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Never Look Away

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ISU Grand Prix Skate Canada - Victoria, British Columbia 
Viktor (18 years old)

“After the dramatic performance of Pas De Deux - Intrada from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, we weren’t sure what to expect, but Nikiforov’s left us speechless with yet another flawlessly executed program at such a high difficulty that he’s bound to be breaking records as well as hearts here tonight. His coach, Yakov Feltsman, tells us that Viktor’s sudden image change was for this season’s theme- Rising from the Ashes -though he was unable to elaborate further. Viktor himself had this to share about the program, referring to an old Russian folktale:

“When transformed into a firebird, the princess chose to pluck each of her beautiful feathers out for the world to enjoy- ultimately killing herself -instead of living under the talons of the falcon for eternity.”

“The eighteen-year-old skater has been a fan favorite for several years, but his updated style has impressed the judges and audience alike. Everyone is loving the more mature, princely visage, and—oh, it looks like the scores are in. Incredible! Incredible, he’s broken his personal best and a world record, setting a high bar for this year’s Grand Prix, even so early in the season! Turning to the kiss and cry, we see Viktor and his coach, and even they seem a little surprised, but just listen to the roar of the crowd!”

Down below, underneath the screams and the lights, Viktor turned his gaze from the numbers on the screen and to the barrier. It hadn’t been a challenging program by any means. If anything, it had been one of his easiest. No less full of emotion, sure, and he'd pulled it off without misstep, but the score was an artificial inflation.

That, or his previous had been underscored.

Whatever the case, it left him drained. He smiled his fake smile and waited for it to be over. Yakov’s heavy hand on his shoulder brought his attention back for a moment, and he met the old man’s concern with a smirk. “Yes?”

“You knew this was coming, Vitya.”

“Hm.” He stretched his arms out in front of him, shoulders rolling out of Yakov’s touch. The comfort wasn’t unwanted, just… unhelpful in the face of so many prying eyes. “I know.”

They sat in silence for a few moments longer while the spectators calmed down and the announcers switched gears, directing attention to the next challenger to go on. Viktor threaded his fingers through the raw ends of his bangs, edges angled and fine. “I’m just disappointed.”

 


 

“Yuri, I want you to pay very close attention.”

The boy glanced up at his would-be mentor, the one and only Viktor Nikiforov, with a look of deadpan ire. Was he in for another inspirational speech, or nonsense garbage? Not that they were much different coming from Viktor, but at least one was easier to listen to. Yuri grunted to show that he was listening and shoved his hands into the pockets of his slacks, dress shoes scuffing over the hotel carpet.

“Yakov has left you in my care, and as this is your first banquet with the seniors I feel that it is my responsibility to prepare you. Don’t be fooled; you might think that these people are your friends and colleagues,” he leaned in, voice lowering to a conspiratorial level, “but this is a battlefield.”

He groaned. So it was garbage. “Viktor.”

Viktor straightened up, gesturing at the wide and empty hallway ahead. They were arriving fashionably late by Viktor’s design, which meant that no one was there to save Yuri from the paranoid lecture.

“They are your rivals. Banquets exist for the sole purpose of digging out the weakness in our enemies…”

“Viktor.”

“I’m not kidding, Yuri. They’ll look for any excuse to tear to you apart in any way they can, any chance they get.”

The boy rolled his eyes hard enough to rock him back, dropping out of step and against the wall. “Tch. So why are we going if you hate everyone, again?”

Viktor took two steps further, hesitated, then turned on his heel. “I don’t hate any- everyone. I just want you to be careful. And you’ll be fine as long as you are. There are just a few things to keep in mind at these functions. Besides, not going is almost as bad, especially when you’ve won.”

Yuri puffed a hank of bangs from his face, flat expression fixed in place. “Why?”

“Because the only thing people hate more than a sore loser is a sore winner. This is something you’ll need to get used to… they’ll love you and they’ll despise you, Yuri. Every time you walk into the room, they’ll look at you, want what you have, and hate you for it.” Viktor stepped back to adjust Yuri’s collar, then this tie, smoothing out his lapels. He was hands-on often enough, but the expression on his face wasn’t normally so distant.

Yuri grunted again, pushing the mothering hands away. “Yeah, yeah, okay. Did Yakov teach you this, or are you just naturally paranoid?”

“My teacher was years of experience.”

“Years and years and years of experience, got it.”

Viktor groaned, but started walking again. It might have been a cheap move, but it was worth it. Few things could get past the Living Legend’s defenses, and Yuri was one of them. Taking Viktor down a notch here and there was good for everyone, especially with how close he was to handing over his crown. There was only one person in Russia- in all of the skating world -qualified to take it, and Yuri wasn’t about to let anyone get in his way. He had a sure foothold, he’d asserted his position, and now it was just a waiting game.

In a way, the banquet was a soft announcement of the trade off. Whether Viktor retired this season or next, Yuri was coming. And with the Prince offering his official support, there was no better position for the Ice Tiger of Russia to take what was rightfully his.

With that in mind, Yuri walked with pride and dignity the rest of the way to the banquet hall, stepping in at Viktor’s side with calm indifference to the crowd. He recognized the other skaters immediately despite the formal wear; they looked tired under the smiles and grooming. Like Viktor did. Which made sense, since they’d been competing for the past three days and training for months prior. Not like the press, who had the soft look of office work on their bodies, or the sponsors, some of whom didn’t look like they worked at all. They weren’t athletes.

At least the coaches understood. There were several of them, too, scattered around and conversing with the soft network and money people. It made him miss Yakov, but the old man insisted that he was too old for this tuftá.

Viktor, too, had often said the same thing. He always made an appearance, but it was usually brief. Yuri imagined that it was a drop by for a drink, an acknowledgement that he’d defeated them all yet again, and then a parting princess wave, but he couldn’t be sure. In the three years he’d gotten close to the man, there was still so much that he’d kept to himself. It was always a check in with Yakov after the banquet, then early to bed in his own room. Who knew what secrets the elite adult skating world held?  

“One drink,” said Viktor, dropping his voice as he navigated through the crowd. He’d been fielding introductions with coy smiles and charm while Yuri observed in silence, lost in thought, but he looked up at him then.

“Huh?”

“Limit yourself to one drink. Trust me.”

Yuri couldn’t help but bristle. It was one thing for Yakov to give that sort of advice, but Viktor wasn’t his coach. “I can hold—”

“Yes, I know.” Viktor came to a stop at the champagne table and selected a glass for each, offering one to Yuri with a small frown. “This is nothing to vodka and I’m certain it offends your pride. However,” he lifted the flute and sampled it. “This is more of… a sacrament. You drink to join the fold. But you can’t lose your head, no matter what.”

“Because they’re wolves, yeah?” The boy drained half of his glass, swallowed, and then burped, the pleasure of which only doubled at the look of disgust on Viktor’s face. Even more when the man’s mouth twitched into a half smile, torn between discipline and amusement.

Viktor wasn’t good at being the bad guy, and as much as he liked to pretend that he was just as tough and stuffy as Yakov was, he was every bit as rebellious as Yuri.

Heh.

“Yuri…” he whined.

“You know, we could get room service, Viktor. Real drinks. Watch tv.” A shrug. “We don’t have to stay.”

Viktor blinked down at him.

Yuri took another drink, smaller that time. “If you don’t want to be here, that is.”

“I don’t think the hotel will have anything good enough,” Viktor said after a moment, bringing the glass back to his lips. “Though, we are in home country… perhaps…”

The table behind them lurched, toppling glasses and scraping over the polished floor. Yuri whipped his head to find the cause, regretting it immediately for two reasons. The first being that though, yes, he could hold his alcohol in usual circumstances, he’d had that champagne on an empty stomach a little too quickly. The second was that he recognized the man bent over the table, using it for support.

Yuuri Katsuki.

And he looked pissed.

Viktor chuckled, setting a hand on Yuri’s shoulder to pull him away from the table. “You see? One drink is all you need,” but he didn’t get further than that before the Japanese skater turned on them.

“You,” he said, jabbing a finger at the young blond. He dragged himself from the table, body swaying, and launched into a rant in Japanese that neither of the Russians could understand.

Not that it mattered. Yuri was pretty sure that he got the gist of it, and he was boiling.

“Yuri?” Viktor asked, abandoning his champagne to take both of his charge’s shoulders. “What’s going on?”

The Japanese man turned a glare Viktor’s way, but swept it right back to Yuri, and stuck out his tongue. That only made Yuri bristle more, rolling up his sleeves with a vengeance. “This is that Japanese pig that I found crying in the bathroom earlier… I think he wants to throw down!”

“Yuri! Don’t call him th- and you can’t throw down!”

“Yes!” The inebriated Asian cried in horribly mangled English. “Yes! Throw down—dance battle!”

A… dance battle?

Yuri stared at the rumpled suit of the broken man, stupid drunk and angry, making a scene. Meanwhile, Viktor held him protectively. Winners versus a loser. So the Japanese pig wanted a chance to reclaim some honor? Heh. Why not?

“Okay,” he said, and shrugged out of Viktor’s grip. “You’re just going to lose—again.”

“Shippai wo kurikaesu koto de, seikou ni itaru.”

“…Whatever you say, piggy.”

“Well.” Viktor picked up another glass of champagne. “I guess dance fighting is allowed. This should be interesting~!”

--

“You look like you’re having fun…”

Viktor tensed, but only for the briefest of moments, forcing his body to relax. It was only Christophe, and while he was relatively harmless as far as his competitors went, he still wasn’t fond of letting his guard down around him. Chris had a way of sinking his teeth into any weak spots he found and never let it be forgotten.

To his credit, though, Viktor had been dancing like an idiot, trying to get the best photo angles for secret scrapbooking, and he was having fun. That was an unusual experience for him at banquets, so it wasn’t like Chris was wrong, exactly, just… Christophe. He shuddered, but let his smile come back, holding up the mobile. “Yuri’s made a friend.”

The dance off had only been going on for seven minutes, but Yuri was already looking tired. It didn’t help that he’d started off with such an intense routine, but Katsuki had workhorse endurance that was difficult to match. As much as he wanted his junior to win, it was already clear that he would, in fact, not.

“Japan’s skater, yeah?” Christophe watched as the pair did variations of jackhammers. “Quite agile, isn’t he?” He tapped his unshaven chin, and then smiled. “I’d like to see what he could do on my preferred dance floor.”

Viktor knew what that meant and he managed to repress another shudder, but only barely. He had a healthy amount of respect for the other man’s talents, but there was just something about the uninhibited sexuality of it that made him queasy. He cleared his throat. “I think we’ll leave after this, anyway, so be my guest.”

“Aw, but Viktor, so soon?”

Viktor patted his neck, rubbing at the warm spot where Chris’s breath tickled it. Too close. “I don’t want to have to break up any more fights for my comrade.”

“But we haven’t even had our chat yet.”

“HEY! Aren’t you watching, Viktor?!”

Right. Viktor, grateful for the distraction, shook his head and flipped back into video mode to record the battle. “Davai! Sorry, Chris. Another time?”

“I suppose. You know, you’re more than welcome to watch~”

Viktor sniffed, tilting his phone to catch the light for a clearer shot. Where Yuri had learned to break dance, he wasn’t sure, but it certainly wasn’t from Yakov. “He’s going to ruin his suit doing that, isn’t he? At least Katsuki’s is…” he didn’t want to say cheap, but he probably didn’t have to.

“Be a dear and have Yuri send him my way when he’s through with him, will you?” Christophe chuckled, patting the small of Viktor’s back as he pulled away. “Oh, don’t look so uptight, Viktor. It’s all in good fun. You know I’m faithful. A man can still browse the menu, can’t he?”

What shame had threatened to settle vanished and Viktor rolled his eyes, opening his mouth, then closing it again as he decided not to respond at all. That was usually best. Words were a double edged sword with him, and banquets were not the place to use them. Not when there was so much at stake. Yuri was already embarrassing himself enough for the both of them.

But that didn’t seem to satisfy him. “I just have an appreciation for beauty~”

“Chris.” It was a warning. Gentle. Or more of a plea. It came with a look that said ‘don’t turn that back on me,’ and Viktor threw in his best pout. It only earned him a laugh from the Swiss man, and he might have given him an even more disparaging look were it not for the blond that came staggering his way.

“Damn that-!” Yuri cursed between ragged breaths, switching to Russian for a colorful description of his competitor which he hissed between clenched teeth. “Did you see what he did?!”

Viktor glanced down at the sweaty, heaving boy that pawed at him, and wondered how likely it was that the champagne was going to end up on his shoes. A strong constitution was one thing, but few were meant for mixing alcohol with intensive exercise. He took Yuri by the shoulders and stood him upright again. “More or less. Let’s get some water.”

“Screw that!” He tugged at Viktor’s arm, body sagging under exhaustion. “You have to avenge me!”

Avenge? The idea intrigued him, at least long enough to give him pause. But the Japanese skater had already moved on—with Christophe, no less. Viktor’s puzzled smile faded. “I think it’s too late for that.”

Yuri peered past him, grinding his teeth. “That damn pig! What’s he doing now?!”

“Dancing. Come on, water.”

The pair made their way through the crowd of curious observers to the refreshment table, and Viktor got Yuri settled under a vent with a glass of water. They could only make out part of the entertainment from where they were, but that was fine with Viktor; Christophe had made more than enough awkward advances in the course of their friendship to last a lifetime without adding that on top of it. Instead, he scrolled through the photos in his phone, offering the occasional peek to his companion.

“Ugh.” Yuri crumpled the empty cup in his hand. “I can’t believe I let that pig beat me!”

“He just has more experience than you do.”

“It doesn’t matter! I’m better than he is!”

Viktor retrieved the mangled cup from Yuri’s hand and set it on the table, ending its suffering. “He had a lot more to prove. You said he was the Japanese skater, right? Yuuri Katsuki?”

“Yeah. The one I saw crying in the—”

“Right. Everyone has different ways of dealing with the stress of competition, yeah? And the stress of winning or losing. Some cry. Some go out for a big meal. Some like to sleep it off.”

Yuri slumped in his seat, jacket hanging off his shoulder. “And you?”

“Me? Hmm…” Viktor closed his eyes, considering. He should have known that Yuri would ask. Viktor laughed, casting a sideways glance back at the champagne left on the table. “There’s drinking often enough, but I’m always working on my next programs. Deciding theme, story, music, working through the steps…”

“Tch. You’re even more obsessed than I thought.”

“You should know by now, Yuri.” He ruffled his hair with the palm of his hand, stopping only when he got a warning growl. “Hehe.”

“Ugh this is stupid. C’mon, Viktor. Let’s get out of here.”

He checked his watch. It had already been much longer than Viktor normally spent at these sorts of events, even without all of the customary small talk. Yakov would have been relieved if anything; they had a flight to catch mid-morning, after all, and their coach hated travelling with grumpy students. The more sleep Yuri got, the better. “Fine, fine. We need to find out what happened to your tie, though.”

“What-? Dammit!”

Smirking, Viktor got up, stretched, and began the search with Yuri trudging after. “I’m sure it’s around here somewhere. We just have to retrace our steps.”

Yuri groaned. Viktor laughed.

“Viktoruuuu~!”

The Russian skaters turned their heads, as did many of the other banquet guests, to the desperate call of Yuuri Katsuki. The second round of dance battles had finished, and he was missing half of his clothing, but looked no less than utterly triumphant as he stumbled right up to Viktor and wrapped his arms around his waist. “Viktor!”

There were more than a few gasps, and a deep growl from Yuri, but Viktor himself was too stunned to do anything but freeze in place. He wasn’t in public venues with fans often enough that he was hugged without warning; but that wasn’t the only thing that startled him. There was something else about…

Yuuri rubbed his face and disheveled hair against the taller man’s suit jacket, uttering words that Viktor had to assume were Japanese, but were so slurred and mumbled that he couldn’t be sure. The only thing he could make out was the words ‘dance battle,’ again, which offered only little help. Then Yuuri leaned back, eyes sparkling, and made his heartfelt plea: “Be my coach, Viktor!”

It hit him at once, the moment the other man’s arms looped around his shoulders. Yuuri Katsuki was the man in the event hall after the grand prix final earlier that day, the one who’d been watching them. He hadn’t recognized him with his glasses, but he was certainly the same. He’d asked him if he’d wanted a photo, and Yuuri had turned his back on them. It had just seemed odd at the time, but now…

Well, they’d been in the final heat together, competing for the podium. Viktor was familiar with Yuuri’s stats, his routine, his background as a skater, but he hadn’t seen him as a competitor outside of the rink. No wonder he’d turned away, especially after such a loss. Especially after Yuri had embarrassed him in the bathroom.

After what had happened, a photo opportunity had probably seemed like an insult.

No wonder Yuuri was drinking so heavily.  He was alone, defeated, and had been patronized. But he still had something to prove. He’d shown up to the banquet despite all of that, showing that he stronger than his losses. He’d thrown down with the punk teenager who had bullied him, and begged the person who didn’t even recognize him to coach him. Make him stronger.

Viktor swallowed, heart aching all at once for this other man who, until that moment, had barely been on his radar. And why? Because he was a competitor? Because he wasn’t good enough? Ridiculous. True passion was so rare, so beautiful, seeing it in its raw, vulnerable form was enough to make him weak and take on all of the shame that was due to him.

What sort of broken heart do you carry? What is the weight on your shoulders? What dreams do you keep secret? He wanted to ask, but the words caught in his throat. Not that he could, anyway; people didn’t ask those sorts of things. Not of strangers.

But oh, how he ached to know!

He barely had a moment to think after that. There were others calling his name- Yuri, wanting to leave; Chris, assuring him that Yuuri was a great partner; someone in the crowd, asking if they knew each other, what was going on, was he going to be coaching someone? Was he retiring after all? But Viktor couldn’t answer, his own thoughts competing with the sound of his heart thumping louder and louder, drowning out everything else.

Then Yuuri took his hand, pulled him out to a clear space on the floor, and spun him out to face him. He’d gotten dressed again, at least mostly; slacks back, tie no longer on his head, all in those few moments of confusion. Chris must have helped him. Everything was moving too quickly. “Ne, ne, you dance, yes?”

Viktor came to a stop, blinking. It was a silly question. He was almost insulted. He’d been dancing most of his life, and winning competitions for nearly as long. Of course he could dance. Hmf. Though, there wasn’t any music, and banquets weren’t the place for dancing without it…

“KICK HIS ASS, VIKTOR!”

Well. It was difficult to argue with a request from his junior. Viktor rolled his shoulders and pulled himself into a starting pose for the tango, chin angled with the gaze of a wolf. Predatory. Protect the throat. He wouldn’t let anyone intimidate him.

Yuuri countered with one of his own; similar origin, different dance, compatible step sequence. They circled each other, moving closer, then outward, pivoting on heels to swing around and strike a different pose, switching up the sequence, then moving inward again. The trick was not repeating the same starting pose, ensuring that each was distinct and on point with equal or more flair than the other’s. Viktor had an immense library of moves and sequences to choose from, but it would serve him as well as he could anticipate Yuuri’s moves—and, despite being smashed, the Japanese skater was keeping up disturbingly well.

So well, in fact, that it was difficult to not just watch him; the way he moved, with such finesse, such deliberate care in each step, full of feeling… It was too impossible to resist shifting stances, throwing complementary moves to Yuuri’s, matching his lead. Embarrassing, maybe, but when his hands found Viktor’s, there were no regrets whatsoever.

Quite the contrary, it was so easy to let Yuuri lead, that Viktor fell into it wholeheartedly; abandoning the game once and for all. The lack of music didn’t matter with the way that Yuuri held him, strong hands and arms in just the right places, letting him bend and sway with the rhythm that they created.

Yuuri knew what he was doing. He’d been trained. Ballet, at the very least. And he was good. God, he was good. Arm around his waist to hold his center, swinging him out in pirouette—something he’d only felt on the ice! The ice! His heart almost couldn’t take it. He could have sung, he could have cried!

Held. Led. Twirled. Lifted. Then dipped, down low, one hand between his shoulder blades, the other cupping his cheek, legs entwined for support. Viktor barely dared to breathe, gazing up at those warm, dark eyes that stared back at him, leaning oh so close…

Yuuri brushed his thumb over his lower lip, the pad of his finger barely dragging moisture through the caress.

Viktor shivered, heat spreading over his face and to his ears.  

Oh.

Yuuri leaned closer still, his own lips curving into an incredible smile of starlight and— then he pulled back, letting go entirely. “I win!”

WHUMF.

Viktor stared from the floor, breathless, as the drunken Yuuri stumbled away. “What just…?”

“I thought you were supposed to be a champion,” Yuri muttered. “He dropped you on your ass.”

That wasn’t exactly what Viktor had been asking, but it would have to do. There was enough of a panic growing without Yuri’s opinions adding to it. What was that? He hadn’t felt anything like that in, well, years. That was supposed to be long since dead, and yet…

“So, Viktor~”

Viktor whipped his head to Chris, who crouched with a smirk. Of course Christophe would come to him while he was down. The heat in his cheeks flared and he felt the blush spread deeper, enough that he had to fight the childish urge to hide his face behind a hand. “Don’t look at me like that.”

He chuckled, voice a soft purr against his ear. “I’ve been trying to figure out your type for years. I know some dancers. I could introduce you…”

Type? Did he have a type? Viktor didn’t know. God, the last person he slept with- seven, eight years ago? -who was she? He couldn’t remember her name, he’d been so drunk at the time. He’d just been concerned with if the press had seen them leave together, if they’d gotten enough photographs. Then it was get it up and get it over with. Pleasant enough, he thought. Maybe. He wasn’t sure. She hadn’t talked to the tabloids, that’s why he didn’t know her, and he owed her for that.

But yes, she had been a dancer; that much he could recall. Was that it? No. It couldn’t be. He was surrounded by dancers all the time. This was--

No. No, it was nothing.

Yuri pressed the flat of his heel against Viktor’s back. “Hey! Get off the floor already! I’m tired, let’s go!”

Oh. He was still sitting dumbfounded in his Armani on the floor, surrounded by the business men and women of the professional figure skating world. Right. Clearing his throat, he took Christophe’s offered arm and got to his feet, brushed himself off, and made adjustments while he regained his composure.

“Or is it that he’s Japanese?”

Viktor choked. “Chris!”

“Hmmm?” Chris asked, brows lifted.

“Shh! It’s not like that. We just-- just danced. That’s all.”

“It’s not like you to get so flustered.”

“Maybe I’ve had too much to drink.” A lie. Definite lie. But that left the possibility that it had not just been a dance… But no, Katsuki was drunk, and none of it had been intentional or real; it was just a game. Just a challenge. He had to stay objective. There was no point in getting worked up over nothing. He forced a smile. “Anyway, it’s getting late.”

“Viktor. You cannot lie to me.”

“And there he goes…” Yuri pushed against Viktor’s side and nodded at the Banquet Dance Champion, who had fallen face first not ten feet from them, and hadn’t gotten up. “That dumbass. At least he’s done embarrassing himself, yeah? C’mon Viktor.”

“Are you leaving your lover behind?”

“Chris, he’s not my…” Viktor hesitated, worrying his lower lip between the blond commentary, then sighed. “Where’s his coach?”

“I haven’t seen anyone fitting that description around.”

“He was here...“ He scanned the crowd, searching for the wild plume of brunette curls, but no, the man he saw earlier did not appear to be anywhere. If he had, he might have stopped any of the dance battles from happening in the first place. It might have been better that way, for everyone’s sakes. What would happen to Yuri Katsuki’s reputation now? Defeated, then made an idiot of himself at the banquet after party?

Such an adorable idiot, though…

Yuri groaned. “He probably left him because he’s such a fat loser. Can we go now?”

“No. Well, yes. We’ll take him back to his room.”

“What?!”

“Chris, can you find out what room he’s in? Yuri, you handle the doors. I’ll carry him.”

“Sure, I’ll ask around~”

“Oh come on! It’s not our responsibility, Viktor. Just call his coach.”

Viktor sighed, sliding his arms under Yuuri’s knees and shoulders to heft him up into a bridal carry. It wasn’t the most efficient, but it was the least humiliating-- and the least likely to end up with vomit on his suit. “I agree that his coach should have stayed with him, but Yuri… despite how Yakov acts with us, our coaches are not our friends.”

As if the shock on his face weren’t enough, Yuri struggled to vocalize his grunt of disapproval and ended up with a squeak of dismay. “What?!”

“You don’t pay your friends, Yuri. We pay Yakov’s salary. He’s our coach. A very good one; better than most. But it’s still a business relationship… don’t forget that.”

Yuri folded his tie between his hands, mulling over that, and followed after him. “So do you have any friends, Viktor?”

“I have Makkachin!”

“Makkachin’s a dog.”

“Still counts,” he shrugged, shifting Yuuri’s weight to better cradle him as they made their way to the hallway. “And there’s you.”

“I’m a competitor next season.”

“Ah, true.”

They lapsed into awkward silence as they walked the hallway, avoiding the few people that had left the banquet early, and stayed that way in the elevator. The distant look was back on Viktor’s face, which Yuri took as a hint to stay quiet. He was more than willing that time, tired as he was, and irritated that he couldn’t quite get his hair to lay flat again. That dance battle had been such a waste of time, and why were they having to bring pig boy to his room?

At least the room was easy enough to find and get into, thanks to the help that Cristophe had provided. It was small, not quite as elaborate as the suites that Yakov had booked for their team, but still comfortable. Neat and orderly, like Yuuri had spent a lot of time there in the past few days, but knew how to keep things under control. That, or housekeeping had done their part.

Viktor crossed the room and laid Yuuri out on the bed, leaving just enough room for him to sit. “Yuri, see if there’s a spare blanket, will you?”

“He has plenty of blankets on the bed…”

“Do you want to undress him?”

“Fine, I’ll look.” Yuri made his way to the wardrobe and stretched up to get the spare blanket on the top shelf, though it seemed like such an unnecessarily kind gesture for an enemy. Yuuri was the jackass, why should they be nice to him? “Viktor…”

When he looked back, Viktor had gotten comfortable on the edge of the bed, leaning over the unconscious man to brush back his bangs. Was he sick? Viktor tucked the hair back, then swept the pads of his fingers over Yuuri’s face, caressing along his cheek down his jaw…

It wasn’t the touch of a concerned Samaritan checking someone’s temperature, and it was too intimate for strangers. And the only times he’d seen that expression on Viktor’s face were while he was skating.

Stay Close to Me...

“Here,” Yuri muttered, holding out the blanket.

“Hm? Oh. Thanks.” Viktor hesitated a moment longer, cupping Yuuri’s cheek, then dragged himself way. “Let’s leave him with a bottle of water on the night stand… he’s probably going to have a terrible headache come morning, yeah?”

“The least he deserves…”

“Yuri.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m looking.”

--

“Vitya, have you been here all night?”

It was dark and it had been quiet in the skating rink, now empty of the spectators and rivals. Viktor let his momentum carry him into a wide arc, blades gliding smoothly over the ice. It couldn’t have been later than six or so in the morning, given that the security guard hadn’t come back for another sweep yet. There was still time for a short nap before the flight, and he could sleep when he got home; there would be no training that afternoon.

He swung his free leg for a little more speed, then pulled out into an opposite arc, skating away from Yakov with both arms stretched above his head to arch his back. Okay, so he was a little stiff from skating the Grand Prix Final, the exhibition, and then skating all night, but so what? He didn’t need to answer Yakov’s nosey questions. He won the gold. That’s what mattered.

The old man leaned over the barrier. “Japanese boys?”

Toe tip, catch, waver, over correct, spin out- CRASH!

“Yaaakov!” Viktor rolled onto his opposite hip to rub where he’d hit the ice, biting down on his lip to keep the instinctual cursing buried where it belonged. “Owww.”

“Yuri told me you had fun last night.”

Viktor groaned, sliding down to lie on his back. So betrayed! “No. There was dancing, that’s all.”

“Just dancing?”

“Yuri is a bit dramatic, you know.”

“He’s not the only one, Vitya…”

“Ha, ha.” Viktor picked himself up and went back into the lazy routine he’d been working for the past hour; nothing like the intense workout he’d forced himself through in the hours prior. Slow, easy, crossover arcs. “He’s the one that was fighting.”

“And you were the one giving a loving caress to an unconscious man’s face?”

Viktor caught himself that time, forcing his body to relax so his leg could come out of the step in a gradual turn, which prevented another fall but did nothing to stifle the heat in his face. There was really no explanation or excuse for what he’d done. He’d been so wrapped up in the wonder of possibility, and just how sweet that face of his had been in innocent slumber...

Yakov folded his arms. “Vitya…”

It was the warning tone Yakov used on the rare occasions when he was concerned for his students. That always made it more difficult to outright ignore, because it came not with anger, but with disappointment. Though reluctant, Viktor changed course to join his coach, and dropped his forehead against his shoulder with a heavy sigh.

Yakov patted his back, calloused hand warm through the sweater. “Vitya. I'm not meaning that you can't like the Japanese boy. It has been a while since you've shown interest is all.”

“No, Yakov,” he muttered, shaking his head and pressing closer. “It’s ridiculous.”

“I’m always prepared for what with you.”

“Hey!” Viktor pulled back to look up at him, frowning, only to be met with a gentle smile. Though rare, there were few things in life that cheered him as much. It eased the tension enough to let the weariness show, shoulders sagging. Sobering. “It was just a dance, Yakov. And I’m very tired.”

“It wouldn’t be difficult to get his number for you, Vitya.”

“No, Yakov… no.” He stepped around, taking the guards for his skates and donned them in a huff. “People don’t fall in love in one night.”

“If that’s your final word.”

“It is.”

“There’s always next year, Vitya.”

Was there? Competitive sports were a fickle thing. They weren’t something many could do for long, even when the resources lined up just right. Pride and drive only went so far without winning, and the media could be so cruel, not to mention the other contenders…

Viktor took one last look at Yakov over his shoulder, then sighed, too tired to argue. “Another year, another medal, yeah?”

“That’s what I like to hear.”

Chapter Text


 

Saint Petersburg, Russia
Viktor (6 years old)

The boy didn’t look like much; just a twig with shaggy hair and wide, blue eyes that couldn’t stop wandering for even a moment despite Lilia’s grasp on his hand.

“His mother is touring with the Imperial Ballet,” she said, gaze significant. What she was asking for was an enormous- well, not a favor, exactly; she and Yakov had shared extraordinary students before as a matter of professional courtesy -but it was an unconventional request, and she could not risk losing his interest early on. The Imperial Ballet was her strongest card to play. “I have been working with him for the past two years, but he needs additional… coaching while his parents are away.”

By that, of course, she meant babysitting, which was the weakest card in her hand.

Lilia tightened her lips, eyes fixed on the man who stood across from them. He wasn’t a difficult man to read, even though his expression never moved much further from some degree of anger or despair. He was skeptical of her offering, and she could understand why. He tugged at her hand, head whipping back and forth, jaw dropped.

The Sport Champions Club was a large facility, yes, and had plenty to take in, but the boy wouldn’t get to have any part in that world if he didn’t impress Yakov. So far, he wasn’t succeeding.

“He’s young.”

“Six, yes. In school during the daytime, then and in ballet for half of the week, and with you the rest of the time.” She couldn’t handle anything more. As gifted as the boy was, he had boundless energy and an abundance of personality that made him exhausting.  

Yakov didn’t look convinced. The arrangement was strange for a number of reasons, but he had to know that she wouldn’t ask unless she thought it would be best.  “He can’t even start working on programs for another eight years.”

“No, but he would be perfectly molded by then. Isn’t that right, Viktor?”

Viktor swiveled his head to her, blinking as he came back to the conversation. “Huh? Oh!” He then switched to Yakov, free hand coming to his chin as he looked him over, head to toe and back again. He squinted, mouth screwing up into a frown, and then after a long pause and a thoughtful hum, he nodded. “Yeah, he’s good. I’ll let him coach me.”

Both of the adults stared down at him, but only Lilia spoke.

“Viktor, that’s not how it works. Yakov must approve of you if he’s to take you on as a student, not the other way around.”

“Oh. Really?”

Lilia sighed, choosing that moment to give Yakov a glimpse of her long suffering. It was throwing him a bone that she didn’t want to do, but he deserved it if he was willing to take the child on. “Yes. Now show Yakov some respect.”

Viktor put a mittened hand over his frown and mumbled. “I brought skates. Can I show you?”

It wasn’t the respect that had been requested, but Lilia caught the twitch of a smile on the corner of Yakov’s mouth. He liked the spark, even in the face of such of what he might call a ‘treacherous woman,’ she knew… Viktor had no fear, and she liked it, too.

“All right,” Yakov grunted. “Let’s see if you have anything to offer.”

Minutes later, the adults stood three inches apart on the other side of the barrier, watching the boy sort himself out on the ice. He held his arms out for balance, staring down at his feet, and scissored back and forth to gain each inch of territory.

“Okay,” he called back at them. “I’ll get it, just—hold on!”

Lilia didn’t bother to reply, instead turning to Yakov, lowering her voice. “He’s a natural in ballet; exceptionally talented, but it will be four years before he can be admitted into the Vaganova Academy, and I’m already hearing complaints from him about being ‘supporting cast.’”

She slid her hand over the plastic support, brushing fingers over the man’s arm. Just a light, casual touch.

He didn’t turn away from the child; that was a good sign.

“His parents are willing to pay all coaching fees, and his relatives take him when they are travelling. The Nutcracker only runs for so long, you know, but they’re quite concerned about keeping Viktor occupied for the time being.”

Yakov leaned forward, eyes narrowed as he watched the boy work it out; first how to move backward, then forward, adjusting his body position to change direction, slowly testing different leg movements to get different effects. Viktor was curious, enthusiastic, and above all, graceful. As young as he was, he’d certainly been trained well.

“I’ve been holding him back,” Lilia explained, moving close enough to touch shoulders. “He’s eager to do everything, but I’ve forbidden him from doing anything en pointe. It will be difficult to stop him from doing your jumps later on, but if you just allow him to free skate, get him used to it, let him explore…”

“In other words, I will need to teach him the basics.” He didn’t sound entirely put out by that realization.

Viktor made two or three attempts to brake, but none of them actually worked, so he let himself come to a stop naturally, then turned around to face the pair. He’d had a warm up, so it was time to show off. Balance in check, he pulled one leg back and arched his back, stretching an arm over his head, point of the toe-- écarté! He slid the skate in front, arms trading positions-- croisé devant! --and found himself moving forward again. And sideways.

Huh!

He slowly unwound his supporting leg, spiraling out in an arc, pulling his arm down and out to the side, which added to the speed and balance. The blades cut through the ice with effortless precision, carrying him so smoothly, so quickly, it was almost like flying. Viktor breathed deep, smile spreading from one rosy cheek to the other.

“Good form.”

Moving into an effacé, Viktor pushed against the ice with his toe and spun in place—which worked! Worked well! Too well-- “ACK!” --and barely managed to avoid falling flat on his face by pin-wheeling and rolling with a WHUMF onto the ice.

Lilia set her hand on Yakov’s arm when he tensed, her lips twisted into a smirk. “Watch.”

The boy sniffed, then pushed himself up onto his knees. “Hold on,” he said. How to get up? The skates had teeth on the end, so they were good for getting a grip on the ice. One toe here, a knee there, a hand over here… Viktor got up, shaky at first, but quickly had his bearings again. He wiped down his knees, tried the spin again- slower that time -then spread out both arms, and bowed. “Ta-da!”

Lilia might have rolled her eyes, but she was instead watching Yakov, who had the barest hint of a smile on his face. The change in expression was so subtle that only someone that knew him as well as she did would notice. She’d won him over. Viktor had charmed him, one way or the other. He was caving. “Shall I have his father come by your office later?”

The man sighed. “I suppose. There is much to work with.”

 


 

Just a dance.

Viktor swore by that statement, but it hadn’t left his thoughts for more than a few moments since he’d left that hotel room. From Sochi to Saint Petersburg, and right to Yekaterinburg for Nationals two weeks later, it had occupied the back of his mind almost constantly. But was it the guilt of having offended him or the silly little crush that gnawed at him most? Maybe not knowing was the worst of all.

The late evening of December 25th found the skater alone in yet another hotel room, staring at meaningless art on the wall in exhaustion. It was his birthday, but as usual, they were away to compete because Russia didn’t care about Christmas like the secular world did. It was just like any other day. Same as Japan, which is why they had their Nationals at the same time.

Viktor rolled onto his side and dragged his phone closer, scrolling through the posted scores. Yuuri Katsuki wasn’t doing well in his event so far, with technical errors, missteps, failing his jumps; just like in the Grand Prix Final. It was the opposite of how his own short program had been, which was flawless, and that hardly seemed fair. But how was skating fair? How was effort, confidence, experience, or tenacity really fair?

Maybe if Yuuri was allowed to drink before the competition, he’d have no problem.

The thought made him laugh, anyway, though without humor. After all, even he wasn’t allowed to drink while on competition, and it was his birthday. No vodka, no mulled cider, no nothing. Not even wine. The last twelve birthdays had been the same, save only for one, and even that had been reduced to a painful memory.

At least Yakov and the others had taken him to dinner. Not that he’d felt like eating. He never did, especially not during a competition. But it had been nice. A small dinner with just his Russian team mates and coach. No press. Then Yakov barking at him to get to bed early. They’d do the same for Georgi tomorrow, assuming he wasn’t out with that ice dancer. One more day, one more day. You must be at your best!

But Viktor missed his bed, and he missed his dog. The superintendent at his apartment took good care of Makkachin when he was away, but he felt guilty all the same. And lonely. It was too quiet in hotel rooms, which was great for napping, but not so great for birthdays, and even worse for Christmas birthdays.

He eventually turned on the TV in the room and flipped through the channels until he found a performance of The Nutcracker, then crawled under the covers. His hair, still damp from his earlier shower, stuck to the pillowcase in curly swaths, but he didn’t care. He’d just shower again in the morning. Years of skating had taken their toll on his body already, and any time he could find an excuse for a hot shower was one he took at liberty. It was the only thing besides painkillers that really helped.

Oh, and alcohol. But he wasn’t drinking, anyway.

It wasn’t as if he’d eat cake, either. Or go out to celebrate; not during a competition.  And the banquet…

…the banquet wouldn’t have Yuuri Katsuki, so what was the point of that?

Viktor huddled under covers, eyes scrunching shut while the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies played softly in the background.

A couple more years, and it won’t be like this…

I won’t have competitions to go to…

I won’t have anyone at all…

--

Viktor had the results in his hands before he was finished getting ready.  He sat on the bench in the locker room, scrolling through the details on his mobile. The Japanese skater had failed to make a comeback in his free skate, letting his junior surpass him and take the win. The playback wasn’t impressive for either of their performances; it wasn’t as though Minami were a threat like Yuri. Good, yes, but still so green and inexperienced. In a couple of years, it would make sense, but Yuuri had so much potential… didn’t he?

Or maybe he’d been dreaming.

He’d made so many mistakes in his performance, both the in the short program and the free skate, in the Japanese Nationals and the Grand Prix Final. But he couldn’t have gotten there at all without being good, so what had happened? What made someone get so far only to crumble like that?

Yuuri had passion. Talent. Technical skill. He’d seen it. There was so much evidence of it, both in the video-- the moments where he had nailed parts of his program --and when they’d danced together, when he’d danced with Yuri, and even when he’d danced with Chris! There was potential. There was drive. But he’d just been missing that little something extra…

Be my coach, Viktoruuu~!

No. No. That wasn’t…

Or perhaps…? After all, Yuuri’s coach had allowed him to get completely smashed at the banquet and had left him on his own. Yakov, on the other hand, had always been supportive and surprisingly careful with his feelings. A coach made all the difference. At least in theory.

“Vitya, you’re not even dressed and you still have warm ups to do.”

Speaking of…

“All right, Yakov.”

He donned the princely attire, making the necessary adjustments in record time. Hair and makeup came next, leaving him with plenty of moments in track suit for the camera going through his steps. Yakov loved that part because the press loved it, which meant that the sponsors were so very happy. It was a performance from the instant he stepped out of the locker room, and he was careful to put on a good one.

Perhaps Yuuri couldn’t win gold at his Japanese Nationals, or even podium… but Viktor could win gold for them both this time. At least until he figured out what else could be done.

--

In the four weeks between Nationals and the European Championships, Viktor went back and forth between refining his program and piecing together the components for the next season. It always helped to get any early start, particularly when competition was as tough as it was. The longer he had to think, the better. Flawless skating was only one factor of a successful program, and each had to be its own powerhouse while working in harmony with the rest.

Theme came first, which allowed him to work on the rest of the pieces with a central goal in mind. It also let him commission original music while he was busy finishing the rest of the season, and make allowances for composition changes. The process was organic. Mercurial. Labor-intensive. But that was why he was so successful. No one put the care and attention that he did into every single step, from start to finish.

At least, as far as he knew.

He supposed he wasn’t sure what everyone else’s processes were in the end, because he’d always spent so much time working on his own programs, alone, that he didn’t ask. But the magazines bragged about it being unique, so perhaps it was. Did the others design their own costumes? That was one of his favorite parts of gearing up for a new season, even though he didn’t do the sewing himself. He couldn’t imagine Yuri doing it, though. Actually, he didn’t know much about Yuri at all outside of training.

And what did Yuuri Katsuki like to do?

No, no… he had to focus. The theme for next season. It would be his sixth consecutive win if things continued the way they were going, and it would need to be; if he lost his winning streak, his rivals would really eat him alive like the wolves they were. But what to do? What would surprise them? His programs over the last several years all had recurring elements; bits and pieces that were entirely Viktor Nikiforov, yet all stood on their own. How could he accomplish it again?

What theme?

Love.

The word came to him unbidden, bubbling to the surface of his mind like crocodiles at the edge of the watering hole, dark and dangerous. He shied away, scratching the words out on the notepad, and adjusted the pillow behind him on the sofa. So many of his previous programs had focused on love. He was tired of love. Love escaped him at every turn. What did he know about love?

His gaze settled on the rows of books behind him, on history, art, and philosophy, most in Russian but a good few in French and in English, and then on the collection of fairytales; his favorite.

Love was part of them all. What was beauty, after all, without it?

Makkachin nosed his hand, snuggling under the notepad for attention.

“Yes, I love you, too.” Viktor rubbed the poodle’s head, massaging the curls of fur at the top, working his way down to his ears.

It wasn’t as if someone could escape love, even if they tried. He had, and yet it had always found him, in some form or another.

Most of what he had in his life fit under philia, the comradery with Yakov that he didn’t dare say out loud felt more like family for risk of offending the man, and philautia, the love of self that he’d held close despite all that had happened over the years.

Then there was agape. He’d felt that to some degree as part of his every day wandering, but none so fiercely as felt for Yuri. In the two years he’d known him, Viktor had grown quite attached. They were so much alike. Driven, rebellious, so eager… but Yuri took the frustrations of the world and let that burn brightly with the fires of passion, like the firebird, while Viktor pulled it inward, destroying himself until what was left was purified glass.

Both in pain, both using those destructive forces to create, but Yuri would go so much further if he could just be tempered. And god, it would be incredible. He would surpass every expectation, Viktor had no doubts, so long as he didn’t let that fire consume the goodness within him. That was the only difficulty. He loved him as much as he feared him, but even seeing his own demise did little to change how he felt.

He could see it clearly, the boy who would rise to power, supported by Viktor’s love, only to drive the dagger into his heart and take the crown. And Viktor, who knew it was coming, knew that it was only right, would let it happen. Would lay down and die, surrendering his kingdom to the new era of legend, because he loved Yuri so much.

Bloody, dramatic. It was a good start. Viktor took notes, and tapped the end of his pencil on his lips, considering the rest. It needed a pair. What went with sacrifice?

Ah, perhaps the opposite approach…

Selfish desire. Sexual love. Eros.

Easier than pragma, the long-standing love that he dreamed of, and stronger than simple ludus, eros would be the perfect opposition. Losing control, but in an entirely different way; the victim in both instances. He could even use the same piece of music with different arrangements for additional overlap- no one would be able to tell unless they were paying attention, but it would add another layer of cohesion. It would be beautiful. Interesting.

At least to him, it would.

Dichotomy of Love.

He wrote, then paused, underlining eros on the page.

Eros.

The banquet came first to mind. The dark eyes of Yuuri Katsuki, leaning in to touch his lips, not with his own, but with his thumb. How could such a simple thing have made such an impact? Even then, taking notes in his living room in Russia, weeks and thousands of miles away, the memory made him shiver.

Dead branches, shivering in the wind, with a single bud of green…

Viktor bit his lip. Eros. He could draw on his life left behind from years ago, or… no. He would work on that program later. After agape.

Only… it was far too easy to go back to eros time and time again. It was the way that he danced. How he drew him in so effortlessly despite all of his walls and precautions, dragging him to the dance floor and sweeping him off of his feet. Viktor never would have let himself be pulled into a contest like that at a banquet, not in front of the sponsors, and definitely not in front of the press. Not in Russia, where though he was lauded as a hero now, he had plenty of enemies, just lying in wait. Yet Yuuri had managed, those dark eyes wearing down years of armor, undressing him, taking him by the hand, by the thigh, leading him through those steps as if he were possessed. And he loved it. He loved every moment of it, terrified or not.

A simple pad of paper wasn’t enough to detangle the meaning. He worked through steps on his living room floor, at least until it was clear that there were enough camel spins that his furniture (and Makkachin) would never forgive him, and then he took to the rink.

It was late enough that none of the others were scheduled for training with Yakov, so Viktor had plenty of space to himself at the Sports Champions Club, even with the other skaters there. He went through warmups, then through the dance steps that he’d used that night. Each starting position needed to be exaggerated to get the message across, but stable enough to maneuver through the different jumps. Not that he would stay with those, but the movements were enough to give him ideas. A tango on ice? One half of it, anyway; but how to be the most alluring possible?

Hah, and they’d said they’d wanted him to be less princely and more sexy… well, now they were going to get it. It just wasn’t his eros that they were going to see. But they didn’t need to know that.

He just needed to build layer upon layer of pleasure, recreate what that night had been- only a little more dramatic for the audience to get it across -while keeping it tasteful, unlike what Chris would do. There was no need to get the ice dirty. Less sensual touching, more sway of the hip, movement in the arms. It was about the feeling, not the act itself. Seducing the audience, the judges, having them feel what he felt that night, not showing them what he felt. Yes. Perfect. It would work.

“Working on your new program?”

