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To All The Skaters I've Loved Before

Chapter Text

Waiting for luggage is the worst. If everyone would stay a few feet back from the conveyor belt, it would be easy for anyone to spot their luggage coming and step forward to get it. Instead, everyone crowds close, jostling each other out of desperation to retrieve their belongings as quickly as possible, making the process more inefficient and unpleasant all around. Normally, Yuuri Katsuki makes sure to travel light enough to fit everything in a carry-on, to avoid this exact situation. But now, returning to his hometown after failing miserably at the Grand Prix Final, he’s stuck here, hovering at the edge of the crowd, waiting for all of his earthly possessions to be carelessly tossed down a chute. Finally, the mob has dispersed, and he sees his bags making their way forlornly around the curve. Taking them in hand, he turns and continues on to the next leg of his trip.

It’s mid-afternoon when he arrives in Hasetsu, but he finds himself blinking blearily and fighting sleep. That’s what he gets for blowing up his career and having to travel halfway around the world to lick his wounds, he supposes. Someone shouts his name and he jerks around to find the source. Minako is there, apparently waiting for him, leg extended behind her in a beautiful arabesque. He smiles in spite of himself. A dancer will always be a dancer… will a skater always be a skater?

“You didn’t have to come get me, Minako,” Yuuri says, mouth twisting. He is going to be enough of a burden on his family and friends in the coming months, he doesn’t need them acting as his chauffeurs on top of everything. “I could have taken a cab.”

Minako rolls her eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous. You haven’t been home for years. We wanted you to have a proper welcome. Your parents and Mari would be here too, if they weren’t busy at the onsen.” 

He looks at the sign she’s holding, now. Large, somewhat messy letters spell out, ‘Welcome Home, Uncle Yuuri!’, and glitter is scattered haphazardly all around them. It looks like it was made by a child. Or children. Yuuko’s triplets, maybe? That’s cute. He’s looking forward to meeting them; he’s heard they are quite the mischief-makers, though.

Yuuri follows Minako back to her car, trying to avoid looking at all the skating posters of himself around town. How embarrassing, now that he’s failed so thoroughly. The car ride goes quickly enough, with them chatting a bit about his life in America and how things have been back here in Hasetsu while he’s been gone. When they arrive at the onsen, he does his best to struggle through properly greeting his parents and sister, but he can barely keep his eyes open and they shuffle him off to his room after just a few minutes. 

Closing the door to his room behind him, he huffs a sigh and looks around. He cringes internally at all the posters of Victor Nikiforov that are still lining the walls of his room. Victor is an amazing skater, but remembering the crush he held onto for most of his teenage years is uncomfortable. All of the years of training and living abroad to claw his way into the ranks that were worthy to skate on the same ice as Victor, all thrown away over the course of a few disastrous days. He feels a pang in his heart, thinking of how different things are to how he had expected to return home. Vicchan, running up to him with her tail wagging, jumping up and down for attention. People cheering for their hometown’s skating success story. Yuuri returning feeling accomplished and fulfilled, instead of directionless and insignificant.

Shaking himself, he sets to the task of unpacking, as much as he can do before passing out, anyway. Unzipping his largest suitcase, he carefully removes the old shoebox containing his deepest secrets. He lifts the lid and sifts through the envelopes inside. Sometimes he finds it hard to believe that he’s held onto these letters for all these years, but every time he’s thought of getting rid of them, it feels like he would be getting rid of a part of himself. Each of these letters feels like a representation of a different time in his life, even if none of them are particularly applicable at the moment. The names jump out at him as he places them back in the box one by one.

Yuuko, his childhood friend.

Mei Nakamura, from skate camp, over a decade ago.

Victor Nikiforov, of course.

Jeremy Meyers, an American skater from his first international junior competition.

And Phichit Chulanont. 

Everyone he’s ever been in love with. Yuuri is very good at articulating his feelings. On paper. In a letter to be sealed in a box and never sent. In person? Not a chance. And a good thing, too, because his feelings of romance have always faded over time. When Yuuri had first met Phichit, he had fallen hard and fast. Phichit was just so alive and energetic, he had a magnetism to him that made it impossible to look away. Yuuri had needed to get his feelings down on paper before they came spilling out of his mouth and making a fool of him. Of course, Phichit had turned out to be an amazing roommate and training partner, and while Yuuri considered Phichit to be a treasured friend and was sad to be apart from him now, the idea of a relationship was laughable.

As for the rest, he had been “in love” with Yuuko at seven years old, had known Mei Nakamura for all of two weeks, and had had one conversation with Jeremy Meyers that happened to coincide with an especially inconvenient rush of teenage hormones. And Victor Nikoforov… well, his bi awakening had to happen sometime, and everyone is entitled to a celebrity crush or two, right? Yes, it’s a good thing he restricts his thoughts of romance to the form of secret letters that will never see the light of day. He doesn’t need the potential complications and heartbreak of an actual relationship. 

He replaces the lid of the box and sets it aside. He shoves a few armfuls of clothes into drawers until the suitcase is mostly empty. Blinking blearily, he falls back on his bed and decides the rest can wait until his body has recovered from the abuse of the last twenty-four hours of travel.

 Axel has admired Uncle Yuuri for all her life, even though she’s never met him. She and Lutz and Loop faithfully watch every competition, collect every poster, and grab Mama’s phone whenever they can, to check Uncle Yuuri’s roommate’s instagram for new pictures of him. Ever since Mama told her that Uncle Yuuri is coming home she has been asking when she will be able to see him. She doesn’t understand why Mama gets so frustrated when she asks again, now; it’s been at least five minutes since the last time she asked. 

The walk over to the onsen is taking forever. And it’s boring. It would be so much better if people could skate wherever they needed to go. Uncle Yuuri would probably want to skate instead of walk, too. Here they are, now. Auntie Mari says that Uncle Yuuri is sleeping and they have to wait until next time to meet him. But Axel really wants to meet him now; she’s been waiting forever, so that’s more important. A quick huddle with Lutz and Loop and the special triplet sneak technique is in action, allowing Axel to get away without the grownups noticing, while the other two make it seem like all three of them are still there.

Down the hall and to the left is Uncle Yuuri’s old room. One time, she and Lutz and Loop were supposed to stay overnight at Grandma’s house, but she missed her own room so much, she couldn’t fall asleep and had to go back home. Uncle Yuuri has probably been missing his room all this time, and that’s where he would want to sleep now. She carefully nudges the door open and peers inside. She barely contains her excited gasp as she realizes she was right; Uncle Yuuri is here, sprawled out on his bed, and a bit of drool is dribbling out of the corner of his mouth.

“Uncle Yuuri, wake up!” she whispers, as loudly as she dares, because if a grownup back in the main room hears her they will come and get her before she can talk to Uncle Yuuri. “Uncle Yuuri, we walked all the way to the onsen to meet you and we’ve been waiting forever. Please wake up so I can tell you how I can skate almost as amazing as you, and then you can go right back to sleep, I promise.” 

Axel reaches out to poke him in the side, but he just grumbles in his sleep and rolls over. He’s not waking up. Maybe he’s too sleepy. Her lower lip starts to tremble and she fights back tears. This is just so disappointing. She’s waited so long. Uncle Yuuri shifts again and something falls to the floor with a soft thump. A box is upside-down on the floor and the lid has come off. She bends down to look and finds a few letters. Axel loves getting letters in the mail, and she’s been asking Mama if she can send a letter to a friend sometime. Uncle Yuuri is probably going to be really busy with all the friends and family who want to see him again now that he’s back home... and Papa says if she’s going to be sneaky she should try doing nice sneaky things instead of ‘mischief’.

Her mind is made up. She collects all the letters that fell out of the box. She’s going to do a nice sneaky thing and put Uncle Yuuri’s letters in the mail for him.

Chapter Text

Yuuri blinks against sudden bright light. His head hurts and his back is cold. Something — no, someone — moves into view, eclipsing the lights shining down from the high ceiling of the arena.

“Yuuri? Yuuri! Are you okay? I’m sorry, that was stupid. I should have waited until we were off the ice.”

That voice… no. No way. Victor Nikiforov’s face is hovering above him, brow furrowed, eyes worried. This is a dream. I’m dreaming.

Yuuri manages to slur a confused, “What happened…?” and lifts himself up onto his elbows. Shifting his weight onto one side, he gingerly touches the back of his head. Ouch. That must have been a bad fall. He feels his face flush. Falling in front of Victor Nikiforov, as if this situation could get any worse. Memories flood back into his mind and his eyes widen as they drift to look at Victor’s hand, at the envelope clutched there.

Yuuri’s hand flies to his mouth. “No… no. No, no, nonononono.

He had been practicing the day before he was supposed to skate his short program at World’s. He had heard someone call to him and turned to see Victor skating towards him with an envelope in his hand. Victor had looked awkward, embarrassed. He had said something about being flattered, appreciating the sentiment but being unable to reciprocate… and then Yuuri had noticed his own handwriting on the front of the envelope. The roaring in his ears had built up until it had drowned out everything else, and the next thing he knew, he was waking up on the ice.

He almost wishes he hadn't woken up. It was one thing to get a cringy love letter from a fan, another thing to get one from a fellow skater Victor would have to see at competitions. Well. After this Yuuri is pretty sure Victor won’t have to see him anymore. Because the earth is going to open up and swallow him whole. At least there’s that.

“...Yuuri? Can you hear me?” Oh. Victor has been talking to him. He looks uncertain. “Do you want me to go get your friend? I saw him just a moment ago...”

“My friend?” Yuuri tries to blink away the fog clouding his thoughts. Concussion, maybe.

“Yes, your friend, Phichit. We should really get you to medical...” Victor looks around. “Oh, good, he’s coming over here now!”

The world feels like it goes into slow motion as Yuuri turns to look in the direction Victor is facing. Phichit is approaching, a concerned expression on his face, but something else is there too. Yuuri doesn’t want to find out, but his eyes betray him as they shift downward to see that Phichit, too, is holding an envelope. This can’t be happening.

Yuuri turns back to Victor. Later, he wouldn’t be able to explain exactly what went through his mind in that moment, only that he knew he couldn’t face Phichit and had to do something to avoid that confrontation.

That’s how he finds himself lying on the ice, kissing Victor Nikiforov in front of dozens of people.



“Victor! Would you care to comment on your relationship with fellow skater Yuuri Katsuki?”

“How long have you been seeing each other?”

“Have you been keeping your relationship secret?”

“Does Christophe know you are seeing someone new after your dramatic breakup earlier this year?”

Victor pushes through the media storm surrounding him as he makes his way out of the arena. After suddenly pulling him down into a kiss, Yuuri had broken it off with a string of expletives, scrambled to his feet, and skated away with impressive speed before anyone could react to what had just happened.

What had just happened? Victor looks down at the letter in his hands. Yuuri was clearly harboring feelings for him, but his behavior didn’t make much sense. Why had he fainted on the ice after Victor tried to ask him about it? Why had he reacted the way he did only after seeing his friend approaching them? Guilt gnaws at Victor as he remembers the look of horror on Yuuri’s face right before he had fallen. Yuuri had sent the letter to Victor, hadn’t he? Victor had assumed that Yuuri would have expected a conversation about it the next time they saw each other, but he had seemed shocked that Victor had approached him. Obviously it had been a bad idea to ask him about it right then. It was bad form to distract another skater during practice; he should have waited until he had had a chance to speak to him off of the ice. If anything, he’s lucky that Yuuri had kissed him, as bizarre as that had been, or else his own behavior is what everyone would be focusing on now.

Victor taps his finger against his mouth as he contemplates what to do next. Yuuri had taken a hard fall on the ice and should really be checked out for a concussion. Where would he have gone? Looking around, he notices Phichit in the parking lot speaking to his coach, Celestino Cialdini. Victor hesitates. Cialdini is probably not very happy with him for arguably being the cause of his skater’s potential injury.

Phichit is walking away now, but Cialdini is still there, frowning at his phone. Victor approaches slowly. He takes a breath. “Excuse me, sir!”

Cialdini looks up, his eyes narrowed. “Nikiforov. What the fuck? I know things got a little out of hand at the banquet a few months ago, and if you want to make out with Yuuri that’s none of my business, but in the middle of the ice during practice? Jesus.”

Victor opens and closes his mouth a few times. Is that what it had looked like? Is that what everyone thought had happened? His PR agency is not going to be happy about this. “Me? Make out with Yuuri? No, no, no… you have the wrong idea. He pulled me down to him, completely out of nowhere!”

Cialdini is frowning, skeptical. “That doesn’t sound anything like Yuuri. If he were in the habit of doing this sort of thing, I think I would know.”

Victor nods. That makes sense. The way Yuuri had kissed him on the ice hadn’t seemed the most experienced. “I understand. I don’t think he’s quite himself right now. Maybe it’s because of a concussion?”

Cialdini sighs impatiently. “I don’t have time to debate this. As you’ve just mentioned, he may have a concussion. I may not have been coaching him for the past few months, but I still need to find him and make sure he gets checked out properly.” Victor blinks. Why wouldn’t Cialdini have been coaching Yuuri?

Cialdini glances back down at his phone. “I need to find out if he’s gone to a rink nearby. He likes to skate alone whenever he’s feeling worked up about something.”

Cialdini looks up at him again. Some of the concern Victor is feeling must be showing through on his face, because Cialdini’s expression softens. “If you really want to help, you can go check some of these places in person while I call around; they might not answer.”

“Are you sure he would have gone to a rink? Not a doctor?” What if Yuuri had been injured worse than he thought? Could he be lying dead in a ditch somewhere? He definitely shouldn’t be skating after hitting his head like that.

“It’s the best place to start looking. If he goes to a doctor, they’ll call me anyway.”

Victor nods again. Cialdini would know best. This might end up being a long night, but he feels partly responsible for what happened, and this is the least he can do.



As luck would have it, the first place Victor decides to check is where he finds Yuuri. What he doesn’t expect to see is the routine Yuuri is performing. Victor stands silently, mouth agape, as he watches Yuuri move beautifully through the steps of Victor’s own free program. There is no music playing, but it’s as though he can hear every note just from watching Yuuri’s movements on the ice. How could he have missed that Yuuri’s skating was so expressive? He’s simplified some of the more technical aspects, of course, but would easily beat Victor’s performance score if he skated like this in competition.

Yuuri finishes the final spin looking upward, arms folded above him, chest rising and falling heavily, and Victor can’t stop the cheer that bubbles out of him of its own volition. “Amazing!”

Yuuri whirls around to face him, eyes wide, and Victor internally chastises himself for nearly causing Yuuri to fall for the second time in one evening.

“What are you doing here? Oh my god! How long have you been watching?” Yuuri’s words come out fast, and he’s starting to hyperventilate.

Victor waves his hands in front of himself placatingly. “No, no, it’s fine! That was incredible!” Victor smiles wide, trying to look reassuring.

Yuuri stares at him. Then he blinks, and his face flushes bright red. “I kissed you. I kissed you in the middle of practice in front of everyone.”

Victor shakes his head. “You hit your head pretty hard. You weren’t thinking straight. It’s okay. The media are having a lot of fun with it, though.” Victor rolls his eyes. “They’ll jump on anything they can spin as drama in my love life.” Then, realizing that he has just stood by and watched Yuuri skate a challenging routine with a head injury, “What do you think you’re doing, skating like that with a potential concussion? We have to get you some medical attention! And I need to call Cialdini.” Victor sets his mouth in a hard line and frowns, hoping he looks serious enough that Yuuri won’t argue with him.

Yuuri groans and squeezes his eyes shut. “Please don’t. I’ll go to the doctor, but I really don’t want to hear Celestino yell at me for the next two hours about how irresponsible I’ve been.”

Victor sighs. “He’s worried about you. He needs to know you’re alright. Let me tell him I’ve found you, but that I’ll take you to the doctor myself, that we have it handled without him.”

Yuuri puffs out his cheeks and looks upward, running his hand through his hair. Cute. He exhales loudly, and says, “Fine, okay. Let’s go.”

Victor leads Yuuri to his car. Seems they’ll have a chance to have that conversation, after all.

Chapter Text

Yuuri rests his head against the car window and wraps his arms around himself as he tries to focus his attention on the drifting patterns of light and shadow outside. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Victor glancing his way every few minutes, and the silence stretches awkwardly between them. The day has been so horrible it almost seems unreal, and he wonders if he might find himself waking up in his hotel room and breathing a sigh of relief that this was all just a stress nightmare. It would make sense; the pressure of the competition looming has been fraying his nerves.

Victor clears his throat. “Yuuri, I want to talk to you about your letter. As much as I appreciate your thinking that ‘my eyes sparkle with the beauty of the ice’...”

Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut. “Oh, god.” Why did his teenage self have to be so dramatic? The earth can go ahead and open up any time now.

Victor seems unaware of Yuuri’s internal agony as he continues, “You’re wonderful, but I’m just not in a good place right now to be getting into a new relationship. Chris and I broke up a few months ago, but things are still so complicated—”

Yuuri turns and really looks at Victor for the first time since getting into the car. He frowns. This is a lot more of an explanation than he would have expected in response to a stupid fan love letter. “Victor, are you trying to reject me? Because I’m not interested. No, I mean—!” Ugh, why can't he string a coherent sentence together? “I’m interested in what you have to say, in you as a person, but I’m not interested in a relationship. With you. Or anyone, really.”

While he had been talking, Yuuri thought he had seen Victor’s mouth start to form a pout, but now Victor is smiling and tilting his head. Maybe he’d imagined it. “Yuuri… you sent me a letter expressing your undying love. If that doesn’t suggest interest, what does?” Victor’s voice is gentle. Maybe he thinks Yuuri is still addled by the knock to the head.

The car has stopped. Yuuri realizes they’ve arrived, but neither of them make a move to get out of the car.

“I have no idea how you even got that letter. I wrote it when I was fourteen. I thought you were the love of my life because your skating made me feel… things. Things I didn’t realize boys could make me feel.” Yuuri blushes and focuses on his hands in his lap.

“... Oh.” Then, after a pause, “Why did you write a love letter to me if you didn’t intend to send it?” Yuuri can’t bring himself to look at Victor, but he just knows he must have an intensely pitying expression on his face. Of course this doesn’t make any sense to Victor; Yuuri can hardly explain it to himself, let alone another person.

Yuuri covers his face with his hands. “That’s the worst part. It wasn’t just you. There were five letters.”

He nearly jumps out of his seat when Victor suddenly laughs. It’s hearty, genuine, and a little bit ridiculous. Yuuri has never heard Victor laugh like this in recorded interviews. He can’t help but look up and smile when he sees Victor with his head thrown back, wiping tears from his eyes. Then, remembering that Victor is laughing at him, he glances away again, biting his lip.

Victor touches his hand and Yuuri looks at him again. He’s not laughing anymore, and his smile is soft. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to laugh at you. You just surprised me. It was an impressively heartfelt letter! And you’ve written five!” Victor strokes his thumb gently against the back of Yuuri’s hand. “It just means you’re a very passionate person!”

Yuuri blinks against the stinging sensation in his eyes and laughs weakly. He doesn’t deserve this attention and kindness from Victor Nikiforov, who really has much more important things to be doing than comforting some crazy fan the night before a major competition.

“Look, Yuuri… You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but… why did you kiss me on the ice, really?” Victor is still holding his hand. It feels nice. And when he says Yuuri’s name, with that accent… Ugh, maybe his brain is still addled by that fall. But it really would be nice to talk to someone, and Victor seems to genuinely want to listen. Yuuri sighs heavily.

“You know my friend, Phichit? He was coming towards us when I… you know.” He feels his face heat up, again. He wishes he could borrow Victor’s unflappability for a while. “We were roommates and training partners in the US until I moved back home recently.” Yuuri exhales shakily.

Victor nods, and gently squeezes Yuuri’s hand.

“I write letters to sort my feelings out privately so I don’t do something stupid like actually tell someone I love them. I always get over it eventually, and saying something would just complicate things, so why bother?”

Yuuri hears a noise of protest from Victor, but now that he has started to explain, he finds he wants to continue.

“It’s one thing to find out you got my letter. That’s embarrassing, of course. But honestly, it doesn’t really change my life. But Phichit had a letter too; I saw him holding it. I think it’s safe to assume all my letters were sent.” His stomach twists and he feels himself start to shiver. One of the more annoying symptoms of anxiety.

“Phichit is my best friend. And I don’t… make friends easily. I have a hard time opening up to people. I could tell him I don’t have feelings for him anymore, which is the truth, but would he believe me? Can we still be friends, after this, or will everything change?” His voice breaks, and he feels a traitorous tear escape down his cheek. He pulls off his glasses so he can wipe it away roughly. Keep it together. “I don’t want to lose him.”

Yuuri takes a deep, stabilizing breath and looks Victor directly in the eye. Victor meets his gaze calmly and Yuuri is suddenly aware of his own rapid heartbeat. “I’m sorry for kissing you like that. I guess, in the moment, I panicked. Maybe I thought that if he saw me kissing you, he wouldn’t think I was in love with him? I know it doesn’t make any sense. Maybe you’re right that I wasn’t thinking straight, but I don’t want to make excuses. I shouldn’t have done that to you, and I hope you can forgive me.”

Victor graces him with a sunny smile, and says, “You surprised me, but I didn't mind so much. I forgive you!”

Yuuri looks exhausted and defeated as they make their way into the hotel lobby. The examination had revealed that while Yuuri’s head injury wasn’t too serious, another hit to the head within the next twenty-four hours could be dangerous. Which means, of course, that performing his short program tomorrow is out of the question. A devastating outcome for any skater, but Yuuri seems to be taking it particularly hard. His shoulders are hunched, and both of his hands are gripping the strap of his skate bag so hard that his knuckles are white.

Victor furrows his brow and tries to think of something helpful to say. He wishes he could reach out and take Yuuri’s hand again, since that had seemed to work well enough in the car, but Yuuri’s posture is so defensive that he can’t think of a way to do that without making things awkward. Yuuri hadn’t said anything during their trip back to the hotel, and the notion of breaking that silence is daunting, to say the least.

They reach the elevator and Yuuri quickly taps one of the buttons and then slouches against the wall. Victor’s suite is in another wing of the hotel, but…

“Let me walk you to your room, at least.” His voice somehow seems to echo within the tiny space of the elevator. Yuuri just nods mechanically.

The elevator dings, the doors slide open, and they walk silently down the hall towards Yuuri’s room. They pass a few other people in the hall who stare at them a little too long for Victor’s comfort. He’s used to people gawking at him, but this feels different. Gossip always spreads quickly within the figure skating world, he supposes.

Yuuri stops at one of the rooms and turns to Victor. His voice is quiet as he breaks his silence for the first time since hearing the news. “I don’t know why you’re being so nice to me, but, um, thanks. You've been really understanding. I hope I didn’t ruin the competition for you, since you didn’t get any practice time today.”

Victor smiles wide. “I may not have been able to practice for tomorrow, but have a few ideas for how I can improve my free program after watching a beautiful skater perform his version of it.” He catches Yuuri’s eye and winks.

Yuuri blinks and his eyes go wide. “Victor! Stop teasing!” His face flushes and Victor catches a glimpse of a small smile before Yuuri covers his face with his hands. “There’s nothing you could learn from watching me.” Has he managed to say something right? If Yuuri is smiling, that’s a good sign, isn’t it?

Yuuri lowers his hands and his expression grows somber. Victor deflates a little. I guess it’s not going to be that easy. He tries again, more seriously. “Yuuri. I mean it. You are an amazing skater. Watching you skate my routine was inspiring. I’m so sorry you have to sit this one out, but there will be other competitions! I can’t wait to see you reach your full potential.”

Victor looks on in horror as Yuuri bursts into tears. Oh no. What has he done now? He’s never been good with handling other people’s emotions. He should have just said goodnight and given Yuuri some space; obviously his attempts at cheering him up have failed utterly. “I’m sorry! Yuuri! What did I say? What can I do?”

Yuuri scrubs roughly at his face, knocking his glasses askew. Victor has to stop himself from reaching out to straighten them. “You don’t understand, Victor. After humiliating myself at the Grand Prix final, and my mediocre performance at Nationals, this was my chance to redeem myself. To prove that I still deserve to be here, sharing the ice with people like you .” Yuuri stifles a sob and Victor just wants to hug him.

“So… if I can’t prove that to myself, I don’t know if there will be any other competitions. I’ve had a lot of chances to ‘reach my full potential’... maybe this is it. Maybe it’s time for me to admit that I don’t have what it takes, and retire.” He falls silent, and starts searching his pockets for his key card.

The idea of never seeing Yuuri Katsuki skate in another competition is heartbreaking. Sure, his jumps could use some work. But jumps are just jumps; technical ability can be learned with adequate teaching and conditioning. Yuuri’s skating is musical and expressive, and he seems to have no idea whatsoever how rare and wonderful a skater he is! Victor clenches his jaw. Celestino Cialdini has been a neglectful coach if he hasn’t been telling Yuuri these things every single day.

Victor hesitates. Yuuri is clearly exhausted, but he might be too worked up to get the rest he needs. He's not sure if Yuuri would appreciate much physical contact right now, so he tentatively reaches out to gently touch his shoulder. Yuuri’s hands cease their rummaging and he meets Victor’s gaze.

Victor hopes he can say something to make a difference for Yuuri. “You've had a long, awful day. A lot of unpleasant surprises, emotional and physical. Don't make any big decisions tonight, just get some rest.” He tries to smile reassuringly. “I don't skate until late tomorrow, and Yakov hates it if I overdo it in practice on the day of a competition. I'll come see how you're doing in the morning.”

Yuuri stares at Victor for what seems like forever. He takes a deep, shuddering breath, and nods. He must have finally located his key card, because he turns and opens his door. He looks back for a moment.

“Goodnight, Victor. And good luck tomorrow.”

Victor makes his way to his own suite in a daze. It's been a long time since he last made a genuine emotional connection with someone, and here he was, filled with nervous excitement at the thought of seeing Yuuri again in the morning. A plan is starting to come together in his mind. He suspects that he and Yuuri can help each other with their respective problems. Maybe they can even be friends.

Victor has a small smile on his face as he drifts off to sleep that night.

Chapter Text

Bright light floods through a gap in the hotel room curtains, and Yuuri grumbles and pulls the comforter over his head. He has a splitting headache and his eyes feel like they’ve been stuffed full of sand. He rolls over and tries to fall back asleep, but it’s still too bright. If the sun could fuck right off for at least another hour, that’d be great. He could get up and fix the curtains, but that would mean getting out of bed. He huffs a sigh. He probably does need to start getting ready soon, though. He doesn’t skate until later in the day, but he has a lot of things to do to prepare…

What time is it, anyway? Why didn’t my alarm go off?

Yuuri frowns, and tries to think through the sleepy fog still plaguing his mind. In a rush, the events of the previous day come back to him and he scrambles to sit up, gripping the comforter with both fists in his lap, knuckles white, eyes wide.

Inexplicably being taken care of by a very patient Victor Nikiforov, who definitely had better things to be doing last night. Victor finding him skating. Victor, with his letter. Phichit with his letter. Kissing Victor on the ice. Fuuuuck.

Yuuri groans and flops back down on the bed. He hadn’t been dreaming after all. Which meant he wouldn’t be competing later today. Or maybe ever. His stomach twists and a current of jittery energy runs through his body. He tries taking a few calming breaths.

His phone isn’t on the nightstand. He rolls over onto his stomach and lets his arm flop over the edge of the bed, fumbling around to find his jacket. Last night he’d just collapsed into bed after stripping off his outer layers and letting them lie wherever they fell.

After some rummaging around, he locates his phone and rolls onto his back. He nearly drops his phone on his face when he squints at the screen and sees a barrage of missed calls and messages from Phichit and Celestino. There’s a missed call from the onsen, as well. Probably Mari wanting to ask him why the internet is going crazy over him kissing Victor fucking Nikiforov. Or maybe it was Yuuko, who would have also received a letter. But she would definitely have noticed it had been written by a child, right? That particular crush is a well-known relic of the past for both of them.

A sudden knock at the door results in him actually dropping his phone on his face. “Ow, fuck!”

“Yuuri? Is everything okay?”

No, everything is not okay. But if that voice belongs to who he thinks it belongs to, maybe… some things… might be a little bit okay.

He looks down at himself still wearing yesterday’s rumpled clothes. With no small degree of apprehension, he lifts an arm and sniffs. Eugh . Nope. Nope nope nope. He’s not answering the door like this.

“Uhhh… just a minute, please!!”

He takes the fastest shower of his life. Emerging from the bathroom, he towels off his hair with one hand while brushing his teeth with the other. After blindly pulling a random selection of shirts, pants, and underwear out of his suitcase, he hops around ungracefully pulling on his pants while one arm is still stuck inside his shirt trying to locate the sleeve.

Is Victor even still here? Would he have waited this long? Yuuri presses his face up against the door to spy through the peephole.

There he is. Victor Nikiforov, looking around awkwardly, holding a to-go cup in each hand. Yuuri never expected he would associate 'Victor' and 'awkward' in the same thought, but Victor has managed to surprise him in a few ways in the past twenty-four hours; this is just one more.

Yuuri opens the door.

Victor has been standing in the hallway just long enough to start to feel uncomfortable with the lingering stares of passersby when the door finally opens to reveal a slightly disheveled Yuuri. Still-damp hair is slicked back with a few locks escaping to dangle in front of Yuuri’s forehead. He’s not wearing his glasses, and his dark eyes are narrowed with intensity. Victor glances downward. Yuuri is holding the door wide open with one arm and bracing against the doorframe with the other, and his t-shirt is pulled taut against his chest as a result, the material clinging to not-quite-dry skin. He’s breathing hard.

Victor feels his heart thudding in his chest. Memories of drinking and dancing spring to mind unbidden, and he forcibly redirects his thoughts to the present. It’s normal to feel nervous about developing a new friendship, right? It’s overly warm in this hallway. He’ll have to speak to the hotel manager about maintaining appropriate temperature control.

Victor clears his throat and forces his gaze back up to meet Yuuri’s eyes. He plasters a smile onto his face. “Good morning, Yuuri! How are we feeling today? Better, after a good night’s sleep?” He holds out a coffee.

Yuuri reaches out to take his drink, and the fabric of his shirt relaxes. Victor lets out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding.

Yuuri’s hands fold around his cup and he lifts it to his face, inhaling deeply. His eyes close and he smiles softly. “Mmmm. You’re a literal angel. Thank you, Victor.”

Victor catches himself staring. If he’d known all it would take is a coffee to get this side of Yuuri to come out, last night could have been a lot easier on both of them.

“Oh!” He searches his pockets. “I wasn’t sure if you like it black, or if you take it with anything, so, uh...?” He had taken an assortment of sugar, sweetener, milk, and cream containers, but now he’s finding it difficult to offer them all to Yuuri while still holding his own drink in one hand. He crouches down to place his coffee on the floor of the hallway. He stands up again, blowing his hair out of his face, and holds out the lot of it towards Yuuri.

Yuuri blinks at him like he’s grown a second head. A nervous laugh bubbles out of him as he realizes that Yuuri will have just as much trouble holding his own coffee while dressing it. Yuuri seems to make the same realization, because he snorts adorably. His eyes go wide and he lifts a hand to cover his mouth. Victor can’t help the genuine smile that comes to his face, and Yuuri’s expression relaxes into a small smile.

They spend the next few moments juggling coffee and sweetener packets until they realize they have no way to stir, and the whole situation devolves into breathless laughter.

“It would probably have been easier if I had just taken you out for coffee, instead.” Victor grins, looking over at Yuuri sitting against the wall next to him.

Yuuri inclines his head. “That might not have helped your PR situation. We’re all over the internet.” He cringes. “Sorry, again.”

Victor sees his opportunity, and jumps before he can talk himself out of it. “About that… This might be a crazy suggestion, but what if we just don’t bother to correct them?” Victor looks around again to make sure no one is coming their way from down the hall.

Yuuri frowns. “What do you mean?”

“What if we let everyone think we’re together?” Victor holds his breath. This is insane. Why did he think this was a good idea? Yuuri is going to tell him to get lost and then he’s going to go to the nearest tabloid with the full scoop on how Victor Nikiforov is so desperate for a relationship that he proposed a fake one.

Yuuri is staring at him again. “Why on earth would you want that?” He looks utterly confused. That’s not a no, at least.

“Well… I don’t know if you remember, but last night I mentioned that things are complicated, with Chris.”

Yuuri looks offended. “So, what? You want to use me to make him jealous, or something?”

Ugh, he knew that would look bad. He sighs. He hasn’t talked about this with anyone, really, but if Yuuri is going to understand then Victor needs to open up. “No, no, not like that. The tabloids went nuts when we broke up, speculating wildly about the reason behind it. But there wasn’t any infidelity scandal or rejected marriage proposal or anything dramatic, honestly. The real reason was a lot simpler.”

Yuuri looks skeptical but doesn’t interrupt. Victor continues, “I’m just… not very good at relationships.” He looks down, feeling a bit ashamed. “I can be a bit self-absorbed. I’m not always attentive to others’ needs.” He blinks a few times and looks at the ceiling. “Chris has a playboy reputation, but that’s not who he really is. He wants someone he can be happy with in the long run.” He glances at Yuuri and looks away. “And that… wasn’t me.”

Yuuri is quiet for a moment, and then Victor feels a hand on his arm. He looks over. Yuuri’s expression is heartbreakingly soft. “You still love him,” he says quietly.

Victor nods. “I thought… ugh, I don’t know. I thought maybe if he could see me being a good partner to someone, he might be willing to give me another chance. But I wouldn’t want to hurt someone who actually wanted to be with me by using them in that way.”

Victor looks around. The hallway has thankfully remained deserted. The silence stretches on, and Victor wonders if he should tell him to forget the whole thing. Then, finally, Yuuri says, “Last night I told you I don’t actually want a relationship with anyone. So you thought I would be a safe choice?”

That makes it sound pretty selfish. But Victor had tried to consider Yuuri’s situation as well, when he came up with this ridiculous idea. “Well, yes. But also, I thought it might allow you to be more convincing with Phichit, when explaining that you don’t have feelings for him currently? Like how you kissed me, just... more of a long-term thing.”

Yuuri purses his lips. “I don’t know, Victor… I appreciate you thinking of me, but this would involve me lying to basically everyone in my life. I don’t even know how that would work.”

“Look, you don’t need to tell me yes or no right now.” Victor reaches over and squeezes Yuuri’s hand on his arm. “Come watch me skate tonight. If decide you want to go through with this, meet me at the kiss and cry. I’ll make sure the officials know to let you through, just in case.”

Victor gets to his feet. “I’ll give you some space to think about it. See you later, maybe? I hope we can be friends, regardless of what you choose. To be honest, I don’t make friends easily, either.” He pulls up one corner of his mouth ruefully, and turns to walk away.

He’s almost to the elevator when he hears Yuuri call his name. He spins around to face him. Yuuri is blushing hard as he almost shouts, “I would be glad to call you my friend!”

Victor smiles so wide his face hurts.

Phichit Chulanont is no stranger to Victor Nikiforov’s incredible skating. All season long, Victor has been consistently technically flawless and beautiful to watch. Some commentators had noted that there was a ‘melancholic tone’ to his skating which wasn’t entirely explained by his chosen theme. Phichit hadn’t been sure about that; it made more sense that Victor was just getting bored with winning after five straight years of gold, gold, gold.

Watching Victor perform his short program now, though, he’s questioning everything, because something is definitely different this time. Victor seems to have found a new source of inspiration, because this is absolutely going to be his season’s best short program score. Phichit suspects it probably has something to do with the baffling events of the day before.

The bizarre letter he had received from Yuuri last week had been so confusing that Phichit had been hesitant to try to sort things out via texting, which was possibly a lifetime first for him. He’d expected that Yuuri might be nervous about seeing him at World’s after sending him a love letter (what.) , but he hadn’t expected to see him making out with Victor Nikiforov (again, what???) in the middle of practice. He’s surprised Victor even knows who Yuuri is; the way Yuuri tells it, he’d been humiliated at Sochi when Victor had mistaken him for a fan wanting a photo with him.

Phichit checks his phone again and frowns. Still nothing. After the way Yuuri bolted the day before, Phichit’s given up on catching him to talk in person, but now he’s not responding to texts either. Worry gnaws at him and Phichit tries to shake the feeling. Everything’s probably fine. He’d pestered Celestino and found out that Yuuri was okay, but that he wasn’t going to be able to compete, and he knows Yuuri couldn’t have taken that news well. If Yuuri were really freaking out, he’d know that he can still count on Phichit, weird love letter or no, right?

The crowd suddenly goes nuts   the noise is deafening. People are whooping and cheering and frantically pulling out their phones to take pictures. Phichit looks up from his own phone and tries to find the source of the commotion. His mouth falls open. There on the jumbotron, being broadcast live to millions of viewers worldwide, his best friend is being thoroughly kissed by Victor Nikiforov.

He can’t help it. The selfie opportunity is too great to pass up. He frames himself looking up at the two skaters in the kiss and cry on the jumbotron and doesn’t have to try hard to put on his best 'what the fuuuuck' face. He’ll worry about sorting out what in the world is going on with Yuuri when he has the chance. For now, his followers are going to go insane.

Chapter Text

Yuuri swears his heart is about to pound its way out of his chest. The sensation of Victor kissing him had drowned out everything else, but now that it’s over, the world is rushing back in. Victor’s thumb is resting softly against his cheek, fingers gentle along the side of his neck. The other hand is still tangled in his hair.

“You did great, Yuuri. Very convincing.” Victor’s voice is close and quiet.

The crowd is so loud, it’s overwhelming. He’s vaguely aware of the announcer stating the scores, but the voice over the speaker just sounds like a jumble of noise.

He feels like every nerve in his body is firing at once. Is this a good feeling? This is a lot. Too much. His breaths are coming quick and shallow and he squeezes his eyes shut. He’s aware that cameras are still on him from all directions. Now is really not a good time for a panic attack. One, two, three, four… He focuses all of his energy into counting out each breath.

He opens his eyes. Victor looks worried. Probably wondering if his new fake boyfriend is about to fuck everything up less than five minutes after agreeing to this arrangement.

Victor leans in to speak close to his ear. “We can go out the back way.”

Yuuri nods. They might be able to avoid the bulk of the press mob that way. Victor pulls on his skate guards and stands up, smiling and waving at the crowd. In skates, Victor towers over Yuuri in sneakers. Heh. It feels like a metaphor, considering their respective places in the figure skating world. He ducks his head and tries his best to put on a smile for the crowd and the cameras.

Victor laces their fingers together and leads the way out of the rink.

Once they’re through a few sets of doors, the noise from the crowd drops off dramatically and Yuuri can breathe again.

“Are you alright?” Victor asks, frowning. “You seemed to be… struggling? For a moment, back there.”

Is he alright? Yuuri chews his lip and tries to figure out exactly what set him off. The crowd was a factor, for sure, but also... 

“I’m…” He hesitates. “I’m okay. I’m just not used to that sort of thing.”

Victor tilts his head, one eyebrow raised. “The crowd? I know it was a little over the top tonight, but you’ve dealt with your share of fans and fame, no?”

Yuuri blushes and looks away. “No, not the crowd. I mean... um.” Ugh, this is embarrassing. “The kissing.” He clears his throat and looks at Victor.

“It wasn’t good?” Victor chuckles and shakes his head. “Maybe I have more to work on than I thought.”

Yuuri cringes. “No, it was… really nice. I just, uh. Yesterday, with you, that was a first for me.” Victor looks stricken. He’s probably not looking forward to faking his way through a relationship with someone who has no experience whatsoever. “I’m just realizing that since I’ve never been in a relationship, anything we do for show will be a much bigger deal for me than it is for you. It’s a little overwhelming, I guess.”

“Oh my god, Yuuri!” Victor grabs him by the shoulders and Yuuri stares up at him, eyes wide. “I don’t want you to feel like you have to do anything you don’t want to! I thought kissing you would be alright, because you initiated the first time, but if you’re not comfortable I won’t do it again. Jesus, I’m an ass!” Victor turns away and looks up and looks up at the ceiling, one hand sliding down his face.

“I knew you were… reserved, when it came to romance. But I didn’t realize you had never… ” Victor sighs, dropping his hands to his sides. “We can call the whole thing off, if you don’t want to do this. I don’t care how strange it will look.”

Yuuri shakes his head. “No, no. I do want to do this. We can help each other. And I’ll get over it, about the kissing… it’s not like anyone will believe we’re in a relationship if we never kiss!”

The determination on Victor’s face is almost intimidating. He takes both of Yuuri’s hands in his, and his tone leaves no room for argument when he says, “No. We can find other ways of expressing affection that you’re comfortable with. You deserve some real firsts, with someone you really love.”

Someone I love? Yuuri wonders. That’s not the hard part. Aloud, though, he says, “Yeah, sure. One day.”  He forces a smile.

His stomach gurgles. Oh, right. He hasn’t eaten much today. Last time he’d experienced bad news right before a competition, he’d demonstrated a shameful lack of control and eaten a lot of high calorie junk. He may have somewhat overcorrected this time.

Victor seems to have noticed his audible hunger pangs. “Let’s go out to eat! We can work out the particulars of our arrangement over dinner. I’m sure there are some good places around here!”

Victor grips his fork and pokes trepidatiously at one of the gravy-smothered cheese curds nestled amongst his fries.

“Just try it!” Yuuri smiles, eyes crinkling. “I was skeptical at first, too, but I learned to love it while I lived in Detroit. Did you know some people say Michigan is Canada’s eleventh province?”

Victor lifts his fork to get a closer look and narrows his eyes suspiciously. Normally he’s very open to experiencing international cuisine, but this combination just seems strange. He pops it into his mouth. The flavor isn’t bad, actually. He starts to chew, and his eyes go wide. He raises a hand to cover his mouth. “Yuuri, why is my cheese squeaking?!”

Yuuri laughs, and it’s a wonderful sound. “That’s how you know it’s authentic! It’s not real poutine without the squeak.” He pokes around with his fork and lifts it to show Victor. “It’s best to get a combination of fries and curds, and make sure there’s enough gravy on every bite.” Yuuri’s eyes close blissfully as he closes his lips around his fork.

The noise Yuuri makes while enjoying his mouthful of poutine is sinful. Victor chokes on his squeaky cheese.

“Victor!” Yuuri jumps up. “Hang on, I’ll go get some water!”

By the time Victor has recovered from his coughing fit, Yuuri has returned with a glass of water for him. He takes a sip and lets his gaze drift toward the park across the street. He doesn’t trust himself to look at Yuuri right now. Kissing him freaked him out badly enough, he doesn’t need me practically drooling over him like this. Sure, Yuuri is attractive, but he’s made it clear that he’s not comfortable with their pretend relationship crossing that line. Victor resolves to bury his feelings of attraction and keep things strictly professional, like Yuuri wants. He needs to figure out some relatively innocent way for them to maintain the image of a genuine relationship.

Victor turns back to Yuuri, contemplative. “Could I hug you?” he suggests.

Yuuri drops a forkful of poutine onto the floor. “O-oh! What, here? Right now? S-sure, I guess?”

Victor groans and rubs a hand down his face. He needs to learn how to communicate properly.

Yuuri looks confused for a moment, and then flushes bright red. “Ohhh, of course, uh. You mean, like, in general. In terms of our agreement. W-why would you want to hug me?” He laughs, high and nervous. “Obviously, you wouldn’t.” He drops his head onto his folded arms on the table.

Did Yuuri… want him to hug him? Or want him to want to hug him? Or had he just agreed because he thought that was what Victor had been asking for? “I could hug you now, if that’s what you want?” he asks, unsure.

Yuuri shakes his head without looking up. “N-no, Victor, you don’t need to hug me, it’s okay. I just misunderstood, sorry,” he says, voice muffled.

“But, in terms of our agreement, would that be alright, generally speaking?” Victor frowns, hoping he’s being clear enough this time.

Yuuri nods, still facedown on the table. “Sure, yes, I can live with that,” he says, tone unreadable.

Victor tries to think of more overt romantic gestures that Yuuri might be able to accept, maybe even something he would genuinely appreciate. “I could write you romantic notes --- like your letters?”

Yuuri lifts his head and looks at Victor. “You’d do that?” he asks, softly.

Victor’s heart skips a beat. He clears his throat. “Yeah, I mean. It seems like something a good relationship partner would do, yes? A-and I could give them to you when the media might catch it, and Chris might find out.” But… he hadn’t actually been thinking of Chris at all when he came up with that idea, had he? Chris is the whole reason behind this, he reminds himself; he doesn’t necessarily have to be explicitly thinking about him to come up with good ideas to that end.

“... Right. Yeah, that’s a good idea,” Yuuri says, after a beat.

Victor realizes there are a few other things he’ll have to ask of Yuuri if they want things to be convincing. “You’ll have to come to the banquet with me, of course. And any others while we still want to keep up appearances.”

“Ugh,” Yuuri groans. “I hate those things. I either stand in the corner alone the whole time, or I have too much to drink and embarrass myself.” Victor raises his eyebrows. He supposes Yuuri had been fairly intoxicated at the last one. “But I guess you’re right, it wouldn’t make sense for your boyfriend not to be there with you,” Yuuri says, sighing.

Yuuri’s expression shifts suddenly, a fierceness behind his gaze. Victor blinks. What’s he thinking of?  

“I don’t want to go to these events and have people look at me like I’m just some failed figure skater who happens to be ‘Victor’s date’! I need to be better than that. If I’m going to do this, I… I want you to help me with my jumps!”

Victor laughs delightedly. “I would love to, Yuuri!” Another idea begins to form in Victor’s mind. I wonder if he’ll agree… “If I am going to spend time whipping you into shape as a skater, there’s something else I want in return. Something I’ve always wanted to do with a special someone.”

Yuuri looks apprehensive. “What is it?”

“Let’s skate together for the exhibition after the next Grand Prix Final!” Victor feels excitement bubbling in his chest.

Yuuri frowns. Oh. Victor had hoped he would be excited, too. “I don’t know the first thing about pair skating, Victor…”

Maybe he just needs to explain himself better. “I’ve just always found it so fascinating. What could be a more perfect expression of total trust and cooperation? Every move one skater makes relies on the other to be right there, perfectly in sync, the perfect complement, completely supporting each other. If I could perform a routine like that with someone... it would prove that I can do those same things in a relationship!”

Yuuri looks skeptical. “Do you really think we’ll still be doing this by the next Grand Prix Final? That’s practically at the end of the year! Hopefully, Chris is the one you’ll be able to skate with. And he's a better match for you on the ice, too.”

Yuuri makes a good point; he's getting ahead of himself. “Yes. Of course,” Victor concedes. “You’re right. How about this? If we’re still pretending in a few months, we’ll start practicing just in case.”

After a moment of further hesitation, Yuuri replies, “Sure, Victor. If it's that important to you, we can do it.”

Victor smiles, relaxing. He leans back in his seat and looks out the window again. The park across the street is quite large, with an open central area and trees lining the edges. Tonight, the central area is brightly lit and quite busy. An event, perhaps? People are milling around in the middle. Victor leans over to get a better look around the trees, and gasps excitedly, sitting up straight.

“Yuuri! I think they have an outdoor skating rink set up in the park!” He’s struck by a wave of nostalgia. His mother had taken him skating in a similar place in his hometown as a small child, before it had become a full-time competitive sport for him. He smiles wistfully. “Shall we go for a stroll in the park?”

He pushes away from the table and gets to his feet, offering his arm to Yuuri with a flourish.

Chapter Text

Yuuri shuts his hotel room door and leans against it, eyes closed. He’s starting to understand why people willingly put themselves through the risk of heartbreak for the sake of a relationship. Tonight, he supposes, could be considered his first fake date with Victor, and it had actually been very... perfect. Nice. It had been very nice. The small smile on his face slowly spreads into a wider grin, and he wraps his arms around himself to somehow try to contain the bubbly feeling expanding inside his chest.

The chill of the not-quite-spring evening air had initially caused Yuuri to curse his lack of mittens, but when he’d started to put his hands in his pockets, Victor had laced their fingers together instead, winking at Yuuri and glancing conspicuously at the people already starting to gawk at them and pull out their phones. With the number of people attending the public skating event in the park, photos of Victor holding hands with his latest love interest were bound to spread like wildfire on social media. Victor’s hand had been warm enough to keep him comfortable, maybe even better than mittens.

They’d sat on one of the benches surrounding the outdoor rink and watched the skaters making their way around the ice, some gracefully, others clearly focused on just trying not to fall. The tiny kids clumsily propelling themselves forward, looking excitedly toward their parents when they managed to glide for a few seconds, had made Yuuri’s heart squeeze, bringing to mind his own first time experiencing the joy of skating.

Yuuri collects himself enough to push away from the door, kicking off his shoes and stripping off his jacket. He digs through his suitcase to find a soft t-shirt, changes quickly, and climbs into bed, depositing his glasses onto the nightstand. A tingle of excitement spreads throughout his entire body as he recalls how daring he’d been in his efforts to play his part.

Emboldened by the easy justification of so many people around them recognizing Victor and taking photos of them together on the bench, Yuuri had leaned over and let his head rest on Victor’s shoulder. 

His heart races at the memory of how Victor’s breath had caught, how his arm had slowly slid around him, how his hand had come to rest gingerly against Yuuri’s waist. If this is what it feels like to have someone’s affection, even just for pretend, he can imagine why it might be worth everything when it’s real.

He rolls over to face the window, pulling the comforter up around himself until just his eyes and nose are peeking out. The city lights are a blurry mass of haloes and streaks across his vision; the sounds of distant traffic a faint symphony in his ears. He could get up to close the curtains... avoid another rude awakening via morning sunbeams… but this is the first time in ages he’s felt this relaxed and content at the end of a day. He closes his eyes and snuggles further down into the blankets instead.

Phichit pulls his earbuds out and gets up from where he had been stretching when he spots Victor Nikiforov and his coach entering the warm-up room. Victor’s coach is yelling at him in Russian, but Victor is just smiling and nodding without seeming to pay much attention. Phichit looks around at the more experienced skaters warming up nearby, who aren't reacting to the scene at all — nothing new, he guesses. He'd better wait.

What's he supposed to call Victor, anyway? Nikiforov? Mister Nikiforov? He shakes his head. Those are both ridiculous. ‘Victor Nikiforov’ makes it sound like he doesn't know for sure if he's talking to the right person.

Eventually ‘Mister Angry Coach’ moves on, throwing up his hands and storming off, and Phichit makes his move.


“Hm?” Victor turns toward him with a polite smile. “Can I help you?”

This is so weird. But he can’t seem to get ahold of Yuuri any other way, so here goes. “Yeah, I was wondering—” 

“Oh!” Victor’s eyes go wide. “You’re Phichit! Yuuri’s friend.” Apparently world-class celebrity athletes know he exists, now? He’d figured that Victor following him on insta a few months ago was just some social media manager following a bunch of other skaters for him, but maybe not?

“Uh, yeah. That’s me! Actually that’s why I wanted to talk to you. It’s about Yuuri,” Phichit explains.

Victor frowns slightly. “Maybe you should just speak with him directly?” He glances away and back again, fidgeting with his hands. Phichit narrows his eyes. Obviously something is going on with Yuuri, but Victor is acting super nervous too.

“Well, yeah. I would if I could. But he’s not answering my texts, and you two seem to be, uh, spending time together…?” Phichit says, spreading his hands questioningly. Hopefully Victor will say something that will help him make sense of this bizarre situation.

“Yes, it does seem that way,” Victor replies, slowly. He really doesn’t seem to want to make eye contact.

Does he know about the letter? Is that why he’s acting so sketchy? Phichit frowns, puzzled. If Victor and Yuuri are dating, he doesn’t want to cause trouble by bringing up Yuuri’s weird letter confessing his feelings to Phichit. But maybe it’s okay as long as he keeps it vague.

“I think Yuuri might be avoiding talking to me because of something that happened, but I just want to know if he’s okay. We can talk about that other stuff when he’s ready, it doesn’t have to be now.” Phichit tilts his head and tries to look innocently curious. “How long have you two been a thing, anyway? Not to be creepy, but I saw a bunch of pictures of the two of you from last night — they were all over the internet… I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Yuuri look at someone that way.” His friend really had looked ridiculously happy while out with Victor, but Phichit knows something is off about the whole thing.

Victor bites his lip, blushing a little. He ducks his head, silvery hair falling into his face. “It’s all still pretty new. I’ll let him know what you told me, okay?” He waves vaguely around at the other stretching skaters. “I should really get to it. Nice talking with you, Phichit.”

He starts to leave, but Phichit grabs his arm before he can go too far. Victor looks back at him, eyebrows raised, eyes wide. If Victor does know about the letter, he hopes he isn’t about to sound like some jealous ex-boyfriend...

“Victor,” Phichit says quietly, trying hard to look as serious as he can. “Yuuri doesn’t let people in easily. Don’t break his heart.”

Victor’s face relaxes and he smiles. Whoa. Phichit knows he’s seen Victor smile before — during countless interviews and skating routines, even just a few minutes ago he was smiling while getting an earful from his coach, and when Phichit had first started talking to him. But this is like looking at a totally different person. He looks really, honestly, happy.

“Of course, Phichit. Yuuri’s heart is safe with me.”

Something weird is definitely going on, but Phichit feels himself relax. Yuuri will be alright.

A weight settles onto Victor’s chest as he watches Chris finish up his step sequence and move into the second half of his routine. He’s having trouble keeping his mind focused on his own upcoming program, knowing that in a few minutes they will have to pass each other in close quarters as Chris makes his way off the ice and Victor steps onto it. 

A queasy sort of nervousness has him feeling shaky and unprepared. This is the first competition they’ve both attended since… well. Since Victor had his heart ripped out. He’s spotted Chris several times in the preceding few days, but they seemed to be on the same page about keeping a respectful distance from each other.

Victor grimaces. Will they settle for basic civility? Act like acquaintances? Old friends? One moment of direct contact shouldn’t matter so much, but a lot can happen in a few seconds. Eye contact? A nod, a smile? How would Victor behave if he really had moved on, if he really were falling in love with someone new?

Victor scans the crowd, frowning slightly. He hasn’t been able to see Yuuri all day. Yakov had caught him first thing that morning, pounding on his door before he’d even had a chance to shower. He’d lectured Victor about letting himself get distracted from the competition to “suck face with some crap skater”. Victor sighs. Yakov means well, of course; he knows how useless Victor was after the whole thing with Chris, how terrible Victor is at balancing personal life and skating priorities, how it’s more than likely that if Victor gets involved with someone new it will just be the same thing all over again. 

But all that doesn’t give Yakov the right to be insulting to Yuuri. It had been a testament to Victor’s self-control that he hadn’t let his anger show through the smile plastered on his face as he listened to Yakov’s tirade. Explaining the true nature of his and Yuuri’s relationship is out of the question; Victor doesn’t want to think about what Yakov’s reaction would be upon finding out he was going to such extremes for the sake of love.

Just then, he spots a head of black hair weaving its way towards him through the people milling about rinkside, and his heart leaps. And then his jaw drops. He doesn’t know where to look. Slicked back hair, stylish suit, narrow waist, breathing hard, flushed cheeks… is that eyeliner? Oh, god. Yuuri is evidently taking his banquet date responsibilities very seriously.

