagging at the lopsided pins and grimacing a bit at the grimy feel of it.

“You alright there, Katsuki?” Mischa inquiries as he struggles into his fleece. “Looks like a doorknob got the better of you this time.”

“Bedside table,” he tells her with a yawn.

“Sure,” she says agreeable enough. “What’s it gonna be the next time – the stove?”

“You’ll know if I turn up with my hands burnt to bits,” he mumbles a bit tiredly as he scrubs at his eyes in a fruitless attempts to muster up some last minute energy for the walk home.

“You don’t usually work Saturdays,” Mischa notes as she zips up her jacket. “I thought you didn’t like the crowd.”

Mischa was, as far as he was aware, a student working part-time for some extra pocket money and their paths hadn’t crossed often though he was about as aware of her as the rest of his co-workers who came and went under the minimum salary, most seeking better opportunities after a couple of months.

“I don’t,” he admits and she hums as she tugs a woolly pink hat over her ears with large sad cat eyes that made him stare a bit owlishly back at it, triangular ears drooping a bit crookedly.

“Like it?” she asks, visibly amused.

“It’s… something,” he says a bit hesitantly and she laughs.

“I got it from my boyfriend, he’s still learning but look– gloves to match!“ She stuffs her hands down her pockets and pulls out two pair of fingerless gloves, these ones fully equipped with a small nose and little whiskers beneath the eyes. “He makes them himself, see?” she says as he bends down to peer at them. “We have loads of them lying about at home – you want a pair?”

He startles a bit. “You sure?” he asks and she looks a bit surprised as well at his ready agreement before a bright grin split her face.

“Of course.” She bobs her head. “I’ll find you a good pair – you work next Saturday as well?”

“Yeah,” he agrees, smiling a bit tentatively back. “Thank you.”

“Eh.” She waves her hand. “We hard-workers gotta stick together, right?”

“Sure,” he says, relaxing his shoulders some.

“You have any preferences?” she wonders as they lock up. “I think he made a pair of octopus ones, little tentacles at all.”

Yuuri dubiously tries to picture it and he really can’t.

“Maybe- maybe something a bit more… tame.” His mind snags unbidden on the memory of Vicchan. “Like a poodle,” he mumbles, mostly to himself.

“A poodle?” Mischa repeats, blinking. “No harm in asking him, I suppose. So what- black, white-?”

“Brown,” he tells her, voice soft.

“A brown poodle,” she echoes, studying him briefly before stretching her hands up above her with a little roll of her shoulders. “A pair of brown poodle gloves for Katsuki it is! I’ll let him know when I get home, alright? But it might take more than a week if he’s making them from scratch.”

Yuuri used to resent her – or rather the people like her, those who came and went in his life while he remained stuck. Workers who stayed around for a month or two, perhaps three, sometimes – but rarely – a full year.

He’s had the occasional second work as well but this small noodle shop...

Cheslav, for all that he was a harsh and unforgiving man, had looked at the scrawny homeless kid who barely spoke a word of Russian and he’d given him a shot at getting off the streets despite having no papers or identity.

Yuuri is thankful for that, he is, but it’s not what he wants to be doing for the rest of his life.

He just…

He just gotta figure out what exactly to do with himself, he decides, waving an absent hand at Mischa as he watches her disappear down her street towards the more student heavy part of town.

He’s not foolish enough to think that Yakov will keep him around forever and skating professionally feels like a fools dream for all that something inside of him craves.

He squints a bit at the stars - finding himself a bit lost in the wide stretch of the world but somehow… hopeful.

The feeling sits a bit strange in his chest and Yuuri absently puts a palm over his heart as he stops by a crossing and waits for the light to turn green.

Chapter Text

Yuuri bears Mila’s concerned prodding Sunday morning with patience. Reassuring her that, no, he wasn’t in trouble, and no, he hadn’t gotten mugged – wasn’t exactly the target of anyone who looked to make some quick money with his duct taped shoe and rag tag appearance.

The last bit he does not voice but it’s endearing, the way she gives little thought to his appearance and what it meant.

“Idiot is fine,” Yurio hisses beside them, his teeth baring at Yuuri when he looks to him. “If he’s getting into fights with his furniture that’s his own fucking fault.”

“Didn’t I hear you curse out a bench for stubbing your toe just last week?” Yuuri can’t help himself, a finger touching against his lips. “Is that what I should do next time?” He gives a little cock of his head.

Yuri practically fluffs up. “I wasn’t talking to you,” he spits.

“You were talking about me. Practically an invitation that,” Yuuri disagrees with a lopsided little grin.

“Don’t smile at me you creep,” Yurio demands immediately.

Yuuri smiles wider because the boy is all bark and no bite, small yet in the big wide world.

“I don’t know what you see in him – look at him.” Yurio gives him a look of utter vitriol. “A creepy bum with a fetish for-“

That,” Georgi steps in, “is quite enough.”

Yurio’s mouth snaps shut at the uncharacteristic seriousness in the older skater’s eyes, Viktor gliding smoothly at his heels, a single eyebrow raised but offering no protests.

Mila’s mouth has curled down and Yuuri isn’t smiling anymore, hand settling self-consciously around a frayed sleeve.

“Yuri, apologize,” Georgi says firmly to the thirteen-year-old.

“Why should I!?” Yurio demands immediately. “Viktor agrees with me – right?”

Yuuri rolls his sleeve up, not looking at any of them – the heavy silence from the legendary skater speaking loud enough on its own.

“Viktor-“ Georgi’s warns.

The silver haired skater stares back, eyebrow raising up. “I didn’t say anything,” Viktor says innocently.

“You know perfectly well what you’re doing,” Georgi says with a thick disapproval and Yuuri doesn’t think he’s ever felt so uncomfortable in his life as Yurio’s mouth stretches in a righteous sort of thing.

“Yuuri would never do anything like that,” Mila speaks up and Yuuri’s head snaps to her at the tremble in her voice as she takes a step back, her rinkmates following the motion with sudden sharpness. “Viktor – you can’t think-“ But she can’t get herself to voice the words, shoulders curling up and hurt creeping into her dark blue eyes as she takes another step closer to Yuuri and reaches to grasp onto the now folded fabric of his sleeve.

Viktor’s face does a complicated thing. “Mila-“

No,” she snaps. “You can’t just- I can’t believe-“ She bites down on her lower lip, something furious bubbling up past the hurt and Yuuri finds his shirt yanked, her back rising tall in front of him. “You don’t know anything,” she tells the famous skater.

Yuuri knows that the situation is quickly spiralling but he doesn’t know what to say to stop it – his gaze darting to seek out Yakov but the coach hadn’t yet returned from his office and he bites down on the inside of his cheek as he looks back.

Yurio has quieted down, his gaze darting between his two rinkmates with a look that let’s Yuuri know that for all his spite he hadn’t expected this turn of the conversation and Georgi is watching Viktor, his gaze intent.

“Don’t you trust me?” Mila demands.

“I do,” Viktor says with a dislike in his gaze as his ice blue eyes settles on Yuuri with a little jerk of his head. “It’s him I don’t trust.”

Red fills Yuuri’s vision as she steps into the path, blocking him behind her.

“Don’t look at him like that,” Mila snaps.

“I’ll look at him however best I wish,” Viktor says quietly. “You’re just a child-“

“I’m fifteen!” she interrupts. “Almost sixteen – you don’t think I know what a damn pervert looks like!? Men have been leering and hollering at me for years and Yuuri- Yuuri isn’t like that!”

Yuuri’s chest twists at the pain in her voice, her knuckles straining against her skin where she holds him.

“I’m the one who approached him,” Mila says with clear with frustration. “It was my choice!”

“So why did you keep it secret then?” Viktor asks, his silver hair shining beneath the lamps above them and eyes cold, mouth stretching into a smile that nowhere near kind. “If it was oh so innocent.”

“Because I knew how you’d react,” Mila bursts out. “Because I knew – I knew you’d take him away from me!” Her back bumps against his chest. “Yuuri is mine.

The claim rings over the ice, Viktor’s gaze turning impossibly frostier, and Yuuri finds himself hard-caught to find his breath, air abruptly stolen from him with the possessiveness in her voice and the underlying desperation behind her words.

“Look at you,” Viktor whispers. “You’d chose a virtual stranger over your own rinkmates?”

“It’s not like you ever cared before,” Mila says with a tremble that Yuuri feels where they touch. “The only thing you care about is the ice.”

It’s an unfair claim and Yuuri knows it but Viktor flinches, the motion caught and desperately hidden with a smile Yuuri recognises far too well – a shiver running down his spine as Viktor’s entire body shifts.

The familiar persona he had grown up loving and craving on the television screen flashes too white teeth.

Mila tenses, an unsure curl of her mouth but stubbornness triumphs hesitation as she remains firmly planted in place.

“Ah,” Viktor places a hand over his heart in a mocking sort of gesture of hurt. “I felt that – right here! Yakov- Mila is being cruel to me!” He swivels around as the coach steps onto the ice, the old man’s gaze heavy with suspicion as he looks between them and Mila still fluffed up protectively.

“Stop with your dramatics, Vitya,” Yakov grumbles as the famed legend wraps his arms around his, a flat sort of exasperation stealing over his expression but he doesn’t shake the younger man off him, a little dip in his brow as he glances momentarily towards Viktor before turning his attention on them.

“Well?” he demands. “What are you all waiting for – start warming up!”

-

Yuuri changes out of his skates come lunch and steps into the mess hall, finding some napkins to wrap some bread in and pausing as a hand settled on his shoulder, a warm thermos pushed into his hand soon after.

“I saw her leave through the back entrance,” Georgi tells him quietly, his normally coifed hair a bit messy on top of his head. “I don’t claim to understand everything about this arrangement,” the older skater tells him. “But Viktor had no right using Yuri like that, or say the things he did.”

“You don’t agree with him?” Yuuri wonders.