Viktor pulled in from his spin, and broke into a smile. “What do you think, Yakov? It’s sexy, yeah?”

“Very.” The old man shook his head, then waved a hand to call him in.

Viktor pushed off of the ice and came in at an angle to sidle up to the barrier, breathless. “The theme is the Dichotomy of Love. I think if I focus on--”

“I called his coach.”

“You…” Viktor wrapped his palms over the sides. Thoughts of eros froze, twisting cold and anxious.“You did?”

“You seemed ... distracted, Vitya. I needed to do something.”

The complaints of his distraction had been ongoing and in increasing number, from Yakov, from Yuri, even Georgi and Mila. “What did he say? What did you say?”

Yakov removed his hat to scratch his head, long fingers digging into his hair. Buying time. "Katsuki fired his coach, Celestino. And he's resigning."

The snake of anxiety twisted again, coiling into heavy rope in his chest that sunk and slithered down into the pit of his stomach. Resigned. Twenty-three and finished. He wouldn’t be at Worlds- well, Viktor assumed that already -but he wouldn’t be at any competition next year, either. There would be no Yuuri Katsuki at the Grand Prix next season. There would be no more banquets. No more dancing.

Was it his fault?

“Why?”

“You can speak with him yourself, you know... Through his coach, I have gotten his number, though a quitter would be beneath you.”

A quitter...

How many times had Viktor wanted to leave? Desperately, insistently, wished that that he had a way to retire without letting Yakov down. Or Russia. Or his fans. Hell, even his competitors had sworn repeatedly that he’d better not leave before they had the chance to beat him on the ice. He couldn’t quit until he’d been humiliated, but he couldn’t lose, either. What was he going to do if he left, anyway? Skating had been his entire life. Everyone he knew was connected to him through skating. Take that away, and what did he have?

No family, just Makkachin, who was getting old. Eleven or twelve years, and poodles didn’t live much longer than that. He had money, but very little else. Aches, anxiety, and an apartment full of knick knacks. What did Yuuri have? What would he do, now? Did he have a backup? People who supported him? Loved him?

“Vitya?”

Viktor shook his head, pulling himself back to the barrier from where he’d drifted. “If he’s left the ice, I’d better leave him at peace. I’ve already insulted him once, Yakov.”

“You have?”

“Before the banquet.” He bit his lip. “I didn’t recognize him; I thought he was just a fan. It was a mistake.”

“Would it ease you to apologize?”

And rub salt in the wound? “I think he’s already had his revenge, Yakov.”

The man set his fitted at on the barrier, brow furrowed. “Revenge?”

“Nevermind. Thank you for looking into it, but…” Viktor leaned back, holding on with just the tips of his fingers, skates cutting the ice beneath him as he seesawed in place. His gaze shifted to the windows, eyes resting on the canal beyond the railing. “Did the wolves just consume him, Yakov? From the inside out?”

There were a few more moments of hesitation before his coach answered, first with a shrug, then an uncertain nod. “I suppose that’s how it could be? Wolves. Demons. Yes.”

Viktor closed his eyes, jaw clenched tight, and steeled himself. So many others had fallen around him; been injured, hadn’t made the cut, retired, or just lost their drive. What was it that made the wolves come? How did one prevent it? How did one run from it?

Wolves on the outside, wolves on the inside, wolves all around…

He let go of the barrier and drifted backward, onto the ice, letting his body go lax. Those dark eyes of Yuuri Katsuki had been predatory, but in the end he’d just been prey to himself, torn apart and left for dead in the frozen wasteland of competition.

And it broke his heart.

He sucked in a breath, pulled himself up straight and into first position. No matter what happened, Viktor couldn’t let anyone see his weakness or vulnerability. He didn’t know how long he had left, but he couldn’t let himself die like that. Not unless it was for the sake of sacrifice.

For agape.

He would forget about eros and those cursed dark eyes from now on.

Chapter Text



Saint Petersburg, Russia
Viktor (6 years old)

“Papa!”

Firelight danced up the stone mantle, climbing the walls and tossing shadows across the room. A man, the aforementioned Papa, lowered the worn leather book from his line of sight and turned his head just enough to catch sight of the excited boy that stood before his leather armchair. “Vitechka?”

The boy pushed up onto his tip toes, dancing flats creasing at the point, and arched an arm over his head. “When is Mama home?”

Papa adjusted the bridge of his reading glasses, then returned to his book. “Quarter to nine, after you’re in bed.”

Dissatisfied, Viktor turned in place in a tight circle, keeping only on the very tips of his toes. “That isn’t fair. I haven’t seen her in weeks, same as you.”

The man turned the page, and grunted. “But you’ll have all day tomorrow while I’m at work.”

“I’ll be in school.”  Viktor settled into fourth position and dropped his hand to his hip. “With skating after that. You pick me up from lessons.”

Papa finished the paragraph he was on before glancing up at the glare that waited for him, fixed intently over the little pout. So much like his mother. He leaned back in the chair, his own lips pursing. “Would you prefer to give up your extracurriculars? Come work with me at the bank?”

Viktor made a face.

Papa laughed. “I suppose not.” He shrugged. “Ah well. You’ll just have to wait.”

“Fine then,” Viktor huffed. “Come dance with me.”

“What, in front of the fireplace?”

“Yes! You can see what Ms. Baranovskaya has been teaching me.”

Papa slid his glasses into place and lifted his book again. “You show me every day, Vitechka.”

“I learn something new every day, Papa.”

“And I’m very tired.”

“You’re always tired.”

“I work very hard to support us.”

Viktor slumped out of proper posture and came to lean against the chair, flopping over the arm and into his father’s lap, peering up at him half on his arm, half on the book, and sighed. “Papa.”

The man tugged the book out from under him and set it on top of his son, one hand underneath to keep him from getting smooshed. “We’ll need to get you a haircut soon, I think. You’re starting to look wild.”

”Papa.”

“How are you not tired?”

“I’m just not.” He wiggled his arms. “Come dance with me.”

“Sometimes I think you may be a changeling, Vitechka, switched at birth. Now go on, get ready for bed and let me read my book in peace.”

He went, but he wasn’t happy or quiet about it, pirouetting through the main room and down the hall, then stomping up the stairs singing the song of Vinni Pukh at the top of his lungs.

Two and a half hours later, somewhere between refusal and sleep, Viktor shook himself awake. There were voices downstairs. A door closing- the front door. He pushed away from the warmth of his pillows and the wooly fur of his plush bear, and listened. It took a few tries before he parsed it without falling back to sleep, heavy head drooping, but then he was sure.

Mama was home.

Viktor snuck from his bed, taking bear and blanket to his bedroom door, cracking it open to listen more closely. Papa hung up her coat, asked how the trip back was. Mama said it was fine, but she was exhausted. He offered to take her suitcase, make her a drink. She teased him, laughing.

And then- Viktor’s favorite part -Papa asked her to dance.

He waited until Moscow Nights played over the speakers downstairs, operatic, soft and low, then slipped out of his room and made his way to the banister. There he could sit, curled against the balusters and watch. Mama wore her blue satin evening gown, but no shoes- she’d left those by the fireplace. Papa held her close, one hand at her back, the other holding her delicate hand to his mouth.

They danced, and she corrected his steps, pushing his arms this way and that, leading him like a lovesick puppy on a leash. And Papa smiled. Viktor never saw him smile like that any other time except when they were dancing together; his movement stiff, hers graceful, as a ballerina’s should. Even Ms. Baranovskaya would be pleased.

She took down her long, silver hair from its bun and and stood en pointe to kiss him in front of the fireplace.

“I’m so happy you’re home,” he whispered.

“Oh,  Pryanichek, me too.”

 

Look for a husband for life, and marry only when you know them very well; 

For marrying is easy, but being happy in marriage is most important;

There is no grief where there is love and harmony.

 


 

Champagne always reminded Viktor of New York City. He couldn’t explain why; maybe it was the time he’d made it to Times Square for New Year’s Eve that once on a whim. Or had that been a dream? Either way, he was nowhere near New York now. In fact, he was a four hour plane ride from home. Sweden in late January was cold, but nothing like Russia. It was almost a nice retreat, really. He chased the thought down to the bottom of his third glass, and his fourth, but his fifth had him sighing at the aftertaste and sprawling headache that came with cheap alcohol.  

Was the liquid gold or bronze? It all depended on how he tilted the delicate stem in the light and really, what was the use of that?

“I know you just won- again -you could at least pretend you mind it a little.”

Viktor closed his eyes and steeled himself. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with Christophe; not tonight. Yes, he’d won another gold medal, bringing him ever closer to a consecutive championship streak and world record. The European Championships had been easy. Too easy. All he’d had to do was think of Yuuri K and the rest had simply happened.

He fingered the rim of the glass and flitted his gaze at the man who took the seat next to him in the dark corner he’d chosen, tucked away from the mingling crowd. So far, most had left him alone.

Chris wasn’t satisfied with that, apparently. “It’s not like you to drink so at these engagements. Had I known better, I’d think you’d have placed second. Or dead last, like a certain…” he paused, as if tasting the name on his tongue. “Someone.”

Before the corner of his mouth twitched too much into something resembling a scowl, Viktor lifted his glass and nodded his greetings. “Good evening, Christophe.”

Salut. And just how many have you had?”

Both of them turned to the glasses on the table, only a pair there now, but the wait staff had been eagerly removing finished flutes all evening. “Not enough.” He forced a smile. “Tell me, you’re not really so sad to be behind me, are you?”

“I’ve been told that I’m good at coming from behind… and I should say that I don’t mind the view. But it would be nice to be on top for once.” Chris chose then to take a sip of his own drink, smile smug while Viktor tried to stop himself from choking.

“It—on the podium, we stand side by side.”

“Equals, are we?”

Viktor tilted the glass by the rim, watching the bubbles rise. “Do you ever wonder what you’ll do when you retire?”

“Mmm. Every now and then.” It was natural for someone of their age in the competitive field, even if it wasn’t often discussed. Chris went on in the continued silence. “I’ve been fairly successful at modeling here and there. Full time, perhaps. I’m also a fan of flowers. I wonder what sort of training I’d need to run a flower shop.”

“Ornamental horticulture,” Viktor answered, then nodded, righting his glass again. “I’m sure you could pick it up. And modeling would suit you just fine… you definitely have the body for it.”

“Why thank you~! Aren’t you the flattering drunk?”

“I’m not drunk.” Viktor eyed the champagne with distaste. He might have been, technically, but his mind hadn’t stopped going over the same racing thoughts again and again, so he clearly hadn’t had enough.

“So why this win in particular? Normally you prefer to be guarded.”

“It has nothing to do with winning.”

“The beauty, then?”

Viktor hesitated, torn between affection and annoyance for the other man, and settled on taking another long pull from the champagne glass in front of him.

The silence hung between them for several long moments before Chris spoke again. “Not a very lively crowd here tonight, is there? Shocking.”

A brief scan of the crowd proved that it had thinned in the wearing evening. The media had gotten the interviews and photos they’d needed, leaving behind only the barest staff for any surprise scandals; the sponsors had retired now that their bellies and egos had been filled; and many of the skaters had retreated to their rooms for rest or after parties. But handfuls remained in pockets, conversing as they were. Viktor turned back to his companion with a shrug.

“You hoping for a Japanese boy to stagger through that door?”

Viktor flinched before he could stop himself, biting down on his lower lip at the reaction with a sigh. Dammit. Caught. He turned away, unsuccessfully gnawing at his lack of composure.

“Viktor~?”

“He quit.”

The tone abruptly changed. “Wasn’t he Japan’s golden boy?”

Viktor shook his head, stopped, then slumped back in his chair. He couldn’t pretend. It was true. Was. “He lost in the Japanese nationals and fired his coach. Resigned.”

“And they call you dramatic.”

After draining the last of his champagne, Viktor tilted the flute at Chris. “I need another drink.”

Chris took it from him and set it on the table. “…what are you really drinking to?”

“You can only lose so many times before the wolves get to you… Eating your confidence, destroying your dreams. Only winners get to skate.” Viktor shook his head, rubbing palms over the tablecloth now that he had nothing to occupy his hands. “He should be at Worlds with us in March. He has the talent, the skill, the passion... but he won’t.”

“It’s not like you to care about the well-being of other skaters.”

“I do care!” Much more than Viktor wanted to admit. “You just have to be careful with whom you give your trust.”

“Like an intoxicated Japanese boy~?”

Viktor reached for Christophe’s glass, which still had some champagne remaining. “I didn’t say that I trusted him… I don’t even know him.”

Chris held onto the glass, fingers pinched around the stem so primly that Viktor had to pry to get them off. “Ah, because you were so cautionary around him, yes?”

But pry he did, lifting the flute away. “...He was a very good dancer.”

“So he is the reason you are like this,” Chris said with an adoring sigh. “He lost and your heart crumbled for him and then he literally swept you off your feet.”

Viktor finished the glass from the side without lip gloss.

“You know, we live in a wonderful world with things called telephones and the internet.”

Viktor slid the glass back to Chris, then rubbed his temples, going over the lines that he’d already spoken with Yakov. “He’s left the skating world. It would be cruel to pick at a fresh wound.”

“What’s cruel about asking for a second dance? It’s not as if you can’t pay the plane fee for a date.” A pause. “It could be good for you.”

Good for him. Viktor considered that, though his mind moved sluggishly through the idea. What would be good for him? Going to see Yuuri K? Good for him to hit on an ex-skater that he didn’t even know and ask for another dance? What was he expecting-- to get laid? That was probably what Chris meant. Another dance.

If he could have another dance- an actual dance -that would be something. But it was ridiculous. It would lead to nothing. How would Yuuri K even react to being called by him? Intimidated? Angry?

If it were him, and he’d quit, he’d have cut all ties.

What did it take to be strong enough to do that? As much as he didn’t want to admit it, he almost envied him.

Viktor looked at the empty glasses on the table again. “You know… when I try to see past the rink, it’s blank… There’s nothing. I’m snowblind.”

Chris frowned at him. “Matters of the heart are best conversed when sober.”

“Sorry.”

“I’ve just never seen you like this before. It’s worrisome.”

Viktor shook his head and leaned  to prop his head up on the table, cheek in hand. “The wolves come for us all, eventually.”

“And you’re choosing not to fight. How cowardly.” Chris retrieved his vibrating cell phone, scrolling through the messages that waited for him. “May I escort you to your room, or are you wanting to drown yourself some more?”

“I’m not done drinking.”

“Well.” Chris pushed back from the table, tucking the phone away. “Bastien is calling me. I will come check in on you in an hour.”

Viktor just waved a hand. “Send my love.”

“I’ll do more than that~”

“Ugh.”
“Oh, and Viktor. The thing about snow is that it eventually melts away, you know. Spring will come, whether we want it to or not.”

 

When Chris returned an hour later with Yakov in tow, Viktor was one of the only patrons left, half asleep against the table. They collected him through a combination of the Swiss man’s strength and the coach’s stern words, dragging him from the chair and onto his feet.

“He didn’t come,” Viktor mumbled in Russian, dropping his head against Yakov’s shoulder. “Yakov, he didn’t come.”

“He wasn’t here, Vitya.”

With one arm each under the brooding drunk, the pair half-walked, half-carried him back to his room, sharing gratitude that the press was already out of sight. The last thing Viktor needed was some sort of scandal attached to his name, just when the rumors of his retirement had been dismissed. He was still going strong, and would continue on as planned.

It wasn’t the first time that Yakov had been forced to help his student through an inebriated stupor, and he was certain that it wouldn’t be the last. At least he was reasonably certain that Christophe could be trusted not to use the information against them. Once in the room, he sat Viktor on the edge of the bed and undid his tie while Chris held him upright, head drooping, and peeled off his suit jacket.

“Yakov,” Viktor whimpered. “Take it away. I don’t want this feeling anymore…”

The old man studied Viktor a moment before glancing back at Chris, hesitating. “Vitya…”

Viktor reached for him, burying his face against his chest. “Take my heart before the wolves get to it. Please.”

Helpless, Yakov handed the jacket to Chris, then slid his arms under Viktor’s to lay him down on the bed. He was fading fast, anyway, spouting nonsense like that. Chris laid the jacket over a chair and came back to help lift Viktor’s legs.

“I can hear them howling, Yakov…”

“Just sleep, Vitya. I’m here.”

--

After the European Championships, Viktor was careful to keep to himself. It was bad enough that his senior teammates knew about what had happened by evidence of his hangover, but if Yuri found out, he’d never hear the end of it. Thank god he hadn’t been there. Lying low was the only way to keep Mila and Georgi quiet.

He settled back into his pre-Worlds routine, taking Makkachin out every morning for a jog along the river to the pier and back again, then to the facility for training. Viktor preferred to take his sessions first thing in the day for choreography, for an hour all to himself before the others got there.

If there was one thing he had learned in his years of experience, it was that he could only find new strength on his own. Each year meant stripping it all away, burning who he was, destroying the past, becoming stronger. Reborn anew. That was what he needed.

The arrangements for Agape and Eros came in from his standby composer, each in several different lengths and a handful of different styles as per usual. Viktor needed choices to work out the particulars, especially when he wasn’t sure which he’d use for the short program versus the free skate. The timing difference would weight the balance, which needed consideration.

And then there was the exhibition gala. If he won gold- no, when he won gold, he would need to be prepared to top it off with the pièces de ré·sis·tance. Which would be… what?

Phila. No, that was too close to agape. Pragma? Hah. He didn’t dare.

Philautia, then. Perhaps, though he felt it less and less with each passing day.

The motivation had slipped, the drive derailed. He nailed the jumps, worked out the steps, but it didn’t feel right. Nothing felt right anymore.

It was the dichotomy of love, wasn’t it? Perhaps, then, the exhibition, the end result, should be the absence of love all together. Different than Stay Close to Me; far different than a broken heart, but an empty sort of listless thing that would show them all just what had become of that Firebird Princess all those years ago…

It could work.

Or was that too much like Georgi?

He’d have to think about that. There were months yet to work out the melodrama and turn it into something beautiful. No matter what pain it took to get there. He could walk through hell again and again if he had to, and he would.

Relevé...

--

February passed quickly. Viktor kept busy, creating the idea books for each program for the new season, searching for inspiration everywhere he went. He tore up magazines, painted, poured over the music again and again, and skated the bits and pieces of routine that he’d put together, but he still felt listless.

So instead, his mind wandered to Japan. Not to those dark eyes- at least, not at first -but to Tokyo, which was easy enough to justify. The World Championships were taking place there, which gave him plenty of excuses to research.

What was near the hotel? What sorts of restaurants? What were the local customs? Yuuri K said that his family ran a Hot Springs; what did that mean, exactly? Were they like the spas in Switzerland? Oh, how interesting!

It might be worth a try. And sushi, too. Tokyo seemed so interesting. Exotic.

He picked up a handful of different Japanese language books; one for Russian to Japanese, one for English, and another specifically for tourists, and practiced with online programs. It wasn’t something that he normally worried about; most of the skaters knew English, so they used it professionally at competitions. But if he were to sneak away for a moment, just to see what it was like, it made sense to have a little bit of conversational Japanese under his belt so he wouldn’t get lost, didn’t it?

After all, his French wasn’t going to be of use!

Too many times, he’d look up from his book to find that he’d been designing costumes for the wrong person because his thoughts had wandered. Yuuri K was not supposed to be immortalized on paper, only in concept.  Viktor turned the page and started again, eyes closed. Eros. What was eros? He laid down a thick stroke of black ink with the brush, heavy up top, twisting and curved as it coiled down below like the tail of a snake. Eros was a cobra? Hmm.

Snake. Hebi.

Mednoj gory hozjajka.

--

Usually by the time Yakov and any Juniors left for the World Junior Championships, he was giddy for the chance to practice without him looking over his shoulder. His ill-prepared state left him with little comfort, however, and he spent the time preparing for the upcoming trip. His short program was simple enough, and the piece for the exhibition gala was one he’d done thousands of times. But it was the last time he’d be performing to Stammi Vicino, Non te ne Andare, and it needed to be perfect.

No one knew just what it meant. Stay Close to Me…

There was always one that he hated to give up, one that tortured him to throw away. If he could, he’d end it all with that. Skate it one last time, retire, and…

...he still didn’t know.

--

Yuri won. Of course he did.

“Don’t forget your promise,” he said, side-eying Viktor upon his return.

Viktor pulled his earbuds out, smiling. “Hm? What was that?” Only to be round-house kicked in the shoulder, which left him quite impressed, but still standing.“Yuri~ I’m kidding!” At least it hadn’t really hurt.

Yuri peered up at him, both hands in his pockets, and slowly lowered his leg. “Good. And you’d better win in yours, too.”

“Of course I will.” He rubbed his arm where the slipper had connected. “I want you to have the biggest shoes possible to fill. You’re like a little goldfish.”

“Haaa? Tigers eat goldfish!”

It was too cute. Viktor ruffled his hair, which only made the boy angrier,  and began a game of tag through the hallway until Yakov barked at them both to get their damned skates on for practice.

He’d miss this. How long did he have left with them?

--

The skating rink in Tokyo was just like the hundreds of others that Viktor had seen; the ice was the same anywhere you went. As predicted, he scored an absurd amount of points in his short program, setting him up for the win with his free skate. For the competition, he stayed close to Yakov, concentrated and obedient, and napped at every given opportunity. It kept him calm, helped to pass the time, and gave him just enough energy to do what he had to do with a smile on his face.

All too soon, it was time.

“Vitya.”

Viktor squeezed Yakov’s wrist and nodded, then pushed away to move to his starting position. Was it the end? His very last competitive skate? Did Yuuri K know before his last performance? What was he doing now, at that moment? They were in Tokyo; it was being broadcast live, he’d checked. Was he watching?

He hoped so.

With all of his heart, he hoped so.

Please,

if there’s any magic in the world…

if God exists,

if Mama is watching,

if there’s anyone looking out for me,

Let my prayer be heard.

Don’t let this heart song go to waste;

I only have the strength for one last try,

Like a desperate cry in the winter storm.

--

Viktor skipped the banquet.

The interviews had been awkward enough.

“What are your plans?”

“What will you do next season?”

Even though he’d won with a flawless performance, perhaps his best yet, he still had no answers. He’d been trained to field the questions easily enough, but there were others that knew how to read between the lines and dig for answers. And Chris, well, it was certain that he would be looking for him after that little lack of confirmation.

Not to mention the last time they’d seen each other.

He hoped that Yuri would listen to him. Only one drink at social functions, no matter how tempting. Just one. It wasn’t worth it to do anything more.

But instead of going back to his room, like he told Yakov he was going to do, Viktor explored the city. And Tokyo was incredible. Shibuya was the closest shopping district to the Yoyogi National Stadium and the hotel, which had more than enough to keep him busy. Perfect! It was like New York City, only much more confusing and at least ten times cleaner!

Tall as he was, navigating the crowds was easy enough since most of the people moved out of his way. He managed to use some of his new Japanese skills, though his pronunciation was terrible, but sumimasen came in handy right away. For everything else, the majority shop owners he spoke to knew enough English to help him, anyway. They made it work.

Best of all was the statue of the Akita, Hachikō, which he sought out for a selfie, putting his arm around and immediately posted to Instagram. 

[ Me and Makkachin’s cousin, Hachikō! ^_~v #shibuya #japan #dogsarebest ]

The comments that came pouring in were positive, except for those of his fellow skaters, asking why he wasn’t at the banquet. Mobile back in his pocket, he hurried along back into the crowd. Right. More shopping, less social media. Hopefully Yakov had gone to bed already...

He returned to his his hotel room two hours later with shopping bags and brochures, exhausted but feeling a little better. There might not have been any dancing, but it still felt a little bit like Yuuri K was there, anyway.

--

The little spot of happiness lasted only as long as it took to get to business as usual in Saint Petersburg. Viktor stepped onto the scale for the routine weigh-in with Yakov and winced as the digital read beeped its final decision. Maybe Yakov wouldn’t notice?

The old man peered at the screen, then at the clipboard in his hand. “Go home, Vitya.”

“What?”

“I said go home.”

The others turned their attention to the pair now, curious as they gathered their things. Yakov made them weigh in on a regular basis to keep their health in check. It was normal. Sending someone home, however, was not.

Viktor stepped off of the scale. “It’s not like we’re competing right now, Yakov.”

“I don’t care. You know the rules. You drop below this weight,” he pointed at the clipboard. “You don’t go on the ice. No exceptions.”

“I just won Worlds…” Viktor pulled his sweater back on, all the same. It was an argument that he’d never won with Yakov before, and it wasn’t looking like he was about to start. “I’m fine.”

“No. Exceptions.” He underlined the new number on the chart, then stormed out of the room.

“Ha ha, even the prince can’t get away with everything.”

“Shut up, Yuri.” Mila took Viktor’s arm. “Look, just get protein shakes or something. That’s what I do.”

“He’ll let you come back in a couple of days.”

Viktor nodded at Georgi, Mila… even Yuri. Getting ‘grounded’ wasn’t usually the worst thing that could happen, unless you got there by doing something that jeopardized your health or safety. It always took a long time for Yakov to forgive for that.

So he went home, which was a lengthy walk across the city, and tried to remember the last time he really ate a full meal. He couldn’t remember. It was difficult to think about food during competitions, and even harder to eat. Besides, it wasn’t like he could really cook much of anything. Crepes, maybe. Cereal. Did cereal count as cooking? Were crepes just really thin pancakes?

He went through the building to get to his apartment and Makkachin greeted him at the door. Standing after he knelt to pet the poodle left him dizzy, and he leaned against the coat rack while he untied his scarf and unbuttoned his coat.

Maybe Yakov was right.

He searched through his cupboards and found various bottles of alcohol, dog food, canned sardines, and a package of crackers. None of it was appealing, but the crackers would have to do. He took them to the sofa and flopped down in misery, while Makkachin crawled on top of him, both for comfort and for food, wagging his tail.

“It’s not my fault,” Viktor said, and offered a cracker to Makkachin while he nibbled on one himself. “These are stale, anyway.”

Makkachin didn’t care. It was salty. He gobbled it up.

Viktor set the crackers aside and pulled out his phone. He had no appetite, only increasing exhaustion. There were hundreds of notifications to comb through, most of which he would just delete in bulk. Engaging with his fans used to be so entertaining, but it had become such a chore. At least he could get away with just posting photos most of the time these days. He leaned back and took one of Makkachin with cracker crumbs in his bearded muzzle, back legs outstretched on his own.

[ He stole it! :o #makkachin #snackies #dayoff ]

His phone buzzed immediately after posting, popping up with an IM from Chris.

 

Chris G.: Yohooo~ I found video pertaining to ur interests

Viktor groaned and glanced at the posted url. Not again… It was on youtube, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything.

v.nikiforov: this better not be porn
Chris G.: Mmmay be your kind of porn
v.nikiforov: what does that even mean
v.nikiforov: what is my kind of porn????
Chris G.: watch and see
v.nikiforov: is it puppies?
v.nikiforov: if this isn’t puppies falling asleep or something i’m going to block you

He clicked on the link and it loaded slowly. Half of the title of the video was in Japanese. Maybe it had to do with red pandas, then. Those were cute. But then he recognized his own name in English. What was…? The video started, and...

It wasn’t puppies at all.

It was the Japanese boy, Yuuri K. Yuuri Katsuki. On the ice.

Back from the dead.

And not only that…

He was skating. His program. Stay Close to Me. There was no music, but it was unmistakable. Viktor had done the routine so many times he could feel every movement as Yuuri made it, and every single one of them was perfect. Every step sequence, every turn, every jump, every expression of emotion poured out like it was him skating it, not Yuuri K, and yet it was, there, in front of him on that tiny screen.

Viktor swallowed, lips drawing into a tight line as his jaw tightened. If that dance had been something, this was everything. The warning wind before the hurricane, and it hit him then.

He watched it all the way through to the end, glanced down at the post date, realized he couldn’t read the description or the comments, then laid the phone on his chest to give himself a moment to breathe.

Makkachin cocked his head to one side, tongue slurping back into his mouth, and Viktor reached down to ruffle his ear, slow and deliberate.

“Makkachin,” he said. “Sometimes... “ He paused to steady his voice. “Sometimes, the princess has to play the fairy god mother, doesn’t she? Or… rescue the prince in order to rescue herself?”

The poodle tilted his head the other way. Viktor often asked him questions like this, but he never understood or knew how to respond. Not that he really needed to; just listening seemed to help.

After a few moments of deliberation, Viktor nodded. “If I were to ignore this, that would be the most ridiculous… I’ve been waiting for a sign, haven’t I?”

Makkachin leaned his head into Viktor’s hand, and licked his wrist. Heck if he knew.

“It doesn’t get any clearer than this. Even descending angels would be more subtle. This is it.” He sat up. “This is it.” 

v.nikiforov: chris
Chris.G: :3c?
v.nikiforov: brb japan
Chris.G: thats some strong porn


--

The hours that followed were a whirlwind of madness from the instant Viktor’s feet touched the floor, scrambling from the couch. The next flight to Kyushu was in roughly sixteen hours. That left very little time to get everything in order; but he was good at getting ready to travel. There weren’t any direct flights out of Saint Petersburg, but that was fine; a seven hour layover in Paris would give him time to make any last arrangements that he’d forgotten about through the power of the internet. From there, it’d be a straight shot to Tokyo, and finally to Kumamoto airport.

After that, well, he could hire transport for himself and Makkachin and all of his things. Easy. Everything was available at his fingertips. Just punch in the numbers of the credit card, transfer funds, print out confirmations, maps, itineraries, and poof- plans made. Life ready to be changed.

Viktor made a checklist and crossed items off as he dashed around the apartment, gathering the obvious necessities. But what would he need? How long would they be there? If he was going to be a coach, it would at least be through the season. His usual suitcase wasn’t going to cut it.

Did he need to bring idea books? Art books? What about music? Costumes? No, Yuuri probably had his own… Or did he? He wasn’t sure. They could figure that out later. Right, there were things that could be shipped out afterward. So what was important now? What did he need?

Clothes. Definitely needed clothes. He hurried to his walk-in closet and rifled through. What should he wear? He would be there for months. What was the weather like in Kyushu? He had no idea. Maybe he needed a little of everything. The best of everything. He wanted to impress Yuuri K, that was for certain. Make a good impression. The clothes made the man, after all.

He hesitated, fingers brushing over the different styles of garments. There was such an eclectic mix, and no way of telling what Yuuri K would even like. More traditional, masculine? Softer? Elegant? Was Yuuri K the type to like dress slacks and suits or capris and turtlenecks? Oversized blouses and leggings?

His gaze dropped down to the shoe rack that covered the bottom half of the closet and bit his lip in despair. Another problem. Complicated. Very complicated. It was probably better to just be safe. Careful. Keep it simple. Worry about the rest later. He didn’t have time for another identity crisis. Not when he had a flight to catch.

Boxes and suitcases were gathered in the living room as they were filled with modest amounts of the essentials; books for inspiration, the most favored of salt and pepper shakers, a couple of throw pillows, the best of the best of his clothes, skating equipment, keepsakes of home, Makkachin’s toys and bed, bowls, food, spare leash, a few odds and ends, a plush animal or two, a handful of skating trophies and medals, and a few other important things. Just what he absolutely needed. Once it was all taped up and labeled with his information and the address of the Hot Springs, which he’d cleverly looked up and verified, he called a courier to have it delivered to the airport, and then spoke to his superintendent.

In a matter of hours, he was set to go with one small exception.

“Five minutes,” Viktor said to Makkachin. “And then we call Yakov.”

They waited by the once piece of carry-on luggage in the front room, quietly contemplating the strange, empty patches in their apartment. Makkachin rested his chin on Viktor’s knee, looking up at him with his tongue barely poking out. Then, when the time was up and the resolve was complete, he took out his phone and dialed.

“Yakov? Could you take me to the airport?”

There was silence on the other end of the line and then a quiet, “What?”

“I’m going to Japan. My flight leaves in just a handful of hours, but it’s international so I need to leave as soon as possible. I know this is sudden, and I could just call a taxi, but I’d prefer if you took me. Please.”

Another stretch of silence. “You will explain on the way.”

“I’ll try.”

Yakov was prompt as usual. It only took a few minutes for him to arrive, dressed for the weather with a scowl colder than the bitter wind. Viktor loaded the kennel into the back and climbed in afterward, pulling his bag into his lap.

Once the car was in motion, Viktor turned his gaze to the snowy road out the window and let out a breath. “I’m going to coach Yuuri Katsuki.”

“...Japanese Boy?”

“Yes.”

“But I thought you were forgetting about him.”

Viktor rubbed his palms over the leather suitcase, fingers tracing the thick brass buckles. “Things have changed. I’m taking the year off, but don’t worry; I’ve deposited your year’s fees already. The transfer should be complete in two days.”

“Eh? Year off? But…?”

“I’m going to get him back to the Grand Prix Finals. I’m going to help him win.”

“...Why?”

Viktor shook his head. It sounded crazy. He knew it did. It was insane. Totally insane. But his heart hadn’t stopped pounding ever since he saw the video. He hadn’t stopped moving, even for a moment. Even then, he couldn’t stop fidgeting. The current wasn’t going to stop. He had to do this. There was no other option. No alternative. He swallowed another breath. “Because I believe he can do it.”

“I’m lost on where you are leaving your own competitive year and helping someone else.”

“Yakov, someone posted a video of him copying my routine just a couple of days ago. Stay Close to Me. He nailed it. Perfectly. Every piece of it. I know he can do it.”

“How is that possible?! He flopped his own routines!”

“Well his own coach wasn’t giving him the right attention, clearly. Maybe with a little more care… Yakov, you need to see the video. I’ve been watching it over and over… It’s like he’s calling to me.”

“Eh? You mean you don’t know for sure?!”

“Ha…” Viktor paled at the thought, glancing up at the roof of the car. “If he says no, I’ll come home.”

“Vitya… maybe you should reach out to him through email before you pack up?”

“It’s already done. I’m going. I have to see for myself.”

“I wish you would have given me a little more warning to process this.”

Viktor shrugged, turning to the kennel next to him. “We’ll be back before you know it, though, won’t we Makkachin?”

The poodle whined, tail thumping against the heavy plastic crate.

“Just think of it as a little vacation. I need to find inspiration somewhere, right?”

--

In the end, Yakov wasn’t pleased. At all. And that hurt, but there was nothing that could be done about it for the time being. Not yet. Nothing was ever gained without sacrifice, no journey started without passion. He hadn’t travelled by himself in… he couldn’t remember the last time; Yakov had always been with him. Yet here he was on his own. Was it the first time?

He’d flown hundreds of times before, but it was different to be by himself, to be in charge of his life… in an exciting-but-terrifying sort of way.

Once the plane reached cruising altitude, he settled against the window with the travel blanket he brought with him and watched the snowy mountains retreat beneath them, clouds swathing the peaks, and thought of the wolf. He’d run hard and endless through the terrain, covering any distance to reach Yuuri K, big paws breaking through the snow…

Not all wolves were bad...


“He’s the one.”

“Are you sure, my dear?”

“I know it’s him. I feel it in my very bones, Baba Yaga.”

The witch turned to the trembling princess, clutching the edge of the viewing pool. The boy didn’t look like much, perhaps; just a simple squire, but the dirt on his hands and the sweat on his brow spoke volumes of his hard work and dedication. Day after day, he toiled for the King and master, completing each quest given to him. He was unrefined, perhaps, but he had a good heart. And, more importantly, he’d gathered the feathers...

“Others have tried to call you before, princess.”

It was true. This boy wasn’t the first to find beauty in the faint glow of the feathers that had been lost so many years ago. But the way he cradled them, brushing fingers over the shaft to smooth the down until it was whole again, like it was precious; no one else had. He’d collected them all and kept them stowed under his pillow where he could see them often.

“It’s not the reward that he’s after. I’m not even sure that he knows about the firebird.”

“And you want to go to him? How can he save you if he doesn’t even know—“

“I know, I know. I’ll go to him in disguise. I’ll help him remember.”

The old woman slid an enormous, withered wing around the girl’s shoulders and tugged her close. “And if you fail? Your soul might not be able to take it.”

“I’m not immortal; I can’t stay in this tower forever.”

“And I can’t protect you if you leave.”

“I have to take the risk.”

Chapter Text

Ice Castle Ice Rink, Hasetsu, Japan
Yuuri (12 Years Old)


Out of breath laughter filled the air as Yuuri, Yuko, and Nishigori made their way to the locker room, hobbling on their skates on the dry ground.

Yuko pushed the on button to the television and joined the boys on the benches to remove their skates and throw on their street clothes for the lingering winter outside.

“Oh look; it’s highlights from the World Juniors Championship last night!”

Nishigori didn’t bother looking up, while Yuuri quickly finished unlacing his skates to watch.

A tall and lean teenager with the longest hair Yuuri had ever seen on a boy flashed on the screen. He recognized the music as The Lilac Fairy from Sleeping Beauty. Cameras panned out to show him achieving a triple salchow - flawless touch back onto the ice, perfect form. Faux diamonds and sequins glistening off the black mesh, skin-tight costume, half skirt twirling. The skating world had a variety of costumes for skaters to wear, and Yuuri was so used to seeing them lean so heavily on one way or the other, he was transfixed by the representation of both genders in clothing and physique of the boy.

“It’s Viktor Nikiforov!” Yuko swooned.

The cameras zoomed in on the skater’s face. Serene features. Eyes piercingly blue like the ice he skated on, that were soon covered by light-colored lashes as he rotated into an Ina Bauer, arms raised.

Yuuri hears clipped words from Yuko like “debut”, “breaking records”, and “sixteen”. He didn’t need to hear it to know - feel - just how amazing the boy on the television was.

 


 

 

Finally, the marathon his heart was running reached the finish line.

Yuuri face-flopped onto his bed after carefully stowing away his collection of Viktor Nikiforov posters.

The real Viktor Nikiforov was staying in his family’s banquet room down the hall.

Why? Because… because Yuko’s triplets had been recording him skating to Viktor’s last season’s program and uploaded it for the world to see and somehow that had inspired his idol? How was that even possible? Viktor was the one that inspired him all these years!

He chose you! Minako’s words echoed in his mind and the heart palpitations came rushing back and he fisted his sheets.

A knock at the door paused his internal suffering. “Yuuri?”

Head shooting up, Yuuri answered, “Come in.”

Mari stuck her head inside. “Hey, I was walking down the hall and I heard sniffles coming out of your Prince Charming’s room.”

“Like, crying?”

She shrugged and took a drag of her cigarette. “Dunno. Just thought I’d let you know. G’night.”

He frowned after her as she closed the door. The room had been unoccupied for a while, maybe it was really dusty. Yuuri was sure Japan had a lot of allergens that weren’t native to Russia. Curiosity had its way moments later and he rolled off his bed and opened the door, peering into the dim hallway. Mari was gone, but his mother padded down the hall with a tea tray in hand, not seeing him. Softly she knocked on the door and called out for Viktor. He assumed Viktor answered as she balanced the tray to slide the door open.  

Oh good… Mom would take care of it. Whatever it was.

Sighing, he closed his bedroom door and retreated to his bed, foot grazing his phone. The movement didn’t wake the lock screen, and then he remembered that he’d turned it off. Bracing for the barrage of notifications, he pressed the power button.

Pings and vibrations erupted from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Email, Skype, and IM.

One swipe of his finger and poof they were gone. It wasn’t worth seeing the world’s opinions and speculations of Russia’s Champion coaching Japan’s loser.

With apps cleared, his missed call notifications flashed along with two unread texts. These were at least safer to check.

Missed calls from: Minako. Minako. Yuko. Nishigori. Minako.

Unread texts from: Minako and Phichit. Phichit - in all caps ‘CALL MEEEEE ASAP~’

He’d already spoken with Minako, so he didn’t need to respond. He could call or visit Yuko later. Phichit, though…

Taking a breath, he opened the video chat app. Phichit's name with a photo of one of his ten hamsters in a skate as his icon was the first contact on the list.

[I’m here.]

Immediately a dial tone sounded at Phichit calling. The icon screen shifted to his friend from Thailand’s grinning face. “You're alive!”

Yuuri chuckled. “If I were dead, you'd be the first to know.”

“That's true. I was getting worried, though, you weren't answering any of your IMs or anything so...”

“Yeah I had my phone turned off.”

“For priiiiivacy?”

“Part of it…”

“I liked your video. It was really good!”

People - friends - like Phichit (and Yuko), he didn't mind seeing the video. Willing to share, actually. Being roommates in Detroit for two years earned him that right. He felt the prickle of blush at the compliment. "Yeah?"

"It was just like Viktor's! Not sure how you made those jumps with the hamster chub, but you looked really great. You could hardly tell. Really amazing.”

"I was pretty winded afterwards,” he admitted, scratching his neck.

“It's good that you're skating still. And I guess he liked it, too~?"

"I can't give up on it, completely." He knew Viktor would come up eventually. Not like the whole world didn't know he left Russia by now. Still didn't help the surreality of it all. "Yeah. A little too much."

"Ooh? Too much?" That mischievous and curious glint in his eyes was always something to be wary of. “That could mean SO many things…”

"He wants to be my coach. Taking a break in his own career to get me to the GPF."

"Are you freaking out?"

Yuuri slumped forward, leaning his phone against the wood paneling of his desk. "How can I say no to someone I've admired for a large portion of my life? Packed up his life to coach me..."

"Is he amazing? In person, so close? Just like you’ve imagined?" Phichit waggled his eyebrows in ways Yuuri thought was impressive when it wasn’t directed at him.  

He knew this was coming, too. Yuuri didn't exactly try to hide. Being so close to him at school, of course Phichit caught glimpses of just how much Yuuri admired Viktor. It wasn't fair... Using it against him.

Viktor liked to be close. For some reason. He liked to touch him. For some reason. Wanted to sleep with him. For some reason.

"He's a little... Intense, I guess,” Yuuri admitted after prolonged silence. He was grateful his friend had quickly learned to be patient with with.

"Intense how?"

"Uh... he-” Yuuri clenched his fists in his lap, fidgeting. “Personal boundaries do not exist."

Scandalized, Phichit covered his mouth, hiding a laugh as well. "Yuuri! What did he do? Wait, what did you do?"

"Jeez! Stop! It's not like that! My family runs a hot spring... so I got to see ... more of him for our first meeting."

Another grin and a gasp, "YUURI! You saw Viktor Nikiforov NAKED in the BATH!" A dramatic pause, and then- "Were you in the bath, too?”

"It was... very unexpecte-- NO! No I was not!"

Phichit fell onto his back in a fit of giggles, hamster plushes and shaped bed pillows squished underneath him.

"I was out shoveling snow when he came in. I get back and Dad tells me there's a foreigner in the bath. Me, an intellectual, decided it was a good idea to go find him... because... obviously he'd be naked. But I didn't expect him to stand up!"

"'Me, an intellectual' -- that's so you!”

He ran his hands down face. "Shut up… I wasn’t purposefully trying to look.”

"Okay okay," he tried to sober, biting his lip. "But the real question is: did you like what you saw?"

Yuuri purposefully didn’t look at the screen, heat coming back to his face, and he was met with more laughter.  “I'm hanging up!!"

"Yuuri, wait, no. I'm sorryyyyy. After all of the posters in our dorm and everything I can't help it..."

Sighing, he tried to rub away the blush on his cheeks. "I know. It's not your fault."

"As I’ve told you a million times before: It's so cute."

"Is it? I’m feeling kind of pathetic right now.”

"Why? I think it's great! I mean, as long as he's not being a creeper… He's not, is he?"

Yuuri thought back to before they parted ways tonight. How he touched his face, fingers sliding along his jaw and holding his chin, proposing getting to know one another. Knocking on his door wanting to sleep with him... "H-huh? Oh, I don't... know. He's certainly... friendlier in person than I thought he'd be."

Thick brows furrowed. "Yuuri... I'm sincerely happy that your heart wish is coming true, but as your best friend in the whole wide world, I'm obligated to break him in half if he does anything... unsavory. He does have a reputation.”

Yuuri decided it was best to not ask what his definition of unsavory was. "I'm sure I'm just freaking out... And you know I don't really believe in a lot of his reputation." The term ‘Playboy’ never fit well with Yuuri when the media threw it around. The scandals that did happen always seemed so forced and out of character from the man on screen and interviews, televised, or written. When one was famous, of course you’d gain attention of suitors, and Yuuri didn’t fault that lifestyle… just slapping playboy on him seemed like a stretch. Gossip, only. Publicity stunt wouldn’t be a far cry, either.

Huh, maybe he had offered sex as way of paying for the coaching fee. Clearly Yuuri wasn’t rich, so he was being kind? Being a creeper… but not really being a creeper?

Phichit drew him back from his thoughts. "Yeah, that's true. And I guess you're supposed to be naked in a bath house. So. Is he really going to coach you? Are you really going to come back?"

"Sounds like he's not leaving me a choice, he’s already putting together a weight loss regimen for me. I'm competing again."

"Yay! That’s great!”

“I didn't leave graciously. Firing Ciao Ciao...  he wasn't too beaten up about it at the time. He still has you at least.”

"Ciao Ciao is fine. Annoyed, but he'll get over it. I'll actually get to compete against you this time! Now I'm getting MY wish! I hope you're ready to lose.”

“Even on the same team we'd still be competing for gold, Phichit."

"I wonder if you'll be too distracted to skate..."

“No faith in me, thanks.”

"It's not your fault - he does have a nice butt. Riiiiight, Yuuri? That's what you’ve said before!"

Yuuri opened his mouth to clarify he saw full frontal Viktor, but figured that would be digging his grave further. "Yeah... That's true."

"What were the chances your idol would come coach you personally? Just think: now you don't have to kiss your posters anymore; the real thing is right there!"

His glasses pinched his face as he hid on the desk, voice a smooshed mutter. "We agreed you wouldn't bring that up!”

"Sorry, sorry." He actually did sound sorry. For once.

Adjusting his glasses, he sat up again. "And he's here to coach me. Students don't kiss coaches."

"Not usually, anyway.” Yuuri didn’t answer, so Phichit continued. “Not unless you want him to, because otherwise I will have to beat him up. You never know, Yuuri; he's supposed to be really romantic. Unless that's part of his reputation that isn't true?"

Once more, he fidgeted his hands in his lap. "It's not that I wouldn't want it... Just... Why would he with me?" Even as a coaching fee it wouldn't be worth it. That wouldn’t be gaining Viktor Nikiforov anything.

