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Never Look Away

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Ice Castle, Hasetsu, Japan
Yuuri (14 Years Old)

 

“Good job today, Katsuki-kun,” said Coach Ito, throwing a towel Yuuri’s way.

Yuuri caught it, fumbling to open it flat to wipe his face while opening his water bottle. “Thanks, Coach.”

“We’ll work on landings tomorrow. Go easy on your foot tonight.”

He nodded and grabbed for his glasses in his sports duffle, then sat on the bench to remove his skates.

Learning more jumps was great for his building repertoire, but he still couldn’t cleanly land on most of them. Wobbly free leg, tumbling over, or turning into half rotations. He knew it would be difficult, and he knew he could get himself to do it. After all, he did prove his potential to Ito in order to be coached by him in the first place.

Once dressed, he bowed and exited the rink through the sliding doors where Yuko and Nishigori waited for him. They didn’t have to - he was capable of walking home on his own - but these days he was too busy skating with his coach to be with them, so he appreciated it.

“Your face is still really red,” Yuko giggled.

Yuuri patted at his face, self-consciously. “I worked really hard today.”

“I can tell! You’ll make it to the pre-qualifiers for sure.”

Yuuri smiled at that, pleased, and the three of them fell into step towards the bridge into town.

“Why are you limping?” Nishigori asked. “Did you fall?”

Several times, but he didn’t need to know that! “I’m… not much. My foot hurts a little. That’s all.”

“Uh huh. Sure.”

Anyway,” Yuko cut through their conversation like the peacemaker she was, “I was thinking; what if you wrote a letter to Viktor, Yuuri?”

He had thought about it. Several times. He knew how to get the address for his fanmail, even found the site for it, just… “What would I say?”

“That you’re going to meet him in the senior division one day and beat him!”

“Huh? B-but that sounds like I’m threatening him?!”

“Well, if you’re going to compete, that’s essentially what you’re doing, anyway. Threatening to take the gold!”

“N-no… that’s not--”

“Eh, I doubt he reads letters from his fans. Famous people don’t have time for that. Or care.”

Yuuri’s heart dropped at that. Nishigori probably was right. Viktor had thousands of fans all over the world… why would Yuuri’s letter be special enough to be worth reading?

“Shut up, Takeshi!” Yuko punched his arm. “You hurt Yuuri’s feelings.”

“Ow! I’m trying to spare his feelings now. I’m doing him a favor.”

 

Since he’d started down the path of professional skating, Yuuri had cut back on his portions. If he was going to be a true athlete, he had to exercise discipline alongside his body. Which meant he couldn’t binge eat while thinking about his conversation with his friends after skating practice.

“How was practice today, Sweetie?”  

Yuuri looked up at his mother, then down at his plate. Of course she noticed he was playing and savoring the last bite of his yakiniku. “It was fine. I learned a new jump today.”

“That’s wonderful! Was it difficult?”

“I can’t make a clean landing, yet.”

“You’ll get there.”

He smiled and reached for his glass of barley tea when his mother continued.

“Is that what’s bothering you?”

Before looking back to her, he glanced at the other table ends at his father, who was reading the paper, and Mari, who was texting. “I…” He closed his mouth, and tried again. “Yuko-chan thinks I should write a letter to Viktor. Nishigori doesn’t think he’d read it.”

“Why do you even bother hanging out with that kid?” Mari asked, breaking from her phone.

Because he was always around Yuko, was the main reason. He was a bully, but at least Yuko could usually temper him and was nice when not picking on him.

“Do you want to write to Viktor?” his mother asked.

“What if he doesn’t read it?”

“What if he does and answers?”

Yuuri looked down, catching his glasses from falling down his nose. What if he did respond? The thought made his chest tighten.

“Just write your future husband a letter.”

His face then tingled and turned as bright as a tomato. “Mari!

“She’s right, Yuuri,” his mother winked. “Tell him your feelings.”

“I-I-I can’t do that!” He had even less chance of a love letter reaching Viktor. Yuuri was younger than him, in another country, and he wasn’t confident he was the type of boy Viktor would like... Too many variables at play and Mari’s snickering wasn’t easing his mind.

Mrs. Katsuki laid her chopsticks down and brought a hand up to rest her cheek on. “Well, what would you tell him?”

Definitely not that he was in love with him, because he wasn’t. His feelings were idolization. Posters on his wall and collecting magazines were a sign of being a fan. Was that a type of love? Kissing the cheek of his favorite Viktor poster was for congratulating him on his latest medals. That’s all that was. Yeah. “I’d tell him how I’m skating because of him,” Yuuri finally said, swirling his chicken in the remains of the yakiniku sauce.