“I trust Yakov,” Georgi says with a small tired smile. “And I see the changes in Mila – she’s been happier since meeting you, I have to trust in that if nothing else.” He releases the thermos. “Go find her. I’m gonna go have a chat with Viktor if I can track him down.”

“He’s not –“ Yuuri hesitates but Georgi’s eyes are upon him. “If it had been the other way around, if I had seen Mila with someone like me I-“ He breathes out. “I don’t blame him,” he tells the older man.

Georgi gives him another smile, warmer. “You’re a good kid,” he says before turning and disappearing out.

Yuuri blinks, drawing the hot thermos closer to his chest before giving himself a little shake and nabbing an apple to bring along before going on the hunt for Mila.

-

He finds her almost thirty minutes later, curled up against the railing to the small ice skating ring where they’d first met – her gaze following a young couple and their child grasping for both their hands with a stubborn little set in her young mouth as she struggled to stay upright.

Yuuri drops down beside her, breaking the bread in half and shoving the larger piece into her hand to a startled look.

“Eat,” he tells her. “Then talk – Georgi sent along some tea.” He holds it up in offering and she stares at if for a long moment before sighing and holding out her hand and he pours her carefully, inhaling something fruity with a bit of surprise.

“It’s my favourite,” Mila murmurs as she draws it close. “I’ve always liked oranges.”

Yuuri finds a new appreciation for Georgi as he watches her take a long swallow, shoulders relaxing minutely as she bit down into the bread, offering no complaints to the lack of spread or butter.

They eat in silence and Yuuri ignores the cold seeping into his pants – Mila at least wore a long coat, seated on the lower end of it so he doesn’t have to worry about her getting sick.  

When he offers her the tail-end of his bread she takes it without remark and he pours her another cup once finished.

“How do you do it?” Mila asks him and he tilts his head to show her he was listening. “You’re just-“ She bites down on her lip. “I’m not stupid,” she tells him, frustration creeping into her tone. “I see the way people look at you – the way Viktor looks at you- and I just don’t understand it.” She looks at him with those dark blue eyes. “It’s like they can’t see past the surface, constantly expecting the worst because you don’t have as much as they do.”

Yuuri had spent almost two years on the streets – had been harassed, spat-on and shunned out of stores, had thief thrown after him and been bodily hauled and shouldered out of the way.

On more than one occasion it had escalated into split lips and bruises and shame wormed so deep inside of him that he’d come to loathe the boy in the mirror.

It had taken him years to accept and be thankful for what he had and ignore the glances that followed him wherever he went. 

“I don’t know,” he admits.

“I don’t like it,” she tells him, fingers curled around the warm cup.

“You know that’s not why Viktor reacted as he did today,” Yuuri says gently.

“It’s part of it though, isn’t it?” she asks bitterly. “Because who’d want to be friends with Mila Babicheva if it wasn’t for her body or fame?” There’s old hurts there, defensiveness in her shoulders and something vulnerable in her gaze.

“Mila-“ He hesitates. “You know – you know I’m here because I care for you, don’t you?”

To his surprise she laughs, a hand pressing against her cheek and something terribly fond in her eyes as she looks at him.

“Do I believe the man who gave up his smokes for me, who spends the last of his money to make sure I have something to eat and refuses to ask for anything in return, who is twitchy and uncomfortable with touching others and who spends hours helping me out simply because I asked do I believe that Yuuri wants me for my fame and my body?”

He flusters. “Not when you put it like that,” he mumbles, ducking his head, cheeks warm as he looks out over the ice and very determinedly not at her.

“You know why I approached you that day, Yuuri?” Mila asks him, stretching a leg out before her.

He gives a small shake of his head because he had his suspicions but she'd never voiced it.

“It’s because I saw how lonely you were and I decided that – it’s better to be lonely together, right?” She tilts her head back, the tea slowly cooling in her hands. “I’ve never had any friends – not real ones, the kind that sticks around, you know? I like Georgi but he’s twenty-five and he’s always been closer to Viktor and he has his girlfriend Anya and the skating and I just- I wanted someone for myself. And,” she says softer. “I saw the way you looked like the ice and I- I wanted you to look at me the same way.” The confession comes out halting but she presses on. “Like I was the center of your world.” She rolls her head against the fence to look at him. “Do you think badly of me for it?”

“No,” he tells her, not terribly surprised at all by the admittance.

“You should,” Mila says. “I’ve made a mess of everything and now Viktor surely hates me-“

“He doesn’t hate you,” Yuuri interrupts her, shifting to press his shoulder up against hers. “Viktor is angry at me because he’s afraid for you. You know that, right?”

“I do,” she admits, placing the cup aside and curling her hands together in her lap. “But it hurts, you know? That he won’t trust me.” She huffs. “You know, when Yakov first approached me and I realized I’d be standing on the same ice as the Viktor Nikiforov I was terrified and then he turned out to be just – Viktor. But he’s so distant from everyone, even now. He was never there before so why now?

And Yuuri understands that it can’t have been easy – to skate on the same ice as a living legend, Mila yet so young, chasing his shadow, hungry to claim her own place in the world.

She’d been lonely and she’d reached out for Yuuri only to find Viktor suddenly too close with worry over her that would seem odd when he’d kept a careful distance before that.

Viktor was trying, in his own way, to protect her but instead he had hurt her – going about it in a way that hadn’t taken into consideration what they’d been before and her feelings on the matter.

Yuuri thinks of the way Viktor had flinched, the way he hid it behind a media smile and pretended to brush it off with childishness while reaching for Yakov who had frowned but allowed it and-

“Maybe,” Yuuri says, brow creasing in thought. “Maybe it didn’t feel that way to Viktor.”

“What do you mean?” Mila asks, blinking at him.

“I can only speculate but maybe he thought you were friends?” Yuuri suggests haltingly. “You’re pretty out-going so he might have experienced and translated your interactions differently from what you did.”

Mila stares at him.

“You’re suggesting that Viktor Nikiforov might have thought he and I were friends?” Yuuri’s mouth twitches and his heart softens at the brush of colour over her pale cheeks before she ducks her head to hide it, looking like she didn’t know what to do with the very possibility.

“You’re rinkmates and I know for a fact you have his number on your phone. I doubt it’s something he gives out to just anyone.”

Mila doesn’t answer him and Yuuri is content to let her think it over, hesitating but then drawing his arm out from between them and gently settling it over her shoulders, holding his breath for a moment and then letting it out as she shifted, leaning against him as he drew her close, breathing the soft scent of flowers and oranges.

“You know, I’m happy you found me, no matter the reason,” he tells her after a long moment.

Mila huffs and he blinks as she tilts her head up and presses a kiss to his jaw.

“I know, Yuuri,” she promises him a bit distractedly.

He makes a small noise in return, words quite beyond him and a horrible flush of colour spreading over his cheeks and up his ears.

-

What Mila decides to do with their conversation Yuuri does not know and though he’s curious he’s never been the sort to step in and interfere between the relationships of others.

He does his best to be there for Mila because Viktor, for all that the man had been his world, was in the end a stranger – one not particularly impressed with him at that – and Yuuri is still coming to terms with that.

(Isn’t quite sure he’s coming to terms with it at all, if Yuuri is being honest with himself, but he tries not to think about it and the hurt that blooms in his chest at every dismissive look and word).

Tuesday comes faster than he’s comfortable with and when he makes his way to the rink Georgi is waiting for him outside – dressed in a dark purple button-up shirt open over a low dipping black tank top, jacket only half-way zipped up and looking quite relaxed despite the cold that had Yuuri burying his hands into his pocket and duck his chin into the collar of his own zipped all the way up.

“How are you not cold?” he wonders with a little shiver. “I grew up in the snow as well but you Russians wear far too little clothing.”

He can’t quite shake the picture Mila had made as she skated easily in a whirlwind of snow one evening in only a red tank-top and leggings – he’d been doubly cold just looking at her.

“It’s the tea,” Georgi says, the liar, because Yuuri had grown up drinking tea and he’d always been of the opinion that hot chocolate was the way to go in cold weather.

Not that he’d had any in years but he was sure it still applied.

“Yakov said we’re taking the bus, here-“ Georgi throws him a bus pass and Yuuri barely catches it, having been forced to yank his hands hurriedly out of his pocket. “He also said, and I quote, ‘tell the boy not to be a fool about it’. Should I be concerned?”

There’s a question there but there’s no pushing to share and Yuuri falls in easy step with the other skater as he gestures him along.

“I’m – pretty bad with cars,” Yuuri admits with a little flush of colour. “Yakov suggested that I might do better with busses but I haven’t been on one in years.” He gives a little shrug.

Georgi gives him a studying look, a little crease of concern between plucked eyebrows.

“How bad is pretty bad?”

Yuuri thinks of the nausea, the fear, the gaping pit that opened up to swallow him whole and had sent him into such a fit of hysterics when he’d had the police called on him at fifteen for loitering.

He’d woken up in an alleyway, missing two of his nails and his eye so badly swollen he couldn’t see out of it but remembering nothing on how he'd gotten away from the car they had tried to force him into.

It had taken him almost three days to find his way back to the dumpster he kept his belongings beneath and to this day Yuuri hadn’t quite been able to shake off the terror police sirens shook through him.

“Bad,” he admits, voice thick.

“It’s nothing to feel ashamed about,” Georgi tells him and Yuuri glances up at him. “How are you feeling about the bus?”

“Carefully optimistic?” he offers and Georgi makes a noise of amusement.

“You’ve got the right attitude, at least.”

“I try,” Yuuri says but even so the anxiousness blossoms inside of him as they reach the bus stop and joins the small queue there, shifting and trying to discreetly glance down the street for any sign of the white and green bus that would take them to whatever arrangement Yakov had managed for him.

He breathes in, holds it, breathes out.

Repeats it.

“Hey-“ He gives a startled little twitch and looks up, realizing the older man had been watching him. “We can just walk – Yakov made sure we had the time for it.”

Yuuri swallows, his mouth dry, his heart beating too loud in his chest and hating himself for it.