"I dunno, because you're Yuuri and you're great? Maybe he thought your skate was super sexy.”

No. He couldn’t think about this and set himself up. "Anyway... How are you?"

Clearing his throat, thankfully dropping the subject, Phichit answered, "I'm good! Just skating and managing your social media stuff... your page has been blowing up with comments, by the way. Ciao Ciao wants to know why you didn't skate like that under him. I told him you were under a lot of stress and he said it was an excuse. But you know him."

"Well, neither of you are wrong.”

"Oh, Kanda had babies!"

It took a moment for Yuuri to realize what his friend was talking about: he’d changed the subject to his hamsters. Just as well, he wasn’t wanting to talk about him more, either. "Oh? Which one was she, again? The tan one with spots?"

"The brown patches, yes! Six pups! I'll show you!" The camera view showed the ceiling for a moment as Phichit rolled off the bed and walked over to a glass tank with white fluff bedding where the mama hamster was with her six pink and hairless babies. “I tried to tell you last night, but you went all Black Out on me.”

Their dorm room was a hamster sanctuary. Before Phichit, Yuuri had never seen one in person. He quickly became fond of them, grateful for a furry friend while abroad. "You running out of room, yet?"

"I'll find them homes when they're old enough! Aren't they cute?"

"Yeah. Very!"

"Make sure to check your phone! I'm going to post photos every day."

"I will now that it’s on. I want to see their fur come in."

"I'll name one after you."

"Haha really?"

"Yeah! Viktor'sbiggestfan5ever."

"... That is the longest name ever"

"It can be Yuuri for short."

"Sounds right."

"So where is he staying? Is it near the hot springs?”   

Damn, and here Yuuri thought Phichit would have given up by now. "Uh, he's... Staying here in the unused banquet room.”

Phichit took a moment to process that and then his eyes widened. "....Wait what?"

“He showed up with so much luggage. I think he thought we were an inn."

"So, he didn't even call first? He really just showed up?"

"He-- Yeah. I guess he did..." Wow, he really did.

"He's gonna be living in your house?!"

"Mom didn't have the heart to correct him..."

"Living together!"

Yuuri shielded his face. "Stop....'

"Oh! Did he bring his dog?!"

"Yeah, he jumped on me, actually."

"You have a dog again! A dog and your crush as a coach. This could be your year, Yuuri," Phichit said with a wink and finger gun.

"If I don't die of a heart attack, first."

"You better not! I need you to defend my honor if someone assaults me, too! My hamsters need someone to take care of them!"

"Oh yes, can't forget the hamsters."

"Yeah! So don't die. I don't care how sexy your coach is."

"It’s hard to make that kind of promise." Figuratively, he died from Viktor’s sexiness before, he supposed he could keep doing so.    

“Well, you'd better. I'm your best friend, right?"

"Sure are."

"Okay, so promise, because I want to compete against you!"

"I will compete against you."

"Okay, good! Well, I guess I better let you go to bed so you can be rested for training with your sexy coach in the morning. You better let me know how it goes. I want all of the deets."

"Details of what?"

“Just how things go. Keep me updated, how’s that?”

“If you’re wanting coaching secrets, you can forget it,” Yuuri teased.

“True, true. Let me know on other things. Night, Yuuri!” The screen chimed and Phichit was gone.

He sure ran away fast…

Yuuri leaned back in his chair and noted the time on the clock. It was getting late. Pushing out from under his desk, he slipped into his pajamas and crawled into his bed, laying on his back.

“Coaching secrets…” he said to the darkness of his room, thoughts wandering back to dinner.

”Have you ever coached anyone before?” Yuuri asked while Viktor slurped a bowl of miso.

“Oh, I've assisted Yakov a few times. And I was trained at the academy. But this is the first time I'll be doing it as a full-time coach. But don't worry! I know what to do. It helps that you're not a green skater, either. I've been doing this for a long time, obviously... and you made it to the top six last season, you just need some refinement, really. The greatest challenge will be finding what motivates you as an individual skater - inspiring confidence for you, specifically. I don't think your coach-- sorry, I forget his name --knew how to handle that. So that's what I'm gonna focus on. Ooo what’s this dish?!” And then Viktor was distracted by Yuuri’s mother bringing him more food to try.

What benefits would teaching Yuuri give Viktor? It all felt one-sided. Even if he were in charge of uploading the video, he didn’t specifically ask for him to come. Well… that wasn’t entirely true.

Skating Viktor’s routines were something he always did when he wanted to reconnect. He was the reason he got to where he was, the good and the bad.

For now, Viktor was staying in his house and signs pointed to it being slim he’d be leaving soon. Maybe Yuuri didn’t have to know the whys right now. His idol was within reach, going to teach him directly under his wing, and that’s more than his dreams ever wanted. Who knew failing a goal could still give something similar in such a roundabout way? Could he make it to the final six again? Podium? Would Viktor coaching him make all the difference? Either way, if he didn’t make it, he’d at least get to say he skated on the same ice as Viktor Nikiforov as his student. As uncertain and embarrassed as it all left him, above all, the rushing of his heart actually felt happy and that was something he hadn’t had in months.

Chapter Text


 

Saint Petersburg, Russia
Viktor (7 years old)

Yakov permitted Viktor to come to his rink twice a week, trading off the afternoons with Lilia when school let out for the day. Ballet one day, skating the next. Often enough, he came on weekends, too. Twice a week didn’t hold fast for long at all, but at least the boy’s parents paid the coaching and facility fees without complaint. The exercise and discipline made him more compliant at home and helped him pay attention in school. Moreover, it kept him busy, so everyone won.

And he wasn’t too much trouble for Yakov, either. True, he had a never-ending list of questions to ask, and a near-inexhaustible amount of energy, but he was good at entertaining himself most of the time. While Yakov worked with his much older, more seasoned students, Viktor observed from the sidelines and mimicked them as best he could. During shift switches, the boy asked his most pressing questions and took Yakov’s answers under serious consideration.

The other skaters might have minded the child’s ever-watchful gaze- particularly when he began offering critiques of their performances -were it not for his ability to take a spill remarkably well, which happened often and without tears. He tried everything, and as many times as it took, and did it with an “Owwww,” and a laugh. He cheered for the bigger kids, they cheered for him, and in no time, they regarded him as sort of the team’s pet.

In December, just a little over a year after he’d started skating, seven year-old Viktor sat on the bench in front of Yakov’s office, attention drifting from the empty rink to the tall glass windows and the darkness outside. It had started to snow again, with heavy white flakes drifting down in slow, wafting curls of wind. He gnawed on a bagel, aware that it was past seven pm and that his uncle was once again late to pick him up.

His papa was never late, but Papa was in Moscow with Mama, touring with the Imperial Ballet company.

He wiggled his legs, first the left, then the right, working out the restless energy in the tired muscles. “I’m going to do a quadruple flip.”

“Oh?”

Viktor peered up at Yakov, who always waited with him. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, he was sure that the old man enjoyed the shop talk when the other skaters weren’t there. “Yeah. I just wish I didn’t have to wait. Why do bones gotta be so flexible when you’re young? How come it takes so long to grow up?”

“It’s for your protection.”

“Yeah. But I have medals to win.”

Yakov shook his head. “There is time for that.”

Viktor broke off a piece of the bagel from the other side and inspected it for any bite marks. Satisfied, he offered it with a smile. “You want some?”

“Thank you.”

They ate in silence for a while, watching the minute hand move on the clock over the doorway.

“I don’t think Sasha knows what you mean by keeping a tighter turn, by the way,” Viktor said, sighing. “He’s never gonna manage that second half…”

“Vitya…”

Viktor turned back to the snow drift. “Maybe my uncle forgot that I’m staying with them right now.”

“Maybe I should call and remind.”

The boy managed an awkward laugh. “Sorry, Coach.”

“Not your fault.” There were only so many things that a seven year-old could control, after all. Yakov pulled out his phone and dialed the number that Viktor’s parents had left for him. While the rings went through, he watched Viktor, whose eyes went from him, to the ground, then to the clock, and back to the window again before returning to him again.

The restlessness never stayed away from Viktor for long, with anxiety close at its heels.

Viktor closed his eyes at Yakov’s audible pause. He couldn’t hear his uncle’s voice, but the high pitch of the ring had stopped. What was the excuse this time?

“Your nephew is still at the ice rink.” A pause. “Did you forget?”

Coach was good at dealing with people; straight forward, fair, and just intimidating enough that no one wanted to cross him. That was good for dealing with his uncle, who didn’t understand the arts at all but did understand that Coach Feltsman could break him in half if he really wanted to. Not that he would; he was secretly way too nice to do anything like that, but Uncle didn’t need to know that.

Still, he hated that Coach had to deal with him.

“No, that’s fine. I can bring him this time.”

Viktor glanced back at Yakov, tilting his head. A ride home from Coach?

“I will bring him right away.”

Another pause. Yakov took out a pad and pen, and began writing.

“I know the address,” Viktor mumbled, but was ignored.

“Thank you. I will pack him in the car, now.” He hung up.

Viktor waited for an explanation, eyes large, pensive. He’d never needed to be driven home before. What did it mean?

“They sounded… upset. And concerned about getting you home.”

Viktor fidgeted on the bench, feet twisting opposite of his knees, opposite of his hands. “That’s, uhm. Weird.”

“Apologetic about forgetting you here. Let’s get going, da? Grab your coat.”

“O-okay.”

 

The drive was made in near silence; there were very few others on the road as they travelled across town, and neither of them seemed interested in the usual chatter. Viktor huddled in the passenger seat, small and scrawny underneath the seat belt, staring out the window at the flurries and the foggy street lights.

“It’s pretty out,” he almost managed to say without his voice trembling.

Yakov held his hand.

 

They’d barely pulled up to the drive when the front door swung open, Aunt and Uncle hurrying out over the icy walk. Viktor cast a wary glance back at Yakov and took his hand back to unfasten his seat belt, venturing from the car with great reluctance. His relatives were never that excited to see him.

His aunt reached him first, stooping in the snow to wrap her arms around him, smothering his face with kisses. That alone would have alarmed him on a normal day, but with the onslaught of sobs that followed-- “Oh, Vitya! My poor, sweet nephew!”

“What?” Viktor squeaked.

“My dear baby sister and her husband,” the woman choked, “leaving behind this orphaned child!”

Snow drops prickled the warmth draining from the boy’s face as he stared up at his aunt, blinking  in confusion. The opposite car door closed as Yakov climbed out, and his uncle went to him, thanking him for bringing their Vitya home.

“An accident,” he said. “A few hours ago. Cars slid in the ice, head-on collision. Both of them killed. We’re still working out what will happen with… everything…”

Everything...

Viktor tried to swallow at the catch in his throat, but he couldn’t get his body to cooperate. His breath wasn’t coming the way it was supposed to, either; shallow, lungs squeezing too easily without any benefit. It burned in his chest and his eyes. He blinked again, wanting to rub his eyes, but his aunt had his arms locked in her embrace and she was crying for the both of them. For all of Russia. Still, he ached in a way that had his jaw clenched tight enough to break teeth.

“I don’t think he’ll be at practice for the next little while, as we figure out what needs to be done.”

“I… understand. Is there anything I can do?”

“Oh, I don’t know yet. It’s… still so sudden.”

Viktor craned his head toward the voices of the men, but all he could see was the rusted yellow frame of the car behind him. He shivered with the cold, wet lashes catching snowflakes that he let stay, vision blurring in a halo from the porch light.

“Of course, of course. Things are in transition.”

“Yes, exactly. We’ll be in touch…”

“Thank you.”

Footsteps in the snow. A shadow crossed his path, and Viktor looked up to his uncle, who took his aunt’s arm. She came away with him, and took her warmth with her.

“Come, let’s get you both out of the cold… Vitya, please thank Coach Feltsman for the ride, then we’ll get some nice hot chocolate, da?”

Viktor couldn’t get any response out, but he managed to breathe; a puff of mist hanging helpless before him while he could barely stand. It vanished, and the figures blurred. He sucked in another breath, but the pain only got worse.

Then Yakov was in front of him, crouched on the icy drive, one hand cupped on his shoulder. “Vitya.”

Viktor nodded. It was all he could do.

“You have my number. You may call if you want to talk, or if you want me to come get you to go skating.”

The boy’s lip quivered, but he clenched his jaw tighter, and nodded again. He wanted to thank him, as his uncle had instructed, but he didn’t trust his voice… and he knew that Yakov wasn’t good with crying students. He could be brave.

He could do anything for his coach.

 


 

Yakov-

Made it to japan safe & sound. They are feeding me well, you would be pleased (lots of protein and calories!1!!!!!!). Japanese Boy is going to let me coach him. Hope all is well in Russia. Makkachin sends his love.

Updates soon-

Viktor

 

With the email sent, Viktor turned off the light, found his way back to the blanket on the floor, and settled onto the futon. “Makkachin, here.” His hand slipped from the covers to the tatami mat beneath, fingernails scraping over the thatched surface to attract the poodle, who trotted over and flopped against him with a whuuff.  

It had been the longest forty-some-odd hours that he could remember. Aeroflot had almost lost Makkachin, which was bad enough, but the thrill of everything else had kept him from getting anything more than snatches of sleep for the twenty-six hours that it took to get from Saint Petersburg to his final destination. The lack of sleep, lack of fuel, and abundance of adrenaline combined with heavy jet lag left the Russian a touch on the careless side. But he was ready.

Everything from the past several months had been leading up to that afternoon at the gate. It was snowing as if he’d brought the cold winds with him from the mountains. He strode from the car with Makkachin at his side, leaving the people—whoever they were –to deal with the boxes and luggage, while he checked in. Sure, there was a language barrier, but just like in Tokyo, the friendly people at Yu-Topia were used to dealing with tourists and more than happy to take his credit card.

“While they’re bringing everything in, can you show me where the bath is?” Big smile. So charming. Viktor had it all worked out. They’d set up his room—that was part of premium service that he was more than happy to pay for –and he would get to relax and refresh with a traditional Japanese bath and soak in the hot springs first. THEN, he would get to retreat to his room for a quick nap (he was a champion napper- the best there was in Russia, perhaps the world), get dressed in his best, and prepare to meet Yuuri K. Yes. He would impress. He would dazzle. He would win those dark eyes over in an instant and the rest would be history.

Only it didn’t quite happen that way.

Oh, the bath house was nice and easy enough to figure out. The other patrons were helpful. He’d read about how to wash up properly ahead of time, how your towel was never supposed to touch the bath water, and he had long ago gotten over any shame of the naked body. That was nothing. But he hadn’t expected to feel quite so tired when the hot water smothered his skin, and he definitely hadn’t expected Yuuri K—no, it was just Yuuri now --to show up at the very moment he’d managed to get relaxed.

Not that it had deterred him, of course. Viktor was nothing if not a master of improvisation. So what if he was completely naked? Introductions were made, intentions stated, declarations claimed… And Yuuri had looked so surprised. Which pleased him on the one hand, because, well, he loved surprises as a general rule, but on the other…

He didn’t stay.

“Oh,” he’d said, or something like it, and then excused himself.

Gone.

Poof.

Like a gust of icy wind just passing through.

Viktor sank back into the bath, seeking comfort from its warm embrace. It hadn’t gone exactly to plan, but it hadn’t gone terribly, either. Right?

…right…

Another patron jostled him awake a while later and helped him out of the bath so he wouldn’t drown. It’d been too comfortable. Too warm. The robes were nice, too. Like wearing fluffy towels without having to worry about them falling open. Perfect.

The staff fed him, he talked a little bit about skating with Yuuri, and he fell asleep again. Not that he meant to! He was just too warm again. And that time, too full. Too comfortable.

He’d done his job. Delivered his message. The urgency had abated. He was where he needed to be, where destiny wanted him, where fate needed had called him. He was allowed to rest… and it was so lovely.

When he woke again, he was hungry. Actually hungry. He wanted to eat. Wanted. To. EAT. And they fed him again. Amazing. Incredible. Vkusno!

Yuuri… oh Yuuri. He had changed, some. Not quite the broken thing he’d seen at the Grand Prix Final, desperate to reclaim the shreds of wounded pride with every bit of bitter spite and moxy he had in him; that Yuuri was impressive to be sure… but the Yuuri that remained was softer, rebuilt, a Yuuri in hibernation with healing scars and seeds of confidence. Not like Viktor, who stayed out all winter, lean, hungry, and untrusting.

…the soft look suited Yuuri. It would never do for skating; weight like that was dangerous on joints and bones, but it was so cute.

 

The wolf traveled across the land, cold and weary, and finally found the boy meant to save the princess. The wolf, half-starved, mangy, approached with caution as not to be killed before his quest could begin. “Please,” he said. “Boy. Feed me. Let me sleep in your bed. I am cold. I am starving. I need shelter.”

The boy watched the wolf with wary eyes; wolves weren’t to be trusted, but there was something about this wolf that was different. Something about the way it bowed to him and asked so politely. The other townspeople would have thrown stones at him, or killed it straightway, but he...

 

Viktor stared at the ceiling, scratching Makkachin’s side. The room he’d been put in wasn’t what he’d been expecting at all. No sofa, no bed, no private bath or even a vanity. A classic room, to be sure, but then Yuuri had said that all they’d had available was an unused banquet room. Were they really that busy, or had he brought too much with him?

The Yuuri that had helped bring his things into the room had been much like the one who had turned him down for a photo, not like the one who had danced with him. Sober Yuuri was polite, but didn’t seem to want to have much to do with him. In fact, the closer he got, the further the Japanese boy moved away.

A touch of Viktor’s hand on his or on his jaw made him tense. A little wink or a lower tone of voice, leaning in just so… and Yuuri had run away. It wasn’t like the banquet at all. There was no flirting, no dancing, no challenging smirks or turns of phrase or grasping arms with desperate pleas to coach him. Just confused stares and flushed cheeks. Why me? Why are you here?

So sweet. So awkward. So much better than he’d expected or remembered. A shy, unassuming young man… that same, tousled hair; those same, beautiful, dark eyes that bewitched him with the curious sparkle of intelligence… He wasn’t brazen, he wasn’t brash, he wasn’t forward, but it was still Yuuri. Still that same soul and heart lurking there, underneath all of that uncertainty. Was it his true self? Or was it a coat of armor? Viktor wanted to know. Desperately wanted to know. But finding out was going to be difficult.

“He doesn’t remember, Makkachin.”

Viktor spoke the truth in a whisper, aware that the walls were nothing like the reinforced plaster and concrete of his apartment in Saint Petersburg. In Hasetsu, they were literal paper, thin and fragile, carrying the sound of the oppressive quiet and retreating footsteps of the other patrons.

What other patrons?

Dragging his mobile back above his head, Viktor pulled up reviews for Yu-Topia again, searching for details. It was all positive; a small, family-run hot springs, one of the last of its kind in the area, with an on-site restaurant. The katsudon was its specialty.  It had opening and closing hours, fees, reservations for the banquet halls, and… and nothing about overnight accommodations.

Nothing.

Viktor scanned further, though the dread had already set in deep into his stomach. There were inns all over the area, and they recommended coming to the hot springs. Some hot springs had inns, but not all hot springs had inns. It wasn’t a requirement. He’d made a mistake.

He’d just assumed…

And they’d put him in a banquet room. That was why he was on the floor, staring up at the ceiling. Spare futon, spare blanket, spare pillow. He’d come halfway across the world, unannounced, with mounds of luggage-- that now teetered around him in a cardboard canyon --flashing a credit card, demanding to be shown the bath. Then made Yuuri, the one he’d hoped to woo and befriend, put his things away where they didn’t even have room for him. In their place of business.

They’d fed him. Been so polite. Let him use a robe. And never once made him feel unwelcome even though--

Viktor rolled onto his side, burying his face into Makkachin’s fur with a full body shudder. He was so stupid. So stupid. What did he think would happen, that Yuuri would be thrilled to see him? That he’d welcome him with open arms? That they’d dance together right there in the dining room? Or in the hot springs? Hah!

And if he didn’t remember that night, which seemed to be the case, and this foreign idiot showed up out of nowhere demanding a room and to be waited on hand and foot, what did everything else look like? When he went to Yuuri’s room to ask to sleep with him, did he think--?

Oh god…

He curled tighter, arms circling around the dog as he choked on a breath. It had all gone wrong. He’d messed up. Left Russia, hurt Yakov, ruined his career, embarrassed himself, made things awkward for the Katsuki family, destroyed his chances with Yuuri K-- it was Yuuri K again --and all for nothing. All because he was so foolish to think that he could do something on his own, that he could possibly have managed to…

Viktor sobbed against Makkachin, and the dog licked his face, lapping up the salty tears. They were a delicacy. The floor was enough. He’d only wanted company. Someone to talk to. Confirmation that there was hope in the dark. But what did he expect when the world thought he was what he was and he barged into the Katsuki home like the world owed him a personal favor?

It was so wrong… so, so wrong, and such a mess.

How was he going to untangle it?

He peered through wet lashes at his cell phone, blurred outlines glowing faintly in the dark. Maybe it wasn’t too late to book a flight home. Pretend none of this had happened. There was time to finish his preparations for the season and, what, compete again?!

Viktor choked on another sob, body twisting to bury his face against the pillow. He had to muffle the sounds. He’d already done enough without-

Tap tap tap.

He froze, swallowing hard.

“Nikiforov-san?”

The owner. Yuuri K’s mother. Mrs. Katsuki. Viktor sat up, pulling the blankets with him to cover his black boxer-briefs, and reached for the discarded robe from earlier. “Just-” he coughed, and adjusted his voice, straightening out the tremor. He was good at hiding it after years of practice. “-a moment, please.” He’d probably woken her with his stupid crying… great.

It only took him a few seconds to don the robe and wipe the tears away, putting on a small, but professional smile as he tiptoed to the doorway. “Yes?”

There she was with a smile of her own, warm and concerned, and in her arms a tray. Tea. Snacks. What…? She nudged him aside with a bow of her head, using the tray as a buffer between them, and slid the door shut behind her with her foot.

“I thought you could use some tea.”

Viktor watched in stunned silence as she knelt in front of one of the boxes and set the tray on top, then poured two cups of tea. He barely had time to get the light on before she was finished, cup and saucer set out for him on the makeshift table. Makkachin sought her hand for pettings, which she obliged without hesitation- clearly a dog person, which instantly gained her even more points in his favor. Then she looked up at him again.

That smile. Warm. Unassuming. She was Yuuri’s mother, there was no doubt about that. So much of who he was came from her, but she had all of the confidence and grace that mothers naturally did; the unapologetic perfection that always put Viktor a little at odds. “Well? Come sit, before it gets cold. It’ll make you feel better.”

He blinked, swallowing again. There it was. Mothers always knew. Somehow. He crept closer, hesitant, but lowered himself to the floor with what grace of his own he could find. Kneeling Japanese-style would be murder on his knees that late at night on so little sleep, so he opted to sit criss-cross, feet tucked under, and took the cup of tea as she’d prepared it. Oh- chamomile! Something he was familiar with. “Thank you.”

“Of course, dear.” She didn’t miss a beat, simply sipping her own tea as soon as Viktor had his, with Makkachin settled in her lap. It was a comfortable scene already, and the tea was warm and mellow, with just a touch of honey. “Homesick?”

Viktor peeked over his cup, then down into the reddish haze. “I’ve lived in Saint Petersburg my entire life, but I travel all the time. Though, even then, I don’t usually leave the hotel…” He bit his lower lip, pulling in a breath with quiet resign, and sighed, glancing back at her again. “This isn’t a hotel, though, is it? Not an inn?”

Mrs. Katsuki’s smile didn’t even waver as she shook her head. “No.”

Well. At least she was amused by his insensitivity. Another sigh. He set the cup and saucer down and rubbed at the sides of his neck with his newly warmed fingers. “Katsuki-san, I… I’m so sorry. I can find a different place tomorrow, and pay you for your troubles tonight. I really didn’t mean to-”

The woman reached for the plate of rice crackers and held it out to him. “Here. Senbei.”

Viktor blinked, and took one.

“Go on. Eat.”

He nibbled on the edge of it. Faintly sweet, light and fluffy. He swallowed. “I just don’t understand why you didn’t kick me out…”

“It seemed important to you that you stay here. You came all this way to help my Yuuri… and he’s been sad for so long. There’s only so much that we can do; if anyone can help him, it’s you.” Mrs. Katsuki went back to her tea. “I don’t know how much you’re charging him, but I know he doesn’t have much, and we don’t get much business here in Hasetsu anymore, either, so what can his family do to support him?”

Viktor chewed on the edge of the cracker again, slowly working his way through it. He’d told Yuuri that they would discuss the cost later. The Katsuki’s financial situation had only been sort of an afterthought, he had to admit; it’d been a long time since he’d had to worry about that, himself. But there had been a time…

No, in truth, he hadn’t wanted to charge Yuuri at all. It wasn’t that he didn’t know how; he’d been trained at the Academy in all of the business end of things, and he’d been paying Yakov out of his own accounts for long enough to know what a good coach’s time was worth. He had invoice templates in his files, contracts, ISU registration paperwork to fill out that he’d already started on in Paris, and plenty of other legalese stuff that was boring but necessary.

But the fact remained that you didn’t pay friends. You didn’t pay lovers. And you definitely didn’t pay soulmates to be close to you.

Maybe with Yuuri, he could put it off until he knew what he was dealing with… until he knew where he stood. Let Yuuri believe that he was just the airheaded foreign playboy that he seemed to think he was, for now.

The princess, disguised as a wolf.

“I told him not to worry about it for now,” Viktor said, canting his head at an angle. The rest of what she’d said was starting to sink in. He frowned. “I can pay for the room. Rent, I mean. If you’d let me stay here.”

“Oh, no no no.” She waved a hand, dismissive. “Definitely not. Though…” She clapped her hands together. “What if we made a deal? To help pay for coaching, you stay here, room and board, and full access to the hot springs, as much as you like!”

“You’d… cook for me? Katsudon, too?”

“Katsudon, too! All the katsudon you can eat! You need some fattening up!”

Well, that was true. Viktor glanced down at himself, then back at her, shy smile creeping back onto his lips. “And Makkachin can stay, too?”

“Of course! We need another dog around here, it’s been so lonely without Vicchan.”

Makkachin glanced up at them both, then huffed and went back to sleep. It was too late for this much excitement, though he wagged his tail to show he was a good sport.

“Vicchan…” Viktor popped the rest of the cracker into his mouth. “Isn’t that what you called me earlier?”

“Oh!” The woman blushed, laughed, and waved it off. “Yuuri named him after you, but he might not want you to know that~”

Yuuri named his poodle after me? Viktor took his cup of tea and sipped it, considering while the warmth of hope spread through him again. Coaching Yuuri in return for room and board didn’t sound like business, especially when Yuuri’s mama was being so sweet and supportive. It made him feel better about the whole thing, really. How could he possibly say no to that? He smiled at her. “Okay. I’ll coach for room and board, but I have three more conditions.”

“Oh?”

“One: we shouldn’t tell Yuuri, because I don’t want him to think he has it easy. I want him to win.”

She laughed. “Okay. He’d be embarrassed, anyway.”

That made sense. Secrets kept. Easy enough!

“Two: Is it okay if I buy furniture?” Viktor hesitated. “I don’t… think I like sleeping on the floor.”

Another warm smile. “Feel free. Just keep it to this room.”

Relieved, Viktor continued, though the last one was what he was most concerned about. “And three: can I call you Mama Katsuki? It’ll be easier for me to remember.”

Despite having a dog in her lap and holding tea and saucer, the woman abandoned all three in an instant to stand and hug the man in a way that only a mother could, arms around his head. “Of course~! And I will call you Vicchan from now on~!”

Viktor, though smothered, only laughed. “Okay~ it’s a deal, then.”

--

The next morning, Viktor woke to his alarm at six am, stretched, and got dressed. He crept to take Makkachin out, fed and watered him, and greeted Mama and- hah -Papa Katsuki when they  came out to prepare for the business of the day. They humored him with one part idle chatter, two parts dietary needs- mostly concerning Yuuri and what needed to happen for training.

“Don’t worry,” Mama Katsuki assured him. “We’ve done this before. Leave it to us!”

“That’s right. He’s diligent when he needs to be.”

All of which was good news to him; it would make it a lot easier if Yuuri was willing to work hard. But, given that he’d already shown quite a bit of potential on his own, Viktor wasn’t entirely surprised. Just pleased.

While waiting for Yuuri, he got the ice rink programed into his phone’s GPS, arranged to borrow Papa Katsuki’s bicycle, and made a preliminary schedule for the week. Dropping the necessary pounds would take time, which would leave him with quite to of time to himself. He’d need to find a way to occupy it productively and make the most of it-- for the both of them. Hmm.

Finally, Viktor resorted to getting Mari to wake Yuuri, which took several attempts despite being the first day of the rest of his life and the epic day of destiny.

“Is he waiting for me?! Did he give me a time to wake up? I don’t remember!”

Viktor listened from down the hall, smirking to himself until he heard the crash, thud, and scrambling of panicked piggy skater trying to get ready, then retreated back to the dining area to wait for him. Ahem.

Omelette. Miso. Rice. All wonderful. Warm, salty, full of flavor and caloric delight. Viktor took it all in and ate with appreciation, casting a casual glance at Yuuri’s more modest meal, which the sleepyhead ate without complaint. Adorable.

“Yuuri,” he said, picking up another chunk of rice “We have a lot to do today~”

“Sorry I overslept…”

It was impossible to stay mad with an apology. Viktor grinned at him. “That’s okay. Once we eat, we can get going with warm-ups and head to the rink.”

“What did you have in mind? For warm-ups…”

“A nice, healthy jog. Just an easy little run.”

Yuuri looked relieved, though no less racoon-eyed as he went back to his breakfast. A night owl, indeed.

Viktor tucked away a few more mouthfuls of rice, then pursed his lips. “We’ll go over the rest of the regimen when we get to the rink. We have a lot to do if we’re going to get you in shape in time.” He sighed, and turned to the omelette, picking out a mushroom. “We’re four months behind where I’d be for the season already.”

Chopsticks clattered as Yuuri turned to stare at him. “B-but the season just ended?”

“Yeah, but what else are you supposed to do between Nationals and Regionals? Or that and Worlds? That’s months of prep time to waste.” Viktor shook his head, shoulders hunching to suppress a shudder. “But that’s okay. If anyone can pull this off, it’s Viktor Nikiforov! Right?”

“...you can, but we’re training me…”

Viktor frowned at that, switching to the bowl of miso, picking it up with both hands-- like he’d seen Mama Katsuki do earlier. “With my regimen. And you can already skate my Worlds-winning program, which says something.”

Yuuri tugged at the hem of his shirt, gaze fixed firmly at the table in front of him. “I guess so…”

“Yeah!” Viktor tilted the bowl back and drained the last of the broth, then set it down with a satisfying thump. “So hurry up! Let’s go let’s go!”

“Okay, okay…”

“Ready?!”

“Y-yeah!”

“GREAT!” Viktor jumped up, abandoning what little remained of his breakfast- so impressive! “Thanks for breakfast, Mama Katsuki! Makkachin! It’s time to go!”

The poodle barked, trotting to his side, tail waving.

Yuuri blinked, caught in a deer in headlights stare between his overly enthusiastic idol addressing his mother that way, and the reply from behind the bar: “Mind your coach, Yuuri! And don’t work him too hard on the first day, Vicchan!”

“Okaaay~!” Viktor called back, then turned back to Yuuri with a bright-eyed smile. “Yuuri! Training! Grand Prix Finals! Now!”

It had begun.

Chapter Text


 

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.”

“I… did?”

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.

Actually…

“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.

Aaaah, perfect~

“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?”

“Deal!”

“Okay!”

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.

 


Yakov-

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. :)

Updates soon-

Viktor

 

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?”

“No…”

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?”

“Huh?”

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.”

“Okay!”

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?”

“The… what?”

“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.”

He shrugged.

“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.”

“Good.”

Foreigners were so fun.

Chapter Text

Yu-Topia, Hasetsu, Japan
Yuuri (13 Years Old)

 

Viktor Nikiforov Silvers at Worlds, Gold Streak of Senior Debut Luck Run Out?

Yuuri frowned at the headline of the article in his latest issue of SKATING. Viktor didn’t get to where he was because he was lucky, he got there through hard work - training his body and mind, perseverance, and grace. If luck was the only thing that was required for an athlete, anybody could strap on a pair of skates and hope for the best! Viktor’s junior days had several silvers and nobody snubbed on those.

Silver was still a win. Still recognition.

Yuuri grabbed the bottom corner of the page to turn it, only for a tear to follow. “Ah! Vicchan, no!”

The young poodle immediately released what was left of the top page in his mouth and whimpered, cowering.

He could never stay mad at him long. The magazine was important - got a subscription for his birthday! - but it wasn’t worth staying upset about. He pushed himself onto his knees from his stomach on his bed and patted his lap. “Come here, boy.”

Vicchan - Viktor - cautiously crawled forward, avoiding the magazine in front of him as much as possible.

Yuuri cradled the pup in one arm. “I’m sorry for yelling. Don’t bite things, okay?” he booped his wet nose.

Vicchan responded by licking his hand, tail wagging against his thigh, and curled up in his lap.

Leaning forward, Yuuri pulled the magazine closer with his other hand to finish reading.

It went on to reveal Viktor had sprained his ankle between the short program and free skate. When Yuuri had watched the World Championship televised, Viktor was in the Kiss and Cry looking upset. The camera cut away after his score was revealed and the voice over declared a medical team was seeing to Nikiforov. Once all the skaters finished their programs, the scores were tallied and announced the winners, then it went to commercial. When the broadcast returned, the three new champions stood on the podium, Viktor taking silver, leaning off his bad ankle.

His performance wavered just enough to lose the gold and it was because he’d gotten hurt. .9 points, in fact. One “loss” wasn’t enough to condemn his career. He’d heal and pick himself right back up. Even though silver was also impressive.

Things just happened. It wasn’t luck. An injury could have meant he practiced too much or too little. Lost concentration. Or maybe he hurt it before he got to the rink, like, tripped on a curb and still skated his best. Possibilities were endless.

Photos of Viktor and his fellow competitors spread over a collage across two pages. His hair was pulled back into a crown braid. Flawless form.

Stupid journalists.

With a sigh, he closed the magazine and set it to the side to flop down on his back, Vicchan curling onto his chest.

Tomorrow Yuuri would know if he would be the one to be selected to be privately coached. To work his way through the junior division, then to the senior division. To Viktor Nikiforov.

When Yuko suggested he get into ice skating competitively to skate against Viktor months ago, Yuuri knew he had a late start in the game. He’d skated most of his life, sure, but it had been for fun, nothing like the grueling training regimens he read about. He could only hope Viktor wouldn’t retire before he could catch up.

Hope.

That was better than any luck.

 


 

The first few days of training were harder than previous times Yuuri had to slim down after a long, neglectful off-season. Normally he’d taper himself into it, but Viktor was not lax in his instructions. It was fine; being soft wouldn’t do any good, and Yuuri was sure he gained more this time around after the depressive slump he’d wallowed in too long after the GPF. A coach was a coach.

Although, Viktor wasn’t actually a coach, well, certified at least. Viktor wasn’t typically a coach, he was the skater Yuuri had tried to catch up to for years. Soon they’d be skating on the ice as coach and student. It wasn’t how he’d dreamed to be on the ice with him. But after the crash and burn at the end of his last season, he’d lost hope. Then Viktor had come to him with this arrangement.

Was it just because he inspired him or did he feel sympathy towards him for climbing so high to the top and failing magnificently?

Yuuri’s stomach sunk thinking about Viktor watching his performance at the finals and what thoughts went through his mind. It was a cruel curiosity he didn’t want to find out.

Before he was allowed to be on the ice - join Viktor - he had to lose weight. That alone was perfect motivation, and even still, Viktor decided to bribe him further by throwing in the incentive of skating any of his past programs just for him. If he was on time. He wasn’t going to complain, but he couldn’t help but wonder why Viktor felt he needed to do that. Being on time was part of being a student, after all. As much as Yuuri wasn’t a morning person, he was willing to make the sacrifice.

Then Viktor had called him attractive. He even liked ‘piggies’, but was concerned for his safety above that. He wasn’t a professional coach, but he had enough people skills for making someone feel better. That’s all it was, no matter how much it made heat rush to his face.

Yuuri’s mornings started with three alarms to ensure he’d get out of bed, a very quick shower for more waking, throwing on of whatever tracksuit was clean, eat his meager by comparison breakfast, and then jog to Ice Castle where Viktor waited for him. Even with everything he did in the mornings to get here, Viktor was always the more chipper one.

That is until Yuuri watched him skate for the day, rewarding him for being on time.

With so many used and unused routines in Viktor’s personal roster, it’d be a long time before he ran out of programs to skate for him. It was decided he’d start from the beginning, that being a bigger treat for Yuuri as he was a later fan. Lack of quads and a certain flair he later obtained, the way Viktor glided across the ice, body so nimble, was something that was purely him.  

No crowd, no commentators, often no music; only the two of them, the sound of skates scraping on the ice accompanying Yuuri’s awed silence.

The ice was painted gold by the sun, instead of moonlight like he’d gotten used to seeing.

Once Viktor drew out of his final pose, it was to business and Yuuri was sent on his way for his daily exercises with a smile on his face.

Aches and fatigue aside, Yuuri actually enjoyed working his body, finding new ways to improve and speed the process. Viktor provided a regimen with gaps in between for Yuuri to fill in what worked for him in the past. Bodies differed one from another. He usually started with cardio, jogging with or without Viktor. Then he’d alternate with core exercises, legs, and arms. By the end of the first week, he found himself at Minako’s studio, implementing ballet back into his daily training. It’d be maybe a month or so before he could lace up his skates, so ballet was best way to get him light on his feet and coordinated once again. It was a nice, homey feeling being back in the studio with her after five years.

There were moments Yuuri thought Minako was more excited for Viktor being his coach than he was. She knew how important Viktor was to him, but it was funny just how enthusiastic she was about it. Then the winking and nudging happened and he wondered if she and Phichit spoke to each other.

At sundown halfway through the second week, panting and wiping sweat from his face with a towel, Yuuri opened the front door where Viktor was there to greet him at the genkan, eyes already wide and hands clasped in pleading.

“Yuuri, Yuuri! Can you help me get a yukata for the spring festival this weekend?”

Chuckling while he toed off his running shoes, Yuuri looked at him. “You don’t have to have one.”

“Kouki-san said it’s better to have your own!”

“Well, I guess that’s true.” Kouki-san? Wasn’t he the potter down the road? What was he doing talking to him?

“If I’m going to be staying here, I should be trying to fit in, right? Honoring the culture and traditions, you know, that sort of thing.”

That did make sense; Viktor was doing his due diligence in learning about Japan so not to be the clueless foreigner for however long he’d be staying. “I can help. If you’re really wanting one.”

“Please? I can buy a suit no problem, but I don’t know the first thing about getting a yukata.”

“Honestly there’s some Japanese that don’t know. I’ll take you to a shop I know tomorrow after training? They tailor to travelers.”

Viktor frowned. “Is it authentic? I don’t want something fake.”

“Oh, no, they aren’t like that! You’d find something like that in the big cities, so I see why you’d think that. It’s a family operated shop, and they keep foreigners in mind since they are usually taller and broader.”

Putting a finger to his chin, he considered. “I see. Then yes, after your training tomorrow we will go into town.”

“Do I hear you two talking about the spring festival?”

The pair turned to Yuuri’s mother as she padded toward them, wiping her flour-laden hands on her apron.

The onsen logo on her chest reminded Yuuri that he usually helped his family sell mini katsudon at the festival to promote business. He wouldn’t be able to-

“Yuuri offered to help me pick out a yukata tomorrow, Mama Katsuki!”

“Isn’t that nice? Is he going to show you around the festival as well?”

Yuuri blinked. Not only could he still not get over that Viktor addressed his mother as such, but, “Eh? You mean I can?”

"Why not? You’ve been gone for five years and we managed without you. Go and take Vicchan to his first festival. You can tell everyone to visit our booth while you’re at it.”

“Ah, so I’m still working. I see.”

“Family business!” she shrugged. “Oh, and dinner is in an hour.” Her eavesdropping concluded, Mama Katsuki retreated back to the kitchen.

“Yuuri, do you have a yukata that I can look at?”

He opened his mouth to confirm, and then realized that meant Viktor coming into his room. His yukata was hanging in his closet, which was currently hiding a majority of his Viktor memorabilia, haphazardly. Plus he wasn’t ready for him to see his room. Adorned in his face or not. Would it be weird to show him in the hallway? Or the banquet room? “Uh. Sure. I’ll go grab it.” If he acted fast, maybe Viktor wouldn’t think much of it. Or follow him. Once in his room, he rummaged through his hung clothing for his yukata - hues of blue and white stripes running vertically.

Viktor did follow him and was waiting outside his door when he turned the knob.

“Your room?” Yuuri said, holding it out to him.

A curious look and a smile, Viktor led the way.

Yuuri hung the yukata on the sliding door and smoothed out the creases. “This is mine. Haven’t worn it in years, so I probably need to wash it...”

“Wow! The color is perfect for you. Tell me; what’s the difference between a yukata and a kimono?”

“Good question. Fabric and occasion, mostly.”

“Totally different?”

“Formal versus casual.”

“Business suit versus tuxedo!”

“That’s a good way to put it, yeah. When we go in tomorrow, they’ll want to know the length. You can get one to your knees or your ankles.”

“Which is better?”

“It’s a preference. Mine is ankle length because I like to be covered more. Some have both for the weather.”

Viktor gave the yukata a thoughtful look, then to Yuuri, then down at himself. A pause, and then he was looking back up at Yuuri, hopeful. “Which do you think I would look best in?”

Pointedly, Yuuri tried to not look down at Viktor’s legs. What was the safest thing to say? If he said short, did that imply he was interested in his legs - which he was - but, Viktor didn’t need to know what. If he said long, would he be offended?

The silence prompted Viktor further. “I honestly don't know what is more flattering in this case…”

Flattering? Yuuri decided he could wave his bias through pretending to be fashionably aware. “Well... You're tall. And thin. Long style would look nice. And elegant.”

“I'll go with that,” Viktor said with a satisfied smile.

That was easy. “Oh, and they’ll have different patterns and colors to choose from. Start thinking about colors you like.”

“Not just pre-made? Wow, really custom!”

“They'll likely have some on display to try on, but they do like to make them to fit the customer.”

“You'll help me pick out something good, right?”

“If you want...” He valued his opinion?

“Please. I don't want to end up getting something silly for my yukata.”

“There are some pretty wild patterns. It's entirely up to you, this is your yukata. Something that you can wear to all the festivals while you're here.”

The statement seemed to have intimidated him. “....I'll leave it up to you to make sure that I don't embarrass myself, then.”

“Impossible!” Viktor Nikiforov could make the gaudiest frock look good.

“Are you saying that I will inevitably embarrass myself? ...I suppose you have a point, though. Even with a yukata, I'm still me… Yuuri you wound me.”

“N-no no!” Yuuri waved his hands. “I meant It's impossible to embarrass you. Me to embarrass you. Or you embarrass you.”

Viktor stepped closer, winking, “Are you sure? Because I think it just happened.”

“... pretty sure I'm embarrassing myself, so that's nothing new.”

“Aw, Yuuri, there is nothing to be embarrassed about,” he teased and patted his shoulder at arm’s length.

Yuuri hung his head. “I didn't mean to insult you.”

“It's fine. I appreciate your help. I won't know what is culturally appropriate or best to fit in, so your keen eye for detail will be invaluable.”

There; he’d confirmed he valued his opinion and Yuuri didn’t know if it was making him happy or intimidated. “I will do my best!

 

Hasetsu was home to many small, family-owned and operated businesses, many of which Yuuri found Viktor made acquaintances with on his daily adventures while he exercised. In three days the town would join for the spring festival

The greeting bell chimed as Yuuri and Viktor entered the yukata shop.

Yokoso!” Mr. and Mrs. Higa said in unison with a bow.

“Good afternoon,” Yuuri returned.

“What can we do for you today, Yuuri-kun?” Mr. Higa asked.

“My coach would like to get a yukata for the festival.” Yuuri stepped aside, revealing Viktor who was being unusually shy.

“Ah, Nikiforov-san, right?” Mrs. Higa asked. “Come, I will measure you.”

Viktor gave Yuuri an uncertain look, and Yuuri offered an encouraging smile as they followed the Higas to a full body mirror.

From her hip, Mrs. Higa unfurled her measuring tape and indicated for Viktor to stand straighter and hold out his arms. “Hmm, about 186 centimeters. Will you hand me the 170 centimeter mock-up, dear?”

Mr. Higa did as he was asked, and came back with an off-white yukata with sleeves, neck, and bottom intentionally left un-stitched.

She tossed the large cloth over Viktor’s head, and fished him out of the opening, adjusting it as she needed at his shoulders and smoothed it out as best she could do his feet. “Would you like it to your ankles or knees, Nikiforov-san?”

“Oh. Ankles, please.”

“All right. Adding five centimeters to the hem should do it. And… three for the sleeves. Please pick your fabric. We should have available stock of most. The ones we have on display right now may be too small for you. You’re welcome to try them on, anyway.” Mrs. Higa pulled the mock up off his head.

Viktor turned to what looked like hundreds of bolts of fabric in rows, seemingly daunted by the choices. Yuuri hoped he’d given thought to some colors or they could be a while.

Yuuri urged him on, keeping close as Viktor searched the shelves, occasionally running his hands along the fabric. Eventually he stopped at a display of jinbei and hakama, eyeing them with interest.

“Did you want one of these instead?” Yuuri asked. “They are also festival appropriate.”

For a moment Viktor’s jaw tightened. “No! I’ve made my decision, Yuuri. I’m getting a yukata.” Pivoting, he continued his search for the perfect fabric.

Arrays of crane, bamboo, floral, fireworks, and geometric shapes.

They stopped at a pallet of cool colors, simple prints to plain, solid hues. Viktor’s hand lingered around the blues and purples.

“What do you think, Yuuri?”

Was he wanting to match with Yuuri's blue? Would that be weird? The purple made Yuuri think of Viktor’s last program costume. It was the most vivid in his memory. “I think purple would be good.”

"Really?” Starting from the right, Viktor un-shelved several shades to hold up side by side. “Darker or lighter? This one has a subtle pattern in it. Oh, this one is higher quality cotton! And then this one is lighter and breathable.”

