Banquets are dull.
Victor learned this at the first one he’d attended when he was just 13 years old: a newly-minted silver medal winner at Junior Worlds, eager to preen before the sponsors and convince them he was born to be gold but discovering he was mostly expected to just stand there and smile pretty while his coach did all the talking. He didn’t even get to interact with his fellow skaters as much as he’d expected he would and had been looking forward to—Victor had wanted to congratulate Alexander on his flawless Bolero de Ravel program, and he’d hoped to ask Phillipe for tips on landing that triple axel—but they were all similarly being toted around as window dressing for the fans to gawk at, with the braver ones venturing forward for photographs and that-was-so-great’s. He’d assumed the parties would get more interesting as he got older, but 13 years of regular attendance at the championship banquets has proven that assumption quite thoroughly wrong. The only thing that’s improved is that senior championship banquets have alcohol.
At 26 though, Victor figures he won’t have to suffer through many more of them.
That had been his thinking at the beginning of the night. And then, a miracle: the banquet had been fun.
Not just fun. That’s not the right word for it, no, not the right way to describe the wonderful chaos that had erupted after those first couple hours of expected tediousness. In all his years of skating, Victor doesn’t think he’s ever witnessed anything like the sudden infectious joy that swept over the entire ballroom; when it sank into his bones and pulled him along with the current, Victor had felt like his veins had been shot up with technicolor ecstasy.
It was a delightful mess at first—well, it was a delightful mess throughout, honestly—but the shift from lifeless to lively didn’t feel awkward for long, and suddenly people were pouring out extra flutes of champagne and crowding onto a dancefloor that hadn’t existed mere moments ago.
The party’s been stubbornly raging for hours, and now at the edge of midnight, the crowd only just seems to be calling it a night. Yet even with sweat-soaked shirts and drunk-clumsy legs, they’re slow to leave. Everyone’s exhausted and most have early flights to catch tomorrow, and yet so many still linger in the ballroom. Victor’s never seen people so reluctant to leave a championship banquet before.
And the reason for that is currently slumped over in the corner, wearing an open shirt precariously perched on his shoulders and boxer-briefs and not much else.
It’d been a sucker punch at the beginning of the evening when Victor had seen the young man enter with Celestino and immediately recognized him from that awkward moment shortly after the awards ceremony. Sure, he’d suspected as much, but that hadn’t dulled the sharp embarrassment he’d felt over having it confirmed that he’d treated a fellow competitor as a fanboy. In his defense, he’d never seen Yuri wearing his glasses before. Still, though. He’d obviously hurt the boy’s feelings, and the shame had prickled at him uncomfortably.
Victor hadn’t been able to stop himself from stealing guilty glances at Yuri, feeling like he should apologize or just go talk with him to clear the air, but not knowing how. Especially since those few glances had made it abundantly clear that Yuri was even more uncomfortable at these banquets than Victor. Victor would have liked to skive off from schmoozing the sponsors to go offer some company—and came very close to doing so several times—but he hadn’t been sure it would be wise. Considering what had happened the day before, Victor had doubted he was the right person to offer any sort of comfort to Yuri at a time when he’d clearly already been on edge.
So it had taken him rather by surprise later in the evening when he’d followed the sound of some commotion and been confronted with the image of Yuri in the middle of a crowd, enthusiastically breakdancing to the music someone had been providing from their phone. Seeing young Yuri Plistesky frozen in a k-kick had put an extremely surreal veneer over the whole thing, but it certainly hadn’t stopped Victor from pulling out his phone and snapping some pictures that he and Chris had howled over.
It had been clear that Yuri was very, very drunk. (And any doubts that lingered with anyone had been erased by the time Yuri discovered that pulling the banner off one of the metal beams threaded throughout the room easily converted it into something that could be used for pole dancing, which he and Chris had promptly taken advantage of.) But it had also been clear that his unadulterated euphoria had touched nearly every person in the room. Including Victor.
Honestly, the feeling had been something like a revelation. Victor had been grudgingly making his rounds amongst the guests with a plastic smile plastered on his face, itching to leave the room as quickly as possible. He’d spent the beginning of the party indulging in fantasies of retirement and never again having to attend one of these tired affairs. And then he’d witnessed a young man shake off his own discomfort so thoroughly that he nearly single-handedly invigorated a crowd of subdued spirits. And it changed . . . well. Everything.
That awareness had first struck him while he’d been too warm in Yuri’s arms for too many reasons, smiling so wide he’d thought his face might split as Yuri tangoed him across the room. It had been a profound moment, leaving him almost breathless as the full weight of the thought sank into his brain. He remembers Yuri asking, You still with me? when he’d stumbled as his mind had reeled from the shock of realizing a simple fact: Victor couldn’t remember a time in his life when he’d laughed as hard or been quite so unabashedly foolish as he’d been after Yuri had gripped his arm and dragged him off to dance.