“Victor! Sorry, I meant to get here sooner, but I lost track of time while getting ready…” Yuuri bites his lip, looking out at the ice, and Victor has to stop himself from making an inappropriate noise. “Oh my god, I can’t believe I almost missed your performance!”

“You look incredible,” Victor breathes. He reaches out to tilt Yuuri’s face toward him, a finger tracing under his jaw, thumb brushing against his chin. It is eyeliner. It’s a good look on him.

Yuuri’s mouth drops open. “Oh! Uh, th-thanks! I guess it was worth the extra time, then?” He laughs, and his eyes flicker to Victor’s and away again, back out on the ice. His expression falls — just a little, but Victor is paying attention.

They both start talking at once. 

“Are you alright? This should be your competition, too—”

“How are you doing, seeing him out there—?”

Victor smiles. Yuuri is so thoughtful to be concerned for him. On impulse, he pulls Yuuri into a hug. He’s allowed to, and it feels nice, so why not? The tension drains out of him as he feels Yuuri relax and hug him back. “I’m okay now, thanks,” he murmurs against Yuuri’s temple. “You?”

He feels Yuuri nod. “Me too.”

He looks back out to the ice as the last note of the music cuts off, the echo sounding throughout the rink as Chris holds his final pose for a moment, and then that fades too.

Victor reaches into his pocket and pulls out the neatly folded note he had written for Yuuri. He lifts Yuuri’s hand in his, palm up, and places the note there. He folds Yuuri’s fingers closed over the note and winks at him, performance smile in place. “For you. Wish me luck!”

He makes his way over to the gap in the boards and waits as Chris skates towards him. He takes a breath and lifts his chin, meeting Chris’s gaze. As Chris reaches the edge of the ice, Victor holds out a hand. Chris looks mildly surprised, but reaches out as well, allowing Victor to shake his hand. 

“Chris. Congratulations on a good performance. It’s nice to see you.”

Chris nods at him, one eyebrow still raised. “It’s good to see you’re doing well, Victor.” His eyes dart to look somewhere over Victor’s shoulder, and he purses his lips. “I think I see why.” He looks back to Victor, one corner of his mouth pulled up in a wry smile. “I’d wish you luck, but I think your new lucky charm has got you covered.”

Victor steps onto the ice. He glides around the rink, waving to his fans, and then comes to a halt in the center, hands open at his sides. He bows his head and closes his eyes, mentally preparing himself to perform this particular program for the last time. After Chris’s scores are announced, the music will start; in the meantime he runs through his entire performance in his mind. Only this time, images of Yuuri spring to mind as well, skating alone in a quiet rink, making soundless music with the movements of his body.

The music starts to play, and Victor skates.

Chapter Text

Yuuri lifts his champagne glass up to his face to examine it. When had he finished this one? He deposits the empty glass onto a passing tray and reaches for a full one. He’d told Victor he didn’t like banquets because he either ends up alone in a corner or having too much to drink, and here he is, drunk and alone in a corner.

Sponsorship vultures have stolen Victor and are holding him captive. Yakov Feltsman is hovering around the edges, glaring at Victor whenever it seems like he’s trying to get away. Fuck that. These stupid things are supposed to be for skaters to relax and have a little fun after all the stress and pressure of the competition, not for coaches to force their skaters to prance around like prized show dogs.

Yuuri looks around at the crowd. Mostly other skaters he’s barely interacted with. He’d been so fucking worried that he’d have to face Phichit tonight, and he didn’t even show up. Maybe he and Celestino have an early flight tomorrow. Or maybe Celestino is worried about Phichit being able to drink in Canada. Doesn’t want to have to deal with two skaters making spectacles of themselves. Would have been fun, though. Except not. Because he had to go and fuck everything up with that stupid letter. 

How did they even get out, anyway? How the fuck did he not notice they were missing? He really needs to clean his room.

“Having a good time, Yuuri?” He nearly falls over as Chris suddenly appears right beside him, deep voice loud in his ear.

“Jesus!” When did Chris learn to be so sneaky?

He can feel the alcohol in his system, heating up his face and making his arms and legs feel weird. Always fucks up his verbal filter, too. Probably going to make it pretty hard to lie. This was such a bad idea. Why did he let himself drink this much? Now he’s going to have to have a whole conversation with Chris and try not fuck things up for Victor.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” Chris seems like he thinks it’s pretty funny, though, so he probably didn’t mean to not startle him, either. Didn’t not mean to startle? Yuuri shakes his head to try to clear it. That last glass is hitting him pretty hard.

“S’ok. I’ve had one too many, I think. Better quit while I’m ahead.” Yuuri tries to focus on pronouncing everything properly. His accent gets thicker when he’s drunk, or so he’s told.

“Oh, I don’t know.” Chris is looking at him with a weird expression. “It worked out well enough for you last time, apparently.” What?

Yuuri’s about to ask him what he’s talking about when he feels a hand at his elbow. Oh, it’s Victor. Victor is here! Yuuri leans gratefully against him. It’s really nice not to have to concentrate so hard on standing.

“Evidently you were right about my new lucky charm, Chris.” Fuuuck. Victor’s voice is sooo smooth. Yuuri could listen to it alllll day. And night. Yuuri giggles. He did not just think that thought.

“Looks like it. I’ll have to pull out some pretty fancy tricks to beat your record, now.”

Victor’s gold medal is dangling within reach, so Yuuri tugs it a little closer so he can tilt it make it shine in the light. Ha! Victor had moved to follow where he pulled. That's fun. Like he's Yuuri’s show dog now. 

He grins up at Victor. Oh. Victor is flushed and biting his lip. Is he embarrassed? Yuuri realizes he still has Victor pulled uncomfortably close to him and drops the medal like it’s burning him. He remembers that Chris is right there and looks over at him in horror. Chris’s eyebrows are raised high and he's looking between Yuuri and Victor.

“Is our innocent little Yuuri not so innocent after all?” Chris is still looking at Yuuri, but seems like he's talking to Victor, who clears his throat loudly.

“I’d better get him back to his room.” Victor says, hoarsely. He sounds nice like this, too, somehow.

Chris frowns. “Victor, he's had a few too many…”

“Jesus, Chris, I don't mean—! I'm just going to make sure he drinks some water before he passes out.” Victor sounds angry, now. “You must have a truly dismal view of me.”

Oh fuck, did I screw up? Yuuri’s eyes dart between Chris and Victor. Shit. Victor wants Chris to think he's good at relationships. But Chris thinks he's… dismal?

“No, no. Chris. Victor is wonnnnderful. He's going to take good care of me.” Yuuri nods emphatically to be extra convincing. “He’s the best.” Yuuri giggles again. “Best in show!”

Victor and Chris both look confused, now.

“Okay, then. Come on, Yuuri. Let's get you to bed,” Victor says, voice gentle.

Yuuri nods and lets Victor lead him away. “Sweet dreams, Chris!” Yuuri shouts over his shoulder.

Victor tries to regulate his breathing as Yuuri stumbles into him when the elevator stops. He can feel Yuuri’s body pressing all along his side as he clings to him for balance. His traitorous brain jumps back to the moment when Yuuri had grabbed his medal and yanked him close, and he exhales sharply, lips parted, a shiver of sensation racing down his spine. Fuck. No, don't go there.

He breathes in shakily and sets Yuuri back on his feet, holding his shoulders for a moment to make sure he's capable of keeping himself upright. He rests a hand at the small of Yuuri’s back — just for stability — and guides him down the hallway.

Yuuri’s steps are unsteady as they walk towards his room. He’s giggling softly. “Victor, we’re on a boat.” What? Had he really had that much to drink...?

“Yuuri, did you eat enough today?” Victor frowns, concerned.

“Hmmmmm… breakfast, I think? And a bit at the banquet.” Yuuri laughs. “I didn't win a medal — no katsudon for me,” he says, in a singsong voice, but there's a bitter undertone to it.

Victor isn't sure what katsudon is, but this is… worrying. Yuuri is in fantastic shape, for sure, but it's easy to go too far, in this sport especially. Something to address another day, certainly.

At this point, is it better to get some food into his stomach, or is that riskier if he ends up vomiting? Victor isn't familiar with taking care of someone this drunk; everyone he knows is quite capable of handling copious amounts of alcohol. He pulls out his phone and tries to find some information on taking care of an excessively drunk person.

Stop them from drinking any more alcohol. Okay, that shouldn't be hard; the remaining champagne is back at the banquet.

Give them a glass of water. Oh, he knew that one already, at least.

Get some food for them to eat. Room service will have to do.

Make sure someone stays with them through the night.

Shit. Was it really too much to hope for that he'd be able to drop Yuuri off and go back to his own room to have a cold shower and lecture himself about propriety in private?

They reach their destination and Yuuri is miraculously able to produce his room key without too much trouble.

Yuuri starts stripping his clothes off as soon as they get inside. Victor wheezes. He drags a hand down his face. 

Victor has never been a particularly religious person but it's not hard to believe that someone or something is serving him a cruel and unusual punishment.

Yuuri drops himself onto the bed and squirms around until he's under the covers. Victor isn't sure whether to celebrate or mourn.

Oh. That's adorable. Yuuri has pulled the blankets around himself like a cocoon. He looks comfortable, at least.

Right. Water, room service, make sure he doesn't roll onto his back.

Victor peruses the room service menu while filling up a glass of water. Something greasy, but not too excessive. A burger and fries should be fine. He glances at Yuuri, and decides to order one for himself, too, even though he's not particularly hungry.

He crouches down beside Yuuri and coaxes him to sit up and drink some water. Yuuri grumbles about it but ultimately cooperates.

Victor sits beside him on the bed. “How are you feeling?” Hopefully the water is helping. He isn't certain whether it's supposed to have any immediate benefits or if it's just to prevent feeling worse later.

Yuuri looks at him with watery eyes. “I'm so sorry, Victor. It was so stupid of me to drink so much without anyone else there. And now you're stuck taking care of me even though this whole thing between us is fake.”

Victor feels a pang of sympathy, and tentatively reaches out to brush Yuuri’s hair out of his eyes. He had told Yuuri to come as his date and then abandoned him; inadvertently, but even so. Extricating himself from sponsorship conversations had proven more difficult than he’d anticipated, especially with Yakov sticking to his side like an unwanted barnacle. 

It's not fair for Yuuri to lay the blame entirely on himself. “Hey, no. Not everything between us is fake. We're friends, remember?” Victor catches Yuuri’s eye and smiles gently.

Tears well up in Yuuri’s eyes. “Oh no,” he wails. “Victor, I'm a horrible friend. I haven't seen Phichit in months and I avoided him this whole time and now it's too late to talk to him.”

Victor finds himself patting Yuuri’s back as he sniffles against his shoulder. With a stab of guilt, he realizes he never got the chance to tell Yuuri about his conversation with Phichit this afternoon.

“You're not a horrible friend. Actually… Phichit approached me earlier today and asked me to tell you that he understands if you can't talk about things yet. He just wants to know you're alright. It's clear that he still cares about you.”

Yuuri lifts his head to look at him with wide eyes. “What, he did?”

Victor chuckles wryly. “It was a lot harder than I expected, lying to his face — about us being together, I mean. I was so worried I would say the wrong thing and give it away.” He smiles softly. “He’s very protective of you, you know.”

Yuuri laughs. “What did he say??”

“Oh, just, ‘you'd better not break his heart, Victor!’ That sort of thing.” He grins at Yuuri. “Obviously, you know him better than I do, but I get the sense that he would understand if you just explain the situation.”

Victor hesitates. He’s been wondering, but maybe it's wrong to ask while Yuuri is in this state. “Yuuri… what would you do if Phichit likes you too? I mean, of course he likes you, but… romantically.”

Ever since his conversation with Phichit, this has been weighing on him. Yuuri had claimed not to have feelings for Phichit anymore, but would that hold true if those feelings were potentially reciprocated? What if this arrangement with Victor is holding Yuuri back from a genuinely fulfilling relationship?

Victor is startled out of his reverie when Yuuri laughs loudly. “Oh my god, no. We would never work. I love him, yeah? But I do not have the energy for that.” He shakes his head vehemently and flops back down on the bed.

Yuuri drops an arm across his face. “I need to just stay in and do nothing sometimes, y’know?”

Victor looks down at his hands in his lap and his mouth curves into a small smile. He thinks of quiet evenings with Makkachin in his lap, one hand absently toying at her fur, book held open in the other. It was a little lonely sometimes, but...

“Yeah, I know,” Victor says, quietly. Silence settles comfortably between them.

A knock at the door signals the arrival of their midnight snack. Victor retrieves the food and pulls Yuuri upright again.

“Ugh, Victor, I'm going to get crumbs all over the sheets,” Yuuri complains.

Victor rolls his eyes. “Well, it's our last night here, anyway. You can just move over and sleep on the other side.”

Yuuri looks at him, horrified. “But what will housekeeping think?”

Victor laughs. Of course Yuuri is worried about the housekeepers. “It’s my idea for you to eat in bed, so it's my responsibility to leave them a big tip. That will keep them happy, okay?”

Yuuri concedes, and they spend the next little while eating together mostly in silence. It's apparent that Yuuri had been ravenously hungry.

“Victor,” he says, between bites. “your free skate… you were amazing today.” Yuuri gets a far-off look in his eyes. “Your quad flip… oh my god. ” He shoves the last bit of his burger into his mouth and chews fast, as if he can't wait to voice the next thought. “And the flow out of your axel into that spread-eagle? Unbelievable.” 

A warmth spreads in his chest. He's been praised for his skating thousands upon thousands of times in his life, but coming from Yuuri now, guileless and emphatic — it's genuinely touching. He can't help but beam at him.

Winning again had been pleasing, of course, but the greatest satisfaction has always come from surprising his fans. After five consecutive years of performing excellent programs and taking gold, the biggest surprise he could achieve via continuing to compete would be if he lost. Victor chuckles to himself. That's not the kind of surprise he's going for.

When Yuuri had asked him, completely sober, for help with his jumps, that had been a delightful surprise. The idea of Yuuri skating another season under his guidance is far more exciting than the prospect of adding — or failing to add — one more year to his reign as the champion.

The weight of expectation is stifling. Now that the idea has crossed his mind, that immense weight is starting to lift off his shoulders. The path is clear. Victor makes up his mind.

“Cialdini hasn't been doing you justice, Yuuri,” Victor asserts. “With me as your coach, you could do quad flips, too.” Victor allows himself a moment to imagine what a program with consistent technical elements and Yuuri’s evocative movements would be like. “We would do great things together.”

Yuuri blinks at him slowly. “That would be so wonderful,” he says, dreamily. He's obviously fighting sleep.

“Perfect! I'll change my flight tomorrow. Now, how's your crumb situation? Tolerable?” Victor asks, gently teasing.

Yuuri lies down experimentally and wrinkles his nose. “Sesame seeds.”

Victor laughs, soft and low. “Okay, then. Scooch over.”

Yuuri rolls over obediently and Victor reaches over to reposition a pillow to ensure Yuuri can't roll onto his back in his sleep. He seems a lot better now than he was before food and water, but it's best to be safe.

Victor kneels on the bed, leaning over to arrange the pillow, trying to tuck the blankets around it somehow to keep it in position. He hovers, contemplating. Maybe if he puts it on top of the blanket and then rolls the blanket over it? It's probably fine how it is.

He nearly stops breathing when Yuuri reaches up and touches his cheek. 

Yuuri pulls him closer and brings his other hand up to gently lift Victor’s hair away from his face.

“Mmm. You do have beautiful eyes. Not icy, though.”

By the time Victor has recovered his capacity for speech, Yuuri is already snoring lightly.

Victor collapses into the bedside armchair, heart racing.

Oh, fuck.

Chapter Text

Yuuri shifts to get more comfortable, and becomes aware of the sensation of smooth sheets against bare skin. His brow creases, slightly. Where are his clothes? It's hard to care, though, with nothing forcing him to stay awake. He begins to drift off again.

He tries to roll into his back, but stops suddenly when he feels a presence behind him on the bed. His eyes snap open. He's on the wrong side of the bed, facing the wall instead of the window.

Oh god. What did I do?

Ever so slowly, he shifts little by little until he can turn his head enough to look to the other side of the bed. Oh. It's a pillow. A wave of immense relief washes over him. He's had enough life-altering mistakes in the past week; he could do without another.

The pillow has been propped deliberately behind him. Oh. He knows what this is. He must have gotten too drunk last night. Again. The curtains have blessedly been pulled closed — properly, this time, with no gaps — or the dull throbbing pain in his head would probably be much worse.

His gaze drifts down from where he had been admiring the curtains for finally doing their job and stops dead when it falls on Victor, draped across the chair with his Team Russia jacket rolled up to form a makeshift pillow on the armrest, fast asleep.

Yuuri just stares, for a minute, processing. Then his eyes dart around the room, taking in the clues: an empty glass on the nightstand; room service trays on the counter, plates stacked neatly on top; his suit hanging in its garment bag on the door hook. And Victor himself, still in his own formalwear from the night before, only undressed as far as his tie being draped over the back of the chair and the top few buttons of his shirt being undone.

Nothing happened. Well, nothing aside from Victor being burdened with the task of babysitting too-drunk Yuuri all night long, making sure he didn't choke and die if he puked. Fuck, at least he's pretty sure that hadn't happened. His mouth tastes only a little gross — like he drank a lot and ate greasy food and fell asleep without brushing his teeth — not completely disgusting like it would if he'd vomited.

He leans over the edge of the bed to see if he has any hope of reaching some clothes. He gropes around under the bed and manages to find a pair of boxer-briefs. Thankfully, they are his! He shudders at the alternative. After some fumbling under the covers, he tip-toes over to the bathroom.

One fresh mouth and empty bladder later, he emerges. Good, Victor is still asleep. Although… he really can’t be comfortable in that chair. Yuuri looks more closely and frowns. Victor looks exhausted, even while still sleeping. The jacket is no good as a pillow, really, with very little bulk.

Yuuri grimaces. It's his fault Victor had such a poor night’s sleep. He crosses the room and gently touches Victor’s shoulder.

Victor inhales sharply, lifting his head and blinking blearily. He winces and rolls his shoulder, rubbing at his neck.

“Sorry for waking you up,” Yuuri says quietly. “Do you want to move to the bed? That chair looks really uncomfortable.”

“Ugh. What time is it?” Victor asks, voice rough.

“Not quite ten. What time is your flight?” Yuuri still has a couple hours before he has to get to the airport.

“Mmph. Later.” Victor has already shuffled over to the bed and is fumbling to pull the blanket up. He gives up with it only partially draped over his waist, already having fallen back asleep.

Victor is lying on his back with one arm flung out, the other still clutching at the blankets at his waist. One of his legs is poking out from under the covers and bent over the edge of the bed. Yuuri carefully lifts Victor's leg the rest of the way onto the bed, tugs the blanket out of Victor's grip, and pulls it over him properly.

Hopefully Victor will be able to get in at least a little bit of restful sleep. Coffee would probably go a long way to making things a little more pleasant for him the next time he wakes up, though.

After showering and dressing, Yuuri is about to head out the door when he stops. What if Victor wakes up while he's gone? After a moment’s consideration, he pulls out a clean t-shirt and athletic leggings and leaves them folded at the foot of the bed. They won't be a perfect fit, but Yuuri figures this will be better than having to stay in last night's clothes.

He heads out in search of caffeine and sends a quick text to Victor with an explanation about the clothes and where he's gone.

Victor is screaming into a pillow.

It had taken Victor a very long time to fall asleep last night. After a few minutes trying in vain to process the overwhelming rush of feelings he'd experienced, Victor had decided to distract himself with tidying.

By the time he’d dropped back into the chair, his breathing a little steadier, heartbeat a little less frantic, he'd concluded that he was not, in fact, in love with Yuuri Katsuki. Because that would be insane. It was simply that Victor was lonely, and missed receiving affection from another human, while Yuuri was painfully attractive and a very affectionate drunk. It made perfect sense that Victor's body and mind could get confused in the moment. Crisis averted. Still, he hadn’t fallen asleep for at least another hour.

Consequently, when a half-naked Yuuri had woken him up, coaxed him into bed, and so very sweetly tucked him in, he was evidently too exhausted to consciously process what was happening. And his brain is just now allowing him access to that information. Thank you, brain.

Victor rolls onto his back and sucks in air, preventing death by suffocation. He's not in love with Yuuri. He's not. It would be completely ridiculous.

He sits up and a pile of clothes falls onto the floor. He frowns, because he's pretty sure he had picked up all the clothes that had been scattered on the floor and the bed. The ones that just fell appear to be a plain t-shirt and leggings. Spandex leggings. Yuuri’s form-fitting, spandex leggings.

Victor is having an oxygen problem again.

What time is it, anyway? And where is Yuuri?

Locating his phone provides the answers to both of those questions. He still has an hour or so before he needs to get ready to leave, and Yuuri has gone to get coffee. And… oh. Victor presses a hand to his chest. Yuuri is too good for this world. Laying out his own clothes for Victor to change into?

Maybe he's not done screaming into the pillow.

He's not in love with Yuuri. But maybe… he might just possibly have a little crush on him.

Victor ponders the implications of his revelation while changing into the revelatory clothing. It's okay. Everyone gets crushes. They come and go. He'll just handle his feelings like an adult. No problem.

He has the leggings on (a couple inches short, but otherwise a decent fit) and is in the process of pulling the shirt over his head when he hears the door open.

“Victor, are you awake? I brought —” Yuuri’s voice cuts off suddenly.

What's wrong? Victor quickly pulls the shirt the rest of the way on. Yuuri is just standing there, mouth open, holding a coffee in each hand.


As if awakening from a trance, Yuuri blinks several times and snaps his jaw shut. “Um,” he says.

Victor waits for him to continue. Several seconds pass.

Yuuri holds out one of the cups towards Victor. “I remembered, from the other day. What you take in your coffee, I mean. I hope that's okay. Or maybe you don't always want the same thing? I, uh, h-haven't put anything in mine yet. You can have mine instead, if you don't want yours. I'll drink yours. Oh, uh. Unless you want yours too? You can have both, if you want. I'll just, um.” There's a momentary break in the stilted flow of words coming from Yuuri’s mouth, but Victor has no idea what to say. “I'm really sorry about last night. And for not, uh, knocking. Just now.”

Oh. Is that the problem? Yuuri is anxious that Victor would be upset that he walked in on him changing clothes?

He smiles reassuringly. “Don't worry about it! Last night or just now. It's completely fine,” Victor says, taking the cup from Yuuri. “And just the one coffee will be enough for me, thanks.”

He grins. He had been a little worried that he would feel nervous around Yuuri after admitting his feelings to himself, but instead he just feels… happy. Being around Yuuri makes him happy, and there's nothing wrong with that. 

Maybe he can just enjoy the good feelings that come along with having a crush while carefully managing his behavior so as not to make Yuuri uncomfortable.

Being a competitive figure skater means getting used to a lot of travel. But Yuuri will never get used to the twenty-four hour trip back to Japan from North America.

Yuuri isn't surprised that Victor’s trip back to Russia also has a stop in Toronto. London International Airport doesn't actually do much to deserve the ‘international’ part of its name. It is a bit of a coincidence that they are on the same flight to Toronto, though.

Of course, Victor is flying first class, while Yuuri can't fathom ever having enough money to be able to justify booking first class tickets for himself. There are benefits to being connected to a famous person, though, because Victor has pulled strings so Yuuri can sit up in first class with him. 

Contemplative, Yuuri lets his gaze settle on Victor, dozing across the aisle with his head resting against the window.

They should probably talk about the logistics of how they’ll maintain the appearance of being in a relationship. It won't be too hard whenever they happen to be in the same location for a competition, but what about in the interim? How will that even work? Maybe Victor would rather just be done with it.

Huh. A few days ago he'd been on the verge of retiring, but now he's anticipating future competitions with Victor. He’d held up his end of their bargain by attending the banquet, and so Victor would help him with his jumps, right? Maybe Yuuri even has a chance of qualifying for the Grand Prix Final again next season, if Victor can spare some time to teach him a little here and there.

Their little propeller plane lands after what seems like no time at all and Victor rouses from his brief sleep. Crossing the tarmac, Yuuri braces against the wind. It's March, but still very cold in Toronto. It must be even worse in Saint Petersburg.

“What's the trip back to Russia from Toronto like?” Yuuri asks, curious.

They've reached the main concourse of the terminal, and Victor is looking up at the departure listings.

Victor taps a finger on his lips. “Usually there would be a stop in Munich, but this time it would have been Zurich.”

Oh. Zurich. Maybe Victor will be on the same plane as Chris. Maybe they'll sit together. Victor would be able to sleep a lot more comfortably with his head resting on Chris’s shoulder rather than the hard plane window. Yuuri presses his lips together.

“Why do you ask?” Victor’s voice startles Yuuri and he turns to see that Victor is looking at him quizzically.

“I was just curious. Wondering what your next day is going to be like,” he explains.

Victor frowns. He speaks slowly, as if he thinks Yuuri might have trouble understanding. “Yuuri… I'm not going back to Russia.”



“I'm coming to Japan with you, remember?”


Chapter Text

“Uncle Yuuri! Uncle Yuuri!!” Axel waves her arms as big as she can so he’ll see her right away.

“I think he saw us, Axel,” Auntie Mari says. “You can stop jumping up and down.”

“Does he have a friend with him?” She squints, trying to see better.

“Auntie Mari. Auntie Mari! Aunti Mari!! That’s Victor Nikiforov! Uncle Yuuri brought Victor Nikiforov home with him??”

“Looks like it,” Auntie Mari says. Why isn't Auntie Mari excited that Victor Nikiforov is here??

“Is Victor friends with Uncle Yuuri?” Axel asks. Why didn't he tell her?

“That's one word for it,” Auntie Mari says, but Axel isn't sure what she means.

Oh! One of Uncle Yuuri’s letters had had “Victor” on the front, but she hadn’t been able to sound out the other part of the name. It did start with an ‘N’!

“Uncle Yuuri! Is Victor your friend? Have you been pen pals for a long time? Why didn’t you tell me??” Axel has so many questions. It’s a good thing they’ll be riding in the car all together so she can find out everything!

Uncle Yuuri and Victor look at each other. For some reason Uncle Yuuri looks like he’s surprised about something. Maybe he’s surprised that she came with Auntie Mari to pick him up.

“Hi, Axel,” Uncle Yuuri says. Uh oh. He sounds like her parents do when they’re trying to figure out if she did something against the rules. “What do you mean about Victor being my pen pal?”

Axel looks between Auntie Mari, Uncle Yuuri, and Victor. Is she in trouble? Auntie Mari just seems confused, but Uncle Yuuri and Victor are both looking at her with their eyes open really big.

“A pen pal is someone you write letters to,” Axel explains. “Does Victor write letters to you, too? Can I see them? I could practice reading English!”

Uncle Yuuri covers his face with both hands. What’s going on?

Victor crouches down. It’s nice when grown-ups do this, so she doesn’t have to look up at them when they talk to her. He says, “It seems you already know who I am, but let’s introduce ourselves properly. My name is Victor. What’s your name?”

“I’m Axel! Like the jump! And my sisters are Lutz and Loop,” she declares proudly. “This is the best day of my life!”

“What a wonderful name! It’s a pleasure to meet you, Axel. I’m just wondering… how did you know that Yuuri wrote a letter to me?” Victor is smiling and doesn’t seem like he’s mad at her at all. She can’t wait to tell everyone that she got to meet Victor Nikiforov and he’s super nice in person.

“Because we mailed it to you! We mailed all of Uncle Yuuri’s letters for him. Did you know he has a lot of pen pals? Was it a good letter? Did you like it?” She hopes he did.

“It was a very good letter, and I liked it a lot,” Victor answers, and then he stands up and puts his hand on Uncle Yuuri’s shoulder. Uncle Yuuri laughs and laughs, like Victor just told the best joke. Axel laughs too, even though she doesn't get it.

“You know, I actually haven’t sent a letter to Yuuri, but I do like to give him little notes. Maybe you can help me write one, if your parents say that’s alright,” Victor says. That would be so amazing!

Auntie Mari coughs. “I’m not sure what that was all about, but we should get going. Victor, will you be staying at the onsen?”

Victor nods. “Yes, please, if that won’t be too much trouble,” he says. As if anyone wouldn’t let Victor Nikiforov stay at their house if he wanted!

Victor still hasn’t let go of Uncle Yuuri’s shoulder. Hmm. Papa sometimes puts his hand on Mama’s shoulder like that. Axel gasps.

“Victor! Do you love Uncle Yuuri?? Can I call you Uncle Victor?”

Uncle Yuuri blushes and hides his face again. Victor looks back at her with a smile, and winks.

Victor has died and gone to heaven. This is ambrosia of the gods, too delicious for any mortal to eat. The crispy breading, the succulent pork, the fluffy rice and egg… he understands why Yuuri reserves this for victory celebrations. The temptation to eat it every day would otherwise be far too great.

It's possible that the past twenty-four hours of airplane food have biased his taste buds slightly. But still.

Yuuri and his mother — Hiroko, Victor reminds himself — are looking at him expectantly. “Delicious!” he declares.

Yuuri’s posture relaxes and he smiles. “I'm so glad you like it!” he says, as if people exist who wouldn't. Victor feels a flutter in his chest at being the cause of Yuuri looking so pleased. Which is ridiculous, because he didn't do anything.

He tries to savor every bite, but his bowl ends up empty disappointingly quickly. Oh well, he'll have plenty of opportunity to eat katsudon while staying here.

“What should we do next, Yuuri? Will you show me around?” Victor asks, hopefully. The two of them touring around town together would be delightful.

He’s been to Japan for competitions before, of course, but only major cities. He's curious to see what day to day life is like here, and especially intrigued to see what life is like for Yuuri in particular.

Yuuri yawns suddenly, covering his mouth. “I want to, but I'm pretty sure if I start walking around town I'll pass out and fall on my face. And if I go soak in the hot spring I'll pass out and drown.” He rubs at his eyes. “Tomorrow, okay?”

Right. Of course experiencing everything Hasetsu has to offer would include soaking in the hot spring. Which sounds incredible, but also… Victor isn't sure how he's going to survive the sight of Yuuri stripping off all his clothes again. 

Maybe having a day to mentally prepare will help him maintain a professional demeanor. There's no justification for him acting like a smitten fool if there's no one else around to see the two of them together.

“Sure, tomorrow. I think I'll go out for a walk on my own, then, if you're going to sleep so early.”

Yuuri looks like he's fighting to keep his eyes open. “Aren't you tired too, Victor? We were traveling for an entire day.”

“Mm. Normally I would be, but I had a very comfortable shoulder to rest on during the flight,” Victor smiles. “But if you’d rather I stay with you…” He trails off, reaching for Yuuri’s hand.

Yuuri’s face flushes bright red and he quickly glances at his mother, who is in the process of bringing their dishes to the kitchen.

She laughs. “You two lovebirds don't mind me! Would you look at that, I just realized I forgot to sweep the walkway.” She deposits the dishes on the counter and unceremoniously walks out the door, leaving them alone. Victor likes her already.

“I'm going to bed,” Yuuri says, and turns to head upstairs. Did he sound a little annoyed? Victor catches his arm gently. Yuuri looks back at him tiredly.

“Is something wrong?” Victor frowns.

Yuuri sighs and shakes his head. “No. It's fine,” he says, unconvincingly. “I’m just tired.”

Victor notes his wording. ‘It's fine’. Not ‘I'm okay,’ or ’nothing's wrong’. So there’s an ‘it’. Well, if he doesn't want to talk then Victor's not going to force it out of him.

Victor bites his lip, releasing Yuuri’s arm to wrap his arms around himself. “Okay, then… rest well, Yuuri.”

Yuuri’s expression softens a touch, and Victor feels slightly relieved. Maybe he was worried over nothing. Maybe he's especially nervous about Yuuri being annoyed with him because he's just uprooted his whole life, and aside from Yuuri, Victor is completely alone in an utterly unfamiliar place.

“Goodnight, Victor.”

Yuuri wakes up with no sense whatsoever of what time it is. Intercontinental jet lag is the worst. It's going to take him forever to get his body’s clock adjusted back to Japan time. Which is stupid, because he was gone less than a week. 

He rolls into his back, looking up at the ceiling. There's one last Victor Nikiforov poster still pinned up there, one corner peeling. Yuuri laughs to himself.

What a week, though. And all because the triplets had somehow found his letters. They probably thought they were helping him out by mailing them. He drops a hand onto his face. He can only blame himself, really, for actually addressing the envelopes, like a complete idiot.

He grabs his phone to check the time. Ugh, middle of the afternoon. He pulls up all the texts and calls he had ignored. On the plane, Victor had filled him in on the important details he'd forgotten while blackout drunk. Like agreeing to Victor coaching him — Celestino’s reaction will be interesting — and Phichit’s conversation with Victor.

He takes a deep breath. He has to text Phichit back. The whole reason the letter had him so scared was because he was afraid of messing up their friendship, but ignoring someone for a week can mess up a friendship, too.

Yuuri had felt so overwhelmed with anxiety over it at World's that talking to Phichit had seemed literally impossible, but Phichit doesn't deserve the way Yuuri has been  treating him. He didn't do anything wrong.

He types a message and sends it before he can talk himself out of it.

Yuuri: hey

It's the middle of the night in Detroit, so Phichit probably won't answer right away.

The little dots appear. Huh. Phichit is typing.

Phichit: hi!!!

More dots.

Phichit: what's going on??

Yuuri isn't sure whether that's supposed to be casually asking him how things are, or more like ‘what the hell is going on, why did you send me a love letter and then make out with Victor Nikiforov on live television and ignore me for four days’. He'll find out shortly, because the dots are back.

Phichit: are you ok? how's your head?

Yuuri: I'm okay. Sorry I haven't responded until now.

The dots appear and disappear several times like Phichit is typing and erasing his response repeatedly. Yuuri feels more and more anxious the longer he waits.

Finally, Phichit replies.

Phichit: it's ok

Yuuri groans in frustration. He wishes Phichit would just tell him what he's thinking so Yuuri can figure out what to say. But that's not fair. Phichit is probably waiting on Yuuri to start explaining.

Yuuri: I was worried you would be weirded out.

Phichit: you want to video chat? might be easier?

Noooo. He would not be able to have this conversation face to face.

Yuuri: I don't think I could handle that right now.

Phichit: ok

Phichit: i'm not weirded out, just confused

Yuuri: Yeah, sorry.

This is really hard. His hands are shaking so badly it's hard to type.

Yuuri: Isn't it the middle of the night in Detroit?

Phichit: no i'm not there anymore, i'm in bangkok 

Oh, what? But Celestino was with him at World's — was that his last competition coaching Phichit?

Yuuri: You're training there now?

Phichit: yeah, detroit wasn't the same without you so i came home after worlds

Phichit: ciao ciao will still meet me at comps but i have another coach here in thailand with me

Yuuri: Oh, cool.

Yuuri flops over into his stomach, face buried in his pillow. He needs to just get over it and tell Phichit he wrote the letter ages ago and hasn't felt that way for a long time, and hope he believes him.

He spends a minute trying to come up with some better way to say it, but nothing comes. He pushes up onto his elbows.

Yuuri: I wrote the letter ages ago and haven't felt that way for a long time.

Phichit is already typing but Yuuri has to get the rest of the explanation out.

Yuuri: It was just supposed to be a way to sort my feelings out on paper.

Yuuri: I never expected it to be sent. Apparently the Nishigori triplets got ahold of them and tried to do something nice by mailing them for me.

The dots go away. And reappear. And go away. Ugh, maybe he should have taken up Phichit’s offer to video chat.

Phichit: wait, “them”?

Phichit: i only got one letter

Phichit: ohhhhhh

Phichit: victor got one too, didn't he? 

Yuuri drops his head down again. Phichit is too clever for his own good sometimes.

Yuuri: Yeah.

Phichit: well, congrats! as long as you're happy!

Should he tell him the truth, that it was all fake? No. That would just make things even weirder. Plus, Phichit could end up letting it slip.

Yuuri: So… we're still friends?

Phichit: omg it was never in question

Phichit: BFF means best friend forever, not best friend until something awkward happens

The tension drains out of him. The prospect of losing one of his only friends had been weighing on him heavily. He smiles, feeling much lighter.

Phichit: just… be careful, k? this is a new thing for you, and victor is a lot more experienced

Yuuri: I'll be okay. Thanks for looking out for me.

He'd better head downstairs. He told Victor he would show him around today, and he's already wasted half of it sleeping in. He really should have done more last night to help Victor settle in, but he was just so tired. And acting like a couple in front of his family had made him feel so uncomfortable, he’d needed to get away and be alone for a while.

Do they really need to pretend in front of his own parents? The alternative would be telling them he's been faking it all along, but he would probably die of embarrassment if that ever came out. And pretending to break up doesn't make sense since they still need to fake it for fans and the media. Even though things are okay with Phichit now, he still wants to help Victor with Chris.

Still, though, his own discomfort isn't Victor's fault, and he shouldn't take it out on him. Maybe he can just suggest that they tone it down a bit while in Hasetsu, keep things to the absolute minimum necessary to be convincing.

“Looks like he didn't die in his sleep after all, Mom,” Mari deadpans, taking a sip of coffee.

“Yeah, yeah,” Yuuri rolls his eyes, taking his place at the table across from her.

Mom shoves a bowl of cold soba into his hands. “You need to start eating and sleeping on a normal schedule, or it will take weeks for your body to adjust,” she tells him.

“Oh, is that how it works? Thanks,” he says, smiling so she knows he's not actually grumpy about it.

“Young man, we do not tolerate sarcasm under this roof,” she replies, eyes twinkling.

Mari chimes in, “When you're done, go make sure your celebrity boyfriend didn't drown in the hot spring.” Yuuri makes a face at her.

After fourteen hours of sleep, he's starving, and demolishes the noodles in a few minutes. He's planning on bringing Victor to the rink, so he’ll need the energy. He gets up to go find him.

Victor hasn't drowned. He's fine. He's soaking in the hot spring with his eyes closed blissfully. A bead of moisture tracks a line down his chest to the surface of the water. Yuuri bites his lip.

Oh my god. He's being such a creep. Obviously, Victor has an incredible physique — he's a world class athlete! — but patrons of the hot spring don't come here to be ogled by the owners’ son!

He clears his throat and Victor's eyes snap open.

“Yuuri, you're awake!” Victor smiles, but there's tension in his posture. Something about him seems uncertain.

“Yeah, sorry I slept in so late. I said I'd show you around — do you want to go now?” Yuuri asks.

Victor nods. “Sure, let me just dry off and get dressed.”

He stands up.

Smooth, glistening skin; beautiful, strong legs; water running in rivulets down sculpted abs — Yuuri yelps and whirls around.

“Oh! I thought nudity in the hot springs was expected? One second, I can grab a towel.” Fuck. Victor sounds embarrassed.

“No! No, you're right, Victor. Nudity is totally fine in the hot springs.” What excuse can he possibly give for freaking out? “I, um. Forgot.” 

What the fuck. ‘I forgot’?? Yuuri drags a hand down his face.

“You… forgot.” Victor says, voice flat.

Yuuri turns around slowly to face him. He has a towel around his waist now. Yuuri shrugs, smiling sheepishly.

Victor snorts. Then laughs. “You,” he gasps for breath, laughing harder. “Forgot??” He's doubled over, wheezing, wiping tears from his face.

Yuuri’s face feels hot — his cheeks must be bright red — but a laugh bubbles out of him anyway. 

“Sorry. I'm just not used to seeing someone so…” attractive. Nope. That's creepy. “Someone I've… kissed,” he finishes, mumbling. Victor is close enough now to hear him anyway.

Victor raises his eyebrows. “Well, you'd better get used to it. Because I plan to be in there every day I'm here.” He sighs wistfully. “What a luxury to have available whenever you want, especially after a long practice session!”

Yuuri rubs the back of his neck. “You’re right,” he admits. “It would be crazy not to take advantage of the hot spring. Being able to come home and soak my sore muscles was one of the things I missed most while living abroad.” He grins at Victor. “Don't worry. I'll get over it, I'm sure.”

Victor gets dressed and they start jogging together to the rink. Yuuri points out landmarks along the way, recounting childhood memories connected to each one.

“I walked to the edge of that pier when I was exploring last night,” Victor says, slowing down and gesturing.

Yuuri smiles and stops running, turning to rest against the seawall. “That's a great spot for stargazing.”

“I noticed that! There's not too much light pollution, since Hasetsu isn’t a big city.” Victor comes to stand beside him and points out a few areas of the sky. “I could make out several constellations!”

Something in Victor’s voice makes Yuuri turn his head to see his expression. He's smiling, but his eyes look… sad? Nostalgic?

“Have you ever lived in a small town?” he asks. In his fanboy days he’d learned everything he could learn about Victor, but there was very little available about his early life.

“Only when I was very small,” Victor says quietly. “My mother used to let me stay up late on clear nights.”

Yuuri is struck by the urge to slip his hand into Victor’s, but catches himself. No one is watching them, so it would be weird, right?

“Sometimes I take Makka out for walks at night, but you can't really see anything in Saint Petersburg unless you drive outside the city.”

“Do you miss her?” Yuuri asks.

Victor looks at him, startled. “My mother, or Makkachin?”

Yuuri blinks. He hadn't realized the ambiguity of his question. “Uh, both, I guess? You just seemed… lonely, just now.”

“Ah, Yuuri. How could I be lonely when you're here with me?” Victor is looking straight into his eyes.

Wow. Isn't that a pretty romantic thing to say? Maybe he just means he's not alone, generally speaking, and Yuuri happens to be the other person present? That's not how it sounded, though.

Yuuri parts his lips, feeling warm all of a sudden. His heart is beating fast. Why are they standing so close together?

Victor looks back out at the ocean, and Yuuri exhales.

“To answer your question, though…  yes,” Victor says, softly. “It's kind of you to ask.”

They stand together quietly for a few moments.

“I had a dog, too,” Yuuri says almost voicelessly, as if that part of him doesn't quite have the will to talk about this.

Victor looks at him. “Oh?”

“She died.” It comes out a whisper. “The night before the free skate at the Grand Prix Final.”

Victor’s mouth drops open. “Oh my god, Yuuri.”

Yuuri finds himself pulled into a tight hug. Tears spring to his eyes and he clenches his jaw. He doesn't want to have a meltdown here.

Victor’s chest is pressed against his, and he can feel his rapid heartbeat. Or is that his own? Since when do hugs feel so ridiculously nice? He drops his forehead to rest against Victor’s neck and lets his arms come up to reciprocate the embrace.

All of this, everything. Hugs, holding hands, having someone listen, it all just feels so… fucking… good. Why on earth had he wanted to ask Victor to tone it down? He's going to hang onto this as long as he possibly can.

“What do you want, idiot?”

Yuri Plisetsky had been wondering when Victor would call.

“Hello, Yuri! I need a favor!” Victor’s voice is sickeningly cheerful for someone who just blew up his whole life.

“Why should I do you any more favors when I'm already dogsitting for you indefinitely and you’ve abandoned your promise to choreograph my short program?” Yuri grumbles. Victor’s overblown sense of entitlement has gotten even worse if he thinks Yuri will do one single thing more for him.

Makkachin tilts her head at him and whines. Maybe she recognizes Victor’s voice over the phone.

Yuri bends down and scratches behind her ears. He covers his phone with a hand and whispers, “You're a good girl. I don't really mind taking care of you. I just can't let him know that.”

Victor’s reply is frustratingly vague.

“Because this favor will solve both of those problems!"

Chapter Text

Yuuri is awoken by a sudden weight landing on his chest and something warm and wet on his cheek. He scrambles to sit up and figure out what’s happening. Fluffy brown fur fills his vision. It’s a poodle. It’s… Makkachin? He leans over to see past her and spies Victor leaning against the doorframe, grinning. 

“Surprise! I called Yuri Plisetsky to bring her over on a redeye,” he says.

Makkachin pants at him expectantly and he reaches out a hand to rub one of her ears. That’s apparently not good enough for her, because she pushes in closer until he’s got a face full of fur. He loops his arms around her and scratches her back. 

“You missed her that much?” he asks, somewhat muffled.

Victor’s expression sobers a bit. “Can I come in?”

Yuuri nods. Victor sits on the bed, which is now getting a bit crowded. He rests a hand on Makkachin’s head, scratching behind her ears.

“After what you told me yesterday, about Vicchan… I felt like I couldn’t not have her here with me. And I thought… you could use someone to cuddle, too.” He smiles softly. “I hope that wasn’t too presumptuous.” 

That smile is doing things to his heart. Someone to cuddle… he means the dog. Obviously, he means the dog. Even though he is in Yuuri’s room, sitting on Yuuri’s bed. He can feel the weight of him against his leg through the blankets.

Maybe he needs to write another letter. Otherwise he’s going to end up voicing some of these thoughts someday and make everything weird.

He rests a cheek against Makkachin and squeezes her gently, looking at Victor. “Thank you,” he says. “That was… really thoughtful.”

Victor is staring. What? Maybe his hair is messed up from sleep. Or, shit, does he have dried drool on his face?

Yuuri clears his throat. He runs a hand through his hair and tries to subtly wipe his face. “So, how did you convince Yuri Plisetsky to bring her on such short notice?” 

Victor blinks. “Oh. Yeah.” Does he look flushed? “A few months ago I had agreed to choreograph his short program, so I told him if he wanted me to keep that promise he needed to come here.”

“Oh. So, will he be staying here?” His previous encounter with Yuri Plistetsky hadn’t been a particularly fun one. It’s not often that a grown man gets yelled at by a teenager for crying in the bathroom.

Victor chuckles. “Don’t look too excited, now.” He coaxes Makkachin into his lap, and Yuuri finds himself missing the contact. “Yuri can come across as somewhat abrasive—” Victor laughs at Yuuri’s raised eyebrow. “Okay, that might be a bit of an understatement. But he’s a good kid, once you get to know him.”

Yuuri sighs dramatically and pouts. “I suppose I can give him the benefit of the doubt, if you’re vouching for him,” he nudges Victor with his knee through the blankets, letting a grin break through. 

Things will be different with another skater drawing Victor’s attention. Will they still be able to spend time together alone? Or will Victor want to take advantage of the presence of Yuri Plisetsky to keep attention on their ‘relationship’ via social media?

Victor nudges him back. “He’s sleeping for now, anyway, so you have a few hours to prepare yourself.” 

Movement at the door catches his eye.

“Axel, what are you doing here?” Yuuri asks. “Did you get ahold of your mom’s phone again?”

“I was looking for you and Uncle Victor!” she says. He needs to talk to Yuuko and Takeshi about making it clear to the triplets that upstairs is off-limits. “Look, I took the cutest picture!”

She jumps onto the bed. This is getting ridiculous, but the mattress hasn’t collapsed yet. Yuuri leans in to look at the photo on the screen. “Victor, you look too!” Axel insists.

Oh god. She must have been standing in the doorway for a while, because it’s a photo of him hugging Makkachin with Victor beside him on the bed. And he’s looking at Victor with the most dopey, ridiculous soft look. Fuck, had he really looked like that? And he does have an extreme case of bed head. No wonder Victor had been staring. 

“I need that as my new phone background!” Victor says emphatically. Now Yuuri is the one staring. “You have to send it to me right away, please!”

“I think you can just download it! It’s already been shared a bunch of times, see?”

@ranulo935 omg I am *living* for Victor and new guy

@trampir347 “new guy”? That's Yuuri Katsuki, he was a skater in the gpf this year

@burthombo22 I heard a rumor that Victor isn't skating this season, is this guy the reason?

@ldrone96 I just can't handle how cute they are together. And with Makkachin too?? I'm *dead*

@stefona6 first we get the makeout in the kiss n cry and now this? please sir I want some more 

@umfrast24 you can tell just from looking at them in this pic how crazy in love with each other they are

@dusterxa this wannabe is just using victor for fame and skating lessons

@rustwarp33 is that a poster of Victor on the ceiling???

@predrom54 brush your hair, Yuuri!

Victor can't stop reading the comments. It's 3AM and he's supposed to be up early tomorrow to start choreography with Yuuri and Yuri. Yuri had woken up right before dinner and demanded to get started right away. Hunger was the only reason he'd given in and agreed to wait until first thing tomorrow morning.

But instead of sleeping, he's lying in bed, the glow of his phone most likely the only source of light in the whole onsen. He keeps zooming in on various parts of the photo and finding new details each time. Like the faint pink flush in his cheeks.

Is it really that obvious? Does his face give that much away?

He gets a new notification.

Chris: You got it bad, V

Chris: I'm happy for you

His stomach twists. This was the plan, right? Make Chris see that he's capable of being good in a relationship?

Victor: I don't know if I'd go that far. It's still very new

Chris: There isn't a single photo of us that has you looking at me like that

Victor: Maybe there could have been? You could have given me the chance

Chris: Come on.

Chris: We both know it wouldn't have made a difference

Victor: I don't know that.

He rolls into his side, tucking his knees closer to his body. He feels queasy. Makkachin whines in her sleep at the foot of the bed.

Chris: Just because I decided you weren't able to be the person I needed…

Chris: That doesn't mean you can't be that person with someone else


What is he supposed to say to that? His initial reaction had pulled him in several conflicting directions emotionally. He lets his phone flop facedown on the mattress.

Part of him wanted to protest, to say he could be — wants to be — good enough for Chris, too. But that would look bad coming from someone supposedly in a new relationship, wouldn't it?

Part of him didn’t want to say that, because… is it really true, anymore? Does he still want to be with Chris? Of course he does; they had been together for almost five years, and it had been devastating when it ended. If he doesn't want it anymore, why does it still hurt?

His own shaky breathing is loud within the small room.

Part of him… Part of him wonders if Chris is right. He hadn’t even known he was being observed when the photo was taken. There’s no rationalizing the look on his face as being anything other than genuine. He's too tired to think straight about this.

Victor: I need to sleep. Goodnight, Chris

He rolls into his back but can't bring himself to close his eyes. The whole building is silent, other than the occasional creaking whenever the wind gusts. Suddenly the unfamiliarity of the room jumps into sharp relief. It simultaneously feels claustrophobic and like the walls aren’t providing enough of a barrier between him and the outside world.

He needs some air.

He pulls a robe around himself and heads out the front door. He settles himself down on the step and looks out at the town. It’s mostly dark, just a few brightly lit windows in the distance. The sound of the ocean is faint, but soothing nonetheless.

The door behind him creaks open. “What’s wrong, old man?” Victor turns to see Yuri Plisetsky with his hands shoved in the pockets of his leopard print hoodie.

“What are you doing awake?” Victor asks. Deflecting, maybe.

“Couldn’t sleep. I just woke up, like, eight hours ago.” Yuri comes to stand next to where he’s sitting on the step. “I heard someone get up and come downstairs, and then I saw you go out the door. Figured talking to you might be a bit less boring than staring at my phone until I pass out.”

Victor hums an acknowledgement. Yuri sits down next to him.

“Seriously, Victor, what are you doing awake? It’s not like you to neglect sleep the day before training.” There’s a note of genuine concern in Yuri’s voice.

“Chris texted me.” Victor sighs.

“Ugh, you’re kidding me! You can’t keep doing this to yourself.” Yuri frowns. “I thought you were seeing this other Yuuri now, anyway.”

“I know,” Victor mumbles. 

“Well, I hope you’re not expecting any advice from me. You’re a grown man, you shouldn’t talk to teenagers about your disaster of a love life.” He waves his hand dismissively.

Victor props his elbows on his knees and lets his head drop into his hands. Yuri acts like a brat sometimes, but ultimately is trustworthy. He trusted him enough to leave Makkachin with him for a week. Maybe it would be good to tell someone about what’s really going on between him and Yuuri.

“Can I trust you to keep something to yourself?” Victor asks. He turns his face to look over at him.

Yuri drops his affected glare and asks quietly, “What’s going on, Victor?”

“It’s fake.” He sits up to face Yuri, who looks confused. “The thing with other Yuuri. We’ve been pretending.”

“What?!” Yuri says, too loudly. He winces and says it again, more quietly. “What?”

“I know it sounds ridiculous. I made up this stupid plan to show Chris I could be good in a relationship.” This sounds even worse out loud than in his head.

“This is some next level drama, Victor, even for you. Why would Yuuri even agree to that? No, you know what? I don’t want to know.” Yuri sounds incredulous. Victor couldn’t have expected anything else.

“That’s the thing, though, that’s not even the whole of it,” Victor whispers.

Yuri is silent, seemingly waiting for him to continue. Or maybe he’s just done contributing to this conversation.

“I might be developing… real feelings.” Victor tucks his arms around his middle.

Yuri sighs. “What did I just say about talking to teenagers about your love life?”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m not expecting anything from you. I just needed to say it out loud to someone.” A wave of exhaustion washes over him and he sways.

“Victor…” Yuri sighs again, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know anything about any of this stuff. But I don’t think I’m the one you should be saying this out loud to. You can’t toy with someone like this, it could really mess things up for him. You know I caught him crying in the bathroom after the Grand Prix Final?”

Victor frowns. “His dog died. He had a good reason to be upset.”

“Is that why you needed Makka here as soon as possible?” Yuri throws up his hands.

Victor waves that aside. “He told me right from the start that he’s not interested in a relationship with anyone. That’s why I thought it would be safe with him, so no one would get hurt.”

Yuri groans. “How’s that working out for you? It’s been, what, a week? And it’s already a mess.”

“I’m only putting myself at risk, here.” A week, really? It feels like it’s been a lot longer. “And you’re right. It’s new. I’m probably just dealing with getting-to-know-someone flutters.”

“Whatever. Why were you even trying to get back together with Chris in the first place? You never really seemed happy.” Yuri looks to the side. “Not that I was paying much attention. It was obvious.”

Victor looks at the sky. “It wasn’t perfect, but it was something. Something other than skating.” Victor glances back at Yuri. Sometimes it seems like his life is traveling down the exact same path as Victor’s. 

“Yuri,” he starts, and hesitates. Depending on Yuri’s mood, this sort of thing could go over really badly. But he’s been a good listener tonight, and shown some degree of emotional awareness, so maybe now is as good a time as any. “Don’t make the same mistakes as me. Make sure you have something else you care about. You and I both love the ice, but it can’t be everything.”

Yuri nudges his shoulder. “Your ramblings have turned senile, old man.” Harsh words, but his face doesn’t match. He’ll think about it, at least. “You look like shit. Go back to bed.”

Victor nods. “You should try to sleep, too. Fix your schedule.”

Yuri stands up and holds out a hand to Victor to help him up. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.”

“Thanks… and sorry. You’re too young to have to worry about these things.” Victor shakes his head. Confiding in a teenager. He needs to get his shit together. He follows Yuri inside.

“I guess I should be thankful for your drama. Otherwise where would you find inspiration for your choreo?” Yuri looks back from the doorway to his room. “Goodnight, Victor. We’ll probably both be too tired for an early start. You should sleep in.”

“Goodnight, Yuri.”

Chapter Text

Today will be the first day of real training with Victor. For once, Yuuri has no trouble waking up without snoozing his alarm, even though he had set it earlier than strictly necessary. In fifteen minutes he’s completely ready to go.

That’s odd. The door to Victor’s room is closed and Yuuri can hear whining and scratching coming from within. He knocks softly, but the only response he gets is the sound of Makkachin’s tail thumping the floor just on the other side of the door.