Yuuri wasn’t sure if he was supposed to answer just yet, and let Viktor throw out questions to the wind until he was holding four bolts out to him. A solid lavender, bright purple with white silhouetted bamboo, plum-colored with horizontal running diamonds, and a pretty shade that was almost blue with black, white, and red floral scattered throughout. All of them were good choices. Good colors and not loud patterns, high-end cottons. Not that price would be an object for Viktor. Attempting to take his duty seriously, Yuuri took one bolt at a time and held it up to him, visualizing what would look best as a full yukata.

It was hard to not be nervous under Viktor’s watchful gaze. He tried his best to keep his on the fabric and shoulder level. “I think I like… this one best!”

Taking the bolt from Yuuri’s hands, Viktor took a few steps over to the half mirror on the wall and held the plum and diamond fabric up to himself.

A silence followed and Yuuri wondered if he was expected to expound on why. If asked, he’d answer with something like ‘The dark purple goes well with your pale skin and eyes’ and hope that was enough. Surely telling your coach he would look hot wasn’t appropriate.

“I knew I could count on you, Yuuri. I’ll take this one.”

Relieved he didn’t have to say anything else, he walked with Viktor back to the front to the Higas.

“What a lovely choice,” Mrs Higa admired. “Very regal. We should have it ready for you the morning of the festival.”

Regal, yeah. Purple was a good fit for Viktor.

 

The following day was than warmer than most with spring underway, so it was natural for Viktor to drag Yuuri out on an adventure off the beaten trail. Or at least, how it happened seemed natural - little warning or long explanation as to why they had to go trudging through a forest right then, cancelling their training for the day (‘hiking was cardio!’), and not tomorrow or later on a Sunday when he had a day off.

Viktor had gotten a map, probably from one of the novelty tourist shops. Their town certainly had a history and a lot of ancient paths and artifacts, and making a penny from it was a business.

Kappa!” Viktor had said, somewhere between serious and excited, and brandished a map with ‘ancient crossroads’. With all the posted signs next to creeks throughout town, it was no wonder Viktor was convinced they really were around.

The hike through the forested hills had taken most of the afternoon, but it had been pleasant, winding through the deer trails and rocks, and Makkachin enjoyed running off after every small creature he came across to bark at.

Eventually, they came to a little shrine, worn by nature and near indistinguishable by the surrounding rocks if it weren’t for the markings carved into the mossy surface. Yuuri showed Viktor how to leave the appropriate offerings to the kami (“yes, the good spirits,” he reminded him)- a few coins, flowers, and a prayer -and then they started back as the sun started down toward the horizon.

The trail, this time, led parallel to a creek. “This is it,” Viktor said, keeping careful watch. “The kappa is nearby…”

They’d passed a few creeks, and Yuuri wondered why this one above the others.

It wasn’t until they were most of the way back through the clearing that Makkachin found what they’d been looking for all day, alerting them with a frenzied bark and frantic tail wag. Viktor hurried ahead and crouched at his side, peeking around the side of the curly-haired dog. There, on the other side of the water in a patch of sunlight, was a turtle sunning itself on a rock.

“It’s a turtle,” Yuuri observed.

Viktor peered at it, suspicious. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. Pretty sure.”

Makkachin whined, pacing in place.

The turtle remained motionless, the filtered dapples of sun glinting off of its shell.

“I don’t know about that.” Viktor slid his bag to the ground and removed the cucumber. “I think we should leave this for it, just in case.”

“Wouldn’t want it to drag us into the river.”

“Exactly!”

They did, and while they waited for the turtle to take the offering (which didn’t happen until much later that evening, long after they’d left), they ate the snacks that Mama Katsuki had prepared for them earlier that day for the trip. Cucumber rolls. Perfect.

 

On the day of the festival while Yuuri did his morning run, Viktor went to the shop to pick up his yukata on his. When Yuuri returned, his help was enlisted in the final preparations for Yu-topia’s booth - building it on the street side and going to the store for more rice. Being let off the hook from food service and getting to spend the night with Viktor was a fair trade.

Before pulling on his yukata, Yuuri unrolled his measuring tape and wrapped it around his middle. Getting there. Maybe in another week or two he’d be approved for skating. He’d have to loosen his obi for tonight, though.

Satisfied, Yuuri slid on some shorts and began to assemble his yukata.

How was Viktor faring? He’d picked his yukata up this morning, but he hadn’t seen him since he left the house. What had he been up to all day?

Smoothing out a wrinkle from his sleeve, he reached for his phone as it vibrated.

It was from Viktor.

[Help].

Dropping his phone back on the bed, Yuuri threw open his door and ran down the hall to the banquet hall, drawing the slider door. “Viktor!”

Viktor turned away from the full-body mirror he had been facing (when did he get that? Was that part of his town adventures today?) He held both sleeves up by the cuff like he knew he was being cute, face flushed in embarrassment. “Oh, that was quick. I… can’t remember how to put this on. They showed me how at the shop, but their efforts have gone to waste.”

Despite it folded on the wrong side, bunched at the waist and the obi in the incorrect place, Yuuri couldn’t deny how amazing he looked. “It takes doing a few times to get it is all. Here, I’ll help.”

Viktor went to untying the messy knot in his obi and unwrapped it from his middle and the tucked ends fell from their place, opening the yukata, revealing that Viktor wasn’t wearing anything but his underwear underneath.

He’d seen him in less, but somehow being partially dressed seemed more scandalizing. Did he know he could wear something light underneath?

Yuuri took the gray obi from his hands and laid it on Viktor’s bed.

“First you’ll want to make sure it’s laying right on your shoulders,” Yuuri began his instructions whilst moving to stand behind him. “Neck straight and propped - good.” Carefully he adjusted the seams on the shoulders so they were lined correctly then came around to his front and grabbed both ends. “You had right over left… that’s if you were being prepared for your funeral.”

“Oh!” Viktor exclaimed, sounding ashamed.

“Honest mistake. You’ll want to go left over right. Like this.” Yuuri stepped into him and tucked the right side into the left, flinching at the touch of bare skin on his fingers like it was fire. “H-here, hold that there for a second.”

Viktor brought his hand down to do as he was told and brushed Yuuri’s fingers before Yuuri could move. At least that startled them both.

“And then you’ll take the left over the right- hold this, too.” Yuuri reached for the obi and shook out the creases for longer than he should have, delaying the next step. “Then you’ll… have to tie your obi like-” he fished the obi around Viktor on one side, face momentarily close to his chest, “-while holding the yukata in place.” Crossed the obi and made it as many times as he needed until he was holding the appropriate amount left to make the tie, all the while catching Viktor muttering about swearing he’d never wear a dress again. Yuuri decided it best to pretend he didn’t hear him. “Then you’ll keep folding these in half until you can easily make a knot.”

“Is something wrong, Yuuri?”

He chanced a glance, and was met with a soft expression. “N-no. I just want to do this right for you.” He looked back down to his hands. “Then you’ll twist the knot to the back, keeping care of not bunching the yukata…”

“Thank you. You’re doing better than I could.”

“I’ve had a little more practice as all.” Was that a compliment? A little silly considering Yuuri’s worn one many times throughout his life, but appreciated the sentiment all the same. A few tugs at the obi line, batting of the creases at the sleeve, and Yuuri stepped away, face feeling instantly cooler. “What do you think?”

Viktor turned to the mirror and admired himself, holding out his arms for the long sleeves to droop, turning to view his obi.

A Yukata was something Yuuri saw everyday, yet seeing it on Viktor now was like seeing one for the first time. The color complimented his skin better than he thought now seeing it complete. The garment was slimming on Viktor's figure and it suited him better than Yuuri ever imagined in the two days he’d thought about it. The interest in his culture had been touching since his arrival and here he was being so perfect.

Bringing himself back to reality, Yuuri spotted a pair of geta on the floor. “Did you try these on yet?”

Viktor pivoted around. “I did before I bought them, but I haven’t mastered walking in them yet.”

“You can wear your regular shoes if you-”

“No! I want the full experience. Just bear with me. Please?”

 

At sundown the streets were aligned with vendors of various food, games, and wares. Lanterns strung across all paths of the festival like a canopy of lights.

By the time they’d reached the festival entrance, Viktor’s clogging had lessened in his geta having gotten the hang of it, but still stood nearby Yuuri just in case. With all the people, there wasn’t much choice, anyway. Said people also didn’t miss an opportunity to greet Viktor, excited for a foreigner to be attending the festivities.

The Katsukis called the pair of them over when they were within range of their booth.

“Don’t you two look nice tonight!” Yuuri’s mother said while dishing out some reserved katsudon for the impending rush. “Having fun, Vicchan?”

“Yes! So much to take in.”

“Why don’t you take a bowl and eat it while you walk around and draw us some customers,” suggested Mari.

“Oh, we haven’t exchanged for coupons yet,” Yuuri said, fumbling for his wallet.

“It’s on the house,” Mama Katsuki said, handing it towards Viktor.

Yuuri would have felt offended if he didn’t know that was one of his off-limit foods. So he sighed it off and continued to walk with Viktor to wait in line for coupons.

Much to his family’s pleasure, those that stood around them were prompted to find the katsudon booth.

“Yuuri, would you like a bite before I eat it all?” Viktor asked, offering a slice of pork.

“You’re getting really good with handling those chopsticks. I better not. Once I have one bite, I’ll want to eat more.”

“I see…”

“I’m pretty weak to it. I’m so close… I can’t blow it, now.” They reached the teller and Yuuri handed the man fifteen hundred yen in exchange for the coupons. “Okay. Now we can buy whatever food you want and play games.”

Viktor frowned mid-chew, chopsticks still held in his mouth. “I’m not familiar with any of this… show me more?”

“All right. Just point at anything you want to try.”

When Yuuri said those words, he hadn’t expected Viktor to take him so literally. The man wanted to try everything and did a lot of pointing. As everything was new, Yuuri was learning very quickly how excitable his coach was.

It’d been years since Yuuri had tried goldfish scooping or yo-yo fishing, but he tried his best to demonstrate for Viktor who tried immediately after him. Soon they had a bag tied in string with goldfish and a red spotted water yo-yo that Yuuri helped Viktor tie to his obi. They both tried shooting for a prize, finding neither of them were a good shot. They proved decent bean bag tossers and won some sweets that they tucked into their yukata sleeves.

With the running from game booth to the next, the calories from the half-portion katsudon worn away, Viktor started wandering towards the new smells, pointing again.

“Mama Katsuki doesn’t make those at home. What are those?”

“That’s ikayaki. It’s pretty good if you like chewy fish.”

“I want to try it. That’s the point of this festival, right? We’ll need more coupons soon, won’t we? Don’t worry, Yuuri! I’ll get the next round.”

“If you want. How much do you plan on eating?”

“As much as I can! Let’s eat this ika-thing!”

Dodging fellow patrons, Yuuri weaved his way behind him.

Viktor took a bite into the squid and made a pleased face, licking his lips. “Eating it off a stick like this makes me feel like Makkachin. Grr, nom nom.”

“Haha, I guess so!” Yuuri watched him eat the skewer clean, telling himself that yes, it was odd to think when Viktor Nikiforov ate like that it was almost polite manners. The skewer barely landed in a trash bin before Yuuri was being hauled to the next booth over for what Viktor exclaimed, "Blini!". Blini were Russia’s equivalent to the sweet crepes, Viktor explained while the chef made a strawberry and cream crepe for them.

“Aren’t you going to eat anything, Yuuri?” Viktor asked when they stepped away with the crepe booth.

Yuuri glanced at the crepe. It wouldn’t be that bad for him, but, “I was going to look for the yakitori booth. That’s probably the only thing that’s not against my diet right now.”

“I admire your discipline, Yuuri, but you’re allowed a cheat day.”

Yuuri hesitated. It all smelled so good… yakisoba, taiyaki...

“I won’t even tell your coach.” Viktor’s pout disappeared and he winked to him and offered his crepe.

“... Maybe a few bites of what you’re having.”

“That’s the spirit! What about that fat pancake over there? Let’s eat that next.”

Okonomiyaki was what he’d been referring to. Yeah, definitely only a bite or two. Yuuri was surprised Viktor had such a big appetite tonight.

With each new Japanese street food sampled, Viktor tried to name a Russian comparison. ‘These dangos are like pelmini!’ Maybe when Yuuri reached his weight goal, they could figure out how to make some together. Or… ask his mother to. Somewhere along the way, they found the beer and sake and Viktor was highly enthusiastic about partaking of the cultural liquor and ended up going back for thirds.

True to his word, Yuuri only took a couple of bites, leaving the rest for Viktor. With how his eating habits had been lately, it was plenty filling.

They reached the end of the vendor stalls having tried what they wanted, stomachs and curiosities satisfied. Viktor gave a yawn and ventured to a cluster of tables where families sat eating ice cream.

Haaaanabi. Hanabiiii~” a little girl sang.

Viktor tipped his head, looking like he was working the word through his small catalog of Japanese words. It probably didn’t help he was slightly buzzed and tired.

“Fireworks. They’ll do a small display over the harbor,” Yuuri said, sliding on the bench beside him. At a respectable distance.

“Oh I see.” Another yawn.

“We can head back early if you want.”

Instantly he sat up to attention, shaking his head. “I’m staying until it’s over!”

Determined until the end. It had been a long evening and Viktor’s energy had run out. Still, it had been fun to spend hours together not running or at the rink where only one of them could skate. Dressed nice, treating each other, sharing food, sitting next to each other waiting for fireworks.

It was almost like date.

Yuuri shook his head. What good would thinking like that do?

A shrill sound pierced the night as the first firework shot up and blossomed.

The crowd had thickened, old and young laughing and awing, despite the fireworks not being nearly as impressive as the ones in the big cities. How did fireworks in Russia compare?

Before he could think about gathering the courage to ask, he felt a weight fall on his shoulder and he went completely still - Viktor had nodded off on him.

Up until then, Yuuri thought he had a good handle on the not freaking out at the physical contact or close proximity. That date feeling was also coming back.

Yuuri dipped his shoulder slightly. “H-hey, Viktor. You’re missing the fireworks.”

Viktor shifted enough to adjust the side of his face on Yuuri, making a sleepy murmur. Blue eyes opened and they looked up at Yuuri for a moment and then out towards the sky. “Pretty…”

Yuuri wasn’t sure which he was referring to, but for the sake of his heart, it had to be the fireworks.

Chapter Text


 

Saint Petersburg, Russia
Viktor (8 years old)

Winter gave way to spring, ice losing its hold on the waterways and bridges until the chill simply hung in the air and burrowed underground. Thaw settled in slowly, ice thinning in the Neva River in patches as the months wore on toward Russia’s short summer.

The phone calls and petition had worked; Viktor returned to practice as the snow drifts shrank away, though somehow smaller than either Yakov or Lilia quite remembered. Quieter, too.  Listless. Of course he would be; he’d been trapped in that house for months with only his aunt, uncle, school, and tragedy to keep him occupied. They put him to work, and he was eager for it.

No, starving for it.

Lilia broke him down. Started from scratch. “We are learning about performance, Vitya. I want you to take what you’ve been through and use it. Show it in everything that you do. Let it inform every movement. Bring that to the surface and bleed for me.”

He didn’t argue; the stretches took his mind off of it all, the beauty of the amount of control he was learning felt right. There was something so comforting in the poise. The restraint. The silence.

And it translated so well to skating.

Yakov had his own training regimen for him, drills to hammer in the basics until they were absolutely second-nature. Viktor would do them until he could perform any as easy as breathing, time and time again. They were easy things, of course; swizzles, crossovers, skids, stops, pivots, and all manner of edge maneuvers and spins, but all things he would have to do thousands of times in his career.

And then there were jumps, slowly, but surely. Gently. He was young; every jump put an incredible amount of pressure on still developing bones and muscle. Not that Viktor ever listened, but Yakov did what he could to keep him in check and focused on the skills that he could master without jeopardizing his health for.

The boy worked hard, and he rarely complained, never cried—except once, when his uncle was again late to pick him up. Viktor had watched the hands move slowly over the giant clock face over the wall, his own hands wringing together in time with every tick. They’d been discussing his practice, as they’d gotten into the habit of doing, but the eight year-old had lost track of the conversation four or five times already.

“Vitya?”

He burst into tears, face flooding with color before he could hide it in his hands and smother the sound of sobs.

Yakov called the man, and with a few quick and pointed words, Viktor’s uncle was never late again.

It would only be until the boy got into the Academy, Yakov reminded himself. He would live in the dormitories then, away from the surrogate parents that didn't understand him. Within walking distance to the rink. By then, he'd be old enough to walk alone. Or, if not, it wouldn't be too much trouble to drive him. It was still only a few nights a week...

Over time, Viktor softened again. The quiet reservation never left, but the small smiles returned, though weak. When the other students were around, he mostly watched or worked on his drills; it was only when they left and he had the ice to himself that he experimented with what he'd seen.

"You're too young for that, Vitya," Yakov reminded him, barely glancing up from the clipboard in his hand. "Don't even think about it."

Viktor rolled his eyes, pulling back from the jump he'd started to set up, and instead tucked his knee in, dropping down for a tight sit-spin. He slid his free leg out, controlling the arc by how tightly he held his muscles, and lifted his adjacent arm, just enough to feel the balance shift- no, no; too early, losing control. He pulled it back in, let the momentum carry out, then swept back up to a stand. "How did you know?"

"I always know. And don't close your eyes when you do that spin, either; you'll just hurt yourself."

Viktor pursed his lips in a pout, considered it, then toed the ice to glide toward the barrier, pulling one leg up- like swan lake -lifting an arm high above his head. "Hey, Coach..."

"Hmm?"

"In a fairytale, when the king and queen are killed- murdered, I guess -and the princess goes to live with... someone else, you know, maybe to save her life or something because the kingdom is under attack..."  The boy twisted into a spin and stopped in front of the barrier,  peeking out around it. "That means that there's more to the story, right?"

Yakov paused, glancing up from his notes to the nervous, blue-eyed stare in front of him. "There is always more to a story, even when there is an end."

Viktor nodded, skates sliding back and forth while his tiny fingers kept him anchored in place. "Right. Uhm. So."

"Yes?" Yakov set the board on the folding chair beside him.

"Well, I was just thinking. That's just, you know, usually how it goes. In stories. The princess on her own because she has a lot to learn and, uh, if you start from the bottom, you don't have anywhere to go but up... and a princess has to know the worst of it to be the best, right?" With every word, Viktor's face turned a little more pink, gaze dropping to the ground.

Yakov listened quietly, nodding. "That's right... as far as I understand, anyway."

"So. I was wondering..."

Yakov waited.

"Coach, do you think... Can I...? Er, can I be a princess?"

The tremble in the little boy’s voice nearly killed him. Was this why Lilia brought Vitya to him? She'd known, of course, she always did. But to discuss it... "You can be who you want to be on the ice, Vitya."

Viktor bit his lip and glanced back over his shoulder at the rink, hesitant.

"I found myself in dance," Yakov continued. "I was many things. You can find yourself on the ice."

The boy looked back at him. "Do you still dance?"

He chuckled. "These old bones can't handle it."

Viktor frowned and looked at the floor again, processing, then looked back. "So... we dance for you, then." A pause, then he smiled, bright and wide. A revelation. "We dance for you, Coach! On the ice!"

The old man only had a chance to blink at him before Viktor pushed back from the barrier, skating backward toward the center of the rink, head up, regal and proud.

"Watch me, Coach!"

The impromptu program that followed was without music and incorporated several pieces stolen from the other skaters in Yakov's roster, but each were done with a grace and style that only Viktor knew how to do-- like a young and elegant princess. Even the mistakes, such as they might have been, were beautiful.  And, for the first time in months, Viktor looked happy.

Yakov watched in silence and awe. What was he to do with this boy, in Russia, of all places? Such a heavy responsibility, though he danced with a carefree lightness on the ice like a snowflake carried in the wind.
He would need to protect him. Somehow.

A day will come and you will find yourself. And another might come and most of you will be taken away. Do your best to hold onto what is left. Cling to it in ways you are able. Even if for small moments.

 


 

 

Yakov-

Yuuri took me to a festival last night. It was like New Years in Spring! I ate too much and won goldfish (photos attached). I have named them Hansel and Gretel. I will feed them fish flakes every day as if they are bread crumbs so they can find their way home. Mama Katsuki (Yuuri's mama) says that she will put them in the big aquarium when the quarantine period is over. For now, they live on the table by my bed.

(Don't worry, I won't let Makkachin eat them.)

Hope you are well.

Updates soon-

Viktor

There hadn't been a single reply. But perhaps the mention of the German fairy tale would spark some interest. Or at the very least, stir some sympathy. He missed his coach.

 

The boy would come around eventually. He had a good heart. He worked hard. He kept his distance, but he hadn’t sent the wolf away or called the hunters, and that stood for a lot.

Every day, the boy shared his meals with the wolf. They talked. They even walked together around the little town.

Every day, the wolf tried to explain that they needed to leave the town. That the boy was meant for a great purpose. “We need to go to the tower to the West. Find the Firebird.”

“But the Firebird isn’t real, and if it was, it would kill me.”

The wolf held his tongue. It wasn’t time for the truth. He wasn’t supposed to know about the feathers hidden under the pillow, or who the boy really was in his heart. There was so much confidence to be learned. “No. I will be with you. We will go together.”

“I’m just a boy.”

Again, the wolf kept the truth silent, simply looked at him with that strange and steady gaze.

You’re not, you’re not just a boy. You are so much more. So much more than you’ll ever know. I believe in you. Please believe in me.

But the boy didn’t. Even though they grew closer, and the boy grew stronger, he still didn’t have the courage in himself. He still didn’t seem to know...

So every day, the wolf went out before the sun rose to dance as the princess, hoping that she wouldn’t forget who she was. There was no telling how long the boy would take to claim his worth, and she couldn’t afford to lose herself. If she became the wolf along the way… really became the wolf… she’d be even beyond Baba Yaga’s reach.

But the ritual kept her safe. Kept her sane. She had time.

Just… not much…

And she hadn’t been expecting the tiger to come prowling quite so soon.

 

It wasn’t like he’d really forgotten about Yuri. The Junior World Champion was in capable hands; if anyone could take care of him, it was Yakov. They had a plan for him. Yes, Viktor had promised to choreograph a program for his senior debut, but it was always Yakov who needed to be the steady hand between them. Viktor was just the secret weapon; the one Yakov called on for just that little extra push when needed.

“You’ll spoil him if you spend too much time with him, Vitya.”

“Aw, Yakov. Just because I want to squish his cute little chubby face.”

“He cannot know of your favoritism. It’ll ruin him.”

It was true, though. From the moment Yakov had asked for his opinion on the audition tapes and application essay, Viktor had given his commendation with strong approval, and even become a private sponsor after the trial-basis had concluded. Just for the first year, of course, and he’d never, ever let Yuri know. It was unnecessary, anyway; now that he was Junior World Champion, he had plenty of sponsors of his own. He would probably never have financial trouble again… at least, so long as he could keep up the tempo.

The fact that Yuri was now in Japan, though, concerned him.

Leaving Saint Petersburg for Japan was a bold move. It was one thing for him to do; he’d told Yakov he was doing it, and he was an adult. But Yuri? He was only fifteen, and he did it without a word to anyone.

It was as if someone had taken all of the confidence that Yuuri should have had and dumped it into the angry little kitten, then dropped him into a bathtub.

Viktor sipped the Sapporo beer slowly, foregoing the usual dinner as Yuri grumbled at the table across from him. Yuuri had run off to help clean, leaving them alone. For the first time in memory, the air between them felt genuinely charged, and he didn’t like it.

Yuri was mad.

“What’s up with the stupid name, anyway? Adding o to the end of it… that doesn’t even make sense.”

Viktor shrugged. “I don’t know. It isn’t Russian, but it’s kind of cute, don’t you think?”

“No! And we’re not supposed to use nicknames, Viktor, or did you forget about that, too?”

He sighed, leaning back with a palm against the floor. It was a tactic that Yakov had adopted to keep things straight with the press and to encourage his students to see each other as rivals; no Russian diminutives between team mates, unnatural as it was. It set them apart from the rest of their world.

Of course, Yakov could call them whatever he felt like.

Viktor stuck out his tongue. “If you want me to be your coach, I get to call you Yurio. Coaches do what they want.”

Yuri- no, Yurio glared at him, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Are you serious right now?!”

“Don’t I look serious?”

“No. You look stupid.”

Another sigh. Viktor scratched the top of his head and went back to his beer. “So how are things back home? Are you all busily preparing for next season?”

“Coach is pissed.”

“What? Why? Because you left without telling him? That’s really dangerous, you know… you’re going to give him a heart attack at this rate, and then I’ll never forgive you.”

The boy snorted. “No. Because his number one champion-and-favorite left him with nothing but second rate losers to try to scrape together podium-winning performances.”

Viktor stared at him, glass at his lips, blinking.

“What, you really didn’t think about that?” Yurio rolled his eyes. “Without you, do you think Russia’s really going to bring home gold? You left him stranded. It’s going to be up to me. So I hope this program you’re giving me is good.”

He set the glass down without drinking. “It is.”

“Good. And if you have any pride in Russia…”

“I’m not going to sabotage Yuuri.”

Yurio held up his hands. “It was just a suggestion. I doubt the piggy can pull it off, anyway.”

“You might be surprised. He has an impressive work ethic.”

“And I’m sure that’s really what you’re out here for, right?”

Viktor took his glass and drained it. “Yep.”

“Nothing to do with that banquet?”

Thunk. He set the glass down a little harder than he meant to, jaw set and gaze cold. “We’re not going to mention the banquet.”

“What? Are you kidding? Of course I’m going to mention the banquet! That fatass beat me in a dance-off; when I beat him in the Hot Springs on Ice, I’m going to rub it in his stupid piggy face! I’ll show Yuko the photos and everything!”

“No. You won’t.” Viktor grunted, then rolled over to lie on the floor, stretching out on the mat. “You’re not going to breathe a word about it. Not to him or anyone else here. You do, and I won’t ever forgive you.”

“What?!” Yuri dragged himself over the floor to peer at him, but Viktor didn’t even look over his shoulder, just stared straight ahead at the dead and empty television screen. “Why not? What’s the big deal?!” Another beat of silence, and his tone dropped low, brows rising into his blond curtain of hair. “Wait... he doesn’t remember?”

Viktor folded his arms and rested his head on them, pulling the stretch through his back.  

“Seriously? So you came all this way and--”

“That’s enough, Yurio…”

“That stupid piggy bastard… UGH. It’s no fun to rub it in his face if he doesn’t even REMEMBER!”

“You can probably stop yelling now.”

“That just pisses me off!”

“Everything pisses you off…”

They were interrupted by Mari, who came to clean up and give Viktor the perfect excuse to leave. Yuuri had, after all; anxiety, insecurity, and severe lack of self-confidence that had driven him to flee their company. Not that he blamed him. Yurio wasn’t an easy read for most, and he’d been hostile to Yuuri since the moment he’d set foot in Hasetsu. He’d go after him alone, and let Yurio sleep off his jet lag. Maybe he’d be better in the morning.

Besides, Viktor understood the anxiety at least, and working through it with exercise was a coping method that he’d used his entire life.

But what could be done when the coping method was the cause of the anxiety? Yuuri could do complicated routines on the ice in practice- he’d proven that with Stay Close to Me -but in competition, all bets were off.

Minako directed him to the rink, where he watched Yuuri skate alone and despondent. Like Viktor did every morning before Yuuri met him at the rink. Not that they'd be able to do that anymore; Yurio had seen enough of Viktor's routines that he wouldn't be impressed. Any private skates would just be seen as narcissistic showboating, and he didn't need any more lip from his junior. He only had one week to get both of them in shape, anyway; there wouldn't be any energy to spare for free skating.

"I hope Viktor will bring out a side of Yuuri-kun that we've never seen before..." Yuko was so sincere, so concerned for Yuuri. He had a support network here. It was strong and solid, but he didn’t rely on it.

Revealing a new side to Yuuri Katsuki was the entire point of the competition, but it wasn’t enough. Even if the audience, people Yuuri knew personally, told him what he didn’t know, that he could succeed, he had to believe it himself. He had to choose to fight.

That anxiety could become a strength. It just needed to be utilized effectively.

Yuuri needed to see it as a fundamental part of his person; a golden fissure that could make him stronger if he let it. Like the koi fish that fought against the currents, replacing each scale until it was golden armor, climbing that waterfall to become a shining dragon. Hm.

Yuuri the dragon...

He smiled, tapping his lip. One step at a time. Prince first. They would work on golden dragon later. "So," he said, gaze settled on the gliding form of Yuuri in the distance. "A magic spell to change the little piggy into a prince."

"Huh?"

"Nothing. Thanks. I know a lot more about Yuuri now."

He hated to lose. He practiced more than anyone. He worked hard. He felt alone in the world. They were so alike. He just needed the right kind of pressure to fight for what he needed. A little bit of fire. Heat and pressure; just like Kouki-san used for his metal work.

Perhaps Yurio had come at the right time after all.

Viktor walked home with Makkachin, weighing his options. Two programs, one week. Nine days, technically, from tomorrow. Agape for Yurio, Eros for Yuuri.

Hah. To think that they would be skating the very programs that they had inspired…

It wasn’t as if he’d be needing them, though neither of his students were up to par for the current composition level. That would be the first challenge; changing the routines that he’d created to match each skater’s personal skill level and ability, and then they would work on style.

Assuming that they’d get that far, anyway. He could already hear the complaints from both of them on their designated assignment. Yurio would hate the choral arrangement and Yuuri would be intimidated by the high energy. Neither would be comfortable with the assigned theme, despite that he had chosen them specifically for them. That the compositions wouldn’t even exist were it not for them.

Makkachin trotted ahead, checking back from time to time as Viktor walked slowly across the bridge. There was so much work to do, but at least the town was quiet and safe. It felt open, roads stretching out, buildings small and contained; not the massive labyrinth of Saint Petersburg. It was easier to think that way, with the ocean on one side, the sleeping city on the other.

If Yuuri were to succeed, he needed to gain confidence; tap into that inner-strength that he didn’t know he had, choose to bring it out and express it. Fight for what he wanted. Eros was primal. It was perfect for that. All Viktor needed to do was provide the proper motivation and encouragement. If Yuuri could break through his own barriers and embrace it, he would break through his plateau in no time, and everything would come easier.

For Yurio, his technical skills were already impressive… at least on par with his own at that age, if not better. But he lacked the emotional component. He was, in many ways, the opposing pair to Yuuri in that way. His confidence was getting in the way of his ability to feel the storytelling aspect. It had always been his problem. That overconfidence was his Achilles Heel. So for Yurio, his training would be focused on humility.

It was going to be a very, very long week.

--

And it was.

As he’d expected, neither Yuuri nor Yurio had been thrilled by the assignments-

“Switch them!”

“What?!”

“This piece isn’t me at all!”

-and Viktor had only barely managed to hold in his temper, instead offering a plastered smile and a cold, but honest critique of their current standing. If they didn’t like his assignments, that was fine, but they were going to skate them and that was that. Neither of them wanted to lose, and with the threat of losing Viktor as their coach, both had stepped into line. True, it had been harsher than was probably necessary, but there were only so many fake smiles that Viktor had in him per day, and it had already been a very long morning.

Besides, the anxiety levels were reaching an all-time high from Yuuri, and it came off of him in waves despite the actual danger being fairly low. Viktor knew it was unfair, but from the start, there was really no way for Yurio to win the Hot Springs on Ice competition; it was simply a set up.

Why Yurio even accepted the terms he couldn’t guess; had pride blinded him? Viktor didn’t know. There was no way that the audience would be surprised by the Junior World Champion putting out an incredible performance; it was the same problem that Viktor always ran into. Yurio surprising the people of Hasetsu, who had no idea who he was as a person, had no reason to know that agape was such a departure from his usual persona, was next to impossible.

Meanwhile, mild-mannered Yuuri skating to Eros for the people who had known him his entire life, now that would be a surprise. Who could expect that? The only way Yuuri could lose was if he quit or had a miraculous meltdown on the ice, and even then, that might still be more surprising than Yurio doing well.

And yet, Yurio had still accepted those terms. Surprise the audience more, win your chosen reward. Was it wrong to take advantage of a fifteen year old? Maybe. But Viktor couldn’t keep Yurio in Hasetsu, and he wasn’t going back to Russia, either. Not until he had taken Yuuri to the Grand Prix Final for the win.

And he would get him there, no matter what it took.

Perhaps all it would take was a touch of Yuuri’s lip, leaning close, with gaze dark and focused. Yuuri was petrified, frozen in place like prey on the ice under the paws of the beast that hunted him. Viktor smiled, brushing his thumb over his lip. Just as the wolf couldn’t mention the princess directly, Viktor could only hint at the banquet, but hint he would. Drunken Yuuri had been in control that night, but there had been eros. He was capable of performing, even if it was just an act. That’s all that was needed for the ice, anyway. That’s all Viktor ever did.

“No one knows your true eros, Yuuri,” he purred. “It may be an alluring side of you that you yourself are unaware of.” That was for sure. He tilted his head, ever so slightly, showing just a touch of innocence, the faintest bit of sweet charm and a more tender smile. “Can you show me what it is soon?”

His plea went unanswered as Yurio interrupted, but it was just as well; Yuuri looked like he was about to faint anyway. Viktor sent him off to think about Eros. Really consider it. Perhaps even remember it.

Then it was training.

Fortunately, Yurio was already in competition shape and ready to go, so it was relatively easy to get right into breaking down the program into segments and working through each sequences. He’d been right about the technical difficulty, though Yurio insisted on keeping the level as high as possible-  “I’ll reach it!”

“You’ll burn yourself out that way.”

“I’ve watched your routines, Viktor. You just got made yourself stronger every time.”

Viktor considered that, and shrugged. It was true enough. “I guess so! Fine. But don’t forget to tell Yakov that I warned you.”

“You can tell him yourself when you come back as my coach.”


Day in, day out. Up early for breakfast with both of them because Yurio refused to let Yuuri have any ‘unfair advantages,’ and didn’t want to miss out on any time with Viktor, then to the rink for practice. He went over Agape with Yurio over and over again, hundreds of times, alternating with Yuuri for basics and the overall structure of Eros.

It only took two days before he was utterly exhausted. Fortunately, by the end of two days, he was able to mostly stand there and bark at both of them instead of having to demonstrate as much.

And then there was the temple.

The Vaganova Academy hadn’t taught him anything about the art of zen, but Yuuri’s neighbors had offered plenty of advice to that end.

“If your students are misbehaving, you can send them to the temple. They can clear their minds, really embrace the calm of inner-peace, find their center!”
“Oh, and don’t forget about the waterfall!”

Viktor had been particularly keen on that idea, but would save it for later. The temple seemed particularly apt for Yurio, who continued to let his anger and frustration overshadow all semblance of agape, time and time again. Besides, it let Viktor sneak in a well-deserved nap while they were otherwise occupied.

Yuuri, meanwhile, had managed to get back into skating practice well enough, but had not regained any confidence. Skating in front of his idol and young rival, Viktor decided, probably wasn’t helping.

Bonding, then, would be best.

--

Yurio still wasn’t willing to do the onsen, but after a brief chat with Mama Katsuki, Viktor had a better idea. After dinner and digestion on the fourth day, he tromped around to collect them. “All right, team building exercise! Let’s go, let’s go!”

“What?!” Yurio glared over his handheld. “I’m not going out again. We already practiced. I ran five miles today.”

“I don’t care~” Viktor sang right back at him, then trotted down the hallway to knock on Yuuri’s door.

A little while later, the three of them were standing around a small bonfire on the beach, watching as Viktor fumbled with the box of Secret Bonding Magic.

“You open it like this,” said Yuuri, reaching to help.

“I’m the coach! I get to do it.”

“Okay, okay…”

“This is so stupid.”

“Quiet, Yurio.”

“That’s STILL not my name.”

“Your coach- that would be me -says it is.” Viktor finally got the box open, and distributed the sparklers, three for each, then set the box aside. “Okay. Are you ready?”

“This is the team building exercise? Sparklers?” Yurio rolled his eyes. “Viktor…”

Yuuri arranged his set for maximum burn, then looked to Viktor with a small smile.

Now there was a student who knew how to team build. Viktor grinned back. “Just do it, Yurio. Okay, on the count of three. One…”

“Two,” Yuuri added.

“Ugh, three.”

The sparklers went in, lay dormant for a stretch of two or three impossibly long seconds, then burst into brilliant color.

“Ack! What do we do now?!”

“You run, Yurio! Run!”  

Yuuri was already doing exactly what he wanted, waving his arms, leaping and bounding across the beach to throw the trails of color into the night sky. Viktor followed, then broke off into his own toward the rolling waves, ribbons of light chasing after. He came to a stop when the ocean was within reach, then turned back, watching the other two as they raced and spun around each other like idiots, laughing and yelling.

Good.

He jogged back to join them, up until his sparklers burnt out. Then he retreated to the box, giving three more to his students, and then sank to sit on the sand, catch his breath, and watch. It was late, he was so tired, and they had so much energy still. He didn’t get it. But it didn’t matter.

They were laughing.

Yuuri. Yurio.

Wild and free under starlight, woven between glittering color, both dancing for no other reason than for the joy of it. It was beautiful. It was perfect.

It was family. Philia.

Viktor pulled a leg up to his chest, arms loosely draped around it, and rested his chin on his knee. The salty cold of the ocean air was home, the fading warmth of the sand was life anew. Yurio was the little brother he never had, but wanted to keep close. Who he missed, even if he was such a pain. Yuuri was…

Oh, Yuuri...

If everyone could see that Yuuri… even a glimpse of the Yuuri that danced then, under the starlight, there would be no boundaries on earth. Viktor tightened his hold, enchanted a hundred times over. Forget the banquet. The Yuuri that danced sober, free and happy, was the most beautiful and powerful force in all the world. That Yuuri shook him to his very core, left him utterly weak and helpless.

He would move mountains for that Yuuri. Cross oceans. Well, he already had, but he’d do it again. A hundred times. A thousand times. He’d marry him in a heartbeat. Kiss him every morning, noon, and night. Tell him he loved him in every language, every day. He’d-

“Viktor, I need more!”

Viktor blinked, torn from the reverie and went back to the box, fishing out more sparklers for Yurio, and then for Yuuri. Yurio took off running immediately, but Yuuri lingered behind, watching him.

“Everything okay?”

“Hm? Yeah.” He smiled, head tilting to prove it. As if it proved anything. “Just tired.”

“It is getting pretty late for you.”

Viktor shrugged. “It’s fine. This is important.”

Yuuri hesitated, but then left for another round of tag, or chase, or… whatever it was they were doing, leaving Viktor to his thoughts.

It is getting pretty late for you. Yuuri paid attention to things like that? Did he care, then? Just the thought of it gave him chest flutters. Soft, warm, fuzzy chest flutters.

Yuuri...

He sighed.

In what world would he get to keep them both? He and Yuuri dancing together in front of the fireplace while Yurio complained about coursework at the table… He could be their adopted son. Not that Yurio would ever allow that; he was far too prideful. But still…

...it was a nice thought, impossible as it was.

When in the business of fantasizing inevitable heartbreak, there was no point in thinking small.

-- 

Things were a little easier after that. There was less fighting on Yurio’s side and less hesitance from Yuuri. They talked to each other without Viktor needing to instigate it. He could leave them to do drills or split the rink to refine their routine without worrying that there would be territorial disputes.

Viktor allowed himself frequent breaks to recharge while his students went over the routines, looking busy as he prowled the perimeter of the barrier, just as Yakov always did. Perhaps that’s why he did it. Observing, tapping the clipboard, checking his phone while his energy gradually returned. It was a lot of work to stay keep up with the tough love for Yurio, and even harder to instil confidence in Yuuri without dropping a love confession in his lap.

Did Yakov have problems like this? Maybe not with love, since Lilia was her own piece of work, but with everything else. Maybe he could ask for advice. Not that he was answering his emails, but...

 

 

Yakov--

Yuri is here! I’m assuming you know this, but I wanted to assure you that he is safe and sound and doing well. We’ve decided to call him ‘Yurio’ because the Japanese are finding it confusing to call him Yuri when there is a Yuuri here already. Really, they could call him ‘Yuri-kun’ and Japanese Yuuri ‘Yuuri-san’ but I guess that’s too formal, and Yuuri already took the -kun before Yuri got here, so ‘Yurio’ it is!

I’ve included some photos of Yurio working on his new SP. Look familiar? :)

I’ll send him home soon.

--Viktor
PS. You’re getting these emails, right?

 

Viktor leaned over the barrier. “Hey, Yurio!”

The blond looked his way, mid-spin, and glared. “What?”

“Have you talked to Yakov lately?”

“Like twenty minutes ago. Why?”

Frown.. “Does he answer your emails?”

“Yeah. Not that I email him much, because he calls me like a nag.” Yurio threw himself into the next step sequence, crossovers with digging toe pick, shredding flecks of ice in his wake. He pivoted out. “What, is he ignoring you?”

“Well... “ Was that something he should admit? Viktor bit his lip.

The hesitance was just long enough that Yurio didn’t need confirmation. “You saw what he said about you in that interview, right? He’s really pissed, like I said.”

“Interview?”

“Yeah. Tch, you’ll have to look it up later.” Yurio laughed, shaking his head, and pulled himself back to the starting position. “Who knows? Maybe you won’t be the favorite anymore. Yakov says he’s got some big plans for Georgi...”

Viktor set his clipboard aside and stepped to the edge of the barrier, reaching down to yank off the guards from his skates. “You need some work on that salchow. And your agape? No where near where it needs to be.”

“Did I strike a nerve~?”

“Come on, from the top. Your senior debut and the mother country depends on it.”

 

After he’d sent Yurio and Yuuri off to the waterfall, Viktor went back to Yutopia to change and look up the interview. Was Yakov really as mad as Yurio said?

“That man only thinks of himself!” He’d screamed, grasping the reporter’s microphone. “He'll never be anyone's coach!”

Oh.

Viktor sank down to the foot of the bed, blinking at the screen in his hand. He’d seen Yakov mad plenty of times before; the man had a temper on most days. But that hurt. Selfish? Was he? Maybe. Incapable? No…

But he’d hurt Yakov. That much was clear. Hurt him enough to lash out like that, to the wolves, giving words that he couldn’t take back. Words that Viktor would now have to deal with every time he dealt with the press.

They would be looking for how he handled Yuuri. They were already going to be watching him closely; how he interacted with someone supposedly inferior, someone not of his own country. A traitor to Russia. And now he’d upset Yakov so much that he’d painted Viktor as a selfish fool, and let it slip that there was more to the story than a leave for inspiration. Perhaps he had also made it look like he couldn’t control his own skaters. That hadn’t been his intent.

He wasn’t sure what was worse.

Viktor thought he could handle the wolves on his own; he was used to them coming after his throat. They’d already tried to destroy him on numerous occasions, and nearly succeeded. But what did that mean for Yuuri? What did it mean for Yakov?

Yuuri needed all the help he could get. He needed someone on top of the figure skating world to lift him up, someone invincible to support him. Viktor Nikiforov, the image that he’d built over the years, was the perfect platform, but only if that image stayed in tact. Only if Viktor remained strong and infallible. No more weakness. No more crying at night, or fear in the face of the unknown. He’d have to borrow a leaf from Yurio’s book. He’d have to adopt the stripes of the tiger.

And Yakov…

He’d hurt Yakov enough. More than enough. Yakov was right; he was selfish. All he’d ever done was take and take and take. It was time to stand on his own, to leave the poor man alone. They all had a job to do, and he could make amends later. But until he could apologize properly, the least he could do was stop badgering him, let him work. Let the wound heal.

Viktor let Mama Katsuki know that he’d be out for a while, and left the onsen to find dinner on his own. Ramen was good; carb heavy, salty. They had a good selection of liquor, too. It wasn’t quite like the bar that Yakov had taken him to when he was sixteen as a rite of passage, but it would do. Dinner first, then drinking. All night.

He got ice cold vodka, ordered gyoza, pickled ginger, and rice to eat between sips, and raised a private toast.

To Yakov, my coach, my friend, my mentor, my papa.

I hope I can make you proud.

I hope you can forgive me.

Chapter Text


Saint Petersburg, Russia
Viktor (10 years old)

Viktor listened to the rain as it drummed against the thick glass windows of the Mariinsky Theatre, eyes closed, breathing in the scent of damp that managed to creep in. The building was old- more than a hundred and fifty years -and had been host to all of the greats in Saint Petersburg, including his mother. Had she used this same room to change with her company?

He glanced around the nearly empty study, where duffel bags and costume racks from their own small band had been strewn about in a harried frenzy. Probably not. They’d been professionals. They probably used the proper dressing rooms down by the stage. In an exhibition like this, hopeful students used the rooms that were available.

They would be going on in just under an hour. They’d already warmed up, they were actively staying limber, most were in their costumes, and they just needed the final approval from Lilia. She was checking on the girls in the other room.

Viktor set his left leg down, then lifted his right, toe pointed, stretching it up as high as it would go with his back pressed up against the window in the box seat. There was just enough resistance left to give a nice burn, which he liked, and he smiled, letting his head thump against the glass.

“Don’t you look comfy?”

Laughing, Viktor cracked one eye open to look at the other boy, clad head to toe in brown leotard with a rug of fur over his shoulders. Kimka had the role of the titular villain in their production of Peter and the Wolf. “It’s nice. You can see the canal from here.”

“You can see the canals from everywhere, Vitya.”

“I guess.” Viktor shifted onto his hip, rotating his leg out to bring it down half mast, slowly stretched it back, then set it down again with a sigh. “Are you nervous?”

“Not as long as you can remember not to pull my tail so hard this time.” Kimka fiddled with his paw hands, gloves that made it look like he had scary claws and extra mangy fur to his elbows. “Do you think you can handle that, Peter?”

It had happened during one of their dress rehearsals; Peter was supposed to capture the wolf by the tail with a rope, which Viktor certainly did… but Kimka’s tail had come clean off, which wasn’t part of the story at all. He shrugged. “They fixed it, right?”

Both boys looked as Kimka turned around, wolf tail in place at the base of his spine. It was, in fact, in tact- this time with a belt under the rest of his costume. “Yeah.” He frowned. “But I swear, if you rip it off again… I’ll just eat you instead of the duck.”