It was a rather disconcerting thing to be struck with an epiphany at 26 years old that throughout all the awards ceremonies and parties and television appearances, Victor hadn’t really lived at all.
And then one young man had transformed a tiresome function into a spirited celebration, and had given Victor his first day of life.
Victor’s a little put out that no one else seems to have realized the importance of this young man sleeping on his crumpled suit jacket in the corner. With everyone slowly evacuating the ballroom, Victor has yet to see anyone come to collect him. Yuri had made this an unforgettable night, and yet he now seems to be quite forgotten here on this patch of floor he’d been poured onto to snooze off his stupor.
“Well, Yuri,” Victor says softly, “I won’t be forgetting about you.”
Victor collects the black slacks that had been carelessly slung on the back of a chair and quietly approaches Yuri. It’s probably absurd, but as he kneels down, Victor can’t help feeling hopelessly fond over this red-faced, half-naked, drooling mess of a boy. With a slight squeeze on his shoulder, Victor leans in and says, “Yuri.”
Yuri’s nose twitches. “Yngherf?”
Oh, Victor’s sure he’s smiling like a smitten sod. “Up, Sleeping Beauty. It’s midnight and the ball is over.”
Yuri’s eyes blink open. It takes a few moments before they eventually focus on Victor, and then Yuri’s mouth stretches in a wide, dopey grin. “Did I win?”
“Win?” Victor repeats, unsure what Yuri means. Surely he isn’t talking about the Grand Prix Final, right?
“I tried,” Yuri says with a pout. “All those lessons with Phichit, thought they’d finally go to use. But Chris! He’s—he’s sexy. I don’t know how to be sexy.”
Victor’s still not following this conversation, but he does have a good idea about what that’s in reference to. “I promise you,” Victor says, “you do not suffer from an inability to display your sexuality.” That pole dance between Yuri and Chris has been forever engraved on the insides of Victor’s eyelids.
Yuri sits up very suddenly, bright eyes beaming at Victor. “Does that mean I won?” he asks. “Are you going to be my coach?”
And suddenly, an extremely baffling yet significant moment of the night becomes much, much clearer.
Yuri had been clinging to him, moving against him in ways that were both wonderful and distressing, babbling in slurred Japanese that Victor had no hope of comprehending before Yuri had abruptly skipped off with Chris. But not before making one statement that Victor had been able to understand, and yet not: Be my coach, Victor!
Victor thinks he now has the gist of what Yuri had been trying to tell him before that.
“The judges are still tallying the scores,” Victor says carefully, “but yes, Yuri, I think you won.” Yuri’s happiness shines blindingly from his face, and Victor quickly adds, “We’ll have to discuss your reward later.”
Victor knows it’s best not to leap into this, knows he can’t make a promise to Yuri right this very moment. But Victor would be lying if he said that there’s no part of him that doesn’t delight in the thought of skipping any discussion and promptly granting Yuri’s wish. The thought is madness, of course, recklessly impulsive, and yet . . .
Oh, Yakov’s going to murder him.
Victor deliberately shakes his head as if to knock the ludicrous thoughts out. “You need to sleep and sober up first,” Victor says, and figures that he can at least wait until Yuri’s clear-headed before he makes a decision. One of them should be, at any rate.
Victor’s about to stand and offer Yuri a hand up, but a glance at Yuri stalls him. Yuri’s expression is—odd. He’s staring unblinkingly at Victor, and Victor gets the strange sense that he’s being regarded as some previously undiscovered creature, an alien specimen intruding in Yuri’s world that Yuri is unsure what to do with.
“What’s wrong?” Victor asks.
“You’re Victor Nikiforov,” Yuri says.
When did that become a problem? Victor thinks a little apprehensively. Out loud, he offers up a bland, “I am.”
Yuri starts laughing. Full-bodied, wet-eyed laughter. He’s still shaking and gasping when he says, “Help me up, Victor.”
It’s a bit of a process to get Yuri up and standing (mostly) on his own two feet. Victor holds out the pair of slacks, but when Yuri just blinks owlishly at them, he figures they’re a lost cause. Since Yuri’s got a heavy arm slung over his shoulders and tips precariously every time he tries to hold his own weight, Victor says, “Want me to walk you to your room?”
Yuri cocks his head, frowning in thought. “Is it far?”
Victor swallows down a sigh. This is going to be trickier than expected. “You can’t remember your room number?” He shouldn’t be surprised, considering Yuri’s state. He supposes they can just go to the front desk and ask—
“Wait!” Yuri says so forcefully he nearly unbalances himself. Victor moves his hand from under Yuri’s arm to his waist to steady him. “I know. It’s your birthday.” He smiles up at Victor. “Room 1225.”
Victor stares back. “You know when my birthday is?”