 

It took a week for Yuuri to summon up the nerve to sit down at his desk with paper and pen. He’d gone between mulling over what to write and dropping the suggestion all together. It made him excited, but nervous.

Vicchan trotted over to his chair and stood on hind legs to paw at Yuuri’s knee. Before he could scratch skin, he hoisted the poodle onto his lap and stared at the blank page in front of him.

His gaze travelled above his desk to a poster of Viktor in casual clothes, wrapping a scarf around his poodle, Makkachin. That kind smile did make Viktor seem like a person that would try to read letters from fans. Or talk to him if they were to ever meet in person.

”What if he can’t read Japanese?” Yuuri asked his mother. “My English isn’t very good.”

“He’s at that fancy academy in Russia, right?” Mari piped in. “I bet someone there could translate for him. Since he’s got fans all over, he’d have ways to read multiple languages.”

With a sigh, he switched on his desk light and reached for a pen.


    Dear Viktor,

    My name is Yuuri Katsuki. I’m thirteen years old and live in a little coast town in Japan. I’ve been skating and doing ballet since I was little. As of two months ago, I’m being coached by Saito Ito to be a figure skater for Japan. I haven’t been your fan for very long, but because of you I decided I wanted to be a skater, too.

    I know I’m starting late and it’s more difficult learning techniques this old, but my coach says I have a good foundation in ballet and basic skating. The pressure from the blade is hard on my feet from landing. I struggle keeping my balance consistent. Is there some advice you can give me?

    I’ve been trying to find backlogs of interviews so I wouldn’t need to ask, but, do you ever get nervous? Were you really nervous when you first started?

    I’m hoping if I train really hard the rest of this year that I’ll be able to debut in the junior division next season, and get a good record that I can eventually move onto the senior division. I really look up to you, Viktor - My friend and I try to copy your skating routines! When I get into the senior division, I want to make it to the Grand Prix so that I can skate with you. I hope I can make it that far.

    I look forward to seeing your programs this coming season! Ganbatte kudasai!

 

        Yuuri Katsuki

 

PS Sorry that I don’t know English good or any Russian.

PPS I included a picture of me and my rinkmate imitating your skate to The Lilac Fairy .

 


   

“Oh, I see. So this is how it sounds like.” Viktor had a tired, feigned smile on his face, his voice did little to hide he wasn’t impressed. “You should think of other possibilities.”

Celestino’s reaction wasn’t much better. He’d asked if Yuuri thought he could win with that music, casual, but enough disbelief was there it smashed what confidence he had gained once the completed demo was in his hands. Yuuri had rolled over and lost the chance to use original music, giving in to what he usually did.

The piece really was underwhelming. Just like he was. A reflection of his career as a skater - a dime a dozen.

And yet… it had resonated with him and he’d loved it.

Having music composed just for him was something he always wanted because that’s what Viktor had done. He now had another chance and he wanted to make it work.

By the light of his desk lamp, Yuuri changed positions, restless in his chair as he pondered the notes of his program.

That was also something he’d wanted, but always let his coaches do it for him. Viktor encouraging him to do so was a curse and a blessing.

Eventually he slumped forward, finger habitually clicking on the Instagram app icon. Phichit’s photos were always the first on his timeline. Judging by the tagged location, he was back in Thailand skating at his home rink. He wondered how Celestino felt about that.

Exiting the app, he dialed Phichit’s number on phone chat while he sat upright.

Phichit answered in his carefree smile, joking that he felt lucky to get a phone call again so soon. If two months was considered soon.

“Hey, Phichit-kun, do you remember how I had a music demo made?”

“Oh, yeah! By your conservatory classmate? You asked her to compose it, right?”

“Yeah. It got shelved in the end…”

Alondra was older than Yuuri and had been working towards her Master’s of Arts. Some of their classes had overlapped during his extended five-year Bachelor’s of Art program, and they’d become friends and mutual lovers of similar types of music, extending over The Classics. She’d become a fan of figure skating once she learned that her fellow classmate was an actively competing athlete, and their discussions evolved into analyzing the song choices of Yuuri and his rivals. She was easy to talk to and Yuuri was always grateful for that.

So grateful, he’d asked her to compose a song for him to skate to.

She’d raised a brow at him. "But, you’re learning to compose music too, Yuuri. Why don’t you write your own music? That is why you chose the major you did, right?”