Viktor frowned back at him. “But the wolf’s already eaten the duck by then. So you’d have to eat us both.”

“What?”

“The wolf ate the duck before Peter caught him. So you can’t eat me instead of the duck, because if I rip your tail off, it won’t have happened until you’ve already eaten her. So you have to eat us both.”

Kimka stared at him for several seconds, then shook his head. “Okay. Fine. If you rip my tail off in front of everyone on stage, I’ll eat you, too.”

“That makes a lot more sense.”

“Or maybe I’ll just kill you and let you rot in the forest.”

Viktor pushed his lips into a pout. “That’s just a waste.”

I’m the one that has to be carted off to the zoo when you win.”

“Sorry, I didn’t write the story. Take it up with Prokofiev.” Viktor grinned. Several of Prokofiev’s symphonies had been turned into ballets and performed right there in that very theater, but Peter and the Wolf? That he wasn’t sure of, and that got him excited, especially since he’d had a hand in choreographing his own parts.

They all had, really. That was the point in the production. But nonetheless! They were making history, right there, that day, in front of scouts for Vaganova Academy and others. It was their chance.

No wonder Kimka didn’t want his tail ripped off. And he was brooding to show it.

Viktor canted his head, pushing up from the window seat to a stand. He only came to the other boy’s chest, but he had more than enough confidence to make up for it. “Don’t worry. I won’t rip your tail off. I’ll be careful.”

“Yeah, you’d better be.”

Lilia came in then like a whirlwind, true to form despite her decrepit age and made her rounds, first checking over Kimka. “Good, good, Iakim. Let me just fix your ears... there, you’re ready. Now, Viktor.”

She magicked a handful of bobby pins and tucked them into Viktor’s hair here and there, pinning his hat firmly into place. “This should have already been done…”

“Are you really going to keep switching between Viktor and Vitya?”

“I’ll call you whatever I feel like calling you, Vi—“ the woman hesitated, then pushed down on the top of the hat. “Your makeup looks fine, though they did the mascara a little heavy.”

Viktor shrugged. “I asked them to.”

“Don’t change my orders. You may be Peter, but I’m still in charge.” Lilia sighed, moving down to one knee to check the rest of his costume. “Are your aunt and uncle here?”

“Yeah. They didn’t want to miss an opportunity to come to the Mariinsky for free.” He rolled his eyes for her, just as he always did when talking about his adoptive parents. It wasn’t that he hated them, but Lilia seemed to like the show.

She snorted. It was about as close as a laugh as she ever got. “And Coach Feltsman?”

Another roll of his eyes, though this was directed at her. “Don’t you mean Medvezhonok? Of course he’s here!

Lilia whirled him around by the shoulders and smacked his rear with her clipboard, which sent him off running back for the window, laughing. “Honestly, Vitya…” she groaned, and got back to her feet. “Come along, boys. Quickly now. That’s enough chitchat. Don’t forget that they’ll be watching you closely. This is a big day for you both!”

Kimka watched as she left, arms folded, then huffed. “So is being an orphan a prerequisite for being teacher’s pet or what?”

A rumble of thunder rolled in the distance, quiet and barely able to break past the sound of the spring rain.

“…What?”

“Never mind. Let’s go before she gets mad again.”

 


 

Yurio’s agape was coming along well. The last twenty-four hours had proved to be transformative for them all: the students were teaching each other in the teacher’s absence, bonded enough that they were willing to keep it from him; Yurio was finally serene as he switched between the sequences meant for juxtaposition; and Yuuri was willing to try the higher level techniques without the preceding finger tap tells. Good.

They’d come so far in the past week, and though it had been difficult to keep three people going on his personal regimen, he was pleased with the results.

Imagine what I could do with them in a full season…

Viktor shook his head, addled with the lingering hangover. It wasn’t bad; Yakov had taught him better than that, but he was tired.  He worked with Yurio first to get a critique of high level items down on paper, which turned into a fun little lecture (Viktor loved those~!), then set to work with Yuuri.

The nerves of the Japanese skater came and went like the ocean breezes, whipped back and forth on the tide. Skating calmed him, but it also made him nervous. So, too, did praise. There was no real rhyme or reason to it. Pressure made him stronger, but it made him buckle. There had to be a balance somewhere. Viktor just had to find it.

But, for the most part, they just worked on the routines, no emotional component at all. There wasn’t time to pick apart Yuuri’s psyche and put him back together in time for the competition. Patience, he just had to have patience.

Relevé…

Yuuri’s strength was the storytelling aspect. The feeling. Viktor would leave that to him and focus on the technical. So he drilled him. Together they skated Eros, over and over and over again, side by side, stopping only when Yuuri fell too far behind—which, fortunately, wasn’t often.

“Again,” Viktor barked, pulling the same tone his Academy teachers had used. He didn’t know what kind of a hand Minako-sensei used when instructing, but the way Yuuri moved when he ordered, he assumed that she’d been classically trained, too.

And of course, as it was with all things focused practice, the better Yuuri got. As suspected, muscle memory took over where anxious memory had struggled before, and the overall performance improved. Even without story, the choreography was meant to be sensual, and it was beginning to show. It would have been difficult not to. Yuuri was not a particularly stiff performer once he warmed up, and though he continued to flub his jumps, the transitions gradually evened out.

Figure skating was a matter of physics; the human body moved in predictable ways depending on the level of flexibility and strength a given person had. A good routine maximized each step sequence to push the body in ways that produced the most effect with the least amount of work, which made the overall program easier. The more physical and mental energy conserved in broad strokes, the more attention could be paid to higher technical difficulties, scoring more points. It also left a lot less to human error, relying on the way things just worked instead of forcing it to. Trusting your body, the ice, the music, to do its part.

Eros was no exception. It made good use of Yuuri’s dance training, drawing out what Viktor had suspected. Yes, he’d been trained in several forms of dance. He wasn’t sure when or where- Minako-sensei, again? -but a bracket turn brought out the swing of his hip, a spread eagle had his back arching back just so for better posture. Viktor watched for the clumsy sections and made suggestions, streamlining, pushing the program to suit Yuuri’s strengths. He had a lot of endurance and far more lower body strength than he had, himself; that meant putting emphasis on the leg work and altering the composition to favor some easy points by technicality. Anything they could do to make it easier and relieve mental pressure was top priority.

If only it didn’t have to kill him in the process.

That was the problem with Eros. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time… force Yuuri to skate the program that was made because of him. What a punishment. Sure, it had made him uncomfortable at first, but having done the routine a hundred times in the last week, Yuuri was almost over it. That was good. That was how it was supposed to work. Over-preparedness was the way to stave off nerves, but that left Viktor to watch an ever-increasing amount of eros with every performance.

It meant skating Eros side by side, going through the motions of something that he had created because of that night at the banquet, caressing the ice in tandem with each seductive segment, together. And Yuuri didn’t seem to notice. He was focused. He was ready and willing to fight. He was determined to win.

He had no idea that the eros in Eros was Yuuri’s Eros that had ensnared Viktor in the first place. That it was that eros that had ruined him, bewitched him with those dark eyes and made him feel like there was hope for that dance of fire again.

Assigning Eros had been convenient. It had been funny. It had been a punishment.

But it was Viktor who suffered.

 

He drank a lot that week.

 

Even though it was a small venue and there was no medal on the line, both of Viktor’s students anxiously went through their paces in the small, cement waiting box. They were taking it seriously, which was a good thing. Every performance deserved an athlete’s best. Each rival deserved worthy competition. Viktor smirked to himself, quiet and calm in the back of the room while they worked to stay warm and limber, keeping the nerves at bay.

He was so proud of them. Both of them. Though it wasn’t the time to say it; not while they needed to believe that there was risk involved. Viktor held his tongue, just like the wolf, and quietly observed. They were fighting for their careers and for the chance to keep their chosen mentor.

It shouldn’t have pleased him so much to feel wanted like that. Needed, even. Viktor tried to push it from his thoughts, but it stayed. Fought over by two that already had his love and approval? Unusual…

Yurio went first, huffing as he was pushed through the curtain by Yuko-san. The costume he’d chosen from Viktor’s collection was perfect for Agape: stunning in its bold white, grey, and iridescent swaths of lycra; vulnerable in its bead-strewn mesh over torso and slender arms. It matched that feeling of unconditional love well in an aesthetic sense, though he was certain that Yurio had chosen it as a symbol of rising power. It was, after all, what Viktor had worn when he’d broken his streak of solid silver and become a gold champion in the junior division.

But did Yurio know what the costume really meant? Very few did. It was a glittering, heavenly body falling from the sky; The Wishing Star. Pure, innocent, hopeful. He’d skated across the ice in those days like a burning, fading, desperate, and fragile thing, praying for the chance to break through. Back then, he hadn’t understood so many things about the world. He’d been naïve, even more than Yurio, despite being roughly the same age.

Watching him skate really was like watching his former life on ice. Differences, yes; Yurio had so much more aggression, but hadn’t Viktor burned behind so many of his own fake smiles, even then? And Yurio had every right and reason to be angry with the world. Maybe it wasn’t unconditional love that he skated, but it was raw emotion behind each and every movement.

Frustration, humility, anguish, determination. It was written all over his face.

All of that in just one week…

Viktor shook his head, unable to hold back a grin any longer. His brother, his comrade, would be a strong contender in the grand prix. There was no doubt. Yakov would be able to do so much with him. Russia’s reputation was secure; it had nothing to fear.

The Wishing Star was reborn as Agape; self-sacrificing, uncalculated. He hoped it would serve his brother well. It had given Viktor his dream, perhaps it would do the same for Yurio.

“Yurio!” he cried, mouth split in an even broader smile. “That was the best performance I’ve seen from you so far! Go on, greet the audience!”

It took him a few seconds, but Yurio let the anger roll off and pushed a smile, straightening up to put on a smile of gratitude. Such showmanship! Perfect!

He’d have hugged that angry little star right then and there if he thought he could get away with it, but somehow… perhaps not. Viktor just laughed, opting to reward Yurio by not assaulting him right off of the ice, and instead turned his attention to Yuuri… who…

Of course.

The anxiety was so thick Viktor could feel it coming off of Yuuri in waves. That was fine. Every athlete had to deal with it; he didn’t know a single one that didn’t. He put on a small smile and went to him, close, but not touching. “Yuuri. It’s your turn.”

Yuuri startled from the silent panic with a strangled gasp, turning a wide-eyed stare on Viktor, covering his mouth. Viktor stayed still, quiet, waiting for him to continue, but tucked his chin. Dog language for non-confrontational. Yuuri was a dog person. Maybe that would get through.

“U-uhm!” Yuuri dropped his hands, jaw setting. “I’m… I’m going to become a super tasty pork cutlet bowl, so please watch me!” He closed the gap between them, arms wrapping around Viktor’s back. Deliberate, physical contact.

Viktor could feel him trembling.

“Promise!” Yuuri tightened his grip.

As much as he wanted to return the gesture, pulling him closer, to hold him, Viktor kept his arms firmly at his side. It wasn’t the first time that Yuuri had thrown himself at him like this with a desperate plea, though the time before, he’d been drunk. The time before had been the banquet.

Was this the closest Yuuri had willingly gotten to him since then?

“Of course,” Viktor said, voice quiet, barely turning his head to look at him. “I love pork cutlet bowls.”

He did. Figurative, literal. Yuuri believed that he was fighting for his life all over again, and once again, was begging Viktor for help. It nearly broke his heart. Did it take fight or flight to bring Yuuri to him? Had he really frightened Yuuri that badly?

Viktor didn’t like either idea, and he hated how Yuuri shuddered against him like that. He risked setting a hand on his back, just light pressure, and forced the small smile back into place. “Go on, Yuuri. I’m waiting.” Tone firm, but gentle. He was his coach, after all.

Yuuri shed his track suit and guards and stepped onto the ice; a dark contrast to Yurio’s performance of moments ago. Viktor watched while he folded the jacket over his arm, trying to hold back a chuckle. More lycra and mesh in solid blocks of color, but with rhinestone accents. Had he really been so predictable as a teenager? Not that there were that many options to choose from in terms of fabrics, but he’d definitely had a certain style then, and those costumes had cost him so many points in competition. It wouldn’t be an issue these days, but then it had been a revolution.

What was now Eros had then been battle armor; a stone and crystal guardian for the Heart of the Mountain. Yuuri needed battle armor for the upcoming season, that was no question. But had Yuuri chosen the costume because he’d been number one in the junior division for Worlds that season? Or had he somehow sensed that in the season, Viktor had also begun his own journey in eros?

It didn’t matter. He looked incredible. And from the very start, something was… different.

Viktor whistled without even thinking about it, and winced afterward. Right; he was supposed to be an impartial judge in the not-really-a-competition.

Yuuri’s steps were still too heavy; his concentration a mess along the inside edge, but the emotion had come together. Somewhere in there, overnight, Yuuri had found his eros- or at least a semblance of it -and he was not only using that emotion to move his body, but he was changing the story.  

Just like the rest of the audience, Viktor couldn’t tear his eyes away, even after he nearly fell flat on that jump. The recovery went well enough, all things considered, and he got right back into it. Good.

High steps, still spirited even so far into the program, showing off that incredible workhorse strength, went a long way to prove his prowess. In tandem, his body swayed, arms undulating, curving one way, then snapping away the moment he had the audience nearly lost in his thrall. Yuuri kept everyone on their toes, focused, heated from the haze and whiplash.

Or maybe that was just him.

Viktor watched him in practice all week, and he’d seen some of his recorded performances online, but nothing compared to seeing it in person. Especially not now that he’d already added so much to his repertoire. Seductive was putting it mildly. Criminally so. Pleasure followed by pleasure. One just drowns in it. Those had been his instructions, and Yuuri had owned it.

Yuuri’s performance, like Yurio’s, lacked a great deal of refinement; but that could be worked on in the coming weeks. Whatever it was that Yuuri put on display for the audience in the name of Eros, though, was all Yuuri. And that couldn’t be taught.

He almost didn’t realize that it was over when the crowd erupted into cheers around him. Had he been holding his breath? Viktor chuckled, helpless, and shook it off. It was clear who the winner of the competition was; just as he’d expected. “Yuuri!”

The smile that crossed Yuuri’s face at the call brought back all of those chest flutters again, and Viktor was unable to resist greeting him with a hug- though he made sure to keep it not too tight, not too close; cautious and cradling. It was so indulgent. “That was the tastiest pork cutlet bowl I’ve ever seen! Wonderful!”

Where was Yurio? He’d been behind him; was he hearing this? It wouldn’t be fair to…

“Th-thank you.”

Viktor slid his hand down to take Yuuri’s, other hand taking hold of his opposite arm. Best not let it get too sappy. “But can I say something?”

“S-sure.”

The lecture that followed was not exactly well-received, but worked like a charm. Status quo had been restored.

“Nikiforov-san, how soon until you have the results?”

Viktor turned his attention to the anxiously awaiting journalists, letting a smug smirk slip across his lopsided smile. “Just as soon as I have both of my contestants. Where’s Yurio?”

“Oh, uh.” Takeshi tugged Viktor aside by the arm, turning their backs to the cameras. “Yuko’s taking him back to Yu-topia to get his stuff… I guess he’s taking the first flight back to Russia.”

Viktor flinched. Oh. It’d taken Yurio a while, but he was a smart kid; there was no way he could keep the setup a secret forever. He wasn’t even trying, really. Shoulders sagging, he worked up a smile. “I see.”

“Should… we go after him?” Yuuri looked torn, and understandably so. Did he need to console his rival so soon after victory? What would that do? Would it change anything?

Viktor shook his head. “No. Let him go.” They’d let him lick his wounds in peace, give him space. He was to blame for Yurio’s anger, and he deserved to be walked out on. It was only fair. Besides, it wasn’t as if he could keep Yurio in Hasetsu.

He had to let Yurio go. Now. It was the easiest out for them both. A clean cut. Viktor could respect that. He sucked in a breath and the smile came a little easier. “Let’s get you on that podium, Yuuri.”

 

That evening, when the interviews and photoshoots had concluded, congratulations exchanged, and hosting duties tied up, Viktor and Yuuri settled in at Yu-topia for Yuuri’s promised reward: a private dinner of katsudon for student and coach. Viktor knelt at one side of the table with Yuuri on the other, sipping Sapporo while they waited.

“Are you excited?” Viktor asked, leaning back on one hand, glass in the other.

“Hm? Oh, yes, yes,” was the insistent reply, though Yuuri seemed distracted.

It was an odd arrangement. Even though they’d eaten dinner alone plenty of times, it had never been quite so formal. The door behind them was shut for privacy as if this weren’t just Yuuri’s family business.  What was it like? A business meeting? A date? The last time he’d been on a date had been several years ago and just for coffee, but it was less awkward than whatever was going on now.

Should he compliment him? Or was that too much? Viktor took another sip, then let his gaze wander around the little room. What was Yuuri thinking about? What was preoccupying his mind?

Mama Katsuki slid the door open with Mari close behind, two big bowls of piping hot katsudon and all the accoutrements on a tray.

“By confirmation of your coach, here is your reward, Yuuri. Enjoy!” Mama Katsuki winked at her son.

“Thanks, Mom. It looks delicious. Just for tonight, then I’ll have to swear it off again.”

She laughed, and set the first bowl in front of Viktor. “Here’s yours, Vicchan.”

“Thank you, Mama Katsuki.” Viktor half-bowed his thanks with one of his most charming smiles, then glanced to Yuuri to watch him receive his prize.

The change in Yuuri was immediate as soon as the ceramic touched the table top; alert, focused, dark eyes blazing with a fire that Viktor couldn’t actually remember seeing before. Maybe when he’d promised to skate to Eros? Or perhaps when he’d challenged him at the banquet… but no, this was different. This was a predator’s glint, not someone fighting for their honor or their territory.

Yuuri licked his lips, but kept his hands at bay. He was restraining himself, self-disciplined as always. Waiting. For what?

Oh. For me.

Viktor waved as mother and daughter retreated from the room, sliding the door closed once more, then reached for his pair of chopsticks. Just like in practice, Yuuri mirrored his movements, taking up his own, but the intensity was far beyond the programs. He cleared his throat. “Itadakimasu…”

“Itadakimasu!”

Though Yuuri was quick to follow his movements, he held himself back even still. Viktor had expected him to dive right in, but he was watching the wafting steam instead, chopsticks only hovering. Why?

Viktor pawed through the rice to let the egg seep through, dragging caramelized onions around for the flavors to mingle. He picked up a piece of pork, brought it up to his lips, then hesitated. Yuuri was doing the same thing: watching him, tender pork cutlet pinched between polished wood suspended above the bowl. The breading had crumbled along the edge where it had been cut, exposing fresh and tender meat that hadn’t yet lost and of its natural juices. Viktor shook his head, then took a bite, tearing the piece in half so he could defer to his beer for the moment. Why was Yuuri staring at him like that?

Chopsticks down, he chewed slowly, and went for the glass while Yuuri finally took his first bite… and gave the softest, most sincere little moan he’d ever heard in his life. It was almost obscene. At least, enough that Viktor nearly choked on his beer.

“Ahhh!” Yuuri cried once he’d swallowed, eyes closed and smile spread wide across his face. “I’ve missed this~!”

It was so cute. Too cute. Viktor blinked hard, cleared his throat, and went back to his own meal. “You’ve earned it.”

“Mmmm-hmm~” he crooned, and carefully put a little patch of egg and rice together to eat next. Each bite came with happy sighs and disarmingly sweet smiles, cheeks flushed with the rosy color of life and utter contentment. “So goooood~!”

Viktor couldn’t look away, though he tried. He really did. He concentrated on his beer, fingers wrapped around the glass tight as a lifeline, and simply stared. Yuuri seemed oblivious in his little world of pork cutlet ecstasy, and that was just as well; it wasn’t like Viktor knew how explain why he was utterly transfixed on the whole thing.

Or, rather, he knew how to explain it. It was simple. Embarrassing, but simple. From the adorable innocence to the coating of oil on Yuuri’s lips, everything about the dinner was becoming absolute torture.  His passion for the food, the fact that his desire had been so simple- to eat with his idol and coach! -and so pure, and that Yuuri hadn’t been kidding when pork cutlet bowls really were eros to him… He could relate. He could. Not in a foodie way, but in other ways. And all of that gave him the exceptionally terrifying compulsion to leap across the table and tackle Yuuri to the floor.

It wasn’t something that Viktor had to deal with often. Or ever, really. At least hadn’t for some time.

But there it was; the burning in his core, tension in his jaw, the heat in his face. Physical reactions to something he’d never seen as particularly erotic before, and yet…

And Yuuri ate so slowly… savoring every single bite, carefully preparing the next to make sure that the proportions were right, taking the time to lick his lips between each swallow.

It was going to kill him.

Viktor Nikiforov was going to die.

Why had he thought it would be a good idea to agree to this? Why hadn’t he insisted that everyone eat together? At least then he would have a distraction, something else to keep his focus on besides those cute sounds and those cute cheeks and the way that Yuuri looked like he couldn’t get enough.

He bit his lip. He could feel his own heart racing, mind reeling. Why now? Why this?

Viktor tore his gaze away and looked down at his own bowl of food, which seemed so ordinary in comparison. Normally, he loved pork cutlet bowls; Mama Katsuki was an excellent cook, but he couldn’t even fathom the idea of eating any. His whole body was too tense to eat. Just like at competition.  He wouldn’t be able to keep it down, even if he managed to find appeal enough to try.  No, he couldn’t eat. Definitely not.

He went for more beer, and stole another glance at Yuuri, who had moved on to scraping the bits of egg-soaked rice from the bottom of his bowl. Oh god. He was nearly done.  Finally, it would be over.

….or would it?

Viktor grimaced, shoulders hunched as he silently slid his own tray across the table to his student.  The internal screaming didn’t match his actions, but Viktor was powerless. Helpless. It was all he could do to keep himself kneeling still and relatively calm.

“B-but… you hardly touched it?”

So concerned. So sweet. If someone could have ended Viktor’s pain right then and there, he would have begged for death. Instead, he chuckled, gaze drifting away to feign disinterest. “It’s fine. You’ve earned it.” A pause. “Besides. You look so happy.”

“Mm. It’s my favorite. I… I wanted to eat with you.”

Viktor’s gaze flicked back, settling on that little pout. He’d thought about kissing him several times before, but never the way his thoughts were supplying now. He was a wolf. A hungry, slavering beast. What had happened? He shook his head again, strained smile fixed into place. “I ate enough, don’t worry.”

“If you’re sure…”

It was too tempting for Yuuri not to give in, wasn’t it? Viktor found himself wanting to watch him crumble, to fall apart. Give in. “Quite sure,” he said, and bit his lower lip.

“Okay…” Yuuri pushed his own tray aside and took Viktor’s, taking the discarded chopsticks to continue where he left off.

Yes. Viktor was going to die a slow and painful, torturous death, and then go to hell for corrupting Yuuri Katsuki. There was no question about the fate in store for him. Encouraging him to eat another bowl when he had worked so hard on his diet…

He went back to his glass and took a slow and deliberate sip, all the while watching. His thighs were starting to hurt from his muscles being so tense, kneeling with body so wound up, but at least that took a little bit of the edge off.  “So. Enjoying your victory meal?”

Yuuri nodded, bringing a hand up to cover his mouth while he chewed- a brief and welcome reprieve from the display of that mouth that Viktor desperately wanted to capture with his own.

“I’m guessing that you worked with Minako-sensei for the changes to your program.”

Yuuri swallowed. “Oh, was it obvious?”

“I’m just very observant. It was a good move. Very smart on your part.”

“Oh, good!” Yuuri sighed in relief, then went back to his food. “I thought I was getting scolded.”

Viktor shook his head. The shop talk helped. Losing feeling in his legs helped. Ow. “No, no, not at all. You should always utilize your resources when you can, especially when it makes you more comfortable with your routine. It added another dimension, made it yours. I was very impressed.”

Yuuri smiled, shuffling in place.

Too cute.

Viktor continued, toying with the mostly-empty glass on the table, eyes fixed on Yuuri. He wasn’t even trying to pretend anymore. “That’s part of what I was trying to teach you both. What eros and agape mean to me is completely different than what it is for you and Yurio. You needed to not only find your own meaning, but how to express it, in your way.”

“I felt like something was missing, yeah...” Yuuri let his voice trail off, then looked back at him, blinking. “Did you… want another bite?”

“Uh…” A bite of what? Viktor blinked, startled at the thoughts that sprung to mind. So much for shop talk. So much for distraction. So much for the fire calming down. He swallowed.

Yuuri picked out the remaining piece of pork and offered it to him, head tilting to one side.

Suddenly, the breaded cutlet was the forefront of Viktor’s attention, too. He shifted, pushing up from the floor to lean over the table and take the strip of pork from the chopsticks ever so gently with his teeth. Eyes half lidded, he pulled back, using his tongue to pull it in. He chewed, swallowed, then licked his lips all with far more eros than was necessary, then sat back with a little sigh of his own.

It was tasty…

“Thank you,” Viktor said, and took up his glass for a mock toast in gratitude.

Yuuri’s wide-eyed stare went from Viktor to the now empty bowl. “Uhm. You’re welcome.” A pause. “I can’t believe I ate both bowls…”

Viktor drained the last of his beer. He couldn’t believe it, either.

“Do we have practice tomorrow?”

“Bright and early.”

“Okay… coach.”

Viktor smirked at him, pretending to get more from the empty glass so that he wouldn’t have to watch any longer. “Go on ahead… I’ll see you in the morning, Yuuri.”

Yuuri got up, nodding, still wearing that blush and awkward little smile. “Thanks again, by the way… for staying.”

He shrugged. “Like I said; I love pork cutlet bowls.” Then a smile.

Yuuri smiled back, then left… which was good, because Viktor wasn’t sure how else he would have gotten out of there without time to cool off, first.

 

 

v.nikiforov: let me know when you get home, please
THE.yuri: viktor
THE.yuri: b i t e me
v.nikiforov: ilu too <3

It’d been hours since the competition, since dinner, and since he’d gotten confirmation that Yurio didn’t really hate him after all. He was just angry, and justly so. A reply- any reply -was better than radio silence.

Viktor’s fingers curled at the sheet again, nails brushing over threads in the near silence of the night. Dawn lurked a mere four hours away, but sleep still couldn't find him. There was so much to do. So many decisions to make, so much ground to cover. Yuuri was still worlds away from where he needed to be, and he'd only just begun to open up. Viktor needed the sleep. Yuuri deserved and needed him to be at his absolute best.

He sighed, nudging Makkachin to move over again as he rolled onto his other side, gazing over at the dark screen of his cell phone. He wanted Yakov’s advice. Or to talk to someone about what had happened earlier. Chris, maybe? No. No, that would have been the worst idea. It was all too complicated, too sudden.

Shivering, Viktor flattened his palm out over the futon, the flash of light from the costume catching in his memory. The way Yuuri moved, almost serpentine, dragging him along in time with the music... Viktor knew he should have expected it; he'd seen it before. He knew that was one of Yuuri's greatest strengths. But seeing it in person under the lights of competition, with pressure and an audience?

…and with the proper motivation?

To keep eating pork cutlet bowls. With you.

It was him. He was the motivation. The fire. The reason Yuuri moved that way when he skated, grasping Eros by the throat and making it his own, seducing Viktor all over again He’d been such a fool.

Don’t leave. Don’t let go. Don’t give up on me.

The roll of his neck, shoulders following; the arch of his back and the curve of his hip… Everything about Yuuri, from that plea to watch him before the match, to the way he completely enthralled the audience had him captured. Bewitched.

It was almost like…

He sighed, breath warm over parted lips. How many times recently had he been close to him? Taken his arm, touched his shoulder, brushed fingers over the small of his back… Just small, innocent touches, but it was contact that he didn’t share with many people. For all of the playboy imagery that he flaunted for the public, there were few that he truly felt comfortable with being close to. Yet, with Yuuri, he’d clung to. Grasped. Traced the nape of his neck with his palm, comb in his other hand.

And Yuuri had hugged him. Just like he had at the banquet.

Please.

And what he meant was: stay with me.

Of course I’ll stay. I’ll do anything.

It was no good. No good at all.

Dragging fingers through his hair, the man forced his body to stretch out and then relax against the mattress. He could play the part of the lover and the Casanova just fine; flirting and tossing a seductive glance here and there, but what was he to do with this? This real, raw feeling that whispered like the rolling bubbles of the hot springs, hazy mists clouding his head and dragging him under.

Yuuri…

No; he had to resist. He was Yuuri’s coach. There was still so much to do, so much for him to learn, and no time to lose. If he didn’t have that distance, that drive to keep Viktor there, he might not continue to improve. If he knew the truth, he might not try as hard.

Viktor would not be the cause of his failure.

No matter how much it hurt.

It was all too easy to remember how his hands felt against his sides; the long-cool touches of fingers grasping his leg as they danced together that night. There were still times, however brief, that he could almost recapture the fleeting moments in practice, positioning Yuuri’s form here, drawing his arm there… but nothing was the same.

He could imagine, caught between sleep and waking dreams, the Yuuri that danced on the beach pulling him up from the sand by the hand, leading him into another dance. A different dance.

Not even sliding his own hand down his thigh could match that eager embrace, though it sent a certain thrill of pleasure through him. Viktor shivered, toes curling and retreating under the blanket, and he hesitated again. The bare skin was his, but hands in his fantasy weren’t…

He pulled them away to drag them down his face, then through his hair.

Yuuri wasn’t his.

Could he be? Should he even entertain the thought? Maybe if he talked to him…  After all, how could he ask Yuuri to fight for what he wanted when he wasn’t willing to do the same?

 

“He won’t fall for you,” the tiger said, hissing. “He’s just going to betray you, just like the last one.”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m not giving up on him. He deserves a chance to prove that he’s more than what you and everyone else thinks.”

“Just come back to the tower already. Baba Yaga misses you.”

“I can’t.”

“Fine. Whatever. I tried.”

Chapter Text


 

Saint Petersburg, Russia
Viktor (10 years old)

Life with his aunt and uncle wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t for him. Viktor looked around the room that had been his for the past three years; a large stretch of hard wood with slanted ceilings and a skylight for a window that looked out on the patch of woods behind the little house. The attic had been a perfect little hideaway; lots of room for stretches and dancing, plenty of privacy and space away from his surrogate family, and he could pretend all he wanted that he was a princess locked away in a tower.

But it was lonely. And it wasn’t as if he were Cinderella or anything. His cousins had grown up long ago and moved on to college or to have families of their own. His aunt didn’t even have chores for him to do.

No, it was school and coursework, ballet and skating, then wandering the parks and the forest, or playing at the edge of the lake. Reading, drawing, singing, and waiting for the hours to tick by for it to be practice time again, and days to burn so he could leave and start life over again.

The time had finally come.

What little belongings he had- books, mostly, and some clothes -had been packed into two cardboard boxes and a suitcase. These were against the wall in the only stretch of shadow left in the room. The rest was bathed in late summer sunlight, and Viktor stretched out to soak it up one last time. The dorm would be small, he knew, and he’d be sharing it with some other boy. He’d never had to have a roommate before. What would that be like? He couldn’t wait to find out.

Maybe he’d miss the faded blue paint on the walls, or the grouse calling out in the early spring mornings; the deer in the autumn bramble, or the distant wolf howls in winter. His aunt and uncle never danced together. Never. They sat close together on the couch to watch television, which was fine enough; quiet and comfortable. But he needed more.  And the Academy had it.

“Vitya, are you ready?”

Viktor rolled his head to look at the man framed in the doorway. His uncle looked nothing like either of his parents had, but so familiar with his worried smile buried deep under thick, badger-striped beard. “Yeah.”

“Off the floor, then. Come on.”

--

“That’s all you have?”

Viktor frowned at the slippers in his hands. “They’re the ones on the list.”

“You’ll wear through them in a week. I came with four pair to start.” Gavriil Ipati was the boy assigned as his roommate, and had already been settled into the room for two days by the time Viktor moved in. He was from Moscow and they’d come by train. Business class. “Those might’ve worked for your private tutoring, but everyone knows that we dance from dawn until dusk here.”

“I’m light on my feet.” Viktor shrugged. “I’ll make it work.” He’d have to. His aunt and uncle said that they’d send money when requested, but he didn’t want to have to ask so soon. The school would take care of most of his expenses, but did that cover things like dancing shoes?

The brunette shook his head. “What you mean is that you didn’t think ahead. Here, let me see them.”

Viktor handed them over.

“We wear the same size. Not surprising, since we’re the same age… same height…” He gave them back. “I’ll sell you a pair of mine, then, with only a slight markup as a convenience fee.”

“Convenience fee?” Viktor tilted his head. “What are you even talking about?”

“I’m a businessman. That’s how the rich stay rich. We don’t let an opportunity to trim the margins slip by, and we don’t do anything for free.” He smiled. It was genuine, despite the sales pitch, which felt wrong. “What say you, Vitya?”

Letting his slippers fall by the wayside, Viktor rubbed the side of his neck and canted his head to the other side. “I don’t have any money, Gavrik… I’m ten.”

“Oh, is that right?” The boy looked Viktor over from head to toe as if he were sizing him up in the butcher shop window, then pursed his lips and hummed. “I misjudged you, Vitya. How unfortunate. Here,” Gavrik retrieved a billfold from his trouser pocket, and withdrew two crisp bank notes, and waved it in front of him.

Viktor, startled, stretched out and plucked the offering from the waiting hand. “What? Why?”

“There. Now you have finances, even though you’re ten years old.”

“It’s still not enough to buy slippers.”

Gavrik rolled his eyes. “As if I would let you use my money to buy something from me. No, you’ll need to take that and turn it into more. Figure it out. If you’re worth something, you’ll manage.”

“Uh.”

“Impress me. Or disappoint me. Your choice.”

--

Although his father had been a banker, Viktor hadn’t inherited any financial skills whatsoever, himself. He held onto the money for weeks, tucked away in his journal that he kept in the bottom of his personal trunk. What to do with it? He only left campus for skating, he got his food from the on-site cafeteria, and all of the supplies were provided by the school. How was he supposed to turn the notes into anything?

Gavrik didn’t ask about it, but he offered significant glances from time to time, coupled with that same smile that kept Viktor feeling uneasy.

Otherwise, Vaganova Academy was everything Lilia had promised and more. Never had he been surrounded by so many passionate people. Everyone who was there had been vetted, and everyone knew that they had to work hard if they wanted to stay. It was the real deal. It was like the competitive skating world that Coach dealt with; only those who won got to keep moving forward. If you failed too many seasons, or didn’t place high enough, or couldn’t afford the fees- at least in skating -that was it.

He learned quickly that while he had been gifted in Lilia’s classes, everyone at the Academy was, too. Gifted and exceptional wasn’t enough. Perfect wasn’t enough. The instructors were never satisfied. Peers were never impressed. It was everyone for themselves, and competition, even from the beginning, was fierce, with each student vying for attention.

Viktor fell somewhere among the ‘average’ in the run-of-the-mill Academy student. That was to say, a genius anywhere else, but at Vaganova…

He needed something to stand out. Some way to rise above without having to fight like some of the more aggressive boys. Viktor was smart, but not like some of the more mathematically-inclined students, and though he had experience, there were others that had far more. He wasn’t the strongest, the tallest, the thinnest, or even the least notable. Some had parents that were genuinely famous, not to mention alive. Others came from extremely wealthy families. Bankers and ballerinas, as it turned out, didn’t make very much for yearly salary.

Not that money mattered. Nor any of those things, really. But if he wanted to keep dancing, and thus skating, he had to do something.

Which was part of why he took the money with him to practice one afternoon and waited for Yakov to finish closing up his office that evening, hanging around at the rows of benches for a chance to talk.

“Hey, Coach?”

“Vitya. It’s late. Why haven’t you left yet?”

“I wanted to talk to you.”

“Of course. Are your classes going okay?”

“Yeah, yeah they’re fine…” Viktor sucked in a breath, steeling himself. “Look, I need to ask you a favor.”

“What… kind of favor?”

“I need you to buy something for me…” He dug into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a folded paper, which he offered to him. “I did some research. Uh. That should be enough money.”

The old man hesitated, taking a moment to look around. They were alone. He took the paper, unfolded it to find the bills and a very short list. “Aren’t you a bit young for this?”

Viktor rocked back and forth on his heels. “I’ll be eleven in a month…”

“Two months.”

“One and a half.”

“Hmmm.”

Viktor winced. “I can’t do it myself. I’ll, uh, bring tea cookies next practice?”

Sighing, Yakov folded the paper again, tucking it away into his own coat. “Fine. I’ll have it for you by the end of the week. Ah- Vitya!” he pinwheeled as Viktor hugged him, then took off.

“Thank you, Coach!”

“No running!”

“Sorry!”

--

At the end of the week, Yakov made good on his promise. Once everyone had cleared out for the day, he passed a brown paper parcel to the boy’s eager hands.

“Aren’t you going to wait, open it at your dorm?” he asked.

“No… I can’t risk Gavrik seeing the package in the trash…” Viktor tore it apart, eyes bright and smile wide. Within seconds, he’d freed the package, and then the precious cargo inside: a brand-new tube of mascara. Kiko. Waterproof. Volumizing. Shaping. After tucking the trash under his arm, he twisted the cap off and pulled out the brush, which popped , and gave a little sigh. Then he closed it again.

“I can’t give you any advice…” Yakov mumbled.

“That’s okay. I’ll figure it out. I just have to get up early.” Viktor slipped it into the inside pocket of his coat. It fit perfectly. Secret, secure. No one would know. Makeup had gotten him through every ballet performance so far, and every day at the Academy was its own performance in a way. With darker, fuller lashes, he would have more confidence, and confidence was everything. It was the perfect weapon. Liquid courage. War paint.

He was beaming.  “Thanks, Coach.”

“Anytime, Vitya…”


 

“Stay away!” The boy screamed, hurling a stone from just beyond the gate “Get away from him!”

The rock landed harmlessly several feet from wolf and tiger, but both were startled by the sudden intrusion. The tiger growled, hackles raised. He hated when his private conversations were interrupted, especially by weakling humans.

The boy scrambled over the fence, dragging a branch with him- heavy, full of brambles -which he hauled into the air. “I said get away from him!”

“You’d better just go,” whispered the wolf to the tiger. The tiger had been the companion of the princess for many years, but it did no good to have them fighting… and besides, the boy had such a light in his eyes now. He was so passionate. So…

“I’m not just going to let this cub tell me what to do!” The tiger snarled, lashing his tail.

But the boy kept coming, swinging the branch, only this time he was yelling for the rest of the town. “Tiger! Tiger! Everyone there’s a tiger!”

The tiger cowered at that. A boy was one thing, but an entire village? Hunters? He looked back at the wolf with a glare, taking one rake of the branch to his face before bolting to the woods.The tiger would be long gone before anyone came to the boy’s aid.

The boy dropped the branch to the ground and threw his arms around the wolf’s neck, burying his face deep in his fur. “I was so worried he was going to hurt you.”

“You saved me,” said the wolf, heart full.

--

Viktor looked at his watch. Yuuri was late. Extremely late.

He tapped the ice with his skate, tired and anxious. Every second that he had to wait was another drain on his courage. Talking to someone about feelings sounded easy in theory, but in practice… well, not so much. Especially when that someone was Yuuri, who couldn’t even be asked a simple question, like if they’d had a past lover, without causing an existential crisis. Viktor had a feeling that it might not go so well.

They were compatible, though, weren’t they? Common interests, a bit odd, passionate, dog lovers, athletes, same favorite food… and they both loved Hasetsu. That was important. Plus neither of them liked to lose. And the fact that Yuuri had chosen that costume for Eros, out of all of them, said something. Meant something. They were the same. To some degree, they were different.

But it didn’t matter if Yuuri never showed up to practice and Viktor lost his nerve. What had he done the last time? The… only time he’d been in a relationship before? Approached and flirted, sent a card, established communication, then straight up asked him to be his boyfriend.

Would that work? It had worked then, but on Yuuri, he wasn’t sure. It was direct. It didn’t leave any room for confusion, either, which was important. Right. That’s what he would do, then. Direct. To the point.

Maybe.

But what if Yuuri said no? Could he handle the rejection? Would he be able to stay and coach? Would he have to leave, even after all of that bravado with Yurio?

What if Yuuri was horrified at the idea? He’d been so afraid of him, recoiled at every touch. Had he come to hate him after what happened in Sochi? Perhaps it was too soon, and they were only just now repairing the cracks in a tentative alliance between rivals for Yuuri’s benefit?

Or what if it crossed some kind of cultural line that he wasn’t aware of? After all, coach and student… and he was Yuuri’s idol, wasn’t he? Did that make it better or worse?

He checked his watch again.

He’d give him five… no, ten more minutes. He’d waited long enough that he needed to put his coat on.

Tap tap tap.

And in the meantime…

Viktor bit his lower lip. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to arm himself against the upcoming battle. If not with Yuuri, then with himself. It was a risk, but with how anxious he felt, it was probably worth it.

Sighing, he unzipped his coat and dug into his inner pocket, finding the tube of mascara that he kept for emergencies, as well as the tiny compact mirror, and set to work. Just a little a little extra confidence could go a long way…

He’d just finished the last sweep when the double doors of the front entrance crashed open, followed by frantic, pounding footsteps. Viktor calmly closed the mascara and compact, and tucked them away. No evidence.

Yuuri gasped, throwing himself in through the doors. “Sorry I overslept!” He gasped.

Now prepared, it was easy to turn a magnanimous smile as he looked over his shoulder at the boy. “Good morning, Yuuri! Only Aeroflot has kept me waiting as long as you have.”

Hee.

 

They spent the entire day working on routines instead of discussing anything about romance at all. Something about Yuuri literally being on his hands and knees to beg for forgiveness struck Viktor as being an inappropriate time to bring up feelings and his desire to kiss him. He didn’t want Yuuri getting the wrong idea.

A relationship wasn’t a negotiation or a business deal. It wasn’t an exchange of goods and services or a power play. It was mutual respect and want. Which would never be if Yuuri didn’t even see him as potential dating material for one reason or another, above or below him. Did he? Maybe he needed more information first.

Yes, of course! That was the solution. Gathering intel on Yuuri. He couldn’t ask directly, of course, but he could run several experiments, ask probing, sideways questions, and extrapolate from between the lines based on reaction. Then, at the end, he would know. And then he would confront him, at least if he thought there was a chance. It was a solid enough plan, and it was the perfect way to put off asking him right away. And if Viktor Nikiforov was good at anything, it was being over prepared.

 

He started with more innocent touches. A little brush of fingers on his shoulders, a bump against his arm as he walked past, but neither of them got much of reaction. That was a good sign. Of course, Yuuri had gotten used to him being clumsy in the narrower hallways of the onsen, so maybe that was all it was. Hm.

Then there were the glances over dinner, half-lidded gazes over his drink, a tilt of his head here or there for maximum flirting without being too overt, but Yuuri didn’t seem to notice that, either. He mostly kept his eyes on the table or his meager meal of broccoli, tiredly chatting about skating and what came next. Was Yuuri just not interested?

Now that he thought of it, he spent most of the evenings not looking at him. Was Yuuri disgusted by his presence, or did he need to look away to survive? Viktor pursed his lips, a little offended. Either way, his student wasn’t paying him much attention. And he was even wearing mascara!

When they went to the baths, it seemed only reasonable to up the ante and begin the next experiment. The Japanese were so used to the naked body in the onsen, it shouldn’t have been a big deal to do some stretches next to the side of the bath, so why not? It was natural, and the flat, smooth stones were perfect for his sore muscles and joints. Really, it was heaven. Such a relief.

As someone who had studied art history at length in school, Viktor was not shy when it came to nudity. Students at the Academy quickly learned that the sooner you got used to the naked body, the sooner you could appreciate the beauty of it, and the sooner the awkward giggles of classmates would stop. Besides, no one could be shy after getting a full Brazilian wax as many times as he had.

Casual spread out and stretch, muscles warm and limber, all while the shop talk continued on. Nothing out of the ordinary, except that Yuuri, again, refused to look at him. Overtly. As in turned his back to him, hands cupped at the side of his head like blinders.

For someone who worked at a hot springs he was certainly shy. Except that Viktor knew it was just him that received that treatment. And it wasn’t just the stretches. It was whenever he was naked. This was just worse than ever before.

So, Viktor naked was definitely different for Yuuri. That meant something. But what?

More information needed.

He got to his feet and crossed to the side where Yuuri was moping, head down. The talk of changing his composition had not inspired confidence. But very little did.

“Yuuri, do you know why I decided to become your coach?”

“Huh?”

Viktor crouched at the water’s edge and reached for him, both hands grasping Yuuri’s to pull his attention to his face. It worked, maybe a little too well. Yuuri stared, frozen, eyes wide and mouth agape. Viktor continued. “I was drawn to you because of the music... the way you skate like your body is creating music.” It was all true. Even the memory of the infamous viral video brought the echos of Stay Close to Me without any effort at all, Yuuri’s body movements drawing out the melody just as Viktor had intended when he’d originally choreographed the piece. He brushed his thumb over his hand, sliding smooth fingerpad over Yuuri’s slick and heated skin. “I want to create a high-difficulty program to maximize that.”

Yuuri gulped, throat tightening, face blazing red from the heat. Was it just the onsen? Was this too intense? There was only one way to find out.

Viktor tucked his chin, gaze dark, best wolf eyed gaze in place. “Only I can do that. That's the gut feeling I had…”

There was that terrified prey stare again. Yuuri was going to faint at this rate.

He tightened his grip and pulled him up onto his feet, abandoning the predatory for a broad smile. “And the short program validated it! Perhaps you should produce your next free program.”

Once Yuuri had stumbled into place, he was easy for Viktor to manipulate, like a stiff little doll. He pushed limbs here and there until he was in fourth position. Beautiful. Then he took his ankle, guiding it up, up, into a graceful arch, higher…

Meanwhile, Yuuri stuttered. “Huh? But my coach has always chosen my music- ow ow ow!”

Rotating at the joint of his hip for more height… just how flexible was Yuuri Katsuki? “Isn't it more fun to do it yourself?”

“That hurts!” Yuuri whimpered, “but my previous coach…”

“Who was your coach again?”

Yes. Who was the man who took Yuuri to the banquet in Sochi, got him to drink, and then left him to fend for himself? Who was the coach that let Yuuri embarrass himself, black-out drunk, in front of his peers and the press?

