Saint Petersburg, Russia
Viktor (8 years old)
“Here, let me take your coat.”
Oh, it was such a dangerous game. First the invitation to dinner with the specific instructions to dress nicely, then the hands-on attention? Yakov thanked Lilia, shrugging out of the heavy wool with as much care as he could manage in the cramped entryway. Her home was immaculate, but its architecture built for people like her; tall and thin as an awl. Not that he’d have her any other way, of course. A little less sharp perhaps…
“You know your way to the dining room,” she said, turning around to hang the coat on the rack, though he suspected it was more to give him a better view of the low cut of her dress. The carmine fabric dipped all the way down to the small of her back, angle following the line of her spine. “Go on ahead.”
As much as he wanted to linger, he knew better than to wait, and moved on through the house, trusting the scent of the promised dinner to lead him. Chicken Kiev? Stuffed Eggplant? The table was already dressed with settings on the good tablecloth, candles, wine glasses…
Yes. Lilia was certainly up to something.
She joined him only a moment later, just in time to allow him to pull out her seat for her, then poured them both a glass of wine. Once the bottle was back on the table, she made a show of putting her napkin in her lap as if she’d actually be eating, then smiled that oh-so-dangerous smile at him.
Yakov knew better than to ask. It was better to wait and let her lead. He, too, put his napkin in his lap and set upon the meal. That was how it usually went between them.
“Has Viktor Nikiforov returned to your classes?” she asked, voice almost sweet if it weren’t for the subtext of malice dripping like poison in every word.
Fortunately, he knew enough to know that it wasn’t directed at him. For once. Yakov sighed, cutting into the breading of the chicken. “No. He has not.” It had been three weeks since the funeral, and there had been no sign of the boy since.
“Nor mine,” Lilia replied, and retrieved her wine glass, long fingernails tapping the stem. She took a sip, savored it, then returned it to the table. “And it doesn’t seem as if he ever will.”
“He could need more time.”
A young boy losing both of his parents in a single night was traumatic. Both Yakov and Lilia had attended the funeral by his request, and he’d been a wide-eyed, nervous wreck the entire time; a trembling leaf among towering trees that had nothing to do with him.
“It’s not Vitya,” Lilia said with a roll of her eyes. “It’s his wretched aunt and uncle. I spoke with them this afternoon.”
“…and what did they say?”
“The classes are too expensive. They don’t see why he needs one coach, let alone two, and that he’s better off at home during this transitory period. Really.”
The murder lit in Lilia’s eyes was unmistakable; Yakov had seen it on more occasions than he ever wanted to admit. He cut into the next piece of chicken carefully. “Ah, so they are like that,” he said. “I commend them for thinking they have Vitya’s interests at heart.”
“I mentioned the Academy to them… but they said they wished for him to have a more conventional education.”
“He would suffocate. I know this for certain.”
“Suffocate? He wouldn’t survive. I can always tell with my students, even when they’re young. If he’s put into the public system, they will destroy him.” Lilia shook her head, taking the wine glass again, and rolling the liquid just enough to bring out its bouquet. “His life will be difficult no matter what, but at least he would have support in the Academy. And he won’t get in unless we both tutor him, which won’t happen unless we convince his adoptive parents to allow it.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Clearly, we can’t save every little orphan, talented and special or not, and I’m not willing to beg. But…” She sighed. “We have to do something. Couples have two heads: the emotional and the practical. First, I will contact the members of the companies that I know who attended the funeral; friends of his mother, and let them know what’s going on. If they know that her son is being cut out of the system, I’m certain they’ll have words with the aunt. That ought to take care of the emotional component, crushing her with peer pressure and guilt.
“For the practical, we will write a proposal. If they pay the coaching fees to continue lessons, we can tutor him with the specific goal of admittance to the Academy. As it is Government-funded, it would take care of his expenses from then on, which would take care of the uncle’s financial concerns…”
Yakov nodded, grateful that he was not the one in charge or at the other end of Lilia’s plan. She was an intimidating woman, to be sure. “What do you need me to do?”
“Aside from agreeing to work him hard? I need you to find sponsors willing to take a chance on him. He isn’t ready to compete yet, but if he has names on paper ready to back him when he is, it will help him stand out from the competition. I can get sponsors on my end, but you must talk to yours. See if you can get him in front of anyone. Show him off.”