He’d chosen Liberal Arts because that was all he’d ever been interested in in his life. Music - dancing and skating to it, its components and history. Plus, he’d needed to attend school to keep his scholarship and to be coached under Celestino in the states. The major allowed him to study modern dance as well.

Composing a song for his own programs had been a dream - still was - just as skating on the same ice with Viktor, but it wasn’t a requirement for the latter. Just a nice side Someday Goal. Naturally, he had to compose pieces for his classes, but he’d been detached from them as they were ‘just class assignments.’ He didn’t consider himself a very good musician. Someone who admired music and the impact it had on his life, rather than create and practice it. And that was fine with him.

You’ve been doing this a lot longer than I have. I trust you,” he’d told her.

She hadn’t betrayed that trust. The fault was all on his own self-worth. He’d listened to the piece all night through his headphones when she’d given it to and couldn’t stop crying. It was so raw and cut him straight through.

After Celestino’s hesitancy towards it, he couldn’t help feeling relieved. He wasn’t ready for the world to see him so bare and fragile. It was then he realized that’s why he couldn’t compose for himself. Looking at himself from someone else’s eyes seemed a lot safer, even if in the end he backed down.

“Things got awkward with her after that,” Yuuri continued. Alondra wasn’t offended that he didn’t use it then. He had a feeling she probably knew, so she told him to keep it. As gracious as she was, he didn’t have the heart to talk to her. Then again, skating season started and he was in and out of school, had become incredibly recluse after the Grand Prix Final failure, skipped out on the actual graduation ceremony, and headed home for Hasetsu.

“Oh I see…” Phichit hummed. “I’ll put out some feelers to see where she is. I’m sure she’s not mad or anything.”

The assurance helped. Yuuri nodded and said his thanks.

“How are things going with Viktor, by the way?”

“Fine as they can be. Being worked harder than Ciao Ciao ever did.”

“His personal training regimen is crazy, so I’m not surprised. Not that I’d know that since you told me at least a hundred times when we were rooming.”

“Guilty…”

“Well, you seem less frazzled. He’s not freaking you out anymore?”

“I … wouldn’t say that.”

“Yeah?”

He decided to omit their time in the onsen the other night. The uninvited touching still happened, but Yuuri admitted, inwardly, he’d grown kind of used to it. What he hadn’t gotten used to was: “He really cares about my dating experience. For some reason.” And each time he asked, his stomach twisted.

“Any idea why?”

“Maybe he thinks I’d skate better. Less distractions?”

“Do you really think that’s why?” Phichit did that eyebrow thing again that always made him wary.

“Why else would he?”

The eyebrows ceased their teasing and he sighed. “Oh nothing. Still keep me updated on things. And I’ll get in contact with Alondra. Talk later!”

 

Getting in contact with Alondra wasn’t as instant as Yuuri had hoped, which lead to Viktor being impatient.

“You still haven’t decided on a piece of music?”

Yuuri understood the time constraint, but he just had to contact her about redoing it, hoping the email Phichit found was sufficient. Had to try.

“Why can’t you trust your own decisions?” Viktor asked while Yuuri panted over the barrier at practice.

He was trying to trust himself, and himself was waiting.

“Just try to remember something, like when a girlfriend loved you.”

What did that have to do with anything? And why did he care so much about him having a girlfriend or not? If his lack of dating experience was such a problem, he just had to say so! “Haaa?!” It took half a second to realize he’d snapped at Viktor. As annoyed as he was, he knew better. “S-s-sorry! Right now, it’s just that I-” -am super stressed with getting the music and working on my program and-

“Oh right. You’ve never had a girlfriend,” Viktor stated, dismissing the apology altogether.

No. He hadn’t, ever. And he hated how it made him feel guilty and embarrassed and that Viktor kept bringing it up. Hated how he reacted to him.

Yuuri spent the rest of the evening avoiding his coach.

 

By morning the guilt was killing him. He’d missed out on meeting Viktor at the rink before, but that had been an accident. Now he was deliberately not leaving the comfort of his room.

So when Viktor burst in with a practiced, patient smile declaring they should go to the ocean, Yuuri agreed, all the while panicking and preparing for the biggest lecture of his life.

They dressed for the damp morning air and headed to the beach. They sat in the sand at a respectable distance apart with Makkachin separating them. A lecture didn’t come, but the black-tailed gulls flying and crying above prompted Viktor to talk about St. Petersburg and that was the first time Yuuri could recall he’d talked about his home, other than food, since coming to Hasetsu.