Celestino Cialdini.

Viktor knew the man. Knew of his fame and connections, and had once idolized him in his prime. But a rich legacy in skating and coaching was no excuse for abandoning someone who depended on you. It didn’t matter how many medals you had won or how fabulous your hair was. A good coach never let that kind of thing happen to their student. Yakov never would, anyway.

Yuuri called him from the changing room. “Oh, it's been a while... uh, sorry.”

Why was he apologizing? Viktor snatched Yuuri’s wrist and, subsequently, the phone. “Ciao, ciao, Celestino!” he said with a forced smile. There was no point in letting on how he felt about the man just yet, not until he had the information he needed. “I'm his coach, Viktor!”

There was a moment’s pause before the voice on the other end continued, dry and humorless. “You're playing at being a coach in Japan? Cut it out already.”

Deep breath. Viktor steeled himself, smile fixed into place. “Hey, why didn't you let Yuuri choose his program music?”

“Huh?" What followed was some diplomatic excuse about how he usually picked, but didn’t always, because his skaters trusted him or something, blah blah… but the important part, Viktor noted, was about Yuuri himself. "Yuuri never had confidence in himself. I told him time and again to trust himself more, but..." As if Viktor didn’t already know that.

He pulled away, letting Yuuri take over the conversation again. "Okay, thanks."

"U-um, Celestino…” Yuuri stammered, gearing himself up for someone who didn’t deserve any sort of affirmation. “I'm going to redeem myself at the next Grand Prix Final!" There was nodding, to which Viktor rolled his eyes, before he hung up and slumped on the bench in relief. "I'm so glad... I couldn't bring myself to contact him for so long..."

Cripes.

Viktor leaned over the bench, expression flat. If Ciao Ciao didn’t like the music, it could have been for any number of reasons. One of which being that he’d been a terrible coach. There was only one way to know for sure. "Yuuri... Could I hear this music he mentioned?"

“Uh…”

Nervous again. He needed to work on that confidence, especially when it involved people who weren’t even worth his time.  “Why didn’t you tell me? I’m your coach, aren’t I?”

“Right, sorry…”

More apologies… Sigh. They’d need to work on that, too.

--

The music was, unfortunately, lackluster. So perhaps Ciao Ciao had been right about one thing. There was potential, but it was missing so much. If they’d had time, Viktor would have sent it to his own composers to have it redone, but it was far too late in the season for that. Salvageable, yes, but with their time constraints…?

Especially since it needed to be something that Yuuri felt, not Viktor. He couldn’t simply take it over for him, write the stories and reference the thematic components that would play into it. Suggesting le motifs would do them no good; it needed to be Yuuri’s piece. Was Yuuri capable of doing all of that on top of choreographing his own program? There was still so much to do. As much as he wanted it to be all Yuuri, they needed to consider other options.

Yet, Yuuri insisted on trying to have it rewritten.

That was fine. If the conservatory student could handle it and produce some usable material in time, why not? But otherwise, they needed another piece as soon as possible.

In the meantime, more Eros, smoothing out the rough edges, the transitions, and fixing the jumps. The percentages of success were still too low for comfort, and they were only in practice. So it was drills and workouts, day in and day out… and more subtle weedling out of information.

A statement, just casual, thrown into conversation to see if Yuuri would refute it. He refused to answer it as a question earlier, so… “Just try to remember something, like when a girlfriend loved you.”

“Haaaah?!”

Viktor blinked. It wasn’t the blushing, stammering response he’d expected, but a bitter, frustrated snap. He was… mad.

And then a second later, the apologies came out again. A fountain of them, jumbling together in a mass of nonsense. “S-SORRY!”

“Oh, right,” Viktor said, shrugging. It had been a line crossed. There was nothing to apologize for. “You’ve never had a girlfriend.” Would he get the confirmation once and for all?

But instead of another outburst, Yuuri lowered his eyes in shame. Hurt.

The naked truth was a cruel thing to lay bare for anyone, whether heart of stone or glass. Viktor hated that look. Hated knowing he’d gone too far. And not for the first time with Yuuri, either, remembering how he’d trembled before performing Eros

It was almost too much for him to bear.

 

That was the end of practice.

That was really the end of it all.

Viktor wore a cautious smile the rest of the day, keeping distance but making peace offerings where he could. Yuuri would have none of it. No outings, no bath, and not even a single reaction when asked if he could sleep in his room. Not like the screaming ‘no’ of the first night.

Yuuri wouldn’t look at him. Barely uttered a word.

If he thought it was bad before, it was a thousand times worse now.

He didn’t even show up for practice in the morning.

No skating for Yuuri Katsuki?

Viktor had hurt him. That meant, more than anything, that Yuuri cared. That Viktor mattered to him. It wasn’t the way he wanted to come to that conclusion, but those were the facts. The rest of the data was confusing at best.

He tapped his skate on the ice, considering.

All that could be done was to apologize and level with him. No more games. If Yuuri rejected him, then he would simply have to carry on, true to his word, and be his coach only. Professional. Business only. It was a risk he was willing to take for both of their sakes. He couldn’t do that to Yuuri again.

Viktor took out the tube of mascara and rolled it in his hands. War paint. He bit his lip. Yuuri wouldn’t have any of that… nothing to safeguard him against the anxiety or onslaught of confusion or hurt that Viktor had caused or would stir up. He slid it back into his coat. He would go without, vulnerable, bare. It was only fair.

He would make it easy. A statement. An offer. All Yuuri would have to do is say yes. No justifications needed. No explanations.

And it would be enough.

Viktor smiled as he walked back to the hotsprings, nervous, but hopeful.

“You are Viktor Nikiforov,” Yakov had always said before competitions. “You take what you want.”


He could do this.

Chapter Text

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?

Chapter Text


 

Saint Petersburg, Russia
Viktor (12 years old)

 

“Vitya, we need to talk.”

Viktor hesitated in the doorway of the room he shared with Gavrik, one hand holding the door, the other pulling the satin ribbon out of his hair. They’d been roommates for almost two years, and if he’d learned anything, it was that talking meant trouble. “Okay?”

The other boy tucked his feet under his legs, getting comfortable on his own bed- the one next to the window. “Go on, shut the door. This is a private conversation.”

Wary, but obedient, Viktor shut the door and crossed to his own bed, perching on the edge. “Am I in trouble, or is it you this time?”

“No one’s in trouble, per se; I just need to talk to you about next year’s room assignments.”

It wasn’t surprising. Viktor knew that it was only a matter of time before Gavrik tried to find a more advantageous roommate. After all, Viktor still wasn’t rich or famous. He excelled in ballet, sure, but he had no talent for piano, and very little patience for the more tedious subjects. Like Art History, which was fun when he got to analyze the meaning of a painting, but not so much when he had to memorize the artist’s name, the year it was painted, who commissioned it, what movement it was from, and the medium it was done in. Who cared? He wanted to know why it was painted and how the artist came to those decisions! But essay portions only counted for part of his scores. Alas.

He rubbed his neck. “Are you thinking of requesting a different room next year?”

“Considering, yes.” Gavrik rolled his wrist until his watch faced him. “I hope you understand that I just need to think about how things might affect me as we get older.”

“Right.” Viktor sighed. “But is it because I’m poor or because I’m dumb?”

The other boy recoiled. “What? No. You’re not stupid. Vitya, you’re gay.”

“I…” Viktor was only able to get the one word out before the confusion set in.  That didn’t make any sense. Gay? He shook his head. “I’m not gay.”

“Yes. Yes you are.”

“I’m twelve.”

“And gay.”

“Is that… is that even a thing?” Not that he was, but wasn’t that something that happened when a person was older? Viktor squinted across the room.

“Yes, it’s a ‘thing,’ and yes, you are. You poor, poor thing.”

“I’m sorry I don’t have any money! I can’t compete yet, I’m not old enough!”

Gavrik turned away to dig under his pillow. “That’s not what I meant. Now look, you dress like a girl.”

“It’s- it’s an acceptable style for ballerinas!”

“You wear makeup.”

“We all do!”

“For performances, but you wear it every day. ” Gavrik slid a little leather-bound book out and held it up. “Besides, I was reading your diary, and you actually wrote, in purple glitter pen, that you were waiting for your prince charming to come and sweep you off your feet.”

The heat was instant, flooding Viktor’s cheeks as his jaw dropped. “You- you read my journal?!” It came out as a squeak. “Gavrik!”

“You even have girly handwriting. And look at this page I’ve marked, where you describe your potential mate; you’ve drawn little hearts all over it. And I think that’s supposed to be a unicorn.”

“IT’S SYMBOLIC!”

“No, it’s gay.  ‘Someone who is sweet, and who can dance- of course -and appreciate the little details, and like art. Bonus points if they're super cuuuuuute, extra bonus points-”

Viktor could have cut Gavrik’s fake-Viktor voice off by lunging to attack. Or throwing something. Instead, he took up his own pillow to bury his face, and screamed. “Stop! Don’t read it!”

Gavrik set the journal down and frowned. “So you see.”

Viktor burned behind the pillow. Nowhere in the journal had he specified that it had to be a boy , though he guessed Gavrik wouldn’t understand that a prince could be anyone. Just like a princess could be. Slowly, he dragged the pillow down to peek over at his roommate, who watched him with the stillness and patience of an owl in a tree. He dropped back into the fluffy hiding place.

“Vitya. You’re not crying, are you?”

“No.” He wasn’t. Just mortified.

Gavrik moved on. “Anyway, with the evidence, it might be best. Though you’re trustworthy and hard-working, and obviously not a threat, so those are points in your favor…”

Not a threat? Viktor raised his head again. “What?”

“Well, you know.”

Setting his elbows on top of the pillow, chin in his hands, Viktor pursed his lips, face cooling. “No, really. What was that?”

“I meant territory-wise, Vitya. I know you’re talented.”

“Hmm.” The narrow-eyed gaze turned into batting lashes, and Viktor put on a little smirk. “Maybe I’m just hoping that someone will come along and give me lots of money. A sugar daddy.”

The reaction, as expected, was priceless: Gavrik’s face colored- a rare treat -and his brows furrowed in abject horror. After a few second’s pause, he shuddered. “Okay, that was extremely gay. I gave you money that one time… Never again!”

“Oh come on~”

“Vitya, no! Don’t you make those eyes at me! Ugh!

Laughing, Viktor shoved the pillow aside and hopped off of the bed. “Don’t worry. You’re not my type. Or whatever.”

“What! And why is that?”

Viktor put one hand on his hip and held out the other. “Because you read my journal.”

“Fine. But you left it out in the open.” Gavrik handed it back, then flopped over backward with a sigh.

“I thought I could trust you.”

“Sorry.” He waved a hand. “You’re still gay, though.”

“And you’re still a jerk.” The pages were intact, thankfully. Nothing torn or missing, not even the little pressed flowers or scraps of paper he’d put in for safekeeping.

“I guess it’s settled, then.”

Viktor retreated to his own bed, then looked back at him. “What is?”

“I’m not sure. But something has.”

“...okay.”

“Also, your poetry is really bad.”

“You weren’t supposed to read it!”

Love is like blue roses~

“Gavrik…”

“I guess that’s true, though. I’m pretty sure blue roses don’t exist. Like love.”

“That really is symbolic. Blue roses have to be carefully cultivated from white roses and/or magic. Love is the same way.”

“White roses and magic?”

“Stop picking on me or I’ll flirt with you again.”

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry!”

“Cripes…”

 

Later, as Viktor wrote in his journal while Gavrik slept, he considered the accusation. Was it really gay if it was the princess in him that swooned and sighed over the princes? It didn’t seem like that should count.

Gavrik was dumb, anyway.  

 


 

The alarm went off again, quiet trills on the night stand once, twice, then off with a clumsy hand that disappeared back under the covers once peace had been restored. Makkachin lifted his head, sniffed, then turned to the sliding door. Viktor had hit snooze three times already that morning. Once every few days was a normal occurrence, but it was becoming habit. That worried him.

It wasn’t as though he couldn’t just slip out of the room; he’d gotten good at pushing his nose up against the door and sliding it open on his own. That had let him explore and visit the rest of the family. As much as he loved his own Person best, there were plenty of other People that needed to be taken care of in the house, and all of them were very nice. If he needed to go outside, or if his belly started to ache with hunger, he was sure that the others would help him out. Mama and Papa Katsuki got up early, too. So there were options.

But what was Viktor’s problem?

Makkachin stretched out lengthwise against him over the covers, back legs behind, forelegs in front, and yawned with a loud whine as he nuzzled the blanket where a bit of silver hair poked over the rim. It was time to get up. They had things to do. People to visit. Food to eat.

Viktor stirred, but curled up tighter, pulling the blankets with him.

Makkachin cocked his head to one side. It was something he’d seen Yuuri do plenty of times when he’d tried to wake him up, but Viktor hadn’t done it in several years. At least, not without the smell of alcohol on him. He sniffed again. Nope. None.

Army crawling closer, up and onto Viktor’s pillow, the poodle stuck his nose under the blanket to find Viktor’s face, bumping his forehead, his eyelids, his nose.

“Makka… stop it…”

Aha! So he was awake! Wagging his tail with a thump thump against the bed, Makkachin crawled in further, slithering under the blanket head first over Viktor’s face, then chest, stomach, and legs.

“Makkachin! Get off me!”

Once fully immersed, he turned around, careful to step on Viktor only three or four times- the maximum allowed before he’d really get scolded -then squirmed up until he was at face level again.

“Brff.”

Viktor frowned at him, blinked once or twice, then rolled onto his side to drape his arms around the dog.

Success.

“I know I need to get up.”

Makkachin panted at him, letting the doggy breath wash over him like smelling salts.

“And I will. Soon.”

The dog’s mouth closed. Soon? Why soon? Why not now? He touched noses again, curious.

“I can’t… face him, day after day…”

The choke in Viktor’s voice was all-too familiar. Makkachin licked his face from cheek to eyebrow, then over the bridge of his nose, and onto his forehead, and would have continued if Viktor hadn’t pushed his face away.

“Makka…”

The pain cut fresh and harsh, emotions from Viktor washing over him like crashing waves. It hurt. He hated it. His poor Viktor. Poor, poor Viktor. There’d been so many times just like this, when the hurt would come, and all they could do was wait for it to ease up. At least enough to get moving. Makkachin buried his muzzle against Viktor’s neck, pressing close with a huff.

It never lasted too long. Sometimes just a few minutes, occasionally a few hours. Makkachin was trained to handle it. Stay close, press tight, keep him company until it was better, then get him outside. Back to routine. Routine was important. Routine was essential to keep Viktor happy. Then it would be fine. It was always fine after that.

Maybe later he could drag Viktor to the beach again. That would make him happy, too. They’d bring Yuuri. Less talking and more running, though.

Talking never seemed to make People happy.

--

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

Viktor watched the trail of Yuuri’s skates, cutting thin lines into the ice as he moved. The marks were a mix of confident, broad strokes and wavering curves. When Yuuri set up for a jump, he hesitated. The evidence would stay etched until Yuko’s staff cleaned the ice that evening, resurfacing it for a new day.

“Again,” he said, voice tired but carried by all the authority he could muster. Viktor was Yuuri’s coach now, nothing more. “Come on, Yuuri.”

Yuuri fell in line right away, as expected; quick, obedient, with a sharp “Ah, yes!” in reply.

Maybe it was all the Japanese skater really wanted. A tough coach. Someone to keep him in line. Someone that would drag the potential out of him by the whiskers if he had to.

Viktor studied the parallel of limbs to ice, the speed and angles as Yuuri worked through the practice drills that had been set for him. He could do that. Be his coach. That was why he’d come to Hasetsu. That was why he would stay.

At least until the season was over.

Yuuri would have his first choice of coaches, then. He could have anyone he wanted. He probably could already, now that Viktor Nikiforov’s name had been tied to him. But once they’d gone through the Grand Prix, Japanese Nationals, the Four Continents, Worlds…  there would be no one who didn’t want Yuuri Katsuki.

How did it fit into the narrative?

“No, no, no, no!”

Viktor shuddered at the memory of that recoil. It had just been nerves, he was relatively sure; Yuuri reacting badly to something so sudden and intimate. He should have known better than to bring it up like that. How could he have expected Yuuri to react any differently?

He couldn’t be mad. He didn’t have reason or right to be.

But it still hurt.

--

The wolf wondered if the boy saved him because he’d seen something… if he knew to look past all the teeth and fur, to see who he really was. It was true that they hadn’t spent very long together, but the boy was perceptive. Only…

No. The boy was simply kind-hearted.

He didn’t want the wolf to be hurt because they were friends. And they were friends because the wolf hadn’t eaten the townspeople or their sheep. “A wolf,” he said, “isn’t bad just for being a wolf.”

Which, of course, was appreciated. It was still nice to have a friend outside of the tower. Still wonderful to see the world for the first time in years. And every day, the boy grew a little stronger, a little braver.

“You know,” he said, whittling a branch into a stake by the hearth. “Maybe you’re right about the firebird.”

The wolf looked up at him, quiet, pensive.

“If that tiger came out here, that means there’s something going on. I have proof that the firebird is real. Look.” He laid the stick over his lap and dug through his tunic until he came out with a leather cord- and on the end of it, a contour feather, glowing bright and gold, with scarlet stripes. “You see this? This is a real firebird feather.”

The wolf nodded. He recognized it right away; one of the feathers that he had plucked from his own plumage, ripping it from his chest, his wings, his back, anywhere he could reach. The feathers had dotted the landscape; tiny pricks of light in the cold night that the princess had been taken away. When she’d almost succeeded in destroying herself.

“I have a whole sack full of these.”

“So what is your plan?” asked the wolf, finally speaking again. “Shall we go to the west? Find the tower?”

Restore your birthright?

“Yes. Find the firebird and kill it.”

The wolf blinked at him. It was a common threat by many with the sword, but no one had succeeded yet- obviously. The princess had ways of dealing with those who sought to destroy her. “And then what?” he asked.

“Save the princess.”

More silence.

“I heard that the firebird kidnapped her… and is keeping her somewhere. That tower must be where.”

The wolf let his ears relax, dropping his head to rest on his paws. The firebird was the princess, but it wasn’t as if the boy would know that. Stupid fool… if he killed the firebird, he would kill her, too. And the wolf.

The boy picked up his knife again, scraping wood off of the rough end of the stick. “We’ll leave first thing in the morning. I know where I can get provisions and weapons. I have a little bit of savings. You’ll be with me, right? Like you said?”

“Of course,” said the wolf.

I’ll walk with you right into my very death.

--

“Yurio! It’s been a while.”

“Yeah. Three weeks.”

“How are things in Saint Petersburg? Good?”

“Fine.”

“Good, good… and Yakov. Is he well?”

“Also fine.”

“...Just fine?”

“Still mad.”

“Ah.”

“...did you want something, Viktor? Or are you just bored?”

“I just wanted to see how you were doing. How is the rest of your program coming along? Yakov’s good, you know.”

“I know.”

“So is it?”

“Yeah. He hired a choreographer.”

“Oh. He must really believe in you if he’s gone to that sort of trouble. Do you like him?”

“Her.”

“Sorry. Her.”

“She’s okay. She sort of reminds me of you.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. It’s Yakov’s ex wife. Lilia Baranovskaya. She said you used to be one of her students.”

“...I’m sure she’s said a lot of things about me.”

“Yeah.”

“Well. As long as you stick to strictly business with her, you should be fine. Don’t let her push you around. She’s very talented, but I wouldn’t trust her with a--”

“We’re living in her house.”

“What?”

“Yakov and I. She had us move in.”

“Ah. I see.”

“Yakov didn’t want you to know.”

“Well. I’m glad your program is coming along.”

“Yeah. The world keeps turning, with or without you.”

“Take care, Yurio. Good luck.”

“I don’t need luck.”

“I meant with her. She’s like a basket of cobras.”

“Heh. Better that than a pig.”

“I’ll check in again later.”

“...Viktor?”

--

The days wore on, fragile pink petals disappearing behind thick, green canopies of treeline all around Hasetsu. With it came the heat and the rain, washing away any last lingering traces of winter and its hold on spring. Summer brought thunderstorms that tossed the waves in choppy peaks that rushed the shore. It wasn’t as mild as the spring rain, and the heat of the afternoons pawed at Viktor whether they were on the ice or not.

These days, they weren’t. Not in the heat of the day, anyway. Hasetsu’s Ice Castle had regained some of its former glory, offering respite to students on break, and travellers hoping to get a peek at the famous Russian coach. That was fine with Viktor; he’d let them have it. He preferred to book mornings and late evenings, anyway. Especially since he could send Yuuri by himself to practice some nights, or leave him to it in the afternoons when there weren’t any other paying guests.

Excuses to get away were plentiful and needed. Afternoon naps were a godsend. He was tired again, inside and out; food unappealing, even with Mama Katsuki’s prodding. Smaller portions were fine. Lighter dishes. “I need to understand Yuuri,” he’d said, but it was just an excuse.

He lay in bed and in the dark, stripped down to his briefs on top of the covers. It was too hot for anything more. The rain had been relentless, tapping out a constant thrum of percussion that was more like a hazy hum in the back of his head than actual weather. Makkachin stayed at the foot of the bed, sprawled out and panting. He only inched closer when the thunder rolled overhead. Saint Petersburg was never so hot. It made everything so miserable.

Most days, he could fall asleep without a problem; napping had always been something that he’d been very good at. But other days, lying there was all he could manage. Time alone to think, to recharge, to simply exist. He didn’t need to be at Yuuri’s side for every waking moment; there was no reason to be so clingy. People hated that.

They always had.

He’d always been too rash, too bold, too forward, too exuberant. It wore others out. It annoyed them.

“I want you to stay who you are, Viktor!”

That’s what he’d said. But did he mean it? Did he know who Viktor was?

Did Viktor?

He rolled onto his side, sheets tugging at his bare back as he pulled away, and stretched an arm out over the edge of the bed. Tendons flexed under soft, pale skin as he bent his wrist this way and that, watching the shadows move with every curve.

Stay who you are.

There had been a time when he would have given anything to hear those words. Ten years ago? Just about. No, a little longer than that; before a disagreement became a string of arguments. Before things turned so sour. Before he’d destroyed himself, over and over again, to become what everyone else wanted him to be. Before he’d gotten so lost in the storm.

“Niko-- look, I’m… I’m just Viktor. Can’t that be enough for you? I love you; why does anything else matter?”

It was never enough. It had never been enough. It was all just a fantasy and nothing more.

 

With a sword, I would cut those throats that sing of love.

I would enclose in ice the hands that write those verses of fiery passion.

 

Love was such an elusive and fickle creature. Fleeting at best, and entirely destructive at every other turn. Or, maybe that was a little too harsh. It wasn’t love that had killed his parents. The Nishigoris seemed happy enough. And of course, Mama and Papa Katsuki…

But not for Yakov. Nor himself. How many had he turned away in the past several years without even any consideration? After Christophe, he couldn’t bear it.

 

“I have loved to the point of madness; That which is called madness, That which to me, Is the only sensible way to love.”  He’d said that, in French, setting a wine bottle down in front of him. A banquet, just like any other, years ago. Chris had grown; taller than him at twenty, with those puppy eyes and pouting lips that he’d put into that smile meant just for him. The smile that reminded him that there were no wolves here.

J’ai aimé jusqu’à atteindre la folie. Ce que certains appellent la folie, mais ce qui pour moi, est la seule façon d’aimer.

It had caught him off guard. Dramatic, romantic, eloquent. Viktor had shaken his head, instantly disarmed from his usual cold facade to a puzzled curiosity. "Tu es charmante.” You are charming.  “Just what are you up to?"

"I had to calm the beating of my heart around you from the very moment I met you... You are no longer spoken for, so I'm letting my heart do as it pleases."

No longer… Viktor’s gaze flicked from the wine bottle- which Chris had to have brought in on his own, they never served good wine at those sort of things -to the Swiss man’s face, smile freezing in place. Body stilling. A chill settled over him, soaking right through to his bones, heavy and haunting.

"Tes yeux, j'en rêve jour et nuit..."  I dream about your eyes day and night.

The words filtered through without Viktor even needing to think; he’d spent too many years laboring over French in the Academy to lose traction in such a conversation, much as he wished he could. Each syllable tightened the vice in his chest, until he finally cut through the reverie. “Chris. Can I speak with you? Outside?”

“Certainly.”

There had been so much confidence in those eyes and in his step. Had he any idea what was to come when he followed Viktor out of the banquet hall and into the rotunda, seeking out respite in an alcove? No. He hadn’t. He’d set the two wine glasses between them on the tiny coffee table across from the sofa, proudly turned the wine bottle out to display the label- yes, a very good year -and lounged in the seat next to him.

Why? Why had he done it? Why had he forced his hand, asking him to inflict so much pain? That young man, so handsome in his pressed suit, so bright-eyed and hopeful, so sure of himself. And Viktor knew he had to break his heart. It couldn’t wait. Not when Chris was such a dear friend. A close confidante.

“To be clear,” he’d begun, deciding to give them both a half step of warning before the final blow. “You are hitting on me.”

That smile, so fearless before, wavered. “Am I not?”

Viktor closed his eyes- just a moment, a brief attempt to steel himself -then reached for his hand. One of Christophe’s between both of his own. Then he leveled his weary gaze, and sighed. “Chris. I’m beyond flattered. But... I can’t.”

The shift in mood was abrupt; atmosphere apprehensive as Chris considered what he’d said. Others before had tried to argue with him; insisted that they knew better, that they would be good matches. But Chris knew Viktor too well for that. They’d always been frank with each other.

“Is it the difference in age…?”

“No. Nothing like that.”

“A relationship while skating… and long distance at that…”

Viktor reclaimed one of his hands to run it through his hair, jaw tightening with the tension. Chris was justifying the rejection, trying to make it easy on him. He was always trying to make it easy on him. “Chris. You deserve someone that can give you everything in a relationship, and I can’t.” He let that settle in, watching the hurt mix with confusion. “That spark… what I used to feel? It’s gone. Nearly four years, and I can’t seem to get it back.”

Christophe paled as the realization dawned. “Oh. Oh. Viktor…”

The concern bit at him the way pity often did, but Viktor pushed it away. Chris didn’t mean it to be insulting. If anyone knew how Viktor felt about that, it was Chris.

“That doesn’t make you… unloveable…”

Viktor gave a weak laugh. As nice as it was to hear, it only stirred the agony that lived in him like a malignant spirit. “Thank you. But you deserve more… and I don’t want to give you the impression that there’s any chance. Don’t wait for me.”

“No, I understand. Truly.” It came with earnest sincerity, despite the regret. “One rejection is all I need.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You needn’t be.”

They’d shared the wine in honor of friendship. That is, up until Chris, uninhibited, wept on Viktor’s shoulder for all the heartache. He’d held him, there on the sofa, in the hotel hallway off of the rotunda, and let him cry. He wouldn’t let it change his mind, and Chris had never asked him to.

Once the tears were shed and his coach had come to collect him, Chris never brought it up again. Simply been his friend, as he’d always been. His only friend.

He’d never held it against him, for which he was grateful. Avoiding him at every future competition and banquet would have been horrible.

All from a lack of spark…

 

This story that has no meaning

Will vanish this night along with the stars

 

The rain shifted in the wind, lulling, then picking up tempo before another brush of thunder crashed over the symphony of sound. Viktor lifted his blurry focus to the bedside table, where the ceramic owl and cat had taken the place of the fishbowl. The web of gold in each of the figures glimmered in what little ambient light there was. Tiny paw fit neatly in the outstretched wing, and both animals held tight. He understood why it had taken Kouki-san so long to do the repairs; despite the extra material, each piece of ceramic fit so snugly together that they still matched.

They could still dance together.

Viktor pushed up to sit and wiped the tears from his eyes. He still felt drained, but a little cooler and a lot calmer. Dinner would be ready soon, anyway, and he’d need to be composed to face the Katsuki family. They’d noticed that something was wrong, of course they had, but his adamant refusal to give any ins had kept them and their curiosity at bay.

Makkachin crawled to him and dropped his head in his lap, which drew Viktor’s hand for ear petting. He then got up and got dressed. A bath would be good. Too warm, maybe, but with the fresh breeze from the rain it might be nice. Different.

He’d just finished getting ready when there was a knock at the door.

“Viktor. You awake yet?” Mari often checked on him before dinner to make sure; probably because Mama Katsuki didn’t want to seem too much like a mother hen.

He answered it with a tired smile. “Yeah. Is it dinner already?”

“Just about.” She poked her head in, and Viktor moved to let her come inside. “I also wanted to ask when I could dust again.”

Viktor had done a good job at keeping things neat and tidy, but the dusting was something he was fine delegating elsewhere. “Anytime is fine.”

“Okay. I’ll take care of it tonight.” Then she paused. “Hey, what’s with those?”

“Hm?” Viktor looked back at the owl and cat. “Oh, they’re salt and pepper shakers that were damaged in the move. I had Kouki-san repair them.”

“Sure…”

“It’s supposed to represent owning your past self and all of the decisions and things you did, even the hard ones. Turning a flaw or weakness into a strength. A thing of beauty.”

“Yeah.” Mari frowned at him. “I know what kintsugi is. I just don’t get why you went through the trouble with those.”

“Oh.” Viktor frowned, too. “I have a collection of them back at home… these just happen to be my favorite ones.”

“Okay, but why salt and pepper shakers?”

To that, Viktor shrugged. “I always really liked that they came in pairs.”

--

I want you to stay who you are, Viktor!

Whenever Viktor was faced with a problem with no obvious solution- and even sometimes when it did -he put it through the Viktor Nikiforov Process. This was similar to the Vaganova Method in that he attacked it from a spectrum of sides to fully understand it. Though, of course, the Viktor Nikiforov Process was less about blending dance styles with classic studies, and more about the contrast between external/internal perspective and uncertain context vs the highly saturated, but the basic principles were the same. He broke things down into segments, made lists, and immersed himself in the significance of whatever the problem was.

Often times, it was overkill. But Viktor had too much time on his hands, and no one he felt completely comfortable going to for his problems. He used to pester Yakov for things that at least made it to Third Tier Problematic, but he didn’t even have that option anymore. At least putting it down on paper was similar to voicing his woes, and the silence that followed was far more neutral than that of the judgmental listener.

The main problem: how to survive in Hasetsu?

No. Too defeatist. How to thrive in Hasetsu… despite the heartbreak?

It wasn’t Yuuri’s fault that he didn’t feel the same. No one could be forced to fall in love; that wouldn’t be fair, it wouldn’t be right, and it wouldn’t be real. He couldn’t blame him for that. Viktor would handle the rejection as Chris had- a few tears, and then nothing but class. He’d come to Hasetsu to be a coach and he would be Yuuri’s coach. He would get him to the Grand Prix Finals and beyond.

He should have realized it long ago, really. The hidden eros in Yuuri that only came out when inebriated. The pork cutlet bowl that served as his inspiration. The aversion to advances and touches. Yuuri wasn’t just shy; he really was just like Viktor. No spark. Or at least, very little.

From what he’d learned, Yuuri had always been a loner. Always been different. And that was fine. As Chris had said, a lack of spark didn’t make one unlovable. Not at all. It put things into a perspective that he understood all too well. There was nothing that could be done about a missing spark. He’d tried. It wasn’t something you could force. It wasn’t something you should.

“Perhaps your spark is just sleeping,” Chris had said over his second glass of wine that night. “Like the princess.”

How he’d known, how Chris had always known, Viktor had no idea. But while that had turned out to be true for him, it wouldn’t be fair to wait for Yuuri in hopes that it would. It didn’t matter. Perhaps they’d never be more than student and coach, or friends, and that was okay.

Viktor still wanted to hold onto him.

Unconditional love- philia and agape - had always been stronger and more reliable than the romantic eros , anyway.

 

If I could only see you, eternity would arise from hope

Stay close to me, do not leave

I am afraid to lose you

 

To thrive in Hasetsu, to fulfil Yuuri’s wish, to be himself, Viktor would need to know what that meant. What was Viktor Nikiforov to Yuuri Katsuki? No- that line of thinking was what had driven him for the past ten years, trying to fit the baseline expectation and then rise above it while playing it safe. That wasn’t him. That had never been him. He’d hidden away for so long, torn himself apart, rebuilt, become stronger, refining, perfecting, until even he didn’t recognize what was left.

Philautia had been lost somewhere along the way, and him along with it. An identity was important. How could someone hope to convey meaning and heart to an audience without knowing who they were, or at least where they stood, to start? His routines were polished. Flawless. Absurd and untouchable. And he’d done everything he could to cultivate an appearance that matched. The world was his stage. Everything was an act.

Was it any wonder why Yuuri was so afraid, then? Intimidated by this cold and calculating wolf that had lists and plans for everything, that never let his temper flare, never let anything go but deliberate smiles and off-handed comments that put himself in a meeker light when it obviously didn’t fit the rest of the narrative? Who could trust someone so manipulative?

 

He woke earlier than he had been to take advantage of the cooler mornings and dressed in light, loose clothing- simple v-neck tee, jeans. Something a little more Viktor and a little less Coach . He packed his track suit in his bag, along with a pad of paper and his phone, then took Makkachin out for a walk.

It was still dark, sky only just beginning to lighten in the distance with paler blues and soft violets. The world was quiet, with only the sound of the wind and the ocean tasting the air. Dew clung to the grass and stone. The past six or seven months had been nothing short of madness. One day, he’d been wandering the broad concrete labyrinth of Saint Petersburg amid flurries in a thick woolen coat, and then here he was, exploring the lush fern-hedged forest just minutes from the hot springs.

He needed another program. A skate of his own. Something personal and distinctly his. It wouldn’t be performed since he wasn’t competing, and had very little interest in leaving his duties to make an appearance at showy galas for the season, so it could be as indulgent as he pleased. Just something, anything, to keep his mind occupied while he sorted everything else out…

Viktor just needed some inspiration. Something different than he’d done before. Or maybe just like he had back before, when he’d just started competing. Raw, hopeful. They were ideas, anyway. Who knew if anything would come of it?

He settled on a set of wooden steps nestled against the mossy roots of the neighboring trees, and took out the pad of paper while Makkachin wandered off to explore. Japanese forests were so different than Russian ones, with everything clinging to the humidity from the ocean and the recent rains. The rising sun steadily cut through the mists, filtering golden pillars of light through the foliage above. He wrote, looking up from time to time as the greens of the forest came alive and the shadows retreated, deepening the undergrowth.

Viktor Nikiforov.

Viktor Nikiforov. Viktor. Vitechka. Vitya. Vicchan. Mishka.

Carding a hand through his hair, he looked on. Makkachin sniffed the air, tail half-mast and waving in the way that it did when he was confused. What was he looking at?

Floating in the bush were a handful of lights; small, flickering, fading bits of gold like embers dancing in the breeze. Fireflies? Viktor had never seen them in person before, but there they were. Like the tanuki that Kouki-san had told him about, fireflies really did exist. Scraps of magic in the real world.

“Don’t be stupid… magic doesn’t exist, Mishka.”

“It does. I believe in it.”

“And when you find out that it isn’t real? When you can’t skate and no one remembers who you are? What then?”

Viktor took out his phone and snapped a photo, though there were only a small handful of fireflies at that time of morning, so it wasn’t the greatest. They barely showed up at all. Still, it was proof. Maybe not magic in the traditional sense, but little magic was good enough for him. The world was too harsh and cruel without it.

Looking for things to enjoy was important. Finding the beauty in life to temper the hurt and soothe the soul. That was why he skated what he did. That had always been his purpose. It wasn’t the gold, it wasn’t the money, or the fame. It was simply the beauty of it. Creating it, sharing it, supporting it.

How easy it was to forget something so fundamental in the face of the lonely dark?

--

As the days wore on, things got easier. Little by little, the heat didn’t bother him so much. Viktor’s afternoon naps continued, but they were restful or productive respites to work on his own projects. Training with Yuuri became fun again. Even he seemed to have loosened up; joking, playing around a little. He even touched him, willingly. Just a little head poke, but it was physical touch initiated by Yuuri. The relief swept through Viktor like the ocean breezes on the increasingly heated afternoons.

Yuuri didn’t hate him. Proof. Of course he didn’t. Viktor had known that. But the reassurance was so valuable, so needed. They could be friends. They could play. Viktor could work with this.

Even though he fell for him every day all over again, his well of hope and motivation refilled right along side the ache until they were all comfortable companions. Yuuri was so determined, so passionate. Never before had he seen someone work himself so hard. It wasn’t as if Viktor’s regimen were easy, either; but Yuuri didn’t complain, only asked to be drilled again and again. He wanted to be stronger. Wanted to get up that waterfall.

Wanted to be a golden dragon.

And Viktor wanted to see him do it more than anything else in the world.

 

Then came the music. The song that Yuuri had been so set on, so determined to get right… and he’d been right to insist. From the moment Viktor first heard it that night, half asleep with Yuuri on his bed, bright-eyed and trembling with excitement, he knew. He could feel it. See it. The music was Yuuri Katsuki and Yuuri was the melody.

He got a copy of the file and swept his own notes away. The music became his constant companion. Like any program, he needed to become intimately familiar with it, inside and out, so Viktor listened, again and again, over and over. There was the trill of excitement in the beginning; the dream and the desire to chase it. Viktor got details from Yuko and Mama Katsuki for the outside perspective, and asked Yuuri for his thoughts. What was it like to start out? When did you know what you wanted to do?

Yuuri stood in starting position of his program, hands at his side, and then bringing them up to his chin, overlapping them in a plea, arms raising, and then slow stretch outward. “I was like… a bird. Unfurling its wings, testing and wondering if I could fly. If it was time to fly. And then the first toe loop and landing, that’s realizing I could - my first competition.” He landed the toe loop and stopped. “I realized what I wanted to do before I’d even started my journey. Like a bird that knows it can fly.”

Then the skating. Learning the basics, the jumps, stops and starts, turns, how to be graceful. The rise and fall of the music felt like approaching each challenge head on, up and over the hurdles time and time again, gradually increasing difficulty and level. The marching beat, steady and sure, was the dedication he’d shown, the discipline over mind and body as far as he was able, unending and relentless practice and performance driven by a singular goal.

Then the bridge…

Viktor scribbled furious notes, laying out his own impressions and feelings, trying to put himself in Yuuri’s skates. He remembered what it had been like, to be young and frantic, driven wild by that fierce need to accomplish what he’d set out to do. But while he had taken the support offered and pulled comfort from it, Yuuri had decided to face it on his own. The anxiety? Something else? He couldn’t be sure.

But he, like Viktor, was never satisfied. Looking back on Yuuri’s career, the statistics and transfers, the shift in scores, it was clear that he’d had a difficult time, but Yuuri had never given in. Even after Nationals, when he’d fired Celestino, it had only been a short time before Yuuri had begun to skate again.

Yet he still had no confidence. He never felt like he was enough.

If only he could believe in himself… if he could see what Viktor saw… he would know that he was unstoppable. That, despite all of his fears of shortcomings and flaws, his dance on the ice was what set Viktor’s heart on fire. No one else had done that. No one else had even come close.

It wasn’t too late.

Watching him then, working through the moves they’d chosen, trying out the steps, gliding across the ice like he was meant to be there, like he was born for it, Viktor wondered if he knew… if he had any idea just how beautiful he was and how much potential he had. Had anyone told him? Could anyone? Would he ever believe them, or was it something that Yuuri had to learn for himself?

He supposed time would tell. They were going to make it happen. They were going to turn his career and his life- both of their lives -around.

Together, they were going to make history.

--

“Yuuri!” Viktor tapped on his door with impatience, bouncing from foot to foot on his toes. “Yuuuuuri!”

It was late- past midnight -and Viktor was still awake. Yuuri answered his door, head tilting to one side. “Viktor?”

“Okay good! Yuuri! Come with me!” He reached out for his hand and dragged him away from the room and halfway down the hall before Yuuri could get another word out. “It’s fine, it’s fine, it won’t take long, just come with me! I need to show you something!”

They put on shoes and went outside, scuffling through the gravel in the dark through the hot spring’s gate and to the road, Makkachin at their heels. Viktor had a flashlight, a jacket, and his street clothes, but the most impressive asset was his wide, open-mouthed smile as he hurried them both along. “Tonight is the night!”

“The night for what?!”

“You’ll see!”

Into the forest they went, up the stairs, then off the path and through the woods, Viktor leading the way over a narrow deer trail. “We’re almost there!”

“Viktor?”

He said nothing, only kept moving until they reached the little thicket that he’d scouted out earlier. Once they broke past the curtain of bamboo, the fireflies were everywhere- tiny, glittering fairies that illuminated the trees around them.

Viktor let go of his hand and looked back at him, bright-eyed, breathless. “Do you see, Yuuri? Magic.”

Yuuri took them in, gaze sweeping over scene, then smiled, nodding. “Do you not have fireflies in Russia?”

“It’s too cold.”

“Even in the summer?”

He nodded. “We’re too high in latitude; you have to be closer to the equator. Somewhere hot and humid. I’ve always wanted to see them…” Viktor scanned the ground and found a patch of dried moss against the trunk of a tree, crouched, and sat. “The internet says tonight is the best night for it.” Then he drew his knees up to his chest and hugged his arms around them to watch. “So pretty.”

Yuuri caught one in his hands while listening, light shining through the small cracks in his fingers, then let it go.

“You look like you belong with them.”

“Belong?” Yuuri asked, arching a brow. “I used to catch them and put them in jars. I’m sure they hate me.”

“Hmm.” Viktor dropped his chin on his knees. “They don’t live very long anyway. I don’t think they hold it against you.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s true. I haven’t been home for so long. I’m sure they’d have forgotten about me even if their lifespan wasn’t so short. These ones have no idea.”

“I doubt you did it to be cruel.”

“Nah. I poked holes for them. Set them in front of the onsen entrance. Mom thought it was pretty.”

Viktor gave a soft smile behind his arm, looking up at him. The fireflies played over his hair and glasses, danced around his arms and shoulders. “Yeah, I’m sure they forgive you. At least, if you’re sorry.”

“I felt bad in the mornings.”

“We’re just looking at them now. No jars.” Viktor moved his cheek to his shoulder, getting comfortable. “They do forgive you.”

“Hmm.” Yuuri lifted a hand, palm up, out into a cluster of the little bugs. They danced around him, over him, using him as their stage.

“See?”

With a little laugh, Yuuri shook his head and moved his hand through the air like he was conducting music- a slow, languid sonata. The fireflies moved with him, changing their dances to match the tempo.

“Are they doing a waltz now?” asked Viktor, though the lights had become a blur before him. Like the sparklers. Hundreds or thousands of tiny sparklers dancing the tango by Yuuri’s command. “Or is it…”

“Hm?”

“They love you… The way your eyes are lit up…”

“You’re mumbling. Maybe we should head back.”

Viktor let his eyes close, and Makkachin pressed against his side, tired of chasing the glowing pests. “It’s so beautiful.”

“Come on, Viktor.”

...

“You drag me out here and then you fall asleep on me?”

Viktor slowly nodded, eyes closed. Yuuri wasn’t entirely sure if he heard him.

He crouched and gave him a few shakes. It took several tries, but eventually Viktor got to his feet, yawning. By the time they reached the steps up to the main road, Viktor was stumbling over anything that crossed their path.

They couldn’t go on like this. Viktor was out way past his bedtime, why had he thought this was a good idea?

Yuuri steadied him from tripping one more time and crouched in front of him. “Come on. I’ll carry you.”

Viktor seemed a little more alert at that. Considered, then nodded with a conceding smile. “If you really think you can…”

“I think I can manage. You’ll hurt yourself if you keep this up.”

Getting to Yuuri’s level, Viktor wrapped his arms around his neck and together they situated his legs around Yuuri’s middle as he stood. “You’re so strong…” Yuuri felt him rub his face against his neck.

“All that exercise has to go somewhere. And… you’re kind of light.”

“Aw, you’re just saying that.”

“Sorry, but I’m not. I’ve bench pressed more than you.”

“Really, really strong Yuuri…”

He felt the weight of him droop and Yuuri quickly shifted him up on his back, gripping his legs tighter. What had he been thinking offering to carry him? It’s not like he wasn’t physically able, but it was weird to offer. At the rate Viktor had been going, there was no way he could have made it home. And Yuuri wasn’t going to leave him there. Makkachin couldn’t drag him, he was sure. It was the only option!

“It’s magic… spellbound...” Viktor murmured with more nuzzling with his cheek.

The contact to his bare skin caused Yuuri to flush. This really was ridiculous. The further along the walked, the less Viktor spoke or moved. By the time the returned to the onsen, he was out cold.

Makkachin whimpered, maybe worried what Yuuri was going to do with his person.

“Yeah, I’m taking him to bed,” he whispered to him, following the poodle to the room.

With one hand he pulled the covers of the bed down, whilst supporting Viktor with the other. Carefully he eased Viktor onto the bed and adjusted his limbs into a comfortable position.

“We’re back at the house,” Viktor said, eyes barely open.

“I carried you.” He wasn’t sure why he bother telling him that.

“Oh yeah… you were really strong. So beautiful.”

Blush prickled at Yuuri’s cheeks.

“So much... magic...” Viktor trailed and shifted onto his side, Makkachin crawling to his opposite. Soft breathing soon followed.

“Yeah. Magic.” That was the only explanation.

--

The summer wore on and the Grand Prix announcements were due any day. Soon, they’d know exactly where they were going to be travelling and who they’d be up against in the various competitive heats. It would help Viktor plan for Yuuri’s peak in the season, gradually increasing the difficulty until the finals. There was no point in pushing him too hard if he didn’t have to, not when there were so many other things that still needed to be refined. It was much better to focus on the performance aspect of the program and leave the difficulty until later, when the rest had been smoothed out.

They went over various composition strategies, each trying the different moves out to see how it felt, with and without the music. It wasn’t one of Viktor’s programs, that was for certain. The difficulty, though technically lower in terms of level moves, had far more points stacked in favor with Yuuri’s strengths. It would be an exhausting program, but…

“With your stamina, I think you can pull it off.” Viktor smiled, leaning in as Yuuri’s confidence wavered, turning to a frown. “You’d rather not?”

The gentle tease did its job. “I’ll do it!”

“Okay.” Chuckling, Viktor pulled away and stretched as he moved back down the outer rim. He wanted to try the jump composition before forcing Yuuri into it, even though they’d been over it a hundred times already. Though, the latest suggested change had brought a thought. “Oh right. Yuuri, did you change the musical theme?”