He inches the door open and Makkachin bounds into the hallway. Yuuri gets a glimpse of Victor, who once again looks exhausted even while asleep. He frowns. He’ll have to ask Victor later if there’s something they can do to make his stay more comfortable.

Makkachin is full of energy. He and Victor had brought her out with them for a tour around Hasetsu yesterday, but she’d spent hours cooped up on a plane and probably needed some extra exercise to compensate.

“What do you think? You want to go for a run?” Obviously, Victor isn’t going to be ready to start training him for an hour or two, but he can always practice his basics in the meantime.

Makkachin prances in a circle. That’s a yes, he supposes.

He takes the scenic route to the rink so Makkachin can get a bit more energy out. Yuuko waves at him from behind the counter when he arrives.

“Hi, Yuuri! All by yourself today?” She smiles cheerfully.

“Not quite - I have a friend with me!” He grins down at Makkachin, who jumps up and puts her paws on the counter.

Yuuko laughs and reaches out to scratch Makkachin’s head. “Do you want me to watch her while you skate?”

A large arm suddenly drops itself around his shoulders. “What’s this about you putting the moves on my wife, Yuuri?”

Yuuri looks at Takeshi in horror. He doesn’t really think— Oh, he’s teasing.

“Takeshi! I wasn’t going to bring that up!” Yuuko says, sounding annoyed. To Yuuri, she says, “My parents brought by some mail of mine that had been sent to their house. Including a letter from you which was clearly over a decade old. ” She looks back at Takeshi and raises her eyebrows.

“I’m just kidding around! Your penmanship at that age was awful, Yuuri.” Takeshi laughs.

Yuuri groans. “Sorry about that. Apparently I had left some of my old things out where your girls could get at them, because Axel was excited to ask me about all my ‘pen pals’. I guess they thought they were doing me a favor by mailing them for me.”

“Oh no! It was the girls? We really need to talk to them about respecting boundaries, Takeshi.” Yuuko sighs. “Sorry, Yuuri. It’s tough to keep a close eye on all three of them at once if they are really determined to get up to no good.”

Yuuri shakes his head. “What’s done is done. Anyway, you don’t mind watching Makkachin for a bit? Victor probably won’t get here for a while.”

It's at least an hour and a half before Victor and Yuri Plisetsky arrive, and by then Yuuri is starting to feel frustrated and sore from missing his quad salchow repeatedly.

So when Victor announces that Yuuri will be skating a routine that will require him to somehow fabricate sex appeal out of nothingness, and then proceeds to demonstrate the choreography with plenty of natural sex appeal, Yuuri is feeling somewhat inadequate. And turned on. And fuck, just how is he supposed to be able to concentrate on where his center of balance is and what edge he's on and how deep his knee bends are after that?

“I need a break. I'll be back in ten.” He hopes his frustration isn't audible in his voice.

Some water, a snack, and a quick check on Makkachin has him feeling a bit better by the time he joins Victor at the boards to watch Yuri Plisetsky run through his routine. It's clear, and a little intimidating, that he has the winning combination of natural talent and willingness to put in the work. If he isn't a contender for gold at the final this year, it won't be long until he is.

“I'm surprised you two got here so late; last night, Yuri seemed insistent on getting an early start,” he says, glancing at the dark circles under Victor's eyes. “Did something happen?”

Victor takes his eyes off Yuri Plisetsky to return Yuuri’s gaze. “I couldn't sleep. Yuri up late too, and suggested we start later,” Victor explains. “Sorry, I should have texted you.”

“It's fine. I wanted to get some extra practice in before learning the choreo anyway.” Yuuri frowns. “Is there something we can do at the onsen to make you more comfortable? Why couldn't you sleep?”

Victor sighs deeply. “No, there's nothing wrong with my accommodations. I was texting with Chris, and had a hard time getting settled afterwards.”

Oh. He hadn't realized that Victor and Chris were still in touch. His stomach feels off. Low blood sugar, maybe. Why was Victor texting Chris in the middle of the night before a scheduled early morning training session, though? It really couldn't wait until daylight hours? And if Victor is trying to look like he's taking a new relationship seriously…

“Don't you think it might send the wrong message if you're texting an ex in the middle of the night?” The words are out before he can stop them. “I mean, since you're trying to look like you can be a good relationship partner.”

Victor looks taken aback. Ugh, why couldn't he just keep his mouth shut? “Well. It would be hard for you to understand, since you've never been in a relationship.” Yuuri winces. That stings. “But after five years, people don't always just completely cut each other out of their respective lives after a breakup.” 

Victor folds his arms. “It's not out of the question to talk to each other, even if someone new is in the picture.”

Yuuri is quiet for a moment. It's none of his business if Victor and Chris are talking. Even in terms of Victor being his coach, it's reasonable for a training session to be moved around by an hour or two to accommodate unforeseen circumstances. If Celestino had done the same, Yuuri would have been understanding.

“You're right, Victor, I'm sorry. I don't have any experience with relationships to be making any comments about yours. I'm glad you and Chris are on speaking terms.” Yuuri looks at his feet.

Victor lets his arms unfold, resting one on the boards and turning to face him. “It's alright. I know you're just trying to help.” Victor chuckles lightly. “It's a weird situation we've gotten ourselves into, isn't it?”

Yuuri nods. He breathes a sigh of relief at the tension between them dissipating.

“I've been wondering, Yuuri,” Victor says, tapping his fingers where he's resting a hand on the boards. “I'm sure people have been interested in you before, so why do you think you've never dated anyone?”

Yuuri twists his mouth. This is a difficult topic for him, but Victor has been understanding about other things, so maybe he can try to explain. “I guess I've just always been… afraid.”

He takes a breath. “It's a bit embarrassing to admit it, since other people seem to manage just fine, but letting anyone get close to me in that way feels like… I don't know. Kind of like swimming out over water where you have no idea how deep it is or what might be lurking. It feels safer to stay in the shallows.”

Victor tilts his head. “But… you don't seem like you're afraid when you're opening up to me.” He gestures between himself and Yuuri. “ This doesn't seem to terrify you.”

Yuuri flushes. Obviously, things would be really awkward if he told Victor that a week with him has made Yuuri completely reevaluate his stance and relationships might be worth the risk after all. The other part of it is that there is no risk with Victor, since none of it is real. He can give that part of the answer, at least.

“But none of this is real, so it's fine.” He mirrors Victor's gesture.

Victor's expression clouds over. “Right. Of course, this isn't real.” Victor clears his throat, and in an instant is back in coach mode. “It's time to get out there and run through your program; looks like Yuri is finishing up.”

Yuuri frowns, confused. Victor's sudden shift in demeanor was jarring. “Wait, Victor. Is everything alright?”

Victor nods, but he still seems tense. “Yes, everything is fine. Now show me some Eros!”

None of this is real. 

Victor clenches his jaw in frustration. He's been so stupid. The only reason Yuuri is able to be comfortable around him at all is because he thinks they are in agreement about there being no possibility of a real relationship. For a moment, when they had argued about texting with Chris, he had seemed almost… no.

Victor has to get his feelings in check. He can't afford to indulge in the fantasy of this arrangement between the two of them ever turning into something genuine, and he can't afford to allow his crush to blossom into anything more serious.

If Yuuri finds out that Victor has any real feelings, his sense of being in the safe shallows will vanish, and everything between them will come to an immediate end. He's not sure Yuuri would even be willing to still be friends. Would he feel like Victor had been disingenuous? He hadn't tried to be, he just hadn't anticipated the way that Yuuri had gotten under his skin.

Watching him skate Eros now is just frustrating. Victor has firsthand knowledge of how incredibly alluring Yuuri has the capacity to be, as well as how capable he is of expressing his inner life through skating. But his skating right now is utterly devoid of any sign of Yuuri’s sensuality. How can he possibly draw that side out of him while trying to temper his own feelings?

“How was it, Victor?” Yuri asks, coming to stand beside him.

He hadn't really been paying attention, if he's honest with himself. He’d seen enough to know that there hadn't been any egregious mistakes. But if there had been anything truly spectacular about Yuri’s performance, it would have demanded his attention.

“I'll have to watch it back on the recording,” he hedges. “But I think you still need to work on grasping the true meaning of Agape. Clearly, Yuuri is struggling with his interpretation of Eros as well.” He taps a finger to his lips. “I'll have to come up with some way for you both to access those parts of yourselves.”

Yuri isn't sure how standing under a freezing cold waterfall is supposed to help him understand the true meaning of universal love. All he's learning about is the true meaning of cold. It does make him miss his Grandpa, though, who always fusses over him, whether he's warm enough, whether he's eaten enough.

He glances at Yuuri Katsuki out of the corner of his eye. This thing between him and Victor is really weird. Even if he were an adult, he’s pretty sure he still wouldn't understand why two grown men would pretend to be together. What's really bothering him about it is that unless Yuuri Katsuki has secretly spent years taking acting classes, there’s no way there had been anything fake about the way he'd watched Victor performing the Eros routine.

Is he maliciously taking advantage of Victor's situation to get close to him? To get coaching? Is he martyring himself to help Victor get back together with Chris — ugh, what a terrible idea — despite having feelings for Victor himself? Yuri narrows his eyes. He just can't figure out why he would have agreed to Victor's dumbass plan.

“Yuuri,” he says, but it comes out more like ‘Yuu-r-r-r-ri’ because he's shivering so hard.

“Yes?” comes his reply, through chattering teeth.

“Victor is—” he tries to begin, but it comes out unintelligible because he's so cold. This is ridiculous. He motions for them to get out from under the waterfall, and wraps himself in a fluffy towel, breathing onto his hands to try to get them unfrozen.

Yuuri has followed him out and grabs the other towel. “What were you trying to say about Victor?”

Now that he's out of the water and wrapped in a towel, he's not shivering so badly. He tries again. “Victor is very good at seeming confident, like nothing can shake him.” Ugh, he really hopes he doesn't regret sticking his nose in this mess.

Yuuri’s looking at him expectantly. Yuri sighs. Well, he's started, might as well finish.

“But he can be shaken. He's not as confident as he seems, in some ways. When Chris broke it off, he was…” heartbroken. Blah. No. What is he, a trashy romance novelist? “… a mess,” he continues.

This is way too embarrassing, acting like some protective mother hen over someone more than a decade older than him. He wrinkles his nose. “I'm just saying, I don't want to have to deal with him like that again. It was awful for everyone; he was unbearable.”

If Yuuri is using Victor for his own selfish purposes, maybe this will make him think twice about playing with Victor's emotions. And if he's not, and he really cares… maybe this will make him realize that getting Victor and Chris back together is not a good outcome.

It's frustrating that he can't be direct with him, but Victor swore him to secrecy; he's not supposed to know about their ridiculous situation. Adults are always going on about teenagers being dramatic, but this is the most pointlessly convoluted bullshit he's ever seen or heard of.

Yuuri nods. At least he seems to have taken Yuri’s words seriously. “I'll be careful, okay? I promise — there's no way Victor could end up like that because of me.”

Yuri could scream. Of course Yuuri is going to think that — he's an oblivious idiot and has no idea Victor might have real feelings for him. This whole thing is too goddamn stupid, he can't stick around and watch it play out. As soon as he's gotten enough out of Victor to continue working on Agape back in Russia, he'll be on the first flight back.

This is it. This is the costume that started it all, and Yuuri knows what he needs to do. When Victor had declared that they were going to be putting on an “Onsen On Ice” show and choosing from Victor's old costumes, Yuuri had been excited to get a closer look at the costumes, but skeptical that any of them would feel right for him to wear.

But this costume is the one that Victor had been wearing when he had inspired Yuuri to write his letter. This one, which celebrates masculinity and femininity and throws gender norms to the wind. And that's been exactly his problem with Eros. He's been trying to force himself to fill the role of the archetypical masculine pursuer, but that's never been how he's thought about his own sexuality or gender.

The androgyny of the costume allows him to feel comfortable harnessing the femininity he's capable of embodying, and with Minako’s help during a long night at the studio, he's feeling confident on the day of the performance. When Victor tucks a note into his neckline, he feels like he really could be authentically appealing, the genuine target of someone's desire.

And when he starts to skate, the memories of Victor telling him he looks incredible; of Victor’s fingers grazing his skin, tilting his jaw to look at his face; of standing too close together, heart racing, all flood his consciousness at once, sending electric sensations down his spine. And when he shoots that look in Victor’s direction, with all those things in mind, there's nothing fake about the look he receives in return.

Chapter Text

“Yuuri, that’s enough for today,” Victor calls, leaning against the boards, sweat dripping uncomfortably down his back. Yuuri is showing signs of exertion too, skin glistening and face flushed, but if Victor doesn’t reign him in he’d likely want to continue well into the evening.

“Just one more!” Yuuri responds, already picking up speed for the jump, and Victor shakes his head. They’ll need to find a way to take advantage of Yuuri’s impressive stamina when putting together his free program. Yuuri lands the quad salchow with only a little wobble on the landing, and Victor nods to himself.  The progress Yuuri has made in the past few weeks is substantial. They’ve both been putting in increasingly long hours at the rink.

Watching Yuuri perform Eros over and over again has been torturous, but Victor has been keeping his emotions on a tight leash, knowing that everything could fall apart if he allows too much to show. He's caught Yuuri looking at him, sometimes, as if searching for something in his expression, but Victor can't fathom what.

“I was thinking we'd take a break from practicing for the next few days.” Victor says, as Yuuri is starting to untie his laces. Yuuri’s hands stop their work as he looks up at Victor.

“A few days? Why?” His focus returns to his skates, lifting one ankle to rest on his opposite knee and sloughing the bits of ice off his blade. He leans back and stretches an arm out to pull a towel out of his bag a couple steps up, and Victor tries not to stare.

Focus. “I heard that the cherry blossoms are opening later than usual this year, so we could go see them in Fukuoka without all the tourists there to obstruct the view.” He figures Yuuri might not be too excited about the cherry blossoms, having grown up here, but he hopes he'll be willing to accompany him anyway.

Yuuri’s face lights up spectacularly, and Victor suddenly needs to sit down. Is his heart beating too fast? Or not at all? He belatedly realizes Yuuri has been speaking.

“—see them when I was a kid, but I haven't been in years. That's a great idea! Fukuoka Castle grounds are completely packed full of them, and there's tons of space to have a picnic with amazing views. Normally it's overrun with tourists, but you're right, most of them plan their trips for the end of March or the first couple weeks of April; there shouldn't be too many this late in the month.”

Victor allows himself the indulgence of watching Yuuri speak animatedly about the possible logistics of the trip. He still hasn't finished up with his skates. His blades are going to get rusty if he doesn't dry them off promptly. Victor picks up the towel from where Yuuri had discarded it and bends to lift Yuuri’s leg into his lap.

Yuuri stops talking, and Victor realizes what he's doing, as though waking up from a dream. 

“Um! Your blades were sitting wet. I just figured, since you were distracted, I could take care of them for you. You don't want them getting rusty— we just got them sharpened. You can only sharpen them so many times before needing to replace them, you know.” He’s babbling. His face feels hot. “Obviously, you know that. And you’re perfectly capable of doing this yourself.”

He's still holding Yuuri’s skate. He looks at him. His cheeks are pink, but he doesn't actually seem displeased… it’s not that strange for a coach to help their skaters with unlacing… 

Yuuri looks back at Victor. “N-no, it’s okay,” he says, a little higher-pitched than his normal voice. “You can do it for me while I look up the train schedules, if you’d like.” His eyes are wide.

Victor nods slowly. His mouth feels dry and his tongue darts out to wet his lips. Yuuri fishes his phone out of his bag and his gaze slides off Victor to look at the screen. Victor grips Yuuri’s skate at the ankle to keep it steady while he towels off the blade. He gets to work on loosening the laces while Yuuri suggests potential itineraries for their next few days.

They're discussing possible places to stay when Yuuri shifts and brings his second leg up into Victor’s lap so he can deal with the other skate.

Neither of them move to separate after the skates are properly put away in Yuuri’s bag.

The train route that runs from Hasetsu to Fukuoka is a beautiful one, but Yuuri’s attention is focused instead on the view of Victor gazing out the window. They'd woken up at an ungodly hour for the early start they'd decided on, but the image of the newly risen sun outlining Victor’s profile in golden light is worth a hundred stupidly early mornings.

Yuuri quietly pulls out his phone to capture the moment. Maybe the photo will end up in a scrapbook documenting his time in a pretend relationship with Victor. That's not creepy at all.

He hears a muffled giggle, and notices a group of teenagers looking their way and pointing, trying and failing to be discreet. If they've been recognized, the last thing Victor needs is for some tabloid to run a ‘trouble in paradise’ story on the flimsy basis of them looking too distant with each other while riding the train. He loops an arm through Victor’s and scoots closer.

Victor looks at him with his eyebrows raised, but smiles warmly. His cheeks glow a pleasant shade of pink and Yuuri can’t help but smile back. He probably has that same dopey look on his face as in the photo with Makkachin, but who cares? Victor doesn’t seem bothered. He just looks happy. Yuuri drops his head on Victor’s shoulder; maybe he can catch up on a bit of lost sleep.

“Do you mind?” he asks, hopefully softly enough not to be overheard.

Victor unhooks their arms and Yuuri freezes. He’s overstepped. Obviously, Victor isn’t here to be his pillow. Is it possible to literally die of embarrassment? But then Victor’s arm settles over Yuuri’s shoulders instead, pulling him snug against his side, and he might just die anyway, because cardiac arrest is fatal in most cases.

“Not at all,” comes Victor’s reply, murmured against the top of his head. “Get some rest.”

Well now he’s not sure he can sleep. He closes his eyes anyway and tries to force his breathing into the slow, regular rhythm of sleep.

He can feel Victor’s thumb tracing small circles against his arm. Would anyone watching actually notice that? Maybe it’s just habit, from when he was with Chris. Maybe not. If Victor had been like this when he was with Chris, Yuuri can’t understand why Chris would ever have broken up with him.

He can’t understand why anyone would give this up.

The look Victor had given him during his Eros performance hasn't made a reappearance. He's been searching for some hint of it in Victor’s expression in the weeks since, but there's been nothing as clear as it had been that night. Maybe he had let his imagination run a little wild; it hadn't actually been clear in the literal sense, from halfway across the rink without his glasses. Could he really have made out the necessary level of detail to recognize a specific emotion on someone's face?

It had been thrilling, in that moment, to feel desired. Desirable. Even if Yuuri had interpreted his expression correctly, Victor doesn't really want him, he just recognizes that Yuuri is desirable. That's… good, right? If Yuuri is ever going to get over his issues with relationships and be with someone for real, it helps to know that he is capable of passing himself off as attractive.

The chatter of the other passengers and the rumble of the train along the tracks fades into background noise. The only sensations in sharp focus are the length of Victor’s body he's pressed against and the gentle repetitive touch of Victor's thumb against his arm. 

What would it be like if this were his for real? If he hadn't read too much into that look? Would he be able to fall asleep like this all the time? Would he feel that electric tingle down his spine every time Victor looked at him? Maybe Victor would feel it too. Maybe they'd even be able to act on it… Victor would tilt Yuuri’s face up to him, and lean in, and whisper his name… 


He sits upright with a sharp inhale. “What? Sorry! Yes?”

Victor grins. “I woke you up because our stop is next! Are you excited?”

He must have fallen asleep after all. He has a vague sense of being robbed of something. Had he been dreaming?

“So, we've got our early check-in at the hotel, and then I figured we could pick something up to bring with us to eat at Fukuoka Castle, explore the grounds a bit and then find somewhere nice to sit for lunch. We could also do the art museum, if that sounds interesting to you… I've been before, but they did a major renovation a few years ago so I wouldn't mind seeing what they've added. We have tomorrow too, so we could try to focus on one area today and another tomorrow…”

Yuuri continues to list possible attractions they could visit, but Victor is only half-listening as they walk to the hotel. He scrolls through his camera roll, contemplating which photo to set as his lock screen. There's the selfie he'd taken where Yuuri is smiling blissfully in his sleep, but his own face is only half in the frame. There's also the one he'd gotten the teenagers to take from a little farther away, where he'd pretended to be asleep too. There's a few they'd taken with him smiling at the camera. And one with him looking at Yuuri, right before they'd given back his phone — he hadn't noticed them taking that last one.

“Yuuri, which photo do you like best?” Oh. Oops. Had he interrupted him? “Ah! Sorry, finish what you were saying.”

“I was asking if you want to go see the giant Buddha statue; it's a bit farther than the rest of our options. What photo?” He reaches to take the offered phone.

“Oh my god, why did you take these? I look so bad when I'm sleeping,” Yuuri says, cringing. “You had someone else take some too? I can't believe I slept through all this.”

“What are you talking about? You look so cute!” Victor takes the phone back and tilts it so Yuuri can still see, zooming in on the point between his brows. “See? All your worry lines are gone!”

Yuuri’s hand flies up to his brow. “Worry lines! Am I getting wrinkles already?”

Victor laughs. “They go away when you're sleeping, so they're not wrinkles yet!”

“Yet!” Yuuri cries indignantly.

Victor grins. “Oh come on, I've seen how adorable your parents are — you don't have to worry too much about aging.” He gestures at his hairline. “Me, on the other hand…”

Yuuri looks at him with one eyebrow raised. “It's hard to imagine you aging any way other than gracefully.” He stops in his tracks suddenly.

“What? What is it?” Victor looks around.

“Is that why you cut your hair? You were worried about your hairline?” Yuuri gapes at him.

“Well, with it long I always had to have it tied back, and some people say that can accelerate a receding hairline, because it pulls on the scalp…” He glances away, a little embarrassed.

He's startled when Yuuri steps closer and touches his hand. “Sorry,” Yuuri says quietly. “I wasn't trying to embarrass you.”

Victor waves dismissively. “It's okay. You’d better not go to the tabloids with the story, though!” He laughs, and it sounds awkward even to his own ears.

Yuuri shakes his head. “Your secret is safe with me.” He smiles and looks down. “For what it's worth, I loved your long hair, but… you look amazing like this, too.”

His heart picks up speed at the compliment. “Well… thanks.” An image of the two of them together, white-haired and wrinkled, jumps into his mind. He sighs, exasperated with himself. Don't be ridiculous.

Yuuri gestures ahead of them. “I think our hotel is just around the corner.”

They resume walking.

“What would I do with myself if I lose my beauty?” He laughs. “If I’m still coaching you in a few years, maybe you’ll have a Yakov of your own.”

Yuuri pulls open one of the doors of the hotel and motions for Victor to go through. He hears Yuuri chuckling as he follows him through the door, and turns to him, tilting his head quizzically.

“You sound just like Howl. What does he say? ‘What’s the point of living if I can’t be beautiful?’”

“Who?” Victor asks.

“From Howl’s Moving Castle?” Yuuri says, as if that explains anything.

“What’s that?”

Yuuri’s eyes widen. “Hayao Miyazaki? Studio Ghibli?” Victor looks at him blankly. “Princess Mononoke? My Neighbor Totoro?”

Oh, that last one sounds vaguely familiar. “Is that the one with the… bear?”

“Oh my god. We need a movie night.” That sounds nice, actually. He has a few favorites he’d like to share with Yuuri as well. That conversation will have to wait though, as they’ve reached the front desk.

Yuuri rings the bell, leaning over the counter and looking around.

The hotel receptionist arrives to greet them, and she and Yuuri begin conversing in Japanese. She’s gesturing and speaking excitedly. Maybe she's a fan of Yuuri’s? She clearly recognizes Victor as well, from the wide-eyed glance she gives him. Their conversation seems a bit involved for simply checking them in.

Yuuri looks flustered. Victor frowns. Mostly he enjoys attention from fans, but they can get overzealous sometimes. Eventually, Yuuri seems to acquiesce; there was a ‘thank you’ in the last thing he said to her. He thinks. Even basic Japanese phrases are hard for him to pick out when people are speaking quickly, so he can't be entirely certain.

Yuuri leads him in the direction Victor presumes is towards the elevators. His posture is tense, and he taps the elevator call button rapidly, as if that will make it come sooner. He still hasn't said anything by the time the elevator arrives. They step inside, and as soon as the doors close he covers his face with both hands.

“What was all that about?” Victor asks, starting to feel worried.

Yuuri groans and drops his hands. “So, apparently she's our ‘biggest fan’, and upgraded our room for us as a special favor.”

“What's wrong with that? It sounds like she did something nice.” Victor cocks his head.

Yuuri sighs. “I tried to tell her not to go to the trouble, but she insisted, and I couldn't think of a good reason to give her for why we wouldn't want the upgrade.” He leans back with his hands on the bar, metal clinking as he taps his fingernails against it. “I'll just have to hope there's a loveseat or something.”

Victor frowns. “I don't follow.”

Yuuri looks at him with a grimace. “She gave us the honeymoon suite.”

Chapter Text

“It really doesn’t bother me,” Victor says. “But if it bothers you, I don’t mind sleeping on the couch.” He gestures at the loveseat, which looks laughably small next to his tall frame.

Yuuri pinches the bridge of his nose. “No, no. This is my own issue. I'm the one who with the hangups about relationships, I should be the one to give up the bed.”

Victor rolls his eyes. He actually rolls his eyes! Yuuri is trying to do the right thing, here.

“We can't afford you developing a back problem because you slept on it wrong,” Victor argues, sounding very reasonable, but not making any sense.

“Come on. The next competition is still months away. If I have a sore back for a few days it will be fine.” Yuuri spreads his hands apart next to the loveseat. “Look how small this is. You're taller — I won't have to crunch myself up as much.”

Victor sighs. Maybe he realizes he's going to lose this argument.

“Besides,” Yuuri says, “it's just as important that you don't mess up your back, since you need to be on the ice too, showing me what to do.”

Victor puts his hands on his hips and faces him squarely. “If you sleep on the couch, I’ll sleep on the floor.”

Yuuri barks a laugh. That's just… completely ridiculous. He splutters, “Wha— Bu— Why would you do that? That's just worse for both of us!”

The idea of that gorgeous king size bed going completely to waste is offensive.

Victor folds his arms, looking awfully smug. Yuuri narrows his eyes. If Victor is going to deliver ultimatums, it's time for some low blows.

“Are you sure a man of advanced years such as yourself would be able to survive an entire night on the hard floor?” Yuuri fights a smile, mouth twitching.

Victor gawps at him. “Advanced years!” He opens and closes his mouth a few times and then seems to give up, leveling a vicious glare at Yuuri.

He's not going to laugh. He won't. But then Victor’s expression breaks with a snerk and he can't stop himself.

“Let's worry about it later,” Yuuri says, a little breathless from laughter. “We don't want to waste the day stuck in the hotel room arguing.”

Victor nods. “Okay. But I mean it. I will sleep on the floor.”

Yuuri shrugs. “If you sleep on the floor, I'll sleep on the floor too.”

The castle is fascinating, the cherry blossoms are breathtakingly beautiful, the food is delicious, and Yuuri is… wonderful. 

Lying here, on the green grass, with the cherry blossoms overhead, watching the breeze ruffle Yuuri’s hair, Victor hasn’t felt this peaceful in… years? Maybe ever. How much of that is due to taking a much needed break from competing, and how much is due to Yuuri? He’s not sure if he wants to tease it apart.

He rolls onto his side, propping his head on his hand. Yuuri smiles down at him, and Victor’s heart clenches. Maybe this thing between them isn’t entirely real, but it isn’t entirely fake either. It feels good to spend time with Yuuri, and Yuuri seems to enjoy being around him too. It’s bittersweet, but maybe, after five years of being with Chris and months of failing to get over it, what he needs is to be close to someone without all the expectation and weight of a real relationship.

Maybe Yuuri has the right of it with regards to his feelings on relationships. Being with Chris had never felt as easy as this. From what he can remember, being a good partner had felt… taxing, even from the start. Every little thing had required immense mental effort to remember and attend to. Towards the end, he just didn’t have any energy left. He can’t really blame Chris for leaving.

Is it because that was real and this isn’t? Is it just a matter of not feeling the pressure to be perfect, because it doesn’t really matter to Yuuri if he fails sometimes? Or is it something… more than that? No. Relationships aren’t supposed to be easy. It’s normal for them to take a lot of energy; it’s hard work to build and maintain one. 

But… is it supposed to be hard to want to?

“What are you thinking about?” Yuuri asks, laying down to face him.

“Um,” Victor begins, intelligently. “Just… thinking about how nice this is.”

Yuuri rolls onto his back and looks up at the trees. “Yeah… they are really beautiful.” He turns his head, meeting Victor’s gaze again. “Thanks for suggesting this.”

Victor’s breath catches. No. He means the trip to Fukuoka. He doesn’t know Victor’s ‘this’ was referring to something more.

Yuuri closes his eyes. “Mm,” he says. “I could fall asleep right now.”

He looks relaxed, with his hand resting loosely over his middle, one knee bent and the other leg stretched out.

“You can, if you want. I don’t mind,” Victor says. He’d be happy to spend another three hours like this.

Yuuri shakes his head and rubs at his eyes. “No, we have plans. We should get going if we want time to do the whole museum.”

He starts to sit up but Victor touches his arm. “Wait. Can we take a selfie? Sorry I didn’t ask you before, on the train.”

Yuuri looks sheepish. “Actually, I took a picture of you without asking, too. I just thought it would be better as a candid shot.”

Victor gasps delightedly. “What? Let me see!”

Yuuri unlocks his phone and holds it so they can both see. He swipes around until he lands on a photo of Victor looking out the train window, backlit by the sunrise. It’s a great shot.

“Give me that for a sec?” Victor asks, reaching for the phone.

Yuuri pulls it back protectively. “You’re not going to make me delete it, are you?”

Victor laughs. “No! I’m going to set it as your lock screen.”

Yuuri pouts. “It’s one of Makka right now, though…”

Victor’s stomach does a little flip at how Yuuri and Makka have bonded. Makka has been staying in Yuuri’s room overnight at least half the time. “Okay,” he concedes. “I can accept second place if Makka is first.”

Yuuri purses his lips. “No, it’s fine. I’ll change it. I’ll just make Makka the unlocked background instead.”

Victor smiles wide. “Now for that selfie!”

“I can’t believe you pretended to go to the restroom so you could pay the bill. I wouldn’t have ordered that second glass of wine if I’d known you were going to do that.” Victor shakes his head, fishing the key card out of his pocket.

“I was the one who suggested the place; it was only fair.” Yuuri smirks and follows Victor into their room. “Oldest trick in the book. Nobody’s ever pulled that on you before?”

Victor chuckles and rubs the back of his neck. “I guess most people I go to dinner with are happy to let me foot the bill.”

Yuuri frowns slightly. “What, even Chris?” Not that it would be a financial hardship for Victor to frequently pay for a dinner out, but it seems a little exploitative to let him pay every single time.

Victor’s expression clouds over. “Ah, no. We followed an alternating system.” Right, mention the ex who broke his heart. The perfect finish to a fun day out.

Yuuri casts around for a way to lighten the mood again. “I wonder what a honeymoon suite involves aside from a big fancy bed.” There’s a gift basket on one of the nightstands. He picks it up, tilting it to try to get a better view of the contents without actually unwrapping it.

“This says we get complimentary room service!” Victor calls over his shoulder, looking at a card he’s picked up off the desk by the window. “The whole restaurant bill discussion could have been moot.”

Yuuri laughs and puts the basket back down. “Sure, but would you really want to eat all of our meals in our room? I thought the point was to see and be seen around Fukuoka.”

Victor shrugs. “There’s lots to do besides go out for dinner. Spending some time in the room wouldn’t be the worst thing.”

Something flutters in Yuuri’s chest at the idea that Victor would want to spend time with him outside of the context of performing for their fake relationship or coaching him. But maybe he just means he could use some downtime.

Yuuri mulls it over as he changes in the bathroom. When he comes out, Victor looks ready for bed too.

Carefully, Yuuri probes, “If you want to just relax for a bit tomorrow, I don’t mind exploring the city on my own for a while, to get out of your hair.”

Victor scoffs. “Staying here all alone doesn’t exactly sound enjoyable.” His eyes widen. “But if you want some time to go do something on your own, I don’t want you to feel obligated to include me.”

Shit, that’s not what he wanted Victor to think. “No! That would be silly, we’re on a trip together — why would I want to go do something specifically without you?”

Victor folds his arms. “I don’t know, why would you think I’d want to hang out in the room, alone, without you?”

Yuuri rubs his face. He can’t exactly say that he’d only asked that because he was trying to gauge whether the exact opposite thing was true. “I don’t know. Why should I think you would want to be here with me?”

An expression flashes across Victor’s face and vanishes into a frown, his lips pressed together. “Because we’re friends, aren’t we? Do you really think every single moment with you I’m just thinking about what it looks like to the public?” He turns around, facing the window. Yuuri can’t see the look on his face anymore, but everything about his posture is tense.

He takes a step towards him. “No, Victor, I’m sorry. Of course we’re friends,” Yuuri says, chewing his lip guiltily. “It just came out wrong. I didn’t mean it like that.” Hesitation stops him from reaching out.

Victor’s shoulders rise and fall as he heaves a sigh. “I really — I mean truly — enjoyed spending the day with you,” Victor says, turning back around and half-sitting on the desk. Yuuri scans his expression. The stress at his brow, lines around his mouth, he looks… hurt. Yuuri feels a matching pang in his chest.

He takes another step forward. “I… enjoyed our day together, too.” Victor blinks rapidly, looking up and away, jaw clenching. Yuuri’s heart squeezes.

How could I be lonely when you're here with me?

Victor had said that to him, standing at the seawall in Hasetsu. Does that mean Victor is lonely when Yuuri isn't with him? For the first time, the reality of Victor's situation hits him. Everyone in the world thinks Victor has gotten past his post-Chris heartbreak because he's with Yuuri. The only person who knows that Victor is still struggling is Yuuri. If there were nothing at all between them aside from coaching and their fake relationship, Victor would feel… utterly alone.

Fuck. He's an asshole. And Victor is supposedly the one with issues being self-absorbed? Oh, god. The one time Victor had tried to bring up having trouble sleeping because of a conversation with Chris, Yuuri had totally blown him off.

That day at the seawall, with no one around to see, Victor had hugged him to comfort him about Vicchan. At World's, before they'd even talked about the fake relationship thing, Victor had held his hand while he cried his eyes out over being afraid of losing Phichit. Because he has a hard time making friends. Something Victor had admitted to having in common with him. Shit.

Victor has been consistently making an effort to build an emotional connection with him, and Yuuri has been completely failing to recognize it.

The gap between them is only a few steps wide. Yuuri moves forward and puts his arms around Victor’s shoulders.

Victor melts against him, dropping his forehead to Yuuri’s shoulder, arms unfolding and coming back up around his waist, pulling him closer. “Oh, Victor,” Yuuri murmurs. “I’m sorry. We are friends.”

Victor nods, and exhales shakily, pulling back. “Yeah, I know. Sorry, I don’t know why I overreacted like that.” He laughs, but it’s unconvincing. He looks away.

Yuuri touches his cheek, and Victor looks back at him, startled. “I mean it, Victor. I really do enjoy being around you.”

The corners of Victor’s mouth tug ever so slightly, forming a faint, barely-there smile, but it’s genuine. “Well. We should get to sleep. Should I assume you still won’t take the bed?”

Yuuri smiles wryly and shakes his head. Victor shrugs and walks over to the bed, and for a moment, Yuuri thinks he’s given in and is going to sleep in it. But Victor just takes a pillow, walks over beside the couch, and… drops it on the floor. Yuuri’s mouth falls open. Really? He’s really going to sleep on the floor?

Yuuri sets his jaw and marches over to the bed, staring at Victor the whole time. A smug look begins to form on Victor’s face before Yuuri, too, takes a pillow and throws it on the floor next to the other one. Victor gapes at him.

“If we’re both going to be on the floor, we should at least grab the blanket, too,” Yuuri says, reasonably. He drags it off the bed and over to the pillows.

Victor gestures wordlessly at the setup on the floor. Eventually, he finds his voice. “This whole argument was because you didn’t want to sleep next to me! And now you’re going to sleep next to me on the floor?”

“I didn’t want to sleep in the same bed as you,” Yuuri corrects, climbing under the blanket and settling his head on one of the pillows. He pats the spot next to him.

Victor shakes his head and hits the light switch, shrouding them in darkness. He climbs in beside him. “How is this any different?” It's dark enough that they can't really see each other, but Yuuri can make out the shape of Victor shifting himself onto his side to face him.

Yuuri bites his lip. This is a bit ridiculous — okay, maybe more than a bit. “I guess… sleeping in the same bed as someone is one of those ‘firsts’ I want to have for real.”

Victor sighs. “I can understand that being important, I suppose.” The blanket rustles — presumably Victor getting himself comfortable. Well, as comfortable as possible, anyway. The floor is pretty hard despite the plush carpet.

He hasn't fully worked this out in his own mind; maybe saying it out loud will help him get things straight. “I just feel like… being in the same bed is the context for a lot of things I know I'm not ready for.”

In the darkness, he can vaguely make out Victor moving his hand to rest halfway between them. “Yuuri,” he starts. There’s a pause, as if he’s hesitating, or deliberating about his wording. “You know I would never do anything you didn’t ask for, right?”

Yuuri nods, then realizes Victor probably couldn't see. “I know,” he says, softly. He looks at the dark shape of Victor's hand between them. He takes a breath. Heart pounding, he brings his hand up to lie beside Victor's, just close enough to touch. “I trust you.”

Silence settles between them, and Yuuri’s breathing is starting to even out when he hears Victor whisper, “Goodnight, Yuuri.”

He mumbles a reply, and spirals down into sleep.

Chapter Text

It's cold. Victor opens his eyes in a squint. Yuuri has stolen the blanket and turned it into a cocoon. He remembers seeing him do the same thing the night of the banquet at World's. He makes a note to ask the front desk for an extra blanket next time.

Hm. Next time. He looks at Yuuri, relaxed and peaceful in his sleep. He can only see approximately the top third of his face in the tiny opening of the blanket cocoon, but it’s enough. Last night had been… well, he probably shouldn’t have had that second glass of wine. Or maybe it was for the best. He had allowed himself to show some vulnerability, and it hadn’t scared Yuuri off — it had done just the opposite. Maybe a next time isn’t as impossible as it had seemed.

He tries to lift a knee, and his lower back screams in protest. He rolls into his side instead, and his shoulder and hip ache from where they must have been pressing against the floor throughout the night. Perhaps following through on this particular ultimatum had been a poor choice. 

However… the way they had whispered to each other in the dark, hands touching in the space between them… he can’t bring himself to truly regret anything about last night, no matter how sore he might be feeling for the next few days.

A muffled groan comes from within the blankets and a frown appears on Yuuri's forehead. One eye opens just a sliver. “Victor?” His voice is rough from sleep.

“Yes?” He doesn't sound much better, himself.

“Did I steal the blanket?” Yuuri asks, worming his way out so the rest of his face is visible.

“A little bit, yes.” Victor suppresses a laugh at the way Yuuri's nose wrinkles like a rabbit.

Yuuri pushes himself up to a seated position, leaning against the couch, and grimaces. “Oh my god, I'm so sore.” He reaches up to rub the point where his neck meets his shoulder, and sucks air through his teeth sharply. “How are you?” He looks at Victor, brows pulled together in concern.

“I'm pretty sore, too,” he admits. His gaze wanders to the very comfortable-looking bed. “How do you feel about being next to each other in bed, awake, while we order room service and wait for it?”

Yuuri nods, and then grimaces again. “I think my neck was at a weird angle.”

They remake the bed, not without a few more groans and grumbles, and collapse onto it simultaneously. 

“Victor,” Yuuri says, sounding pained.

“Yes?” he replies, but it comes out more like ‘Yphh’. He’s not sure how clear his speech can be while he’s facedown on the mattress.

“This is so comfortable.” The last word is almost a wail. He's adorable. Warmth floods within Victor's chest and he can't help but smile at Yuuri’s playful melodrama.

Victor flops over onto his back. “We have a few more hours until we have to check out. We can enjoy it until then, at least.”

They order breakfast, and he lets himself doze lightly until its arrival wakes him up again. They move to the table to eat, and Victor eyes the gift basket Yuuri had found last night.

“We could bring it back with us, as a thank you to your family for watching Makka for me while we were away,” he muses, gesturing at the basket with one hand while grabbing another piece of bacon with the other.

Yuuri nods. “Good idea. We'll have to open it up, though. It’s a honeymoon basket — I don't think I could ever show my face again at home if I ended up giving my sister chocolate body paint or whatever.”


The email notification sound interrupts the song Yuuri is listening to. A jolt of excitement shoots through him when he checks his phone and sees who it’s from.

Yuuri squeezes Victor’s shoulder. “Victor!”

“Mm.” Victor lifts his head off of Yuuri’s shoulder and rubs his eyes. “Is it our stop already?”

“Ketty just got back to me with the new version. Will you listen with me?” He chews his lower lip. The music is supposed to represent his journey in the world of figure skating — what if it sounds overly grandiose, and it comes across as if he has an over-inflated view of his accomplishments? What if it reflects reality too accurately and is just… boring?

Victor nods and holds out a hand for one of Yuuri’s earbuds. Oh well, no getting out of it now. He hits play. 

The song starts with solo piano repeating ascending runs with a steady chord progression established with the left hand. That makes sense, he supposes; in the beginning it had been a lot of him just practicing as often as possible, frequently alone, trying to master the basics. Suddenly, a run leads up to a clear, high note which is held for a few seconds. It would be perfect to put the first jump there. 

“We should put the first jump there,” Victor murmurs. Yuuri smiles at being on the same wavelength as Victor.

A low chord resounds as the ascending runs resume, giving a richer context to the same notes. Higher notes interweave with more nuanced variations of the established theme. Maybe this is supposed to represent the sophistication he had developed as a skater by the time he was competing at the junior level internationally?

The next section increases in complexity and he's struck by how challenging this piece is, musically. It's impressive that Ketty had been able to put it together in such a short time frame. 

And oh , she's included strings in this version. They layer over the arpeggios, harmonizing beautifully, providing a fuller, more consistent sound to the chord progression. With the support of the strings, the piano arpeggios run up, up, up and down. Up, up, up and down. Try, try again, try and succeed. Yuuri immediately recognizes what the strings are supposed to symbolize: Victor. He glances over. Has Victor realized it too? His eyes are closed, it's hard to tell.

“I think the strings are supposed to be you,” he whispers, and Victor opens his eyes, surprised. 

“You think so? I was just thinking that they add an essential, beautiful element that was missing from the first version, but that seems a little vain to say, now.” Victor laughs.

“I think that's completely right, though,” Yuuri says, quietly, and then feels his cheeks warming. That could come across like he's saying talking just about the music, or about Victor himself. Both interpretations feel truthful.

Victor is looking at him with an odd expression, and the music suddenly cascades down from a high point and grows quiet; the fast, increasingly complex piano melody replaced by simple, beautiful chords held for several beats each. A wave of peace washes over him, and for a moment, the whole world is made up of just the two of them.

The spell is broken as the tempo picks up again, and it takes him a moment to refocus his attention on listening mindfully. He closes his eyes, trying to envision what movements on the ice would be best to express the feelings the music is evoking in him.

Rapid triplets hammer out a tension-building chord progression, and Victor clears his throat. “That slow section would be perfect for some long glides, maybe a spiral or an Ina Bauer… can you do a cantilever? And you could lead into the next section with an axel.”

Yuuri nods mutely, eyes still closed. He can see that Ina Bauer, and it fits beautifully.

The piano and strings crescendo together in a sequence that elaborates on all the previously established chords and melodies, and finishes with another cascade down into the simple ascending runs from the beginning. It feels… hopeful, but not presumptuous, about where his skating career might go from here.

They are both quiet for a moment after the music has stopped playing.

Victor breaks the silence first. “How do you feel about it?”

“I think… it's perfect,” Yuuri replies, honestly.

“Me too.” Victor reaches over and squeezes his hand. Yuuri looks at him and smiles.


“So, the honeymoon suite with my little brother.” Mari sits down across the table from Victor. He sits up straight. All the members of the Katsuki family — all the people of Hasetsu, actually — have been perfectly cordial to Victor since he first arrived, but Mari has mostly kept her distance. Victor isn’t sure if that’s just how she is, or if she has some problem with him in particular. 

“Ah! Yes, we hadn’t planned on it, but the hotel upgraded it for us.” Victor tries for a disarming smile.

“Uh-huh,” Mari says, giving him a flat look. “And I’m supposed to believe you had nothing to do with that, Victor Nikiforov?” She emphasizes his last name and her point is clear. 

“I didn’t ask them to upgrade it, if that’s what you mean. But yes, they did recognize me.” He spreads his hands in front of him, palms up. “To be fair, they seemed even more excited about Yuuri; they might have done the same regardless of who he was with.” 

Mari barks a laugh, and it’s uncanny how much she sounds like Yuuri. “You say that like Yuuri has ever been found walking into a hotel as a couple with anyone else.” 

She folds her arms and pins him in place with an intense gaze. “I know my English isn’t as good as Yuuri’s, but I want to make sure you understand me perfectly.”  

Victor nods, as though he has a choice about it. 

“You’ve known each other less than two months,” she starts. 

“We’d met a few months before, actually—” Victor interjects. 

“You’ve been seeing each other for less than two months,” she corrects. “I know my parents are just happy to see him happy, and are willing to overlook how out of character this is for him. But I know my brother, and how slow he is to warm up to people. And I want to make sure he is safe.” 

Victor hesitates. He wants to reassure her, but he’s not sure if Yuuri has spoken with her about them before. He would have given Victor a heads up if there were any details he’d need to avoid contradicting, right?

He lowers his voice. “Look, Mari… I understand your concern. But honestly, nothing happened. We’re taking things slow.” Taking things nowhere, really. 

She sighs. “You probably think that’s enough to make me not worry about it. But Victor… unless there’s something I don’t know, Yuuri’s never had a boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever, before you. I know the same isn’t true for you.” She raises her eyebrows and looks at him pointedly. “What’s ‘nothing’ to you might not be ‘nothing’ to him.” 

He blinks, recalling Yuuri saying almost the exact same thing when they had first formed their arrangement. His sister knows him well, apparently. Maybe she has a point — allowing their hands to touch as they fell asleep had seemed to hold some sort of significance for Yuuri. And that hug… if he weren’t sitting down he might feel a little weak in the knees just thinking about it. Maybe it wasn’t entirely truthful to say that nothing had happened. “Okay,” he tells her, nodding. “I’ll think about what you said, really. I’ll be careful with him.”

Mari nods back at him. “One more thing,” she begins. Victor tilts his head, waiting for her to continue. She seems to make up her mind about what to say next, and continues, “I know it probably doesn’t matter to him, because he obviously loves you, but it matters to me: is your coaching him… what’s the word — dependent? contingent? conditional? — on your relationship?”

“What? Oh! Not at all!” His eyes widen in horror. No wonder she’s been distant with him if she thinks he could be that sort of person. “I would never do something like that,” he asserts, vehemently. 

“Good.” She stands up. “Just make sure he knows that too.” 

He obviously loves you. Mari turns to leave. “Wait!” 

She looks back at him, arms folded, eyebrows raised expectantly. “Yes?”

“What exactly did you mean when you said he loves me? I know Japanese has a few different words that have distinct—”

She rolls her eyes. “Are you going to make me pull out all the cheesy English idioms I know? He’s in love with you. He’s head over heels for you. He’s in deep. He has it bad. He’s smitten. He looks at you like you hung the moon. You’re the apple of his eye—”

“Okay, okay, I get it.” Victor can barely hear his own words over the pounding of his heart. She’s just come to the conclusion they’d wanted everyone to think, right? It’s only because they’ve been very convincing. Right? He stares at his hands on the table.

She walks around the table and puts her hand on his shoulder, looking down at him. “Don’t worry,” she says. “If he hasn’t told you yet, he will eventually. Just give him some time.”

Chapter Text

“Oh my god! Why wouldn’t the people with the car offer to help with the search?” Victor gestures at the laptop screen in apparent disbelief. Yuuri contemplates putting him out of his misery by telling him that the little girl turns out to be fine. He’s never seen someone so stressed out by Totoro. Victor had reacted a lot better to the other movies he'd shown him over the past couple of months.

“Yuuri. Yuuri. Is that her sandal? Didn’t they show her putting on her shoes earlier?” Victor reaches over from his position on the floor without looking away from the screen, grabbing at Yuuri’s leg where it’s dangling off the edge of the bed.

Yuuri quirks an eyebrow. “Do you actually want me to answer that, or do you want to watch and see what happens?”

Victor runs a hand through his hair, still clutching Yuuri’s calf with the other. “I feel like I would have heard about it before if this movie were a tragedy, no? People let small children watch it, don’t they?”

“Yep. The triplets will probably be very disappointed if they find out we watched it without them.” Hopefully that will settle Victor’s uneasiness.

“Just tell me now if the mother dies. Then I’ll know if I can handle watching the rest of this,” Victor says, and Yuuri feels his grip on his leg tighten.

“The mom doesn’t die. Nobody dies; it’s just supposed to be a fun, whimsical story.” Yuuri leans forward to detach Victor’s hand from his leg, climbing off the bed to sit next to him and giving him a hand to squeeze instead.

They manage to get through the rest of the movie with no more interjections from Victor, but he doesn’t let go of Yuuri’s hand, either.

“Well, that was deeply unsettling.” Victor lets out a deep breath, pulling his knees up to his chest. “I liked the other ones a lot better, especially the one with Howl, and the one with the spirits.”

Yuuri shifts to face him, one arm resting along the edge of the bed. “Victor,” he starts. “Don’t feel like you need to answer me, but—” Yuuri chews his lip, unsure about prying too much.

“Go ahead, Yuuri. Ask what you want to ask.” Victor’s voice is quiet and his attention is focused on picking at a loose thread at the bottom edge of the blanket.

“Why did the mom being in the hospital bother you so much?” Yuuri angles his head, trying to get a read on Victor’s expression.

Victor turns his face toward Yuuri, resting his cheek on one of his knees. He exhales heavily. “Okay… first, I need you to understand that this isn’t something I talk about.”

Yuuri feels himself shivering slightly with nervousness. He shouldn’t have asked. This is obviously really personal. “I’m sorry, Victor, I shouldn’t have—”

“No, it’s okay, let me finish.” He maneuvers until he’s sitting cross-legged. “I feel like I can tell you, I just need you to keep it to yourself.”

Yuuri nods, but remains silent, waiting for Victor to gather his thoughts.

“When I first started to show real promise as a skater, my father and I moved to Saint Petersburg for better coaching. My mother stayed; she was a teacher, and couldn’t just drop everything to move with us.” 

Victor’s fists are clenched in his lap, knuckles white. His nails might be digging into his palms. Yuuri reaches over and gently coaxes his hands open, then settles his own hands a few inches away, palms up, open in silent invitation.

Victor looks at him with a devastatingly sad smile, and curls his fingers around Yuuri’s. His hands feel soft and warm. “We went back to visit her every so often, but then she got sick.” His throat bobs. “And no one told me.”

“Oh, Victor,” Yuuri murmurs, tracing his thumb across Victor's knuckles. He can’t be sure yet, but he has a sense of where this story might be headed.

“This was before I had become internationally recognized, so you might not have known about me yet,” Victor continues. “It was my first time competing at Russian Nationals. I was thirteen.”

Victor closes his eyes. “My mother’s condition had worsened, and she had been hospitalized, but I still didn't know anything about it. My father and coach thought it best not to distract me from the competition.”

No. Oh, no. Yuuri feels tears threatening to form, but fights them off. This isn't about him; he's not going to push his emotions on Victor when he has enough of his own to manage.

“I took gold, and would have had a few weeks off that I could have spent with her afterwards. But it was already too late.” His eyes are fixed on a point on the floor across the room. Yuuri can't find the words to reply.

“I've never forgiven my father. I cut all ties with him and that coach, started training under Yakov instead, and officially became an emancipated minor when I was sixteen.” Victor gives Yuuri’s hands a squeeze, and releases, getting to his feet. “And now you know all about my tragic backstory.” He laughs, but it’s obviously forced.

“Don’t do that,” Yuuri says, surprising himself.

Victor blinks. “Do what?”

“You don’t need to pretend to be okay,” Yuuri says, rising to meet Victor. “I know I'm not the perfect example of emotional stability, but I can handle supporting a friend.” He holds his arms out — Victor can decide if he wants physical contact or not.

Victor stares at him with his lips slightly parted, and Yuuri starts to feel awkward. They've hugged again since that night in Fukuoka, but never in such an emotionally charged moment. But this is a thing friends sometimes do, isn't it? When one is sad, the other offers a hug? Phichit had never been shy about physical closeness, but understood Yuuri’s need for space most of the time.

Maybe Victor needs space now and Yuuri has made things awkward by offering a hug at the wrong time. He had just gotten up to leave. Fuck, why does he always take too long to properly read all the cues. He pulls his arms part way back in. Has he been holding them out for an inappropriately long time already? Maybe he should just drop—

Oh. The space between his arms is filled with Victor, now. He rests his hands on Victor's back gingerly, and Victor's face presses into the crook of his neck. “I'm so sorry,” Yuuri murmurs, close to his ear, sliding a hand up to the back of his neck.

“Thank you,” comes Victor's muffled reply. His breathing is quick and shallow, but gradually evens out as the seconds tick by. He lifts his face and brings his hands to Yuuri’s shoulders, creating a space between them. “It was a long time ago. I just haven't talked about it in a long time, either.”

Victor presses his lips together and looks down. “Sorry for ruining the movie. I know it was supposed to be fun; I didn’t intend to detract from your enjoyment.”

“Oh my god, no. What?” He’s worried about ruining the movie? “I don't care about the movie. This is obviously much more important. I’m glad you felt comfortable enough to tell me.”

Victor nods. “I’d better go.” He meets his eyes, and glances at the bed. “Makka looks nice and cozy, doesn't she? I guess you have her for the night.”

She does look pretty comfortable, curled up in a ball on the bed. But… “Wouldn't you rather have her with you?” After reliving all that, wouldn't Victor want his dog with him to cuddle?

Victor shakes his head. “I'll be okay. I don't want to wake her.” He pauses with one hand on the doorframe, looking back over his shoulder. “You'll just have to snuggle with her a little bit extra for me.”

With a brief wave, he's gone.

Victor can't sleep. He's not crying anymore — too dehydrated, maybe — but his insides are still being torn up. It had felt right to tell Yuuri about his past, but he is paying the price for that choice now. 

As soon as he had closed the door to his room, he had been alone, and overwhelmed. 

He is thirteen again, having just been completely blindsided with the news of his mother's death. Once again, the fall from the elation of winning gold to the despair of losing the person he loved most in the world has the room spinning around him. He hasn't been physically capable of getting dizzy for a decade, but that doesn't seem to make much difference now.

He rolls onto his side and clutches his pillow to his chest. He closes his eyes and tries to force himself to sleep, but it's no use. His efforts to count through his inhales and exhales are just escalating his distress. The sound of his ragged breathing is interrupted by a soft knock at the door.

He scrubs at his face and opens the door.

It's Yuuri. It takes every ounce of his willpower not to collapse against him. He's already been irresponsible enough as a coach to distract his skater with his dead mother sob story, he doesn't need to make things any worse. 

Makkachin pushes past Yuuri to jump up and puts her paws on his chest, licking his face. She's always liked the taste of salt. He brings his hands up and buries them into her fluffy coat, and he's almost overwhelmed by the wave of relief brought by the physical contact.