“I never thought I’d leave that city,” Viktor carried on nostalgically, “so I never used to notice the seagulls’ cries. Do you ever have times like that?”

Yuuri listened to his tale. He nodded, thinking he understood what he meant. “There was a girl in Detroit who was really pushy and kept talking to me. One time, a rink mate got into an accident. I was pretty torn up with worry…” He held his arms tighter around his drawn up legs. The sterile smell, the squeaky shoes of the nurses in the hallways, Phichit bleeding… “I was in that hospital waiting room with that girl. When she hugged me to comfort me, I shoved her away without thinking about it.”

“Wow, why?” Viktor asked, a soft and curious.

“I didn’t want her to think I was feeling unsettled. I felt like she was intruding on my feelings or something, and I hated it. But then I realized that Minako-Sensei, Nishigori, Yuko-chan, and my family never treated me like a weakling. They all had faith that I’d keep growing as a person, and they never stepped over the line.”

“Yuuri, you’re not weak. No one else thinks that either.”

He continued to look out towards the sea and rippling tide, digesting Viktor’s claim. If Viktor did think he was weak, would he bother coaching him? No… Would his lack of dating experience be considered a weakness, and is that why it bothered him when asked?

“What do you want me to be to you?” Viktor asked, voicing break through his thoughts as it usually did. “A father figure?”

He mulled that over for a few moments. “No.”

“A brother, then? A friend?”

Yuuri thought harder at that. No, that wasn’t quite right.

“Then, your boyfriend, I guess. I can try my best.”

Instantly Yuuri was to his feet. “No, no, no, no, no!” Where did that come from so suddenly? Several frantic wavings of his hands later, he pulled a fist to his chest, a flush in his cheeks. “I want you to stay who you are, Viktor! I’ve always looked up to you.” As Viktor looked up at him, Yuuri looked down and away, “I ignored you because I didn’t want you to see my shortcomings. I’ll make it up to you with my skating!”

Standing, Viktor extended a hand, which struck Yuuri odd, considering the physical contact they’ve had. Yet, he seemed… “Okay, I won’t let you off easy, then. That’s my way of showing my love.”

Yuuri took his hand, feeling the tension between them part like the clouds in the sky above them.

Their hands fell to their sides and into their own pockets.

Makkachin whimpered and Viktor used that as an excuse to walk along the shoreline. Yuuri had no complaints and kept in step with him, a comfortable silence passing between them.

Silence and Viktor weren’t common. At least when they were together. Between questions of Japan and its culture and coaching instructions and advice, quiet was unheard of.

Yuuri wondered if what he said had been weird. For his own selfish wishes, Yuuri wanted to know the real Viktor, separate from what the media painted and his own fabrications from his youth. Maybe Viktor hadn’t expected to hear that.

And the more Yuuri got to know Viktor, the more comfortable he’d be able to be around him.

Yuuri stilled in the sand.

Did Viktor want the same thing? Was that the reason behind the touching and close proximity and questions? If they were to be coach and student, being close and comfortable was natural, wasn’t it?

“Yuuri?”

“Oh. It’s nothing,” Yuuri answered, a small smile, and pat Makkachin’s head who butted his leg in concern.

He shouldn’t be afraid to open up more, for every time he did, Viktor met him halfway. For both of them, he needed to try.

 

Later that evening, Yuuri’s email pinged with a new message. It was from Alondra!


Hey, Yuuri!

Long time no chat! I wasn’t that hard to find, you know. Maybe you should actually get a Facebook ;) Anyway, I’d be glad to redo the music for you. I know how much you liked the first one, so I’ll keep it as close to the original as I can. Adding an extra umph to it! If you have any suggestions, please feel free to email me back. It is yours , after all. Any input like “make this part cooler” is fine.

Alondra


Alondra,

Thanks for getting back to me and accepting my request. I trust your judgement. I promise I’ll use the music no matter what this time. Thank you for your time and patience. Every part is “cool”, I can’t pick it apart like that.

Yuuri

 

It was difficult to wait until morning practice to tell Viktor the news, but Yuuri had no choice considering Viktor went to bed at a decent hour. When he met up with him at the rink, he received it positively and agreed to wait. In the meantime, Yuuri requested Viktor to teach him all the jumps he knew.

It was a known fact Yuuri’s technical skills were lacking, so he needed to learn all that he could, and who better than the one he considered the master of them?

Triple axel, toe-loops, salchows. Once he mastered those, he could move onto quads. Okay, maybe that was getting ahead of himself for now. He needed more for his program, regardless.