“I want to try,” he says. “I can’t – I don’t want to be afraid forever. It’s just a bus,” he says, mostly for his own sake.

They both look up as said bus turns around the corner and Yuuri feels clammy cold sweat break out on his back, his hand curling with a cramp-like grip around the bus pass in it as he pulls both hands out of his pockets as people shuffles to line up in orderly fashion.

The bus comes to a smooth halt with a pssh as it lowered down to allow a two men and a stroller off from the middle.

Yuuri takes a mechanical step forward and then another, following the older skater blindly and barely remembering to swipe his card before he stumbles and sinks down in the seat next to Georgi.

“Would it help sitting by the window?” the other man asks him in a low voice as Yuuri’s heart rate skyrockets even as he gives a quick shake of his head, world blurring around him and a desperate sort of noise escaping him as the doors closed shut.

But he’s not in a car – he’s not in a car and Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut, hands shaking and coiled so tense that he jolts when it rolls into movement and-

A hand touches gently against the side of his face and he finds himself burying into the collar of a jacket, cologne tickling against his nose and a noise of wordless fear escaping him to a low soothing voice and a brush of warmth against his ear.

He’s practically in Georgi’s lap and he’s not in a car and Yuuri clings, heart pounding in his ears, aware that they must be making a scene but so horribly unable to care.

“Do you want to step off?” Georgi whispers and he shakes his head to a small sigh and arms pulling him closer – Yuuri not quite sure when they had found their way around him.

-

Time passes but Yuuri is barely aware of it – Georgi keeping up a steady murmur of chatter as his hands clenches and unclenches, his breathing slowing down with the exaggerated ones beneath his hand.

He’s completely and utterly exhausted when Georgi half-hoists him out of his seat and guides him out and off at their stop and Yuuri finds himself inhaling fresh air.

He’s pushed down on a bench, Georgi dropping down beside him, and Yuuri feels humiliated by his own reaction as the terror slowly seeps out of him and rationality returns, hands pushing up against his eyes as they burn.

“’m sorry,” he manages after several minutes, when he’s sure his voice will hold for all that it comes out hoarse.

“Don’t be,” Georgi says quietly. “You did fine.”

Yuuri makes a noise of disbelief. “Yeah,” he says sarcastically, a small tremor in his voice. “Fine.

“You didn’t throw up,” Georgi says matter-of-fact. “I’m kinda relieved about that, you know? I rather like this jacket.”

“I thought I was going to,” Yuuri admits with a shaky exhale, blinking a bit at the blurry world and finds his glasses gently nudged against his hand, grabbing and shoving them on, relaxing just a smidge as everything sharpened around him, still a bit blurry far off but that he was used to.

He’d picked them up at a lost-and-found and never looked back.

“But you didn’t,” Georgi affirms, stretching his arms out and slouching down just a bit on the bench. “Take your time, we have the appointment in an hour and there’s a ten minute walk there so we’re not in a hurry.”

Cold wind blows past and Yuuri buries deeper into the collar of his jacket.

“Thank you,” he says quietly.

A hand settles on top of his head, giving his hair a little ruffled beneath his skater beanie.

“Just so you know, we’re walking home,” Georgi tells him. “I don’t think my heart can take another bus ride today.”  

Yuuri makes a noise, a desperate sort of wet thing that might have been a laugh.

Chapter Text

The clinic isn’t as much as a clinic as a school nurse office, Yuuri realises soon, peering about the kids hurrying past him with some detachment as Georgi moves with familiar steps down the corridor.

“It’s my old school,” Georgi tells him when Yuuri glances at him. “I started doing online courses when I hit sixteen but before that this was pretty much it.”

Yuuri looks up at the green painted brick-walls, the bright blue lockers, the encouraging posters with broad Russian lettering, trying to picture a young Georgi Popovich within its walls.

It was pretty unusual for ice skaters to remain in school – some kept up the work through online courses but most quit completely around seventeen or eighteen when their bodies had done most of their growing and could handle another sort of training schedule entirely.

Ice skating careers were never long and many simply chose to pick up their university studies again when they reached their late twenties.

Yuuri knew from Mila that Yurio mostly did online courses but that he still visited a handful of times a month to make sure he wasn’t missing out on the experience of it. It was, apparently, a demand from Yakov and Yuuri could admire that.

Yuri had all the makings of becoming a professional skater, sure to take the world with storm, but he was yet thirteen.

Georgi leads them down and into a small room with two dark blue doors and steps to the left one, knocking firmly despite the red light marking the school nurse as being out.

It takes a handful of seconds but then it opens up and a woman in her fifties peers out at them, a smile spreading across her lips.

“Georgi Popovich!” she greets, a stream of Russian following, and Yuuri’s mouth twitches as the twenty-five-year-old man found himself swept into a firm hug.

She is a tall woman, deceptively muscular with a sharp jaw and sharp nose, a hijab in soft pink and opaque pattern disappearing beneath a high-collared black shirt under a white coat with Russian lettering that Yuuri couldn’t quite make out.

Georgi is released and Yuuri finds his hand settling on his back, dark brown eyes focusing upon him.

“Zariah, this is Yuuri Katsuki – Yuuri, meet Zariah Awad. She used to get me out from all kinds of trouble.”

“Indeed,” Zariah agrees, her smile broad and fond as she switched to impeccable English. “Gosha here was a real troublemaker.”

“I can imagine,” Yuuri says, reaching forward and grasping her hand in his. “Thank you for doing this.”

“Think nothing of it,” she says kindly. “Making sure you kids are healthy is my job." Yuuri hadn't thought of himself as a kid in years but he understood the sentiment well enough. "Now, do you want Georgi to remain with you or would you be more comfortable if he remained outside?” She asks, already gesturing him inside into a white office, his eyes snagging on posters with clear pictures of different kind of health-related topics.

“Oh- I guess he can come?” Yuuri says a bit unsurely. “It might not be all that fun though,” he adds to the older skater but Georgi is already following, door pulling shut behind them.

“If you want me here then this is where I’ll be,” Georgi assures him and Yuuri ducks his head, a small pink flush crawling over his cheeks.

Maybe it’s because he’s still feeling a bit out of it from the emotional toll from the bus ride but Georgi’s presence feels like a solid support here and he’s strangely relieved he'd stayed.

“Please remove your jacket and shoes,” Zariah asks of him. “We’ll start with weighing and measuring you. I see you’re wearing prescription glasses as well so we’ll be checking to make sure they’re up to date – remind me of that, please, Gosha.”

Gosha was a pretty cute dimunitiv for the tall skater, Yuuri decides as he reaches to comply – hanging it up on the black curled hanger and nudging his shoes off, relieved to be wearing the woolly socks Yakov had thrown him and thus lacking of any holes.

Zariah makes little notes as he does his best to comply with her instructions, at one point finding himself with his chest bare inside the cold office as her hands ran down his spine, the stethoscope cold when she listened to his heart and lungs.

She checks his throat and nose and ears, his balance down a bright yellow line, and at re-bandages his feet without much comment, her hands deft and gentle, clearly used to patching up the kids that came and went out of her office.

“I’m going to ask you some questions, Yuuri,” she says when she rolls back to her desk while he remained on the exam table, legs dangling a bit absently. Georgi is leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and hands folded by his mouth, gaze hard to read. “They might seem a bit invasive but I need you to answer them honestly. Do you still want Georgi to remain?”

“He can stay,” he says, having an idea of what exactly she was going to ask and knowing well that it wasn’t much of a secret – the skater had already seen the way his skin stretched over his ribs.

“How often do you eat, Yuuri?” she asks gently.

He gives a small shrug. “Not enough,” he admits. “And it’s varied a bit during the years, depending on what I could get my hands on.”

She nods. “Do you have trouble keeping it down? Get nauseous easily?”

“Yeah,” he agrees and it’s strangely relieving to admit to it. “I try to eat small portions and I’ve been avoiding heavy foods – mostly soup and bread and the occasional fruit and I’ve kept to water only.”

“That’s good,” she says, giving him an encouraging smile. “What is the longest stretch of time you’ve gone without eating?”

Yuuri swallows. “I, uh- when I was fifteen, I think, I went almost two weeks without anything.” He fiddles with his frayed sleeve at the admittance, carefully not looking at Georgi. “After that I made sure that- three or four days at most.”

“Do you often find yourself stressed or anxious?”

“I used to,” he admits. “It’s not that bad these days, I think.” Not since he’d gotten off the streets. “I have- I have trouble with some things that stresses me out, panic attacks, I guess?”

Zariah’s pen pauses at the paper and she makes a small note.

“Any nightmares?”

He gives a small jerky nod.

“And how to you feel in the wake of them? Any throwing up?”

“Yeah,” he tells her with a knot of embarrassment. “Not always but I do tend to get nauseous and sometimes I can’t stomach anything for hours. Even water.”

“And now?” Zariah asks, her eyes watching him without judgement. “Do you have access to regular food?”

He gives a small shrug. “I have breakfast and lunch five out of the seven days and I try to make sure to eat some soup each evening when I have the time for it. Fridays and Saturdays depends on how busy work is, I guess. Since it takes so long to eat it - it doesn’t always feel worth it,” he admits. “And it’s hard to find the time for it.” 

“Thank you for telling me, Yuuri,” Zariah says as she clicks her pen and puts it aside with the paper. “I want to draw some of your blood,” she tells him. “You are malnourished and your body is struggling to take up the nourishment of your food after going long periods without anything. Your stomach has also shrunk because of it. I am going to prescribe you some anti-nausea pills and vitamins to take with your meals. Does that sound okay with you?”

“I can't- exactly afford that,” he admits with a curl of his shoulders but she reaches out and puts a hand on her knee, giving it a squeeze.

“Yakov has already arranged to take care of it,” she promises him. “And even if he hadn’t I wouldn’t make you pay for something like this. There are plans in place to make sure that students in this school don’t go without basic care and records are so easily lost, you understand?” And Yuuri knows, suddenly, why Yakov had sent her to this woman – his heart squeezing in his chest.