He smiled. That would be easy enough to do. Vitya was already quite good at showmanship. “Do you think they will accept?”
“They would be foolish not to.”
“Agreed. But they’ve already proven themselves fools.”
She laughed at that, setting her wine down again, this time to reach across the table for his hand. “You know,” she said, voice rolling in a low purr. “I almost wanted to take you back when I saw how you let Vitya cling to you like a frightened bear cub at the funeral.”
Yakov lowered his gaze to her fingers as they stroked his, attempting to gauge her mood, preparing to lay his other hand on hers. “Almost?”
“Well. I don’t think that I would make a very good mother. But,” she shrugged, sliding her fingers between his. “It was a pleasant thought to entertain for a little while.”
“If we can pull this off, you’d be a better mother to Vitya than his aunt.”
“Mm. There are other aspects that are much more appealing, anyway…”
“Others?” He took the chance, laying his hand over hers.
Lilia tucked her chin, gaze dark, eyes half-lidded. “I think that’s enough talk for now, Medvezhonok.”
It was a shame to let the food go to waste, but Lilia wouldn't put forth the effort if it were about dinner. She hadn't taken a single bite. Yakov hoped that she would know, one day, that she didn’t need to bribe him. For the moment, though, the point was moot. Her appetite was clearly for something else.
He swallowed. “Lili.”
The music began over the PA system, and Viktor pushed off of the ice, skates gliding effortlessly to pull him through the movements that he’d done so many times over the past few months. Skating to Stay Close to Me wasn’t something that he’d expected to do again, and certainly not for an audience, but there he was. So far from home, just in street clothes, surrounded by people he didn’t really know, but it felt right all the same.
He closed his eyes as he set up for the jump, warding off the wave of dizziness he felt coming on, and spun through the quadruple flip with a successful landing that carried the momentum through as if it were as natural as breathing. And oh, it felt so good. He smiled, letting his body relax as he went through the next step sequence, listening to the squealing of the woman in charge of the rink. Yuko. She was a fan and a friend of Yuuri’s. He liked her.
Already he could feel the inkling of something changing in the routine, too. Yuuri had skated the program so well despite the extra weight, and once he was in shape, he’d be able to do it even better. What if he…? What if they…?
It was too tempting not to entertain the idea, even though the others were watching. It would only take a few slight modifications to turn it into a pair skate, really. Synchronized movements for the most part, mirrored steps other places, and the occasional changes to add just that touch of romance… a real dance together. He could picture it. Magnificence incarnate…
He could almost hear another voice, even. A duet. Harmony. He’d have to speak with his composer. The request might surprise him, but it wouldn’t be too unusual, would it?
“Viktor teaching you himself... it's like a dream come true!”
Viktor was only barely paying attention to the words that reached him; it never did to let anything distract you on the ice. Normally, it was only Yakov’s voice that he let make it even filter through, and even then, he ignored him more often than not.
Hah… Yakov would have been so angry to know that he was skating at that moment, against orders. Not that he would stay underweight for long, not with the katsudon and promised meals from Mama Katsuki. He’d be back where he was supposed to be in no time. And he was skating just fine. Tired, sure, but from jet lag more than anything.
It wasn’t dangerous like it would have been for Yuuri.
Viktor looked to where the others were watching him, gathered at the barrier in a little cluster. “The little piggy can't enter the rink until he drops some body fat~!” he called, pulling into another camel spin. As a coach, he had the right to make the rules, just like Yakov, and Yuuri would have to respect that.
The others laughed while Yuuri’s shoulder slumped, but didn’t argue. They’d been over it before. Apparently, it was nothing new.
But it wouldn’t be, would it? Minako had teased him about it the night before, too, and his parents had been eager to tell him all about how easy the weight came on and off.
In the world of competitive athletics, that was how it worked. Some areas were worse than others. Viktor had seen it all throughout his skating career; everyone wanted to be lighter, trimmer, fitter, more aesthetically appealing. They pushed their bodies to the limits. And in the Olympics, well…
…he didn’t like to think about what he’d seen athletes willing to do for that.
But at the Academy, it was even a running joke that spotting wasn’t so much to keep you from getting dizzy in dancing, but from the low blood sugar.