Hearing from Alondra and Viktor agreeing to the song redo filled him with gusto, he couldn’t stop practicing until he was satisfied.

“Viktor, please let me do that one more time!” Yuuri panted, wiping sweat from his chin.

His coach was doubled over the rink barrier, worn and tired. “Wow, hasn’t it be tens of thousands of times already?”

“Just thirteen.” He’d be willing to stop at fifteen. Twenty if Viktor would allow it.

Lifting his skate, Viktor brushed ice particles from his blades. “I’ve thought this for a while, but you’ve got pretty good stamina.”

“Well, I have that at least.” He just needed to combine it with his skills!

Viktor was still bent forward, tending to cleaning his blades, top of his head bared. He was taller than Yuuri, so he hadn’t seen this view before…

In the back of his mind, he could hear Viktor saying something about hunger, injuries, and youth… and before Yuuri knew it, he’d reached out with a finger to touch the top of his idol’s silver hairline.

And then immediately pulled back, flustered. What had possessed him to do that? “S-sorry! I couldn’t help it!”

Rubbing at the poke, Viktor asked, “Is it getting that thin?”

“No, no, no! It’s very thick and shiny!”

The words didn’t help and Viktor slid to his knees and then onto his side. “I’m hurt… I can’t recover from this.”

“I’m sorry!” Yuuri then too dropped to his knees and bowed, repeatedly. “Please get up!” It had been spontaneous, no amount of apologizing could take it back. Was Viktor truly offended or was he also reacting on impulse?

"Yuuri..." Viktor finally whined a few moments later, turning a pout up at him - the first playful expression he'd seen in days. "You're so mean to me."

It was surprising how much Yuuri'd missed it.

 

A week later, Yuuri’s laptop pinged with an email notification. His attentions tore from his free skate program notes to read the message.

 

Yuuri,

Sorry if this took too long and you’ve been waiting in agony. I’ve gone through a few versions from the original demo and I believe this to be the superior version. The melody is relatively the same, just more upbeat and generally more . Since you didn’t give me any input whatsoever, I took the liberty of adding violin to it. I hope that doesn’t upset you since you loved the piano on its own.

I’m really happy for you that Viktor gets to be your coach. He always seemed important to you. I did the piece this way thinking about how he’s inspired you. If I stepped over a line, call me out on it.

Again, thanks for coming to me to help make this better. And hey, if you medal gold with this, keep me in mind for composing your future programs ;)

    Best of luck!

        Alondra

 

Yuuri took out his headphones from his drawer and plugged them into the jack and downloaded the attachment. Double clicked and hit play.

Running scales, quick, with single treble notes. Chords building. Steady percussion and then, there it was, the violin, quietly peeking its way into the melody like it was trying to catch it, and then it was leading it. Crescendo. Then there an abrupt halt into piano on its own. It was there it resembled the original piece with its melancholy and isolation and he realized this piece had been the same tempo as the previous all along and the running scales were actually sextuplets! After the bridge, the sextuplets picked up again, heavy eighth notes in the treble, the violin returned to support the piano along, ride cymbal chiming. Strong crescendo, and then the percussion fled, violin string echoing its final note, leaving the piano into a beautiful ritardando.

His chest felt heavy.

He hit play again. Turned it up louder. Closed his eyes to feel it this time - absorb - rather than break it down. He should have done that in the first place, but he was too excited, had to make sure it was perfect.

The lone piano parts illustrated his humble beginnings just as before, but he felt more bright-eyed and ready to face the world. And then the violin - Viktor - appearing to guide him in his journey. A guide and mentor then falling behind to let him go on his own. Then returning when the piano couldn’t do it alone just yet, and staying with it until the very end.

This song wasn’t about Yuuri and how hard he tried and how hard he fell. This was how he was rising. With Viktor’s help.

Unhooking his laptop, he hoisted it off his desk and sprinted down the hall to Viktor’s room, sliding the door open. “Viktor!”

The lights were off and Viktor was peacefully curled up on his side. Yuuri ran towards the bed and leapt up only to step on Makkachin, who yelped at the pain and being woken up.

“Ah, sorry! The music for the free program is here.” Yuuri reached over to switch on a lamp while Viktor lethargically and shirtless sat up without a word. Settling in front of Viktor’s spread legs, Yuuri carefully edged forward to insert his earbuds into Viktor’s ears and the song was ready to start.

For a moment he thought Viktor fallen back asleep, but then his eyes opened, a wide, pleased smile across his face, nodding his approval.

Did Viktor hear and feel what he had?