He's an adult again, in Japan, not Russia, and his mother died over a decade ago.

He backs up into his room and Makka wastes no time before getting herself settled on the bed. He looks at Yuuri, who shrugs.

“She woke up anyway.”

Victor nods. “Thank you for bringing her.” Ugh, his voice sounds awful.

He sits down on the edge of the bed and rests a hand on Makka’s curled up form, looking at her fondly. There have been times when he’s felt like she was the only thing keeping him going.

“I just thought you could use… someone to cuddle,” Yuuri says, and Victor smiles weakly. It's the same thing he had said to Yuuri months ago about his reason for having Makka brought to Hasetsu.

Yuuri takes a step into his room.

Victor looks up at him sharply. Is he…?

Yuuri just stands there for a moment, looking at the floor, fingers fidgeting with the fabric of his pajama pants. Eventually, he looks Victor in the eye. He whispers, “I'll go, if you want me to,” and Victor stops breathing.

Victor's heart is going to beat out of his chest. He tries to begin, “And if,” but the words come out choked. He clears his throat and tries again. “And if I don't want you to go?”

Yuuri closes the door behind him before taking another step forward into Victor's space, and Victor brings his hands up to his waist. Yuuri is shaking so badly, Victor can feel the tremors spreading up his arms.

“Then I'll stay.” Yuuri’s reply seems to echo through the small room, or maybe just in Victor's mind.

“Are you shaking because you're afraid of me?” Victor asks him, whispering, but sounding loud in the darkness.

“No, it's not fear. My body just does this sometimes in intense emotional situations,” he replies. Hearing Yuuri’s voice in this room which moments ago had been oppressive in its loneliness is such a comfort, Victor feels like he might start crying again.

Victor slides his hands around to the small of Yuuri’s back, bringing him just a bit closer, and Yuuri’s hands come up along his shoulders to the back of his neck. Victor drops his head forward to rest against Yuuri, and they stay there like that for a while.

Victor feels his consciousness slipping, and shifts to lie down, scooting over as far as he can without squishing Makka. Yuuri climbs in beside him, facing away, and Victor tentatively drapes an arm around him.

“Are you sure you're okay with this?” he whispers. Yuuri has made his feelings about sharing a bed, even platonically, very clear. Has he decided it doesn't matter so much to him anymore? Or does he feel… differently… about Victor himself?

“Is it helping?” Yuuri asks.

Victor nods against Yuuri’s shoulder. “Yes,” he whispers, more forcefully than he had intended. “You're helping.”

Yuuri nestles into the blankets. “Then I'm okay with it.”

Victor closes his eyes. “Good,” he murmurs, on the verge of sleep. “Are you going to steal all my blankets?”


Victor smiles.

Chapter Text

Yuuri wakes up with his face pressed against Victor's chest, his nose in the v between his collarbones, his head nestled under his chin. He's wrapped up in Victor's arms, their legs are tangled together, and he hasn't stolen any blankets. It's the best feeling in the world.

He soaks in the bliss for several moments, feeling the rise and fall of Victor's chest as he breathes, slow and regular, before doubt creeps in, dampening the euphoria. Is it wrong for him to enjoy this? Is he taking advantage of Victor's vulnerability for his own gain? It didn't seem like that's what he had been doing last night when he'd come here. He really had intended on just dropping off Makka, but when he'd seen Victor's haggard face and desperate, red-rimmed eyes, he would have done just about anything to help him.

Looking at Victor now, sleeping peacefully, all traces of pain gone except for slight puffiness around his eyes, he knows this hadn't been grounded in selfishness — for once, Yuuri has no problem ignoring the anxious voice in his head that second-guesses everything.

He settles his head back down under Victor's chin and closes his eyes. He's been debating about what name to give to how he feels about Victor, but things are clicking into place now, within the quiet stillness of the morning here in Victor's room. He needs to let this feeling sink under his skin, etch it into his bones, carve it into his heart, and show it to the world every time he skates.

Victor stirs, breath catching, and Yuuri braces himself for all this to be pulled away from him. He can only hope he's had enough time to memorize every detail. But Victor just pulls him closer. He wonders if his pounding heart will give away the fact that he's already awake. He might never get to experience this again, if Victor decides he regrets it, so he's going to lie here silently as long as possible. 

But would Victor pull him closer if that were the case? Maybe he's not fully awake yet and doesn't realize who is in his bed. Maybe he thinks he's Makkachin. Oh, god. Maybe some subconscious part of him thinks he's Chris. If he has to see the disappointment in Victor's eyes when he realizes that he's just Yuuri, his heart might just shatter. Sudden nausea twists his stomach.

“Yuuri?” Victor squeezes his shoulder. “Yuuri, are you alright?”

Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut. He can't look at Victor's face now that he knows for sure that Victor is fully aware of who he is. “Mm, yes?” he manages.

“Were you having a nightmare? Suddenly you were breathing fast and seemed upset,” Victor’s voice is full of concern. Maybe that will be the look in his eyes, now, and Yuuri won't have to see what was there a moment ago. Yuuri opens his eyes.

“I must have been,” he lies. “Sorry to disturb you. I can go back to my room so you can get some more sleep.” He pushes back away from Victor.

“Do you want to tell me about it?” Victor asks, catching his hand. “You don't have to leave…” He looks worried.

Right. Tell him about it. How would that go over? Yes, Victor, I was dreaming that you were disappointed that I'm not your ex-boyfriend.

Yuuri shakes his head. “I’d better get up anyway, if we're still going over my free skate this morning. I want to go for a run beforehand to clear my head.” Victor starts to sit up, but Yuuri puts a hand on his shoulder. “You should stay, get some more rest. I know you had a rough night.”

Pain flashes across Victor's face before he slides a smile over it. Of course, being reminded of his dead mom again is exactly what he needed. Yuuri pushes a hand through his hair. “Sorry.”

Victor shakes his head, a hollow look in his eyes. “Don't worry about it. I'll see you at the rink in a little while.” His expression brightens. “Oh! I forgot to mention, your costume arrived. Yuuko will have it ready for you when you get there.”

Victor is so, so confused. An hour ago, Yuuri had freaked out as soon as he’d woken up next to him and left as quickly as possible. He'd made it clear that he did not want to be followed. He'd even apologized, which meant that he’d known that would hurt Victor, didn't it? He had been so sure that Yuuri had seen in his eyes exactly what he was feeling at that moment, and rejected it.

But now Yuuri is standing there at the center of the ice, chest heaving after having spent the past four minutes skating his routine at an altogether new level of performance. Four minutes skating in a way that Victor knows can only be done by putting everything on the ice. Four minutes skating like only Yuuri Katsuki can, every inch of his body drawing out the exact emotions he intends to evoke in his audience.

Four minutes where he might as well have stood there screaming I love you, I love you, I love you. 

And he's standing there now, more beautiful than ever, with a desperate, raw look on his face, with one hand on his heart, and the other reaching out directly towards Victor.

So maybe he’d misinterpreted everything that had happened that morning. Or maybe he’d misinterpreted everything that had happened just now.

When he’d woken up with Yuuri in his bed that morning, it had felt more right than he’d ever felt about anything before. He couldn’t stop himself from tightening his arms around him, with every instinct urging him to keep that rightness… and then it had seemed like he had ruined everything.

And now he has no idea what to think. And they’ve been standing here staring at each other for a full minute, at least. Is he supposed to act like that was just a regular practice run of the routine? He wants to scream with frustration. Or joy. Or despair. Or who the fuck knows.

So he just applauds, and calls out, “Good work, Yuuri! Very emotive,” and something inside him breaks into pieces at the way Yuuri schools his expression into blankness. He's shuttered the window he'd allowed Victor to peer through a moment ago.

Victor comes to find him at Minako’s studio. He’s covered in a sheen of sweat and his muscles are screaming in protest with every movement he makes.

“Have you been avoiding me?” Victor asks, and Yuuri isn’t sure if he has the energy for this conversation. Admittedly, he has been avoiding him. He’d needed time to sort through his feelings, but everything is just as muddled as it had been hours ago.

During his morning run, he had allowed himself to contemplate that maybe he was in over his head. They’d agreed from the outset that Victor was only pretending to be with him as a path to reuniting with Chris. Victor had explicitly stated that he didn’t want to get involved with someone who actually wanted to be with him, and that Yuuri was a good choice because he wasn’t actually interested.

Yuuri’s not sure he meets the criteria anymore. This morning, the thought that Victor would rather have woken up next to Chris had been gut-wrenching. And that’s exactly what Victor doesn’t want to deal with.

He’d taken solace in the fact that even if he couldn’t be what Victor needed romantically, maybe he could still be enough for him as a skater. That if he had to suffer heartbreak, he could at least sink it all into his art. If he could lay it all out on the ice, all the feelings that were boiling over within him, at least Victor would be impressed with that. And he had allowed a tiny part of himself to hope that, if Victor had ever entertained the thought of really being with him, he might see what Yuuri was really trying to convey, and respond to it. But Victor’s reaction had been markedly lackluster. A failure on both counts.

He couldn’t figure out where to go from there, and skating itself was part of his mixed up feelings, so he’d come to dance, instead. Six hours ago.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’, then,” Victor says, subdued, and Yuuri realizes he hasn’t actually answered him.

“I just needed to think,” he replies, and it comes out a lot more defensively than he’d meant it to.

Victor lifts up his hands. “I didn’t come to push you into anything. The opposite, actually.” He steps forward, but freezes, and Yuuri finds himself a step back. Oh. Why had he moved?

“I can see that you’re uncomfortable after last night. I’m sorry for burdening you with my emotional baggage.” He twists his hands together, continuing, “And I’m deeply sorry if you felt obligated to stay with me.” 

How can he respond to that? He can’t tell him that he would immerse himself in all of his painful memories if it meant he could help. He can’t tell him that waking up with him this morning was the happiest he’d ever felt. He can’t tell him that he would stay every night if that’s what Victor wanted.

No. This is just Victor’s way of telling him he’s uncomfortable with Yuuri’s prying, and invading his space, and it’s never going to happen again, while still allowing him to save face.

“I’m sorry, too; it was none of my business, and I shouldn’t have pried.” Yuuri wraps his arms around his middle and forces himself to continue. “And I was the one who came into your room uninvited. It won’t happen again.”

“There’s no need to apologize. I wasn’t offended, Yuuri.” Victor frowns, displeased. Yuuri grimaces. Going back and forth like this isn’t going to get them anywhere new, and clearly Victor doesn’t want to continue this line of conversation. Victor looks down and away, and Yuuri wonders if he’s going to leave it at that. But then he looks back to Yuuri and opens his mouth as if to speak, but closes it again.

Victor seems to make up his mind — he doesn’t leave it at that. He states firmly, “I also want to make it perfectly clear that our coaching relationship is not contingent on our continuing to fake a romantic one. I'll stay on as your coach until the Grand Prix is over regardless of what happens.” Yuuri stares. Victor’s hands are stiff at his sides as if he’s not sure what to do with them. “I’m sorry if I didn’t communicate that well enough before now.”

Is he… trying to say he wants to stop pretending? Wouldn’t he just say that, then? Does he want Yuuri to end it himself, for some reason? Maybe he’s implying that Yuuri has been taking things too far, and he’s allowing him the benefit of the doubt because he might have thought that his coaching depended on it.

He's also put an expiration date on their time together. The Grand Prix Final. Less than six months away.

Yuuri shivers, feeling unsteady. He’s not sure if it’s due to anxiety, a chill from the sweat on his skin, or not getting enough food for the amount of physical activity he’s put himself through today. All of the above, probably.

“I understand,” he manages to say without letting his teeth chatter.

Chapter Text

“I want you to downgrade the difficulty of your jumps and focus on your performance,” Victor tells Yuuri, right before he is supposed to get on the ice. 

With nearly a forty point lead after the short program, the free skate would provide more than enough technical points even if every single jump were downgraded, assuming Yuuri could scrape together enough points with his performance to match his worst performance score across his entire career.

Strategically, it’s the right decision. But if Victor is honest with himself, that has nothing to do with it. Yuuri has been somewhat distant with him ever since that day they’d woken up together a couple months ago. Sure, he’s been friendly enough, and perfunctorily affectionate with him whenever they’ve had an audience, but the closeness they had been developing in the moments shared just between the two of them has vanished, leaving a hollow space in Victor’s chest. 

His free skate has been emotionally flat. It’s been devastating watching Yuuri run through it again and again over the past two months, knowing what he’s capable of doing with it, and never seeing it come close.

He knows something had gone wrong during their conversation at the dance studio, but he hasn’t been able to identify what. Every time he’s tried to bring it up with Yuuri, his responses seem constructed to be what he thinks Victor wants to hear. It’s as if he’s built up a layer of defense to guard his genuine thoughts and feelings. Exactly like everyone has told him Yuuri does to most people. He hadn’t realized how much it had mattered to him that he was exempt from that rule.

If he can get Yuuri to concentrate on performance, maybe he’ll get to see a glimpse of what it had been like that day. Maybe he’ll hear a whisper of the message that Yuuri had seemed to be shouting.

Victor would like to see something good come out of the absurd situation that has resulted in Yuuri being here at this small regional competition where he has such a huge lead over all the other skaters.

It’s ludicrous that the ISU had refused to allow an exception due to the injury that had prevented Yuuri from competing at World’s. They had claimed that his scores from the Grand Prix Final and Japanese Nationals last year hadn’t been outstanding enough to warrant an automatic qualification for the Grand Prix circuit this season. Victor had tried to leverage his own status to convince them, but they had been resolute in their decision.

Hence the opportunity to downgrade all the jumps and still win easily. But the look Yuuri gives him as he steps on the ice verges on petulant, and he proceeds to step out or touch a hand down on several very-much-not-downgraded jumps. He looks stiff during the section meant to represent the beginning of his partnership with Victor. But eventually, miraculously, he seems to relax; he looks like he might actually be enjoying himself on the ice.

Victor feels for the note in the inner pocket of his jacket that he had meant to give to Yuuri before his performance. He’ll have to find another opportunity, maybe in the kiss and cry. He looks back towards the ice and gasps in alarm when Yuuri apparently underestimates speed or overestimates distance and slams his face into the boards as he comes out of a jump.

He’s getting up and continuing. Okay. Victor tries to slow his heart rate. That hit had looked and sounded bad, but Yuuri is alright. He’s okay.

The crowd is fully energized by the time Yuuri comes out of his final spin, and Victor’s heart twinges at the sight of Yuuri reaching for him again instead of facing the panel of judges. Dropping his pose, Yuuri has the audacity to look very pleased with himself despite blatantly ignoring Victor’s directions, and Victor almost laughs at how much he is reminded of himself.

Japan is ready to have Yuuri Katsuki back. Even a fairly sloppy skate from him has the crowd screaming his name. Some of them have even been brought to tears. Victor is almost bowled over by Yuuri leaping at him, but he manages to catch him in a hug, feeling only slightly regretful at the bloodstains his new suit jacket will likely sustain from Yuuri’s bleeding nose.

He gives him the note in the kiss and cry, and his eyes track the movement as Yuuri slips it into his jacket pocket unopened. Maybe it’s for the best that he reads it later, anyway. Victor is startled when Yuuri pulls him into a crushing embrace before the scores are even announced.

“Thank you, Victor,” Yuuri whispers, trembling against him. It’s an intense emotional situation, Victor reminds himself. This is his first time in two months seeing the real Yuuri shine through, and longing wells up in him to have that Yuuri back for good.

“You’re amazing,” he whispers back. Yuuri squeezes him in response, and Victor hates that they have to separate when the scores are announced.

Yuuri scores a personal record and smiles through tears when he accepts his gold medal on the podium. Victor had been slightly concerned that the other skaters might be resentful of a world-class skater like Yuuri swooping in and taking gold — and how Yuuri might react to the negative attention — but his fears were clearly unfounded. The other medalists are looking at Yuuri in blatant starstruck admiration, thrilled just to have shared the ice with him.

Victor feels a swell of pride. Even though there was never any doubt that Yuuri would dominate this competition, obviously this moment affirming his legitimate return to the sport is immensely significant to him.

Something good, indeed.

Yuuri turns the folded up note over and over in his hands. Should he open it? He hasn't read the other ones either, though he has been collecting them in the box that used to contain his letters. The thought of opening the notes to find out that Victor hadn’t actually written anything and they really were just for show is too painful. Maybe one day he'll be able to bring himself to look at them properly. But not today. He tucks it back into his pocket.

He quickly showers in the locker room and heads out to meet Victor. Since the competition had been held in Fukuoka, they had decided to skip the hotel situation and take the train back to Hasetsu each night. Victor had made that suggestion, and the knife in Yuuri’s heart had twisted further. He knows Victor isn’t deliberately hurting him. He probably thinks Yuuri would be uncomfortable if they were placed in a room with one bed again.

And Victor is right, but not in the way that he would expect. Yuuri wants nothing more than to wake up wrapped up in Victor instead of a blanket again, but he knows it will just make him fall deeper, and he’ll be even more broken when Victor gets bored with him or succeeds at winning back Chris.

His phone buzzes.

Phichit: did you see the GP assignments???

Yuuri: Not yet, why?

Phichit: we're both going to china!!

That's in less than two months. Knowing that he'll be seeing Phichit so soon, it suddenly doesn't feel soon at all. It feels impossibly far away, and he desperately misses him. He could really use a friend right now.

Yuuri: That's good. I miss you.

Ugh, was that weird to say, given what happened with the letter?

Phichit: i miss you too!!

Phichit: promise that we'll hang out and you won't spend the whole time canoodling with victor 

Yuuri: Lol. Canoodling??

Yuuri: But yes, I promise.

He looks up the rest of the information for the assignments. Oh. Chris will be at the Cup of China too. That's likely when Victor will want to make his move, then. It's a good thing Phichit will be there to help pick up the pieces when Yuuri falls apart.

“Yuuri, there you are!” Victor approaches, and Yuuri realizes he's just been standing here at the top of the stairs outside the arena, having stopped walking when he'd received Phichit’s text.

“Yeah, sorry.” Yuuri checks the time. “We should hurry if we want to catch the next train.”

They walk in silence for a while. They should talk about China. And Chris.

Yuuri clears his throat. “Did you see the assignments came out?”

“Oh, yes. Cup of China and Rostelecom Cup. I'm looking forward to showing you around Moscow!” Victor smiles, and Yuuri can't look, it's too much. He's pulled deeper every time he has to look at Victor’s hopeful smiles. He knows he’s been disappointing him by putting distance between them, but he doesn't know how else he can possibly protect himself from the inevitable pain of losing Victor, if not by gradually pulling away.

“Chris will be in Beijing.” He says, and it's out. They have to talk about it now that he's brought it up.

“Um. Yes, I saw that,” Victor replies. “And?”

“And I think we've done enough to show that you can take a relationship seriously. And things are fine between me and Phichit, too. While we’re there, I can pretend to break things off with you, and Chris will want to make sure you're okay. Then you can talk to him.” Every word is like pulling a barb out of his skin. He can't think of anything he wants less than what he's suggesting right now.

Victor is silent. “What makes you think we've done enough?” he asks eventually.

“Have you looked online at what people say about us? They make lists: 19 times Victor Nikiforov was the most romantic partner in history. 15 little things that Victor Nikiforov does for Yuuri Katsuki. 37 reasons why Yuuri Katsuki is the luckiest person in the world.” He takes a breath. 

Those lists had been really hard to read. It had been a tearful night, but he hadn't been able to stop himself from clicking through to the next one, and the next one, and the next one. Some part of him must crave torture.

“People are obsessed with us,” he continues. “It's like we have our own personal photographers following us wherever we go, chronicling everything we do. There hasn't been a moment they've missed of us together in public.”

Victor has stopped walking. “So, you want to end this? You… you don't even know if Chris has seen any of that. And what about the pair skating?” He folds his arms and glances away.

Yuuri clenches his jaw. He wants to shout that of course he doesn't want to end this. That he wants it to be real. But that’s exactly what Victor had wanted to avoid by choosing him.

“We haven't even started practicing for that,” he retorts instead.

“We still have time. And I think… we need to give Chris another chance to see us together in person. But I won't force you. If you want it to be over, it's over.” There's something in his voice that makes Yuuri’s chest ache, but he can't, he can't let himself keep reading into things like that.

“Fine. We'll keep going for now and figure it out in Beijing, then.”

The train ride back is oppressive in its silence. Yuuri is staring out the window, and Victor fiddles with his phone in his lap, absently scrolling through his instagram feed.

He searches the tag for their relationship, #victuuri . The most recent post is captioned, ‘Uh oh, is this the end?’ Ugh, they're like vultures sometimes. Normally, Victor is fine with fans posting happy, lighthearted moments they've captured, but sometimes he wishes people had more sense about what might be a personal moment.

This time it's a photo of them from half an hour ago, right after he'd stopped walking and Yuuri had carried on for a few steps without him, and then turned to keep talking to him. Victor's arms are folded. 

People will jump on anything as a sign of relationship trouble, even a photo of them simply standing a little farther apart than usual while conversing. He glances over at Yuuri, who is now dozing lightly, leaning against the window. Victor taps the photo to get a closer look at this supposedly obvious sign of their troubled relationship, and frowns. Yuuri’s face looks… anguished. He's never seen him in that much pain. How had he missed that at the time? He zooms in on himself. Oh. He's looking away, he wouldn't have been able to see Yuuri’s face.

He looks over at Yuuri again, scanning his sleeping face. A bruise is starting to form under his eye. He’s lucky he didn’t break his nose; it’s just a little bit swollen, thankfully. Victor’s breath catches. The lines are there between Yuuri’s brows. Even in his sleep, he's still hurting about something. Maybe it's simply physical discomfort as a result of his collision with the boards, but this photo… 

Victor has always considered himself to be a fairly intelligent person. When things had first become strained between himself and Yuuri, he had tried thinking through possible states of mind that would result in Yuuri suddenly putting distance between them. He had decided it was unlikely that it was a result of Yuuri having feelings for him, because the only reason he'd even thought of that possibility was because of how Yuuri’s skating had made him feel — it wasn't rational to seriously consider that to be evidence of Yuuri’s feelings. The way Yuuri had behaved upon waking up in Victor’s bed made much more sense if he had recognized Victor's interest and didn't feel the same way.

That theory fit Yuuri’s behavior fairly well: creating distance between them made sense if he thought it might cause Victor’s interest to fade. Yuuri is a gentle soul; even if he weren't interested in him romantically, he would still care enough to try to minimize the heartbreak. 

The conversation they'd had earlier also made sense; if he thought it might deflect attention from himself, he would try to remind Victor of his goal to reunite with Chris.

Would Yuuri still have brought up Victor getting back together with Chris if he were dealing with feelings of his own? It didn't make sense. But, looking at that photo — which Victor is pretty sure must have been taken sometime after Yuuri had brought up Chris, and after Victor had asked him if he wanted to end things — that hadn't been the face of someone who actually wanted those things to happen.

Putting himself through the pain of continuing to pretend to be in a relationship with Victor would be selfless to the point of self-destruction, wouldn't it? Then again, Yuuri is not exactly a stranger to self-destruction when confronted with pain and loss. Fuck.

Yuuri’s expression in that photo doesn't fit the theory of him trying to discourage Victor’s attention.

But if Yuuri were trying to suppress his own feelings, instead, while still believing that Victor would be happier with Chris? It made complete sense that he would continue to pretend when necessary, but maintain distance during their genuine interactions in order to protect himself from the pain of heartbreak.

Victor is forced to conclude that he might not be intelligent at all. He might be a giant fucking idiot.

Their train reaches its destination, and Victor spends the evening somewhat tuned out to everything aside from trying to glean every possible scrap of evidence from the way Yuuri looks at him, talks to him, acts around him.

Dinner is a mostly silent affair — everyone is too busy enjoying the victory katsudon to take a break to speak. Victor rests his chin on the palm of his hand, elbow propped on the table. Watching Yuuri eat katsudon is almost as delightful as the food itself. He knows he's not the only one who thinks so, either; he's not looking, but he's sure Hiroko’s face is lit up with the usual delighted smile resulting from one of her loved ones enjoying her cooking.

“Is it that bad?” Yuuri asks, gingerly pressing the pads of his fingers along the curve of his eye socket and up beside his nose. “You've been staring.”

“Oh, sorry.” Victor grimaces. He has to stop being so obvious. He shakes his head. “It's not that bad. You should ice it for a while, though.”

Victor gets up to retrieve an ice pack from the freezer. When he gives it to Yuuri, their eyes meet, and Victor’s fingers ghost along the back of Yuuri’s hand. For an instant, the world is frozen, too.

The moment passes, and Yuuri stands up, wrapping his napkin around the ice pack and pressing it to his face. “I'm going to bed,” he says, abruptly. And then he's gone.

Mari clears her throat, but Victor doesn't look away from where Yuuri had disappeared up the stairs. “Yuuri won't talk to me, so I don't know what's going on between you two. But you'd better work it out soon, because this is painful to watch,” she says. She begins gathering up the dishes.

Evidently they haven't done a perfect job keeping up appearances. Victor helps Hiroko with washing the dishes, hoping the mundane task will consume his attention for a little while. Makkachin whines at their feet, and Hiroko smiles, giving her a few scraps of leftover pork cutlet and scratching behind her ears. It's easy to distract himself with watching Makkachin get spoiled. Mari is right, though. He has to do something, and soon.

When they've finished, Hiroko turns to him, placing a gentle hand on his arm. Victor looks down at her, heart aching at how similar her eyes are to Yuuri’s, and how full of empathy they are right now. 

“Every relationship has its hard times,” she begins carefully, her thick Japanese accent reminding him how much effort she's making to reach out to him. “We can all see how much you both still care about each other. As long as you don't give up, everything will be okay.” She pats his arm a couple of times, and returns to her task of putting the dishes away.

If only it were that simple. Victor takes a stack of small plates from her and lifts it the rest of the way up to the high shelf where it belongs. “Thank you, Hiroko,” he says, and he means it. He's consistently and deeply touched by how Yuuri’s family has opened itself up to include him. The thought of losing not just Yuuri, but this wonderful family as well, has him blinking back tears.

If he's wrong about Yuuri’s feelings, bringing it up could be disastrous. If he's right… he'll have to approach things carefully. It's time for him to admit to himself that this isn't about Chris at all anymore. Maybe it hasn't been for a long time.

Beijing will be his deadline to figure out what to do.

Chapter Text

Yuuri has been doing his best to maintain the distance he’d desperately tried to put between himself and Victor — he’d thought, with enough time, the idea of Victor getting back together with Chris in Beijing would stop feeling like someone reaching into his chest and squeezing his heart. They leave for Beijing in two weeks, and he was right — it doesn’t feel like his heart is being squeezed anymore. Now it’s being torn out of his chest.

And his usual coping mechanisms are failing him.

Phichit: everything ok?

Yuuri stares at his phone. Since when is Phichit a long-distance mind-reader?

Yuuri: Why do you ask?

Phichit: you’ve been listening to Adele, Vienna Teng, and Christina Perri nonstop all morning

Fuck. He’d forgotten that Spotify does that. Good thing Phichit’s the only one who knows about that account.

Phichit: do you need me to come help you hide a body?

Yuuri: Lol. No, I’m fine.

He’s not. And he really, desperately wants to talk to someone about it. But it’s too risky.

Phichit: plzzz

Phichit: you only break out that playlist when you want to turn yourself into a sobbing snotty mess

Yuuri sits up and glances at himself in the mirror. Phichit is… not wrong.

Phichit: why won’t you talk to me?

Phichit: i know it has something to do with victor.

Ugh, he’s not getting out of this, is he?

Phichit: he’s had chopin’s nocturne in c minor on loop for like… days

Phichit: and that’s a *mood* if i’ve ever heard one

Of course Phichit follows Victor, too. Yuuri flops back onto his bed and dangles his leg over the side.

Yuuri: He’s probably just thinking about his programs for next season.

Phichit: doesn’t he always get music produced for his

Phichit: oh snap

Phichit: he’s not going to coach you next season?

Let’s go with that. He’s not going to let up until Yuuri tells him some plausible reason for being upset. He pulls off his glasses and swipes at his eyes. All this lying… he’s just so, so tired.

It’s exhausting not being able to tell anyone how much he’s struggling. What if he opens up about how he’s feeling without correcting him about the cause? He can just change a few words here and there… 

Yuuri: I feel like once he goes back to competing… he’ll forget about me.

Yuuri: I’m not a good enough skater to keep his interest.

Yuuri: I have to get a head start on learning to do it without him, or else when he’s not coaching me anymore I’ll be totally useless.

Phichit keeps typing and stopping and typing again. Yuuri huffs in frustration.

Phichit: that’s the stupidest thing you've ever said

Well, that’s— that’s just— Well, it’s not like he can expect good advice from Phichit when he’s not telling him the real story.

Phichit: this is your chance to learn from the GOAT

Phichit: he’s the best skater who’s ever existed and you have him *at your fingertips* for the next few months

Phichit: why would you willingly cut yourself off from that before you absolutely had to?

Phichit: who cares if it’s not forever? milk it for everything it’s worth while you can

Yuuri drums his fingers on his chest. Maybe Phichit has a point.

Something has changed. Victor is hesitant to assume it’s permanent, but Yuuri has been making eye contact with him again. When he smiles, Yuuri reciprocates — faintly, sometimes, but still. And last night, when a fan had asked them for a selfie and Victor had draped an arm lightly over Yuuri’s shoulders for the photo, Yuuri had leaned against him, and hadn't moved to separate from him until Victor had had to detach himself to refill Makka’s water bowl.

Yuuri had made no move to reinitiate contact, but the fact that he had seemingly deliberately chosen to remain close to him for that length of time had felt like the sun coming out after weeks of incessant rain. It’s been lonely. Overwhelmingly so, sometimes. He knows Yuuri has his reasons — suspects what they might be, even — but that hasn’t stopped him from second-guessing himself and wondering occasionally if any hopeful feelings had simply been rooted in wishful thinking.

He’s had some bad days. Rest days especially have been difficult for him, because Yuuri hasn’t been seeking out his company, and that… really hurts. On those days, telling himself that he's worth something, that it's possible for someone to value him outside of the context of his skating, is never especially convincing. It isn't a new experience.

He’d even thought about asking the Nishigoris if they needed someone to babysit, because children have always had a way of elevating his spirits and allowing him to function in a simpler, more carefree state of mind. He’d ultimately decided against reaching out, fearing that it would be odd to do so without Yuuri.

But the past few days have been better. And the added bonus has been that Yuuri’s skating has regained the emotional element it’s been lacking for the past few months.

It’s unbearable, right now, watching Yuuri skate his Eros program. And not in the way that it’s been depressing to watch for the past few months. This time it’s because he’s on fire. They need to drop the temperature in here or Victor might sink right through the ice.

He’s gliding in a wide circle, trying to get a sense of what the audience might see from various angles, when Yuuri slides his hands down his body — a choreographed movement that Victor has watched at least a hundred times — and catches his eye over his shoulder in a downright smolder. Victor’s toepick catches on a divot in the ice, causing him to scramble for balance in possibly the least graceful moment he’s ever had on ice in his life.

Yuuri has stopped skating and his face cycles through several emotions: shock, confusion, concern. Finally, when Victor is upright and stable once again, Yuuri brings a hand over his mouth in a poor attempt to hide what is still obvious amusement — the adorable crinkling of his eyes is a dead giveaway.

Victor hides his eyes. “Let’s stop for today.”

“Are you alright? What happened?” Concern and suppressed amusement mingle in Yuuri’s question.

Victor feels himself flush. At least he can pass off his embarrassment as being ashamed of tripping rather than his lack of mental self-control. He shakes his head. “I'm just tired, and sore. I'm having trouble concentrating.”

Yuuri nods. “Yeah, I might go soak for a bit. You want to come?” He bends almost in half to rub at his calves while gliding towards the door, and Victor slides into the boards with a thud.

Victor may be feeling a little bit… frustrated . But this is the first time in months that Yuuri has overtly invited Victor to join him in doing anything, really. And he's been completely avoiding being in the hot spring at the same time as Victor, even when Victor has been the one to make the suggestion. He can't bring himself to decline.

Yuuri has struggled with body image issues since childhood. He consciously knows his self-image is distorted, but can’t see past his bias when he looks in the mirror. He is aware that his disgust with himself is irrational, though, and objectively understands that other people might not see him the way he sees himself. And while he can't fully comprehend it, Victor really does seem to be attracted to him. He’d seen Victor’s face before he’d tripped on the ice, close enough this time to be sure. He hadn’t meant to make him lose his balance, but he’d found himself reflecting Victor’s expression back at him, and then they’d made eye contact, and that had been that.

So maybe it's a bit petty, since Victor has been straightforward about his intentions from the beginning, but would it really be so wrong to let him have a glimpse of what he’d be missing when he gets back together with Chris?

He’s not going to do anything inappropriate, of course. But if he brings his hands up to slick his hair back with the hot spring water, and happens to arch his back slightly more than necessary, flutters his eyelashes more than strictly required for blinking, and lets his fingers trace his skin for an extra second after working at a sore muscle or two, that's not so far outside the realm of normal behavior.

If Victor calls him out, he can always claim to be exploring his character for Eros.

But Victor doesn't stay for long in the hot spring this time, so Yuuri’s efforts are cut short anyways. Yuuri twists his mouth. He had said he was feeling tired.

Victor nigh-on slams his door shut and slides down against it, panting. He squeezes his eyes shut, clutching his knees, trying to get his breathing under control. This is torture. Yuuri is torturing him. 

He drops forward onto his elbows and knees, letting his forehead rest against the floor. Not helping. He sits back up on his heels and pulls his phone out of his bag to find something to distract himself.

Chris: How have you been, Victor?

Chris: Looks like we’ll be seeing each other soon

Chris: Beijing is coming up fast

He throws his phone across the room. He can't go on like this. He and Yuuri need to talk about what’s going on between them.

But not here in Hasetsu. If that conversation goes badly, Yuuri will be stuck with Victor in his space, in his home, when that might be the last thing he wants. And Victor will be more alone here than ever before. In Beijing, though, they’ll be able to put distance between themselves if necessary. Celestino Cialdini will be there if Yuuri decides he wants a different coach. Phichit will be there if Yuuri needs a friend. And Victor can go back to Russia if Yuuri decides he no longer wants anything to do with him.

Yuuri lets his longing for Victor flow through his movements as the sound of the piano and strings washes over him. On the ice is the only time he allows himself to express it. Shutting down his emotions while skating had been unnatural and stressful, and at this point he has nothing to lose by letting himself feel those feelings. Trying to not feel them hadn’t made things any better. His heart is going to be ripped to pieces in a few days no matter what he does.

He finishes with his hand stretched out toward Victor, as always. That will stay constant, regardless of what happens, because he owes this entire season to Victor. He’s given him this chance to redeem himself, to finally be able to show his love for the ice properly.

Oh! He skated it clean. His heart is already beating fast from exertion, but it pounds a little harder still as he allows himself to feel excitement for the first time. He might actually be able to do justice to Victor’s coaching.

As he exits the ice, Victor hands him his blade guards, and when Yuuri looks up while putting them on, intending to thank him, the words don’t make it past his lips. Victor’s eyes are shimmering with unshed tears.

Victor reaches for him, and Yuuri lets himself be enfolded in his arms. Warmth floods through him, and he latches onto the feeling. In skates, Yuuri is about the same height as Victor, so he can't easily press his face into Victor's neck like he would be tempted to. Squeezing him back as tightly as he feels he can get away with will have to be enough.

“You've come so far,” Victor tells him, voice thick with emotion. “I'm so proud of you, no matter what happens in Beijing.”

Tears prick at Yuuri’s eyes. “I owe everything to you,” he says, trying to get the words out before he loses the ability to speak. “You've given me such a gift. I don't know how I can ever thank you enough.”

Victor pulls back from the hug but keeps a hand at the back of Yuuri’s neck. “You had it in you already. Thank you for letting me be the one to help bring the real Yuuri Katsuki to light.”

They're inches apart. His heart is racing wildly. His vision narrows, cycling between Victor's eyes, Victor's lips, the faint pink dusted across Victor's high cheekbones. His own lips feel strange — he’s hyperaware of the cold air, his own teeth, the tip of his tongue. Victor's hand at the back of his neck adjusts slightly, creating the slightest pressure, and Yuuri shifts his weight forward—

“Victor, Yuuri, I'm sorry, but— Oh!” Yuuko stands frozen, looking between them. Yuuri stumbles back on his skates, and there's suddenly three feet between them.

“Sorry to interrupt, but, um.” She clears her throat. “I forgot to tell you we have a birthday party booked this afternoon; they've just arrived. The ice will be free again this evening if you want extra practice time.”

Fuck. What just happened? He's not sure if he's relieved or crushingly disappointed that Yuuko had come in when she had. He needs to get away, but can't exactly run on skates. He jumps at the next possible solution.

“Do you think the kids would want a lesson from Victor?” He doesn't look at Victor. He's depending on Victor's fondness for kids and his sense of indebtedness to the Nishigoris for all the free ice time to combine into willingness to go along with this suggestion.

“Oh!” Yuuko looks between them again, brow furrowed slightly. “I'm sure that would blow their little minds, if you're willing, Victor…?”

There's silence for a few seconds, and Yuuri starts inching away.

“Of course, Yuuko. Let me get my skates and I'll be right back,” Victor says, finally, and Yuuri exhales in silent relief.

Victor rests his head on Yuuri’s shoulder, closing his eyes and letting the sound of the plane engine drown out everything else. It’s such a good feeling to be pressed so close to him, but knowing that he might be about to scare Yuuri away forever by trying to make things real between them is tearing him apart. This might be the last time he can do this.

He’s not sure how he’ll get through it if that’s the case. But he knows he can’t continue with the way things are. Yuuri had clearly not wanted to talk about what had almost happened at the rink a few days ago, and Victor hadn’t pressed the subject. At least the birthday party lesson had been a success.

He drifts in and out of consciousness for the next couple of hours, and pretends to still be asleep when the flight attendant comes by to offer them drinks; Yuuri is asleep against him, now, and Victor is afraid to move. A few months ago he might have justified it to himself with the fact that Yuuri needs all the rest he can get before a competition. But he’s done lying to himself — he’ll do anything to hold onto this as long as possible.

When the plane lands, Yuuri startles awake, clutching at Victor and looking around in alarm. He relaxes after a few seconds. “Not an earthquake,” he mumbles, still sleepy, dropping his head back down to rest on Victor's shoulder.

“You must have been sleeping fairly deeply,” Victor says, reaching over to brush the hair out of Yuuri’s eyes.

Yuuri nods, face rubbing up and down against Victor's jacket. Victor's chest feels tight. Sleepy Yuuri is a side of him he hasn't been able to see in months. As if on cue, Yuuri seems to fully awaken and he sits up straight. 

“Sorry,” he mutters, and the cracks in Victor’s heart grow a fraction longer.

Don't be sorry. I'm so afraid I'm about to lose you. He desperately wants to say the words out loud, to reassure Yuuri that he treasures every ounce of intimacy he's willing to share with him. Instead, he silently offers his hand, wondering if Yuuri will even notice.

But the plane jolts to a halt accompanied by the chime of the seatbelt sign being turned off, and it’s too late; Yuuri’s attention has been diverted. 

When they get into the airport, Yuuri goes to find a restroom while Victor looks around at the signs for directions.

“Excuse me,” someone says. There's a woman standing nervously a few feet away. Ah, a fan.

Victor puts on a smile. “Hello! What can I do for you?”

She shifts from foot to foot. “I don't normally do this sort of thing. You're Victor Nikiforov, right? The figure skater?”

He chuckles. It's not often that people approach him who aren't sure of his identity. “That's me. Would you like an autograph?”

She shakes her head. Now that's a first. “Um, I'm sorry if this is totally creepy. I was sitting in front of you on the plane and I took a photo of you from between the seats.”

Victor shrugs. He's used to it, though most people don't tell him about it afterwards. “You wouldn't be the first. If you're lucky, it'll go viral.”

“Oh no, I would never!”


“Do people really do that, they just sneak pictures of you and post them without permission?” She looks horrified.

“All the time.” Victor feels his facade slipping. That had come out a little too genuine. Weary.

“Oh…” she pauses. “I was just going to ask if it was okay if I send it to my girlfriend. She's a huge fan. I don't know much about figure skating, but she always makes me watch videos of you, so I recognized you. But I'll delete it if you want me to.”

Victor feels a genuine smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. “That's really thoughtful of you. Can I see?”

“Oh! Yeah, of course.” She hands over her phone.

Oh. Victor lifts a hand to his mouth and tears prick at the corners of his eyes. It's the moment that Yuuri had briefly settled back down against him and Victor had been brushing the hair out of his eyes. Victor's feelings are written all over his face. It might be the last photo like this ever to be taken. And to think, he might never have seen it if it weren't for this person's rare kindness.

“There's one more, from a little earlier,” she tells him. “You can swipe back.”

This one is of Victor sleeping, while Yuuri is awake. Yuuri appears to be touching Victor's cheek gently with his fingertips.

“That's your new boyfriend, right? My girlfriend talks my ear off about how happy you look with him all the time.”

Victor just nods.

“He's very romantic,” she says, dreamily. “I didn't catch a photo of it, but he put his fingers to his lips right before he touched your cheek. I just about swooned. I can see why she goes on and on about you two.”

What? Victor looks back up at her. Had Yuuri really done that? She has no reason to lie to him. “Can you send these to me? I'll give you my personal email address… just don't spread it around.”

She's just leaving as Yuuri rejoins him.

“Who was that?” he asks.

“Just a fan,” Victor says, faintly.

Yuuri nods absently. “Mm. We should get to the baggage carousel.” He wrinkles his nose. “I don't know why you needed to check a bag for a 3 day trip, Victor.”

He may have gone somewhat overboard and packed three or four outfit options for going out. “I don't know how you could possibly fit everything you need in that tiny carry-on!” He gestures at Yuuri’s bag.

Yuuri grumbles something about people waiting for luggage in a disorderly fashion and Victor can't suppress the laugh that bubbles out of him. A surge of affection prompts him to reach for Yuuri’s hand.

When Yuuri doesn't flinch away, instead letting Victor lace their fingers together and waiting patiently with him until Victor’s suitcase arrives, Victor allows himself to hope.

Chapter Text

“Ciao Ciao, I’m going to see if Yuuri is here yet!” Phichit calls, catching his coach’s attention and gesturing down the hallway.

It's been almost a year since he last got to hang out with Yuuri — two seconds of seeing him at World's doesn't count — and they have a lot to catch up on. What's Yuuri planning on doing after this season, if Victor is going back to competing? If he's thinking of going back to Detroit, that's something Phichit might want to think about too. Or… he wouldn't retire, would he? If the photos constantly flooding his feed are any indication, Yuuri and Victor are pretty serious about each other. Could he be thinking of going back to Russia with him? Somehow he doubts that Yuuri would thrive under a coach like Yakov Feltsman.

Yuuri turns out to be in the warm-up room, talking to Christophe Giacometti. That's got to be awkward. Phichit frowns. Chris is in his skates, possibly having just come off the ice, and he’s towering over Yuuri, who looks a little cornered, with his arms folded and back almost up against the wall. Christophe looks calm enough, but still, Yuuri looks uncomfortable. Maybe he could use a rescue.

“Yuuri! Oh my god, it's been ages!” Phichit inserts himself almost directly between them, throwing his arms around Yuuri. Oops, must have not noticed that he was talking to someone.

“Phichit!” Yuuri gasps, unfolding his arms to return the hug. Phichit gives him another squeeze and pulls back. Aww. A rare sighting of Yuuri with a big smile on his face.

“I saw that we both have the second practice slot! Want to give the fans something fun to catch on the practice cam with me?” Phichit grins at him.

“Sure,” Yuuri says, laughing. He glances over Phichit’s head, smile dimming slightly. “I should do introductions. Chris, this is Phichit, he's making his Grand Prix debut this season.”

Phichit leaves an arm around Yuuri’s shoulders, but angles himself to be able to look up at Chris, who gives him a little wave. “Congratulations on qualifying this year. Though it's too bad we won't have Victor in the mix.” He gestures at Yuuri. “I was just saying that Yuuri must be feeling the pressure of being the one who took him off the ice.”

Ah. Yeah, that wouldn't have gone over well with Yuuri. “Where is Victor, anyway?” Phichit asks, pointedly not engaging in that line of conversation. Best to avoid piling even more pressure on Yuuri right before a competition. Phichit wants to win, obviously, but not via emotional sabotage.

“He went to get a coffee for me. I'm feeling a bit jet-lagged.” Yuuri glances around. “He should be back soon.”

“You two seem close,” Chris says with a smirk, raising an eyebrow.

Yuuri makes a choked sound.

Phichit directs a sunny smile up at Chris — the best way to deflect an insinuation like that is to take it at face value. “Yeah, we were roommates in Detroit! There’s no better bestie than Yuuri.”

Phichit spots Victor entering the room. Yuuri tenses beside him, and Phichit looks over at him, catching the briefest flash of… intense sadness? What’s that about? He wouldn’t have expected Yuuri to still be moping about Victor returning to competition next season. And that hadn't been a mopey look. For that fraction of a second, Yuuri had looked devastated.

He narrows his eyes at Victor. What did he do?

Yuuri steps out from under Phichit’s arm to take his coffee from Victor, who is looking at Phichit in surprise.

Victor loops an arm around Yuuri, settling a hand on his waist. “It's good to see you again, Phichit. Chris, how was practice?”

Yuuri somehow manages to look simultaneously uncomfortable and relieved at the contact with Victor, a line showing up between his brows, but leaning close against him. Maybe he’s just super uncomfortable about a show of affection in front of Chris? Interacting with an ex around is always a bit of an ordeal.

Victor and Chris chat a bit about Chris’s programs and Phichit watches Yuuri closely. Something is going on. Every time Victor laughs or smiles at something Chris says, Yuuri does a bad job at hiding a pained wince.

Does he think Victor is still into Chris? Phichit glances down at Yuuri’s waist, where Victor has his hand pressed, rubbing his thumb up and down. He looks back up at Victor’s face, at the superficial smiles and polite laughs he’s directing at Chris. Yeah, no.

Either way, Yuuri is obviously struggling.

“Yuuri, our practice time starts in five minutes. Want to chug that coffee so we can go lace up?” Phichit asks, making sure he sounds cheerful and not like he’s spent the past three minutes staring at his friend's boyfriend and contemplating their drama.

“Yeah, I’ll drink it on the way. Thanks, Victor. See you in a bit.” Yuuri separates himself from Victor, and they head out.

Phichit glances back as they leave, and Victor looks seriously disappointed at the loss of contact. Hundred percent, definitely into Yuuri.

Victor watches Yuuri and Phichit hamming it up for the practice cam — coordinating synchronized quad toes, spinning around together with Phichit piggybacking on Yuuri, laughing easily with each other — and feels a spike of jealousy.

He knows Yuuri doesn't think of Phichit that way anymore, but there's a natural easiness to the way they interact that Victor envies. He wants to be the one out there skating playfully with Yuuri. He'd be well within his rights as a coach to interrupt them and insist that Yuuri get down to business practicing properly. But… Yuuri looks so happy to be able to spend a few completely worry-free minutes with his friend. He'll let them continue a little longer.

Once the other skaters join them on the ice, there's no room for any more playing around, anyway.

Chris joins him at the side of the rink, looking out at the group practicing on the ice. “Did you see the look he gave you back there?” he asks, jerking his head in Phichit's direction. “I don't know if there's history there, or if he's just an overprotective friend, but watch out for that one.”

He had that noticed Phichit’s demeanor towards him had been… less than warm. He hadn't been overtly hostile, but for the entire few minutes they had been standing together in the warm-up room, he'd almost been glaring at Victor.

“I'm sure he's just concerned for Yuuri,” Victor replies. He doesn't want to get into this with Chris. Despite things being amicable between them now, if Yuuri really is upset at the thought of Victor reuniting with Chris, he doesn't want him to worry as a result of seeing them talking at length about something. By tomorrow night, everything will be sorted out anyway.

Chris leaves to discuss strategy with his coach, and Victor continues to watch the practice session. 

It would be good to get a sense of the other competitors. Supposedly, Leo de la Iglesia had choreographed his own programs, which Victor can appreciate. He had admirably won Skate America without quads, but unless he's added a few since then, he shouldn't be a threat as long as Yuuri can maintain his focus. Guang Hong Ji had also been at Skate America, and had taken bronze. Apparently, he had recently added the quad toe to his repertoire, but watching him now, he's missed it a couple of times and doesn't look confident.

Yakov should be around somewhere, since Georgi is competing; they must have been at the earlier session and left already. Victor presses his lips together. His relationship with Yakov had been strained by his admittedly impulsive decision to take the season off to coach Yuuri. It would be nice if they could reconcile to some degree while they have the opportunity to speak in person.

The zamboni sounds its horn, signaling the end of practice time, and Victor watches from across the rink as Phichit pulls Yuuri into a hug. Phichit locks eyes with him over Yuuri’s shoulder, and apprehension trickles down his spine.

Victor knows Yuuri’s stance on a potential relationship with Phichit. But what if seeing Yuuri in a relationship with someone else has led to Phichit wanting something more? What if Victor’s not the only one planning to have an important conversation with Yuuri in Beijing?

He’s not absolutely certain Yuuri would say no. Maybe, when faced with reality rather than a hypothetical, he would give Phichit a chance.

Victor swallows. Maybe waiting until tomorrow night will mean missing his own chance.

“Yuuri, we need to talk about your short program before tomorrow,” Victor says, as Yuuri and Phichit are packing up their skates.

Yuuri’s skin is sticky with sweat. He could use a shower anyway. “Okay, Victor. Phichit, I'll see you tomorrow.” Yuuri stands up, and Phichit rises with him. “It was really great seeing you today. I'm glad we got to skate together for a bit.”

Phichit grins. “I'll let you know if I see any fun reactions to the practice cam stuff. Text me if you want to hang out later!”

That would be nice. It had been a relief being able to spend some time with Phichit and not have to pretend anything.

He and Victor head back to the hotel. Victor is quiet, leaving Yuuri free to ruminate on what Chris had said. No one who is a fan of Victor will be happy with Yuuri as a substitute. If the audience doesn't react well, that could really bring his energy down. And Eros is not a program that can succeed with a tepid performance.

But was Chris making an additional point? Is Victor going to be unhappy watching this competition take place and not being part of it? If Yuuri doesn't skate well enough, will Victor regret his decision to take the season off to coach him?

“I need to tell you something,” Victor says, suddenly, as they step into the elevator. His tone is serious.

“Is it about the competition, or something personal?” Yuuri asks, but he knows the answer.

Victor’s reply confirms his fears. “It's personal,” he says, in a low voice.

Yuuri’s stomach drops. He’d seen Victor and Chris talking at the side of the rink during practice. Have they already decided to get back together? Or… even if they'd decided not to get back together, then there's no reason for Yuuri and Victor to keep pretending, and maybe Victor is about to to put an end to it all.

“Good or bad?” he asks.

“Good, I think?” Victor sounds nervous.

Yuuri looks away. He’s not ready. He'd thought he'd at least have until the competition was over. A little longer, that's all he needs. To mentally prepare.

“Can it wait? I'm feeling pretty gross. I'd like to shower first.” Yuuri can't look at him. He’ll see it in his face, whatever Victor is about to do. If he can delay until after his shower, at least he'll have some time alone to get his shit together before he has to face reality.

“Yeah,” Victor eventually replies, his voice quiet. “It can wait.”

They get to their room and Yuuri tosses his bag on his bed, immediately escaping into the bathroom. He leans against the counter, palms pressed against the cool surface, and looks at himself in the mirror. He doesn’t look any more ready for this than he feels.

Fuck. Why would Victor decide to spring this on him the day before he’s supposed to skate against Chris? Can’t he just pretend, for one more day, that nothing’s going to change?

He strips down and turns on the water. Stepping into the shower, he closes his eyes and tilts his head back, letting the water wash over his face, drowning everything out. As long as he stays in here, everything else is on pause.

He drops his head forward, watching the water stream off the single point his hair has formed in front of his eyes, feeling the barrage of hot water against his back. He can't stay in the shower forever, though. He'll look like a prune.

He should probably actually wash, too, and not just stand in the water.

Maybe he can just ask Victor to hold off on telling him anything that might throw him off his game until after he skates tomorrow. Victor can be reasonable. It's worth a shot.

There's no point wasting any more time now that he has a course of action in mind. He finishes up and makes a half-assed effort at toweling off his hair. It's still wet, but he just runs his fingers through it to push it up out of his eyes. Ugh, he’d forgotten to grab a change of clothes. He dries himself off just enough not to be dripping all over the floor, and wraps the towel around his waist.

He steps out of the bathroom. Victor’s bed is on the far side of the room, and Yuuri squints to see more clearly. His glasses had been too fogged up to be useful. Victor had been lying down, but quickly sits up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. Yuuri can't make out the expression on his face very well, but his mouth is open and he might be about to say something.

Yuuri speaks up before Victor can have the chance to deliver his news. “I know you said you wanted to tell me something.” He holds up a hand. “But… you know I get in my head about things and mess up my jumps. I don't know how well I’ll skate tomorrow if you tell me now.”

Victor starts, “Yuuri, I think—”

Yuuri cuts him off. “Please,” he says, allowing a little bit of desperation creep into his voice. “Please, Victor. Not today.”

Victor closes his mouth.

Yuuri grabs his clothes and heads back into the bathroom to change.

Just a couple of hours, now. The short programs are about to begin, and afterwards, they’ll finally be able to talk.

“Yuuri, do you want some water?” he asks, holding out the bottle to Yuuri, who is lying flat on his back on the mat, staring blankly at the ceiling.

Yuuri shakes his head silently. He seems intensely focused on… whatever it is that he's doing. Victor feels a little out of his element as a coach. His own mental preparation techniques before competitions hadn't looked anything like this, and Yuuri hadn't acted like this at all before the competition in Fukuoka.

When Yuuri finally gets up and starts pacing rapidly up and down the hallway, Chris stands up from stretching nearby and nudges Victor’s elbow. “Is he okay?” he asks, eyes following Yuuri back and forth.

Victor regards Phichit nearby, in a deep stretch with his foot on the wall over his head. He could ask him if this is familiar behavior, but if that's the case, he doesn't especially want to let on that this side of Yuuri is completely foreign to him. And he doesn't want to confirm everyone's belief that he's too clueless and inexperienced as a coach to handle a skater at this level.

“Yes, he's fine. This is just his usual pre-competition ritual,” he replies, trying to infuse his voice with confidence. “You of all people should know how superstitious athletes can be.”

At least Phichit seems focused on his own warm-up. On the surface, at least, a grand romantic speech from him does not appear to be imminent. Maybe he knows Yuuri well enough to have reached the conclusion — without needing to be explicitly told — that Yuuri wouldn't want to deal with something like that right before skating.

The photo from the plane of Yuuri touching his cheek had convinced Victor that opening up to Yuuri about his feelings was the right course of action. But would it really be wise to take the word of some stranger that it had definitely been a romantic gesture? She could have been lying, or mistaken; maybe Yuuri had just been wiping something off Victor’s cheek, and had licked his finger beforehand like a doting grandmother.