“Thank you,” he tells her, swallowing thickly.

She gives his knee another pat before drawing back. “I’m going to send a small notebook with you and I want you to start writing down what you eat, when you eat and how much of it. As detailed as you find the time to make it. I’m also going to send you along a little mood diary to fill out at the beginning and end of the day, okay? I’m going to arrange for you to return to me in one month and I want you to bring both along when you do.”

“I can do that,” Yuuri says, a bit relieved, because he’d half-expected something drastic, a hammer of judgement about his health but this – he could do this.

“Good,” Zariah tells him, smiling. “I’m also prescribing some nourishing drinks and you can chose the kind you prepare in the morning or readymade ones, I’ll let you decide when you go to pick them up. Feel free to make it fifty-fifty, whatever works the best in the schedule you have. Ideally I want you to drink two or three a day between meals but don’t push yourself. If you find yourself in a spot where you don’t have the time or access to a normal meal I want you to try and drink one of these in its place.”

Zariah pulls one of her drawers out, rummaging about and pulling out a small book which she hands him to a blink, his thumb brushing over the picture of hands wrapped around a sunken belly.

“Malnourishment has its side-effects and I want you to read through this and be aware of it. Reduced appetite, lack of interest in food and drinks, tiredness, poor concentration and a constant feeling of coldness are, for example, some of the signs of it. Malnourishment can also cause a stunt in your growth during the development years but you’re at average height for someone of Japanese descent so I don’t think you have to worry too much there. The folder also contains list of food that should work well with you and it has some tips and advice in general which you might find useful.”

She draws his blood and lets him chose a bandage, ending up with a blue one with white little kittens on it at the crook of his elbow, and he finds himself with a voucher for a free check-up at an eye clinic and a pair of glasses to go with it, a bag brimming with bandages and other necessities for his feet and a small sewing kit with a crooked needle he recognised all too well.

“I want you to turn to Yakov first,” Zariah tells him when she catches him looking. “But he might not always be available. You know how to use it, yes?” And he does and assures her as much to a sharp nod. “I am trusting you with it because I know the life of ice skating is not an easy one, especially for your feet.”

Yuuri’s mind is spinning and he’s just a tiny bit overwhelmed when he finally leaves Zariah’s office, Georgi’s hand gentle on his shoulder and a bright red lollipop grasped in one hand, bag dangling from the other.

-

“You want to grab something to eat before we head back?” Georgi asks as they step out of the school and Yuuri buries into his jacket, fingers stinging in the cold of the air. “My treat.”

Yuuri might have said something, might have protested about being viewed as a charity case, but he’d missed breakfast that morning since they had headed directly for the check-up and Georgi-

It was clearly an offer made out of kindness, Yuuri understands that. The man had been right there as Zariah basically unloaded the aftermath of what an history of having too little food and not enough money had done to him - not that he thought it a particular secret.

He lifts his wrist and glances at his clock before giving a little scratch to his cheek. “You know any good places about?” he asks finally, making up his mind, and he doesn’t comment on the way Georgi’s shoulders relaxes marginally.

“There’s a place that serves soup and blini’s not far from here,” Georgi offers.

-

Yuuri orders a bowl of borscht, a hearty beetroot soup that he’d always been interested in trying, while Georgi ordered them a plate of blini to share and a large bowl of shchi which Yuuri has to squint down the English menu to get a grasp of what it was.

The older skater orders some tea to go along with it and a tall glass of water each before they take their ticket and drinks and shuffles their way through the people out at lunch and squeezes into a small corner table.

It’s warm and Yuuri lets his jacket pool behind him, Georgi reaching out to steal the skater beanie off Yuuri's head, putting on the element near their thighs.

Yuuri hurriedly does the same with his gloves before giving his hands a quick rub together, fingers pink from the cold.

“Thank you for staying,” Yuuri says as he glances around, listening curiously to the chatter of people around him, the atmosphere not very different from his work and thus familiar. “I’m probably going to end up asking you about one thing of the other – didn’t think I’d end up wishing for a notebook.”

“We can go through it together later if you want,” Georgi offers, elbow on the table and chin in his hand as Yuuri blinks at him in surprise. “It’s not a bad idea to write it down – Yakov would likely appreciate a copy as well.”

“Wouldn’t she just tell him?” Yuuri asks, brow furrowing.

“If you were officially assigned beneath him then, yes,” the older skater offers. “But if you’re not in the system you cannot be officially tied to him either which means that your health is first and foremost your own business, even if Yakov will think differently, and probably mutter darkly if you try to keep it from him.”

A waitress appears with a white square teapot with fine blue patters, the mouth steaming with warmth and bringing with a scent of mint, china clinking as she put down a matching cup on a small tray in front of Georgi who turned to thank her.

“I’d appreciate that then,” Yuuri admits when she left and he reaches automatically for it, pouring as Georgi gave him a bit of a surprised look to a small shrug.

Had they both had cups Yuuri would have alternated between them, just like his mother had taught him, and maybe he’d be able to do that in the future but for now he had a heavy soup waiting and he was eager to at least take a bite of a blini and wary of mixing too many new things at the same time.

“Are you going to tell Mila?” Georgi inquiries as Yuuri takes a sip of his water.

“Yeah,” he admits, placing it down. “She’s already aware of the fact that I don’t have the healthiest relationship with food so she’ll likely appreciate I’m doing something about it.” His mouth curls fondly. “She’s a good kid.”

Georgi studies him. “Your conversation seems to have gone well.”

“Yeah?” Yuuri asks, tilting his head.

“They spent yesterday morning ignoring each other instead of yelling, that has to count for something,” the older skater says with just a touch of dryness to his tone, startling Yuuri who lets out an amused little sound.

“I just gave her something to think about, hopefully they’ll figure it out the rest between themselves.” His brow dips. “I’m not – I don’t really like that they argued about me but I guess it wasn’t the extent of the matter either.”

“No,” Georgi agrees, taking a long swallow of his tea with a little sigh as he leans back. “Those two have been inching for a confrontation for a while now. Their exchanges has been pretty tense since Mila’s last competition where Viktor offered, what he likely thought, was good advice but came of a bit… cruel, and maybe just a tad humiliating for her. It eased back, likely around the point when she found you, but now it’s back with a vengeance.”

“He has a lot of expectations from the people around him, doesn’t he?” Yuuri muses. “I’ve seen the way he encourages Yuri.”

Georgi dips his head. “Viktor is his own harshest critic but he’s always had a good head for it. Lose? Then train and win next time. Mess something up? Train and make sure it doesn’t happen again. He doesn’t always understand the impact of his own words, given what he is and what he represents, unfortunately. Or that other people doesn’t necessarily work the same way he does.”

The food arrives and Yuuri finds himself with a bowl of deep red with a spoonful of white in the middle of it and a small branch of green to contrast it. It’s steaming, scent rich and sweet, and it’s joined by the warm blinis between them, Georgi’s soup arriving in a dog-eared bowl with a layer of fermented sauerkraut on top.

Their conversation glides into lighter topics while they eat and Yuuri finds himself learning about Anya, a woman very clearly dear to the other skater judging by the look in his eyes and the warmth when he spoke of her, Yuuri’s mouth curving up as he slowly worked his way through the food.

Georgi shoots Yakov a text message and orders himself more tea, relaxing back as Yuuri nibbled his way through a blini, bowl only half-way empty but quite happy and content, almost drowsy after the happenings of the day and the food in his belly.

“You feel up for returning to practice?” Georgi asks as they pack up, the older skater making a grab for his plastic bag before he could and Yuuri gives him a look but relents.

“Yeah,” he says, stuffing his hands down into the pockets of his jacket as they stepped back into the cold, the tips of his fingers brushing over the round head of the lollipop a bit absently. “I’m curious to see how training went with just the three of them and Yakov.”

Georgi pauses mid-stride, a mild look of a curious sort of horror flashing through his eyes.

“I suddenly don’t feel like returning to training,” he admits, giving a shake of his head with a wan smile. “I wonder if we’ll find them alive.”

-

Alive, yes, Yuuri thinks to himself as he stares at the panting figures on the ice, sweat dripping from Mila and Yuri’s brow and even Viktor looking ruffled where he’d half-slumped against the railing, caught mid-argument with Yakov. Yurio look rather like he’s two seconds from passing out though.

The thirteen-year-old is on his back, arms and legs sprawled dramatically, the normally neat strands of his blond hair plastered against him, chest heaving.

Mila was fairing a little bit better, guzzling water from a bottle where she’d simply planted herself down on the middle of the ice which was sure to be cold where it crept through the thin fabric of her leggings but she made no sign of noticing it.

Yakov had run them through the ground and Yuuri couldn’t help but wonder just what they’d done to trigger the coach.

Yakov for his part looked like he was inching towards another explosion, twitching at whatever Viktor was saying, vein throbbing at his neck as the famous skater slumped deeper and deeper before his gaze snapped towards them with a sharp look in his ice blue eyes when they found Yuuri before looking to Georgi.

“And look who arrives!” Viktor exclaimes, ignoring Yakov completely as he straightened up and pushed away from him. “Georgi, here to save us from-“

Vitya,” Yakov growls. “You have not been excused.”

The silver haired man waves a hand. “I excused myself,” he says, grin flashing innocently.

“I see you’ve had fun,” Georgi comments as he pulls the guards off his skates and glides onto the ice only to be caught by Viktor who slid behind him, putting the other skater between himself and Yakov in a way that was very deliberate.

“Fun!?” Yurio bursts out, head twisting towards him. “It was torture.

Mila makes a noise of agreement. “Yuuri – Yuuri, please say we have training soon,” she says, dark blue eyes zeroing upon him as he put his guards carefully aside and stepped onto the ice.

“Not today,” he says, hiding a twitch of a smile. “Have to make up for the missed training.”