In retrospect, it wasn’t funny at all.
And every time his boyfriend had made a comment about his weight…
No. It was time to take a different approach. Yuuri was capable of taking the friendly banter, and maybe it was normal, but that didn’t make it okay. Rules were rules, but the emotional manipulation was a tactic Lilia used, not him.
Viktor finished the program, bowed for the ensuing cheers, then skated to the groupies. “Yuuri, could I speak to you for a moment? Privately?”
Yuuri froze against the barrier when the others scattered, abandoning their fellow to potential lecture. How far they’d go was unknown, but the nerves that shadowed Yuuri’s person made it moot. Viktor just needed to get it over with.
He sighed. “I hope you know that my requirements for your weight are strictly for safety, not for aesthetics. If we weren’t competing, it would be a different story. The speed and jumps required for a competitive program could easily injure you, and I’m not willing to take that risk.”
Yuuri stared at him, blinking.
Was he getting through, or just scaring him again?
Viktor put on his most professional, serious-business coach expression, no nonsense with brows raised and lips pinched in a tight pout. “I’ve seen far too many skaters tear ligaments and break bones on the ice, among other things…” Lots of other things. But he didn’t want to scare Yuuri too badly with the horror stories, so he continued with a shrug. “Personally, I think that piggies are very cute! But you need to be in peak condition and avoid as many risks as possible.”
More silence. Yuuri was still staring, but his expression had gone blank.
Viktor frowned. “The diet is temporary anyway. I don’t want you to lose your love of food; I think it’s very healthy.” He waited for a reaction- any reaction -but when there wasn’t, he forced a weak smile and drummed his fingers on the barrier. Right. Yuuri didn’t take compliments very well. Or maybe he was too close? He pushed back from the barrier, putting a few inches between them. “Anyway, I hope you don’t take it too hard.”
“Oh, no. I understand,” Yuuri said, suddenly alive again.
Maybe the physical proximity, then. Viktor folded his arms, letting momentum carry him back until he was a foot away. “Were it up to me, it wouldn’t matter… but I don’t want you to get hurt, so my hands are tied.”
“Sumo wrestlers shouldn’t skate, after all.”
Huh? Was he making fun of himself, or…? Viktor shook his head. “I wouldn’t say that you’re a sumo wrestler, though from what I understand, they’re quite strong. Er, and you’re really strong, but it’s.... They’re… really respectable athletes in their own fields…”
“I just meant by mass comparison! Too much weight, can’t move… uh…”
It was just like treading on thin ice. Viktor squinted at him, shifting his weight just enough to let the skates carry him back another inch, then another, subtle movements increasing the distance between them. Would that help or make it worse? He wasn’t sure. “Uhm.”
“Point is, I uh, understand your concern. And I thank you.”
So awkward. Viktor hefted a sigh and gave in to the tick of rubbing the side of his neck. “Just don’t think that you need to be a prima ballerina to impress me, Yuuri. Okay?”
“I’ve never been at ballerina weight before,” Yuuri admitted with a sudden laugh. “I like food too much.”
It was the cutest thing Viktor had ever heard and he had no idea how to take it. He stared, blinking helplessly as Yuuri smiled, sheepish and embarrassed and perfect, fidgeting with the zipper on his jacket. How did someone like Yuuri Katsuki even exist? Yes, he was awkward, but he owned his insecurities… he was who he was, and everyone who knew him accepted and loved him just as he was.
It was incredible.
Viktor wanted to be more like him. He could learn, couldn’t he? Somehow. That kind of self-acceptance, Philautia, was something he’d managed to lose somewhere along the way. Yuuri probably didn’t even know that he had it. So amazing…
“So it’s good that you aren’t looking for me to impress, cause…”
Viktor came back to the present, blinking. “Yuuri. You’re already attractive. That’s not what’s going to impress me. I’m going to be looking at your diligence and work ethic. Your skating.”
On the other side of the barrier, Yuuri blushed, hands dropping to grip the plastic guard. “O-oh yeah. That is more important and why you came.”