Choosing to stay silent would be selfish, he’d told himself. Speaking up could end up being painful for Victor or wonderful for both of them depending on whether Yuuri reciprocated his feelings. Either way, he’d reasoned, he was only protecting himself, not Yuuri.

But no. It’s fair for Yuuri to want to focus on his performance. He knows his own mind best, and understands when personal matters might distract him. Hopefully, a successful short program will provide him with enough confidence that he’ll be able to handle an important conversation with the free skate still to come.

Victor just can't bring himself to pass up the possibility of seeing Yuuri skate that program after they talk, in the event that everything plays out the way it has in his wildest dreams.

And most likely, Phichit’s intentions were, are, and always will be platonic in nature. Victor had demonstrated a horrendously jealous attitude by jumping to conclusions based on a few displeased looks leveled at Victor and a healthy amount of friendly affection for Yuuri. He should be ashamed of himself for feeling like he has any claim to Yuuri on the basis of a few months of a strained, fake relationship.

Yuuri remains in his strange state of focus, disengaged from everyone around him, right up until Phichit skates to the center of the ice. He watches the monitor in the warm-up room raptly as Phichit performs, fingers steepled in front of his face. Is this how Yuuri had looked whenever he’d watched broadcasts of Victor’s performances?

Phichit misses the landing on his quad toe, and Yuuri winces in apparent sympathy. Phichit gets up to keep skating, and Yuuri softly claps his hands together a few times, mimicking applause.

“He's always wanted to skate to this music,” he says, breaking his extended silence. His gaze meets Victor’s for a moment before returning to the screen.

Victor hums an acknowledgement. “The audience is responding very enthusiastically to him. That always helps.”

Yuuri presses his lips together, and his eyes take on that distant look again. Victor frowns. Why would that have upset him? He'd thought he was making a fairly neutral observation.

Before he can ask, Phichit has finished his program and Guang Hong takes to the ice, signaling that it's time to get Yuuri ready to skate.

Yuuri takes off his jacket, and Victor’s breath catches. Victor absently takes the jacket from him. Will Yuuri in that costume ever stop having this effect on him? His whole energy transforms when he wears it. And now the whole world will get to see this side of him. Victor has always been the one Yuuri has locked eyes with at the start of each performance. But maybe Victor has been selfishly hoarding this aspect of Yuuri to himself.

“Yuuri,” he says, catching his attention. “For you.” He'd had to write something down after Yuuri told him he couldn't hear it out loud. He hands the note to Yuuri.

“Can you put it in one of the jacket pockets for me?” he asks, handing it back. Victor nods. Of course, he’ll read it afterwards.

Guang Hong is done. It's time.

Yuuri skates onto the ice, and Victor gestures him over to the boards to give him his last minute advice.

“You're showing your Eros to all of them, now.” He puts one hand over Yuuri’s and uses the other to gesture around at the audience and the cameras. “You can charm everyone with this performance. It’s not about me anymore.” He rubs the back of Yuuri’s hand reassuringly.

Suddenly, Yuuri interlocks their fingers and pushes forward to press his forehead against Victor's.

“Don't you ever take your eyes off me.”

Victor forgets how to breathe. And as Yuuri spends the next few minutes delivering the performance of a lifetime, Victor’s not sure if he'd be capable of going against that command even if he'd wanted to.

Chapter Text

Maybe pushing himself nose-to-nose with Victor and demanding his attention had been a bit out of his comfort zone, but Yuuri had hardly been able to believe it when Victor had tried to make it about the audience. There’s only ever been one person whose reaction Yuuri has cared about while skating his Eros program. And this had possibly been the last time he could get away with skating it entirely for him without it being wildly inappropriate to do so.

Afterwards, Victor had asked him in the kiss and cry if he’d felt good while performing, and he’d responded that he’d been thinking of making everyone else feel good watching him, but that was a big fucking lie. He’d only cared about how Victor had felt while watching him. 

Victor had sent chills up and down his spine by murmuring close to his ear about how amazing he’d been, telling him he wanted to go out for dinner to celebrate, showering him with praise. He’d felt like he could skate like that every time if he knew he’d be rewarded with the sound of Victor’s voice in his ear like that.

But now, after spending the past forty minutes doing interviews about his hopes for his free skate and the rest of the season, the adrenaline crash is hitting hard and reality is sinking in. There isn’t really anything between him and Victor, and Yuuri isn’t the one who Victor really wants to go to dinner with.

Independent of all that, he's starting to worry about how he can possibly meet everyone's suddenly very high expectations for his free skate.

“Yuuri, are you ready to go?” Victor calls, catching his attention with a wave from across the room. He can see Chris nearby, talking to his coach. He looks between Victor and Chris. It’s probably best for him to get himself out of the way now, so they’ll be free to do what they want for the evening. Victor will be relieved not to have to go through an awkward conversation with him about it.

Yuuri’s heart is in his throat. Is this the end? He can't deal with this alone anymore. It's too much.

He scans the cluster of skaters, coaches, and media, and picks out Phichit chatting with Guang Hong and Leo a dozen or so feet away. He makes his way over and grabs his arm. He calls to Victor, putting everything into keeping his voice steady, “I'm going to catch up with Phichit over dinner tonight. Why don't you see if Chris wants to go to dinner with you instead?”

He's going to be sick.

Phichit looks at him like he has two heads. Under his breath, he asks, “What are you doing?”

He steers Phichit to turn around with him and starts to walk away.

He hears Victor call from behind, “Yuuri, what—? Where are you going?” He squeezes his eyes shut and keeps walking.

Once they are outside, Yuuri turns to Phichit. “Can I stay in your room tonight? I really need to talk to you.”

“Yeah, of course you can. What's going on, Yuuri?” Phichit looks worried. It's a foreign expression on his face.

“I'll tell you everything, but not here.” Yuuri looks at him, silently pleading that he'll agree without further questions.

Yuuri is really worrying him. He's barely picking at his dumplings, and he hasn't said anything since they got back to Phichit’s room.

“Okay, it's time for you to tell me what's up.” Phichit folds his arms. “Something's going on. Why would you want Victor and Chris to spend time together?”

“Because that was the whole point,” Yuuri says, miserably.

“What do you mean?” Phichit frowns.

“Victor and I… it's never been real.” Yuuri pushes his takeout container aside and drops his head into his arms on the table.

Something must have happened to really shake Yuuri up. He grits his teeth. He told Victor to be careful with him; he might need to be reminded of that conversation. But right now, supporting Yuuri is more important. 

Phichit scoots a chair over next to him and sits down, putting a hand on Yuuri’s back. “This okay?” he asks. He knows Yuuri can be sensitive about physical touch when he's upset.

Yuuri nods. Phichit rubs his back. “I don't know exactly what happened between the two of you, but I'm sure whatever it was doesn't make what you had before any less real—”

“No, I mean it was fake from the beginning. We both agreed.” Yuuri’s voice is a little muffled by his face being in his arms, but Phichit is pretty sure he heard all the right words.


“What… do you mean by that, exactly?”

Yuuri turns his face just enough to peek at him with one eye. “You're going to think I’m ridiculous.”

He shrugs. “Maybe so. But I'm here for you anyway. Now spill.”

Yuuri hesitates, lifting his head. “You have to swear to me that you won't spread this around at all. No social media, no talking to anyone.”

Phichit nods. What’s Yuuri gotten himself into?

“Say it.” Yuuri looks at him seriously.

“Uh— okay… I promise I won't tell a soul.” Phichit lays a hand over his heart.

Yuuri exhales heavily and his shoulders drop. “I agreed to pretend to be Victor's boyfriend so he could convince Chris to get back together with him.”

Phichit’s mouth falls open.

He listens to the rest of Yuuri’s story in various states of shock. He can't help but interrupt when he hears Yuuri’s initial motivation for going along with it — “Why didn't you just talk to me??” — but ultimately lets it go because he knows how Yuuri catastrophizes and how impossible talking it out would have seemed to him at the time. He just didn't expect him to feel the need to go this far.

“And now I feel like a complete idiot for falling for him. Apparently I'm just so pathetically desperate for affection that I tricked myself into feeling like it was real enough.” His eyes drop to his hands in his lap. “I'm so stupid, Phichit.”

Phichit screws up his mouth. They had kept this up for months? Something isn't adding up.

“So you're telling me that Victor has been pretending to be in love with you this whole time, even in front of just your family? And it's all been for the sake of convincing Chris that he can handle a real relationship?”

Yuuri shrugs.

“And you're the one who came up with the no kissing rule.”

Yuuri tilts his head and scuffs his feet against the floor. “I mean, I didn't make a rule, I just told him I was uncomfortable.”

Phichit rubs his forehead. “And he — like any decent person — interpreted this as you telling him not to do it again, yeah?”

“Yeah, alright,” Yuuri mutters.

“And you ran off after spending the night with him — I know, I know, not spending the night with him even though he asked you to stay.”

“Well, he didn't ask me to stay; he told me I didn't have to leave,” Yuuri nitpicks.

Phichit glares at him until he looks up and notices.

“Okay, fine, yes, I ran off,” Yuuri mumbles.

“And Victor's the one who wanted to go out to dinner with you tonight and you blew him off.”

Yuuri looks away, but nods.

“And you think you're the one who stupidly fell for the person you were supposed to be fake dating??”

Yuuri frowns, squinting at him. “What do you mean? Of course I did.”

Phichit raises his eyebrows and folds his arms. “It sounds to me like you have it backwards. Victor is the one who fell for you, and he's probably really upset that you didn't go to dinner with him tonight,” he concludes. 

Actually, it might be even worse than that — Yuuri had come with him, instead, and Victor knew Yuuri had sent him a letter, too. Maybe it’s best not to point that out.

Yuuri’s staring. “What? No.” He shakes his head. “There's no way.”

Phichit rolls his eyes. How much heartache have these two put each other through for no reason?

He pulls out his phone and Yuuri tenses. “Oh my god, I'm not going to post anything. Here, look.” He brings up the feed for #victuuri and doesn't even have to scroll that far to find a photo where Victor is obviously stupidly in love with Yuuri. He lets Yuuri take his phone to see.

“That's just one picture… anyone can cherry pick until they find what they want to see in someone's face.”

Phichit sighs. “Fine, give it back.” He scrolls a little farther to find another. And another. And at least a dozen more. “There are like twenty pictures like this that I've found in the past two minutes.”

Yuuri just sits there blinking at him. This might call for a more specific plan of action.

Phichit taps his finger on his chin. “Okay, let's see. If Victor went out with Chris and got back together with him, they'd go back to Chris’s room, since he's not sharing with anyone.” 

Yuuri nods and hugs himself. He looks miserable.

“No, ugh, I'm not trying to make you think about that. I'm saying if that were the case, there's no way Victor would be back in his own room. Your room. So…?”

“So…?” Yuuri echoes. Phichit groans. Yuuri is capable of being frustratingly dense when he's decided something is impossible for him.

So… I’d bet my hamsters that he's there now, hoping you'll show up. And if I'm wrong, he's not there, he never finds out you went looking for him, no harm done.”

“It's really late…. Do you think he'd still be up waiting, even if he is there?” Yuuri looks at him, a little dazed, but hopeful.

“Yes! Go find out!”

Phichit swallows hard. He'd better be right.

Yuuri holds his breath for fifteen seconds before Victor answers the door. Phichit was right — he's here. But what if it's just because Chris turned him down? What if it has nothing to do with wanting Yuuri to come back?

He takes in Victor’s appearance. Flushed cheeks, messy hair, red-rimmed eyes.

“Yuuri,” Victor says, almost in a whisper. “You came back.”

“How did it go with Chris?” Yuuri asks, biting his lip so hard it hurts. Maybe the pain of that will distract from the pain of whatever it is that he's about to hear.

Victor barks a laugh that sounds almost like a sob, and he shakes his head. “That doesn't matter. Why didn't you come to dinner with me?” 

Doesn't matter? What does that even mean? Yuuri shrugs uncertainly and folds his arms. “I thought you'd want to go with him.”

Victor presses a hand over his eyes. “No, Yuuri.” He drops his hand to his side and meets Yuuri’s gaze. “I wanted to go to with you. I even researched which Japanese restaurant makes the best katsudon in Beijing. It's very popular; I had to make a reservation weeks ago.”

“You were researching places to get katsudon in Beijing weeks ago?” Yuuri says, faintly. He can hear his pulse pounding in his ears.

“What do you think that means?” Victor asks, and there's something there, in his voice.

Yuuri swallows. “It means y-you… really like katsudon?” But he knows that's not the answer.

Victor reaches out a hand, and Yuuri finds himself reaching too, meeting him in the middle. Their fingers intertwine.

Victor chuckles and sniffles. “I love katsudon,” he whispers, looking Yuuri directly in the eyes.

Victor steps back into the room, still holding Yuuri’s hand firmly enough that it's a clear invitation, but not so tightly that Yuuri wouldn't be able to pull free easily if that's what he wanted. Yuuri searches Victor's face. It's there, in his eyes: he knows Yuuri might pull away, and he's ready to let go if he does. But there's also a desperate glimmer of hope. He doesn't want to let go.

Yuuri follows him into the room, and the door closes behind him.

Chapter Text

It's quiet. The seconds tick by as they both just stand there. Yuuri isn't sure what to do. Victor turns to fill a glass of water and drinks the whole thing in seconds. Is he… nervous?

He places the glass on the counter and turns to face Yuuri again, but his eyes are looking at the floor. “You don't have to stay, if you don't want to. I'm glad you came, and I'm hoping we can talk, but if you want to go—”

“I don't want to go, Victor,” Yuuri says, and Victor looks up at him, shoulders sagging in obvious relief.

Victor pushes off the counter and for an instant he looks like he might take a step forward, and Yuuri feels a wild surge of hope. But Victor seems to think better of it, and stays where he is. It hits him just how much he wants Victor to close the distance between them, how much easier this would be if Victor could just read his mind and do everything he so desperately wants him to do.

He's struck by a memory of their time in Fukuoka. Something has been niggling at the back of his mind ever since Phichit had pointed out that Yuuri had been the one putting all of the limitations on Victor's interactions with him.

It clicks into place. Something Victor had said that night.

“In Fukuoka, you said you would never do anything I didn't ask for.” The swoop of his stomach makes it hard for Yuuri to continue, and he digs his nails into the palms of his hands. 

Is he really doing this? He’s really doing this. 

He lets out a shaky breath. “Does that mean… if I did ask…” His heart is beating so fast. Jittery energy runs all through his limbs to the tips of his fingers and toes, rushing back into his core in a cycle repeating faster and faster.

Victor’s gaze is burning a hole through him. It doesn't look like he's even breathing. Yuuri inches closer, reaching out a tentative hand toward Victor’s waist. Victor immediately leans towards him.

Yuuri’s own breaths are coming fast and shallow. He feels lightheaded. He's close enough now that he has to tilt his face up to maintain eye contact with Victor.

“Would you…?” he breathes, and he’s barely able to hear his own words.

Yes.” Victor's reply comes brokenly; he sounds wrecked, as if it took every bit of air left in his lungs to say that one word. He takes a deep, shuddering breath, closing his eyes. When he opens them again, his pupils are blown wide. “Whatever you want, Yuuri. Yes.”

Yuuri’s hands tighten their grip on Victor’s waist and he pulls, the last of his hesitation gone. Victor’s arms come up around him, and the last few inches of space between them vanish. He feels the heat of Victor’s body, the softness of his lips, and he lets his eyes fall closed.

It’s gentle, at first, almost still, as if neither of them have fully realized that it’s really happening. And then Yuuri parts his lips so, so slightly, and Victor’s hands move, one up into his hair, the other to the small of his back, pressing them together. A jolt of heat goes straight down his spine to just below his navel, and he tilts his head, needing more. 

The give and take of sensation becomes overwhelming, and Yuuri breaks it off, panting shakily, forehead pressed against Victor’s.

“Oh my god, Victor,” he whispers.

“What is it?” Victor's reply sounds pained, and Yuuri pulls back to look at him. He's afraid. Yuuri hands come up to Victor's face, and he strokes his cheek with the pad of his thumb, smiling reassuringly. Victor relaxes a fraction, but he still looks… vulnerable.

He knows how it feels to lose someone.

“I can’t believe I've been missing out on this all this time.” Yuuri moves to kiss him again.

“I’m glad,” Victor says, and Yuuri stops.

“What?” He frowns, pulling back again, withdrawing his hands from Victor’s face, fingers curling in toward his palms.

Victor’s lips curve into a heartbreakingly slight smile. He brings his hand up to trace an arc from Yuuri’s brow to his jaw, drawing his thumb across Yuuri’s lower lip in a whisper-soft touch.

“Because now this is real. I get to learn what you want, what you like, without any pretending,” Victor says, close enough that Yuuri can feel the heat of his breath against his lips. “I think it would have broken my heart if I’d been able to kiss you all along and had to hide what I was really feeling every time.”

A barely vocalized whimper makes its way out of Yuuri. How can one person be so fucking romantic?

Victor cups Yuuri’s face with both hands and pulls them together again, pressing soft kisses against his mouth.

“Victor,” he murmurs. Another kiss. “Victor.”

Victor pulls back. “Too much?” he asks, sliding his hands down to Yuuri’s shoulders.

“No, it’s okay.” Yuuri bites his lip. “It’s so good, Victor.” He tucks his arms under Victor’s and presses his hands against his back, dropping his head against Victor’s shoulder. “We should talk, though, shouldn’t we?”

Victor sighs. “Yes, we should, but… I’ve wanted to kiss you again for so long.”

Yuuri’s heart picks up speed upon processing those words. He lifts his head to look Victor in the face. “Let’s make it a quick conversation, then, so we can get back to it.” He bites his lip in what he hopes is an attractive sort of way.

Victor looks at him with raised eyebrows, and laughs lightly. “What do you have in mind?”

“I just need to hear some things out loud so my brain will stop nagging me that I’m reading too much into everything.” Yuuri says, cringing and hoping Victor won't suddenly decide he's more trouble than he's worth.

Victor slides a hand behind his neck and strokes a thumb against his skin. “Let me be perfectly clear, then. I want to be with you, Yuuri Katsuki, and not in a fake way.”

Yuuri sucks in a breath, startled at how obvious it is now, there in Victor’s eyes. Were they always this blue?

“You don’t want Chris back anymore?” he asks, in a small voice.

“I just want you,” Victor replies, sending tingles throughout Yuuri’s body, spreading heat wherever they go. Victor wants him. He’d just been answering his question, but it’s clear in his half-lidded eyes and in the heat of his body that he means it in every sense of the word.

Yuuri feels short of breath, and closes his eyes, trying to consciously take a few deep breaths.

The gentle presence of Victor’s hand at the back of his neck is reassuring. “Yuuri, it’s okay. I’m not going to push you into anything.” He presses a gentle kiss to Yuuri’s forehead. “I know this is all new to you.”

Yuuri swallows, and nods, opening his eyes. “What if you realize I’m not enough for you?”

Victor shakes his head. “I’ve been living with you for half a year. What realizations do you think I might still make?”

Yuuri pulls away and sits on his bed, running his hands through his hair. “I mean, like you said, this is all new to me. What if I just… never get used to the, um— the physical stuff, or I'm not any good at it?”

The bed creaks as Victor sits down beside him. “People aren't just inherently good or bad at any of this.” He pulls one foot up on the bed, turning to face Yuuri. “It just takes practice, and a willingness to learn what the other person enjoys.”

Victor smiles and takes his hand. He continues, “I'm not worried about it at all. Plus, I have firsthand experience with your capacity to develop your skills.”

He leans towards Yuuri. “Can I kiss you again?” he asks, and Yuuri nods, parting his lips in anticipation.

Victor’s lips touch his again, also slightly open. Experimentally, he lets the tip of his tongue briefly slide along Victor’s lower lip, and is immediately rewarded with a groan from Victor. Fuck, that's hot.

Yuuri slides his hands up into Victor's hair, and leans back on the bed, pulling him down along with him. Victor's hands drop to press into the mattress on either side of his head, propping himself up.

Victor breaks off the kiss, panting. His eyes meet Yuuri’s with such tenderness that Yuuri’s chest aches. Victor shifts his weight onto one arm so he can lift a hand to cup Yuuri’s cheek. “I’m afraid that if we rush things it will scare you away,” he says, softly.

Yuuri brings his hands to press Victor’s hand against his cheek, turning his face to kiss Victor's palm. “I'm not going to run away again, now that I know how you feel,” he tells him.

Victor drops himself down beside Yuuri, shifting onto his side to face him. Yuuri mirrors his position so they're facing each other. Victor’s arm comes around Yuuri’s waist, pulling them closer together.

Victor chuckles. “You're still in your jacket.”

Yuuri looks down at himself. “So I am.” He rolls onto his back and pulls down the zipper. When he sees Victor staring he laughs. “You've seen me naked a bunch of times in the onsen, and now my jacket coming off is fascinating to you?”

Victor smirks. “Well, now I'm allowed to ogle.”

“Yeah, my plain black t-shirt is so ogle-worthy.” Yuuri rolls his eyes while sitting up to pull his jacket off.

Victor scoots over and pushes himself up on one elbow, reaching to slide his other hand up Yuuri’s chest, the heat of his touch penetrating the thin fabric of his shirt.

He leans up to whisper close to Yuuri’s ear, and the brush of his lips against the sensitive skin along his jawline causes a shiver to run through his body. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you how much time I’ve spent thinking about you in this plain black t-shirt.”

Yuuri lets his eyes fall closed and he whimpers, leaning back on his hands and letting his head drop back. Victor peppers kisses along his throat and Yuuri can hear his own breath coming in harsh gasps. The thought of Victor spending time thinking about him like that, maybe even at the same time that he himself was thinking about Victor… he doesn’t know what to do with himself.

He opens his eyes. “Wait,” he says, confused. “Really, this shirt?”

Victor laughs in a low voice, and Yuuri feels the vibration of it against his neck. “This, and others. But this one has a particularly high spandex content.”

Yuuri stares at him. “I wear this one all the time, though.” Has he been walking around everywhere looking indecent?

Victor nods. “Mhm. And I’m very grateful for that,” he says, and Yuuri finds he doesn’t care so much anymore about how he might have looked to other people.

Yuuri scoots up the bed to climb under the blankets, which, now that's he's looking, appear to have already been pulled back. “Were you sleeping in my bed before I got here?”

Victor glances away, sitting up and letting one leg dangle off the side of the bed. “Not sleeping, really. More like lying here feeling sorry for myself.” He sighs. “Sorry if that's weird. I just… I thought I'd missed my opportunity to tell you how I felt, and I wanted to stay close to you for a little while longer.”

Yuuri feels a stab of guilt. How long has Victor been hurting because of Yuuri pushing him away for no reason? “Victor,” he whispers, taking his hand, and their eyes meet again. “I’m so sorry. I should have just talked to you.”

Victor laces their fingers together and lifts their hands, brushing his lips against the back of Yuuri’s hand. “I could have talked to you sooner, too.”

“Well,” he starts, squeezing Victor’s hand. He takes a breath, feeling his heart pounding. “Do you want to stay with me tonight?” He tugs gently, silently willing him to accept.

Victor nods vehemently. “Yes, please,” he says, a little shakily.

Yuuri pats the space beside him, and Victor shifts to turn off the lamp before sliding under the covers next to Yuuri.

They’re almost face to face in the darkness. He can feel Victor’s hand on his waist, keeping him close. “How long have you felt like this about me?” he asks, sliding a hand along Victor's arm.

Victor sighs. “I’m not sure, exactly.” He hums a thoughtful sort of sound. “Almost from the start I felt like I might have a bit of a crush on you, but I tried to brush it off as just being excited about getting to know a new friend.”

Yuuri rolls onto his back, coaxing Victor along with him, and Victor adjusts his position to rest his head on Yuuri’s chest. 

He continues, “And then that morning we woke up together… it felt so perfect, all I could think about was how I wanted to keep that feeling forever.”

“I was so afraid you were going to wake up and be disappointed I wasn’t Chris.” Yuuri says, teasing his fingers through Victor’s hair.

“Is that what had you so upset?” Victor asks, resting a hand on Yuuri’s chest. “Because I thought for sure you looked at me and saw how I felt written all over my face, and that you left so suddenly because you didn’t feel the same way.”

“No, that wasn’t it at all,” Yuuri hugs Victor closer to his chest. “I thought… you’d said from the start that you didn’t want to do this with someone who actually wanted to be with you.” He sighs heavily, feeling an echo of the devastation he’d felt that day. “So I thought it would ruin everything if you found out how I felt.”

Victor traces his fingers up and down his side, and Yuuri mirrors the motion on Victor's back.

Victor shivers against him. “That feels so nice,” he says, nuzzling closer to him. “I remember you telling me that the only reason you weren't afraid of being open with me was because it wasn't real between us.” He exhales shakily. “I thought you'd started pulling away from me because you'd sensed that, for me, things had started to become real.”

Yuuri shakes his head. “I wish I'd just talked to you. But honestly… I couldn't believe that someone like you could really be interested in someone like me — oh god, especially after Chris’s short program tonight. I felt like a little kid playing dress-up and trying to act all grown up, next to that.”

Victor shifts against him, until his voice is soft in Yuuri’s ear. “You were a thousand times more compelling, my Yuuri.”

Yuuri’s mouth falls open; he's breathing too fast. Is Victor's voice always going to have the power to make him fall apart like this? He turns his face and Victor captures his mouth again. The darkness boosting his confidence, he teases Victor's lower lip with his teeth, arching his body, and Victor shudders against him. Victor deepens the kiss, gripping Yuuri’s hips with his hands, and Yuuri has the sense of a whole world’s worth of unexplored territory opening beneath him. For once, it doesn't feel terrifying; it's thrilling.

Victor pulls away, breathing hard. “Fuck, Yuuri. Do you have any idea what effect you have on me? What do you mean you couldn’t believe I’d be interested in you?”

Yuuri shrugs, self-conscious. “I’ve always had a hard time believing in my own worth.” Yuuri closes his eyes, and feels Victor’s hand gentle at his cheek. “You wanting to be with me felt like an impossible dream.” He opens his eyes, laughing softly. “And then Phichit pointed it out like it was the most obvious thing in the world. He convinced me to come find you here.”

Victor suddenly laughs, and Yuuri feels it through his whole body. “I spent all day today and yesterday feeling shamefully jealous about you and Phichit. And now it turns out I have him to thank?”

“You were jealous? Why?” Yuuri runs his hand up Victor’s chest to the side of his neck, pulling him in for another kiss. It’s intoxicating; now that he can, he just wants to kiss Victor again and again. He’s not entirely sure that this isn’t a dream, that he’s not going to wake up in a moment feeling very disappointed.

But he’s not waking up. And Victor keeps kissing him back.

When they pause for breath, Victor says, teasingly, “You can’t ask me a question and then kiss me like that and still expect a coherent answer.”

Victor rolls onto his back and Yuuri curls up against him, resting his head on Victor’s shoulder and enjoying the feeling of Victor’s arm sliding around him to pull him close. It’s ridiculously comfortable. Years ago, he’d thought about buying a Victor Nikiforov body pillow, but there’s no way it would have come anywhere remotely close to the real experience.

“I got it into my head that Phichit’s feelings towards you might have evolved since receiving your letter, and that he might get the chance to talk to you before I could. That’s why I tried to tell you yesterday instead of waiting until we went out to dinner.” Victor sighs. “I told myself it was irrational, but when you went with him to dinner instead, it didn’t feel so far-fetched.”

Yuuri bites his lip. “I’m sorry. I wish I’d gone with you. But at least Phichit managed to talk some sense into me.”

“I had the whole thing thought out,” Victor says, tightening his hold on Yuuri. “You were going to ask me why I ordered katsudon for you when you hadn’t won yet, and I would say, ‘But Yuuri, you’ve won my heart.’” He laughs. “I know, it’s very cheesy.”

Yuuri lifts himself up to brush Victor’s hair out of his face and look dreamily into his eyes. And then frowns. It had been totally dark a few minutes ago. Now there’s light filtering in through the cracks in the blinds.

“Oh shit,” he whispers. “It’s morning.” He retrieves is phone and his stomach sinks. “I have to perform in like… eight hours.” That alone might be fine, but practice is in three. And he’s not sure he can get by without the extra practice session.

Victor grimaces and checks his phone too. “I wasn’t watching the time either. I feel like an irresponsible coach, but I’m really glad we were able to talk and… everything else.”

Yuuri nods. “I’m really happy, too.” He tucks his head under Victor’s chin again. “But all this was distracting me from worrying about my free skate, and now I’ll have to do it while sleep deprived, or with not enough practice, and everyone is expecting so much from me after how well I did during the short program, and there’s no way I can live up to those expectations in the best possible conditions, never mind subpar circumstances.” It all comes out in a rush.

Victor rubs his back. “You’re well-prepared for this, Yuuri. You’ve been very technically consistent in practice for a few weeks, and your presentation has improved a lot in the past week. I think you’ll be alright to sleep through practice and wake up in time to eat and warm up before you need to perform.”

Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut. Adrenaline is still running through his system from the sudden realization that he’d stayed up all night. He’s not sure he can sleep like this. He’s never been especially good at falling asleep when he knows the available time is severely limited. “Okay,” he says anyway. “I’ll try.”

Chapter Text

How to help someone with anxiety

Worst thing to say to someone having an anxiety attack

Panic attack vs anxiety attack

What to do during an anxiety attack

Victor is glad he decided to search for information before trying to help, because the first two items on the ‘Worst thing to say’ list are ‘calm down’ and ‘you don’t need to worry’, which are probably the first two things he would have thought to say.

Yuuri is seated on a chair a little ways away from the monitors currently showing Guang Hong skating. His head is in his hands and his legs are shaking badly.

He’d expected Yuuri to be tired, of course. And every athlete gets nervous before a big event. But this is a little outside Victor's realm of experience.

Now that he has a sense of what not to do, he consults the list of things that supposedly can help.

Get them somewhere quiet, away from other people. 

That will be difficult. The noise of the crowd is deafening, given that Guang Hong is skating on home ice. Maybe he should just suggest deep breathing instead?

Chris is the next skater, and the cheer of the crowd as he takes his position at the center of the ice is audible not just through the monitors, but also through the wall. Yuuri flinches and buries his head further into his arms.

Deep breaths aren't going to be enough. The most isolated and quiet place Victor can think of is the parking garage, which would be a strange place to go during a competition, but he'll try anything at this point.

He crouches down next to Yuuri. “How do you feel about going somewhere a little quieter?” He offers his hand, but Yuuri just nods and stands up.

Victor checks over his shoulder a few times to make sure Yuuri is still following him. Yuuri’s eyes are wide and worried, and Victor just wants to pull him into a hug and tell him everything will be alright. But no. Everything he’d skimmed had suggested that neither the hug nor the reassuring words would be helpful while Yuuri is in such an agitated state.

By the time they reach the stairwell, he’s already doing a little better; his eyes are still wide, but he seems to actually be seeing his surroundings instead of staring blankly, and his breathing is steadier. Victor puts an arm lightly around his shoulders, and breathes a sigh of relief when Yuuri leans in rather than jerking away.

In the parking garage, the noise from the rink is much more muffled, thankfully. Unfortunately, the floor would be much too hard for Yuuri to make use of his surprisingly effective lie-on-the-floor-and-stare-at-the-ceiling preparation approach.

Victor watches as Yuuri starts going through a visualization exercise, marking jumps with the relevant arm movements and turning on the spot. An especially loud cheer — probably Chris finishing his program — manages to filter through the concrete and Yuuri stops dead, looking up at the ceiling, as if he could see through the concrete to the source of the noise.

Shakily, he asks, “Victor, what are the current standings?”

“Don't worry about that right now,” Victor says, and immediately wants to take back the words. Ugh, don't worry is exactly the wrong thing to say. He’s useless at this. Someone who knows Yuuri better, or a competent coach, would probably say and do all the right things in this sort of situation. If only there were someone who could guide him through helping Yuuri.

Yuuri’s family would be awake to watch the competition, and Minako is on the stands somewhere, but most likely none of them would be checking their phones during a performance. By now, Phichit is the one performing, and that rules out Cialdini as well. Has Yakov ever dealt with a skater with debilitating anxiety? He’s probably busy with Georgi anyway. And who knows if he would answer Victor’s call to begin with.

Yuuri had said he’d felt like a kid playing dress-up — Victor understands that feeling too well, now. He shakes himself. Yuuri needs him to focus, not wallow in self-doubt.

“Okay, Yuuri, let’s count out some deep breaths,” he says, hoping he comes across as knowledgeable and decisive.

Yuuri nods, and closes his eyes, clearly experienced in this technique. Victor grimaces. Is there anything he can say that would actually be helpful?

But it seems to work, even if Yuuri probably would have thought to try it without Victor’s input. Yuuri begins the visualization exercise again, setting the position of his arms.

Then the crowd roars, louder than ever, and Victor stares upwards, mouth open. Phichit must have finished. He’s naturally charismatic on and off the ice, from what Victor has seen, but to get a reaction like that… he must have been flawless.

Yuuri’s suddenly harsh and rapid breathing jerks Victor's attention back to him. He's hyperventilating. And— don't do that! — he takes his ear buds out.

Victor rushes forward and presses his hands against Yuuri’s ears, trying to block the noise.

“Don't listen!” he urges, and Yuuri gapes at him, bringing his hands up to clasp Victor’s wrists. Shit. Moving into Yuuri’s personal space without warning is the worst thing he could have done.

“Victor?” Yuuri’s voice is small, and nervous, and Victor is just making everything worse. By chance, he seems to have been startled out of the spiral he was in, but that doesn't mean Victor handled things well.

He presses his lips together. He should have done the research ahead of time, not while Yuuri was in the midst of a full blown anxiety attack less than an hour before needing to perform. He'd been arrogant to think that he could be the perfect coach for Yuuri. 

The fact that Yuuri has come this far as an international-level athlete in spite of such an obstacle is so, so admirable; he deserves a coach who is well-equipped to help him face these challenges.

“It's almost time, shouldn't we be getting back?” Yuuri asks, looking searchingly at him. Guilt spreads through him at the sight of the dark circles under Yuuri’s eyes. He'd kept him up all night. Yuuri would have been fine if not for that.

Yuuri gently removes Victor's hands from his head and starts towards the stairwell.

“Yuuri.” He stops, and turns to face Victor. “I'm sorry that I didn't know what to do to help.” His stomach twists. “If you miss the podium, and want me to resign as your coach…” He trails off, trying to gauge Yuuri’s reaction, heart in his throat.

Seconds pass.

Tears fill Yuuri’s eyes and spill over, dripping off his chin. Oh, no. No, no. That's not— no, that's not what was supposed to happen.

“Why would you say that?” Yuuri sobs, wrenching Victor's heart. “I thought we… I thought…” He tucks his arms against himself.

The list can die a fiery death. Victor rushes to Yuuri and wraps his arms around him. If Yuuri pushes him away, he’ll respect that, but Victor can’t bring himself to just stand there.

“I didn’t mean it like that, Yuuri, I wouldn’t want to resign,” he tries to explain. God, he’s so tired. He can’t get his thoughts to form into clear words.

Yuuri doesn’t push him away. His arms come around Victor’s waist and his face presses into the crook of Victor’s neck. His shoulders are shaking.

Yuuri starts to talk, and the words are muffled against Victor's shoulder. “I’ve been so worried about today because of how a poor performance from me would reflect on you. ” Another sob wracks his body. “Now that we’ve finally—“ He exhales shakily, and continues, “—found each other, all day long I’ve been telling myself to stop being irrational, that you’re not just going to leave me if I fuck up—“

Victor interjects, “I wouldn’t! I just—”

“I know!” Yuuri cries, pushing back to look at Victor. “I know you wouldn’t , but that doesn’t stop my fucking asshole brain from constantly reminding me that you could. That you might not really care about me if I can’t win gold.”

It’s a knife through the heart; it’s exactly Victor’s fears about being worthless outside of skating reflected back at him.

“I do care about you! I lo— “ No, he can’t go there yet. He takes a steadying breath. “I only said that because I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. That a better coach would know exactly what to do, what to say, to help you when you’re feeling overwhelmed—“

“Victor.” Yuuri cups his cheek, and Victor leans into the touch. “There’s no magical thing you can say or do to fix it. I just need you to stay close to me and have faith in me when I'm not able to have faith in myself.”

Stay close to me. Victor drops his hands to Yuuri’s waist and touches his forehead to Yuuri’s. “I can do that,” he says, letting his eyes fall closed.

Then Yuuri’s lips are on his, and Yuuri’s hands come up to pull him closer, and the relief that things are okay, that he didn't just lose everything, washes over him, and he sways on the spot. Yuuri is a stabilizing force, though, and Victor remains upright.

A text would have been nice. A ‘hey Phichit, you were right, Victor Nikiforov is totally head over heels for me and we boned it out last night’ would have been good. He’ll have to settle for Yuuri doing a quad flip, of all things, and getting tackled to the ice as a flying Victor kisses him senseless.

He supposes it's fair if Yuuri’s been a bit preoccupied.

Yuuri’s score is announced, placing him in second overall. Which means— holy shit, that means—

“Congratulations, Phichit, I knew you could do it!” Ciao Ciao says, pulling him into a hug. “You just won your first gold at a Grand Prix event!”

That probably qualifies him for the final, too, doesn’t it? Somebody on the fan forums will probably have the numbers crunched before he hears anything officially from the ISU.

He floats through the media Q&A with a giddy smile on his face the entire time. He hopes all the little Thai skating fans are watching and feel like this could be them someday.

Standing on the podium with Yuuri and Chris on either side of him is surreal. He and Yuuri always used to console each other after especially grueling practice sessions with assurances that it would all be worth it when they were sharing the podium. And here they are. For a while, he hadn’t been sure if it would ever come true, given how things had gone for Yuuri last season. If it weren’t for Victor…

His silver hair makes him easy to spot among the onlookers. Victor seems to sense Phichit’s eyes on him, meeting his gaze momentarily. Phichit gives him a little nod of acknowledgement, and Victor nods back at him. Victor had put Yuuri on the podium with Phichit, and Phichit had put Yuuri in Victor’s— well, he shouldn’t make assumptions. If his grin turns a little wicked, the cameras probably can’t tell the difference.

Victor goes back to gazing at Yuuri with that same soft, lovestruck look from all those photos, and a quick glance at Yuuri confirms that he’s staring at Victor with the exact same expression. The hilarious part is that Phichit knows for a fact that Yuuri can’t even see Victor’s face right now, given that he’s several meters away and Yuuri’s not wearing his glasses. How much of this dumbass drama would have been avoided if Yuuri would wear fucking contacts when he skates?

He tears up a little when they play the Thai national anthem. Yuuri gives his arm a little squeeze — if anyone knows how significant this is to him, it's Yuuri.

They pose for a thousand photos with various configurations of ISU officials, and Phichit's smile starts to feel a little plastered on. Yuuri and Chris join him on the highest step and Phichit links arms with them, playfully going up on his toe picks to boost his height a little. A laugh ripples through the crowd.

For his exhibition skate, he gives everyone a glimpse of what he has in mind for the ice show he dreams of putting together one day. It's not as impressive with just him as it will be with all his favorite people skating it along with him, but the crowd eats it up anyway.

And then it's Yuuri’s turn. A hush falls over the crowd as he takes his position at the center of the ice. He's not in costume; he's just wearing his black training clothes. A woodwind instrument, a clarinet or bassoon — Phichit never could tell the difference — starts to play the first few notes, and the music is familiar. A murmur runs through the entire arena as the male opera singer starts up in Italian. Beside him, Victor audibly gasps. Holy shit, is Yuuri really about to do this?

Phichit is torn between jumping and down in glee as his inner Yuuri and Victor fanboy self squeals in delight, or taking his eyes off the performance to get a good look at Victor’s reaction. Curiosity wins: Victor has a ridiculous smile on his face and tears welling up in his eyes.

“He didn't tell you what he was going to perform?” Phichit asks. He hadn't expected Yuuri to be one for grand romantic gestures, but surprising Victor like this definitely counts.

Victor shakes his head, still smiling. “He said it would be a routine from last season. I assumed he meant one of his own, since he didn't get to perform at World's,” he replies, eyes fixed on Yuuri.

“So he didn't get you to help him practice this at all?” Phichit looks back out at Yuuri. It had always been a sort of hobby of his to pick up Victor's routines, but this is polished; he must have spent a pretty big chunk of time on it, and not too long ago.

“This is all him. I knew he'd learned it, before. I caught him skating it that first night at World's.” Victor laughs. “I was so surprised, it didn't even occur to me until after he was finished that he was concussed and definitely shouldn't have been skating.”

Victor falls silent as Yuuri perfectly executes a triple Lutz triple loop combination. “He must have been practicing it on our rest days,” he murmurs, mostly to himself.

Phichit chuckles. “That's textbook Yuuri — crazy stamina.” Who can blame him if he lets the innuendo seep through his tone just a bit? He glances up at Victor and smirks as he flushes red enough to make out in the darkened arena.

Victor looks back at him momentarily, eyes narrowed, before he returns to watching Yuuri finishing up his combination spin. “You're a bit of a troublemaker, aren't you?”

Phichit shrugs, grinning. “Are you complaining?”

Victor’s mouth pulls up at one corner. “No. Who knows where we'd be if it weren't for your pushing Yuuri in the right direction last night?”

Phichit nods. It’s good to be appreciated. But… “Just promise you’ll make sure it was the right direction, okay?” His warning from all those months ago is still applicable. He doesn’t want to see his friend get his heart broken, especially not after getting a glimpse of that last night before he’d had some sense talked into him.

The music stops, and the fans lose their collective shit, making further discussion impossible. Yuuri never pays much attention to fan forums; he probably has no idea how many people here bought tickets specifically in hopes of getting a front row seat to some juicy Yuuri and Victor interaction. Between their kiss on the ice and Yuuri pulling something as ludicrous as skating one of Victor’s programs for the exhibition, they’ve made a lot of people’s wildest dreams come true. Rostelecom Cup will probably sell out within five minutes of the first fan video hitting the internet. It’s probably already sold out.

Having finished making his rounds bowing to the audience all around the rink, Yuuri makes his way over to them and throws himself at Victor, still breathing hard. It’s still way too loud for conversation, but Victor catches Phichit’s eye from over Yuuri’s shoulder and nods solemnly, tightening his arms around Yuuri. 

The meaning is clear — a promise that he’ll do his best.

The moment the hotel room door closes behind him, Victor finds himself pinned against it with Yuuri’s hands on his hips. Yuuri trails hot kisses up the line of his neck and along his jaw, and Victor's eyes roll up into the back of his head, desire spiking through him.

“Fuck,” he gasps, letting his head drop back against the door, giving Yuuri better access to his throat. For someone who shouldn't really know what he's doing, Yuuri has excellent instincts. He'd stopped Yuuri after two glasses of champagne — Victor had even finished half of the second one; had that still been enough to impact his inhibitions? “What—”

“Sorry.” Yuuri breathes the word against his skin. “Just… knowing I can makes me want to do this all the time.” His fingers trace up and down Victor's sides, and Victor groans. The thin fabric of his undershirt is practically insubstantial as a layer between them.

Shit, they're right up against the door; anyone near enough in the hallway can probably hear everything. Though, with Yuuri’s hands driving him to distraction, it's hard to care about noise. “Don't apologize,” he manages. “I really— hahhhh” he cuts off as Yuuri’s fingers find skin. He was wrong; the shirt made a world of difference. He swallows, and tries again, “I really appreciate your assertiveness.” 

Yuuri makes a low noise against his collarbone, teeth scraping skin, and Victor tries to remember what he was going to say next. Right. The noise, the hallway. “We should probably move away from the door, though.”

The weight of Yuuri’s body is off him in an instant, and the sudden loss of contact is almost painful. Why did they have to leave the door, again?

He kicks his shoes off, and bends down to pick up the jacket and dress shirt that had been draped over his arm. He must have dropped them when Yuuri had pressed him against the door and caused him to lose conscious control of his gross motor functions.

Standing up, and stumbling only a little, he frowns as he takes in Yuuri’s uncertain expression. “What's wrong?” He reaches for him and Yuuri doesn't stop him from pulling him close, leaning into him instead. Good.

“I'm sorry. I feel like I'm embarrassing myself trying things like that,” Yuuri mumbles. Well, that won't do.

“No, Yuuri, not at all. That was— Everything about that was… fantastic.” A shiver runs through him — the heat of Yuuri’s mouth, the pressure of hands on his hips, the slide of his fingers against his skin… “You can do— Please do that, anything you like, whenever you want.”

Yuuri makes a muffled noise against his neck, and Victor shivers again. His eyes fall closed. It's… really hard to open them again. He fights it, but they slide closed again. Right; he's only gotten a handful of hours of sleep over the past two days. How is Yuuri still going strong? He'd had a much more energy intensive day. Crazy stamina indeed.

He presses his lips to Yuuri’s temple. “I’d love to continue things right now, even, except I don't think I can force myself to stay awake,” he murmurs, letting his cheek rest against Yuuri’s head.

Yuuri’s gentle hands guide him to the bed and the pillow finds its way under his head immediately.

“Um, Victor… I’m not— I assume you don’t want to sleep in your dress pants, so I’m— I’m just going to take them off so you can be comfortable, okay?” Yuuri’s voice is nervous. “Or you can do it yourself, but it seems like you’re mostly asleep already.”

“Mm.” Victor nods. Yuuri can take his pants off for whatever reason he wants.

His belt buckle clinks, and fabric rustles, gentle tugs jostling him a little. The air briefly reaches the skin of his legs, but warm blankets come up around him, and everything is so comfortable.

A door clicks shut somewhere behind him, and Victor blinks his eyes open in alarm, looking around. But the sound of running water filters through the bathroom door, and he relaxes, settling his head back down on the pillow and curling up on his side. The white noise of the shower grows gradually more distant in his consciousness.

When Yuuri, still warm from the hot water, slips into bed behind him and slides an arm around his waist, his mouth curves into a smile. His heart flutters at the soft press of Yuuri’s lips against his shoulder. He tucks an arm over Yuuri’s, willing them to stay like this all night. Happiness suffuses his whole being, and sleep claims him again.

Chapter Text

An unexpectedly short line at airport security would normally be a welcome surprise. Victor has always preferred to have time to spare before having to make his way to the gate for boarding. In this case, however, any extra minutes at the airport could have been extra minutes in their hotel room that morning.

It had been lovely. Perfect. Wonderful, to wake up to the sight of Yuuri’s shy smile, to see his sleepy eyes unguarded and full of affection. Victor had leaned in, fully intent on continuing things down the path they’d started along the night before, and Yuuri had been beautifully receptive. 

He’d managed to extract several gorgeous noises from Yuuri’s throat with his tongue and his lips and his teeth, and when he’d let his hands start to wander, Yuuri had reverted to Japanese, breathily uttering phrases Victor had no ability to comprehend. Victor had resolved to learn as many dirty Japanese words and idioms as he possibly could and try to make Yuuri say them all. 

But then his phone had illuminated with a notification, and Victor had glanced over and realized they’d slept for fourteen hours and they would need to get going immediately unless they wanted to risk missing their flight.

And now, having just arrived at their gate fifteen minutes before boarding is scheduled to begin, all Victor can think about is what incredible things could have happened if only they’d stayed in bed for an additional fifteen minutes instead. He’s halfway tempted to find a secluded corner with Yuuri and see what happens there, but Yuuri deserves better than that. He’s never even been on a proper date.

Oh, well. There will be time for everything soon enough.

His stomach growls. They hadn’t had time to eat, either, before rushing to the airport. At least that's something that can be done just as easily here and now. With a quick kiss to the top of Yuuri’s head and a promise to bring back a muffin, he goes in search of coffee and breakfast.

He finds Georgi waiting at the little coffee kiosk closest to their gate. His flight must be around the same time as theirs. Yakov must be close, too.

“Georgi, hi!” They'd never been especially close, but having been away from Saint Petersburg for so long, he finds he misses his rinkmates more than he’d expected to.

“Oh! Victor. Nice to see you,” Georgi says, turning to face him. He looks… he doesn't look great, actually. His eyes are puffy, his posture slouched. Is he that upset about missing the podium?

“How… have you been?” Victor asks, a little apprehensively. This could open Pandora’s box. “I was sorry to have missed your program.”

Georgi sighs. “You haven't been around, so I guess you can't be sick of hearing about it, yet.” He cocks his head. “Actually… maybe you can give me some advice.”

Advice? Fifteen minutes standing around in an airport isn't exactly conducive to a productive conversation about step sequences, or whatever it is Georgi needs help with.

“Oh?” he asks. He can try, anyway.

Georgi rubs the back of his neck and shifts from foot to foot. “You were pretty broken up about it when Chris ended things, right? How did you get yourself to move on?”

Oh! That's… not the direction he expected things to go. He's also completely incapable of giving constructive advice, given how bizarre his own path to a mended heart had been.

“Did you and… Anna...?” What was Georgi’s girlfriend’s name, again?

“Anya,” Georgi corrects. He hadn't been too far off. “She left me, and she's constantly posting pictures with her new lover. It's horrible; I've never felt this miserable in my life.”

A pang of empathy prompts him to put a hand on Georgi’s shoulder. Maybe he can’t give him advice about what to do, but…

“I know the feeling,” he says, squeezing Georgi’s shoulder reassuringly. “I suppose what would have helped me at the time was for someone to tell me it's okay for it to hurt.”

He glances over at Yuuri in the distance, waiting for him at the gate, and smiles wistfully. Despite all the heartache they've been through in the past few months, and even though he knows now that the ways he had dealt with — or rather, avoided dealing with — his feelings after Chris weren't healthy, he wouldn't change a single thing. He would put himself through it all again to ensure the same outcome.

But maybe he can make things easier for Georgi. “Be patient with yourself,” he says, giving him a sympathetic smile. “It can be painful for a relationship to be over even if it’s for the best in the long run. You don’t need to do anything; when you’re ready to move on, it will happen.”

Georgi looks like he might cry. “Thanks, Victor,” he replies, a little choked. “Yakov just told me to focus on skating. All Mila would tell me is that to get over one woman I need to get under another one… and that’s the last thing I feel like doing right now.” He shakes his head. “I even tried talking to Yuri, but he just walked away yelling about adults asking him for relationship advice.”

Victor suppresses a cringe. That last one is his fault. “Well,” he says, slowly. He might regret this. “If you need someone to talk to, feel free to message me, if you think that might help.”

Georgi’s eyes widen. “Really? I always thought…” He looks away, trailing off. “I didn't think you ever thought of me as a friend. But thanks, Victor. Maybe I'll take you up on that offer.”

A year ago, Victor would never have opened up to an acquaintance about his personal struggles. He probably wouldn’t have offered himself as a confidant, either — the thought that anyone would want him to listen or advise them on personal matters was inconceivable.

They part ways, Georgi promising to pass along greetings to Yakov, and Victor wondering whether there’s any point. He makes it back to the gate with a few minutes to spare, and hands over the muffin to Yuuri, as promised.

Victor drops down in the seat next to him. “I ran into Georgi.”

“Mmph?” says Yuuri, around a mouthful of muffin, lifting a hand in front of his mouth.

“He asked me for advice on how to get over his ex,” Victor says, shaking his head with a slight smile.

Yuuri finishes chewing. “Yeah? What did you tell him?”

“Oh, you know.” Victor grins. “I told him the secret is to start coaching, move to a hot spring, and get into a fake relationship until it turns into a real one.”

Yuuri laughs hard, the corners of his eyes crinkling, and Victor watches him, smiling softly. He's beautiful.

Victor would gladly spend eternity gazing at Yuuri’s face radiating happiness, but he’s cut off by the boarding announcement. Pouting slightly, he makes another resolution: create opportunities to witness that sight whenever possible.

Victor's heart beats a little faster as Yuuri slips a warm hand into his while they walk along the jetbridge. Is it absurd that something so simple still has such an effect on him? He gives Yuuri’s hand a squeeze and smiles wide. He's so lucky.

He's still smiling when they reach their seats, and they're still holding hands. Yuuri awkwardly nudges his bag farther under the seat in front of them with his foot rather than releasing Victor's hand, and Victor might just explode with fondness for him if he doesn't kiss him right this moment. 

A thrill goes through him at the thought that there’s no reason he shouldn’t. So he does.

Yuuri makes an adorable noise of surprise and smiles into the kiss. It’s brief — they’ll have plenty of time for more later — and Victor is blessed with another glimpse of joy on Yuuri’s face when they part.

“What was that for?” Yuuri asks, blushing a wonderful shade of pink.

“Just because,” Victor answers, simply. “Would you rather I didn’t?” He looks down, tracing the lines of Yuuri’s palm with his fingertips, but he doesn't drop his smile.

“No!” Wide-eyed, Yuuri grasps both of Victor’s hands in his. “I love it. Never stop.”

“As you wish,” Victor says, and he brings a hand up to Yuuri’s cheek to pull him in again for another gentle kiss. And another. And one more.

Yuuri sighs — a delightfully happy sound. “Victor… have you seen the Princess Bride?”

Ah! He's been caught. “I've read the book,” Victor answers slowly, searching Yuuri’s eyes. Had ‘as you wish’ held the same meaning in the film adaptation as it had in the book? “Could we watch it together sometime?” he asks, hopefully.

Yuuri closes his eyes, lips forming a soft, exquisite smile, and leans over, the weight of his head on Victor's shoulder a comfortingly solid presence. “As you wish,” he replies, like he's whispering a secret.

The butterflies in Victor's stomach flutter, and his smile turns giddy.

Everyone is already asleep by the time they arrive back home. It's almost eerie how quiet it is. The sound of the front door shutting behind them seems to echo through the entire building.

“I thought they would have waited up to congratulate you,” Victor whispers close in his ear, and Yuuri shrugs.

“They'll probably make a whole thing of it tomorrow,” he replies, keeping his voice quiet. His stomach growls. “I'm going to see if my mom left us any leftovers in the fridge.”

Victor nods, and leaves to put away their bags. 

Alone for the first time in ages, Yuuri exhales slowly. He's gone to sleep and woken up twice now, and this still hasn't turned out to be a dream. Maybe a more rational explanation is that when he fell and hit his head back at World’s, he never woke up, and right now he's lying in a coma in a hospital bed somewhere, his brain having nothing better to do than play out an elaborate fantasy about Victor Nikiforov. Phichit plays movies for him when he visits, forcing his brain to make up explanations for where the Totoro and Princess Bride input is coming from.

There's some curry rice in the fridge. He pulls it out and starts dishing it into bowls for himself and his maybe-coma-hallucination–maybe-boyfriend. He throws the bowls into the microwave and taps his fingers on the counter as he waits for them to finish being reheated.

Victor returns, coming up behind Yuuri. If he's a hallucination, he's a very detailed one, judging by the warmth of his arms around Yuuri’s middle, the softness of his lips at the crook of Yuuri’s neck, and the tickle of his hair against Yuuri’s skin.

Victor's lips graze Yuuri’s ear, and Yuuri inhales sharply, lifting his chin. “Do you want to stay in my room tonight?” Victor asks, fingers toying with the hem of Yuuri’s shirt and making Yuuri’s stomach do somersaults. The timbre of his voice is a nice detail too — thanks, coma brain.

He nods, snaking a hand up behind Victor's head and lightly dragging his fingernails along his scalp. A shiver runs through Victor's body in response, and it's exhilarating, having such an obvious effect on him.