“Hey,” Yuri says, craning his head to peer around the ballroom, “can we get some ice cream on the way?” His eyes find Victor’s again, lit up with eagerness, and Victor is lost.
Victor knows Yuri is drunk so he’s clearly not quite himself, but lord how his insides are doing somersaults over this boy. From the hot sparks that fizzed and popped in his ribcage while Yuri pole danced to the warm flip his stomach does now over that open, innocent cherub face asking for a midnight snack—oh, he is so doomed. Yuri seesaws too easily between sinful and adorable; how can one man withstand such a dangerous power?
“I don’t think the kitchen is open right now,” Victor says. “Best to just head right to bed, don’t you think?”
“Oh. Okay.” Yuri pokes a finger playfully into Victor’s belly. “Can we get ice cream tomorrow?”
Doomed. “Sure,” Victor chokes.
Any forward movement seems to be somewhat of a miracle, but with Yuri’s arm anchored around Victor’s shoulders and Victor keeping a steadying grip on Yuri’s waist, they manage well enough. Yuri mutters a few things in Japanese as they make their way towards the elevator that Victor’s horribly curious about, but he refrains from asking for a translation. Yuri’s inebriated brain probably isn’t capable of those mental gymnastics right now anyway. When the elevator doors ding open, Victor half-drags Yuri through and pushes the button for level 12, feeling torn between wishing he could draw out this time with Yuri plastered to his side and wanting to skip ahead to Yuri being sober enough that he doesn’t have to feel guilty about it.
“This is weird,” Yuri abruptly announces. He tilts his head up, resting his chin on Victor’s shoulder. “Are you really Victor, or is this just the champagne?”
Victor leans in until his forehead rests on Yuri’s. “I’m right here,” he says.
Yuri stares up at him, wide-eyed and red-cheeked. His hand seems to compulsively clench around the lapel of Victor’s jacket, and for a moment, Victor wonders if he’s going to kiss him.
And then the elevator dings.
Victor tries not to curse as he leads Yuri out into the hallway. They’ve barely made it three feet when Yuri starts laughing, pulling Victor to a halt as he clutches him helplessly. “Victor,” he gasps.
What’s wrong? Victor almost asks, but he doesn’t get the chance before Yuri blurts out, “Your face is all over my bedroom.”
If the grin that blossoms on Victor’s face seems overly pleased, well, he’s not going to argue with that. “Really,” Victor says, not even trying to hide his amusement.
“Most of the posters are from Yuko,” Yuri says, words muffled because his face is buried in Victor’s jacket. “She knows I like you.” He peeks up. “I should be used to your face by now.”
The floor collapses away from beneath Victor’s feet as his world tilts off its axis, knocking his heart around his ribcage until it drops out and falls into Yuri’s hand.
“Really,” Victor repeats, though the word comes out very differently.
Yuri’s hand grips Victor’s jacket. “I want to eat katsudon with you.”
Victor doesn’t even know what that is, but he wants it too. “Come on,” he forces himself to say, “we’re almost to your room.”
Yuri lurches back from Victor, the look of horror on his face both startling and, okay, downright comical. “Nooo,” he wails, “I didn’t take the posters down yet.”
Victor nearly chokes on the laugh that bubbles up in his throat. “Not your bedroom,” he clarifies, “your hotel room. You’re still in Sochi.”
“Sochi,” Yuri repeats, blinking rapidly. “Right.” He starts walking forward again, but his steps seem even more unsteady than before.
“Are you all right, Yuri?” Victor asks, though the answer is obvious. But he finds himself wanting to give Yuri the chance to talk about it, if he wants to.
“’M not good enough,” Yuri mumbles. “Victor Nikiforov can’t coach someone like me.”
The utter resignation in his tone shatters Victor’s heart a little bit. “Obviously you’re good,” Victor says, “or you never would have made it to the Grand Prix Final.”
“Made it and blew it,” Yuri says bitterly. “Too much in my head. I take it all out on the ice with me. Stupid. I’m a mess.”
“It isn’t a bad thing to use your feelings when you perform,” Victor says, frowning. “It makes you stronger, really.” God knows Victor’s always unsatisfied with a performance he fails to emotionally connect with. There’s only so far perfect technique can take you; how do you reach an audience that can’t tell the different between a quadruple toe loop and a quadruple Lutz unless you touch their hearts?
“Not me,” Yuri says. He sounds so small, so ashamed, and Victor wishes he could take that away but doesn’t know how. “I have—I get nervous.”
“Well, then,” Victor begins, and it’s a stupid thing to say but he’s going to say it anyway: “I guess my first task as your coach will be to give you confidence.”
Victor’s completely taken by surprise when he finds himself with his back against the wall while his front is draped with a too-warm and too-close Katsuki Yuri. “Victor,” Yuri sobs, and yeah, Victor can feel the wet patch on his shirt where Yuri’s face is pressed against him.