“Too right,” Yakov huffs. “Laps!” He barks. “And put some speed into it!”

Georgi gives a small salute and Yuuri doesn’t waste any time catching up at his heels.

“You’re a demon, Yakov,” Mila informs the coach as she pushes herself up on wobbly legs.

Yakov zeroes on her and she freezes as his eyes gleam. “If you can stand then you can skate – join them.” He jerks his head and Yurio, who’d been on his way of copying her, slumps very deliberately back.

Viktor makes a dramatic move to join him but Mila pushes for him and snags at his sleeve to a startled look from the famous skater. “If I’m skating,” Mila says with some determination and a clear challenge in her eyes. “Then you’re doing it, too, Vitya.

There’s a heartbeat where Yuuri fears that Viktor would simply push her away, the famous skater tall where he stands, motionless, his eyes searching Mila’s.

Yuuri can’t see her expression from where he’s moving but whatever he finds makes Viktor’s face relax, the ice in his eyes thawing.

Aaah,” he sighs. “I guess it’s my responsibility as a veteran skater to show you how it’s done.” He pushes, Mila gliding along where she’s still holding onto him, legs clearly tired as she moves to follow but stubborn in her determination as they set off slowly, Viktor moving smoothly backwards in an elegant sort of way that Yuuri couldn’t help but admire.

Yuuri feels something both soft and heavy in his chest as he watches them - Mila soon giving up and moving to simply holding onto the back of Viktor's shirt as he circled easily around the rink.

Her dark blue eyes finds his when he pushes past them, her chin rising and something he can't place in her gaze.

"Later," he mouths and she gives him a small nod.

Yuuri nearly pauses when he realises Viktor had been watching him too, ice blue eyes studying him strangely before dismissing him, and Yuuri swallows before leaving them behind with a twist of his skates.

Chapter Text

”What in the world did you do to set off Yakov?” Georgi asks at the end of the training, wiping sweat from his brow. “I don’t think he’s run us this ragged in months.

Yuuri is tugging at the collar of his shirt, trying to waft some cool air onto his body, grimacing a bit at the sticky feeling to his skin.

There’s a shower room to the right – small with high separated walls and curtains to give a sense of privacy but Yuuri hadn’t thought to bring his towel, only owned one anyway and he showered regularly so couldn’t exactly carry about it wet in his backpack.

Yuri slumps down audible with a grumble. “It was Viktor and the baba,” he growls. “Idiots were at the throats of each other, ignoring him. Fucking dumbasses. I had nothing to do with it!” He sounds marginally indignant about it. “Where were you anyway?” he demands suspiciously, wiping an arm roughly over his forehead and making his hair stick up.

“Errand,” Georgi says easily before Yuuri can think of an excuse.

Yuri gives him a flat stare. “Fine,” he says. “Be like that.” He grasps at his shirt, tugging it roughly over his head and throwing it aside.

“Yakov keeps some spare towels in his office, you can just grab one if you need it,” Georgi informs Yuuri turning and revealing a white towel with the mark of the club sown at the end of a part near the middle. “I know Viktor keeps a whole collection of them at home.” 

“They’re soft,” said famous skater says as he slides inside, ducking the sock Yuri throws at him. “Now, Yura-“

“You’re an idiot,” the blond growls. “I can’t feel my legs. You better fucking carry me home.”

“I have a car,” Viktor says, looking entirely unapologetic as he gave the sweaty locks of the younger a little ruffle before dodging the angry swipe of his hand.

Yuuri ducks out of the room as they dip into Russian, tracing his way to Yakov’s office and giving the door a knock, getting a gruff входить

“Ah, Yuuri.” Yakov switches seamlessly to English at the sight of him and gestures for the chair opposite his desk. “How did it go?” he asks, closing his laptop.

“I think it went well,” Yuuri admits as he sinks down, tucking his feet beneath the chair. “Georgi promised he’d help me put together all the information. I can-“ He licks his lips. “I can make you a copy,” he offers, Georgi’s words tugging at the back of his mind even if he felt unsure as to just why Yakov would care.

But the Russian coach is already nodding. “Good,” he says firmly. “As soon as possible, if you don’t mind. Do you need help picking anything up?”

It wasn’t a strange question – Yuuri didn’t exactly have an ID to flash at the pharmacy so everything he needed had been written out in the name of Yakov Feltsman.

Yuuri tells him about the vitamins and nourishment drinks and anti-nausea pills and Yakov grunts in approval. “I am busy today but tomorrow we’ll pick it up,” he promises and Yuuri ducks his head, warmth curling in his belly.

“Thank you,” he says. “For all of this. It’s- I could never have-“ He swallows, meeting the grey eyes of the older man. “It means a lot,” he says and he means it – could not in his wildest dreams have imagined the turn of his life, the promise of one day being able to eat without nausea chasing him.

It’s the little things that mattered, Yuuri had been taught this the hard way. There’d been a time when he took food for granted but he knew now that the world was sometimes harsh and his body had suffered for his decisions.

“Hear this, Yuuri,” Yakov says, leaning forward, chin resting on his folded fingers. “Even if you quit tomorrow, decide that you want to do something else entirely, I will still pick up what Zariah prescribed to you and arrange your meetings, do you understand?”

Yuuri’s heart misses a beat. “What?” he whispers before he can stop himself.

“You have the right to your health, this is not conditional. I need you to tell me you understand this,” Yakov says with a dip of his broad mouth as he meets his gaze seriously.

“I don’t understand,” Yuuri says, shaking his head. “I’m here for Mila-“

“You are here because I want you to be here,” Yakov disagrees. “You are my responsibility and this is not something I shoulder lightly.”

Yuuri feels his nails digging into the palm of his hands, a strange buzz in the back of his mind as he stares at the other.

Yakov lets out a small sigh, leaning back as he regards him, a slight softening in the creases by his eyes. “I forget,” he says heavily. “That kindness is not so easy to accept when you have known little of it.”

Yuuri opens his mouth, closes it, at loss of what to say and his shoulders curl when Yakov rises.

But the coach ignores him, moving over to his bookshelf where he crouches down, fingers running gently over the spines.

“Do you like plants, Yuuri?” he asks and Yuuri jerks, blinking.

“I- don’t know?” he fumbles out, confusion bubbling up inside of him as Yakov slid a thin book from between two thick ones and straightened up, his knees creaking as he turned and held it out for him.

Yuuri hesitantly takes it, staring down at the soft green leaves and the white flowers dangling like snowdrops from the plant on the cover of it. The edges of the book are yellow and while it was clearly old it there were obvious signs of care.

“There are thirty different plants listed in that book, their care carefully detailed. I want you to read it and tell me your favourite once you are done with it.” He gives Yuuri’s shoulder a squeeze, his hand warm and firm where it rests. “Now, what did you come here for?”

-

Yuuri leaves Yakov’s office with a book on some thirty plants, two new large fluffy towels in soft blue and another pair of woolly socks balanced on the very top of the pile.  

The locker room is empty as he steps inside and he sinks down on a bench after depositing everything aside with a jerky motion that sends the socks rolling off and he and leans forward, covering his mouth with his hands as he stares blankly down at the white tiles.

Feels his heart pounding in his chest, a strange buzz at the back of his mind as he draws his hands up, and presses the heels of his palms against the burn in his eyes as he squeezes them shut.

-

Yuuri doesn’t go home that evening.

Instead he finds himself at the skating rink in the park where he snares his red skates tight onto his feet and steps onto the ice beneath the bright lamp above, snow spiralling around him, the night dark and cold as he pushes into motion.

It’s familiar and he finds the heaviness in his chest and shoulder drain away, replaced by the racing beat of his heart and the feeling of cold air expanding his lungs, blades scraping the surface beneath him as he twists into a spin that slowly comes to a stop, breathing out in a stream of white that mists in the air as he straightens, arms stretching up in an echo of another man.

The park is empty and he allows himself to drop into the snow, leaning back against the fence and tilting his head up, sweat dripping down his spine, shirt clinging to his skin as he stares at the stars above him.

“What’s wrong with me?” he wonders out loud, burying his hands into his hair with an irrational sense of frustration as he draws his knees to his chest. “You’re being a baby, Yuuri,” he tells himself as his eyes prickles, the heavy feeling from before creeping back, weighing ugly and hungry inside his chest. 

He’d spent years on his own before he found mercy in the hand of Cheslav who crouches down where he lies half-starved and tired, feverish after a long winter night, and after a year of sleeping in the small office of the restaurant he’d saved enough for an apartment of his own.

Yuuri knew hunger, knew it intimately in a way he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy, but this is another thing entirely.

You are here because I want you to be here.

You are my responsibility and this is not something I shoulder lightly.

Words told simply and so plainly and yet-

Even if you quit tomorrow, decide that you want to do something else entirely, I will still pick up what Zariah prescribed to you and arrange your meetings, do you understand?

“Why would he offer such a thing?” Yuuri asks the empty air. “Why-“

It prickles, it nags, a part of him craves.

His hand touches against his shoulder, cold and trembling even as he squeezes down, the complete opposite of the firm, warm reliable one that had rested there only hours earlier.

Yuuri had loved his parents – heart burning with their loss that echoes and claws and wakes him in the middle of the night with the loss of them.

And – it never stops hurting and he never stops wanting, twenty-one, almost twenty-two, constantly looking back for that feeling of having someone there without expectation or demand or cost. Just there because he was loved.

No matter how anxious he was, his small body crammed beneath the bed with Vicchan and tears dripping down his cheeks, his mother’s eyes were always gentle as she knelt down and peered in on him.

Yuuri doesn’t like thinking about what he doesn’t have but Yakov’s reassurance, that gruff strange care, it had tugged at feelings long buried and he blinks against the blurriness of the world, a hitch in his breath, nose thickening even as he scrubs at his eyes, tears stinging against his weather roughened cheeks.

“Stupid,” he tells himself. “You’re so stupid, Yuuri.”