Yuuri hits the cancel button on the microwave well before the countdown is finished, and devours his lukewarm curry rice in record time. Victor does not appear to be making any effort to savor the food, either.

As soon as the door to Victor's room is closed, they're on each other, stumbling towards the bed. Yuuri’s fingers twine into Victor's hair and he pulls, every part of him demanding closer, closer , despite the whole length of Victor's body already pressed against him. A direct continuation from where they left off this morning would be ideal, but starting over from scratch would be fine, too.

A sliver of doubt creeps in: what if he's being too aggressive? Will Victor will tell him to leave? But Victor’s voice echoes in his mind: please — whatever you want — anything you like. Doubt can go fuck itself.

The back of his legs hit the bed and he lets himself fall, bringing Victor with him.

“Yuuri,” Victor gasps.

Instantly, Yuuri releases his grip on Victor’s hair. “Sorry,” he rushes out.

Victor presses his face against Yuuri’s neck and starts to shake. Oh, god. Is he upset?

No. He's laughing.

He pushes back, and Yuuri searches his face: dark eyes, flushed skin. “I must sound very different to you than I do to myself,” he says, chuckling. “Because every time I say anything at all, you stop and apologize.”

Yuuri shrugs helplessly, twisting his mouth. 

“Listen.” Victor touches the pads of his fingers to Yuuri’s mouth, and the gentle pressure makes Yuuri relax his lips. Victor's thumb traces lightly across Yuuri’s lower lip, and Yuuri’s mouth falls open. “If I don't like something, I promise I’ll tell you right away, unambiguously.”

“I don’t want you to have to do that, though,” Yuuri whispers. He just wants to do everything, be everything Victor wants, and to not fuck it all up.

“Okay.” Victor nods. “At some point we can have a clear, detailed conversation about boundaries, so you’ll never have to worry.” He grins and shakes his head. “I suppose we should have already, but I didn't know you'd jump in with both feet like this.”

His face feels hot. He glances away. Could Victor really have expected otherwise? Fuck, doesn’t he know how insanely hot he is? And they have months of lost time to make up for.

Victor nudges under his chin, and Yuuri meets his gaze again. “For the record,” Victor says, inching closer, “I’ve loved every second with you so far.”

Oh. Yuuri’s heart rate picks up. How does Victor always know just what to say? Yuuri lets his eyes fall closed as Victor’s lips brush his. He gasps as Victor fingertips brush against his waist under his shirt. Victor's tongue slides against his and he can't help the soft moan that escapes.

And then a phone rings elsewhere in the onsen. Loudly. And Mari’s voice carries a muffled greeting through the walls. Yuuri presses his hands over his face as even the person on the other end of the call is vaguely audible. Have the walls always been fucking made of paper?

“What's wrong?” Victor murmurs, his hand sliding ever so slightly farther up under Yuuri’s shirt.

Yuuri bites his lip, squeezing his eyes shut. “I can hear Mari on the phone.”

“Oh? Is it an upsetting conversation?” Victor asks, grazing Yuuri’s ribs with his thumb, and Yuuri stifles a groan.

“No, it’s just— mmmphhh” Yuuri presses his lips together as Victor trails kisses down the line of Yuuri’s neck. “If we can hear her, then she can hear us.”

Victor pauses his efforts, shifting to lie beside Yuuri. “Do you want me to stop?” 

“Ugh, maybe? I don't know,” Yuuri whines. The last thing he wants is for Victor to stop, but a close second to that is having his sister call him out for making her listen to his involuntary moaning.

Oh, god. Just the thought of that conversation makes him want to move to the mountains and become a hermit.

He opens his eyes and sighs in frustration, sliding his hands down his face. “I want to… explore all this, with you.” He finds Victor’s hand and squeezes. “I just don’t think I can enjoy myself while worrying about my sister roasting me about it over breakfast.”

Victor nods, rubbing his thumb back and forth across the back of Yuuri’s hand. Yuuri turns his head to search Victor’s face. Is he disappointed with him? Victor has his mouth set and is looking around at the walls.

“I’m assuming you’ll think it too obvious if I order a bunch of soundproofing equipment,” Victor says, tapping a finger to his lips.

Yuuri suppresses a laugh. “Yeah, I’m not sure that’s any better.”

Victor shakes his head. “Maybe it’s for the best. We’ve been doing all this backwards anyway.”

Yuuri props himself up on an elbow, resting his head on his hand. “What do you mean?”

Victor seems intent on tracing lines along each of Yuuri’s fingers, and how has Yuuri never noticed just how many nerve endings fingers have?

He brings Yuuri’s hand up to brush his lips against the back of it. “Can I take you to dinner, Yuuri?” Victor asks, looking up at him with shining eyes. It would be so easy to let himself drown in those deep, blue pools.

Yuuri clears his throat. “Ah, so that’s the proper order to do things?” he asks, trying for a playful tone, and Victor nods. “Should I go back to my room, then?” He flutters his eyelashes exaggeratedly.

Yuuri finds his face pressed against Victor’s chest, with Victor’s arms tight around him. “No way. Falling asleep with you is not something I'm willing to give up for propriety’s sake,” he declares, and Yuuri grins.

“Yes,” Yuuri says, awkwardly scrambling to wrap his arms around Victor's neck. He nuzzles just under Victor's ear, whispering, “I will go to dinner with you.” His smile stretches wider.

With everything that's happened between them, it’s ridiculous for this to feel like it matters. But some tiny sliver of teenaged fanboy must have survived the growing up process, because the urge to squeal is almost overwhelming. Victor Nikiforov just asked him out! 

His first real date. And he can't imagine it being with anyone else

Chapter Text

Victor scrubs the video back a few seconds and plays it again, squinting as if it will help him see more detail, even though the screen is only a few inches away from his face.

He shakes his head. “The landing was better, but that was more of a ‘lip’ than a flip.”

Yuuri slams his hand down on the top of the boards, obviously frustrated.

Alarmed, Victor puts the phone down. “Hey, no.” He covers Yuuri’s hand with his own reassuringly. “You’re close. You had it in Beijing, other than the landing. You’re just overthinking it, and trying for too deep an inside edge, and then overcorrecting right before you pick, so it’s flattening out.”

He picks up the phone again to show him. “A shallow inside edge is what they’re looking for. I wouldn't even worry, normally, but it's Russia…”

“What do you mean, ‘it's Russia’?” Yuuri asks, taking the phone from Victor and staring intently at the screen.

Victor chews his lip, torn. Realistically, they should consider the possibility that the Russian Skating Federation could be angling to make a statement to Victor, that they want him back on the ice. It's possible that they could apply pressure on the judges to be excessively strict with calls on Yuuri’s technical elements. Conveying this to Yuuri might be counterproductive, though. He shouldn’t have said anything.

“Never mind. Forget I said anything,” he says, wincing. There’s no way Yuuri is going to just let it go. Redirection might be a better tactic. “A quad flip already has such a high base value, it’s not worth trying to boost your GOE with a complicated entry. Just do the three-turn to get onto your inside edge, and jump. Like a triple, but one more rotation.”

“Oh, is that how it works?” Yuuri rolls his eyes. “I might as well include a quad axel, too, in that case.”

If Yuuri is getting snarky it's time to stop for the day. He's been pushing too hard, anyway. Between the hours at the rink, in the gym, and at Minako’s studio, they still haven't managed to go on their date. Yuuri has been collapsing into bed in the early evening, dead to the world after barely managing to shovel down a few hundred calories worth of whatever he finds in the fridge.

Waiting until Moscow might make for a better first date experience anyway, since Victor wouldn't have to rely on Yuuri to do all the communicating with the restaurant staff. They could do some sight-seeing as well, with Victor playing tour guide.

Victor catches himself yawning. Maybe he should call it an early night too. Demonstrating his quad flip for Yuuri just a handful of times had taken a lot out of him; he's fallen out of shape, apparently.

By the time they get back to the onsen, the heaviness of Victor’s eyelids is making an early dinner, a quick soak, and then bed seem more and more like the best possible plan.

After nearly nodding off into his gyoza , he pushes away from the table and stands up. “I'm going to turn in early tonight.” He lifts a hand to cover his mouth as he yawns. “I can barely keep my eyes open. Yuuri, are you coming?”

Yuuri flushes, glancing at his parents. It's not like they've been keeping their sleeping arrangements secret, and the Katsuki family had voiced no objections as far as Victor knew. But still, sometimes Yuuri acts like a guilty teenager about it.

“I will later,” Yuuri says, getting over his embarrassment. “I’m going for a run in a bit.” He pauses. “I skipped it this morning.”

Victor frowns. He had? The past few days are blurred together. “Okay.” He’s too tired to argue. “Don’t overdo it, though. With Rostelecom Cup in just a couple of days it could be counterproductive to work yourself too hard at this point.”

Yuuri nods, but avoids eye contact. That’s not a good sign, but Victor is out of energy, so… que sera, sera. 

He starts to clear his dishes, but Hiroko puts a hand on his arm. “Get some sleep, dear. I’ll take care of this.” She smiles up at him and shoos him towards his room. Normally he’d insist, but… he sways on his feet. Best not to risk the dishes breaking if he passes out and drops them.

He manages to mumble a polite goodnight to everyone as his feet carry him to his room.

Yuuri’s thighs burn as a higher BPM song from his running playlist starts and he picks up the pace. He is pushing himself hard, but that’s just what he has to do to avoid embarrassing Victor in Russia. He can’t just be in decent shape, he has to be in top condition if he wants to pull off the necessary increase in the difficulty of his program.

Victor had made it clear that he did not want Yuuri to screw up in Russia, specifically. The quad flip has to be consistent. Downgrading it to a triple won’t be good enough. Getting in the rotations but ending up with his ass on the ice won’t be good enough. Making the landing but getting negative GOE because of an edge call or being under-rotated or pre-rotated won’t be good enough. It has to be perfect.

He focuses on his breath, on the feel of his feet hitting the pavement, on the straining of his lungs and his muscles. On the colorful vestiges of the sunset. On the beat of the music.

Eventually, his pace slows, his whereabouts filtering into his consciousness. He hadn't set out with a destination in mind, but he must have gone on autopilot at some point.

Well, if he's here at Ice Castle anyway, maybe he should get a little bit of extra practice in. He could just do a few triple flips, to resolve his edge issues. It would be reckless — stupid — to attempt a quad unsupervised.

Except… Victor had said his problem was overthinking. Maybe the trick is to try it when he’s too tired to think. And he'd just managed to turn off his brain for several miles, so… 

Would trying it once or twice really be so bad? The problem hadn't been with his landing, it was the takeoff, so how likely is it that he’d fall now after landing it a dozen times earlier?

Yuuko is at the desk, anyway. She’ll be there in case anything goes wrong.

“Oh, Yuuri. You’re here again?” she asks, craning her neck to look past him. “No Victor?”

“He went to bed early. I just wanted to get a bit more practice in. Will you keep an eye on me? I’m only going to be a half hour or so.”

“I can, but are you sure this is a good idea? You look exhausted,” she says, gesturing at him. He is tired, but that’s sort of the point.

“I’ll be fine,” Yuuri says, grabbing his skates. “It’s just for a little bit.”

He isn’t fine. He realizes it as soon as he’s in the air. His axis is all wrong. He only has a fraction of a second to figure out which possible way of coming down on the ice is the least disastrous. Trying to land on his foot at this angle could tear his ACL, or worse.

He comes down on his side, right on his hip. Yuuko shouts his name in alarm.

She shuffles across the ice in her shoes. “Yuuri! Are you okay?” Kneeling down next to him, she looks him over. “I knew this was a bad idea!”

Yuuri groans. He’ll be okay. Landing on his hip will mean a nasty bruise and dealing with some pain, but no loss of function. It’ll heal in a week or two — after Rostelecom, but not by much. And it won’t fuck up his performance.

“I’m okay. Just bruised.” He maybe should have put on some padding, but he’d needed to minimize his moment of inertia in order to get four rotations in. “My dignity is worse off than anything else.”

Yuuko helps him to his feet, mouth set in a thin line. She’s not too happy with him. Yuuri ducks his head.

“Don't even think about trying again,” she says, folding her arms. “I'm kicking you out for the night; I should have trusted my instincts. You are way too tired to be skating. I haven't seen you fuck up a jump quite that spectacularly in months.”

Yuuri nods and makes his way off the ice.

“Get some rest, Yuuri,” Yuuko calls, as he heads out the doors. They close behind him, and her final words are muffled, but clear enough. “Not just sleep! Rest!” 

The bus ride home is slow, and painful, and embarrassing. He's not walking, but he suspects he's getting a hint of what a walk of shame feels like.

Something tugs on the blanket tucked under Victor's stomach, and he turns onto his side. His arm is lifted, and a warm presence slides under it. 

Mmmmm. Yuuri.

Victor nestles closer, brushing his lips against some part of Yuuri’s face. He keeps his eyes closed, still half-asleep, enjoying the warmth and solidity and reassurance of Yuuri being here with him again. Four nights. As exhausted as they've both been, combined with the lack of privacy, nothing much has happened, but just being with him is more than enough.

Victor slides his hand along Yuuri’s side, moving closer to press his lips to the point where Yuuri’s jaw meets his ear. His hand drifts lower, and Yuuri hisses in pain. Victor’s eyes fly open and he removes his hand immediately, wakefulness rushing back to him.

“What's wrong?”

Yuuri’s eyes are squeezed shut. “Fuck,” he says. 

That doesn't explain anything. Victor waits.

“I'm just a little sore from falling earlier.” The words make a sentence, but it sounds like a question. Also, he can't recall Yuuri having fallen in practice today.

“When did you fall?” Victor frowns. First the not-skipped run, now a nonexistent fall. Is his memory playing tricks on him?

Yuuri sighs, and opens his eyes. “Please don't be mad, Victor. I know it was stupid.”

Victor brings a hand up to gently cup Yuuri’s face, his fingertips resting at the side of his neck. He brushes his thumb along Yuuri’s cheekbone. Beautiful.

He's getting distracted. He shakes his head.

“I'm not angry; I'm worried. What happened?” He tries to keep his voice calm and reassuring.

Yuuri looks like he's on the verge of tears. “You told me you didn't want me to screw up the flip in Russia. I know you don't want me to embarrass you in your homeland.” 

What? When had he said that? He opens his mouth to object, but Yuuri continues without pausing.

“I didn't even plan on it, but I wasn't paying attention to where I was headed on my run, and I ended up back at Ice Castle.”

Oh, no. He'd told him not to push too hard. No wonder Yuuri had asked him not to be angry, having blatantly gone against his instructions.

“Were you attempting quads unsupervised?” Victor asks, trying to maintain his calm. That would be dangerous and stupid, if that's what Yuuri had been doing.

“No!” Yuuri says, upset. “I asked Yuuko to watch me.”

That's… better than no one, but Yuuko isn't qualified for that sort of thing, she wouldn't have been able to warn him if his entry looked wrong, wouldn't have been able to prevent a disastrous jump before Yuuri was already in the air and it was too late to do anything.

At least if he'd seriously injured himself someone would have been there to call an ambulance. His stomach lurches. Nevermind the competition, the idea of anything serious happening to Yuuri… 

“It's just a bruise, anyway,” Yuuri is saying, motioning over his hip. “But I know, it could easily have been worse.” He bites his lip, eyes shimmering. “I promise — I won't do it again.”

Victor sighs. It must have been a hard fall if barely brushing his hand against Yuuri’s hip had caused such a reaction.

“Let me get you some ice. I'll be right back.”

He lets the chill air from the freezer cool his emotions. Yuuri has learned his lesson. There's no point in lecturing him about it now. The only constructive thing to do is to help minimize his discomfort. He selects a bag of peas, which will conform to the contour of Yuuri’s hip better than a hard ice pack. He can purchase a replacement for Hiroko tomorrow.

Returning to the room, he finds Yuuri curled up on his uninjured side, facing the wall. Carefully, he maneuvers himself into position behind Yuuri, being sure to avoid bumping against his sore hip.

“Can I take a look?” Victor asks, softly, and Yuuri nods, still staring at the wall.

He gently pulls down the waistband of Yuuri’s pajama pants until he can see where his skin is just starting to show some discoloration. He grimaces. It will look even worse in the morning.

He gingerly brings the waistband back up to a more comfortable place for Yuuri, and places the bag of peas over the spot that had been bruised, barely letting any of the weight of it actually press against him.

Yuuri shivers, and Victor awkwardly maneuvers the blanket over them while still holding the peas in place. He can't wrap his arm around Yuuri, since his hand is occupied, so he presses his chest against his back and tucks his chin over his shoulder instead.

“You're not mad?” Yuuri whispers.

He is , a bit, but it's not helpful to be. He closes his eyes, exhaling. Let it go.

“I believe you that you won't do it again. I just want to take care of you now.” He presses a soft kiss to Yuuri’s shoulder. “When did I tell you I didn't want you to mess up in Russia?”

“You said you wouldn't care about the edge on my flip, except that we'll be in Russia,” Yuuri says, slowly.

Victor groans. “Yuuri, that's not what I meant.” He'll have to explain, after all. He should have suspected that Yuuri had taken it the wrong way when he didn't continue to press about it after Victor had changed the subject. “I'm worried the RSF will put pressure on the judges to score you harshly, as a message to me that they disapprove of me coaching a non-Russian skater.” He sighs. As Russia's top competitor, they might go after him for coaching anyone at all, let alone a foreigner. “I didn't elaborate earlier because I didn't want to stress you out.”

Yuuri is silent. Eventually, he speaks. “I wouldn't want to take advantage of lenient judging to get undeservedly high GOE, anyway.”

Victor laughs softly. “Of course you wouldn't.”

“I wish you wouldn't walk on eggshells around me. I know my anxiety can affect my performance, but if you think there's something relevant, I don't want you to hide it from me.” Yuuri’s voice is quiet. It's not often that he brings up grievances with Victor; this must have really bothered him.

Victor nods, letting his cheek rub against Yuuri’s shoulder. “Alright. But I have a request also.” 

Yuuri tenses, and Victor's heart squeezes. He's always bracing for the worst.

“If I say something ambiguous, please try to choose the most charitable interpretation possible. I know in this case it's my fault because you did ask me for clarification and I brushed it off. But generally speaking… I'm not going to say something to intentionally hurt you.” He closes his eyes and presses closer to Yuuri, as much as he can given their awkward position, anyway. “I really care about you. Your feelings matter to me. I wouldn't say something like ‘don't embarrass me in Russia’ — you mean far, far more to me than my reputation does.”

He's pressed so close that Yuuri can probably feel Victor's heart racing. He hadn't intended to say quite so much, he had just needed Yuuri to know that he would never be so callous towards him.

“Victor…” Yuuri whispers.

And then he's twisting around to face him, and their eyes meet. It has to be painful, with his weight on his sore hip. The strain around his eyes and crease between his brows confirms Victor's suspicions, and Victor frowns in sympathy.

He can't maintain that expression, though, as Yuuri’s hand slides behind his neck and he’s pulled into a kiss. He gasps as Yuuri moves his hands farther, digging his fingernails into Victor's scalp just the right amount, and wills himself not to moan as Yuuri’s tongue takes full advantage of his parted lips.

He rolls into his back and coaxes Yuuri along with him. To get him off his hip. Of course. The way he's straddling Victor's pelvis now is merely an added side benefit.

Yuuri curves over him, and his hands support Victor's head to keep their mouths together, hot and insistent. Victor's hands slide up Yuuri’s thighs, careful not to go up too far on the bad side. The bag of peas is cold and uncomfortable against Victor's leg, but it's not worth moving a millimeter out of this glorious position to remedy that.

His hand on Yuuri’s good side creeps farther up Yuuri’s thigh, feeling the muscle flexing under his touch. Yuuri’s legs grip Victor’s body with impressive strength — he's taken control so easily. Victor shudders; Yuuri’s thighs have been a fixture in his fantasies for a long time now.

Yuuri breaks off the kiss, panting, and drops his forehead against Victor's, tilting his hips to grind against him. He has no idea how unbelievably, incredibly sexy he is. Victor sends a prayer to whatever or whoever is out there in thanks for everything that is Yuuri Katsuki.

Victor can't suppress the soft whine that his vocal chords generate of their own volition when Yuuri grabs Victor’s wrists and leans down, pinning them to the mattress on either side of Victor's head.

Victor finds his capacity for speech eventually. “I won't be able to be quiet if we continue like this,” he whispers.

He had held to his suggestion and they'd discussed boundaries a few days ago, and Yuuri is choosing now, evidently, to use that information enthusiastically and to great effect. Which is wondrously fantastic, except… self-control only extends so far in terms of keeping oneself totally silent.

Yuuri’s eyes are closed. He inhales over several seconds, and exhales slowly, releasing his grip on Victor’s wrists. Fuck, why did he have to say anything? No. He doesn't want Yuuri to feel ashamed in front of his family because of their getting carried away in the moment.

Victor gently rests his hands on Yuuri’s waist. “In a couple of days we'll be in Moscow—”

“Do you think we should, though, during a competition? What if I start obsessing over everything I did and didn't do, and fuck up my performance because of it?” Yuuri shifts off of Victor and kneels beside him. 

Victor sits up and places a hand on Yuuri’s shoulder, squeezing reassuringly. “I will be happy regardless of what you do and don't do. But it's up to you. I don't mind waiting. We can even ditch the banquet if you want; the real opportunity for sponsors will be at the Final anyway.”

Yuuri sighs, harsh and frustrated, but he nods. “Victor, I really—” he swallows, and leans forward to hug him. Even after everything else, hugs from Yuuri remain one of Victor’s most cherished forms of connection with him. He continues, “I really appreciate how supportive you've been, with everything.”

Yuuri pulls away and lies down on his good side, guiding Victor's arm around him and lacing their fingers together. “I can't imagine navigating all this with anyone else. I…” he pauses, pressing Victor’s hand against his chest. “I just want you to know how much you mean to me, too.”

Tears prick at Victor's eyes behind his eyelids. His heart is full to bursting. He loves him. He's deeply in love with Yuuri Katsuki. There's no room for doubt.

Should he just say the words now? 

No. It will be Yuuri’s first time hearing them; he deserves for Victor to take the time to be thoughtful about it. He'll figure out the perfect way to tell him in Moscow.

Right before he slips once again into unconsciousness, he remembers the peas, and manages to nudge the bag off the bed with his foot.

Chapter Text

The fourth time Victor is jostled by Yuuri jerking awake with a sharp inhale after almost dropping his phone, he stops researching nearby restaurants and puts his own phone aside.

“So, Yuuri” he says, turning his head to rest his chin on Yuuri’s chest and looking up at him. I love you. He tries not to smile. “Practice today went pretty well; you’re in good shape for your short program tomorrow. But I thought tonight we’d try out this extra special strategy I’ve heard about.”

“Oh?” Yuuri asks, putting his phone down — deliberately, this time. “Isn’t it a little late for new strategies?”

Victor shakes his head. “This one is very simple. It’s called ‘sleeping’.”

The drama of Yuuri’s exasperated sigh is undermined by the smile that tugs at the corners of his mouth. “Are you sure that source is reliable?” His mouth twists playfully even as his eyelids droop. “I know someone who won silver at his last competition with barely any sleep at all.”

“Hmmmm.” Victor pushes up, sitting back on his heels. “That's one point of data. But all of the gold medalists from the past five Grand Prix Finals and World Championships make a habit of sleeping as much as possible before competitions.”

All of the… that's just you, Victor!” Yuuri laughs, and Victor grins. “Come on, I thought you wanted to go out for dinner. I can power through.” He starts to sit up.

Victor puts a hand to his chest and Yuuri pauses, muscles flexing beneath his shirt. Victor allows himself the indulgence of spreading his fingers a little, relishing the solidity of Yuuri’s body under his touch.

“Hasetsu is six hours ahead, and you worked hard in practice earlier. You clearly need to rest.” Slight pressure with his fingertips, and Yuuri relaxes back on the bed. “I'll go pick up something for dinner and we'll see if you feel like waking up to eat when I get back, alright?”

Yuuri nods, finally, and Victor heads for the door. “Be back in a bit,” he says. Love you.

Victor tucks his coat closer around himself as he steps out into the cold Moscow evening. There's no snow on the ground yet, but it's not far off, either. Still, the chilly air causes him to shiver and regret not putting on his scarf. Hasetsu has spoiled him, with how temperate the climate is there.

He pulls out his phone, scrolling through the list of restaurants he had been contemplating earlier. Getting takeout rules out all of the higher-end places he had considered. It would be nice to introduce Yuuri to some traditional Russian food, but he's picky before competitions, even if he's otherwise fairly adventurous. 

He has more important things to worry about than skating on an unsettled stomach, Yuuri had said.

Perhaps something with an element of familiarity as well as being a Russian favorite. Every culture has its own incarnation of dumplings, apparently. Pelmeni might be a good choice, and there's a casual place only a few blocks away offering a decent selection.

Armed with a little bit of everything, Victor returns to the hotel room to find Yuuri in bed, but still awake, tossing and turning.

“I brought dumplings,” Victor announces. “Couldn't sleep?”

Yuuri sits up, rubbing a hand down his face. “I tried, honestly!”

Victor sets the takeout containers on the table while Yuuri crosses to him and pulls up a chair. “I am tired,” he says. “I just couldn't get comfortable.”

“Are you nervous?” Victor asks, reaching over to grab a little container of sour cream. “Maybe it would help to talk it through before it has a chance to escalate.”

Yuuri shrugs. “I mean, at competitions I'm always nervous to some degree. But I think this time it's because I must have slept in a weird position on the plane.” 

He reaches a hand across his chest and rubs at his shoulder and neck. Victor’s eyes trace the strong lines of Yuuri’s bicep and forearm, and his fingers twitch, wanting to follow suit.

He has to remind himself to finish chewing. He swallows. “Maybe I could help with that,” he offers. “A massage, I mean.”

Yuuri perks up at that, blushing a little. “That sounds really nice, actually.” He looks down. “I've always thought that massages objectively should feel good, especially on sore muscles, but I never could really enjoy them because it felt so awkward letting someone touch me like that.” He looks back up, biting his lip, and Victor parts his lips at the jolt of heat that spreads through him. The implication is clear: Yuuri would enjoy Victor touching him.

They make quick work of the pelmeni and move together to the bed. Yuuri sits at the edge and Victor inches closer, just barely nudging between his knees.

Yuuri fingers the hem of his shirt, eyeing Victor with his head cocked in question. Victor licks his lips and nods. “As long as you're comfortable.”

Yuuri pulls his shirt over his head. It takes every ounce of Victor’s willpower not to immediately slide his hands over that beautifully defined chest. He’s seen this sight a hundred times, probably, in the hot springs, but they’ve been holding off on going shirtless while sleeping together for fear of the temptation it would pose, given the limited privacy of their situation in Hasetsu.

Not that that had made much of a difference. It’s been beyond agonizing, with or without full access to that smooth, deliciously warm skin. They have all the privacy they could ask for now. And in agreeing to a massage, Yuuri had given permission for Victor to touch, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's looking for anything more than that for the time being. Yuuri had voiced reluctance to venture too far into new territory right before competing; it's safer to assume that boundary still stands unless Yuuri makes it explicitly clear that he's changed his mind.

Yuuri clears his throat, and Victor blinks at him. Oh. He'd been staring. Heat rises in his cheeks.

Yuuri hums. “I might be more comfortable if you…” he trails off, gesturing at Victor and blinking up at him in an endearingly obvious attempt at flirtatiousness.

Victor laughs, low and warm. “Fair is fair,” he says, lifting his own shirt. 

The sudden warmth of Yuuri’s hands on his waist almost causes his knees to buckle, and he hurries to pull his shirt the rest of the way over his head. Yuuri’s fingertips urge him closer, lightly scraping Victor's skin with his fingernails, and he moves, powerless to resist.

Yuuri scoots backwards on the bed and Victor crawls after him on hands and knees. Catching Yuuri’s earlobe gently between his teeth, he slots one of his knees between both of Yuuri’s and is rewarded with Yuuri arching his back with a low groan. He gasps at the sensation of Yuuri’s chest pressed against his, hot skin against hot skin, and grips the blankets in his fists.

They're getting off-track. Yuuri has sore muscles preventing him from getting proper rest.

“Flip over,” he whispers against Yuuri’s ear, and backs off to give him room to maneuver. Yuuri’s skin is flushed halfway down his chest. Gorgeous. Incredible. Perfect.

Yuuri does as instructed and glances back at Victor over his shoulder. The heat in his gaze nearly knocks Victor off the bed, and Victor suppresses a whimper. Is it possible to die from wanting someone badly enough?

He takes a deep breath, and straddles Yuuri’s hips, beginning to knead at his back.

Yuuri moans.

Yes. It’s definitely possible that he could die this way.

As he works his hands up and down Yuuri’s back he’s bombarded with a steady stream of ‘oh god, Victor’ and ‘yes, right there’ and ‘please, don’t stop’.

He’ll die happy, at least. Here lies Victor Nikiforov, he died doing what he loved.

When it’s quiet for a while, Victor leans over to see that Yuuri is out cold, mouth slack against the pillow, breathing deep and easy.

As sensuously torturous as that entire experience had been, the tenderness that wells up within him at seeing Yuuri comfortably sleeping at last, as a direct result of his efforts, is almost overwhelming. He tucks him in carefully, mindful not to wake him.

After the relief of a long, hot shower, he joins Yuuri in bed, hugging him to his chest. Yuuri stirs briefly, curling closer against him, his bare skin pressing warm and soft against Victor's. Victor can't contain the elated sigh that passes through his lips.

Yuuri nuzzles his chest. “G’night, Victor,” he mumbles. He falls back asleep immediately, to Victor's relief. His ridiculously loud sigh of happiness hadn't undone all his work getting Yuuri to sleep.

“Goodnight, Yuuri,” he whispers. I love you so much.

Those two idiots can’t still be pretending, can they? Yuri wrinkles his nose, watching out of the corner of his eye as Victor laces up Yuuri Katsuki’s skates. Yuuri may be embarrassingly incompetent in some ways, but he can at least manage that simple task on his own. Which means Victor is doing it just because. Ugh.

As much as he hates to admit it, Yuri has been a little curious about how things have developed for Victor since their little heart to heart all those months ago. He’d kept his mouth shut about Victor’s ludicrous situation, as promised, but that meant that no one else knew what was really going on. Any gossip about it that he’s been able to listen in on has come from people who obviously had no clue what they were talking about.

He may or may not have snuck away from the warm-up room a little early to get a look at them for himself.

Yuuri’s on the ice now, getting last minute advice from Victor. Or, he would be, except Victor is too busy waving at all the adoring fans screaming for his attention. Yuri rolls his eyes. Victor could at least try to look like an attentive coach. If he were Yuuri, there’s no way he’d put up with being neglected like that.

Yuuri yanks on Victor’s tie, demanding his attention. Hah! So he does have a spine after all. Though… judging by the blush still on Victor’s cheeks after Yuuri pushes off the boards to take his starting position, maybe that was something Yuri really didn’t need to see. Eugh.

The music starts, and Yuuri blows a kiss in Victor’s direction. The phrase ‘sickeningly sweet’ has never been so applicable. Could they still be doing all this for show? Would Victor really have been able to keep quiet about his feelings all this time? Are they together- together now, or maybe pretend-boyfriends-with-benefits? Aghhh! He has to know!

No chance in hell he’s going to bring it up first with Victor, though. And Victor seems to have taken to heart his request to stop talking to him about his stupid love life. The only interaction he’s had with him since they both arrived in Moscow is Victor sending a media mob at him and shamelessly bragging about his choreography.

At least it actually is good choreo. Good enough that he’ll win with it. Without any cheap tricks like yanking ties and blowing kisses. Ugh, ridiculous.

Yuuri Katsuki manages a clean skate, cheesy tactics aside, and Yuri gets ready to take his place on the ice as the next skater. He rolls his eyes at Yuuri’s cheerful attempts at greeting him. Doesn’t he know it’s time to focus, not catch up with age-inappropriate acquaintances?

All of Russia is watching him. Since Victor isn't competing, Yuri has to step up and be the best. Why couldn't Grandpa be here? Is he sick? His bad back acting up? Lilia and Yakov have sunk so much time and effort into his training, expecting him to fill the hole that Victor had left. How's he supposed to compare to the person who has been the champion for the past five years running?

He doesn't feel right. He's breathing too quick, not getting enough oxygen. Yakov and Lilia drone on with some pep talk about being a work of art, or something, and they’re not much help either. The sound of their voices is there, but it’s like the words don’t mean anything.

The noise of the crowd cheering cuts through the weird barrier that had popped up between his ears and his brain. Yuuri’s score has been announced, and it’s… intimidating. Higher than Yuri’s personal best by a lot. He could maybe match that technical score if everything goes perfectly, but that performance score?

Jesus, is Victor…? He’s actually kissing one of Yuuri’s skates in the kiss and cry. A cheesy match made in cheesy heaven, if they’re even a real match at all. They seem to finally look outside their little bubble and notice that he’s about to skate, because they both shout encouragement in his direction: Victor in Japanese, Yuuri in Russian. 

These two, holy shit. He doesn’t need to rely on his competitors trying to boost his morale. He can do this on his own. Right?

He misses the landing on his triple axel. It’s been a whole year since the last time he screwed up that jump, why did it have to be now? Nerves are fogging his concentration. How can he make up the points he just lost? Does he have the stamina to move both his quad toe and quad salchow triple toe combination into the second half for the bonus? Will his GOE suffer and defeat the purpose of trying to move things around? Can he really manage to synchronize the jumps with a later part of the music on the fly?

Shit, shit, shit. He can’t fall apart now. If he doesn't try to make up the points he'll lose for sure, so he has to go for it. He just needs to be efficient, conserve energy so he doesn’t tire out before getting to that point.

It’s difficult, and he has nothing left by the end, but he pulled it off, skated the rest of it clean. There’s a substantial gap between his score and Yuuri’s, but he can still make up the difference in the free skate. He just has to make sure that whatever it was that had thrown him off doesn't happen again.

Yakov starts talking strategy and jump composition as they head towards the locker room, but Yuri tunes him out. He’ll have to listen and figure it out eventually, but he just doesn’t have it in him right now to concentrate on the calculations.

Yuuri’s distressed voice carries down the hallway and Yuri stops in his tracks. “Victor, you have to go back to Japan! It’s Makka!” Something happened to Makka?

Yuuri has his hands on Victor’s shoulders, and his eyes are wide with panic. Victor looks stressed too, which isn’t a good sign. He’s normally so good at keeping up a facade anywhere press and cameras could find him.

Victor runs a hand through his hair. “I can’t just abandon you here alone, Yuuri. What if you have an episode? There’s a lot riding on your performance tomorrow, and—”

“I don’t care! I’ll manage. This is just like Vicchan all over again, except you have a chance to see Makka before… before…” Yuuri trails off.

Victor pinches between his brows. Then he looks up, and his whole face changes as he looks over Yuri’s shoulder.

“Yakov!” Victor cries, rushing past him. “Please, I need your help.”

Yuri turns to see Yakov stiffen. How much of Yuuri and Victor’s conversation had he paid attention to? Yakov is angry with Victor for leaving, of course, but it’s Makka… doesn’t this go beyond competitions and coaching? There isn’t a soul from their Saint Petersburg rink who doesn’t have a soft spot for that dog, Yakov included. And everyone knows how much she means to Victor.

“Ready to beg for me to take you back under my wing?” Yakov says, coolly.

“No, I need you take Yuuri — my Yuuri, I mean — under your wing, just for one day.” He sounds desperate. Yuri can’t really blame him.

Yakov’s eyebrows climb up to where his hairline probably used to be. “And why would I do that?”

Victor looks close to tears. “Makka’s having emergency surgery back in Japan; they don’t know if she’ll make it.”

Yakov’s face softens slightly.

Victor continues, “Yuuri is insisting I go back to be with her… whatever happens.” He swallows. “Please, I know you’re angry with me, but—”

“Alright, Vitya,” Yakov says, quietly. “I'll do it.”

Victor throws his arms around him. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

And then Yuri is the one being hugged. “Thank you for sharing your coach for a day.”

Oh, right. If he and Yuuri end up scheduled to skate back to back, Yakov won't be able to be in two places at once. One of them will end up without a coach in the kiss and cry, most likely.

“You owe me, old man,” he growls. He can't really hold it against him. He'd never tell him that, but he does squeeze him back, just a little.

He looks over Victor's shoulder at Yuuri, who looks just as shocked as Yakov at this turn of events. Yakov is the best of the best, when it comes to coaching, but totally unfamiliar to Yuuri, of course. Even if Victor is an amateur playing at being a professional coach, obviously he and Yuuri work well together. Insisting that Victor leave to be with Makkachin is a huge risk to Yuuri’s skating career. 

Whether they're really together now or not, Yuuri must really care about Victor. Maybe he's taken their conversation all those months ago at the waterfall to heart. Yuri gives him a little nod. Still a little bewildered, Yuuri nods back.

Victor lets him go, finally, and hurries back to Yuuri. The way Yuuri stays solid as Victor practically drops himself against him, his arms coming up around him… there's no way they're still faking it. Good. At least if things go badly for Makkachin — his stomach clenches — someone who really cares about Victor will be there for him.

Chapter Text

Victor shivers, pulling his coat closer around himself. Any passersby who spot him will most likely think he’s out of his mind, standing alone on the beach at this time of night, at this time of year. The ocean air is working wonders on his clogged sinuses, though.

He’d spent most of the evening crying at the emergency vet’s office, at first out of desperation and worry, and then, thankfully, relief. Makkachin will be okay. The exact details of why her getting into the steamed buns had been such a problem had been lost in translation, but it doesn’t matter as long as she’s alright. 

He’d unfortunately missed watching Yuuri’s free skate while the vet had been updating him on Makka’s condition, but he’d seen the results. It must have been a little rough, and Yuuri is probably beating himself up over it, but it had been enough to qualify for the Final. Under the circumstances, that’s the best they could have hoped for.

His phone vibrates in his pocket and he untucks his arms from around himself to retrieve it. Yuuri’s name on the display sends a wave of relief through him. It will be so good to hear his voice. He’d sent an update on Makka’s status a while ago via text, but most likely this is the first opportunity Yuuri has had to call him since finishing his performance.

All the major stressors of the past two days are behind them, with Makkachin being out of danger and Yuuri having qualified, so all that’s left is for them to reconnect and decompress.

“Congratulations,” he says, answering the call.

Yuuri’s voice in his ear is breathless. “Hey, sorry, am I calling too late? Did I wake you up?”

“No, I just left the vet. They’re keeping Makka overnight for observation.” He huffs a laugh. “As much as I’d like to stay with her, they insisted it was not a policy they could violate.”

“Are they still worried about her?” Yuuri asks. Victor’s heart squeezes at the concern in Yuuri’s voice. He and Makka have really bonded.

“Just minor side effects that can happen when she wakes up from the anaesthesia,” he explains. “Nothing dangerous.”


Yuuri goes quiet.

After a few seconds, he speaks up again. “I’m really sorry, Victor.”

“What?” Victor frowns. “It’s not your fault.”

“No, I mean, I know that.” Yuuri’s deep breath is audible on the other end of the call. “I mean about my performance.”

“What do you mean? I was busy at the vet while you were skating, so I didn’t see it, but I saw the results; you made it! We’re going to the Final!”

“I know. But I just… I screwed up a lot. It wasn’t pretty.” Yuuri laughs weakly. “Maybe it’s for the best that you didn’t see it.”

“The judges must have thought it was pretty enough. Besides, I know how much pressure you were under. The last time you skated in Russia—” He sucks in a breath. This is a sensitive topic. He continues, quietly, “Your dog died. And then for this to happen with Makka? It must have felt like a curse.”

“Yeah… it did sort of feel like that.” Some rustling — maybe he’s getting changed? “It sounds like you’re speaking from experience.”

“Oh, yeah,” Victor chuckles. “The NHK trophy. I was injured twice in two consecutive years competing there. Thankfully not too badly, I still went on to win at the Final both times, but still.” He scuffs the sand with the toe of his boot. “Last year I was assigned it again, and I was so nervous I couldn’t stop myself from shaking even while I was trying to hold my opening pose.”

“I remember wondering about that,” Yuuri murmurs. “I, uh, wasn’t there, but I live-streamed it. And maybe watched it a few more times afterwards.”

“Sometimes I forget how big a fan of mine you are,” he teases.

“Maybe even a bigger fan, now,” Yuuri laughs. “Yakov was very disappointed that I couldn’t do the math on the fly to figure out that if I added in a spontaneous quad toe triple toe combo as an extra jumping pass, my double toe that had resulted from my popped quad toe earlier would be the jump that got dropped.”

That does sound like Yakov. Yuuri doesn’t sound upset about receiving a lecture from him, thankfully. The fact that Yakov had gone that route at all suggested that his opinion of Yuuri’s skating has improved substantially since World’s, and rightly so.

Yuuri continues, “This would have been in addition to the triple axel triple loop combo I’d already thrown in to make up for the one I’d flubbed right at the start.” He sighs. “How are you able to juggle all that computation while somehow still concentrating on the elements you’re performing in the meantime?”

“Years of experience, I suppose,” Victor says vaguely, grinning.

For now, he’ll let Yuuri continue to be impressed with him. At some point, as his coach, he should really start employing Yakov’s catastrophe preparedness techniques, especially since jump consistency is Yuuri’s weak point.

“Uh-huh.” Yuuri sounds skeptical, now. “You’ll have to let me in on the trick to it eventually, you know.”

He has a feeling Yuuri might be disappointed to find out that the ‘trick’ is just hours of going over every possible eventuality for every program, every season, and developing contingency plans that maximize points and stay in line with the music.

“Are you going to the banquet?” he asks, quickly doing some time zone arithmetic. It should be starting soon.

Yuuri sighs audibly. “I wasn’t planning on it, if that’s alright with you. We’d planned to ditch it anyway, remember? And I didn’t podium anyway, so they didn’t invite me to perform.”

Victor winces. Of course — their date. With everything else going on, he’d forgotten. Ah well, they can plan something in Hasetsu instead, and he could show Yuuri around Moscow another time. Moscow is a lot more beautiful in the summer than it is in November, after all.

“Yes, of course, that’s fine.” He grimaces. “I’m sorry about our date. Maybe that’s the real curse.”

Yuuri hums. “I might still go do a little sight-seeing, find something to eat. I’ll probably call it a night soon, though. My flight is early tomorrow morning.”

“Still, it’s a shame…” Victor trails off. They both know what other plans they had made, given the rare privacy a hotel room in Moscow would have provided.

Yuuri seems to realize his implication, as he inhales sharply. “Well… I don’t have to go out right away, you know.”

Victor raises his eyebrows. Is he suggesting…?

Yuuri’s voice drops in pitch. “Are you alone?”

Victor’s mouth falls open. This beach had been cold, a moment ago.

“Um,” he manages.

“Ugh, sorry,” Yuuri says, sultry tone gone. “That was stupid. You’re probably stressed about Makka, and it’s late there, and—”

“No,” Victor interrupts. “I mean, yes. I mean—” He takes a breath. “No, it’s not stupid. Yes, I’m alone. I’m, uh, at the beach.”

“You’re— what? You’re at the beach?” Yuuri laughs. “Isn’t it almost midnight?”

“Yeah,” he answers, sheepishly. “I didn’t feel like going straight back to the onsen, and I was just walking, and I ended up here. And then you called, and now we’re talking, and I haven’t gone anywhere else in the meantime, and I’m not about to leave when you just… yeah.” Ugh, that was… a lot of rambling. Not a great showing of his capacity for suaveness over the phone.

“Right,” Yuuri says, voice rippling with faint amusement. “Well, I don’t want you to get arrested for public indecency, so…”

“So…?” Victor purses his lips. Does Yuuri not realize that this sort of interaction doesn’t need to be perfectly reciprocal? “I would still enjoy just listening to you, if you’re comfortable with that.”

“Oh,” Yuuri breathes. “Really?”

“Yes, really.” Victor smiles. “Imagine if the situation were reversed.”

“Oh. Okay, I see what you mean.”

Victor bites his lip. Should he tell Yuuri what else to imagine? “Just… pretend I’m there, with you,” he says, keeping his voice low and soft.

More rustling. “Okay,” Yuuri whispers. “I wish you really were here.”

“I know,” Victor murmurs.

“Um,” Yuuri clears his throat. “I don’t really know… I mean, I feel really stupid if I’m, like, narrating?”

Victor laughs softly. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to. You can just… do your thing, and try not to be especially quiet about it.”

“I liked you telling me what to think about,” Yuuri says, almost like a question, and Victor bites his lip. Getting arrested for public indecency may be a possibility, after all, if Yuuri keeps saying things like that.

“I can do that,” Victor says, a little hoarsely.

Yuuri moans softly, and Victor slides his tongue along his lower lip. Good god.

“Imagine it’s my hands on you,” he whispers, and is rewarded with a gasp from Yuuri.

Victor continues prompting Yuuri occasionally, becoming a student of Yuuri’s breath hitching and his panting, his groans and whimpers the perfect teaching method for Victor to learn what’s most effective.

By the time Yuuri falls apart, vocalizing beautifully for Victor’s benefit, Victor is shaking with need.

“Oh my god, Victor,” Yuuri whispers.

“I’m here,” Victor chokes out.

“That was…” Yuuri starts, sounding dazed. “That was so much better than it normally is on my own.”

“Happy to help,” Victor replies faintly. He needs to get to his room. Without making a spectacle of himself along the way. “I really enjoyed it too.”

He starts to head back, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. It’s not far, at least.

“Do you want me to stay on the line with you until you get back to the onsen?” Yuuri asks.

“You should go get something to eat,” Victor says, checking the time. “You probably haven’t had anything since skating, have you?”

“Yeah,” Yuuri admits. “You’re right. But sometime… I do want to experience that reverse situation.”

Victor has to stop his knees from buckling as he turns down the path leading home.

“That can be arranged,” he breathes.

“Goodnight, Victor,” Yuuri murmurs, and for a moment, it’s like he’s really there beside him, his lips close against Victor’s ear.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Victor replies, smiling wide.

Grandpa is a genius. Yuri takes another bite of his katsudon-inspired pirozhki and closes his eyes in bliss it's basically the same as ascending to the next level of existence. Yakov had annoyingly insisted that he was too young to stay all the way until the end of the banquet, but getting the chance to eat a couple more of these incredible pirozhki without anyone around to lecture him about his diet almost makes it worth it.

It’s still stupid, though. Victor had been the one in charge of him at the banquet at the Final last year and he’d let him stay all the way to the end. It hadn’t even been fun until the last hour or so, anyway, and then it had been awesome. What’s the point of even going for just the first couple of hours? Tiny appetizers and a bunch of stuffy-headed sponsors droning on and on. When the gross old men get tired and go to bed is when the fun really starts, if past experience is anything close to normal.

Oh, well. Yuuri Katsuki hadn’t even been there, so there's probably not anything really spectacular to miss out on. Had he been too worried… or upset… about Makka?

He slowly finishes chewing. Victor would tell him if anything really bad happened, right? He'd turned to Yuri for dog-sitting all the time, back when he'd still lived in Saint Petersburg. He'd know that Yuri would want to know, right?

There's a chance Victor might still be awake. How far ahead is Hasetsu, again? Five, six hours? Well. He’s an idiot if he doesn’t silence his phone when he doesn’t want to be woken up. He’ll just message him and see.

Yuri: how’s makkachin?

Yuri: your boyfriend(or whatever????) didn’t show up at the banquet

Yuri: idk what your deal with him is now 

Yuri: but nobody can spend 2 seconds with makka without becoming obsessed w her

Yuri: and he’s had months

Yuri: so i assume he’d be pretty messed up if she isn’t ok

Ugh, enough spamming. Victor is probably asleep already anyway.

He shoves his phone back in his pocket. And then it starts ringing. Victor is calling him.

He sighs and puts the phone to his ear. “Victor, why can’t you just text like a civilized person?”

Unless he’s calling because he has bad news that needs to be delivered via phone call… 

“Yuri, hello!” At the sound of Victor’s quiet but cheerful greeting, Yuri lets out the breath he’d been holding. “You are so sweet ask about Makka!”

“Well?” he asks, tapping his fingers on the table. “What happened? How is she?”

“She’s doing fine, thank goodness. I’ll be able to take her home from the vet tomorrow.”

“Oh.” Home. Is that really how Victor thinks of Hasetsu? Maybe he’s never going to come back to Saint Petersburg. “That’s good.”

“Anyway, thank you for checking in,” Victor says, in that tone adults tend to use when they’re surprised that Yuri’s done something mature. “That was very thoughtful of you.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Yuri mumbles. So embarrassing. “You’re welcome, I guess. You should go to bed. The elderly shouldn’t stay up so late, you know.”

“Yes, yes, I was just about to go to sleep.” Victor’s condescending grin at having successfully forced him into performing good manners is somehow audible through the phone. “Goodnight, Yuri!”

He mutters a reply and hangs up. His phone buzzes a few seconds later.

Victor: Yuuri (my ~~**boyfriend**~~) said he was going out to do some sight-seeing. You should go be his tour guide!

Yuri: omg victor, really? -_-

Victor: See, I do know how to text like a civilized person.

Yuri: did you at least tell him what areas to avoid?

Yuri: you can't just wander aimlessly around alone at night in moscow 

Victor: He's a grown man, he'll be fine. But if you want to go find him, I'm sure he'd welcome the company!

Yuri eyes the remaining few pirozhkis. He’d been introduced to katsudon in Japan because of Yuuri. It would only be fair if Yuuri got to try out this culinary masterpiece in exchange. And maybe finding him and making sure he doesn’t wander somewhere he’s liable to get pickpocketed would be the responsible thing to do.

Yuri: fine… find out where he is and let me know

Yuri: did you really work up the nerve to tell him how you felt, finally?

Victor: It was a little more complicated than that. But the end result was everything I could have hoped for. ^_^

Ridiculous. At least Victor sounds happy, though — a lot happier than he’s ever sounded before — even if he is a bit of a sap.

Chapter Text

The banks of the Moskva River are lined with lamps, patterning its surface in light and darkness as far as the eye can see. Fresh snowfall from overnight coats the trees in a blanket of white. It's beautiful. It would have been an unforgettable experience to stand here and take in the view with Victor. Yuuri sighs and rests his forearms on the railing. Will they have another chance, at some point?

“There you are! You made me look for you!”


He turns to see Yuri Plisetsky scowling at him from a few feet away. 

“Oh! Hi, Yuri. You were looking for me?” Yuuri tries to smile pleasantly, but his confusion must register on his face, because Yuri looks away awkwardly.

“Victor told me you’d be somewhere around here. He wants me to play tour guide.” His gaze shoots back to Yuuri, focused and intense. “But first, eat this.”

Yuuri barely manages to catch the bag suddenly tossed his way.

“Pirozhki?” Had Victor told him to bring dinner, as well?

“Yeah, my Grandpa made them. Come on, try one!” Earnest enthusiasm peeks out from behind Yuri’s usually cloudy expression. Huh.

He takes a bite. Rice, pork, egg… his eyes widen.

“It’s a katsudon pirozhki!” Yuuri exclaims, and glances to Yuri. The genuine, beaming smile on his face makes him look like an altogether different kid.

He hadn’t made the podium, but maybe qualifying for the final is justification enough to indulge. The twist of his favorite food made in the form of a Russian favorite is legitimately delightful. Yuri must have gone home from Japan and raved about katsudon to his Grandpa to inspire this experiment. Maybe this smiling Yuri is a glimpse at what Yuri is like without the stress of intense competition.

“This is incredible! I can't believe you're not hoarding them all for yourself.” He grins back at Yuri.

They divide the remaining pirozhki between the two of them, and silence falls. It’s a comfortable one, though, the kind that inevitably comes from people being too busy enjoying their food to waste time speaking. It reminds Yuuri of home.

Hopefully his family will take good care of Victor until he gets back. Given the length of the flight, the time difference, having to take the train from Fukuoka… Victor had said ‘see you tomorrow’, but realistically they won't be reunited until the early hours of the day after tomorrow, at best. Seeing for himself that Makka’s alright would be nice, too, but he has a while to wait, it seems.

“What's wrong?” Yuuri startles as Yuri Plisetsky’s voice cuts through his ruminations. “You were frowning all of a sudden.”

“Oh, sorry.” He flashes a smile.

“No, ugh,” Yuri says, rolling his eyes. “Who apologizes for frowning? Come on. Just tell me!”

Yuri probably doesn't want to hear about him missing Victor. Makka, though… “Just thinking that even though my flight is really early tomorrow morning, I won't actually get home until the day after, technically. I know Makka is okay, but I'll feel much better once I see her in person. It's hard not to feel like the same thing is happening as with my dog last year.”

“Ah… right, Victor said your dog died during the Final. I'm…” Yuri stares down at his feet, nudging some snow into a pile with his toe. “I'm sorry for yelling at you for crying in the bathroom, okay?”

“You didn't know,” Yuuri replies, quietly.

“Hey! I'm apologizing, here! Don't make excuses for me, just accept my apology or don't!” Yuri yells, looking back up at him.

Yuuri blinks at him. “Okay, then.” He clears his throat. “I accept your apology. Thank you.”

“What was it that Victor was so worried about leaving you for, again? He said something about you having an episode? What's that?” Yuri looks away and shoves his hands in his pockets, cheeks pink.

Yuuri stares. Yuri had never seemed the type to pry about this sort of thing. He's tempted to brush him off, tell him it's nothing, or that he had misheard. But… there's something in his hunched shoulders and averted gaze that suggests this might not just be nosiness.

“I sometimes get anxiety attacks during competitions,” he says, watching Yuri’s reaction closely. “It can feel like my heart is beating so fast I might die, or I shake uncontrollably, or—”

Yuri’s eyes widen and he turns to Yuuri. “Or people are talking to you and it's like you can't really hear them?” he asks. “Or like your vision gets really narrow? And telling yourself to calm down doesn't do anything?”

“Yeah, sometimes,” Yuuri says, carefully. He doesn't actually tend to experience auditory processing issues, personally, but it is a symptom, generally speaking. “Yuri, if you think you might be experiencing something similar, you don't need to keep it to yourself. You should tell Yakov, and he can look into what might be helpful for you.”

Yuri is silent. Maybe he regrets bringing it up. Well, it's fine if he wants to pretend he hadn't said anything, as long as he takes the advice to heart.

“Or maybe you're not talking about yourself at all. We don't have to say anything else about it.” Yuuri shrugs. He doesn't know Yuri that well, but he gets the sense that if he keeps pushing, it will backfire. Better to take the pressure off and let him process it at his own pace. “How about we go do something fun? Your choice.”

Yuri’s face brightens, and he smirks. “Do you want to see where I do my super secret off-ice agility training?”

Yuuri has had to adapt his image of how he would spend his time in Moscow several times over the past few weeks. From the crushing loneliness he'd imagined when he'd first seen the Grand Prix assignments and had been convinced Victor would get back together with Chris in Beijing, to the anticipation of spending a romantic evening with Victor, and then resigning himself to a night of half-hearted sightseeing by himself.

He never could have anticipated having to brush off his very rusty Dance Dance Revolution skills to go up against a shockingly skilled Yuri Plisetsky — or how much fun it would be.

“Come on, Victor, we’re going out,” Mari says, leaning against the doorway of Victor’s room.