Victor hesitantly wraps his arms around Yuri. Is it wrong of him to possibly be giving Yuri false hope? He hasn’t had a chance to think this through yet, hasn’t decided if becoming a coach is something he really wants to do or is even capable of. Yuri and his offer may be attractive in many ways, certainly, and the boy’s skating clearly has potential, but is it enough for Victor to put his five consecutive Grand Prix gold streak on hold? Is he ready to walk away from the career that had given him international recognition as a living legend?
A part of Victor, the part that hadn’t been looking forward to this evening’s banquet at all and had already been quietly whispering to him about the big R word, doesn’t even hesitate to say, Yes.
He’s weary of it all. It’s become too routine. Too predictable. His skating this season has been soulless, and Victor can’t stand to think of another performance like yesterday’s.
Perhaps this young man in his arms had stumbled into his life at just the right moment to give Victor exactly what he needs to find his joy on the ice again.
A hand slides down Victor’s chest, comes to rest on his hip. Yuri raises his head. “Victor,” he says again, but it sounds very different from before.
Victor is all too aware of the hand on his hip, the body pressed flush against his, the glances Yuri steals at his lips.
Oh, it’s tempting. So very, very tempting.
“Look,” Victor says, pointing behind Yuri, “there’s your room.”
He just can’t, not when he can smell the alcohol on Yuri’s breath.
Yuri’s smile is back on, blinding and brilliant and oh so beautiful. “My sharlotka!”
Victor tries not to visibly droop. Yuri’s still pressed up against him, but it’s a cake that wins Yuri’s excitement and the prize of that smile.
And then Yuri’s hand is on his, tugging him towards the door. “I didn’t want to eat it all alone.”
Surely it isn’t healthy for one’s heart to rocket around inside their chest so many times in such a short period of time.
It’s too early to use a word like “love.” One does not fall in love after a dance and a drunken heart-to-heart.
But why fall in love when you can recklessly leap into it?
Yuri stops in front of the door and wavers precariously until Victor wraps an arm around his shoulders. “Where’s the key?”
Victor blinks at Yuri, momentarily terrified, before he looks down at the black slacks he’d slung over his arm. “In here, I hope,” he mutters, and reluctantly lets go of Yuri to fish his hand into a pocket. The first one’s a no-go, but the next rewards him with the familiar green key card.
Yuri plucks the card from Victor’s fingers with surprising nimbleness. “Victor,” he says before he takes a step forward and presses a kiss to the corner of Victor’s mouth.
He then promptly collapses against Victor.
Victor panics for a moment thinking that Yuri had passed out, but Yuri’s hands clutch at Victor’s arms and then he’s standing more-or-less straight as he beams at Victor. “Come in,” he says.
Victor wants to. Oh, he really wants to. He wants to share sharlotka with Yuri. He wants to cuddle close with Yuri on his bed, and maybe get that kiss right. He wants to tuck Yuri in and watch over him tonight. He wants to do things that aren’t nearly as pure and innocent as any of the rest of it. And for that reason, he says, “I can’t.”
He hates how abruptly the happiness winks out from Yuri’s eyes. “Oh.”
“No, Yuri, listen to me,” Victor says, taking Yuri’s hands in his. “It isn’t that I don’t want to. It isn’t that at all. But you need to sleep.” He tries out a teasing smile. “You can barely stand on your own right now. You’ll probably fall asleep in five minutes anyway.”
“Mm,” Yuri hums, “sleep does sound good.”
“You see? I wouldn’t even have time to slice the sharlotka before you start snoring,” Victor says, and he’s grateful that Yuri laughs. Yuri pulls his hands away then, clumsily reaching out to stick the key card into the lock. It takes a couple tries before the light finally blinks green, and Yuri quickly throws the door open. “Do you . . . ” Victor hesitates, but he doesn’t want to walk away without making sure Yuri will be all right. “Do you need help getting into bed?”
“No, I’m fine,” Yuri says. It isn’t altogether convincing, but Victor isn’t going to argue when he’d already given Yuri a choice. At any rate, Victor figures there’s little that can go horribly wrong in the few steps between the door and the bed. “But . . . ” Yuri says, leaning against the doorframe as he peers up at Victor. “Can I kiss you again?”
This is, without a doubt, the most effort Victor has ever put into displaying any sense of virtue. He should probably get a medal or something. Har har. “Tell you what,” Victor says. “If you still want to kiss me when you sober up, come find me.”
Yuri’s smile is luminous. “Okay.”
Yuri doesn’t come to find him.
(But a few months later, Victor sits shell-shocked on his couch as he watches Yuri skate a stirring rendition of Stammi Vicino, Non Te Ne Andare, and he figures that’s as good a sign as any.)