-

“I’m sorry I didn’t wait for you yesterday,” Mila says, bending over as she caught her breath where she’d ran to catch up with him outside his apartment door. “Mom called. My uncle came over, something at work that needed celebrating – wasn’t really listening.” She breathes out with a little whoosh of air and straightens up.

Blinks at him.

“You okay, Yuuri?” she asks, stepping closer, peering at him. “You look like you had a rough night.”

“I’m fine,” he says, hand twitching at his side as she leant even closer.

“You don’t look fine,” Mila tells him, fingers touching gently to the corner of his eye, a faint redness still visible despite his best effort to soothe it away with warm water. “Have you been crying?”

He steps back, turning his face away and her hand falls to her side with a crease in her brow.

“We should get going,” he tells her, pawing for his keys and sliding them into the lock with a twist and a low click.

“Did something happen yesterday?” Mila presses, reaching out, and something claws inside of him when she hooks her arm with his, drawing him close to her. “Yuuri-“

I’m-“ But he swallows the irrational anger, swallows everything, because she doesn’t deserve to have him taking his messed-up feelings out on her. “Just a lot on my mind,” he gets out, so tired he wanted nothing more than to crawl right back to sleep and not wake up for the rest of the week.

But Yakov had promised to take him and get the things from Zariah that afternoon and after that Cheslav had called him in to lock up the restaurant and-

Yuuri is tired.

“Yuuri,” Mila says, gentle but so very serious as she gives his arm a little tug until he’s reluctantly looking into the dark blue of her eyes. “Do you want a hug?”

And he does.

More than anything, he realises, but he can’t get himself to say the words, to give voice to the aches inside of him.

“I’m going to call Yakov,” Mila says gently and does just that.

Yuuri tries to keep up with the low quick Russian but he feels muddled and strange and he doesn’t protest when Mila drags him back to his door and stuffs her own key into the lock, drawing him inside and pushing him down onto the couch.

She removes his jacket and shoes and gloves and hat and hangs it with her own, steals the covers from his bed and pads over with it drawn around her shoulders like a great blue mantle as she climbs unashamedly into his lap and tucks herself below his chin after arranging the thing around them.

Her head angles, ear pressing against his chest, hands tugging at his arms until he gets the hint and wraps them around her, drawing her closer, almost curling around her as he squeezes his eyes shut.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers against her hair, a tremble running through him as her warmth seeps to warm the coldness of his limbs.

“I know you have bad days,” Mila tells him. “You’re not as good as hiding them as you think.” 

“You shouldn’t have to take care of me,” he says miserably. “I’m almost twenty-two.”

She gives him a pinch to a small jerk that is more out of surprise than pain. “My Mom gets sad sometimes,” Mila says, wrapping herself stubbornly around him. “She’s almost forty. You don’t stop being sad because you get older.” A second of hesitation he can almost taste. “Did something happen?”

He thinks about lying, thinks about saying nothing, but-

“I was thinking about my parents,” he confesses, quietly, like a secret shared just between the two of them.

He feels the way her muscles tense for just a second, a rippling sort of thing.

“And that made you sad?” she asks, careful now.

“They’re dead,” he whispers, heart twisting up inside of him. “Mari, too.”

“Mari?”

“My older sister.”

Mila is quiet for a long moment, her chest rising and falling against his, one of her hands worrying the fabric of his white sweater near his lower back where he knew there was a hole from where it’d snagged at a hook at work.

“Do you want to talk about them?” He stills and she pushes back just enough to meet his eyes, one palm pressing flat against his chest. “Sometimes it helps, to speak about the things that hurt.”

“I-“ He swallows. “Not today,” he says heavily, too raw to even think about forming the words.

“Okay,” Mila agrees simply. “Want to hear what happened yesterday while you were gone?”

“You-“ He sucks a breath, holds it, and then breathes out. “You made up with Viktor,” he manages, forcing himself to focus on the feel of her in his arms, the little stubborn line of her mouth and the complicated flash of emotions in her eyes.

“Kinda,” she agrees, sliding down to rest against him again and he draws her carefully tight. “You know, after my last completion he tried to offer advice – it was all very Viktor, tore everything apart and I took silver, you know? I felt good about myself but he just made me feel lousy and it’s hard not to resent that.”

Yuuri listens as she speaks, detailing her frustration, the feeling of not being enough twisting a low sympathetic ache in his chest.

“- but I thought about what you said, too.”

“Did it help?” he hears himself asking and she nods against him.

“Viktor is the best,” she says this simply, truthfully, because Viktor has been dominating the skating world since his first gold. “We’ve been on the same ice for almost three years now and I know how he pushes himself, always striving to be better. And I guess – I guess I could see where the advice came from, even if I didn’t like hearing it.”

“He could have picked a better moment for it,” Yuuri says, fingers touching against the red of her hair, smoothing it down gently.

“Much better,” Mila agrees with a huff of breath against his collarbone. “I still don’t like how he treats you,” she tells him. “But I guess I tried to see it from his side and while I don’t like it there’s not much I can do about it either, just prove him wrong.”

Yuuri’s hand stills.

“So,” she continues, nudging her head up against his hand until he resumes his petting. “I’m going to prove him wrong about you and then he’ll have no choice but to apologize.”

“Did he apologize to you about what he said at the competition?” Yuuri asks, struggling against a smile now, because she is so very serious and his heart is so very warm.

“No,” she grouches. “But it was good advice, just bad delivery, so I’ve decided I’m going to forgive him for it anyway and I’m going to use it to become better than him and then I’ll offer him advice.”

It’s such a petty childish thing that Yuuri finds himself laughing, his chest shaking only to yelp when she dug her fingers into his ribs, her mouth growing into a mischievous little thing as she did it again, almost thoughtfully.

“Mila-“ Yuuri gasps. “Don’t you-“

The squawk that leaves him is entirely undignified as he struggles, squirming to get away from hands that ruthlessly dug for all his ticklish spots until he was near tears from laughter.

He rolls off the couch, her body following with a flump as the covers spread all around them.

His chest heaves and she sits astride him, triumphant.

“You’re evil,” he tells her, chest aching, but it’s a good sort of ache.

“You’re smiling,” she shoots back smugly and he touches his fingers to his lips, feeling the upwards curl before he lets it fall.

“I guess I am,” he admits.

And if he wasn’t already helplessly infatuated with this wonderful girl he wouldn’t have known what to do with the feeling that blossoms and spreads in his chest as he stares up at her, red hair wild and mussed up from their tousling, her blue eyes alive and beautiful.

“Mila?”

“Mm?”

“Every step of the way.”

“Every step of the way,” she agrees contently.

-

Mila gets a text message at 5 pm when they’re sprawled out on the mattress of his bed, working through her homework together after he’d taken a long nap on the couch at her insistence.

“Yakov said to let you know he’ll be here in ten minutes,” she informs him, clicking her phone off and slipping it into the pocket of her pants. “You’re picking up some stuff to help with your eating, right?”

“Yeah,” he agrees, watching as she scrawls the correct formula down.

She’d already badgered him for the details from his check-up and she’d taken it upon herself to write it down as he spoke - had done a good job of it too, much neater than he’d expected with her often impatient take on all things related to school work.

She’d emptied out the bag he’d gotten from Zariah and sorted it into his bathroom while he napped and he’d been rather amused by the fact that the band-aids with the kittens on them had found their way to her shelf beside her box of dinosaurs patterned ones.

When she found out he had work that afternoon she'd stared at him until he relented and called in sick. Cheslav had made a low sceptical hmm before telling him to make it in on Friday.

She’d also helped him message Georgi who’d agreed to meet up with him after Thursday training (Mila inviting herself along with the next answer and Yuuri’s mouth had twitched but he hadn’t denied her it when her eyes looked to him, eyebrow raised and thumb hovering).

“That’s good,” she hums.

“Mila- does it bother you that I don’t eat properly?” he asks a bit hesitantly.

“Of course it does,” she says, raising a brow at him. “But you can’t exactly help it.” A little tip of her head, an impish look in her eyes. “You’ve gotten real good at feeding the both of us whenever I’m here, you know?”

He’s saved from answering by a knock on the door and Mila calls for them to step inside before he can even begin to make a move off the bed.

He gives her look and she shrugs unapologetically as Yakov opens it up, snow clinging to his dark coat and looking most unimpressed with them both. Yuuri stills when he notices Viktor behind him, ice blue eyes zeroing on them where they sit shoulder-to-shoulder with a spread of books and papers about in his bed.

“At least you’ve done something productive,” Yakov says in lieu of greeting, gruff but not angry Yuuri notes with some relief.

There’s a little tug in his chest when he looks at the Russian coach but it’s gentled by Mila’s warmth at his side.

“Yuuri has been helping me,” Mila says just a tad smugly. “He’s good with math.”

Yakov harrumphs. “Hurry up,” he says. “Store closes in an hour.”

“You mind if I stay and finish up?” Mila asks as Yuuri slides off the bed. “Only got a few of them left.”

“Just lock up when you leave,” he responds, giving her hair a ruffle before stretching out his back and padding over to the other two.

Chapter Text

Yuuri draws the door shut behind himself, glancing up at Yakov as he fishes for his key, locking Mila inside with a twist.

“It’s a thirty minute walk to the nearest pharmacy,” Yakov says with a warning look at Viktor before he focused back on Yuuri. “Vitya here promised he’d drive your things home after we pick them up. I would have asked Georgi but he doesn’t like driving when it’s snowing.”

Yuuri flicks his eyes to the famous skater. “Thank you,” he says quietly.

Viktor gives him a thin approximation of a smile, giving his car keys a spin before clenching down on them and raising the other hand in a sharp wave. “See you there,” he says as he takes a step back before turning and disappearing down the stairs, two at the time.

Yuuri falls in step with Yakov with a little shiver as they stepped out, the snow whirling sharply around them.

November, at the end of the month he’d be turning twenty-two.