Victor hesitates, stroking a hand through Makka’s fur. “But Makka—”

“—is sleeping, and will likely sleep for most of the day,” Mari finishes. “Or so says the vet. And Mom is here to take care of her if she does wake up, anyway.” Her arms are folded; it doesn’t look like she’s leaving much room for argument.

Victor sighs. “Where are we going?”

Mari wrinkles her nose. “There’s no need to sound so resigned about it. Yuuri doesn’t get back until late — or early, really — and you need to do something other than moping around waiting for him. It’s been a rough couple of days, yeah?”

He nods, smiling wryly. “Okay, yeah,” he concedes. “What did you have in mind?”

“Hmmm.” She taps her mouth thoughtfully. “Do you sing?”

Victor laughs. “Only in the shower.”

“Good enough.” She shrugs.

They head out, Victor following Mari’s lead.

“Music was something Yuuri and I bonded over when we were younger,” she explains. “Though that passion has taken very different forms for us as adults.”

“Oh?” Victor tilts his head. He and Yuuri have been so busy with the skating season that he actually doesn't know a lot about Yuuri’s interests outside of skating.

“Yeah,” she continues. “He went on to study it academically. For me it's more of a hobby — I play a few instruments, sometimes sing for a friend’s cover band.”

That's right, Yuuri had somehow managed to juggle competitive skating and a university education. Victor smiles softly. He's amazing.

“Here we are!” Mari grins, holding the door for him and motioning him inside.

Japanese karaoke is very different from karaoke in Russia, Victor learns. It’s in a private booth, rather than the middle of a crowded bar, the food and drinks on offer are much different, of course, and… 

“Sixty-eight?” Victor asks, when the number appears on the screen after his performance. “What does that represent?”

Mari laughs. “It's your score! One hundred would be perfectly on pitch for every note.”

The performances are graded? There's a more detailed breakdown along the side. His weakest areas stick out in red, while the passable sections reach a yellowish-green, at best. There are several score components, but the categories are in Japanese.

“Oh no you don't! I see that look in your eyes. You can't be the Victor Nikiforov of karaoke and skating.” Mari laughs. “It's just for fun! You don't need to optimize your score.”

Victor sniffs. “If you want me to stop overanalyzing the scoring system, we need to order a few more rounds of sake.”

Mari pulls out her phone. “In that case, we should tell Minako to come join us… she’ll want in on this.”

One Minako, several bottles of sake, and a half dozen love ballads later, Victor is ready to hop on a plane and meet Yuuri mid-air.

“I just miss him so much,” he wails, flopping onto the table.

“Dude, it hasn't even been two days,” Mari giggles. “He was gone for five years, before.”

“I know,” he says, drawing out the last word and pouting. “I can't help it.”

Minako shakes her head. “Coming from Yuuri I'd understand this — he had such a crush on you when he was younger.” She snorts. “He probably thinks if you're out of his sight for too long, you'll vanish in a puff of smoke. But you too, Victor? Our little Yuuri must have some tricks if he's got you so wrapped around his finger.”

Mari laughs and laughs. “You should come by more often while they're both in town, Minako, you'll see for yourself how dopey they get around each other.”

Victor sighs and rests his cheek on the table.

“Especially after they came back from Beijing, oh my god.” Mari rolls her eyes.

A few droplets of sake on the table take on the vague form of Yuuri’s face under the guidance of Victor's fingertips. He makes a Makka with another spill.

“I was so scared that Makka was going to die,” he whispers, tears brimming and blurring his vision.

“Oh, Victor,” Mari murmurs, putting a hand on his back. “I'm really sorry about letting her get into those steamed buns.”

Minako nods. “I'm sorry, too. I was too busy trying to find a working livestream to notice what she was doing.”

“No, no. You can't be expected to have eyes on her a hundred percent of the time. She normally knows better.” Victor shakes his head. There’s no point to anyone else blaming themselves. He should have been more attentive about reinforcing her good behavior over the past few months.

“With Vicchan it was totally different. Nobody could have expected an aneurysm.” Mari shrugs. “Nobody to blame.”

Ah, so that's what had happened. Yuuri hadn't elaborated, and Victor hadn't pressed him on it.

“Of course Yuuri blamed himself anyway,” Minako says. “He's likely doing the same thing over Makkachin even though he wasn't even here.”

“He's probably even more desperate to see Makka than he is to see you, Victor.” Mari prods him in the ribs and he sits up. “He won't be totally convinced she's alright until he sees her for himself.”

Hm. If that’s the case, is it really fair to make him wait any longer than absolutely necessary to see her?

Minako puffs out her cheeks. “Okay, kids, are we paying the karaoke place to sit around and chat, or are we going to sing a few more?”

Mari does an excellent rendition of The Sound of Silence, the rasp in her voice due to her unfortunate smoking habit lending a quality to the sound that can be appreciated by the ear, if not the scoring system.

Minako’s La Vie en Rose is unfairly good. Why does she get to be the Okukawa Minako of ballet and karaoke?

“Victor, do you want a turn?” Mari asks. “Or another round of sake?”

He shakes his head. The last leg of Yuuri’s trip is the train from Fukuoka, and it might actually be feasible to meet him there with Makka. He’ll want to sober up by then. The train might be a little rough on her.

“How late is the car rental place open?”

Yuuri’s plane lands twenty minutes late. He’ll have to catch the next train after the one he’d hoped to take. The overnight schedule is limited, so that means, optimistically, getting to the onsen a little before four in the morning. Ugh.

Someone jostles him while retrieving their carry-on bag from the overhead bin, nudging him into the path of someone else’s hard-shelled suitcase as it’s being brought down. Ow.

“Have a good night,” the flight attendant recites monotonously as Yuuri files off the plane.

He lets his feet carry him through the airport, rubbing at his freshly bruised shoulder. Nobody can really be blamed for not fully paying attention. It had been a long flight, it's the middle of the night, and everyone is dead on their feet.


He jerks his head up, looking around.

“Makka!” Relief floods through him. She's really okay. He’d known that Victor would never lie about something like this to save him from distraction, given what had happened in Victor's past, but seeing Makka jumping up against the glass barrier, barking energetically, is everything he'd needed to dissolve any doubts his subconscious had been clinging to.

If Makka is here, Victor must be too. He scans the room on the other side of the glass, and his eyes lock on Victor. He'd thought he'd have to wait another couple of hours to see him, and that even then he’d most likely be asleep. But Victor is here, right now, just on the other side. He just needs to—

Yuuri starts to run, his heart pounding in his chest. Is this ridiculous? Maybe a little. People are probably looking. Then Victor is running too, along the other side of the glass to meet him, and everyone else can just go ahead and stop existing.

Victor catches him in a hug, and Makka jumps up to paw at his side. He buries his face in Victor's neck and clutches him closer. Victor's arms envelop him, and Makka’s wet nose nudges at his hand, and everything is perfect.

Chapter Text

“I want to work on your exhibition program today,” Victor says, as he finishes up with one of Yuuri’s skates. Yuuri offers him the other, and he gets to work tightening the laces. 

He’ll never get used to this, seeing Victor kneeling in front of him, doing this task he could easily do for himself. There is something nice, though, about the feeling of Victor wanting to take care of him. His ankles are no more snug in his boots than the thousands of times he’s laced them up himself, but whenever Victor does it for him that familiar snug feeling carries with it an additional sense of safety and care.

“You don't think I need to work out what happened with my axel in the free?” Yuuri asks. His axel has been his most consistent jump for years; having it suddenly fail him at Rostelecom Cup felt almost like the betrayal of a dear friend.

Victor chuckles. “What happened with your axel is that your coach had to run off suddenly and you were worried about your dog.” He pulls the knot tight and sits back on his heels. “I think the odds of that happening again in Barcelona are slim enough that we can discount the possibility.”

Your dog . Does Victor really think of Makka as Yuuri’s dog as well, or has he just said it that way for the sake of simplicity? Yuuri’s cheeks warm at the vision of one day sharing a home with Victor and Makka. Could that be a real possibility?

“So then… are you wanting me to skate something other than Stammi Vicino?” Yuuri asks, hesitant. Maybe Victor’s tired of Yuuri using his program. Or… “Or are you still wanting to try pair skating for the exhibition?” 

Victor had said it was something he'd always wanted to do, but maybe without the motivation of proving something symbolically to Chris, it isn't such a burning desire anymore.

Victor moves to the bench and starts putting on his own skates. “I have some ideas. We only have two weeks, but if we adapt a program that both of us already know, it shouldn't be as intensive as learning a whole new program from scratch.”

The smile he flashes in Yuuri’s direction is a bright one, and Yuuri finds himself returning it. “So to answer your questions: no, I don't want you to stop skating Stammi Vicino, and yes, I still want to try pair skating with you.”

Every now and then, the coma brain theory presents itself again in Yuuri’s mind as the most plausible explanation for everything. Victor Nikiforov offering to adapt one of his own programs for Yuuri to skate it with him in front of thousands of people definitely lends credence to the concept.

Once they’re on the ice, after going through the first attempts of Yuuri picking up Victor for a simple assisted waltz jump, doubt creeps in. Yuuri stops.

“Will this be weird, though? Didn't you have Chris in mind when you had the song commissioned and came up with the choreography?” Yuuri chews his lip.

Victor slips his hand into Yuuri’s. The warmth of their palms pressed together is reassuring, and Victor's thumb strokes the back of his hand comfortingly. “I did create the program while I was still with Chris, that's true. But I don't connect the feelings behind it to him anymore. Looking back, I'm not sure I ever really did.”

He sighs, and Yuuri reaches up to touch his cheek gently. The soft, sad look in his eyes squeezes at Yuuri’s heart. “I think even then, I was just… lonely. Part of me must have known that whatever connection Chris and I had wasn't substantial enough to last in the long run.”

“Oh.” Yuuri swallows. What about Victor's connection with him? It feels pretty substantial on his end… but Victor and Chris were together for years. What would things be like between Victor and Yuuri in five years? Does Victor even want something long term with him? Or is this just… living in the moment, enjoying what's in front of him? 

It hasn't even been three weeks since they started opening up about their feelings for each other; Victor would probably run for the hills if he started asking those sorts of questions now.

Victor smiles softly. “Anyway, with everything that happened at World’s, with me finding you skating and that, at least in part, leading me to come here with you to be your coach, and everything that's happened as a result of that…” Victor takes a breath, and continues, “My feelings about that program are much more connected to you, now.”

Victor laughs awkwardly and looks away. “That was a lot, wasn't it? Sorry.”

Yuuri blinks slowly. Victor is… human. He gets sad and lonely. He has a dorky laugh, he rambles when he gets flustered. He wears his heart on his sleeve even if that might get it broken. He's not a coma dream or a hallucination or an untouchable skating god. He's just… Victor.

“I love you,” Yuuri breathes, and Victor’s eyes go wide, his mouth dropping open in a gasp.

Oh, fuck. He claps his hands over his mouth. “Oh my god. Oh my god, I'm sorry. You must think I'm— It's way too soon for me to say that.” He drops Victor's hand and scrambles towards the boards. “I'll just— I’m just— I'm going to go. I need a few— I'll come back in a bit, and can we just— can we pretend I just arrived to practice and none of this happened?”

Victor catches him around the waist, and to avoid them both taking a hard fall, Yuuri stops trying to get to the exit. His heart hammers against his chest like a trapped bird. Tears threaten to spill down his cheeks and his face feels hot despite the chill of the rink. This is humiliating.

“Yuuri, I love you too,” Victor says, voice gentle, and Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut.

“Please don't say that to spare my feelings. I know I'm an idiot—”

At Victor’s touch under his chin he opens his eyes and looks up at him searchingly. Victor's hand slides along his jaw and the other comes up to cup his cheek.

“I love you, Yuuri,” Victor says again, and his eyes flutter closed as he leans in.

Yuuri melts into the kiss.

“I love you,” Victor murmurs, as they part, before pulling him in and kissing him again. “Love you,” again. Another kiss. “Love you so much.”

Yuuri laughs wetly. “Okay, I believe you.” He reaches up to press Victor's hands against his face, holding them in place.

Victor smiles, eyes shining and thumb stroking Yuuri’s cheek. “I need to make up for all the times I've stopped myself from saying it over the past few weeks.”

Yuuri slides his hands along Victor’s arms to his shoulders, and angles his face up for another kiss, slow and intimate.

They part again, eventually, both a little breathless, and Yuuri’s sure he's as flushed as Victor.

“Well, my love,” Victor says, brushing their noses together while Yuuri melts into a puddle on the ice, “are you reading to continue working on our program?”

Yuuri nods, beaming, and takes Victor’s hands to lead him to the center of the ice.

On his birthday, Yuuri awakens to an empty bed and the sound of muffled voices drifting from the kitchen. He rubs his face and gets up to cross the room and peek his head out the door.

“Morning,” he says to Mari, as she comes his way down the hallway. “What are Mom and— oof! ” Mari shoves him back into his room. “What the fuck?”

“Victor wants to surprise you,” she whispers. “Go pretend to be asleep!”

“Uh… okay?” He slides the door shut and does as directed, pulling the blanket back over himself and trying to keep his breathing even.

Eventually, the sound of the door sliding open accompanied by a delicious aroma signals Victor's entrance. There's the sound of something being set down on the bedside table, and Victor's weight settles alongside Yuuri’s legs as he sits on the bed.

“Yuuri, love,” Victor murmurs, sweetly. Yuuri rolls over onto his side and mutters in his ‘sleep’, trying not to smile as Victor's fingertips brush his cheek. What will Victor do next to try to wake him up?

Victor takes his hand and rubs his thumb across the back of it. “Yuuuurriii,” he calls, a little louder, in a singsong voice. “Wake up, I have a birthday surprise for you.”

It's an effort to keep his face relaxed, but worth it when Victor's lips press softly against his.

“Mmmmm.” He reaches his hands up to twine into Victor's hair, deepening the kiss. Victor responds in kind, leaning more of his weight onto Yuuri. “Is this my surprise? A Victor in my bed?”

Victor laughs. “That would hardly be a surprise, at this point.” He kisses him again, and Yuuri smiles against his mouth. “I made you breakfast!”

“Ooh!” Yuuri sits up, peering around Victor at the tray he’d brought in.

“I went to your mom to find out your favorite breakfast dish and to ask for her help in making it.” Victor laughs. “I thought I'd be learning about traditional Japanese breakfast foods, but I guess that was presumptuous.”

“You made crepes!” Yuuri’s mouth waters. They look incredible. “I didn't know my mom even knew how to make them.” He reaches for the tray and pulls it into his lap.

“It was a team learning effort,” Victor explains. “I hope they turned out alright.”

Yuuri nods, mouth already full. Delicious. Whipped cream and fruit filling, some sort of sweet reduction drizzled on top. He's lucky his coach is also his boyfriend, or he'd never be allowed to eat this during competition season.

“Peaches are out of season, unfortunately, so we couldn't use fresh ones. I hope canned is acceptable.”

“You tell me,” Yuuri says, offering Victor a bite.

Victor’s mouth closes around the fork and his eyebrows raise in surprise.

“Ish good!” he says, lifting a hand to cover his mouth.

“What, you didn't even taste test it before feeding it to me?” Yuuri teases. “Huh. I don't actually remember telling my mom about my weakness for crepes.”

Victor shakes his head. “She didn't know. She just guessed you might have had a favorite from your time living in America that you could be craving after being away for a while.”

“Ah, yeah, there was a great crepe place just down the street from my apartment; Phichit and I would go sometimes during the offseason,” Yuuri reminisces. The menu of that place had been ridiculously extensive. He hadn't known there were so many choices to make in the world of crepe-making.

Victor nods. “Phichit is the one who made the suggestion, actually, when I messaged him asking about it.”

“That probably won you a few points with him, asking that on my birthday.” Yuuri grins. Warmth spreads through him. Victor, Phichit, his mom, and even Mari, in a small way, had been involved in making this a perfect morning for him.

“Thank you, Victor,” he says, reaching over the tray a little awkwardly to hug him. “This was a fantastic surprise.”

“Happy birthday,” Victor says softly, lips brushing his ear.

“Victor, dear, do you think you could help out with running the onsen for a little while tomorrow morning?” Hiroko asks, smiling.

“Mom!” Yuuri objects. “He's a guest!”

“A guest that doesn't pay,” Mari mutters, winking at him. 

It’s no secret that he's tried over and over again to get the Katsukis to accept his money, but he's no longer surprised at the stubborn streak that runs through the entire family. Hiroko in particular has mastered the art of maintaining perfect kindness and politeness while absolutely refusing to budge an inch. If she's asking for his help with something, she most certainly has a good reason.

“I don't mind, Yuuri,” Victor asserts, setting down a stack of dishes on the counter and turning to face them. “I would be happy to help. Are you expecting it to be especially busy?”

“No more than usual.” Hiroko shakes her head, still smiling. “But Toshiya and I have vouchers for a show in Fukuoka and we were hoping to go tonight. We wouldn't be back until tomorrow afternoon.”

“I have plans, too,” Mari suddenly chimes in. “I'm staying over at a friend’s place.”

Oh, he could kiss them.

With no other overnight guests currently staying at the onsen, he and Yuuri will finally, finally have a night to themselves.

It’s nice to see, also, that he’s managed to earn some trust over the course of his stay with Yuuri’s family. This is a far cry from the protective skepticism Mari had demonstrated after the honeymoon suite incident.

Hiroko stands to leave, and pauses as she gets to Victor. Putting a hand on his arm, she looks at Yuuri as she states, authoritatively, “Victor’s not a guest. He’s family.”

Oh. Victor puts a hand to his heart and watches her go. Family. He looks to Mari, who gives him a little nod before making herself scarce as well.

Yuuri’s eyes are shining as he approaches Victor. His arms encircle Victor's waist and Victor pulls him close, pressing a kiss to his temple. Can he hold onto this — all of this — forever? It's hard to imagine how empty his life had felt less than a year ago, and now it's brimming with love and support not just from Yuuri, but the rest of his family too.

How had he ever gotten by with anything less?

No training on one’s birthday, Victor had insisted. Yuuri sighs contentedly and snuggles closer against him as Westley and Buttercup make their way through the Fire Swamp. He doesn't need to see the screen; he's seen The Princess Bride enough times to know what's happening based on audio alone.

“I understand most of the differences from the book so far,” Victor says, rubbing a hand up and down Yuuri’s arm. “But what's the point of calling it lightning sand instead of snow sand?”

Yuuri pokes his head up to look at the screen, and shrugs. He returns to nuzzling Victor's neck. 

Through most of the last third of the movie, he busies himself with trailing kisses from Victor's jaw down to his collarbone. As the credits roll, he lets his hand wander down to the hem of Victor's pants.

“Yuuri,” Victor breathes. “We have reservations.”

“Do you want me to stop?” he murmurs, and takes Victor's earlobe between his teeth.

Victor inhales sharply. “Not stop, just… pause. We have all night.” He takes Yuuri’s hand in both of his, and Yuuri pouts. “I really want to take you to dinner. Please?”

Victor's wide, imploring eyes make refusal impossible. He's right, anyway; there's no point starting something before Mari has left for the night. But later…. He bites his lip.

He nods his agreement, but can't help but make a show of it as he changes into clothes for their night out, stepping out of his sweatpants and pulling off his t-shirt slowly, arching his back a little more than necessary. He slips on a nicer shirt and starts buttoning it up, smirking at the hungry gleam in Victor's eye.

Victor scoots over on the bed until he's sitting in front of him, and nudges his hands out of the way. “Let me.”

Yuuri closes his eyes and Victor takes over. His knees almost buckle when Victor's lips brush against the skin of his stomach right above where he'd managed to button his shirt up to. He secures the next button and moves up to press another kiss and fasten another button.

At the last button, he's in Victor's lap, panting and shaking with Victor's mouth on his neck. “Reservations?” he croaks.

“Mhm,” Victor hums against his throat. His teeth drag against Yuuri’s skin briefly and Yuuri gasps.

“We should…” Yuuri tries to focus. He still needs pants. “We should get going, no?”

Victor drops back against the bed and throws his arms over his face. “Yes,” he says, muffled. “We'll be late if we don't hurry, at this point.” He flips over with a groan. “I just need a minute.”

Victor grips his menu. Okay. He can do this. The server has just asked what he'd like to order. He knows that phrase; he's listened a hundred times over to all the common variations of how it might be asked. He had perused the menu in English ahead of time and practiced the syllables of his order in Japanese over and over again. Mari had told him it was good enough to be understood.

He recites it again now, for their server, and holds his breath.

She nods, smiling delightedly, and he breathes a sigh of relief. He looks to Yuuri, whose eyebrows are raised, a surprised smile on his face. This is going well. 

Then the server replies, asking him something other than if he'd like a drink or any side dishes. He frowns, and asks her to repeat the question more slowly — another phrase he'd learned specifically for this occasion.

She asks him again, clearly making an effort to enunciate slowly and carefully for him to understand, but he simply doesn't know some of the words. He sighs, frustrated. He hadn’t wanted to make Yuuri responsible for communicating on his behalf during their date. He’s picked up a lot of basic Japanese while living in Hasetsu, but most of the people he interacts with regularly already have English as a language in common with him, so he hasn’t truly experienced Japanese immersion.

Yuuri’s gentle touch to his hand grabs his attention. “She wants to know if you’ll go meet with the chef. They're apparently a big fan.” 

“Oh.” He tilts his head at Yuuri. “Do you mind? We wouldn't want to anger our chef.”

Yuuri laughs. “Go ahead.”

The server leads him back to the kitchen.

“I want to make sure I have coach’s approval for the surprise birthday dessert,” the chef says in thickly accented English, indicating the dish.

Victor chuckles. Of course, they're actually a fan of Yuuri’s. “That's fine. Everyone deserves to make an exception on their birthday.”

He heads out of the kitchen and spots Yuuri at their table, staring off into the distance. He’s lightly drumming his fingers on the tablecloth as he waits for Victor to return. His features are highlighted beautifully in the candlelight, and Victor sighs softly at the sight.

He returns to his seat and lifts Yuuri’s hand to his lips. “I love you,” he says, turning Yuuri’s hand over and pressing a kiss to his palm. He tilts his face to rest his cheek against Yuuri’s hand.

“Love you too,” Yuuri whispers, eyes soft.

“It was really sweet of you to try to learn all that Japanese for our date,” Yuuri says, as they walk back towards the onsen. Everything Victor had said had been phrased correctly, if a little stilted. He must have been working on it for a while.

Victor’s voice is appealing enough in English, and Russian too, from the occasions Yuuri has been able to listen to him using his mother tongue. The idea of what he might sound like after achieving fluency in Japanese is almost too much to handle.

Victor smiles and squeezes his hand. “I’ve learned other languages before, but nothing like Japanese. The structure of it is totally different. Mari helped a lot, though.”

“You’ve really won her over,” Yuuri says, leaning against Victor’s arm. “And my mom this morning, calling you part of the family? Oh my god, I thought I was going to cry.”

“So did I.” Victor laughs lightly, but then his expression sobers. “Actually, it means a great deal to me. The closest thing I’ve had to family for over a decade — human family, anyway — is Yakov, and…” He trails off.

“And you haven’t been on the best of terms with him lately,” Yuuri finishes for him, quietly.

“Right.” Victor sighs. “I thought maybe after he helped us at Rostelecom, he might get back in touch with me, but… nothing.”

“Well, even if he’s not ready to talk yet, I think the fact that he was willing to help at all shows that he still cares, doesn’t it?” Yuuri reaches across with his other hand to squeeze Victor’s arm reassuringly.

Victor nods, and takes a deep breath. “You’re right, I hope. I never meant to burn that bridge, I just… The way things were going while I was still skating— it was killing me.”

Yuuri stays silent, waiting for Victor to continue.

“I had nothing, except skating. Even with Chris, I think the reason it went on as long as it did was because it was literally the only other thing in my life. And Makkachin, of course.” Victor exhales slowly. “It wasn’t healthy.”

“Do you think you could ever go back to it?” Yuuri asks. “If you were in a healthier situation, I mean?”

“Maybe.” Victor stops and leans against the seawall. “I do love skating, but I can’t go back to the way things were. And I love coaching you; I wouldn’t want to give that up.”

Yuuri steps close, slipping his arms around Victor. “I think it’s understandable if your feelings about it are complicated,” he says gently. “You don’t have to decide anything right now, but… I’ll do my best to support you no matter what.”

Is that too presumptuous? That his support would make such a difference? People generally appreciate support from their loved ones, don’t they? And somehow, he’s become one of those people for Victor.

“Yuuri…” Victor breathes, bringing his hands up to Yuuri’s face.

Yuuri leans in, angling his face up to press his lips to Victor’s. Victor’s hands slide to the back of his head and neck, their insistent pressure urging him to stay close.

Heat builds as the kiss deepens, and they separate, gasping softly. They’re pressed together from chest to hips, and even through their thick layers, Yuuri is prominently aware of every last point of contact with Victor’s body.

“Shall we go home?” Victor asks, voice low and full of promise.

Yuuri swallows hard, and nods.

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe it’s still not finished after almost a hundred and fifty years,” Yuuri says, craning his neck to admire the impressive details carved into the walls of the Sagrada Familia.

Victor hums thoughtfully, paging through the informational booklet. “Maybe it would be, if the architect hadn’t been killed by a runaway streetcar.”

“What, seriously?” Yuuri leans over, peering at the section Victor is pointing at. “He was run over by a streetcar?”

Victor sighs, gesturing at the spires of the cathedral. “I think it’s terribly sad. Can you imagine being in the midst of the greatest accomplishment of your life and being killed out of nowhere in a random freak accident?”

“And never getting to see it become one of the most famous architectural marvels of the world,” Yuuri says, quietly. “Yeah, that is tragic. I guess sometimes there’s just no way to see it coming; ‘live each day as if it’s your last’, and all that.”

What would he do if this were his last day on Earth? Spend time with his family, maybe, but that’s not really possible here in Spain. Mari isn’t scheduled to arrive until tomorrow. If he's honest with himself, though, the way the day has gone so far is pretty close to exactly how he'd want to spend his last day.

Victor face is still turned skyward with sad, thoughtful eyes. He's such a sensitive soul, feeling so much empathy for a long-dead architect. Yuuri squeezes his hand comfortingly, and Victor shifts his gaze to him, his clouded expression clearing in an instant. His genuine, brilliant smile as he gives Yuuri’s hand an answering squeeze makes the world stop.

Yuuri’s breath catches. He loves him so much it's almost painful.

If this were his last day, he'd want to spend it making sure Victor knows exactly how much he means to him. That with the Grand Prix Final looming, all he can think about is that he’d do anything to make it possible for them to stay together afterwards. Skate until he's forty, if Victor wants to retire from competition and keep coaching him. Retire and go back to Russia with Victor, if Victor wants to go back to competing. How much money would it take to bribe the Russian Skating Federation into letting a Japanese citizen skate for Russia? Maybe he could dust off his music composition skills and work on getting good enough to compose for Victor's programs. Maybe he could just be a house husband. Or a… stay at home parent.

He can feel his heart racing as he turns to Victor, reaching a hand up and pulling him into a kiss. If only he could just pour all of his feelings into this and have them be perfectly clear.

I love you. I want us to make each other happy for the rest of our lives. Please let me stay with you forever.

But it's not really possible to convey all that with a kiss, no matter how passionate, how pure.

Maybe that's why, a short while later, he finds himself having an out of body experience in a jewelry store, watching himself over his own shoulder as he maxes out his credit card. Only the combination of his frayed nerves resulting from the biggest competition of his life looming on the horizon, the existential dread of contemplating the fragility of life, and the voice in his head that's been telling him for months to hold onto Victor and never let him go could possibly ever make his senses take leave of him to the extent necessary to enable such an insane gesture.

Oh, god. Oh god oh god oh god. What is he doing? Victor looks like he's in shock. This is absurd.

“Um,” Yuuri says.

Victor stares.

“This…” he clears his throat. “This doesn't have to mean anything more than you want it to.” Yuuri laughs, and it sounds manic even to his own ears. “It can just be for good luck, or a thank you, or whatever…”

Victor pushes past him and leans over the counter, calling the salesperson back. Fuck, he's going to demand a refund on a nonrefundable item, by reason of insanity.

Victor buys another ring.

He turns to Yuuri with his purchase wrapped neatly in a box. When had that happened? What is happening?

“I'll take ‘or whatever’, please,” Victor says, and pulls Yuuri into a hug that goes on for at least three minutes.

Phichit glances around the table. This is super awkward. Otabek Altin’s stony-faced glare and Yuri Plisetsky’s scowl would be easy enough to ignore, since those seem to be their default expressions, but the way Chris is staring at Yuuri and Victor with an inscrutable look on his face is just unnerving.

When Yuuri had texted him to meet up for dinner he hadn’t expected to find a table surrounded by their competitors. At least J.J. isn’t here.

Yuuri chuckles awkwardly. “Sitting here with everyone is so different from the last Grand Prix Final; I barely spoke to anyone last year.”

“You seemed to come out of your shell easily enough at the banquet,” Chris says, raising an eyebrow.

Yuuri frowns. “Are you kidding? I just remember standing alone drinking champagne and then waking up in my room the next morning.”

Chris barks a laugh. “I didn’t think you were drunk enough to black out, considering the… agility you retained.”

Yuuri stares at him.

Phichit narrows his eyes. What’s this about? Chris and Victor exchange a glance loaded with something.

Victor pinches the bridge of his nose. “I guess I should have expected that you might not remember, considering you blacked out at World’s as well.”

Yuuri looks away, flushing. “I wasn’t exactly in a good place by the end of last season. What happened? What do you mean ‘agility’?”

Phichit pats Yuuri’s arm under the table. Obviously, Victor and Chris know something they don’t.

Yuuri flinches as Yuri Plisetsky jumps in, practically shouting. “It was embarrassing! You challenged me to a dance-off!”

“You joined me on the pole, too,” Chris adds. 

The pole? He and Yuuri had taken pole classes for a few months as a less mind-numbingly boring core workout than just doing a million reps of the same half-dozen ab exercises. But where would a pole have even come from at an ISU banquet?

Yuuri turns to Victor, eyes wide. “Did I— did we—?”

“We danced. Everyone had fun; you don’t need to worry about it,” Victor says. Yuuri looks no less freaked out. “It wasn’t a big deal,” Victor adds, but he’s clearly just trying to play things down for Yuuri’s sake.

“I have photos,” Chris says, pushing his phone in front of Yuuri and swiping through a few.

Yuuri stares at the screen. “Oh my god,” he whispers.

Yuuri grips Phichit’s arm and his eyes flicker to the door. It’s all the warning Phichit gets before he’s dragged out of the restaurant.

Yuuri leans against the wall outside, gasping for air. Phichit sees Victor through the window getting up to follow them, and raises a hand to tell him to wait a minute. Victor freezes halfway between the table and the door.

Phichit puts a light hand on Yuuri’s shoulder. He can move away if he needs to. “That must have been a surprise, huh?”

“You don’t understand,” Yuuri huffs out. “They broke up shortly after the Final last year.”

Phichit twists his mouth. “There could have been a million reasons for that. Do you really think they’d break up because of dancing with you? They both got to dance with you, right? So it’s not like one could accuse the other of anything.”

Yuuri’s widen even further. “What if that’s the real reason why Victor asked me?”

Phichit frowns. “You’re talking about the fake dating thing? But that whole thing got started because of your letter, so it’s not like he approached you out of nowhere.”

Yuuri inhales sharply. “The letter! Oh god, he must have thought I wrote it because of what happened at the banquet.”

Through the window, Phichit catches Victor’s eye again. Victor tilts his head and gestures at the door and at the floor where he’s standing. Phichit motions for him to stay where he is. Whatever had happened at the banquet, it’s obvious that what Victor feels for Yuuri now is genuine.

“What if… what if it really was about making Chris jealous? If they broke up because of me? I told Victor I didn’t want to be involved like that.” Yuuri wraps his arms around himself, and Phichit puts an arm around his shoulders.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Phichit says, shaking his head. “If they broke up because Chris was jealous over Victor dancing with you, why would making him more jealous help win him back? It’s not like they broke up that same night, anyway. It’s way more likely that whatever Victor told you about their breakup is the truth.”

Yuuri nods slowly, exhaling. “You’re right. I have to— to try to see the charitable interpretation.”

Yuuri rubs his face with both hands, and the light glints off something. Is that—?

Phichit grabs his hand, pulling it closer to see. It is a ring!

“Oh my god, Yuuri! What is this?” 

Yuuri flushes. “It’s… well…”

Phichit presses his face to the window, trying to get a good enough glimpse of Victor’s hands.

“Did he propose? Did you get married without me there to be your best man?” Phichit asks, incredulous.

Yuuri shakes his head. “We didn’t get married, and he didn’t propose.” He grins. “I proposed, sort of?”

“Whaaaaaaaat?!” Phichit claps his hands to his cheeks. Then frowns. “Wait, what do you mean, sort of?”

Yuuri shuffles his feet awkwardly. “I might have panicked a bit. So my wording wasn’t exactly totally unambiguous. But I still might need you to be my best man at some point, hopefully?”

Haven’t these two idiots learned their lesson yet about communicating clearly? Time to sort this out. He pulls Yuuri back through the door of the restaurant and waves Victor over.

Victor rushes towards Yuuri, but before he can reach him, Phichit grabs his hand. Yep, there’s the other ring. “Is this an engagement ring?”

Victor blinks at him, and then smiles broadly, nodding. Out of the corner of his eye, Phichit catches the relief in the way Yuuri’s posture shifts.

Phichit has to reach up to pull them both into a hug. “Congratulations!”

They’ve caught the attention of the rest of their table, now. Yuri Plisetsky looks like he’s fighting hard to maintain his scowl. Otabek is as expressionless as ever, but he’s clapping enthusiastically. It’s almost comical.

Chris looks deep in thought. Phichit narrows his eyes. That one might need to be watched.

When J.J. shows up and starts going on about how he’s the only one who will be celebrating both a marriage and a gold medal, everyone quickly clears out and goes their separate ways. 

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

After a thorough celebration of their engagement back in their hotel room, Victor basks in the feel of Yuuri’s warm skin pressed against his as they curl up together.

“I’m sorry for freaking out at the restaurant,” Yuuri says, tucking his chin against Victor’s shoulder.

“It was a lot to take in all at once,” Victor replies, a little muffled, as he presses his lips to the top of Yuuri’s head.

Yuuri trails his fingers down Victor’s side, and Victor gives a pleased hum from the back of his throat. The aftershocks of their earlier activity still linger throughout his nervous system, sending occasional shivers of pleasure down his spine.

“I’m amazed you didn’t write me off as a drunk hot mess and avoid me like the plague at World’s.” Yuuri groans, pressing his face into Victor’s chest.

“Well, you were drunk, and a bit of a mess, but ‘hot’ was the dominating factor in what I took away from the situation,” Victor says, laughing.

“I’ll show you a dominating factor,” Yuuri grumbles, but he’s smiling when he peeks up at Victor.

Victor bites his lip sexily. “Please do,” he purrs, waggling his eyebrows, and Yuuri laughs.

“Maybe tomorrow,” Yuuri whispers, lips brushing against Victor’s ear. His hand slides up to curve around the side of Victor’s neck, and Victor’s breath hitches.

Then Yuuri reaches over to flick off the lamp, and brings his hand back down to rest against Victor’s shoulder, his thumb lightly stroking back and forth against Victor’s skin. The solid weight of Yuuri’s arm slung across his chest has an incredibly relaxing effect. He’d have to put effort into moving anywhere, so he might as well just stay exactly where he is and let his eyes drift closed.

“I’m so happy,” Victor says quietly, into the darkness, but the motion of Yuuri’s thumb has stopped, and his deep, regular breathing suggests he’s already unconscious.

On the verge of falling asleep, himself, light hits Victor’s eyelids and he opens his eyes, squinting. His phone screen is lit up with a notification, and he reaches over, tilting his phone to read it.

Chris: After the short program tomorrow, can we meet up?

Chris: I just want to talk

Victor hesitates. Yuuri’s sleeping face, illuminated by the light of his phone, is peaceful, a slight smile curving his lips, his dark lashes casting long shadows on his sleep-slackened cheeks. His presence at Victor’s side is such a comfort, it would be a shame to do anything that might damage that. But it can’t hurt just to hear what Chris has to say. He unlocks his phone and taps out a response.

Victor: Alright

Victor: Let’s talk.

Chapter Text

Axel looks both ways down the hallway before nudging the door to Uncle Yuuri’s room open. A thumbs up from Lutz confirms that the coast is clear on her end, and Loop gives the go-ahead from her end as well.

She’s not really breaking the rules, but it might look that way, so it would be better to just not get caught in the first place. Mama and Papa had said that going through things that don’t belong to her is against the rules, but she’s only looking for the note she had helped Uncle Victor write to Uncle Yuuri. And that does belong to her. Sort of.

It’s just, Uncle Yuuri had never replied to her note, so she’s been wondering if maybe he never read it. And it’s very important that he reads it before skating at the Grand Prix Final. For good luck. What if he loses because he didn’t read it?

Uncle Yuuri’s room is a lot tidier than it was last time. There are no clothes on the floor and the bed is made nicely. Hopefully, that will make it easy to find where he’s been keeping the notes.

Crouching down and peering under the bed, she spots the box Uncle Yuuri’s pen pal letters had been in. Maybe he’s keeping the notes in there now that the letters are gone?

“Mom! Have you seen my passport?” Auntie Mari calls, downstairs. “I have to get going or I’ll be late for my flight!”

Uh oh! She needs to give the note to Auntie Mari before she leaves, or there’s no way Uncle Yuuri will get to read it before he skates.

She peeks inside the box. There are a bunch of notes. Uncle Victor must really like writing to Uncle Yuuri.

“Mari, you know I’m going to find that passport in two seconds if I look!” Auntie Hiroko calls back. “It’s probably right in front of you.”

“Ugh! I’m not five years old, Mom, I know how to— oh. Never mind, I found it.”

No time to find the right note. Axel grabs the whole box and runs downstairs. So much for stealth.

“Auntie Mari! Wait!”

She catches her just in time, already halfway out the door.

“Hey kiddo, were you in Yuuri’s room again?” Auntie Mari frowns. “You know you’re not allowed in there.”

Axel cringes and looks over to where Mama and Auntie Hiroko are sitting. Did she notice? Oh, good. Lutz and Loop are there, asking her for snacks. She couldn’t get away with half the stuff she does if her sisters weren’t so good at making distractions.

She turns back to Auntie Mari. “It’s just because he forgot this.” She holds out the box. “Can you bring it to him? He needs it for good luck!”

Auntie Mari sighs. “Is that the only thing you messed with?”

Axel nods, turning on the puppy dog eyes.

“Fine. I won’t tell your mom this time, because she’d probably take away your GPF watch party privileges.”

No! Would Mama really do that? She bites her lip.

She tucks the box under one arm and waggles a finger of her free hand. “But seriously. No more going upstairs! Even if you think you have a good reason, check with a grownup first.”

Axel hangs her head and pouts.

Auntie Mari reaches out and ruffles her hair. “See you in a few days. I’ll tell Yuuri good luck for you, okay?”

She grins. “Okay!” Auntie Mari is the best.

Yuuri had been the one to qualify for the Final with the lowest score, so he has to skate first. It would have been better to be able to see how the other competitors do before deciding what risks are necessary to take, but it is what it is. J.J. has a ridiculously high base technical score planned, and he's been very consistent all season. Which means including the quad flip in the short program and the free skate is most likely a necessary risk.

It is a risk, because he still doesn't have an especially high success rate, even in practice. Not with a clear inside edge on the takeoff, anyway. Victor takes his hand and lifts it to brush his lips against Yuuri’s ring. He gives a small, but decisive nod. They both know what the path to victory involves.

Yuuri nods back and skates into place. He takes a centering breath and closes his eyes, lowering his head to press his own lips to his ring. Just because the rings are serving a more significant purpose doesn’t mean they can’t also function as good luck charms.

A murmur goes through the crowd and he opens his eyes. Victor is just a blurry figure, but it looks like he has his face tilted down to his own hand, too. Yuuri flushes. It's so cheesy to think so, but it's almost like they’re kissing each other by proxy.

It's a good mindset to get into before skating Eros, anyway. That, and letting his mind wander back to his morning with Victor. Sweat-slicked skin illuminated by early morning sunrays filtering through the curtains, hands grasping at the sheets, euphoria written in every line of Victor's body.

A shiver runs down his spine — for once, not from the nervous energy of competition — and the music starts to play.

One hand. He touches down with one fucking hand on the landing. He can't think about it now. Brush it off, move on, don't let it fuck up the rest of the program.

When he's finished, though, he can't keep it at bay any longer. One fucking hand. Was his axis off? Not enough height? Under-rotated? How many points was that one mistake worth? One point deduction for touching down. At least three, maybe four points in the form of negative GOE. Plus the loss of whatever he would have gotten from positive GOE if he'd managed not to fuck it up. 

He drops to his knees on the ice. One mistake. Eight, nine points gone? Maybe more, depending on what had caused him to falter on the landing. So fucking close. 

His stomach twists. Even if Victor is happy with them as a couple, what if he feels like coaching him was a waste of time? What if the free skate goes even worse and this entire season turns into one big regret for Victor?

He has to get up, get off the ice, or they'll deduct even more points for causing a disruption. He's lucky so many fans from Japan traveled here to attend the competition; the little skaters are still busy collecting all the gifts that had been thrown into the ice. Gifts he doesn't deserve.

Victor puts an arm around him and squeezes his shoulder gently as they sit down in the kiss and cry. He keeps his gaze fixed on the floor, avoiding the screen where his scores are going to appear. He can’t really get away with plugging his ears to avoid hearing the announcer, though.

They show up on the screen a few seconds before they get announced. He’s still not looking, but Victor suddenly tenses beside him and it’s a dead giveaway. Not good. Didn’t even break the hundred mark.

Victor mutters something under his breath in Russian. Yuuri winces. Whatever he’d said, it was bad enough that he didn’t want Yuuri to understand it. At least he’s not being publicly berated. How many times had Victor gone through the quad flip with him in practice? And Yuuri still couldn’t land it when it actually mattered.

But the fans are cheering anyway, doing their best to show their support even when it's not really warranted, so he puts on a brave face and waves to them all. The cheers get even louder in response, and he fights back tears. He stands up and bows to each section of the audience, mouthing a few 'thank you's and ‘gozaimasu’s.

As they shuffle towards the exit, he can make out the vague figures of Mari and Minako sitting a few rows up, to the side of the kiss and cry. Even without glasses, Minako’s giant banner with his name written in hot pink is hard to miss. Mari had tried to get him to meet up with them earlier, but he hadn't really been in the right headspace to socialize. He'll have to make it up to her later.

As soon as they are out from under the prying eyes of the crowd and the cameras, Victor unleashes his frustration.

“Fucking bullshit!” Victor almost growls , and Yuuri flinches.

“I'm sorry,” he whispers.

“What?” Victor blinks. “ You're sorry?”

“...Yes?” Yuuri says, hesitating. “I messed up. Now we'll be facing down at least a ten, fifteen point gap going into the free skate.”

“Yuuri, you skated beautifully. You made one mistake. It's not you I'm angry with.” Victor pulls out his phone and angles it towards Yuuri. “It's the Russian judge who gave you 8.75 on your transitions and skating skills. It's the entire panel who somehow ended up on forty-one for your presentation score. You were criminally underscored.”

Tears threaten to spill down his cheeks. “Oh,” he says, thickly.

“I mean, yes, the deduction for touching down is legitimate. But your takeoff was fine, your axis was good, you had the rotations, you just didn't get quite enough height. How the fuck does that translate to negative four GOE?” Victor's eyes are filled with cold fury. “No. This is because of me. Because I took a year off to coach you, they're taking it out on you.”

Victor's gaze turns to him, and his expression transforms completely. “Oh, Yuuri.” He cups his cheek, and Yuuri closes his eyes, leaning into his touch. “Did you really think I would yell at you like that over one touch down?”

Victor pulls him in, wrapping his arms around him securely, and Yuuri takes a shuddering breath against his neck. After a few moments of holding that position, his heart rate is mostly under control and he's breathing normally.

“You have no idea what watching you skate that program does to me, do you?” The quaver in Victor's voice makes Yuuri lift his head to look at him. His eyes flash as his hands slide to Yuuri’s hips, and Yuuri parts his lips. The abrupt mood shift is a little disorienting, but he'll run with it.

He spreads his fingers through Victor's hair and his eyes flick to his mouth, which drops open slightly as Yuuri draws him in for a kiss. Victor's fingers dance across his back and hesitate at his shoulder for a moment before traveling down along his arm, echoing the path they had taken along Yuuri’s body a few hours earlier. Yuuri shivers, knowing exactly what Victor is thinking back to.

“I might have some idea,” Yuuri says, stepping back. They can't get carried away — not here, not now. “Can we go watch the rest of the performances? I think we can catch the tail end of Chris’s,” he says, offering his hand to Victor.

Victor clears his throat and nods, eyes locked on Yuuri and a smile ghosting across his lips. He runs his hands through his hair a few times to return it to a semblance of order, grinning sheepishly, and they head upstairs to the reserved seating area.

Victor brushes the back of his knuckles against Yuuri’s cheek, and his heart squeezes at the soft smile that appears on Yuuri’s sleeping face. The combination of lingering jet lag and an emotionally intense short program had clearly left him exhausted, and he'd fallen asleep shortly after a quick in-room dinner and a shower.

He gently runs his fingers through Yuuri’s still-damp hair, and sighs. He pulls out his phone.

Chris: meet at the rooftop pool?

Chris: I can't think of anyone else crazy enough to go swimming outdoors in December, heated pool or no

Victor worries at his lip with his teeth and lets his eyes linger on Yuuri a moment longer, happy and relaxed in his sleep. He wouldn't be opposed to Victor going to talk things out with Chris, would he? It would be nice to get some closure. As happy as he is with Yuuri, the breakup of a relationship half a decade old would have lingering effects on anyone, wouldn't it?

Victor: I'll be there in a few minutes

He shrugs on a robe and slips out of the room, cushioning the door as it closes to avoid the potentially loud click of the latch waking Yuuri.

Yuuri inhales sharply and lifts his head to look around the room. What had woken him up? The heater is whirring, it might have just clicked on. Victor is nowhere to be seen.

He tilts his phone towards himself and squints at the bright light of the screen. It's a little after nine. He has a couple of texts from Victor.

Victor: I've gone out for a little while, be back soon

Victor: I love you

Yuuri smiles.

Yuuri: Love you too. See you in a bit.

He presses a fist to his mouth to stifle a yawn. He shouldn't have taken that nap; now his sleep schedule is totally fucked. Hopefully Victor isn't too disappointed that Yuuri had ended up being too tired to do any sightseeing earlier.

Maybe he'll see what Phichit is doing. Victor will let him know when he's headed back, most likely.

Yuuri: What are you up to? Victor is busy, want to hang out for a bit?

Phichit: sure! i’ll head your way

Yuuri: I'm in 217

Phichit: kk

He gets dressed in the meantime, and opens the door when Phichit knocks a few minutes later.

“You didn't want to join Victor in the pool?” Phichit asks, tilting his head.

“Oh, is that where he is?” Yuuri asks. “What floor is it on?”

“The roof! I ran into him in the elevator earlier, on his way up.” Phichit laughs. “Crazy Russians. It's December. I never got used to the cold in Detroit; I can't even imagine swimming outdoors in temperatures like this.”

“We could go see if he wants to go out somewhere with us,” Yuuri says. “Unless you don't want him to come along.”

“Nah, I don't mind. We can ask him.” Phichit grins. “If I'm going to be your best man I should get to know the other groom, too. I need more juicy stories for my speech anyway.”

When they reach the top floor and climb the last few stairs to the rooftop entrance, Yuuri stops. Victor's voice carries through the door. He's talking to someone.

It's Chris’s deep, distinctive voice that replies, and Yuuri’s eyes widen. “I just miss what we had before everything happened, Victor.”

He's frozen in place. Obviously this isn't a conversation they would intend for him to overhear. Should he leave? But… Victor is his fiancé. Should he interrupt them?

Phichit is at his side, eyeing him with an eyebrow raised. “Is Chris making a move on your man?” he whispers. 

Yuuri swallows. Maybe Victor will just tell him to back off. He wouldn't just— how many times has Victor told him he loves him?

“I know. I miss you too.” Victor's reply is like a bucket of ice water dumped over Yuuri’s head. What— he can't—

“I just want to start over,” Chris is saying. “A blank slate.”

Yuuri puts his hand on the wall for balance. Dread pools in his stomach, and a wave of nausea hits him.

“I agree,” Victor replies, calmly, like he's not in the process of destroying Yuuri’s whole world. “Let’s try again.”

The roaring in his ears is interrupted by the sound of his name. “I need to talk to Yuuri first,” Victor's voice says. “It's not fair to him for me to just decide something like this. I should have told him before I even came to talk to you tonight.”

Phichit's hand is on his shoulder. The floor is cold and hard. When had he sat down?

“I shouldn't be here,” Yuuri whispers. “We need to leave.”

“Are you serious?” Phichit whispers back. “You're just going to listen to something like that and walk away without confronting him?”

Yuuri just shakes his head. There's no way he can open his mouth to say anything right now without giving himself away to Victor and Chris. Violent shivers are starting to wrack his body.

“Then I will,” Phichit whispers, harshly, dark eyes hot and angry. He moves towards the door, but Yuuri clutches his hand.

“Don't,” Yuuri sobs, as quietly as he can manage.

Phichit huffs. “Okay,” he says, closing his eyes and exhaling a long breath. “Okay. You can come to my room in the meantime, but we are going to get this sorted out before the night is over.”

Chapter Text

Phichit heads back to his room, leading Yuuri by the hand. Yuuri is shaking badly, and Phichit can’t really blame him. Normally, he’d lean towards confronting a person before jumping to any conclusions, but the conversation they’d overheard had sounded… pretty bad. And the fact that Victor and Chris had gone somewhere secluded to have it didn’t help at all.

He shuffles Yuuri into his room and moves inside, beelining the cupboards in search of a glass. He returns with a glass of water for Yuuri, who is standing just inside the room, looking dazed.

Yuuri takes the glass and lets Phichit guide him to sit on the bed. He blinks, and meets Phichit’s eyes. Phichit sits down beside him, close enough to lean on if that's what Yuuri wants.

“What the fuck was that, Phichit?” he whispers.

Phichit shrugs helplessly, grimacing. “I don’t know what to say.”

“I’m not being crazy, right? This isn’t just me catastrophizing? I can’t…” Yuuri takes in a shuddering breath. “I can’t think of a good explanation.”

Phichit nudges the bottom of the glass up towards Yuuri’s face, and he takes a sip. “You’re not being crazy,” he says, quietly. “It sounded bad to me, too.”

Yuuri sips at the water mechanically.

Phichit taps a finger against his lips. “Would it help to brainstorm?” He's acted as a sounding board for Yuuri before, where an anxiety-ridden Yuuri spouts whatever ideas come to mind, no matter how outlandish or ridiculous, and Phichit tells him whether they seem reasonable or not. It can help to have access to the perspective of someone whose brain isn't behaving like his own enemy.

At the least, getting him to put everything into words usually helps keep him calm. Well, maybe not calm, but not completely falling apart.

“Was the whole thing just some… fucked up game?” Yuuri runs a hand through his hair. “Like, ‘Look at the idiot who came last at the Grand Prix Final and got shitfaced at the banquet, what sort of fun can we have with him’?”

Phichit hums skeptically. “That theory seems… less sane. That would be, like sociopath-level fuckery.”

Yuuri sighs, and nods. “What if… when I brought up the idea of a real relationship, he jumped on the opportunity to make things more convincing for Chris? And accepting— saying that we were engaged was a final attempt at getting through to him.” His face crumples. “And it worked.”

“Ehhh.” Phichit tilts his head back and forth. “That still seems a little extreme to me. Like, that's super manipulative of him, even if everything had initially come from you.”

Yuuri pulls off his glasses and swipes at his eyes. “Maybe V-Victor was just having fun living in the moment and I took everything too seriously. And he didn’t know how to let me down easy, so he just went along with it?”

Phichit nudges the water again, but Yuuri shakes his head. “I can’t — I feel like I’m going to be sick at any moment.”

He takes the water glass back from Yuuri, who wraps his arms around himself and hunches in on himself.

Phichit thinks back to the interactions he'd witnessed between Victor and Yuuri. “I don't know, Yuuri. Unless Victor is a world class actor, he really did seem to care a lot about you.” He purses his lips. “Even with what we just heard, he was saying something about trying to be fair to you. Would he do that if he was just using you as some boy toy until Chris came to his senses?”

Yuuri rests his elbows on his knees and tangles his hands into his hair. His breaths are coming in harsh gasps.

“I think this one—” Yuuri shudders, radiating misery. “This one seems like it makes actual sense. That I've just… always been second choice, second best. Maybe Chris did reject him in Beijing before I came back to the room. And he was ready to settle for me as a backup plan until—” he covers his mouth, not quite stifling a sob. “Until his first choice became an option again.”

Phichit presses his lips together. Yuuri is right. That does seem plausible.

“I'm so fucking stupid, Phichit,” Yuuri says, pressing his hands over his face. “We've only been together for real for like, a month. Obviously that wouldn't hold up against the possibility of reconciling with his partner of five years.”

Yuuri leans against him, and Phichit puts an arm around him. “Maybe he really thought he was over him,” Phichit says, gently. “Maybe he really did want to move on with you, until Chris approached him, and then he realized.”

“I really love him, Phichit,” Yuuri wails, and Phichit gives his shoulder a squeeze.

Yuuri’s whole body shakes with sobs. Phichit's heart aches for him. To have this happen after finally letting himself be vulnerable with someone… how's Yuuri ever going to get over this?

Phichit's phone buzzes in his pocket, and he maneuvers to retrieve it. It’s a DM on insta — a quick profile check shows it's Yuuri’s sister.

marikat: Victor is texting me asking if I know where Yuuri is

marikat: is he with you?

If Yuuri’s sister is worried, he should probably tell her, so she doesn’t start wondering if he’s dead in a ditch somewhere.

phichit+chu: yeah, he's with me

phichit+chu: but…

phichit+chu: he's not doing super great right now

marikat: because of the competition? what happened? 

Yeah… that’s a lot to explain over text. Even over the phone would be difficult.

phichit+chu: long story

phichit+chu: bottom line is i’m not sure about sending Victor this way

marikat: oh…

marikat: maybe you shoulda led with that

marikat: I kinda already told him

Shit. It won’t take long for Victor to figure out where to find them; Yuri Plisetsky had spotted him leaving his room earlier, so Victor could easily just ask him.

marikat: should I head over there? I might be a bit, I’m not at the hotel

marikat: what's your room number?

Maybe it would be good to get the insight of someone who has been living in the same house as Victor and Yuuri this whole time. Phichit’s encounters with Victor have always been brief, but Yuuri’s sister would have a connection of her own with Victor.

She might know what to say to help Yuuri. And if not— Well. It can’t hurt to have another set of willing hands available to help hide a body.

It’s been a few minutes since fresh tears had welled up in Yuuri’s eyes, and he can breathe without being interrupted by hiccoughs or sobs, finally. The soothing sensation of Phichit’s fingers combing through his hair always works wonders.