“Oh, um…”

Apparently. Viktor turned back to him, smile easy, calm. “What is it?”

“The theme is,” Yuuri hesitated, already flushed. “‘on my love.”

On my love.

Viktor watched him for several long seconds, considering the implications, though it was likely that there were none there at all. It meant whatever it meant to Yuuri and that was enough. Love meant so many things. It wasn’t supposed to be simple or easy. It didn’t have to make sense. Yuuri didn’t have to answer to anyone.

His smile widened and he nodded his approval. “That’s the best theme. Perfect.”

The instant relief on Yuuri’s face was nothing short of darling.

He would learn to trust himself. Learn to be confident. Learn that he was worth so much more than he ever gave himself credit for.

Viktor took off his skate guards and stepped onto the ice. “Okay, let’s finish this!”

“Yeah!”

Chapter Text

Chinese Taipei, ISU Junior Grand Prix
Yuuri (14 Years Old)

“And done.”

Yuuri opened his eyes to see someone else looking back in the mirror. Clean, even-toned skin, darker lashes, and lips.

“Is this what you were thinking?”

He had no idea. Coach Ito had waved him inside the dressing room and asked the closest makeup artist to work their magic. Quietly, he waited as brushes and pencils dressed his face, closing his eyes and angling his head when asked. Gently, he touched his cheek. It was still him behind the new layer. “Yeah. I think so.”

“Great. Off you go.”

With one last look at himself, Yuuri hopped out of the swivel chair, giving way for the next skater. Exiting the dressing room, Yuuri held his head a little higher.

He felt pretty . Like Viktor.

Ito called him across the hallway and then led him out to the rink sidelines to await his turn.

When he’d arrived at the rink earlier, he had felt his insides cease up as they usually did in the face of nerves. As they walked the breezeway, it threatened to come back. Now seeing the skating rink up-close, getting a visual for the space, the crowd, and his fellow skaters, he loosened. Until he looked out to the rink.

A boy from China was skating to Beethoven. So quick and light on his feet. Landing every jump.

Steadying his breath, he unzipped his jersey. From inside his breast pocket, Yuuri took a peek of the autographed glam shot of Viktor he’d received.

Getting nervous just means that you really care about what you're doing. It matters to you.

Remembering those words from Viktor’s response and better fitted skates would carry Yuuri to where his idol waited.

The PA system announced the young Chinese skater’s score, which meant--

“From Japan, introducing, Yuuri Katsuki!”

 


 

Beep! Beep! Beep!

Three beeps for the third time that morning, and Yuuri hit snooze on his phone alarm. Again. He was thirty minutes behind schedule and no closer to feeling the desire to get out of bed. If he got up now, skipped breakfast, and ran, he could get to the rink right on time...

But going...

Body heavy and trembling. Mind racing.  

He let out a shaky breath and brought his phone up to his eyes, debating if a phone call or text would be the more professional way.

A text would be easier.

[Can I have the day off?] he typed.

Yuuri stared at the unsent text for several minutes, wondering if he should elaborate or word it different so it sounded less… pathetic. Swallowing, he hit Send and hoped that would be enough.

His phone vibrated a few moments later with Viktor’s response: [Are you sick?]

[Sort of]

[Are you okay? do you need something? medicine??? Soup?]

Another swallow. No, none of those things would help, much to the dismay of Ito and Celestino. Now Yuuri had inconvenienced Viktor by making him wait so long this morning. He wouldn’t blame him if he was mad--

[Do you just need a break? You’ve been working very hard.]

Did he know? [Sometimes I just… need a day off.]

[That's fine. Rest is part of work. I'll finish up here and come back. Do you want to do something else later? Maybe go to the beach?]

The beach was one of the places he liked to go when he needed time to himself. But with Viktor? Before he could stop himself from reconsidering and hiding at Minako’s studio instead, [Yeah. That might be nice.]

[Ok! You rest and I’ll be by later!]

It wasn’t until the screen went dark that the tension in Yuuri’s hand released and he dropped the device on his chest. Now that he dealt with the source of his guilt, Yuuri rolled onto his side to attempt more sleep.

The sun eventually filtered its way through curtains, awakening him. The world felt less grim, but the low desire to leave the security of his bed was ever present. Reaching for his phone, it revealed he had slept another two hours.

No messages from Viktor. Was he still at the rink by himself? Or was he waiting for Yuuri to text him when he was up?

Yeah. That sounded like something he’d do.

Just. Not yet.

Sitting up in bed, Yuuri began to scroll through his RSS feed. So-and-so releasing a new album, new podcast episode, alumni newsletter, reminders to check Phichit’s Instagram for new posts, diet recipes.

It wasn’t long before a knock came at his door. “Yuuuuri?”

There went the theory of waiting on him. “Viktor?”

“Can I come in? I brought you some miso. Your mother said you haven’t eaten breakfast.”

Letting his phone drop to his bed, he leaned over the floor to grab the nearest shirt and slipped it on. He couldn’t turn him away, and it bothered him that he felt that way. After months of not granting entrance… maybe he felt guilty for standing him up this morning. After a breath, Yuuri called him inside.

The door slowly opened and Viktor entered with a tray and two bowls of miso. Glancing around, Viktor put the tray on his desk.

Yuuri prayed he wouldn’t comment on the small framed photo of him there.

He didn’t, even though the way he seemed to linger over there for a moment was suspicious. Carefully, Viktor brought a bowl to Yuuri and sat on the edge of the bed.

With food in his hands, it was then that Yuuri’s stomach reminded him how hungry he was. He looked into the swirling miso and tofu as Viktor grabbed his own bowl.

“Did you get your morning skate in?”

Viktor nodded as he pulled his lips from the bowl. “Yep! It was very productive.”

“Good.”

Viktor tilted his head slightly at him and drank once more from the small bowl. “It’s okay to take a break, though. Once in awhile.”

“I’ll be there tomorrow, I promise!”

“It's fine, it's fine,” Viktor waved his hand. “Believe it or not, I take breaks sometimes, too.”

“... Really?” The interviews never made a show of them.

“No one ever believes me when I tell them that,” Viktor said with a long suffering sigh. “I’m taking the whole season off. Living in a hot springs resort, even!”

“I guess that's true... But in season, usually?”

“Sometimes.”

“Just days you're too tired?”

“I actually had a lot of those when I first started competing. I tried not to miss practice anyway, but some days I just couldn't. There've been times where I took whole weeks off. Yakov wasn't really happy about that most of the time but…”

“Wow. I had no idea. I thought you were invincible.”

Viktor nearly choked on his miso. He coughed to cover. “Sometimes I just really wanted to be alone.The invincibility?” He waved a hand. “A facade.”

Yuuri knew all too well what it was like to want to be alone. It was hard talking to other people. Viktor was so popular and charismatic, though. He’d choose to be alone? “I just know how hard Russians are usually pushed. You’ve always been at the top."

“Everyone has their limits, and I've seen too many people burn out. You can't be the best if you work yourself to death.” He looked away for a moment, considering. “Like one of my teachers used to say, 'The dead cannot dance.”

Thinking of his previous coaches, Yuuri nodded. “I guess that's true. I wonder if I work hard enough, sometimes.”

“I can't vouch for your previous years, but you're keeping up with my schedule, and I've been told it's a little overkill, too.” He frowned. “I think you're doing just fine. We're on track.”

Viktor was complimenting him again… he couldn’t help the small smile. “Can’t prove that today.”

“I didn't do any skating for your program ... I took today off, too.”

“... What did you skate?”

“Oh, you know. Just something I've been playing with.”

“Is that what you do before I get there, usually?”

    “Unless I have something specific I want to work on for you, yeah.  It's a good warm up.”

“Fun or... A future program?”

Viktor shrugged. “I don't know yet. I usually make several programs a year that I don't end up using... sometimes it's just fun to experiment.”

“That explains all the unused programs you were showing me before Yurio came.”

Suddenly Viktor turned bashful and rubbed at his neck. “Yeah. Anyway, I like to keep busy…”

Did he not like admitting he made programs for the fun of it and not competition? Yuuri finished off his soup as he wondered.

Viktor followed suit in the silence and clinked his empty bowl back on the tray. “I told Makkachin we were going to the beach, by the way. He was very excited…”

Right. He did say he’d consider it. “According to my phone, it says the temperature should be nice. I’ll come if the offer is still there.”

“I think Makkachin would prefer that!”

 

As Yuuri packed he and Viktor a bag for the day, it became very clear that Viktor had never done beach activities before. Yuuri wondered if, when they sat in the sand a month ago, that the first time VIktor had been to the beach at all?

Viktor watched him place sunscreen, swim trunks, towels, umbrella, and various beach toys inside a duffle bag with fascination. Didn’t ask questions, just watched and followed after once Yuuri slipped his shoes on.

Once there, they changed into their swim trunks in the public restroom.

Being further into summer, the weather had warmed and brought more tourists along with it. The extra people excited Makkachin, tail wagging as he waited to be set free. VIktor reined him in while they set up their umbrella and towels.

“I’m … just going to sit and watch. If that’s okay.” He’d planned on watching from the beginning. The fresh air and change of scenery was what he was after. Dressing in his swimsuit was simply to look the part.

Viktor looked mildly disappointed,  but nodded in understanding. “We’ll have fun for you!”

Waving Viktor and Makkachin off, Yuuri brought his knees up to his chest. He felt better than he did this morning.

Dog and owner wandered along the dry shore like they didn’t dare get into the water just yet. Until Makkachin started barking at something. Viktor knelt into the moist sand after shooing the poodle away and grabbed whatever it was. From afar, Yuuri could hear his laugh. Soon Viktor was coming towards him.

“Yuuri, Yuuri! Look~ Ow! It bit me!”

It was a crab. “No, it probably pinched you!” Yuuri prepared to stand to help.

Viktor pried the claw off his index finger. “Look how tiny it is! And with such a strong will to live. It wants to be king of this beach.”

“Are you okay?” Didn’t look like he was bleeding or that it had broken skin.

“You sit right here with Yuuri, little king.” He let the creature walk off his hand and onto the sand.

Makkachin gave a low growl then turned on his heels when the crab snapped a claw at his muzzle, and soon he was joining his master.

The crab paid Yuuri no mind as it scurried right on by.

Yuuri watched them kneel in the dry sand and dig and sift through the grains. And then Viktor was bringing back shells of all sizes and setting them next to his towel, informing Yuuri to guard them. For his nook shelf he’d set up in his room, he imagined.

Once a nice pile had been accumulated, Viktor dug into the duffle for the frisbee Yuuri had put in there. He examined the disc and gave it a toss. Disappointed that it didn’t do what it was designed for, he adjust his throwing angle with more success. Delighted, he called for Makkachin and took off to the beach once more.

It took a few throws for Makkachin to care about the frisbee, unsure about the new toy.

Yuuri’s eyes didn’t leave the pair as they learned how to be at the beach. So carefree. Having fun .

He smiled, resting his chin on his knees.

Viktor did always look happy when he tried something new, no matter how mundane or silly. Like a child. A child in an adult body.

The frisbee flew off course and into the water and Makkachin couldn’t resist going after it.

Viktor yelped at the cold water. Unfortunately for Viktor, fortunately for Yuuri’s amusement, Makkachin decided to pounce on him, crashing them both into the surf. Coughing and sputtering, Viktor flailed to stand up, but Makkachin’s excitement wouldn’t allow it - jumping over him, on him, around him, splashing water. Until a larger wave rolled by big enough to spook him and he ran to the dry land, sand clinging to his wet fur with each step.

Each step that was coming closer to /Yuuri/.

Whether it was to include him, or just be cruel, Makkachin galloped towards him and landed in his lap, sharing saltwater and sand covered fur.

“You are not a lap dog,” Yuuri whined.

In response, Makkachin licked his face with so much force, Yuuri fell onto his back, completely at the mercy of the poodle’s affections.

“Makka, let Yuuri up.”

Yuuri supposed he deserved the half-hearted plea since he had been laughing at him moments ago.

Eventually, Makkachin let up. Only to shake his fur out on both of them, spraying water and sand particles.

“Mama Katsuki wouldn’t like it if we went home like this,” Viktor observed, shaking his arms in vain.

“Definitely not. We can use the showers up there to clean off. Are you ready to leave?”

Viktor looked out to the ocean for a moment, scanning the area, before he answered. “I think so. It’s getting hotter. Right, Makkachin?”

Makkachin only gave another fullbody shake.

Yuuri offered Viktor a dry towel to wipe his face off with as he took down the umbrella and packed up, placing the shells in the outside pocket of the duffle. Shouldering the bag and tucking the umbrella under his arms, Yuuri lead the way to the showers with Makkachin trotting circles around them.

“So. Do I need to take my trunks off here? Is this like the hot springs?” Viktor toyed with the band of his shorts.

“H-huh? Uh, no. You, uh, just rinse off here, really.” Not all places were acceptable to be in the nude!

“Ah I see.” He winked. “Okay. So how do you work this thing?”

Setting the beach gear down to the side out of range, and removing his glasses, Yuuri joined Viktor under a dual shower head. A knob was below their knees on the pole, and Yuuri crouched to turn in. One way activated one head, the other activated both. “There.”

“Baths and showers outdoors! Japan is amazing.”

Makkachin seemed to share the same sentiment as he barked and walked around their legs, nipping at the water from above.

“I guess… So, just rinse off the best you can.” Yuuri then busied himself with moving the water along his skin. He tucked his chin in to get what had gotten in his hair.

He then felt a poke at his scalp.

Parting his damp hair, Yuuri looked up to see Viktor grinning… victoriously?

Was this about when he’d poked him at practice? Getting back at him. Had that really bothered him? No, that’s not what that smile was.

It was a game .

Yuuri reached over and touched the top of his coach’s silver head - a quick jab, like a dare to grab his finger before he pulled away.

Also being of the competitive sort, Viktor wouldn’t lose, and reached over with both hands to ruffle Yuuri’s hair.

Yuuri returned it, a chuckle in his throat.

Back and forth and simultaneously, they grabbed the other’s hair, gently tugging strands even after the sand had washed away. Playing and laughing together under a curtain of water with no boundaries between coach and student.

With how light he felt now, it was hard to believe he had been miserable that morning. He didn’t know this was what he needed, then, and he was grateful for Viktor’s suggestion to go to the beach.

As Viktor tried his hand at turning the water off, Yuuri supervised and thanked him in his heart. I didn’t know I needed this.    

   

The night of the Grand Prix Final assignments came, and gathered the Katsukis and Nishigoris with Minako at Yu-Topia. It was past the triplets and Viktor’s bedtimes, yet they stayed up for the announcement.

First, the Cup of China in Beijing where Yuuri would be skating against Phichit. Then, the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow where Yuuri would be skating against Yurio for the first time in an official competition.

It’d also be the first time Viktor wouldn’t be part of the Grand Prix lineup. At previous cup series, Yuuri had avoided talking to him, feeling unworthy to do so until he met him in the finals. Viktor was now his coach and taking him to the finals.

Previously, Yuuri worried his loss would make his fellow competitors find him inferior, but after a reminder from Yuko, he also felt an unease he’d be hated for taking Viktor away from the skating world. All of Viktor’s rivals that wouldn’t have a chance to skate against him for reasons that had nothing to do with their skill levels. All the fans that looked forward to him performing will only see him on the side lines.  

On top of the guilt, Yuuri has to redeem himself in the eyes of his own country by participating in the block championships in Kyushu against Minami Kenjiro, the boy that he lost to at last year’s nationals.

Two more months until Okayama. Three until Beijing. There was a lot to be done.

 

Though Viktor assured Yuuri that the day he took off was fine and necessary to recover, Yuuri couldn’t help feeling he was running short on time. The assignments… it was getting closer. He had to get better fast. Be prepared.

After knowing where he’d be placed, Yuuri took to the ice harder than ever. Drills and warmups. Run-throughs of his short and free programs, front and back. Not good enough, again!

But even with all that renewed motivation, his body could only take so much. With each passing day, he could feel the aches in his feet and legs, but he had to keep going. Couldn’t afford to stop. It was fine, just working harder than previous seasons.

Yuuri glided to the edge of the rink and stepped onto the dry ground and made his way to the bench. Sitting took maneuvering. Bending to untie the laces, and then lifting his leg to pull it off, he realized the effort that took and put his foot back down, frowning.    

It didn’t take long for Viktor to notice his struggle. “Did you overdo it?” he asked with a knowing wink.

Yuuri didn’t look up and muttered. “Maybe.”

“Let’s take a look.” Viktor knelt and examined the the blades and boots still on Yuuri’s feet. “When was the last we sharpened your blades? Your boots fit well? Good and tight; supportive?”

“I don’t remember when the last time I sharpened them.” Yuuri wondered if Viktor remembered writing to him, or the advice about his boots. Didn’t seem like it. “They feel fine. Got them re-laced not that long ago, too.”

“The wear seems fine... we'll need to get these blades sharpened in the next little while, but at least it's not your boots that are the problem! Wouldn't want you to break an ankle or anything. Okay, now your feet…”

Gripping the edge of the bench, Yuuri braced himself for the oncoming pain as Viktor carefully pulled the boot off his foot. There was some relief in the release from the confines of the skate. His foot was placed on Viktor’s knee while he examined the boots further. Not seeing anything obvious, he turned to his foot, white socks splotched in blood! He hadn’t realized he’d broken skin! “Wait, no, Viktor don't touch!” he waved his hands, trying to dismiss him. “You’ll get my blood on you…”

The sock was pulled off. VIktor raised a brow. “It's fine, fine. Wait here, let me go get some things.” With assistance, he placed Yuuri’s foot on the ground and padded to his own duffle bag and dragged it over. He withdrew a water bottle and towel, then sat in front of Yuuri, removing his other skate and sock. “We’ll clean you up first.” Pouring water into the towel, he began to dab at the fresh and dried blood. “You might not realize this, but it's really difficult to skate without feet.”

Embarrassed that this was even happening, he looked to the side. “I know…”

“They're an important asset. You need to take good care of them.”

“I'm usually... okay.”

“You've just been working really hard. I get it. I've hurt my feet plenty of times before.” VIktor steadied his foot on his knee as he rummaged through his bag and pulled out a canister. Removing the cap, he dipped his finger into what was inside. Salve? “But if you're not careful, your coach will suspend you from skating, and no one wants that.”

“If I'm suspended, I can't skate. Is it... really that bad?”

“Not yet, but you really should take it a little easier. We still have time to afford a slower pace. Yakov has suspended me more than a few times for injuries. I’ve hated it every time.”

The salve touched the top of his foot, the contact cooled and tingled. As Viktor worked his fingers around, it warmed and burned. His legs tensed. “I-I’ll try to be more careful…”

Viktor slowed his hands. “If you were to twist or break your ankle now, we'd be in trouble.”

“I’ve thankfully not done that... Sprained my wrist in a fall once.”

“That's not too bad. I skated a few competitions with a broken wrist, but that was still really dangerous.” Humming,  he continued to massage, bringing his other hand into it. “Worse, though, was when I got hurt at Worlds and skated anyway without telling Yakov. He was so mad!”     He smiled at the memory.

“Yeah. I watched it on TV. The feed cut away a little, but the magazine coverage told more.” If Viktor hadn’t been injured, he totally would have taken gold!

“It took weeks to heal after that. I was so bored. But that's what I got for doing jumps on an injury.”

“I’m glad you were able come back stronger than ever.”

“Ehehe. I was determined not to let anything get in my way.”

“As most skaters are.”

The smile faded. “Don't break your ankle or I'll be really upset.”

“... I'll slow down…”

“Thank you.” More rubbing of his foot and up into his ankle, then back down into his heel, arch, and toes. “Let me know if I'm putting too much pressure.”

“Maybe a little, but..” Hiss. “That just means it's working.”

“That's true.” A few more rubs and then he grabbed his other foot to begin the same treatment. “I learned this trick at the ballet academy. Dancing from dawn until dusk, wearing out our slippers like the twelve dancing princesses… Sore feet all the time.”

“Dancing so long... I danced a lot by choice, but thinking about Minako-sensei's hour classes is kind of silly.”

“We usually had other classes in between, so we weren't always on our feet.” Viktor sighed, grining once more, and looked up at him. “You'd think I'd have better endurance after all of that, huh? I'm not so young anymore.”

“Sometimes, no matter how hard you train, it can't change what you are capable of?”

“Well, I don't know about that... but I guess that's probably true with some things.There's probably things I could do to improve it. Endurance is your concern now, not mine. I'm not the one competing!”

“Right, right.”

Their conversation trailed as Viktor finished massaging his second foot. Then he dabbed into the canister one last time and spread the dollop throughout both feet.

“How do your feet feel?”

“Tingly…”

He laughed at that. “Good. Secret Swiss ingredients; guaranteed to help.” Viktor sat back on his heels. “I think you're probably good now. Though, I don't want you walking around. Your feet need rest.”

Swiss ingredients? Yuuri wondered if Christophe had given it to him. “Yeah... the tingling is kind of crawling up my shins.”

Another laugh. “Okay. You wait here, I'll go lock up.”

“Huh? We can wait around a bit?”

“You're not skating anymore tonight, and I'm not gonna let you walk home.”

“So we are sitting?'

So I'm gonna lock up and then I'll carry you back.” Viktor stood with a hand on his hip. “I just gave you the secret ballerina foot massage. No way I'm letting you undo all of that work. Besides, you carried me the other day.”

“That wasn't nearly as far…”

“Yuuri, are you arguing with your coach~?”

“No! I'm just... concerned.”

His arms moved from his sides to cross in front of his chest. “Well, now it's a challenge , so I have to do it to prove myself.”

“That not what I meant!”

“Yuuri, it'll be fine. Wait here. Drink some water.”

Taking the water bottle he’d placed next to him, Yuuri frowned as he watched him walk away to turn off lights and make sure windows were closed and secured. Then to the restrooms to presumably wash his hands from the salve. Why couldn’t they just sit and wait the numbness out? He didn’t want to make Viktor carry him!

Viktor returned shortly and set to packing away both their bags. “Okay! Ready to go? Hmm, think we can compact these for easier carrying?”

Nodding, Yuuri told him to put his bag in his own and that he’d shoulder the bag while being carried. If that was really what Viktor was determined to do.

Once more, Viktor got in front of Yuuri, and then immediately turned around. “Come on, let's go.”

With a surrendering sigh, Yuuri leaned forward and situated himself on Viktor’s back, making sure his arms were tucked in enough so not to lose their gear along the way.

When Viktor stood, he made his own adjustments and then took a few steps, then asked Yuuri to turn off the light. He did so without a word.

The sun had gone down, and with it, the heat of the day.

Yuuri was sure they made a sight to anyone that would see them like this.

Still. As much as it embarrassed Yuuri to be carried and babied by his coach… he was also happy that Viktor cared so much. Yes, it was to ensure his skater would still be able to make the finals, but he was thorough and gentle. His other coaches would have never done this.

Pressing a cheek to his back, Yuuri hid a soft smile.

The longer he stayed there, the quicker he felt the warmth between them and it was comforting. The tingling up his legs and fatigue of the rest of his body, the gait of Viktor’s walk lulling him to relaxation… he closed his eyes and sighed.

Soon he was stirred awake by the sound of his mother’s voice.

“Is he okay, Vicchan?”

“Yes! I think so. Just sore feet. And probably hungry. Right, Yuuri-Koala?” Viktor craned his head towards him.

Blinking the sleep away, “Mm. Yeah. Food sounds good!”

“Okay, I'm setting you down on the floor, now.”

Yuuri complied and slid off his back onto a cushion at the table. He stretched his legs under the table, careful to not put pressure on his feet. “Was I too heavy?” The house wasn’t that far, he couldn’t believe he fell asleep.

“Nope! Though I think I need to do some arm work, wow..." Viktor rolled his now free arms and shoulders. “You're a lot stronger than I am.”

Little smile. “You're just light.”

“Uh huh. Sure. Don’t go trying to make me feel better, Yuuri,” he teased.

There was little point in arguing when Yuuri felt positive in his statement. “Sorry I was out of it on the way here. I was-” -comfortable? Warm? A bit blissed out? All those sounded weird. “-tired.”

“A massage can do that sometimes. It was fine. I was, uh, enjoying the quiet scenery. Oh, when you’re ready to walk, I’ll get your slippers. Still best to be careful with your pampered feet.”

“I will.”

Soon his mother was bringing in their dinner from the kitchen, the rest of the family already have eaten due to their delay with the massage. A plate of yakisoba for Viktor, and a bowl of broccoli, bean sprouts, and small bites of chicken for Yuuri.

The pair ate in a comfortable silence, content to be in company of one another.

 

Suppressing a yawn, Yuuri entered Ice Castle for morning practice. Rather than being on the ice like he usually was, Viktor had has back turned, leaning on the barrier. As Yuuri got closer, he could see earbud wires. Ah, so he was listening to music. Side by side, he noted he was listening to his free skate piece. Before Viktor pocketed his phone with an apology for not hearing him come in, Yuuri read the play count in the triple digits.

“I had some thoughts on your program. These are suggestions, but I find them a good fit for your style.”

They were working on his program together. If the great Viktor Nikiforov was going to offer elements to skin he felt appropriate, by all means! Yuuri nodded, signalling to be shown.

Viktor removed his guards, used the remote to start the music over and did a breeze through the forms until the part he needed,“At this part - you know, where the percussion picks up -” small jump, “Only you’d do a full triple here. And then, at the bridge, I want you to skate like you're the most beautiful person in the world… Really elongating your form - ina bauer and spread eagle. Show them your training- all of the years of ballet and discipline. They need to know how hard you've worked... and you'll make it look effortless... think of all that Minako-sensei has taught you. Let them appreciate you. Let the audience look at you and see just how breathtaking you are.” Stopping himself and the music, he turned to Yuuri. “Not sure about it?”

He shook out of his stupor. “I've just... never done anything like that before.” So graceful and fluid. Attention grabbing. So Viktor .

“Would you like to give it a try for me? It feels good with the music.”

They were a team. He would try it whether he knew he could do it or not. Shedding his guards, he joined Viktor on the ice and tested his momentum. Viktor moved to the side as the music started, then fast forwarded it to the bridge.

“Show them why ballet dancers make the best skaters!”

Yuuri held his arms out and glided across the ice, like the flight of the bird he had described to Viktor. Pivot, inside-edge spread eagle, then front leg bent, back leg straight. Stop. Not quite there. “Let me try that again. Start a bar before the bridge.”

“Yes, excellent! Really feel it. Show me.”

The music started once more, then fast forwarded to what was needed. Yuuri took position before the triple axel, and the following moves and then right into the spread eagle. He then dipped into a lunge while in motion and then lifted his form into an ina bauer. Stop. Yes, much better. He’ll have to work on that.

Viktor applauded, eyes slightly shimmering. “That was beautiful . You look absolutely regal. Perfect, perfect!”

“Y-yeah?” he looked away. If he felt this bashful with Viktor, what would it be like with a full audience!? “Oh, I’ll add this to my notes.” Yuuri then skated to the sidelines for his notebook with his program outline to jot down the shorthand names. Adding question marks for smoother transitions.

“Yuri, you haven't named the piece. What will it be?” Viktor asked, not having followed him.

From the original piece, its purpose was to embody his skating career, but it had unintentionally bled into Yuuri’s very life and soul.

Let them appreciate you. Let the audience look at you.

Yuuri took the sharpie marker and brought it to the blank disc.

“Yeah, perfect.”

Yuri on ICE.

 

With the additions and name of his free skate program, it was time to decide a costume. Or, as Viktor preferred, design one. Normally Yuuri would look at a catalog of some rough ideas pre-made by official ISU designers and Yuuri would sit with his coaches to decide. He wasn’t artistic, so it never bother him that that was the way.

Viktor a lways designed his costumes to some degree and had a personal designer to make it a reality. With Yuuri as his student, he insisted to help with the makings of Yuuri’s first custom costume.

Which meant following Viktor’s methods.

They gathered every magazine they could find at the onsen and gathered on the banquet room floor one night, both already in their pajamas. Scissors, construction paper, glue, and glitter. It was like a sleepover.

Viktor called it an Idea Book. Every year, he’d pick a theme and he’d cut out inspiration from anything he found and placed it neatly into a blank, hardbound book. He’d then do rough sketches taking bits from clothes or objects to create something new.

With a theme like On My Love, Yuuri felt overwhelmed before they even started.

“Just start with something you know you like already. Colors, cuts of tops, and so on,” Viktor said, thumbing through one of Mari’s clothing catalogs.

Yuuri paged through a skating magazine he knew didn’t have anything too relevant in.

“Hey Yuuri…” Viktor said, finishing cutting out a piece. “You know how the first night I came and asked if I could sleep with you?”

“Yeah? What about it...?” Odd to bring that up, now?

“Sorry that I made things really awkward. It came out all wrong, and I didn't even realize until later. Everything was so sudden and I just, well, I meant I just wanted to sit up and talk, like we are doing now, maybe sleep on your floor. I didn't mean actually sleep with you. I probably came off as such a creep.” Pointedly, Viktor wasn’t looking at him as he spoke, gluing cutouts.

Oh. Sounded like they both had misunderstood. “It was really sudden for me, too.”

“I bet.”

“I didn't really know how to react.”

“Having someone show up, naked, making the announcement that, 'Hi, I'm moving in because I didn't realize this wasn't an inn and I'm going to be your coach whether you like it or not'. Out of nowhere.”

“True but… You being here is... Really great.” A pretty set of filigree caught his eye, so he cut them out. “So unexpected.”

“Well, in my defense, you asked me to come.”

“What?” Oh, he’d brought that up before, asking with the video. “Right.”

“How could I resist?”

It still didn’t make it any less awkward or keep the blush at bay. “It wasn't my-- I mean, I didn't post the video.”

“Right, I heard, but I'm glad they did.”

“In my heart I ... Yeah I guess I asked you, to.”

“I had the flight booked within fifteen minutes after seeing it. Yakov said I was crazy.”

“When I was little, I-- n-nevermind.” Yuuri grabbed the glue and busied himself with placing it on a page. And then, “Wait, what did you say?”

“No, what were you going to say?”

“Um, you first. Mine's embarrassing anyway.”

“I saw the video and... booked the first flight to Kumamoto I could get.”

“Really?... Just because of a video I made? You really came all the way here for me.”

Viktor stared back at him, mildly offended. “I thought that was obvious by now.”

“It is, I just-” try not to think about it because I don’t know why you’d answer my call.

“I'm just glad you didn't kick me out on the first day. That would have been a bigger mess.”

“I wouldn't have been able to.”

“Your family is very polite. It took me hours to figure out that it wasn't an inn, and by then you'd all decided to let me stay. Russia isn't like that at all.” The smile he held wasn’t nostalgic like Yuuri would think.

“Not hospitable?”

“More... blunt. Imagine Yurio: ‘What do you think this is, an inn? Go find your own bed to sleep in, because you're not staying here! You're welcome to come back when we're open again tomorrow’. Shove all of my boxes into the street and I'd have said, 'Well that's fair,’ and shrug because fools sleep in the street, but your mama brought me tea instead.”

That was actually a really good impression of him! “Well if Yurio is like Russia, you're not like Russia at all.”

“I am soft for a Russian. An unfortunate truth, but…” he shook his head, dismissing talking of his home. Like usual. “I have told you mine, now you tell me yours.”

Turn the page. Good shade of purple. "When I was younger I skated and danced a lot. It helped me think. And feel better about things. Then I was introduced to you on TV.”

Viktor smiled at that as he cut out something Yuuri couldn’t define from his position.

“You inspired me.”

The scissors ceased their movement.

His chest tightened. “It sounds like such a fanboy thing to say.” Had he said too much? He chanced looking up at Viktor again and was greeted with a soft smile. It prompted him further. “I often tried to copy your programs.”

“That means a lot to me, actually. And... I really appreciate you telling me.”

“H-huh? I'm sure you inspire a lot of people.” And Yuuri had told him before in a letter. He really didn’t remember...

“I guess, but I don't get to talk to a lot of them in person , or see what they do with the inspiration. And you've really made something of yourself!”

The weight in his chest was replaced with something else. Pleased? But then he continued his story, and the shadows returned.  “And then when I... placed last at the GPF and lost at nationals I couldn't... do it anymore, so I quit and went back to school in the states to finish up the year.”

“Oh, so that's what you were up to.”

“Yeah. And I wasn't in a good place for a while.”

Viktor nodded solemnly. “I’d thought you'd quit forever.”

“Well, I kind of did. I fired my coach. Went back to the states. Was feeling pretty miserable having let so many people, including myself, down. Gained weight. Didn't really leave my dorm unless I had to.”

Putting the materials aside, Viktor adjusted to pull his knee up to rest his cheek on. “Sounds like you were miserable.”

It was Yuuri’s turn to nod and slide magazines out of the way. “Then one day I picked up my skates. Went to the ice rink near me. I hadn't been on the ice for a month.”

“Wow! I haven't done that except when injured. And even then…”

“Yeah, not recommended. So I went in the lobby where they were rebroadcasting footage. And I saw you on the TV again. Skating what you did last season.”

“Stay Close to Me, or something else?”

“Yeah, that. So I got on the ice and just started skating. Simple things at first, then gradually I was copying you like I did when I was a kid. It, of course, wasn't very good, but after that, I went everyday and practiced. Doing what I loved.”

“It's a very special program.”

“The video you saw was after I came home to Japan. It feels special. Important.”

“So you went back to Japan and skated it for Yuko-chan, I'm guessing, and she recorded it? Rather, I bet the triplets did, those little goblins.”

“Y-yeah. She’s a good friend and I was wanting to show her something that had helped me through the last few months. Fortunately/unfortunately it didn't remain private…”

“Well, like I said before, I'd lost my inspiration, too. I was winning competitions but it all felt like the end.”

“The end?”

Viktor took a long pause, and then a breath. “I just wasn't sure where to go from there, but when I saw that video... it was like a lightning strike.”

Yuuri could have sworn his heart stopped. “You were… inspired by me ?”

“I knew I had to coach you right away. Get you back to the GPF so you could achieve your dreams.”

Yuuri drew his legs to himself. Impossible! How could he inspire his idol?

“Anyone who can skate Stay Close to Me like that..” he scratched his neck.

“Have others tried?”

“I don't know. Probably. I don't want them to.”

“You can't cross the world to coach everyone, right?” Yuuri said, feeling smug with that declaration.

“No! I'd probably go bankrupt. Besides… I like that we're the only ones that skate it. That I know of.”

“I'm... Glad you weren't mad at me for skating it.”

“No. In fact, you are the only one in the world officially authorized to skate it.Viktor Nikiforov stamp of approval.”

Yuuri had to hide a goofy smile.

“You could even do it for your exhibition skate if you wanted. Since you already know it.”

“Oh. I hadn't thought about that…” Yuuri had never made it far enough in the Grand Prix to use gala pieces, so he tended to keep them in reserve until he could use them. But using an old program of Viktor’s...

“You're definitely going to win, so you’ll need it.”

“Getting a late start, so, having something on hand will definitely help.”

“It'd be nice to see it again… I was really sad to let it go.”

“Really?”

“I don't know about you, but I hate it when the season ends. It's always exciting to start new programs, but having to throw the old ones away is really depressing. It was fun to skate them for you when I first got here.”

“You don't have to throw them away completely. You spend so much time making them a part of yourself....”

“True, but I can't perform them after the season is over. Anyway, your free skate program is fantastic! Whatever you decide for your exhibition skate, you have a really solid base.”

“Thank you. That means a lot. If you weren’t here… I wouldn’t be skating again for one, but, I really think I can get to the final six with my line up.”

“That’s the spirit! So what do you say to getting back to figuring out your costume? Oh, and we’ll consider makeup as well. And hair style.”

“Right. Sorry. We got really distracted by all that.”

“No, no, this was good. I know more about you already.”

It did feel good to open up more. A little easier every time.

They each returned to their idea books, opening their materials, cutting, tearing, and gluing. Yuuri cut out a few different styles of suits. And a mesh leotard. Turning a few more pages and he stopped at what he thought was a familiar face.

No, it couldn’t be her. Reading the credits, it wasn’t, but.

Since their heart to heart on the beach, Viktor hadn’t pried about relationships, much to Yuuri’s relief, but he hadn’t been entirely upfront about one thing. Their conversation had ended on such a high note… was it worth it to bring up something Yuuri was ashamed of? If anything, it’d tie up a loose end curiosity for his coach. Get it over with. Leave it on the table.

“Um. Viktor?”

He looked up from sprinkling glitter on a butterfly.

“I… had a date once. But I stood her up.”

“Yuuri! That's not very nice.”

The mock scandalized tone helped. “No... it's really not. I felt awful. She’d asked out a few times and I kept turning her down. Then there was one time I didn't answer her for several days, I felt guilty for saying no for so long, I actually considered. Days of me agonizing over it. Eventually I said yes. Then I ... didn't show up.”

“She should have known better than to bully you.”

“We were friends. It shouldn't have been a big deal. I was fine being friends, but a date meant she wanted more from me than I could give, right?”

“Curious; is this the same girl you pushed?”

“Yeah, it was. And she was known around campus. I wasn’t ever looking for a date. But after not showing up and then pushing her away when she clearly was trying to help me… she spread rumors about me that weren’t true.”

Viktor frowned sympathetically. “Bad ones?”

Sort of. It was simpler to nod and leave it at that.

“I'm sorry, Yuuri.”

“It’s okay. Thankfully I had Phichit for all of that.” Viktor didn’t press, and Yuuri was grateful he hadn’t. It was hard to explain. “Anyway, I think I got a good start on this idea book. What do you think?”

 

For the next week, Viktor sat with Yuuri and his idea book and helped on mockup sketches to send to his designer, who would then come in person for measurements and her professional input. Viktor commended him for his preliminary inspiration and design, having a good handle on his method.

Another week later, and the designer - Fifi - had booked a flight to arrive at the airport that weekend. Out of courtesy to her (even though he was paying her, anyway), Viktor suggested they meet her at the in the city so she wouldn’t need to take the train to them, and he and Yuuri could spend a day off together afterwards.

Yuuri didn’t have any objections.

When they arrived, Viktor received a call from Fifi, giving them directions to the hotel she reserved for she and her assistants. Naturally, it was the ritziest place around.

"She likes to be addressed as Fifi. She's a very busy woman, so we'll need to be on our toes. Answer her questions without hesitation- she hates indecision. But she'll love you. Just try not to think about the fact that she's too expensive for you to afford with her portfolio and you'll be fine.”

As far as costumes went, Yuuri didn't like making decisions as there were a lot of choices. But with making his own costume for once... Maybe she wouldn't like him.

He'd be thinking about the price no matter what. Although, having a Viktor Nikiforov-Grade costume of his very own was like a dream.

Entering the hoity-toity hotel, with Yuuri’s assistance in talking to the front desk, they located her room on the ninth floor with the executive suites. They knocked on the door and were greeted by a man and woman all in black attire.

Scanning them over, they pulled them inside where another woman, also all in black, complete with beret and lipstick. He could only assume she was Fifi, hazel eyes giving them a once over.  Their complexion and makeup definitely set them apart as foreigners.

“Fifi, bonjour !” Viktor outspread his arms as he approached.

Muttering something in French, she allowed the hug and kissed both cheeks and patted him down. “ Zut alors! Nikiforov! You've filled out! You have color! Where is my fragile little willow branch? Are you now a tree?”

Viktor rubbed the back of his neck, shyly. “I must confess, Japan has been good to me... but please don't be upset, Fifi!”

“Your waist is still trim... it is salvageable.  But I'll have to take your measurements again.” She then put her hand on her hips and glanced at Yuuri then spoke to Viktor in French.

Though Viktor looked nervous, he didn’t ignore what she said. “Uh, this is Yuuri Katsuki, the student I mentioned. We have an idea book for you to look at. Yuuri? This is Fifi Séverine.”

Fifi moved away from Viktor to fully evaluate him, but only with her eyes, scanning from head to toe with a little nod. "What is it that you say? Konnichiwa ?"

“Yes, that’s right,” Yuuri nodded and gave her a half bow.

"Let's take a look at you, then. My assistants will get your measurements while I go through your book. I imagine it's in the same style as all of Nikiforov's, non?"

"Of course," Viktor offered.

She sighed, rolling her eyes. " Parfait ."

The assistants grabbed a hand each and pulled him to a corner of the room and didn’t bother asking Yuuri to undress for them. Asking for him to move his arms also seemed like something they didn’t do. Lots of calling out in French - numbers, maybe? - and ‘Oui!’. Looking around his shoulder, Viktor and Fifi were also conversing. Yuuri had never felt more like an outsider in his own country.

Fifi closed Yuuri’s idea book and waved at her assistants who were already rolling up their measuring tapes. “Good, now take Nikiforov’s. He’s gone and ruined my records!”

Oui , Fifi!”

Viktor sticking out his tongue was probably missed as the assistants pounced on him.

Taking Yuuri’s arm, Fifi lead him to have a seat on the sofa with her with his idea book in her lap and slid it over so it was on both of them. “Tell me what you like in particular.”

Flipping through the pages, he pointed at the colors schemes of a rich purple. His favorite filigrees, maybe a combination of them. Suggesting some parts be sheer for contrast and breathability.

She nodded and took notes on her tablet. “What about shimmer? Nikiforov usually requests excessive amounts!”

“Maybe not excessive for me. Uh, what about where the filigree is at? Very light on the rest.”

Taking her stylus, she started to sketch out some possibilities, holding it out to him: “What about this? Sheer here? There?”

“Yuuri is very elegant! Showing off his back would be a nice touch!”

“Viktor, hush! This is Yuuri’s costume. By the way, is he being nice to you?”

Nodding helped cool the burn in Yuuri’s cheeks. “Yes, very. He's been a very good coach so far.”

“Good. I wouldn't want to have to cut off his ear or anything.”

That sounded like such a mother thing to say, Yuuri wondered just how close they were and smiled.

Fifi sketched a few more designs and showed them to Yuuri. He pointed to his top three. She took a few photos with her phone to have a full visual while she worked on finalizing a preliminary design, which will be done in plenty of time, she assured him. She also handed him her very fancy business card.

“Bill me,” Viktor said.

“Okay, that's good,” she said, clapping her tablet cover over and stood to start shoving them out the door. “Thank you for bringing me to Japan. I'll be in touch, don't call me, let me work, have a nice day, good to meet you Yuuri, goodbye~”

“I-it was nice meeting you, too!” Straight to business and only business...

Au Revoir, Fifi! Thank you so much for meeting with us so quick--”

“Oh, and before I forget, Nikiforov; Raphael sends his love and wants to know when you're going to finish that coffee date.”

Viktor didn’t look really happy about whoever Raphael was.

And then the door was closed on their faces.

“She seemed… nice.”

“Yuuri…” Viktor bumped his shoulder. “Well, she is. Just straight to the point. Now, shall we find some late lunch?”

 

They found their late lunch at a quaint restaurant that caught Viktor’s interest, then spent the day exploring the city until Viktor asked for a coffee break. Was it related to Fifi's comment on the coffee date? He didn't want to ask. A quick search on his smart phone revealed a coffee shop just a block away that was attached to a large bookstore. Upon arrival, coffee was immediately forgotten.

They entered the bookstore instead, book-loving patrons filling the aisles and lounging in the reading areas.

Viktor’s eyes widened with interest. “So many books!”

Well, they were in a bookstore. Did Russia not have places like this? “Was there something in particular you wanted to look for?”

Reaching for the nearest book, Viktor examined the cover and spine, frowning like he’d made a grave error. “I can’t read any of these…”

“I’m sure there’s an English section.”

“Actually, what about a children’s section? I’d like to practice my Japanese.”

Touched, Yuuri followed the overhanging plaques to the children’s section with Viktor excitedly trailing behind. They found an alcove where younger readers and a few mothers were looking through the shelves. Yuuri decided to wait for the area to be clearer before going in.

“I love books about fairytales and fables,” Viktor offered.

“I thought so.”

Surprised, Viktor gave a sideways glance. “How did you know?”

“Your programs…”

“Oh. I guess that makes sense. They are where I draw a lot of my inspiration. I'm always looking for more stories. I’ve recently been adding dragons and kitsune.”

“To your stories?”

“Mmhm... I'll probably choreograph something with it next season.”

“I'm sure it'll be incredible!” Oh good, so he was planning on coming back!

“We'll see.”

The room cleared some, thus Yuuri deemed it safe to go inside. He showed Viktor illustrated books with dragons and kitsune specifically on the cover. Tanukis and kappas. Kamis. Soon he had a small pile in his arms and together they found a table to sit at and look through them.

Starting from the top, Viktor paged through them, stopping occasionally to spot any kanji that looked familiar and admire the illustrations. “Oo this wolf looks like he belongs in Peter and the Wolf.”

“Yeah?” Yuuri leaned over to look at the wolf. Though he was pretty sure it was a big, black fox. Fairytales… He bit his lip. “My first short program was by Tchaikovsky.”

Viktor looked up from the book, interested. “Mine, too! Wait, you probably knew that.”

Yuuri nodded, cause of course he knew. Being such a fan, it was his duty to.

And since they were in different divisions at the time, of course Viktor wouldn’t know and asked, “Which piece did you do?”

“Piano Concerto No 1, B-Flat Minor. It was rumored to have been written for his preferred pianist.”

“Good choice. Excellent piece.”

Yuuri blushed. “I guess you can see I was trying to imitate you.”   

“Tchaikovsky is just good in general, but I'm honored.”

“I couldn't feel good about doing any movements in Nutcracker, though.”

“...Oh?”

“It felt like I'd be invading.”

Viktor gave a soft little smile at that, though not quite understanding. “I'd love it if you did something from The Nutcracker someday.”

“Really? That wouldn't be weird?”

“No, everyone should enjoy it. My... mama was in The Nutcracker.”

That was why Yuuri didn’t feel right skating to The Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky was a hero of Russia, and many skaters used his works. Viktor specifically loved to use the ballet movements, Nutcracker especially. In Yuuri’s early fan days, when he searched for any info on his idol that he could, he found that his mother was a renowned ballerina with the Russian Imperial Ballet. And the Nutcracker was the last ballet she’d participated in before she died, with Viktor’s father, in a car accident.

Viktor blushed. “Oh. You probably knew that already, too.”

“Sorry... I don't mean to be a stalker or anything it's just... info that's out there.”