He wonders-

Yuuri’s mouth curls a bit unsurely and he looks to Yakov in his dark hat and coat, broad and sturdy beside him, obviously not in a hurry despite his words when he knocked on the door for he kept an easy stride, air puffing from his mouth, a green scarf patterned in silver wrapped around his neck.

“Aren’t you cold?” Yuuri asks, mostly just for something to say and then winces slighty because, the weather, really. He needs to find better conversation topics.

Yakov huffs but it’s not an annoyed noise for his mouth twitches ever so slightly. “Not used to the Russian winters yet?”

“No,” he admits. “It’s quite beautiful though,” he muses.

Zariah had told him that one of the side-effects of malnutrition was a constant feeling of coldness and perhaps there was something to it. He had accepted it as one of those things about himself, an inability to truly feel warm, fingers and cheek stinging in the sharp air.

“Was it your first time seeing snow here in Russia?” Yakov asks and Yuuri blinks at him.

“No, I grew up in a small snowy town.” He can’t quite get himself to say the name, it feels strange to just think about it. “A single ice rink, not particularly big but I used to go there nearly every day.” The thought brings his mind to Yuuko – kind eyes, a brush of brown hair and a gloved hand reaching down to pull him up on unsteady skates.

She’d been kind to him when very few had and even now, years later, the memory of it lingers.

“And your trainer – they worked at the rink?” Yakov guesses.

He gives a little shake of his head. “She was a ballet dancer – I learned how to dance before I learnt how to skate. She gave me a foundation but I’ve never really had a skating coach. I was just old enough to join the Junior Grand Prix when-“ He quiets. “Anyway, we were going to look for a coach but, things didn’t really turn out that way.” He shrugs even as his heart tugs heavy.

“So you came to Russia.”

Yuuri glances up but there’s no judgement in Yakov’s eyes, just a little furrow and crease by his eyes.

“It felt right at the time,” Yuuri admits even as his mouth twists self-depreciatingly. “Didn’t really turn out like I expected it to.”

“You were young,” Yakov tells him. “Idealistic. I’ve spent years reining Vitya in, I’m well familiar with it. Boy would have swanned off to Switzerland if I didn’t haul him in.” There’s a slight grumble to his tone and Yuuri can imagine it.

“You’re a good coach,” he finds himself saying, averting his eyes from grey. “They’re lucky to have you.”

Yakov harrumphs and Yuuri flicks his gaze up, just quick enough to catch the faint pinkness on weather roughened cheeks, and hides a smile against the inside of his jacket collar.

They spend the rest of the trip discussing the nutrition drinks Zariah had written for him, debating the merits of the two sorts and Yuuri fished for his recipe and hands it over for a study of much they were picking up.

“Two bags,” Yakov suggests. “You can keep one at home and one down at the rink. And then make the rest the ready-to-go kinds. You keep a busy schedule and when you need more we'll arrange it. I’d avoid the caramel and chocolate ones, they settle heavy in your belly.”

Yuuri hadn’t even begun to consider taste.

“Vanilla then?” he wonders. “And maybe the strawberry ones.” He remember he’d loved strawberries when he was young, hopefully it wasn’t one of those things that had changed as he grew.

“Vanilla can be used as a substitute in porridge,” Yakov tells him with some approval. “Both work in smoothies as well. I’ll make sure we keep some frozen fruit down at the rink for you – there’s a mixer in one of the lower cabinets in the kitchen.”

“You don’t need to-“

“I don’t,” Yakov interrupts. “But I will.”

Yuuri’s hand curls around the lollipop in his pocket. “You’re already doing so much for me.”

Yakov is quiet for a moment and Yuuri ducks out of the way of a stroller, the mother harried with her phone squeezed between her cheek and shoulder but sparing a moment to mouth an apology and he gives her a weak smile.

“Most would not call me a kind man,” Yakov says finally. “I believe some would say I’m taking advantage of you.”

Yuuri opens his mouth but Yakov gives him a look that makes him quiet.

“I cannot pay you for you are not here legally and I will not let my reputation suffer on the chance someone would find me paying you under the table for it influences my skaters and I owe them more than that. But if I can make sure you have access to food and I can give you the tools to reclaim your health then that is the least I can do.” Yakov’s mouth flattens. “I know you’re working weekends and you keep almost a full schedule down at the rink on top of that. Allow me this, at least.”

Yuuri lowers his gaze to his boots.

“Okay,” he says.

Yakov breathes out. “Okay,” the Russian coach echoes.

-

Viktor is drinking coffee out of a paper cup, leaning up against a fancy silvery car with sunglasses when they arrive and Yuuri can’t help the way his eyes dip momentarily towards the rich red scarf hanging loose down his front, half-tucked on the inside of his coat, before he looks up at the flashing sign of the pharmacy.

A large sign, green against white and the letters аптека spelled out broadly.

“Wait here,” Yakov says and Yuuri halts, stepping back with a wary look at the famous skater and keeping a careful distance of the car while making sure not to block up the middle of the road.

“I’d offer you a coffee but you don’t drink it,” Viktor says beside him and Yuuri stills before carefully turning to the other.

“I- thank you?” he says a bit unsurely.

Viktor doesn’t respond and the lenses of his sunglasses are dark enough that Yuuri can only narrowly make out the shape of his eyes through them.

So he focus on the hustle and bustle of the people passing them by, the sound of the snow crunching, the chatter of a young boy clinging to his older sister’s back with a bag of groceries dangling from her fingers where her hand grasps at his thigh to keep him steady.

“Georgi said you spoke with Mila.”

“I did,” Yuuri agrees, shifting back slightly to avoid group of teens laughing and teasing, shoulders bumping together and eagerness in their steps.

“And yet she made a show of forgiving me yesterday.” 

Yuuri turns sharply, boot sliding in the snow and focusing on eyes he could only just make out. “You expected me to turn her against you.”

Viktor remains relaxed where he leans against the side of his car but he tilts his head just enough to meet Yuuri’s gaze over the top of his lenses. “I’m surprised you didn’t take the chance, honestly.”

Ice spreads through Yuuri’s chest and his fist clenches around the candy in his pocket.

“Nothing to say in your defence?” Viktor queries.

“Would you believe me if I did?” Yuuri asks with a sudden feeling of exhaustion. “You’ve made up your mind.” He draws his shoulders up as wind rustles by with a little shiver.

For some reason this makes Viktor frown, sunglasses once again covering his vision as he tilts his head back and swallows the last of his coffee before lobbing it into the nearest trash bin and straightening out, stepping away.

Yuuri watches him disappear into a small coffee shop with a jingle of the bell above the door and shifts, trying in vain to stomp some warmth into his feet, wiggling out the sleeve of his shirt to wipe some wetness from the melting snow on his cheeks.

Some five minutes later the bell jingles again and Viktor returns with another cup of coffee which he cradles in the fold of his elbow as he drags a price tag from two round gel-like pouches in orange which he snaps before shoving them at Yuuri who stares before slowly accepting them, mouth opening only to still when heat registers from them.

He stares down, pink fingers curling a bit awkwardly around them as the liquid solidifies in an ice-like pattern, warming the palms of his hands and sinking into his stiff fingers.

“Make no mistake, I don’t know what Mila sees in you but whatever delusion you have her under won’t last forever and I’ll be right there beside her when she figures out just what kind of men decides to spend their times with underage boys and girls.”

Yuuri’s fingers dig into the heat pads.

“But I’m not a barbarian,” Viktor comments idly, warmth spiralling from the mouth of his cup. “Maybe if you look less like a miserable little stray cat she’ll smarten up sooner.” His head tilts, making it obvious just where he was looking, and Yuuri’s ears colours in embarrassment as he shifts his duct taped boot behind the other in a vain attempt to hide it.

“Anyone ever tell you you’re awfully rude?” Yuuri asks with a curl of his mouth.

“Frequently,” Viktor says with a smile more teeth than lip. “I just call it as I see it.”

Yuuri swallows the words on his tongue and turns sharply to stare at the door to the pharmacy, wishing painfully for Yakov to hurry up.

“You should stick them into your pockets,” Viktor suggest after a moment. “You’ll warm up faster if you do.”

Yuuri only narrowly resists saying something as he shoves them deep into his pockets and curls clawed fingers around them.

He hates, just a little bit, that Viktor wasn’t wrong about it as warmth fills his limbs and curls up his cold wrists.

-

Yakov doesn’t comment on his quietness when they make their way home and Viktor makes no show of their conversation as he hoists a bag of nutrition drinks up without complaint and waltzes in with a whistle as Yuuri fumbles with the rest from the trunk of the car.

He very deliberately doesn’t look at the dark interior and he’s very careful not to touch anything but the bags and he breathes out with a whoosh as Yakov shuts it behind him with a call for Viktor to lock it up, a beep and a flash of light following after a brief moment.

Yuuri awkwardly fumbles for his key and Yakov takes it out of his hand, leaving Yuuri catch the tipping brown bag in the crook of his arm.

He elbows the switch and light floods the small room as they step inside and Yuuri stomps his boots free from the worst of the snow clinging to them before stepping inside, depositing it down on the table after nudging the books Mila had left behind aside along with a pineapple scented pen that tickled at his nose.

Viktor deposits his on the small space available on the counter, head turning to take in the small space– lingering for a moment on the picture of a cat which hung on his fridge in a completely misplaced splash of colour.

“Thank you for the help,” Yuuri says a bit stiffly.

“Boil the heat pads for ten minutes and you can reuse them,” Viktor says with a little flash of teeth before spinning in fancy black leather shoes with a hand rising with a little wave.

“See you tomorrow,” he says to Yakov when the Russian coach slips him back his key.

“Good night,” the man responds gruffly with a squeeze of his shoulder before drawing the door shut behind them both.

Left alone Yuuri sinks down on his couch and stares down at his boots, covered in old duct tape that had startled peeling in places, revealing the sticky dirty underside of the glue where the sides had rolled up despite the several looping twists he’d made with it.