“You’re such a good friend,” Yuuri says, quietly. “Sorry I’ve been such a shitty one.”

The gentle tugs on his hair take on a more orderly feel, and a ghost of a smile tugs at the corner of Yuuri’s mouth. Phichit’s determination to attempt to braid his hair no matter what the length is ridiculous.

“You’re not a shitty friend,” Phichit says, flicking Yuuri’s ear.

“Ow!” Yuuri turns to glare at him.

“Stop moving or you’ll ruin my work,” Phichit chides. “And don’t talk shit about yourself.”

Yuuri sighs and leans back against the foot of the bed obediently. “Other than World’s, where I avoided and ignored you, every time I’ve seen you this year has involved you picking up the pieces after I’ve fallen apart.”

“Hold this,” Phichit orders, and Yuuri reaches up, letting Phichit guide his hand to where it’s needed on his head. Phichit sets to work on the other side. “You’d do the same for me without complaint if I’d had a rollercoaster of a year like you did.”

“Yeah, of course.” Yuuri tucks his knees up to his chest. “But you probably wouldn’t need my help in the first place.”

Phichit nudges him with his knee. “I could need support for certain things. I just don’t lose my shit over the same stuff as you.”

There’s a knock at the door, and Yuuri’s stomach sinks. Phichit huffs and gets up, letting Yuuri’s hair slip back into its natural state. The momentary reprieve from reality is over.

Phichit presses his hands to the door and rises slightly on tiptoe to peer through the peephole.

“It’s Victor,” he whispers. “What do you want me to do?”

Yuuri presses the heels of his palms to his eyes and shakes his head. “I can’t.”

Victor knocks again. His muffled voice sounds through the door. “Yuuri? Phichit?”

“You can’t put off talking to him forever.” Phichit turns around and leans against the door.

“I know,” Yuuri says, and he swallows. “But I’m not ready yet.”

Phichit opens the door and slips out, pulling it closed behind him.

Yuuri stands up and walks over to the door, pressing his ear against it.

“He doesn’t want to see you right now,” Phichit is saying.

“What? Why not? What’s going on?” Victor sounds… hurt? Yuuri bites his lip, and his tear ducts start their work anew.

“Come on, man. Are you really going to play dumb about this?” Phichit asks.

“About what? I have no idea what’s happening!” Victor’s voice is edged with annoyance. “Yuuri! Open the door!” There’s a banging at the door as Victor calls his name.

Yuuri bites back a sob. He could go out there, could let Victor pretend that everything is normal and okay, let himself be comforted by hollow affection. It’s tempting, how easy it would be.

But it wouldn't last. It's only a matter of time before Victor will bring up what he and Chris had decided. Maybe he had been planning to wait until after the competition, to avoid throwing Yuuri off. Maybe he's still committed to Yuuri’s wellbeing in that limited capacity, at least. It's heartbreaking, that Victor seems to have planned on deceiving him.

Like a voice in his head, part of Yuuri is screaming that none of that sounds anything like Victor, that it’s horrible and wrong and doesn’t make any sense to even think that he would do anything like this. Caring, gentle, sensitive Victor, who has done everything possible to make the past month of Yuuri’s life — no, more than that: the past eight months — as full of joy and love as possible.

But that’s stupid, right? He had heard it with his own ears. And the vast majority of people who have ever been cheated on or manipulated would say that they never would have expected that their partners were the type of people to do it, probably. How many people had been told that they’d simply misunderstood, misheard, misinterpreted, and had wanted so badly to believe it that they’d accepted it, only to be stabbed in the back again and again?

“Just go, Victor,” he says, leaning his forehead against the door. He doesn’t have the heart to yell, but it should have been loud enough to hear anyway. “I don’t want to be second best anymore.”

“Second best? Yuuri, what are you talking about? Please, come out!” The desperation in Victor’s voice tears into Yuuri’s chest, and he presses both hands over his mouth.

He throws himself onto the bed and puts his headphones in, pulling out his phone to hit play on some random song and bumping the volume up loud enough to drown out everything else. He cocoons himself in the blanket and squeezes his eyes shut. If he listens to anything Victor says right now, he’ll just end up being a gullible idiot.

Chapter Text

Phichit clicks the door closed behind him with a heavy sigh. That hadn't been an especially productive conversation.

Yuuri is a ball of blankets on the bed. Phichit walks around to the other side and crouches down. Part of Yuuri’s face is barely peeking out of a hole in the mass of blankets, and one visible eye opens just a sliver when Phichit taps him on the shoulder.

Yuuri wriggles halfway out of his blanket shell, and he sits up, pulling out one earbud.

“Did he leave?” he asks, shakily.

Phichit shakes his head, motioning for Yuuri to scoot over and sitting down next to him. “He wouldn’t go. He’s still out there in the hallway; says he’s not going to force you to talk to him but he’s going to wait out there until you’re ready to come out and see him.”

“Did he talk to you, say anything about it?” Yuuri’s eyes are full of apprehension.

“Yeah, I told him what we’d overheard, and he tried to explain.” Phichit sighs. “Honestly… it didn’t seem like much of an explanation to me. He says we misunderstood; they aren’t getting back together romantically, they were talking about trying to be friends again.”

Yuuri rubs his face, pulling at the skin of his cheeks, and drops his hands into his lap. “Can I tell you something that will make you think I’m a complete idiot?”

“Always,” Phichit smirks, patting Yuuri’s hand.

“I want to believe him,” Yuuri whispers, looking towards the door. “I just want to run out there and pretend nothing happened.”

He looks back to Phichit, miserable. “Maybe they really were just talking about friendship? Am I pathetic if I let myself believe that?”

“I mean…” Phichit scrunches his face. “I’m not going to try to convince you one way or the other. It’s up to you what you believe. I guess they didn’t explicitly say anything about a romantic relationship. It’s a bit of a stretch, though, IMO. Seemed more significant than that, to me.”

“But does it even make sense for him to keep trying to lie to me, at this point? Like, what’s the plan?” Yuuri rubs his temples. “My head hurts; I can’t think clearly about this.”

Indistinct sounds of conversation come from the hallway, followed by a pounding on the door.

“Does someone want to let me in and explain why Victor is sitting on the floor in the hallway, looking like someone kicked a puppy?”

“It’s Mari.” Yuuri reaches for his glasses.

Phichit opens the door and Yuuri’s sister nudges past him. Victor is sitting just to the side of the door, resting his forearms on his knees. He sniffles and looks away, but not before Phichit catches sight of his red-rimmed eyes.

Could he be telling the truth? It seems far-fetched that he and Chris would really have a secret rooftop rendezvous to discuss the idea of being friends. Why all the drama? Being friends with someone follows naturally from being friend ly with them, even with an ex.

Yuuri will have to hear his story himself and be the judge of it. Phichit lets the door close again.

“What’s going on, Yuuri? Are you and Victor fighting? He didn’t say much out there,” Yuuri’s sister drops her things on the table.

“We’re not fighting, exactly. I’m still trying to figure out some stuff.” Yuuri points at a box she had been carrying. “Why do you have that?”

She shrugs. “Axel told me there’s something in there you need for luck before you skate. I haven’t looked inside.”

Yuuri reaches out an open hand, and she passes him the box. “Victor’s notes,” he murmurs, lifting the lid.

“Mmmkay, you seem pretty comfy in here with Phichit while Victor is out there alone, obviously upset, so I’m going to check on him, alright?” Yuuri’s sister says, looking between them. “Love you, Yuuri, but you can be really dumb about things sometimes. If you’re trying to figure out something about you and Victor, why the fuck are you in here instead of out there talking to him?”

Oh, snap.

She doesn’t exactly slam the door, but she doesn’t do anything to help it close gently, either.


Chris is already in the pool by the time Victor arrives on the rooftop.

“You wanted to talk?” Victor asks, guardedly.

Chris swims to the edge of the pool and pushes up on the edge, twisting himself to sit with his legs dangling in the water. Victor grabs a towel and hands it to him. He’ll freeze half to death in this temperature if he just sits there dripping wet.

Victor hikes up his robe and pokes a toe in the water experimentally. It’s warm. He lowers himself down to sit next to Chris, letting his calves be immersed in the water.

“First of all, congratulations,” Chris says, gesturing at Victor’s hand where his new ring resides.

“Thank you,” Victor says, holding his hand up to admire his ring, fingers spread wide.

“You seem really happy.” Chris leans back on his hands, towel draped loosely around his shoulders. “I’ve been seeing someone, too.”

“Oh?” Victor hasn’t seen anything about it. They must be keeping things discreet.

“Yeah, but it’s not public knowledge. I’m really glad we’ve both moved on, V.” The old nickname brings back memories of when they’d both been in Juniors, and Victor smiles.

“I am too,” he says, sighing happily. It had been rough for a while — maybe for Chris, as well — but it seems as though they’ve both gotten through to the other side better off than they had been before.

“Do you ever think about what things would have been like if we’d never gotten together?” Chris asks, contemplative.

Victor nods. “Honestly, I think we were a lot better off as friends.”

“Yeah.” Chris is quiet for a few moments. Then he turns to face him. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, actually.”

“What, being friends?” Victor raises an eyebrow. It could be challenging, with all the baggage between them.

“Yeah, I think we should give it another shot. You were my oldest friend, you know? One of my only friends. As much as I love it, this can be a lonely sport.” Chris sighs, kicking his feet in the water.

“Yeah, I know.” Victor smiles ruefully. “It was the same for me.”

As a teenager, Victor had known basically no one his own age, outside of competitions. His competitors — even his rinkmates — were too focused on him as a rival, or too intimidated by his fame to interact with him as an actual person. Chris had been an exception, and for a long time, he’d been the only person Victor had looked forward to seeing at competitions — they had been rivals, but they’d been friends, too.

Years later, they’d been together romantically for so long that the connection between them had come to be completely defined by that one aspect. It had been easy to overlook that they had been friends for even longer, before things had developed into something different.

It’s a relief that this is what Chris had wanted to discuss with him. But he needs to talk to Yuuri; understandably, not everyone would be comfortable with their spouse rekindling a friendship with their ex of five years.

“I just miss what we had before everything happened, Victor.”

Phichit’s door opens again, and Victor whips his head up. Is Yuuri ready to talk? This has been the longest half hour of his life.

Mari steps out of the room and drops herself down next to Victor.

“Hey, man,” she says.

Victor sighs. He’s already explained himself to Phichit; why should he expect things to work out any differently with Mari?

“Did you come here to find out what happened so you can go back and advise Yuuri on your recommended course of action?” he asks, and he can’t help the bitterness that seeps into his tone. “Or is this where you give me a ‘my name is Mari Katsuki, you hurt my brother, prepare to die’ speech?”

Yes, Yuuri and Phichit had overheard a really unfortunate fragment of his conversation with Chris, and it’s understandable that Yuuri would be a bit shaken up. But hasn’t he done enough to demonstrate his love for Yuuri that he deserves the benefit of the doubt? Or at least a chance to explain himself directly to Yuuri?

“Nah,” Mari says, and Victor blinks at her. “I came out to see how you’re doing. I don’t know what happened, but I’m not going to enable Yuuri’s tendency to avoid straightforward communication.”

Victor exhales shakily. “I’m alright, mostly. I know that this is a misunderstanding, I just don’t know whether Yuuri will believe me — or even just listen to me, at this point.”

Mari nods. “He’ll get himself sorted out eventually.”

Victor drops his head into his hands, and Mari puts a hand on his back. “If you do want to tell me about it, I’m here to listen. But you don’t have to.”

Victor angles his face to look at her. He’s never had a sister as a point of comparison, but Mari is a good one, as far as he’s concerned.

“I really appreciate that you’re so patient with him, you know. He’s lucky to have you.” She looks down. “I sort of snapped at him in there, actually; sometimes I need to remind myself that he doesn’t mean to be like this, or want to be.”

“You mean his anxiety?”

She nods. “Yeah, if he’s shaken up about something and he gets some terrible explanation for it in his head, it’s like that part of him clutches onto that and won’t let go even if he learns something that goes against it.” She grimaces. “Been that way since he was a kid, but we didn’t know it was a whole thing until after he moved to America. Mental health issues are badly stigmatized in Japan, unfortunately.”

“I knew it was an issue for competitions, but I didn’t realize the true scope of it, I suppose,” Victor says, quietly.

“He doesn’t like to let on how bad it can get. Even to himself, in a way.” She stretches out a leg in front of her. “He works hard to counteract it, but if he gets overwhelmed, he might not be able to keep up those efforts.”

“I’m surprised he was so forthcoming about it with you,” Victor says, pursing his lips.

“Oh, he wasn’t, at first.” She laughs. “He kept it totally secret for almost two years. Then he called me in the middle of the night out of the blue, wracked with guilt that he’d learned this huge thing that explained so much about himself, and had kept it from me.”

Victor nods. That fits better.

“So if he got it in his mind that the reason I’d been talking to Chris was because I was planning on getting back together with him…”

Mari gives a low whistle, and shakes her head. “Is that what happened?”

“We were talking about trying to be friends again.” Victor sighs. “I can see how it would have sounded bad if they only heard part of the conversation.”

“Yeah, I can imagine,” she says, raising her eyebrows. “And I’ll bet your explanation didn’t sound like much to Phichit, right? That kid makes friends like breathing, as far as I can tell. He wouldn’t understand needing have some big emotional conversation with someone about being their friend.”

“He didn’t seem especially convinced,” Victor mutters. “But you believe me?”

“Yeah, dude, of course. Why would you be lying now, anyway? Makes no sense.”

That’s… that’s a relief. He hadn’t wanted another person trying to act as a go-between for he and Yuuri, but knowing that he’d been able to get through to someone close to Yuuri was a huge reassurance. He still needs Yuuri himself to listen and understand, but Mari is a safety net. She won’t let Yuuri run away from this — run away from him — without knowing what had happened.

It’s been an emotionally exhausting evening. On impulse, he leans over, resting his head on Mari’s shoulder. She makes a quiet noise of surprise, but her hand comes around to rub his shoulder.

“We do have a bit of a problem, though, you and I,” she says, and Victor tenses. “How come I had to find out from a figure skating announcer that my little bro is engaged?”

“Oh, uh—” He starts to sit back up.

“Relax.” She pats his arm, and he settles back in place. “I’m not really upset. Yuuri’s the one who should be responsible for communicating these things to our family, anyway.”

“I don’t really have anyone to inform,” Victor says, quietly. Yakov, maybe, but that’s an issue in and of itself. Mari herself is one of the few people who he might be able to call family.

“Nobody introduced you to the concept of work–life balance, huh.”

He laughs. “I’m learning.”

“Well, since my own brother was so neglectful in his duties, how about you be the one to officially give me the good news?” She jostles him playfully.

Victor smiles. “Guess what?”

“What?” The feigned wonder in her voice makes him smile wider.

“I’m engaged!” He holds out his hand with a flourish, tilting it this way and that to get the light to hit the ring at the right angle for maximum sparkle.

“Oh my god!” she squeals in delight. “Congratulations!”

“Will you be my best… woman? Best lady? Best maid?” He laughs, but continues more seriously. “I mean it, though. I know you’re Yuuri’s sister, so I understand if you’d rather—”

“I’d love to, Victor,” she squeezes his arm. “Assuming we can ever get Yuuri to come out of the goddamn room, anyway.”

Chapter Text

Dear (Uncle) Yuuri,

This note is from Axel, Lutz, and Loop Nishigori and Victor Nikiforov. We want to say that you are a wonderful person and we are so happy that we get to live so close to you now. We love watching you skate and we are proud of you all the time. Please keep this note for good luck, so you can read it before every competition and do your best!


Axel, Lutz, Loop, and Victor

P.S. The girls have run out of patience for writing, but they wanted me to add that they hope you'll teach them to skate just like you one day. I hope to learn a thing or two also. — Victor


The large, blocky lettering juxtaposed with Victor’s neat script sends a stab of guilt through Yuuri. He at least should have read this one, despite his ambivalent feelings about opening the rest of them. Even though it had been easy to pick out from the bunch, with his name written in messy, childish writing on the surface of the folded up note, it had somehow gotten lost in the mix of the rest of them. 

Stored in his barely-used bedroom, the box of notes had completely fallen out of his conscious awareness, with everything else that had been going on in the past few weeks. Near-constant training for the Final and time with Victor filling in all the gaps had meant there had been no time or energy for anything else.

But that’s not strictly true. He had decided not to think about it too hard. He’d let himself indulge in the lingering fear that all the notes before their relationship had become real would turn out to be blank, or would mention Victor’s intentions to get back together with Chris. That what had happened in Beijing had been an impulse decision on Victor’s part, or a passive choice to let things just happen.

He hadn’t wanted to know. He had been happy with Victor, and he didn’t want whatever he might have found out from the notes to put a damper on that. But now…

He spreads out the folded notes on the table, and Phichit picks up the one he’d already opened, from the triplets.

“This is adorable,” he says. “Are they all from the triplets?”

“Just that one,” Yuuri says, turning over one of the notes in his hands. There are tiny numbers scrawled in the corners of each of them — the dates. “The rest are from Victor.”

“And you haven’t read them?” Phichit frowns.

“At first, they were just for show — a ‘thoughtful gesture’ to be caught on camera, for Chris to find out about,” he explains. “At the time, I thought they might be blank, and that I would just end up feeling like an idiot for thinking there would actually be a message for me.”

“That’s— Ugh, Yuuri. You and Victor were friends, even back then, weren’t you? He probably wrote little things to be nice, at least.”

“I know, I know.” Yuuri groans. “I’m awful.”

“Don’t make me flick you again,” Phichit says, warningly.

“Maybe the complete lack of therapy since I moved back to Japan wasn't the best choice ever,” Yuuri mutters.

“Uh, yeah.” Phichit sighs, sitting down across from him. “Are you going to read them now?”

Yuuri nods, and finds the note with the earliest date. All the way back at World’s, Victor had given it to him right before the free skate.


Dear Yuuri,

From the bottom of my heart I want to thank you. You became a shining ray of hope when my life seemed otherwise dark and drab. I'm so glad we're friends.

Cheers to the beginning something wonderful.




Tears prick at his eyes. God, he’s an asshole. If this one has a heartfelt message — the one Victor had given to him literally right in front of Chris — the one most likely to have been just for show — then the rest probably have real messages, too.

The next note had been been right before he’d performed Eros for the first time, in the mini competition against Yuri Plisetsky.


Dear Yuuri,

I’m truly touched that you've allowed me into your life and into your home. You've been working hard and it shows every time you skate. I'm so glad to have the opportunity to help you realize your full potential as a skater, and my life is better for it.




Yuuri presses his fist to his mouth, tears spilling down his cheeks as he blinks hard. How could he have ever thought Victor could be cruel enough to give him blank notes?

“You okay?” Phichit asks, and Yuuri nods silently.

The next note is the one from the triplets, and the one after that is from while they had been sightseeing in Fukuoka. Victor had noticed a few people aiming their phones in their direction, and he’d winked at Yuuri as he’d conspicuously slipped the note into his back pocket.

Yuuri unfolds it carefully.


My dear Yuuri,

I can't adequately convey how much you have changed my life for the better. Every day I wake up with a purpose that I had been missing for a long time before I came with you to Hasetsu. My greatest wish is that I will be able to create such a positive impact on your life as well.




Yuuri smiles through the tears streaming down his face. He hadn’t realized how much Victor’s time in Hasetsu, even early on, had meant to him. He’s hit with a powerful urge to rush out of the room and assure Victor that the impact he’s had on Yuuri’s life has been overwhelmingly positive.

But it will take only a few minutes to get through the rest of them, and then Yuuri will have the context he’s been missing all along. Mari is out there with Victor; he’ll be okay in the meantime, and he deserves for Yuuri to properly read his notes, after all this time.

Yuuri sucks in a breath at the date on the next note. The Fukuoka championship, when he’d been trying his hardest to distance himself from Victor, fearful of his own feelings.



I miss the closeness that we had. I don't know exactly what I've done wrong, but I want to make amends. I feel like there's a wall between us and my heart aches that I don't get to see the real Yuuri anymore. 

I didn't mean to pull you into the deep end. 

Let's walk along the beach, instead. Maybe we can wade together in the shallows. And one day, if you can trust me again, we can learn to swim.



Yuuri sobs. He’s put Victor through so much shit. And Victor has been nothing but gracious and understanding through it all.

… wade together in the shallows… 

When was it that he had told Victor about his feelings about getting close to people being like venturing too far from the safe shallows? Hadn’t that been a months before Victor would have written this note? And he’d remembered that detail… 

Victor had told him that he’d thought Yuuri had pulled away because he realized that Victor had developed feelings. That must be what he’d meant by ‘pulling him into the deep end’. With this note he’d been trying to tell him that it was alright if Yuuri didn’t reciprocate, that he was still happy to work towards just being his friend again.

Friendship has always been a deeply significant relationship for Victor. Of course a conversation with Chris about it would sound like something of enormous emotional importance.

He curls himself over, pressing his cheek to the table. “I don’t deserve him, Phichit.”

“That’s up to him, I think,” Phichit says, carefully. “So you believe him about Chris, then?”

Yuuri nods, grabbing a Kleenex from the box on the nightstand and blowing his nose. Ugh, he’s such an ugly-crier.

What’s the next one? He takes a deep breath. This is it: the note from the night of the Beijing short program. Had Victor really been planning on taking him out to dinner and telling him how he felt? The note probably won’t say anything outright, but given what had happened that night… He’ll just read it and see for himself.


My dearest Yuuri,

I think — I hope — I understand, now. I'm so sorry I didn't see it sooner, if I’m right.

I'm looking forward to having dinner with you tonight. I hope we can work everything out, and start a new chapter together.

Yours always,



Yuuri covers his mouth with his hand, caught between sobbing and laughing, smiling and crying. Victor must have already picked up on his feelings at the time, but hadn’t pushed him to talk; he’d listened when Yuuri had asked him not to say anything, even though Yuuri had been completely off-base about what Victor had wanted to talk about.

He scrambles to open the next note, the one Victor had given him before the free skate, after they’d had their night together. He really has no excuse for not reading this one before.


My Yuuri,

You came back to me. I can hardly believe it. 

The circumstances that brought us together are so strange and unlikely; it seems like fate that we would find each other in truth despite the layers of pretense we’d placed between us.

Waking up to your smile this morning was true bliss.

Yours always,



Yuuri sniffles, and pulls off his glasses to dab at his eyes. He laughs wetly. Victor has no room to make fun of the flowery language Yuuri had used in his love letter.

"What are you going to do?” Phichit asks.

“I’m going to go out there.”

Chapter Text


At the sound of Yuuri’s voice breaking on his name, Victor stands up, only to be almost knocked back down by Yuuri launching himself at him.

He manages to stabilize himself and folds his arms around Yuuri. He catches sight of Mari slipping into the room, and the door shuts behind her, leaving them alone in the hallway.

“I’m so sorry,” Yuuri sobs against his neck. “I shouldn’t have doubted you.”

Victor closes his eyes and buries his nose in Yuuri’s hair, inhaling deeply. “I know it sounded bad.”

“I should have tried harder to think of what else you could have been talking about,” Yuuri says, shaking his head. “And I shouldn’t have shut you out when you wanted to talk.”

“I was hurt, that you wouldn’t see me. Mari helped clarify some things for me, though, and I think I understand a bit better now.” Victor tightens his hold on Yuuri. “At least this time it was just an hour or so, not months.”

“I need to confess something,” Yuuri says, quietly. “Something I feel really bad about.”

Victor’s heart sinks. What’s he talking about? Could something have happened with Phichit while Yuuri had thought Victor was planning on leaving him for Chris?

“I didn’t read any of your notes until tonight,” Yuuri whispers.

Oh. That’s all? Victor almost laughs in relief. It’s perplexing that Yuuri hadn’t read the notes, and a little disorienting to know that he’d essentially been shouting into the void all this time, but nothing they can’t talk through.

“I’m sorry.” Yuuri pulls him closer. “I couldn’t shake the idea that they might have been blank, since they were for show. I didn’t want to open one and confirm what I was afraid of. But I should have known you wouldn’t do that. Once I’d gotten to know you better, anyway.”

“It’s okay,” Victor says. “But I think you might have one more note to read, actually.”

Yuuri pulls back slightly, blinking at him. “Oh?”

He reaches into the pocket of Yuuri’s jacket and fishes out the note he had planted there earlier. “I thought you’d find it on your own,” he says, handing the note to Yuuri.

Yuuri starts to unfold it, and then pauses. “Will you read it to me?” His eyes are dark pools that Victor would happily drown in. How can he refuse anything when Yuuri looks at him like that with a shy smile playing at his lips?

He takes the note back and finishes unfolding it, clearing his throat. “Yuuri, my love,” he begins, flushing. “My heart is full to bursting with happiness.” 

Yuuri makes a delighted noise, and the embarrassment of reading his own writing aloud is entirely worth it. Victor looks up from the note to catch sight of Yuuri’s shining eyes.

Yuuri steps close and slips an arm around Victor’s waist, leaning his head on his shoulder.

Victor sighs contentedly and continues. “I can't express how excited — thrilled? elated? — I am to spend our lives together. I thought I had died and gone to heaven when you pulled me into that jewelry store.”

He had thought for sure that the pounding of his heart would be audible throughout the entire store.

“Yours, forever and always, Victor,” he finishes.

He turns his face as Yuuri’s hand on his cheek guides him to meet his lips in a heartbreakingly sweet kiss. He tastes salt; Yuuri’s tears? Or his own?

Yuuri breaks off, resting his forehead against Victor's. “Mine, forever and always?”

Mine. That word, referring to him, on Yuuri’s lips… 

A full-body shiver goes through him, and he manages to nod. “Yours,” he says, choked.

Then his back is to the wall, with Yuuri’s mouth, Yuuri’s body pressed against his mouth, his body. His knees feel weak.

Yuuri’s kisses grow increasingly desperate, and Victor loses track of whose gasps and murmurs are whose. Yuuri’s hands find skin where Victor's robe has come loose at his chest, and Victor shudders.

This isn’t enough. He needs— he needs—

“I need you,” Victor breathes, and Yuuri’s eyes fly open.

A knock against the door from inside the room has Yuuri suddenly across from him, against the other wall of the hallway. Right. The hallway of their hotel, where anyone could walk past at any time. Which they are standing in, currently.

“Is it safe to come out yet?” Mari calls, voice somewhat muted through the door.

Victor crosses over to Yuuri and takes his hand. He lightly skims over the sensitive skin of Yuuri’s palm and up to the pads his fingers, brushing past the cool metal of his ring. Yuuri shivers.

“Our room?” Victor asks, keeping his voice low.

“Our room.” Yuuri clutches Victor’s hand and takes off at a run, pulling Victor along.

Victor calls back as they go, “We'll catch up with you tomorrow, Mari, Phichit!”

“So, we’re both going to be in the wedding party,” Phichit says, eyeing Yuuri’s sister cautiously. He’s only met her briefly at competitions and occasionally heard her voice in the background while video chatting with Yuuri. She hadn’t seemed especially pleased with him when she’d first arrived at his room.

“Seems to be the case,” she says, voice flat, continuing to collect the notes Yuuri had left behind when he’d rushed out. “At least you’re probably a good dancer.” She shuffles them into a neat pile and bends down to retrieve the box from where it had been left on the floor.

He's not used to starting out on the wrong foot with someone. It's unnerving.

“Are you upset with me about what happened with Yuuri and Victor?” he asks. Best to get things cleared up sooner rather than later.

She laughs and shakes her head. “Straight to the point, huh. That’s refreshing.” She looks at him thoughtfully, and he’s reminded of Yuuri. Beyond basic sibling resemblance, her hair and features are different, but with her body language and expression right now, she's a dead ringer for Yuuri. He relaxes a bit. She’s not so scary.

“I tried to get him to talk to Victor right away, you know,” he explains.

“I figured,” she says, with a sigh. “I know you’ve been a good friend to him. But it’s my house, too, that Victor’s been living in for most of the year, and I’ve gotten to know him pretty well.”

Phichit tilts his head, considering. “I had thought about that, actually. That you’d have more context to be able to see to the heart of the matter.” Well, other than the context that Yuuri and Victor's relationship had been fake up until recently.

“Yes, a lot of context.” She raises an eyebrow, giving him a significant look. “Yuuri is really bad at hiding things from me. Victor isn’t much better. He’s a terrible liar — like, really awful I don’t know how he’s survived being famous.”

Or maybe she does know something about it? Phichit raises his eyebrows back at her.

”So yeah.” She shrugs. “I’m not annoyed at you for doing your best to take care of Yuuri. I just wish either one of you would have thought about what the past hour would have been like — was like — for Victor, if he’d been telling the truth. Which he was, I have no doubt.”

He twists his mouth. “Yeah, and I guess Yuuri didn’t exactly have the emotional bandwidth for that sort of consideration just then.”

“Right.” She gathers her things and heads for the door, before turning to face him again. “I understand the urge to go all scorched earth for Yuuri’s sake. He's my little brother! But sometimes he needs something different. He didn't change so much in America that that isn't still true.”

A thump sounds from the other side of the wall. She rolls her eyes, and Phichit stifles a laugh.

“Want to bet that they've completely forgotten that they’re very visible to anyone who happens to be coming or going on this floor?” She smirks.

Phichit shakes his head, grinning. “Not a chance. I’d rather keep my money, thanks.”

Mari pounds on the door. “Is it safe to come out yet?”

Yuuri trails his fingertips up Victor’s spine from the small of his back to the base of his skull, reveling in the relaxed, happy noises invoked by his attentions. He'll never get used to feeling so intensely connected to Victor in these blissful moments.

The memory of making that spine form a breathtaking arch just a short while ago sends pleasant shivers down his own, and he wets his lips. He lets his eyes travel the length of Victor's gorgeous body, and when he reaches Victor’s face he flushes with the realization that Victor has been watching him watch him.

Half of Victor’s face is obscured where it has sunk into the softness of the pillow, but Yuuri can recognize even half a smirk.

“You’re insatiable,” Victor murmurs, tangling his fingers loosely with Yuuri’s.

Victor’s one visible eye is half-lidded, and his gaze has a dreamy, hazy quality to it.

“Are you complaining?” Yuuri asks, bringing their linked hands to his lips and admiring the sight of their rings nestled together.

“Not in the slightest,” Victor says, keeping hold of Yuuri’s hand while propping himself up on one elbow. Yuuri doesn’t miss the fact that Victor’s new resting position allows convenient access to more of his physique to admire.

Victor may have taken the season off from competing, but he hasn’t been slacking. The introduction of katsudon to his diet has resulted in a slightly less willowy appearance than he’d had at the start of the season. Mostly in the form of additional muscle, with just a touch of softness. Delicious.

Victor chuckles, low and warm. “I suppose I should take it as a compliment that your current expression is identical to when your mom brings out the katsudon.”

Yuuri’s eyes fly up to meet Victor's, and he laughs sheepishly. “Can you blame me, when you look like that?”

Victor relinquishes Yuuri’s hand and shifts onto his back, folding his arms behind his head in a smooth, languid movement. “Look like what?” he asks, eyes wide and innocent.

“Oh my god, Victor,” Yuuri says, laughing and covering his face. “That’s just unfair.”

“It’s perfectly fair!” Victor laughs, pulling Yuuri’s hands away from his face by the wrists. “I’m just showing you a fraction of what I experience constantly when you’re even vaguely in the same vicinity as me.”

That seems unlikely, but Victor’s face is earnest, and Yuuri lets the compliment sink in. A smile spreads across his face and he moves to hide against Victor’s neck.

“No,” Victor says, gently pushing him back. “If I get a smile like that out of you, I get to enjoy looking at it.”

He can feel how stupidly soft his expression turns, and Victor’s face is a perfect reflection.

Victor brushes Yuuri’s hair out of his face, and his fingers linger on Yuuri’s cheek. “I love you.”

A fresh wave of tears floods Yuuri’s eyes, and he throws his arms around Victor. “I love you so much, Victor.”

Being enfolded within Victor's arms brings with it the sense of all being right with the world. Victor's hands rest comfortingly against his back.

Yuuri exhales, pressing closer to Victor. “I'm so sorry, again. I know I need to take a more active approach to dealing with my issues.” He brushes a kiss to Victor's collarbone. “I promise, I'll try to do better.”

Victor settles a hand on Yuuri’s waist, stroking Yuuri’s skin with his thumb. “You're not alone, you know. This isn't something you have to struggle through by yourself; I'll learn whatever I can so we can work together on this.”

He can't speak. Victor is just… he's amazing. What on Earth could Yuuri have possibly done to deserve him?

“I owe you an apology, too,” Victor says, quietly. “I should have talked to you about it before I went to speak with Chris.”

“It's not my business—”

“It is your business if I'm having a private conversation with my ex. Even if I have no intention of doing anything inappropriate.” Victor‘s hand at his waist pauses. “And maybe now is not the time, because it's getting late and you still have to compete tomorrow, but at some point, we need to talk about whether you're comfortable with my potential friendship with Chris.”

Yuuri nods slowly. There's a residual ache in his chest at the memory of what he'd overheard of their conversation. It wasn't what it had sounded like. It wasn't. The spike of fear he feels at the idea of Victor redeveloping an emotional connection with Chris is unwarranted. 

But Victor wants him to be open about his feelings. He takes a breath. “It scares me. I know I should trust you. I do trust you. But I feel afraid anyway. Maybe we can figure out a way for it to be less scary, but I don't think I have any energy left to talk about it in detail tonight.”

“That’s understandable.” Victor guides him to turn over onto his side, his arm coming around Yuuri’s middle and their legs tangling together. 

Victor’s chin slots securely over Yuuri’s shoulder and Yuuri sighs, pressing back against him.

“You’re going to be great tomorrow, whatever happens,” Victor whispers.

Yuuri tilts his head back and Victor presses a kiss to his neck. “Mmm. I hope so. I want to do you justice.”

“Oh, Yuuri.” His name on Victor’s lips will never fail to resonate to his core. “I want you to feel like you’ve done justice to yourself. Skate the way you can honestly say you liked best.”

Yuuri blinks. In all these years, he’s never approached a competition with the mindset of letting himself be the judge.

“Get some sleep,” Victor says, voice soft, reaching over to click off the lamp before returning his arm to its place around Yuuri. “Big day tomorrow.”

Yuuri clutches Victor's arm close against his chest. He's half afraid that if he lets his consciousness slip away, then he’ll wake up in Phichit’s room, having fallen asleep after curling up in the blankets there, and that everything that’s happened to resolve things with Victor will have been a dream.

As if reading his mind, Victor says, gently, “I’ll still be here in the morning.”

Yuuri reaches a hand up and back, feeling along Victor’s jaw for the near-invisible scar from when he’d split his chin on the ice as a child. He relaxes when the pad of his thumb makes contact with texture slightly differing from the surrounding skin. His sleeping mind probably can’t simulate that level of detail, right?

He exhales, letting the tension drain out of him. Victor is here. He’s solid, real. He loves him. And not going anywhere.

Chapter Text

Warm, smooth skin. The solid presence of another body; cozy blankets; deep, even breathing. Victor cracks an eye open. Waking up with his arms full of Yuuri after the events of the previous night… the relief is so intense he could cry.

The first mornings after something truly terrible has happened are some of the most uniquely cruel experiences life has dealt him. The loss of his mother; that last, nasty argument with Chris before they’d broken up; the bad landing that tore a ligament in his ankle — each time, in the first few moments of the morning after, he’s been lulled into the false bliss of ignorance. When the memories, dulled by sleep, had returned to sharp focus, it had been like going through each horrible event all over again.

But Yuuri is here, dark hair splayed across the pale skin of Victor’s shoulder, dark lashes twitching slightly in his sleep. They hadn’t fallen apart. There is no tragedy to relive.

At some point in the night they’d ended up facing each other, with thoroughly intertwined limbs and Yuuri’s nose nudging up against Victor’s neck. They’ve had dozens of mornings together, and with every single one, he’s had the thought that he couldn’t possibly experience a greater sense of completeness. He’s been proven wrong again and again. Here and now is no exception.

He closes his eyes and pulls Yuuri closer, pressing a whisper-soft kiss on top of his head and clutching him as tightly as he dares. Yuuri needs his sleep; he shouldn’t risk waking him up for selfish reasons.

He drifts in and out, he’s not sure for how long, before Yuuri stirs, murmuring sleepily.

“You’re still here,” Yuuri says, voice still rough. He blinks slowly, and a beautiful, sleepy smile spreads across his face.

“I’m still here,” Victor affirms. He brushes a thumb across Yuuri’s cheekbone, drawing him in for a kiss. Soft, gentle, sweet. Nothing like the possessive, needy kisses of the night before. They’d both been desperate to reconnect after such a tumultuous evening, but they can take their time, now.

They linger in the kiss; Victor has no desire for it to end, and Yuuri seems content to continue as long as Victor wills. When they finally pause, Yuuri sighs a perfect sigh, and Victor dips his head, nuzzling just below Yuuri’s ear. Yuuri relaxes onto his back, and Victor moves with him, unwilling to relinquish a single point of contact.

“I was so afraid I was going to lose you,” Victor whispers, pressing his face against Yuuri’s neck.

“You won't lose me. It just took me a little while to get things straight in my head.” Yuuri shifts, letting Victor move closer against him. Their bodies conform to each other perfectly, but it's still not close enough.

“I want to be yours forever,” Victor breathes, lips brushing Yuuri’s skin. “I need to be close to you.” He shudders, heart pounding. “I need… I need…”

“Shh,” Yuuri’s thumb brushes Victor's lips. “I know. I'm here. I've got you, love.”

He exhales in relief, letting Yuuri take over. Sometimes, the enormity of his emotions is overwhelming, and the idea of having to articulate his feelings or decide how to act on them is an insurmountable task. But Yuuri… Yuuri knows, somehow, despite all this being so new between them, the exact motions to coax Victor's body through to allow the perfect expression of everything, everything within him.

Yuuri’s eyes, hands, lips, body, voice become one single point of focus into which Victor channels all of his love and attention. He loses himself in the beautiful haze of intimacy and adoration.

And when they're both gasping out sweet affirmations, bodies slick with sweat and hot from exertion, Yuuri pulls him into one more kiss, and Victor loses track of where he ends and Yuuri begins.

Eventually, he comes back to himself, curled up against Yuuri’s side, still breathing hard. Yuuri lets him lay there, recovering, little touches to his shoulders, back, arms, face, neck, helping to recenter him, until his breathing returns to normal and the shudders have stopped.

“Thank you,” Victor whispers, pressing his face into Yuuri’s chest. “That was exactly what I needed.”

Yuuri hums a sweet sound. “Thank you. And I'm glad I could help.”

They stay like that for a while, in comfortable silence, and Victor almost drifts off again, letting himself daydream of a future with Yuuri, taking Makka for walks together, quiet evenings in, mornings like this one.

“I loved all of your notes,” Yuuri says, playing with Victor’s hair absently. “I’m sorry I took so long to read them, and that I ever suspected they could be blank.”

Victor folds his arms over Yuuri’s chest and rests his chin atop them. “What would you have thought if they’d been a bunch of adorable doodles of Makkachin, instead?” He quirks his lips in a playful smile, lighthearted after such an intense emotional release.

Yuuri laughs. “I guess I would have regretted not getting to see your art skills flourish over time.”

“I’m offended that you think I’m not already an expert Makka-doodler.” Victor just out his lower lip in an exaggerated pout.

“There’s always room for improvement,” Yuuri recites, and Victor grins. How many times has he uttered that phrase during their practice sessions?

“Maybe that’s my next move, career-wise. Custom pet portraits.” 

Hm. He’d intended that to be playful, but it had come out with a hint of bitterness. With the approach of the Final, every interaction he’s had with fans, media, and even other skaters has become fixated on his plans for next season. Everyone is eager to share their firm opinion: he’s either a washed up has-been who should have announced his retirement already, or he’s deprived the figure skating world of his presence for long enough and needs to start competing again as soon as possible.

It seems it’s been bothering him more than he’d realized. But he shouldn’t let it sour his interactions with Yuuri — Yuuri, the one person who has made it clear that he’ll support whatever decision Victor makes.

Yuuri seems to pick up on the shift in his mood, because the gentle movements of his fingers through Victor’s hair cease. Victor sighs and curls up against him, cheek to chest. The rhythmic thump-thump of Yuuri’s heart, loud in Victor’s ear, helps reinstill a sense of peace and calm within him.

“Have… have you thought any more about what you want to do?” Yuuri asks, caution apparent in his voice.

“You don’t have to be nervous about asking me,” Victor says, gently, tracing shapes on Yuuri’s skin.

“I thought you might be tired of people pestering you about it.”

“People, yes. But you’re you.” Victor closes his eyes and breathes in deeply, taking comfort in Yuuri’s faint, familiar scent. “It’s different.”

“As much as I would love to compete against you again one day, I just want you to do whatever will make you happiest,” Yuuri says, stroking Victor’s hair back away from his face.

“I know.” Victor sighs, partly out of relief that he has Yuuri’s support, partly due to the weight of decision.

“I know it might not be feasible for me to keep skating if you want to go back to it,” Yuuri starts, and Victor frowns. Yuuri is far too willing to sacrifice his own dreams for something Victor's not sure he even wants.

“There are other things I could be happy doing. If we move to Saint Petersburg, I'll need to spend some time learning Russian, but I'm sure I could figure out a job situation eventually.”

No, no, no. That sounds entirely wrong. Move to Saint Petersburg and have Yuuri give up skating — his beautiful, inspirational skating — so Victor can, what, win a sixth World Championship? A sixth Grand Prix title? Move away from the people who have helped Victor finally learn what family is supposed to feel like?

“No, I don't want that.” The sudden freedom of the weight coming off his shoulders is surprising.

“Don't want… me to learn Russian?” Yuuri’s fingers pause, curled around his ear. “I just listed, like, six different things you could be referring to.”

“I don't want to compete. I don't want to move back to Saint Petersburg.” The words are out; there's no taking them back now. He finds he has no inclination to try.

“Victor…” Yuuri trails off, quiet.

“I'm ready for that chapter of my life to be over,” he states, definitively. He pushes up to meet Yuuri’s gaze.

“Aren't there some things you'll miss about it? If you're doing this for my sake… what if you regret it and start to resent me?” In his eyes, in the set of his mouth, it's clear that this is a real concern for Yuuri.

Pride swells in Victor's chest. Yuuri is speaking openly about his fears, he's trusting Victor to hear them and respond reasonably. Victor reaches for him and Yuuri shifts to allow himself to be pulled close.

“It's not just about you, though that is part of it, which is normal; of course I care about what's best for you.” Victor touches his forehead to Yuuri’s. “I can’t say that I would have made the same decision without you — because I wouldn't have understood that this is what's best for me, too.”

“But you love skating,” Yuuri whispers.

“I do.” Victor smiles. Now that everything has fallen into place, it’s obvious. “I love creating programs and the stories behind them, watching them gradually spring to life as the choreography comes together. I love striving to push the boundaries of this sport, and watching other skaters try to do the same. I love being on the ice every day.”

“Then why…?” Yuuri frowns.

Victor smooths out Yuuri’s furrowed brow with the pads of his fingers. “Continuing to compete was strangling my love for this sport, Yuuri. Spending this season coaching you has given me back everything I had loved about it. And given me a few new things to love, too.”

Yuuri’s eyes widen.

Victor takes a breath, and asks, “Would it make you happy to skate another season with me as your coach and choreographer?”

Yuuri blinks back tears, and smiles wide. “Yes! Of course that would make me happy! Please, be my coach until I retire, Victor.”

Victor smiles and closes his eyes, hugging Yuuri tight. “Then I hope you never retire.”

Yuuri gasps for air, chest heaving. One hand rests over his heart and the other stretches out towards Victor. Tears stream down his face. It had been the performance of a lifetime. He’d skated it clean, landed the flip, finally achieved this program’s full potential. His full potential. He’d finally managed to show everyone that Victor coaching him had not been a waste of time by anyone’s standards. Is not, and will never be a waste of time.

Victor is just as much of a sobbing mess as Yuuri, by the time he reaches the boards. He clings to Victor, and Victor clings back. They stand there, pressed together, until it registers that an event volunteer has been half-heartedly attempting to shuffle them towards the kiss and cry.

Yuuri holds his breath, waiting for the score. Victor’s hands grip his in his lap, just as anxious. He squeezes his eyes shut, but opens them quickly when the announcer’s voice sounds over the speaker.

At the sight of the score, he screams and jumps off the bench. No. No fucking way. He broke Victor’s record? He presses his hands over his mouth, tears in his eyes. Victor is up with him, laughing, crying, pulling him close. 

“You did it, Yuuri,” Victor whispers, and Yuuri drops his head to Victor’s shoulder, relief flooding through him.

“We did it.” 

It’s not a guarantee for gold, but Yuri Plisetsky is the only one who can come close to topping his total score at this point, and he’ll have to work hard to do it.

And he does. It’s the skate of Yuri’s life, too, on top of his record-shattering short program, and he pulls ahead of Yuuri by a fraction of a point. Yuuri can’t resent him for it, though, with every single one of his jumps having a difficult entry, a complicated exit, and one or both arms raised over his head. He’s never seen anyone do a triple axel with arms over their head. And knowing that Yuri might be facing some of the same mental health struggles as Yuuri has dealt with all his life… in a sense, this is the win of a teammate.

Chapter Text

Mari smiles. It’s nice to see Victor and Yuuri literally dancing with each other on the ice after watching them figuratively dance around each other for months. 

Those two fools have been in love with each other for almost as long as they’d thought they’d been pretending to love each other. It’s still not clear why they had felt the need to exaggerate the nature of their relationship at first, but after they’d returned from Beijing it had been blatantly obvious that whatever it was that they’d been doing before was fundamentally different to their relationship afterwards.

At first, she’d thought that Yuuri was uncomfortable with Victor’s attention, and that’s why she’d been so leery of Victor in the beginning. But hints of what had really been going on had made themselves known over time. 

The way Yuuri had held himself back from showing any kind of affection for Victor when he thought no one was watching, but jumped on every opportunity to hang all over Victor as soon as he noticed they had an audience. 

The way Victor had looked like a starved man being presented with a feast every time Yuuri so much as glanced in his direction, and forlorn and heartbroken whenever Yuuri looked away.

How they'd made every effort to play the happy couple whenever anyone else was around to notice.

The explanation she’d come up with had been equal parts obvious and baffling. They both wanted everyone to think they were happily in love with each other. And they were in love with each other, but neither of them thought the other felt the same way.

And after Beijing… Well. They'd still been stupidly in love, but they'd known it, at least.

Minako sniffles beside her, and Mari glances over to see her dabbing at her eyes with a Kleenex.

“You okay there?” Mari asks, patting her arm.

“Just thinking about how those costumes look like they could be wedding outfits,” Minako smiles shakily. “Our little Yuuri’s all grown up.”

Yuuri and Victor can go ahead and wear their actual figure skating costumes for the wedding, if that's what they want. As long as she doesn't have to wear a matching outfit as best lady-woman-maid. She quirks her lips. Phichit would probably be thrilled, though.

Phichit is really, really glad he'd turned out to be wrong about all the drama with Victor and Chris. Which, even disregarding Mari’s most-likely-correct convictions, is apparent in the way that Chris is watching Yuuri and Victor's pair skating exhibition routine — holy shit, Yuuri and Victor's pair skating exhibition routine — like it's the sweetest damn thing to have ever happened in the history of the sport. Which, to be fair, it is. And they have matching costumes. It’s just. Too. Much.

It also helps that Chris keeps reaching over and squeezing the hand of the mysterious stranger sitting next to him whenever he thinks no one is watching. He'd been in the kiss and cry with him, hadn't he? Choreographer turned lover, maybe. The way they are looking at each other now is not at all subtle. Maybe they’re thinking about what it would be like to skate together, too.

Really, it’s a travesty that same-sex pair skating is not an ISU-sanctioned event.

Victor and Yuuri finish their routine standing at the center of the ice with their foreheads touching, and all of Barcelona can hear the noise being generated by the crowd, probably. Everywhere he looks, people — skaters, spectators, event staff — have their phones pulled out, taking photos or videos.

Phichit has made the sensible choice to keep his hands free and attention focused on what’s happening in front of him rather than viewing the whole thing through a screen in his hand. He’s livestreaming the whole thing via GoPro instead.

Yuri Plisetsky’s routine is absolutely insane. Why is Otabek Altin tied to a chair on the ice? Isn’t Yuri Plisetsky fifteen? Who greenlit this? Judging by Yakov Feltsman’s apoplectic expression, this is the first he’s seeing of this. Phichit blinks and shakes his head. Should be interesting reading the comments on his video.

Chris can't help but laugh as Yuuri — only slightly tipsy, this time — pulls Victor through the steps of a ballet-infused tango. The stuffy, barely audible music playing at the banquet is not at all tango-appropriate, but Yuuri has his phone between his teeth like a rose, blaring a much better-suited piece at maximum volume.

He glances over to Massimo, who is watching the dance closely, eyes alight with the spark of inspiration. Chris smiles and squeezes Massimo’s knee under the table. Next season’s choreography is already in the works, it would seem. Now that the season is mostly over, they should be able to go public with their relationship soon. 

Considering the world’s insatiable appetite for Victor and Yuuri as a couple, his coach’s fear of the public being scandalized by news of Chris and his choreographer being together seems a tad overblown.

Why wait any longer?

He pushes back from the table and stands, offering his hand to Massimo.

“Can I have this dance, my darling?”

Yuri drops into a chair beside Victor, who looks like a wreck: crooked collar, loose tie, messed up hair, breathing hard. He must be tired out after all the dancing other Yuuri had put him through. Embarrassing, for someone who had been a world class athlete a year ago. He looks happy, though, at least. 

Yakov had been tired too, and gone to bed already. He hadn’t even had enough energy to argue with Yuri about staying late at the banquet. Used up too much energy yelling about the exhibition program Yuri had managed to change at the last minute, maybe.

He’d noticed Yakov watching Victor for a while before he’d left, but he hadn’t seen them speaking. Yakov had not looked tired and happy — just tired. And maybe sad.

He eyes Victor. “Did you talk to Yakov?”

“No, why?” Victor doesn’t look over. He’s too busy watching Yuuri and his friend making fools of themselves with some handstand contest. Yuri could definitely outlast either one of them. 

Yuuri’s shirt has slipped down, exposing his midsection, and Victor is practically drooling. Yuri rolls his eyes.

“Victor!” he snaps. “I’m trying to talk to you!”

Victor blinks out of his trance and turns to him, frowning. “Sorry. What is it, Yuri?”

“You should have tried to talk to Yakov.”

“Yakov has made it clear that he only wants me to speak to him if I'm begging him to coach me again.” Victor folds his arms.

Yuri rolls his eyes. “I'm sure he doesn't literally mean you have to beg. He would let you come back if you just talk to him.”

“I'm not coming back, Yuri.” Victor shifts his chair to face him.

Yuri huffs. “Yeah, I know you still have to coach Yuuri through the end of the season, but—”

“I'm not coming back at all.”


“What, never?”

“I'm going to keep coaching,” Victor says, and it's clear he's trying to let him down easy or something dumb like that, with his stupid gentle voice and sympathetic face.

“That's dumb,” Yuri says. “He’s only going to skate for two or three more years, is it really worth it to leave us all behind for that? He can retire instead, so you can skate another season.”

Victor puts a hand on his shoulder, and Yuri blinks rapidly. He's not going to cry. That would be ridiculous. He doesn't even really care if Victor comes back, he's just sad that he won't see Makkachin again. That's all.

“I'm not doing this to leave you behind; I'm just moving forward with my own life. I'll take on more skaters, eventually.”

Yuri sighs. Victor is stubborn. If he's made up his mind, there's nothing in the world that will change it. But… “Are you really going to leave things like this with Yakov, though? He's practically… practically your—”

“Yes, he was like a father to me.” Victor rests his elbows on his knees and looks down at his hands. “But I did try reaching out, you know, over and over again. Months ago. Other than at Rostelecom when I had to leave Yuuri in his hands, he ignored me every time.”


“How do you think that felt, to me, that someone I considered family was stonewalling me because I needed a break from competing after fourteen years without one? How would you feel if it were your grandpa doing the same?”

Yuri’s eyes widen. That would be horrible. It would feel like the only thing valuable about him was his ability to win medals, and that he'd been discarded the moment he didn't want to do that anymore. 

Yuri chews his lip. “I never… Victor, I never thought about it like that.”

“I know.” Victor sighs, and smiles sadly, looking back up at him. “Sorry, Yuri. This isn't your fault. Say hello to Georgi and Mila for me when you see them next. And if you want to, tell Yakov… the ball is in his court. If he wants to talk, I'll listen.”

“Victor… are you okay?” Yuri clenches his jaw. It would be so easy for Victor to turn around and tease him for showing a soft side. But Otabek had seemed like such a tough guy, and when he’d opened up to Yuri, it had just made him seem more confident. So maybe it's alright to show that he cares. Just a bit.

“Yes,” Victor says, looking back over to Yuuri. “Yeah, I'm better than okay.”

Yuri swallows.

Victor glances back to him and smiles again, for real this time. “I hope you’ll come to the wedding!”

Yuri rolls his eyes. “You can't invite people to your wedding if you don't even know where and when it will be, old man!”

“Where should we have the ceremony?” Victor stares out at the Barcelona cityscape visible from their room window.

Yuuri comes to stands at his side, offering one last glass of champagne. Victor accepts it, and leans against him as Yuuri’s arm comes around his waist.

“Should we come back to Barcelona, because this is where we got engaged?” Victor purses his lips.

Yuuri swallows a sip of champagne and hums thoughtfully. “Moscow? You still have to keep your promise to show me around. All I saw with Yuri Plisetsky as my guide was the inside of an arcade.”

Victor chuckles. “I need to hear more about that at some point.” He rests his head against the top of Yuuri’s and tucks his arm around his shoulders. “Beijing, since that’s where we finally put our feelings out in the open?”

“We could do Fukuoka… our little vacation there is when I first started to realize I had real feelings for you, I think,” Yuuri says with a sigh. Victor glances over to see him smiling softly. He’s looking out the window, but his gaze is turned inward. Reminiscing.

Victor lets him linger in his thoughts. Fukuoka sounds lovely, really. Another chance to make proper use of that wonderfully comfortable bed in the honeymoon suite.

“Or we could make all of our friends and family travel halfway around the world to London, Ontario,” Victor suggests, smiling wryly. “That is where it all started.”

Yuuri snorts. “Ah, yes, world famous wedding destination. It would be convenient for J.J. to attend, at least.”

“Our most important guest.” Victor nods seriously.

They lean on each other, laughing, the remaining champagne sloshing around in their glasses.

Yuuri regains his composure before Victor. “Let’s not be too mean-spirited, now,” he chides, but his eyes sparkle with amusement.

Victor sighs, wiping at his eyes and straightening up. “Yes, yes. I’m sure J.J. is a lovely person with his own friends and family and they all enjoy his presence at their special events.”

Yuuri turns and presses a soft kiss to  Victor’s cheek. “I’d marry you anywhere.”

Victor’s heart squeezes. “Oh, Yuuri!” He pulls him into a one-armed hug, still holding his champagne glass. “Fukuoka will be perfect. After World’s?”

He pulls back and offers his glass for a toast. Yuuri meets him in the middle, clinking their glasses together. “It’s a date.”