Okay. Subtle flirting was fine, overt compliments not so much. Viktor took notes as he ran a hand through his hair, sighing a sigh of patient long-suffering. It was going to take some serious mental gymnastics to remember all of the nuances of dealing with Yuuri’s particular brand of anxiety, but it would be worth it if he could break through the barrier. “Yes, it is. Because you asked me to come.”
Er. Viktor winced. Right. Yuuri didn’t seem to remember his drunken antics all too well. That, or he was too embarrassed to admit it. Given how things had gone so far, bringing it up seemed like the worst possible idea now. He still had photos on his phone, so it wasn’t as though there wasn’t proof, but Yuuri couldn’t even handle being called attractive to his face. The sordid tale of drunken begging was probably off the table. Instead, he arched a brow. “When you skated my program.”
“Oh. Well… skating has always helped me clear my mind and make me feel better. Maybe I was calling out. Not like I can refuse coaching from Viktor Nikiforov…”
“Right! And I heard you loud and clear.”
Maybe not the most divinely inspired story, but the boy in the story wasn’t exactly the brightest, either. He didn’t have to be; not at first. He had to be reminded of his birthright. Of his potential. He had to be woken to his destiny. The wolf would show him how. Viktor smirked, tapping a finger on his lips.
“Speaking of, since you are a fan of mine, what if I offered a bit of special motivation?”
Yuuri went back to staring, expression somewhere between curiosity and fear, which made Viktor regret the naked hot springs introduction even more. He really didn’t need his student to fear him. BUT, that was over and done with. It couldn’t be helped.
“What kind of motivation?”
“I’ll be here at the rink every morning, bright and early, waiting for you to join me. And every morning you make it here on time, I’ll reward you with a private performance from one of my winning programs… and,” Viktor shrugged. “I guess I could show you some other things, too, if you wanted. Ones I abandoned. Cutting room floor. Exhibition gala pieces that never got used.”
More staring, but that time it came with an expression of disbelief and a definite sparkle in those lovely, lovely brown eyes.
“I know it will take some time before we’ll be able to skate together, and it’s going to be a lot of work. But I’m your coach and you don’t have to do it alone. Makkachin and I like walks and jogging, too, so we can join you. I’d love to see Hasetsu in the afternoons when you’re done with your core training for the day. How does that sound?”
Psh. What was Yakov talking about? Coaching was easy!
Coaching was easy. In theory. But there wasn’t much coaching to do.
Early mornings went as planned, with Yuuri properly motivated to make it to the rink on time for a performance of something from Viktor’s extensive resume. Most of them were old, things he hadn’t performed in years, but Yuuri seemed to like them, which pleased him. It was such an easy way to motivate him. Afterward, they’d go over the plans for the day, then break for individual study time: Yuuri would work out, core training, whatever he needed, and Viktor would brush up on the study materials from his senior days at the Academy. It’d been a while since he graduated, after all, and while he’d assisted Yakov a number of times with coaching, choreography, and a few other management duties, he’d never had to do it on his own. Not for other people.
It’d never really occurred to him to take it too seriously before. The training was mostly there for those who hadn’t intended to join a ballet company upon graduation, which fit him, sure, but only because he was already a Worlds-level figure skating champion at the time. The material was straight forward enough and nothing new; he thought he could handle it. If worse came to worse, he’d ask Yakov for advice.
Not that Yakov had responded to any of his emails yet. He was probably just bad at it, though. Technology wasn’t his strongest suit.
You should visit. I think you’d like Hasetsu. There are a lot of very nice you-aged people that you would get along well with. And guess what! They all like to drink, too. :)
That was sure to get a response.
Some days, Viktor and Yuuri met up to walk or jog together around the town. He tried not to let that happen too often, though, as it usually resulted in him badgering Yuuri for information, which never worked; It just made him feel like a pest. Yuuri didn’t want to talk about himself and he didn’t want to know anything about Viktor, so it was talking about skating or nothing. Business, business, business.
The days Viktor went without Yuuri, he and Makkachin wandered all throughout Hasetsu, getting as lost as possible until dinner. Magic, it seemed, was alive and well in the tiny town. There were so many stories, so many interesting people, and it filled Viktor with more energy than he remembered having in such a long, long time. They explored the forests and shrines, walked the coastline, chased the absurd number of cats that flocked near the fishing boats (that was mostly Makkachin), and sought out people he could speak to. English was often found, but the quality varied in large degree. As always, they somehow managed to make it work, but only by polite determination on both sides. And money. Money helped.