He reaches down, brushing some of the dirty snow from the tip where it had already started to melt, feeling the scratch of the sand that had been spread out to keep people from slipping in it on the side-walks.

His fingers trembles and he presses his palm down flat against the surface of it, fingers curling in a vain attempt to cover where it had split open.

For a moment he could almost pretend they were just as nice as they had been on his fourteenth birthday when he tore the wrapper off the present from his family.

His hand lingers before he breathes out and unlaces them, tugging and slipping his feet out, pulling off the wet sock and fishing for some of the old newspapers he kept stuffed beneath his couch.

He takes his time carefully peeling pages and bunching them together and shoving them into his boot before taking both and depositing them by the door, shrugging his jacket off and stuffing his beanie down the hoodie before trudging his way into the kitchen.

He washes his hands and dries them off before reaching for the bag Viktor had left on the counter.

Bottle after bottle of vanilla and strawberry drink is stored into the near empty cupboards until he had to pause, feeling vaguely overwhelmed at the sight.

The plastic crinkles in his fingers and he swallows before fetching the bag he’d brought inside.

Yakov had already offered to take one of the large powder mixes down to the rink and Yuuri places the other one beside the microwave after cutting the top off over the re-sealing strap and shoves the rest of the drinks in where they’d fit before closing the cupboards, leaving no evidence of their existence save for the lone one resting on the counter.

He reaches for it, halts himself and bites down hard on his lip but turns and makes his way to his jacket, pawing for the heating pads and shoving them down into pot and filling it up with water, twisting the knob of the stove to turn the heat on.

Only then does he reach for the nutrition bottle and twists the cap off, peeling the seal off beneath it and throwing it into the trash before leaning back against the counter and taking a tentative sip of it.

It isn’t half-bad, a bit metallic tasting and he kinda sees why Yakov had suggested the frozen fruit. It wasn’t exactly a taste that endeared but Yuuri isn’t a particularly picky eater – couldn’t afford to be one.

He fills up a tall glass of water when the pot starts to boil, lingering and taking slow sips, giving his stomach plenty of chance to get used to the new substance.

The hardening ice-like pattern is gone when he tentatively scoops the gel pouches out of the hot water and there’s a little corner patch of white against the orange with a helpful little suggestion in Russian which he can’t read.

The stickiness from the price tag had been boiled off, leaving only a smooth surface which he strokes his thumb over it, not sure what to feel.  

 -

Mila crouches down, scanning over the vegetables left at the market as Yuuri raises a hand in a wave to one of the men who’d recognised him.

“Have we tried sunchoke with celery stalks?” she asks as she wiggles out a handful of the knobbly things and drops them into the waiting paper bag from the stall owner.

“Never too late to try,” Yuuri says optimistically and she snatches up the last celery stalk, dropping it alongside two yellow onions and four carrots with a pleased little hum.

He spends some time haggling as she wanders off to look at the rest of the stalls, most which were already packed-up and ready to roll out, but she strikes up conversation with a fisher woman in blue overalls with a cap twisted back on her head who grins sharply in response to whatever Mila is saying.

Yuuri pays, flushing and bowing when the man slipped him a small net of potatoes, shaking his head when Yuuri tried to reach for his money again and shooing him off with a flash of crooked teeth.

“Yuuri- Yuuri look, she has a kitten!” Mila informs him as he approaches, twisting around with a little tufty ball of brown which had obviously been asleep in the box on top of the seat behind the woman but were now twisting tiny paws with soft squeaky noises for attention as Mila smoothed gentle fingers over its head.

“Found her stuck beneath the truck,” the woman says in rough English, her accent something Yuuri hesitantly placed near the Netherlands. “Lucky to be alive.”

She is a short woman, her skin nearly black and hair made in fine braids twisted roughly back and flattened beneath the cap which Yuuri just could make out some sort of gaming character on as she turned her head – a round blue menacing little thing in a white mask and yellow eyes, cape swishing dramatically and a jagged yellow sword bared in challenge.

“She’s cute,” Yuuri agrees as he peers down at it, running his index finger between triangular ears to a soft helpless little purr. It’s tufty, oil clinging to places in its fur and in clear need of a bath but it was sweet looking all the same.

“You want her?” the woman asks, relaxing back against her truck as she considered Mila. “Can’t keep her on the road. I had her checked out at the vet so she’s clean.”

“I’ve always wanted a cat,” Mila says softly. “But Mom is allergic so I can’t.”

Yuuri stares at the naked longing in her eyes, recalling the picture on his fridge and-

“You could keep her at my place,” he hears himself saying, mouth clicking shut when her head shot up to look at him. “You’ll have to buy the food and stuff,” he says because it wasn’t something he could ration out of his savings. “But – if you really want to I don’t mind.”

Mila looks at him, and then down at the kitten, and then up again.

“You mean it?” she whispers, drawing the kitten closer, protectively.

It’s not the kind of decision he should be making at a whim but-

“Yeah,” he agrees with a little curl of his lips for he can’t deny her anything when she looks at him like that.

It turns out the woman had already bought some basics and they end up with a bag with some cat treats, wet food, a small soft toy in the shape of a striped bumblebee in red and green and a blanket tucked at the bottom of the shoebox Mila carefully drops the kitten into before cradling it close.

Georgi is waiting for them outside his apartment when they return – leaning back against the wall and scrolling on his phone, a small plastic bag dangling from his fingers beside him. He looks up and straightens when Mila bounds over to show him the small kitten while Yuuri fishes for his key and unlocks the door, turning and giving it a little shove before sliding in with the groceries and depositing them on the counter.

“She’s beautiful,” Georgi coos as they shuffle in, both bent over the box which is traded between them as they take turns getting their outerwear off.

Yuuri bends down under the couch and drags out some newspaper to settle on the floor in the bathroom, half-forgotten memories of Vicchan’s first days dredged up as he fetches a small bowl and opens one of the bags of wet food, scooping out half before sealing the rest and settling it in the fridge.

He offers it to Mila who takes it a bit distractedly. “I think,” she says. “I think she looks like a Persephone.”

“Sounds fine to me,” Yuuri agrees and folds his arms on the back of the couch and peers down on the small thing as it almost immediately buries its nose into the food, munching down messily and hungrily.

“I know you work tomorrow but I’ll buy some stuff and bring it in while you’re away,” Mila promises, craning around to look at him.

“You have a key for a reason,” he reminds her and then blinks when she presses a kiss to his cheek, flushing slightly and avoiding Georgi’s amused look when he straightened out. “I’ll start with dinner,” he says and ambles over to the kitchen.

“I brought some dessert,” Georgi says, drawing himself up and bringing the half-forgotten bag with him. “I know you’re supposed to avoid heavy foods but I thought maybe some fruit would be alright?” he says, drawing two small store-bought cakes up and then a cup filled with carefully diced fruit with a sprinkle of white chocolate on top.

“Thank you,” Yuuri murmurs, surprised and a bit touched, and Georgi gives his hair a ruffle.

“Anything I can do to help?” he asks after storing it away in the fridge.

Yuuri sets him to peeling and dicing and Mila draws Persephone into her arms and joins them, the conversation falling easily on the topic of ice skating and soon into a debate about the merits of different jumps in different programs as the food boils up and Yuuri rummages for the potato masher to squash it all together.

They eat dinner on the small couch, limbs pressed together, Mila in the middle. Georgi boils some tea and refills Yuuri's water glass before bringing out the dessert and he enjoys the crisp taste of the fruit, the sprinkles of white chocolate melting sweet on his tongue.

Afterwards Georgi helps him go through the list, filling in what he’d missed and adding to what was already there while Mila stretched out on the floor, Persephone making her absolutely best to climb all over her and making a general nuisance of herself to many soft coos and distracted scratchings.

Half-way through Mila finally hauls the kitten up and drops it into Yuuri’s lap as she strips down and settles one hand high and the other low on the pole, muscles outlined clearly beneath her skin as she pushed away elegantly from the floor, legs curling and wrapping around the pole high above her with a careful breath.

Yuuri knew she spent a lot of time watching tutorials on youtube, often bringing them along to discuss how to work up towards them and her recent fascination with the human flag had put a lot of focus on her upper body and arm strength along with her core and he’s careful to keep an eye on her to make sure she doesn’t rush it.

“That’s impressive,” Georgi whistles as she moves, a faint tremble as she for a moment hung with her arms stretched straight out but legs still half-curled before she drew them in and shifted her grip, body coiling along the pole.

“It’s strenuous but rewarding,” Yuuri says a bit distractedly, scrawling down some absent notes.

“Yuuri is better at it,” Mila says with a glitter of her eyes. “But I’m catching up. Now that the pole has been installed down at the rink it’s only a matter of time.”

-

Yuuri cleans up after they bid goodbye that night and takes the time to scrub his clothes in the sink and hang to dry as he wipes an absent hand over his face.

He sinks down with a nutrition drink on his couch and Persephone presses her nose against the back of his hand demandingly until Yuuri twists it around to give her some gently scratching beneath her chin, fur soft beneath the pads of his fingers and a low ache in his chest as he strokes up and over the dark brown pelt.

“I should give you a bath, huh?” he muses, rubbing at some of the oil still stuck in her fur.

He taps up the sink after giving it a scrubbing, boils some water and pours it into the cold water until it’s lukewarm and ads a dab of his own body wash into the mix in lack of anything better, stirring it into an opaque liquid. The small thing squeaks but doesn’t protest when he lowers her into it, soon purring up a storm as he rubs gently but firmly to rid of the dirt from her fur, making sure to get between the dark pads of her paws where he scrapes out some grit which had gotten stuck.

He wraps her up in one of the towels from the rink and she looks absolutely ridiculous in it as he settles her gently in the middle of his bed, eyes drooping and fur sticking up messily.

She falls asleep, tiny chest rising and falling as he works through his night routine until it’s well past midnight and he stumbles into the bathroom to take a cold shower before collapsing down on the bed face first with a little shiver as he pawed for the blanket and dragged it tiredly over himself.