Little by little, he brought back trinkets to decorate his room, which he unpacked and set up as furniture arrived. The makeshift banquet hall/box canyon slowly transformed into a comfortable western-style hotel suite, with bed, sofa, desk, dresser, and various creature comforts. Within a couple of weeks, he was sleeping well, tucked under comforter and on top of a plush mattress topper. It didn’t matter that the sounds were different than home; the thread count of his sheets were absurdly high, his clothes had a place to stay unwrinkled, and there were pieces of Russia around him whenever he needed them.
Too many pieces in some cases.
It was a cloudy afternoon when Viktor brought the bag of broken salt and pepper shakers to Kouki-san across town, assuring Yuuri that he had business to attend to and would be fine without him for the day. He’d been to the shop several times before; Kouki-san had been kind and indulgent with his stories and tea while he worked, content to let Viktor watch. Kintsukuroi wasn’t as popular an art form as it had once been, and the foreigner’s enthusiasm for it was refreshing.
Besides, the old man liked to talk.
“Can you repair these?” Viktor asked, laying the broken pieces of ceramic before him.
“Why if it isn’t Momotaro-kun!” The man glanced down at the faded blue owl and the cream-colored cat. “Are these heirlooms?”
It was common knowledge in Hasetsu that Nikiforov was wealthy, but that was no reason to take advantage of the boy. But he didn’t want to turn down business or insult him, either. But why salt and pepper shakers? He stroked his beard. Was he lonely? Perhaps looking for another story…
Viktor fidgeted across from him. “Please? They were broken in the move from Russia.”
He picked at the pieces, sorting them out to see if there was enough to work with. Most were in large chunks, which was a good sign. “Do they have names?”
“No, but they’re lovers. The owl and the cat. They belong together. See,” Viktor pointed to a broken wing and an extended paw. “They’re supposed to be dancing.”
“Well, we wouldn’t want them to be like Orihime and Hikoboshi, would we?”
Kouki-san waved it off. “That’s a festival at the end of the summer- Tanabata -see if Yuuri-kun will go with you. I have another job to finish before I can tend to your owl and cat, but tell me about them.”
Viktor relayed the story of the owl and the pussycat while he watched the man worked, amazed as always at the care that went into taking the cracked pieces and mending them with glittering gold. The flaws or cracks weren’t hidden, they were immortalized as part of what made the object what it was. What made a person who they were. Like Yuuri. He made no excuses or apologies. Just picked himself up and kept skating, not pretending to be perfect and flawless like Viktor did.
The gold seams made the pieces stronger, too. At least, according to Kouki-san.
But then, Kouki-san also said that koi fish could become dragons if they climbed to the top of waterfalls. And that kitsune were foxes that shapeshifted and some were evil, but not all of them were. Further, tanuki were supposedly real animals, not made up. But Kouki-san had photos on his phone, so that seemed more likely to be real than the rest of them.
In the end, Kouki-san said that it would take a few days to repair the beloved salt and pepper shakers to his specifications, and asked Viktor to come back at the end of the week. “But don’t worry, I’ll take great care with them.”
“I know you will. I trust you.” Viktor was reluctant to leave them even still, but he meant it. But it was getting late, so he gathered his scarf and woke Makkachin up from where he’d curled up on the warm shop floor.
“Are you going to the Spring Matsuri?”
“We’re having a neighborhood party.”
Oh. He’d heard Mama Katsuki talk about preparing food for it, but the term was something new. He grinned. “I should be.”
“The Katsukis are letting you borrow a yukata from their onsen, I’m guessing.”
“You’ll want to get one of your own. Trust me. You’ll have a much better time, Momotaro-kun. Something nice and local.”
It wasn’t a bad idea. Viktor considered it. He didn’t know the first thing about proper yukata buying, but Yuuri would. And it would be a good excuse for them to do something together. Supporting local business, learning more about the culture, spending time with Yuuri… yes, it was a good plan. He grinned. “Yeah! I’ll do that. Thanks, Kouki-san.”
“Anytime. And watch out for the kappa.”
Viktor nodded. “I’ve got a cucumber in my bag.”
Foreigners were so fun.