“Right. No, that's okay. I've just had so many interviews I never know what anyone already knows or not. I don't want to repeat myself.”

“I don’t mind. You can tell me if you want.”

Shaking his head, he picked out the next book. “I’ll just... wait and see if you have any questions.”

He was trying to avoid talking about it. Yuuri knew so little about Viktor’s past, and he didn’t want to let this opportunity go. The smile he had while talking about his mother… “Did you get to see her perform?”

Completely surprised, like he wasn’t expecting him to actually ask or care, Viktor hesitated. “Oh. Um, a few times. Usually the dress rehearsals. Practices. Some real performances. She... danced at home all the time.”

“I bet it was nice seeing her dance not on the stage. Casual.”

“Yeah. And she'd drag Papa into it.”

“Was he a dancer, too?” Not much was recorded about his father.

“No, not really. He was a banker, but she taught him some things. Waltz, mostly, though she'd lead. I loved watching them. They were so sappy and silly.” He sighed softly at the memory.

“Sounds like like a fairytale,” Yuuri smiled, picturing a beautiful couple dancing in the moonlight with a young Viktor hiding behind the curtains to watch.

“It does, doesn’t it?”

The frown and trailing tone didn’t go unnoticed to Yuuri. “In a good way!” he assured.

“I was just thinking it'd be nice to have that some day.”

“To dance at home?”

“Yes... with someone, I guess.” Viktor shook his head, face flushing, and closed the book. “Anyway, are there books on poodles?” He stood, the chair screeching under him.

Oh no, he was avoiding talking, again. Did he make him mad? “Uh, yeah! Let me look.” Yuuri also stood and Viktor followed after, avoiding eye contact.

It took some searching, but Yuuri did find the pet section with two books specifically focusing on poodles and a dog book with several pages on the breed and those similar. Being in Japanese, it wasn’t entirely helpful, but Viktor wished to look at the photos, anyway. Yuuri walked over to the English section and picked out the one book that looked useful.

Viktor was short on answers after that. Preferring silence and looking through the selection of books Yuuri had helped him pick out. When it got close to the closing time, Viktor gathered the books and purchased them all.

 

Once they arrived at the platform, Viktor let his two bags of book rest on the ground at his feet and rolled his shoulders.

Their walk to the station had been a quiet one and Yuuri was unsure what to say that would recover from the mood that he had created. He noted to himself not bring up Viktor’s parents again. Or had it been the dancing?

The analog clock above flashed with a bell tone, and a voiceover on the PA informed them the next train would be arriving in ten minutes. Chirping cicadas were then replaced by the tinny sound of Swan Lake Waltz.

How appropriate. All that talk of Tchaikovsky at the bookstore and--

Yuuri questioned why he had become so impulsive lately. Clearly it was his fault Viktor was upset, but was this really his solution?

He took a step towards Viktor and bowed at the waist, extending his hand in invitation. As nervous as he was, it was more important to try.

Silver brows furrowed, studying him for a moment, hand to face, and then his hand was taking his like he couldn’t refuse even if he wanted to. His hands were clammy, and Yuuri wasn’t sure if it was the day’s heat or from something else.

Since Yuuri was the one to initiate, he hoped it was okay that he was leading, even if he was shorter.

Viktor said nothing, following without a word, falling into step under the old flickering lights of the empty station. Viennese style waltz at the quicker measures and then transitioning into the Slow waltz in others. Open position, closed position. Step; one, two, three.

Their steps were effortless with the music, having both danced to it in the learning stages of their training. Yuuri watched Viktor off and on, catching his eyes looking far off in disbelief.

At the end of the song, the train signaled its approached.

Quickly they offered each other a bow in thanks for the dance, faces flushed, out of breath, gathered the books and got inside the train bound for Hasetsu.

Like the station, the car was also empty.

They sat next to each other.

It surprised Yuuri how glad he was that Viktor chose to sit close to him. Knees touching without shying away. The dance bridged that gap between them?

“You're so good,” Viktor finally said, softly, not quite looking at him.

“You're really good, too.”

“Guess that's what happens when two professionally trained dancers dance together, huh?”

“Yeah... Hard habits to break

“That was really fun. Thank you, Yuuri.”

“You're welcome.” Yuuri chance clasped his hands in his lap. “You just... Seemed so sad earlier.”

“I guess I miss them sometimes - my parents - and I get lonesome thinking about it too much. I don't get to dance much anymore.”

“Dancing like that usually takes two.”

He nodded, and then gave a small laugh. “Makkachin doesn't like it.”

Trying to think of Viktor getting Makkachin on his hind legs for a dance didn’t seem like the best of ideas. “I'm sure Minako-sensei wouldn't mind if we--you-- danced in her studio from time to time.”

“Could be a good break.”

“I’ll see if I can get her schedule so we aren't disturbing her classes. I was there a lot when I was losing weight.”

Viktor hummed and tapped his foot in place.

The rhythm, Yuuri recognized, as triple time - the waltz.

During the ride back, while he sat next to Viktor, growing sleepy and leaning on one another for pillows, Yuuri reflected on their day. Viktor had told him he wasn’t weak. And since then, he’d tried to see that himself. Then there were days like today he felt he wasn’t as weak as he originally thought and that maybe Viktor wasn’t as strong as he thought all along.

Chapter Text


 

Saint Petersburg, Russia
Viktor (13 years old)

 

The boy sat at the edge of the bed, gaze transfixed on the alarm clock between the two beds. It was early morning, no later than half past five, but Viktor had been awake for an hour already and he could hardly stand to wait much longer. Soon, Yakov would be getting up, and soon, he would be getting ready for the last day of Russian Nationals. That meant focusing on the skaters allowed to compete. The ones who were old enough. IE, not Viktor.

Not yet.

Until now.

He worried his lower lip, small fingers gripping the blanket of the bed he’d gotten a couple of hours of passable sleep in. It hadn’t been the first time that he and Yakov had shared a room; not by far. Even though he had yet to compete, his coach had been taking him to Nationals and other local events since he was seven years old. That way, he could learn the ropes and get used to the scene while also serving as a distraction from days like the one he faced then: his birthday.

Thirteen years old.

The ISU dictated that children be thirteen on July 1st of the preceding season in order to compete, so now, as of that morning, he would finally reach that mark. July 1st would come, and he would be thirteen. Finally, after his years of training, he would be allowed to compete. Just six days, seven months. That was it. His time had come.

“Coach?” he ventured, voice little more than a squeak.

Yakov slept on. His alarm wouldn’t go off for another agonizing twenty minutes or so.

Viktor tried again. “Hey. Coach.”

Still nothing.

The boy sighed through his teeth and crawled back onto the full-sized bed that had been assigned to him. It was so much larger than the one he had in the dorm. And softer, too. He could so easily get swallowed up and lost in a bed like this, with the mattress so squishy and the comforter so full of down.

Viktor bunched up the blankets and pillows until he had a small mountain, then pressed against it, continuing his vigil in the guise of a snow leopard. Appropriate, since all of the blankets were white and soft like fresh powder. He peered and waited…

...and waited…

...and waited.

“Vitya, it’s time to get up.”

Viktor sprung backward from the nest, tumbling over once in a somersault, and came to a flop on his stomach. Had it been his dorm room, he’d have fallen to the floor. Thankfully, the hotel’s grandiose saved him. Panting, he lifted his head. “Coach!”

Yakov didn’t even react, simply went back to getting ready. “Good morning… and happy birthday.”

“Yeah! Speaking of which, I’m thirteen!”

“You are.”

Viktor crawled off the bed and hopped to a stand, beaming. “You know what that means?”

“No. What?” There was the smallest hint of a smile at the corner of the old man’s mouth, meant to tease more than anything.

It drove Viktor mad. “I get to compete!”

“Eventually.”

“Soon!”

“Relatively.”

All of this was true, but Viktor could barely contain his excitement, bouncing on his toes. “Coach! Coach! Can we start working on my programs?! I have some ideas!”

“It’s half a year away, Vitya.”

“But I need to get started so my debut is PERFECT!”

Yakov set his shirt down and glanced back at him, one brow arching.

Viktor stared back, smile bright, eyes brighter.

“You have time, Vitya. Get ready, let’s get breakfast.”

 

Viktor asked every five minutes after that, until Yakov finally told him to wait until they got home from Nationals.

“Fine,” he’d said with a look of long-suffering. “You may start putting together your program. Normally, I would have you wait until this season is over, but since you seem insistent on driving me insane otherwise, I will make an exception. But please let me finish this competition first.”

Viktor didn’t need to be told twice. “I’ll bring in my idea books next practice session!”

“Your what?”

“You’ll see, Coach!”

 

It was a Friday when Viktor brought them in; two large, hardback books that he had filled with collages of magazine clippings and drawings, costume sketches and poetry. He requested to put them in Yakov’s office until after practice, lest someone steal them , and told Yakov that they could discuss it after practice.

Not that he could focus during practice. It didn’t take long before it was clear that Viktor was too excited about the whole prospect to be much of use at all. As soon as the other students had cleared out, Yakov called him in and set him down to go over the programs.

“Okay. You might want to sit down for this, Coach,” said Viktor as he strolled into the office. “Wait til you see what I’ve got here.”

Yakov sat on the other side of the desk, impassive and weary, and said nothing as the boy hefted up the giant, glitter-filled books and spread them out on the surface between them.

“So here’s what I’m thinking for my programs. For the short program, I wanna do a story based on Little Red Riding Hood. So here are some costume ideas, you can see them here…” He paged through the heavy slabs, thick with glue and glossy photos. “And I want to get something composed that’s similar to Peter and the Wolf but more like, you know, less Prokofiev and more Tchaikovsky. A real ballet sort of thing.” Viktor paused for a breath. “And I want a cape.”

“Vitya.”

Viktor flipped several more pages to one with drawings of wolves. “I don’t know how I can get these guys in there, but it would be really cool. It’s probably just going to have to come out in the skating, though, right? With really fast skating and jumps away from them. Since this is single skating. So it’s just me.”

“Vitya.”

“Unless you think it’d be cooler if I was a wolf instead of Little Red Riding Hood… but I think I’d be better at running away than being a predator. Ha, I mean, I bet I could pull it off, but, let’s be honest, I could put my hair up in a french braid and it’d be really cute… Oh, I can have a basket, too, right?”

“Props are not allowed. Neither are capes. And while your idea is fine, your budget is…”

Viktor frowned at that, squinting as he thought back to the contents of his wallet and the little piggy bank back in the dorm. “Uhm.”

“That’s what I thought. Do you know how much a musician charges for custom compositions? Or orchestrating them?”

“Uh… no, but once I win it won’t matter, right?”

“Let me show you something.”

Viktor rubbed the side of his neck while he watched the man push back from his desk to dig into his filing cabinet, withdrawing a manilla folder, and from it, several sheets of paper. On these were itemized lines and numbers. Expenses. Yakov turned them around for Viktor to see, and ran a thick finger down the line as he explained.

“This is the average annual budget for one of my figure skaters,” he said, pointing to one number at the bottom. “And this,” he pointed at another, much smaller number. “Is how much the winnings for the Grand Prix are.”

Viktor frowned at the comparison, then went over the list again. After coaching fees, supplies, travel, room and board, registration fees, costume creation for each program, equipment, music and licensing fees, facility fees, agents... “But… wait, so am I going to need to start begging on the street or something?”

“No. Of course not. Once you are a champion, you will have sponsors. Sponsors ease the burden of expenses and pay for use of your name for their advertising. That is where the financial security comes from.”

The boy swallowed, gaze drifting from his coach to the wretched budget, and finally to his grandiose plans that lay open and bare and ridiculous. “But what if I don’t win? I don’t want to be a ballerina for real. I could get hurt and get kicked out of school and skating and then I’d starve and end up on the street.”

Yakov sighed. “Where is your confidence, Vitya?”

“It’s with my big ideas! I’m too broke! Gavrik was right, cripes!”

“...you will be fine. Every skater has a humble beginning. And besides, you could probably go back to your aunt and uncle if worse came to worse.”

At that, Viktor paused, considering. “Oh. Right.” Then he frowned again. “But I don’t wanna do that, either!”

“Vitya, I’m coaching you, aren’t I?”

“...yeah.” Viktor forced himself to face the man, pouting. “You are.”

“And I believe in you.”

It was too hard not to smile at that, and Viktor didn’t want to try. “Okay! I’m gonna win! I’m gonna win for sure!”

“You will.”

“Yeah! I will! I’m gonna do it for coach! But what do I do about being poor?! Is there free music?!”

“I have a library of royalty-free music that you’re permitted to use, yes.”

“Okay! Let’s look at the free music! Gonna do the best free free skate! And the best short-changed short program! EVER!”

“There are lots of choices.”

“Good, because this might be kind of tough! Holy cripes. I’m gonna have to make all-new books.”

Yakov resisted the urge to shake his head, only smiled. “You have some time to work on it. Do you have a favorite classical composer?”

The answer was immediate: “Tchaikovsky!”

Of course he was. Ballerinas. “Let’s see what we have.”

 

Later, in the dorm room, Viktor sat on his bed with a new book out, sketching ideas while The Nutcracker played. It was a risky move, considering something from that, but the more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea. Besides, it wasn’t like he could avoid it forever. The Nutcracker was one of the most famous ballets in the world; it was Tchaikovsky. It was one of Russia’s treasures. And, even though he sometimes struggled to get through it, Viktor loved it with all his heart.

That was part of the problem. Which piece? He’d have to listen to them all and narrow it down. So far, he’d gotten it down to seven, which was… not very impressive, all things considered. But at least he was getting ideas. That eased some of the sting of having to put his original idea books on the shelf. Who knew if he’d ever get to use them? Alas.

Gavrik came in and took his customary pose on his own bed to do homework, only giving a nod in greeting. He knew what Viktor was up to; he’d had to hear it a hundred times already. Even though he’d threatened to move out and get another roommate, he hadn’t. It had gotten too comfortable. They might have even been friends.

Viktor was fine with that; Gavrik liked The Nutcracker, and he’d stopped teasing him quite so much in the past few months. Ballet was kicking both of them in the butt, so there wasn’t time to be grouchy. Just time to be tired.

“Having any luck deciding on a short program piece?” Gavrik finally asked.

“No… not really.”

“You’ll get it.”

“Mm.” He drew another line on the page, long and curved, which swooped up and around and became a treble clef.

The track changed on the CD player, and he doodled more notes. Viktor still had a difficult time sight reading sheet music as a general rule, but his recreation of the symbols in random positions on the page was elegant and refined. It just didn’t make any sense. He filled the page with quarter and half notes, adding whole and bass marks wherever he saw fit.

Then he sniffed.

Droplets fell like rain, smearing the fresh ink into running blotches of salty tears, and the notes blurred on the page in front of him. Breath hitching, Viktor choked on a sudden sob and dropped the pen to cover his face.

“Vitya?” Gavrik asked, more confused than alarmed. There was a moment of hesitation, then a frustrated sigh as he got off of his bed and padded to the player, skipping the track. “Dammit…”

That waltz. The Waltz of the Flowers. It was always that piece that belonged to her. It was hers, and he thought of her, and he didn’t want to. So he pushed her away, but then there was nothing. Nothing but that song, which was her. Her and nothing. Nothing and that clench of pain and the inability to breathe. Why just that song? He shook his head. Don’t think about it!

“Vitya. Vitya, here.” Gavrik pushed Viktor’s pillow at him, then reached across the bed to take the stuffed unicorn that hid behind it, adding it to the other boy’s arms. “Here. Hold onto these.”

It helped. It always did. Viktor hugged them both to his chest, burying his face into the pillow to hide his tears and the embarrassment as it settled in. That always came with calming down, too.

“You should do the Chinese dance…” Gavrik offered, backing off awkwardly. “You said it made you think of mice, right? You could skate like a mouse.”

Viktor laughed, and choked on it, coughing. “Yeah.”

“There. Decision made. No more wasting time or money. Just… do that.” He went back to his bed.

“Thanks, Gavrik,” Viktor mumbled through the pillow after a shuddering breath. “I’ll think about it.”

 

 --

Salt Lake City, Utah

 

The biting, dry February wind kept noses and cheeks rosy red, but the sparkle in Viktor’s eyes was nothing but pure excitement. Yakov had never taken him so far away before, or given him so many responsibilities. He had a bag to carry, an official name badge, and a coat with fur trim just like the rest of the Russian team. Supporting the best of the best from his country, Viktor couldn’t help the feeling of pride that was bursting in his heart. The Winter Olympics! Incredible! Amazing! The best!

Faster! Higher! Stronger!

Everything was enthralling, from the rocky, white-capped mountains, to the overly friendly people, to the snow that was so powdery, so dry. Dry! Everything was dry! His skin was going to dry out, his lips were going to be forever chapped, and his hair was full of static from how dry it was.

Even Yakov, was dry. “I’ve never had to do so much work to get a glass of water ,” he said in regard to the vodka at dinner. If it could be called that. The food or the vodka.

Viktor grinned at him. He didn’t even care. He was too excited to eat. “Coach, you’re supposed to be watching out for the athletes anyway.”

“I don’t think I could get drunk off of this if I wanted to!”

They’d be there a month. A whole month away from school, living in the Olympic Village, right in the heart of Salt Lake City. All Viktor had to do was watch the events and follow Yakov around for practices, competitions, and participating in various ceremonies. No ballet. Just skating.

Just skating.

A dream. It was amazing. Everyone was so passionate. So dedicated. So proud of their countries. So proud of their accomplishments. So honored to be there and so eager to prove what they had come to do.

In the opening ceremonies, the committee man said that children around the world were dreaming, right then, of participating one day. Viktor was among them.

There was a fire there that burned, sparked and flamed, ignited in him that burned and burned until was changed forever. His dream wasn’t just to compete in figure skating; it was to make it to this. To be one of these athletes. To represent not just himself, and not just Yakov, but all of Russia on the most prestigious stage in the world.

Underneath the fireworks, huddled in the cold with all of the others, awash in their energy, Viktor felt something like a higher purpose. A reason to be. And, for once, he didn’t feel alone in the world.

 


 

What started as a question turned into a kiss, and that turned into his back against the locker and Yuuri’s teeth against his throat. Viktor groped the smooth metal with a sweat-slicked hand, gasping in the heat that followed. The question- what had it been? It was… no, or was it…?

Yuuri palmed his chest, the pads of his fingers teasing where the muscle was most tender, all while drawing his mouth downward, to the crook of his shoulder. It didn’t matter. They were alone, changing after practice, and Viktor didn’t need to think while Yuuri was trying to break his skin.

He moaned, the sound pulled from somewhere deep and torn from his throat as he tilted his head back, hair mussed on the metal surface. The kiss had taken him by surprise; two quick steps around the bench and then rising on his toes to meet him with no warning. Dry lips against his, chapped and rough with enough eager pressure to force Viktor back half a step. That was when he’d run into the locker, pushing it closed with a thump, caught on the clothes that hung out of it.

But Yuuri wasn’t done. He’d kissed him again; lips and tongue grazing his like he was coaxing out his very soul, leaving him breathless. Then he’d moved on, and the question tried to stir again in Viktor’s mind, but the words caught in his throat where Yuuri nipped and tasted. He could barely breathe.

While Viktor’s hands stayed rooted to the cold, hard metal, Yuuri’s wandered. And wherever they touched spread warmth like fire across his body. Yuuri kissed down his sternum, greedy fingers exploring Viktor’s ribs, his waist, his hips, then played with the hem of his track pants.

He straightened up, dark eyes glinting with that same lustor they’d had the night of the banquet. Even if Viktor had wanted to resist, he’d have been powerless. He could only utter a single whimper before Yuuri took hold of him. First, just the heel of his palm pushing in, stroking down, cradling what he could over the thin fabric.

Then his other hand sliding in against the dip of his pelvis, skin to skin as he gathered him, hard and heavy between his legs.

Viktor burned in equal parts disbelief and desire, watching Yuuri handle his shame through a half-lidded haze. His fingers curled, tightened, rolling skin over muscle all the way down to the tip. The rest of his body tightened as if it were attached with strings. His spine straightening out that curve. His hips pushed against that hand. His diaphragm squeezed out every bit of breath until he shuddered, finally moaning out his name-

“Yuuri!”

 

Viktor woke with a jolt as his body snapped forward, thrashing in tangled sheets. The climax came fast and hard, and he only had time to swallow a breath before it dragged him under, drowning his sudden consciousness in a wave of shock and pleasure. He curled in on himself, muscles taut from his core outward, and he waited it out with shuddering breaths.

When he’d come down and caught his breath, he untangled himself from the covers and massaged the charley horse from his calf, ignoring the hair matted to his face. It was still only just past four am; too early to get up and head to the rink. Too early to try to work out the anxiety and embarrassment with exercise. At least his expensive sheets were just soaked with sweat. Anyone who shared their bed with a pet knew better than to sleep naked, which meant cleanup would be a simple matter. He’d done his own laundry since he was ten; coming to Hasetsu hadn’t changed that, and he was especially grateful for that lately.

He slipped from bed and changed, cleaning up what he could with what he had in the room. There was no private bathroom; he’d have to go down the hall. But he had the bottom floor to himself when Yu-Topia was closed. Thank god.

With robe on, Viktor went to his door to find it pushed open a poodle’s width already. Makkachin had abandoned him. Of course . Not that he blamed him. He would have left, too.

He retreated from the room to clean up and cool off, praying that the heat of the summer night would cool soon, too, and with it his unrequited spark. The fever was nearly as unbearable as the cicadas that never, ever stopped their singing in the most maddening moments.

 

July wore on into August, each day burning through like the last in the routine they’d established. Some days were easier than others. Ever since their outing in Fukuoka, Viktor hadn’t known how to act. Maintaining a respectful distance seemed like the appropriate thing to do, but at every turn, Yuuri seemed more and more comfortable around him. Like a cat. He sat closer, bumped shoulders, allowed little touches here and here, stopped shying away in the bath so much, and… well… that dance.

What did it mean?

Viktor had made it clear what it meant to him, hadn’t he? That he wanted to dance with someone. That his parents had danced together. That it was… romantic. But Yuuri had danced with him anyway. Initiated it on his own.

And then there were the questions. Viktor had tried to stop asking so many. Had tried to be more respectful of Yuuri’s privacy and discomfort with opening himself up like that. Letting him open up when he was ready. And now that he had, Yuuri was prying at him.

Asking about his early morning practices. Asking about his parents. Offering to dance again, or at least inquire about dance studio space. The mixed signals bothered him. They gave him hope. Hope he couldn’t afford to have. Yes, he loved Yuuri, but a romance with him was something he could never have. He couldn’t allow himself to fantasize, and he couldn’t function if he was distracted by those thoughts about his student.

Things like that dream.

Watching Yuuri work on Eros after that was difficult to say that least. The drills and months of practice had done wonders for his confidence, and in turn, increased the level of eros exponentially. Yuuri had practiced so many times in front of Viktor that he was no longer uncomfortable. He owned every move and executed it with such finality that it nearly drove Viktor mad.

More than once, he’d had to excuse himself from practice to cool down, try to walk it off. Hide in a bathroom stall, fighting with himself, then resort to the cold water from the sink. He could make Yuuri work on his other program exclusively, but their practices were already unbalanced lately as it was. Not that the Free Skate was much better; Yuuri wasn’t as confident with Yuri On Ice , but he was so beautiful skating it that he couldn’t look away for even a moment.

And when that happened, it wasn’t long before his thoughts drifted back to the dance, either at the train station or the banquet. Then it was any number of kisses that hadn’t really happened, which only spiraled out of control from there.

It had never been a problem before. He’d never had trouble controlling his thoughts or desires in that way in all his years. Even when he’d been in a relationship, it had been nothing like it was, wanting Yuuri. That spark that he’d lamented destroying had returned stronger than ever before, and seemed to want nothing more than retribution from the inside out.

Any other time, Viktor might have let it drive him to the corner of insanity and frustration and right through to his demise… but it wasn’t just about him anymore. He had a job to do. Yuuri was depending on him.

He had to get through it.

He needed help.

Perhaps what he needed… was a temple.

 

Although Viktor had sent Yuuri and Yurio to the temple several times, Viktor hadn’t put himself through the paces. He chose an early afternoon that Yuuri could be left to do drills for, and stole away to the temple set against the hillside. The monks recognized him immediately, and asked what English they knew which of his students they would be helping.

“Not a student,” he said with a wincing smile, and pointed to himself. “Me.”

“Ah,” one said. “Now you are the student.”

Maybe it was just his imagination, but they might have looked a little too pleased at the revelation as they led him through the temple.

The monk who volunteered to assist him for the afternoon- and as many days as needed -explained that there were three pillars of zen, or three schools of thought, depending on what the specific need was. Shikantaza, the art of clearing the mind, was the most commonly thought of with zen, and also the most difficult, especially for beginners.

Viktor knelt and tried to clear his mind. He thought of Yuuri. Specifically, of Yuuri kissing him. Those lips on his, pressing gently, and- thwack! -the keisaku came down on Viktor’s shoulder, dragging his mind back to the present. Right. None of that.

Frowning, he tried again. He couldn’t allow himself to think about how nice it would be to have Yuuri touching his shoulders, soothing where he’d been hit, kissing the little sting away. Maybe lipping it, leaving another mark of his own…

Thwack!

The opposite shoulder.

Viktor whimpered. It didn’t really hurt, but it was a little startling. He shook his head and went back to it. Clear your mind… don’t think about anything!

“If it helps, concentrate on something else. Something specific. One thought instead of too many.”

It wasn’t racing thoughts that he was having trouble with, though. It was just the one thing. Yuuri. Bold Yuuri. Eros Yuuri. Viktor closed his eyes, and it was all too easy to imagine him in the locker room, approaching with that wolfish gaze, dark eyes glinting with predatory desire. And oh, he was so weak to that.

Several hits with the keisaku later, and in no time at all, the monk suggested that Viktor try the waterfall. “It seemed to work for the other one,” he said.

Yurio hadn’t been good at clearing his mind. Of course he hadn’t. He and Viktor were both aggressive when it came to resolving their issues. Once they had a goal, something they wanted, they went and got it. There was no passive sitting around and moping about it. Viktor wasn’t good at just letting things go.

Having to let Yuuri go went against everything in his nature. Viktor Nikiforov could have had anyone he wanted, or so he was told. He didn’t really believe that. Didn’t need it to be true, and didn’t want it to be true, either. But there was a certain amount of competitive pride that he couldn’t let go of, either. He wouldn’t be a five-time consecutive champion if he didn’t.

At least the water was cold, which was refreshing after a day in the outdoor heat.

But the waterfall was also loud, and harsh. It stung like needles, thundering on and around him, misty haze scattering prisms in the sparkles of the afternoon sunlight. The stones underneath his feet were smooth in the shallows where he stood, and it almost didn’t hurt as long as he stood very, very still.

Yuuri wouldn’t get to him here.

He kept his eyes closed against the downpour, squinting at first, then giving in entirely. The green of the forest gradually melded from the soft, vibrant hues of the Japanese maple to the cool tones of pine. White streaks of birch covered the landscape where there wasn’t darkness or snow, and the tower stood beyond that, tall and untouched in the mist.

How was the princess fairing? Did she struggle with the boy?

Of course… Of course she would.

 

They set out together, wolf and boy, and travelled from that town in the far East with their backs to the sun. He believed the wolf, admitted that the firebird was real, that the princess could be saved. That he thought she was still alive. There had been rumors for years.

She had been beloved by her people, for she was loving, and kind, and spent her days making beautiful things to share with those in her kingdom. Her songs filled their hearts with hope; her dances with joy; and her stories with wonder. Many believed that she would become a wise and wonderful ruler, too, had the firebird not come.

Each town they came to, the boy would inquire about the beast and the princess, and the story would be retold. How the firebird had come to the castle one night and burst into the princess’s room, setting everything ablaze.

The king and queen perished in the fire. Many suspected it was an assassination; someone set the firebird upon them. But who? And why? And what of the princess? They never found her body; they only heard her screams.

Burned to ash, some said.

Carried into the night, others claimed.

To be eaten? To be the firebird’s treasure? To be the slave of whomever sent the firebird?

No one could say.

The head knight took the crown and demanded the firebird’s head and the princess brought home. But years past… years and years… and years… and there had been no sign.

Just those feathers left behind. A trail that went cold in the badlands.

“She’s long since dead,” said a woman who led the boy to the stable where she was letting them stay for the night. There was no way that she would let a wolf come inside. “But there’ll be a handsome prize for anyone who brings the king the head of that firebird.”

“Oh, I know,” said the boy with a smile. “Thank you for your help. Goodnight.”

They settled together in the straw and hay, preferring the close scent of each other to that of the horses and alfalfa, though there was no escaping that, either. The wolf rest his head on his paws and sighed, heavy in heart, in body, in mind. He knew that it would be hard, but there was so little hope among the people, and they’d been to so many towns.

“Don’t worry,” said the boy, running a hand over the wolf’s head, stopping to rub behind his ear. “I know it’s terrible, what’s happened to the king and queen, how the kingdom has been torn apart…”

The wolf shifted his gaze without lifting his head, ears perking half-mast.

“And I know that she’s still out there, somewhere… We’ll find her. We’ll bring her home. You were right.”

“How can you be sure?” the wolf asked.

The boy draped an arm around the wolf’s neck, burrowing into his thick fur with blanket over his back, and cuddled close. “Trust me like I trust you.”

Trust was all that they had. Blind faith and hope with no guarantee that it wouldn’t end with the utter destruction of one of them by the time they were done with their journey.

The wolf pulled his limbs in tighter, craning his neck to curl in around the boy to keep him warm and protected. There was nothing else that could be done; the princess loved him.

 

Viktor shuddered, body stiff and sore. When he looked around again, the sun had moved in the sky and the afternoon had faded. He was soaked from head to toe, robes matted to his skin, which was cold and clammy. Standing in the waterfall hadn’t done much more than make him even more certain of his predicament; he was in love and there was no changing that. And now he was all wet and cold, too.

Dammit.

Although pouting took most of the energy that he had, he managed that and sloshed out from the pool, step after hobbling step until he got to the bank. At least he’d remembered to bring a towel and a change of clothes. It took an inordinate amount of time to strip down, every movement sluggish as if the robe had become a second skin. By the time he got dried, dressed, and made his way back to Yu-Topia, it was dark and his head was pounding.

He’d missed dinner, but he didn’t want any. No, just a bath and bed. And while he was at it, why not combine the two?

Yes, why not just… fall

asleep…

… in..

the… bath…

He never actually made it to the baths themselves; only the changing room, where the steam from the bathing area got to his already feverish head. Viktor teetered, then collapsed to the tile, much to the surprise of the other patrons.

“Oi, are you okay?”

“Hey, foreigner!”

“It’s Viktor, isn’t it?”

“Oi, Katsuki!”

“Yes? What’s the noise out here for?” asked Mama Katsuki as she answered the call, then gasped at the sight of her extended guest on the floor. “Vicchan! Mari, please find Yuuri and help me take him to his room. The poor dear should know by now to be careful in the bath…”

 

The fever only made the dreams worse. Only they didn’t even quite make sense anymore, either. There was touching. There was kissing. And then there was the forest. Turtles. A kappa? He spoke in Japanese, and Viktor only caught bits and pieces. Something about rice and cucumber. Sake. Or was it katsudon? But when it wasn’t the turtle, or a rabbit, or some other beastie, it was Yuuri again, leaning over, drowning him in heated, open-mouthed kisses that left him writhing.

The owl spoke to him, too, telling him stories about the moon and how they needed to get a ring. “How can I marry my love without a ring?” he said. “And if you love someone, you ought to marry them! Don’t tarry, get married!”

“But what will we do for a ring?” asked the cat.

“Well, I don’t know…”

“Oh.” The cat looked thoughtful, then touched the owl’s wing. “You’ve got gold all through you! If we melt you down, we can use that to make a ring!”

“Why… why of course! Why didn’t I think of that!” said the owl, though he looked a little nervous. And for good reason.

“Don’t,” said Viktor. “If you do that, the owl will crumble apart… you can’t get married if you’re in pieces.”

“Oh, I suppose that’s true,” said the owl. This time he looked embarrassed.

The cat was disappointed. “But you’d do it for me, wouldn’t you? Because you love me?”

“Oh, of course I would!” said the owl, taking her paws. “Of course!”

“No! It’s not worth it!”

“Anything is worth it for love.”

“And I want that gold…”

“No!”

It wasn’t the first time he woke up screaming, and it wouldn’t be the last. But it was just the fever dreams… just his brain boiling any sense right out of him, and he usually didn’t remember the dreams for long; they just left him unsettled and shaken and wishing Yakov were there.

Viktor was drenched in sweat and lying helpless under the covers, the slatted shadows on the ceiling blurred and shifting as the hours passed. Was he awake or asleep? He couldn’t tell. It was too hot. Was it the fever or the afternoon? He couldn’t move, couldn’t take off the blankets.

The cicadas kept their chirping on and on, droning and screaming at the same time. Too high. Too deep. He blinked slowly, licking his lips with sandpaper tongue. So dry…

He coughed, and it made his chest and head ache, pressure crushing behind his eyes and temples.

“Makkachin,” he groaned. “I’m dying…”

The dog licked his cheek, then dropped his chin against his shoulder again. He hadn’t left his side since his Person had been put to bed. Of course he knew that Viktor wasn’t really dying; he just felt terrible. It had happened before, and would probably happen again. Despite the dramatics, it wasn’t even very serious. All it required was the bare minimum effort on the poodle’s part.

Viktor whined again, but closed his eyes. When he opened them again, Yuuri was there, tending to him; changing out the cloth on his forehead, touching his cheek, whispering to Makkachin.

“Yuuri…” he said, voice little more than a rasp. “Are you going to kiss me this time?”

Yuuri gave him a puzzled smile. “Uh huh… That’s right, Viktor.”  Then proceeded to clean up the bedside table, uncapping the fresh water bottle he’d brought, swiping the used tissues into the trash can. When he was finished, he leaned over to rub Makkachin’s ears. “Yeah, I can’t understand his Russian mumbling, either.”

Then he was gone.

 

Mama Katuski was there when the fever broke, seated at his bedside, changing out the head cloths. It’d taken nearly two days of rotating the sheets, administering medicine, and keeping him hydrated, but the Katsuki family was nothing if not hospitable.

“Even with the fever gone, it’s best you stay in bed for a few more days. Rest and fluids is the best way to heal anything. Yuuri can’t have a bedridden coach forever, can he?”

Viktor followed Mama Katsuki’s orders, both out of obedience because he respected her, and because he really wasn’t sure that he could get up and run around just yet.

“Sorry, Yuuri,” he said when Yuuri stopped by to check in. He’d managed to sit up, and move around a little, but it’d left him exhausted. “Can you go on to practice without me again today?”

“Yeah, that’s fine. I’ll just keep working on the routines.”

“Good.” He gave a nod of approval. “Just remember that you’re not going to let me let you off easy.”

“Uh… right.”

“So do your best.”

“I will!”

 

With Yuuri gone, Viktor was able to clear his head a little bit. He bundled up in spite of the heat to ward off the chills and went out to pester Mama K while she did her morning preparations, leaning on the counter with facemask in place. September was fast approaching; he needed to get better, and he needed to get over his issues.

Since there were no patrons yet, Viktor draped over the bar and rested his head against its cool surface, eyes closing to concentrate on the sounds of food preparation on the other side of the counter. It was such comforting, mundane background noise, and so much better than the bugs outside...

“Vicchan.”

Viktor looked up at Mama Katsuki, prying his cheek from the bar. “Hmm?”

She set a bowl of miso in front of him. “Here.”

He blinked at it, taking several long seconds to process its meaning before nodding his thanks, and accepted a pair of chopsticks.

“I put a secret ingredient in it to make you better faster~”

Viktor lowered his mask and peered down into the clear broth, then pawed through. Green onion, garlic, onion, chicken? Potato…?  “Mama Katsuki,” he gasped. “This isn’t miso!”

“Nope!”

He leaned closer to sniff it, but didn’t catch much other than steam. Still, there was parsley. Celery. Viktor grinned. It was chicken soup. “ Yatta!

“I was expecting ‘ vkusno ,’ but I guess that works, too.”

“When in Rome…” he shrugged, then frowned. “Or Japan, so oishii, I guess.”

She laughed. “Speaking of, are you two going to Tanabata?”

Viktor chased down a piece of chicken and looked up at her, chopsticks dripping. “We talked about it, but that was a few weeks ago.”

Mama Katsuki, in all her grace and kindness, passed a spoon over the counter. Chicken soup wasn’t miso at all. “It’s good. You two should definitely go.”

She’d encouraged them to go to the last festival, too. For culture? To give Yuuri more of fun in his life? Or was it for Viktor? Maybe both of them. Viktor took a moment to eat some of the soup that he’d been given, quietly bowed over the bowl to ensure he wouldn’t make a mess in the process. It was probable that she was being a good mama to them both, trying to get them to go out and enjoy themselves while they could. They’d been working themselves so hard, after all, and it wasn’t as though either of them were paragons of perfect mental health.

He looked down into the bowl again. It wasn’t just chicken soup; it was Russian chicken soup. It was the parsnip that made the difference, at least as far as he knew. Hot, salty, with the strong flavor of dill and lots of other things but that broth was so distinct. He remembered it from home. Viktor sniffed, taking another spoonful, and swallowed it down. That time, he really did give a quiet, almost wistful little, “ Vkusno,” as he melted into the bar stool.

Mama Katsuki only smiled and left him to enjoy his late breakfast. “Think about it. It’d be good for you.”

“Mm-hmm…” Anyone who could make katsudon and this soup had to be right about everything.

To Tanabata they would go.

 

When Yuuri got home, Viktor greeted him at the door.

The exchange went simply--

 

“Yuuri!”

“Viktor, you look a lot better.”

“Yuuri, we should go to Tanabata.”

“Okay.”

“Mama Katsuki says the closest good one is an hour away by foot.”

“Oh, in Katano?”

“Yeah.”

“Sure.”

“Can we wear our yukata?”

“We can change when we get there.”

“It’d be more fun if we walked there in it. Pretend we’re in ancient Japan.”

“Uh... Okay. You probably shouldn’t wear the geta, then.”

“Oh. You’re right. Sandals?”

“I guess, if you really want to be… authentic.”

“Yeah!”

“Okay.”

 

-- then promptly got more complicated as soon as Viktor agreed to figure out all of the arrangements. Or, rather, he insisted on finding it all out, since Yuuri had taken care of the last festival. It wasn’t until the end of the month, so he had some time to get it perfect; a nice little hurrah before they went to the qualifiers. Since they would be walking for quite some time, he thought a nice lunch would be good- their route was scenic, right on along a countryside road. A picnic lunch! A festival! Yukata! Traditional Japanese!

And then he found out what Tanabata was about. Wishing festival? Star festival? Maybe on some websites, but at its core, it was about the tale of two lovers torn apart by tragic circumstance! It was a festival dedicated to the reuniting of a princess and a cow herder, who were so in love that they had forgotten their duties and had to be kept from each other, save for one night a year. Unless it rained.

It was a festival for love.

And Viktor had invited Yuuri to go with him. Had insisted, even, and had planned a cute little picnic lunch for them on the countryside! Where there were probably flowers in the meadow!

Picturesque! Romantic! Perfect!

And TERRIBLE!

No!

Further research suggested that families often brought their children to these festivals, and that friends came together to make wishes; that it wasn’t always a romantic thing, but that only made it more devastating. The poor lovers! How could people celebrate the one night of their being together by ignoring the point entirely? So what if the magic forces that allowed them to be together granted wishes? It was about them , not everyone else!

Wasn’t love the most important thing in all the world? In all the universe?!

GOD he was in trouble.

“Makkachin,” he moaned. “We’re going for a walk.”

They left. He felt up to it, he thought. Slow and steady, not too hot out, well-rested and hydrated and staying to the shade with sweater in hand. They went far, far away from the hot springs, from Yuuri, from the rink. It was actually just outside of town, up the hill, into the woods and along the path. His favorite thinking spot.

Clearly, he needed to talk to someone. But he couldn’t call Yakov. Not only was his coach not talking to him, but asking the man for advice on how to deal with the person who he’d gone to see against his wishes seemed in bad taste. Viktor didn’t have many other friends, and even among those, the ones he trusted to talk about this sort of thing were even more limited. Really, that meant Chris. But he never called Chris first. It just wasn’t something he did. Initiating contact was… no, he couldn’t do that. Especially not for something involving romantic advice. Definitely not.

Who else? Georgi was useless and not exactly someone he considered close. Mila was… no. No, he couldn’t talk to her. Yurio? No, he’d probably just yell and tell him to stop being stupid and come back home. None of the Katsukis were appropriate. Nor the Nishigoris. How would they even feel about Viktor’s advances? He might get himself run out of Hasetsu at this rate. It might not be safe to approach Minako-sensei for that matter, even though she would probably have some very good advice.

She reminded him of Lilia anyway. Not nearly as cold or harsh, but nearly as terrifying.

Which left… Chris.

Could he really call Chris?

He didn’t want to.

He really, really didn’t want to.

Viktor frowned at his phone, thumb poised over Christophe’s contact, then looked out at the trees around him. Makkachin had wandered off to roll in the grass in the sunshine, having given up on the squirrel from earlier. His paws flailed in the air, and he chomped at the bits of pollen that floated away.

Brriing. Brrriiing. Calling Christophe Giacometti…

Viktor, flailing, almost dropped his mobile. “No! Wait! No no no!” He ended the call before it could connect, and flopped back against the bench. That had been too close. He wasn’t ready to talk to Chris. Definitely not ready.

He groaned, draping his arm across his eyes. How pathetic…

Then chiptune polka began to play, and Viktor pursed his lips into a pitiful pout. Great. Chris was calling him back. And why wouldn’t he? He’d always been the dutiful one.

Viktor sat up and answered. “Hello?”

“Viktor, so sorry I missed your call. What’s wrong?”

More frowning. “What? No. It was…” Could he get away with a lie?  “...just a misdial.”

“Oh really?” Chris didn’t buy it. Not for a moment. There was too much warmth and amusement- with a touch of genuine concern -in his tone.

“Maybe..”

Chris laughed, light and airy, like he always did when Viktor was being grumpy. He was the only one allowed to laugh when that happened. “It’s unlike you to want for idle chatter.”

“Can’t I ask how my friend is doing?”

“It wasn’t a complaint, Viktor. It just makes me wonder why now you’d be calling~”

Because I need your help. I don’t know who else to turn to. You’re the only one who would understand. The only one who would know what I’m going through.

Viktor ran a hand through his hair, and let the fringe fall back over his eyes. “I wanted to see how your preparation for the next season was going. I’m not going to be there, after all.”

“Oh, yes.” Chris sighed. “And what an odd season it will be. How is your student coming along?”

“Good… very good. He’s doing…” Viktor turned his gaze to the sky; a vast expanse of blue with soft, puffy white clouds. Beautiful and perfect. “Great.”

“That sounds uncertain.”

“He has a ways to go but he’s showing great promise.” He laughed, short on sound and humor. “I think you’ll find him an adequate competitor.” It would be interesting to see Yuuri’s eros against Christophe’s… whatever it was.

“Good. I expect no less from someone being coached by you.”

You think too highly of me, Chris. I’m falling apart.

Another laugh. “Are you prepared to fight for your spot on the podium?”

“I had no intention of being lazy~”

“Good… because I need there to be real heat out there on that ice.”

“I will certainly have that covered for you,” Chris said, voice rolling with that deep, textured purr that he usually saved for his interviews and made Viktor long for vodka.

Without it, the Russian looked for Makkachin instead. The poodle had moved on to chasing butterflies, but only in the technical sense; he was sprawled on his belly, tail wagging, occasionally pawing at them as they drifted nearby. Once in a while, a cluster of them would drive him into a silly frenzy, and he’d leap up, trip over his own feet, and flop back down to the grass for more warm-bellied rest.

“Right,” said Viktor, somewhat recovered. “I’m not sure why I said that. Anyway, glad to hear it.”

“So. How are things?”

The mood shift brought the tension in his shoulders right back, and Viktor winced. He should have known Chris would ask. Chris knew. He always knew. “The beach here in Hasetsu is really nice.”

“I’ve never been to Japan in the summer. I bet that’s a turn for you.”

Relief. Viktor shouldered the phone and leaned back on his hands, dropping his head back to stretch his neck in the dappled shade. “It is. It’s very hot most days. It gets up to 26c sometimes. I have to take a lot of naps to cool off, but swimming in the ocean is fun.”

“You doing something leisurely. How nice!”

“Does everyone think I’m a workaholic?”

“Is that a trick question?”

“No?” Viktor furrowed his brow, then thought about it, and gave up, laying back on the bench again. “Nevermind. Anyway, there’s lots of forest trails to hike, and lots of beach to jog on.”

“That sounds lovely. I’m glad that you can relax.”

Relax. Right. “The hot springs remind me of that resort we went to in Switzerland, too. Mineral baths every day.”

“Oh, I hear they’re wonderful out there. Maybe I should visit some time.”

Oh god no.

“Yeah, that’s a good idea. I bet you’d love it here. It’s warm and humid, nice foliage, cute animals.”

“I’m sure Bastien and his picky skin would like it, as well. Maybe after the season is over. I’d hate to overwhelm you.”

“That would probably be best. We’re very busy training right now; I’m teaching him all of my jumps. At least Yu-Topia is open year-round.”

“Good to know.” Chris changed his tone again. Mischievous. Personal. “So. How are the works on the other end?”

Viktor bit the inside of his cheek. “The other end?”

“The professional side, the… not so professional side.”

“Oh, right. Of course.” He knew exactly what Chris had been referring to. He’d have had to be an idiot not to. How were things going? Viktor considered the question. Terribly? No. That wasn’t quite right. He was enjoying his time in Hasetsu for the most part, and he loved and adored Yuuri. It was a matter of perspective. So it wasn’t entirely a lie when he said, “They’re great. It’s going really, really well.”

“Really? Is he everything you ever wanted in a lover?”

After a quick glance around to make sure that no one was in the immediate vicinity but he and Makkachin- and who would be at the top of the steps in the middle of the woods? -Viktor nodded, and it was sincere. “Yes. And more. He’s… he’s so amazing, Chris.”

Every word hurt to admit. Hurt because it was true, hurt because he realized he had been aching to confess to someone. It was too hard to keep it all to himself. But every ounce of relief was met with a pound of regret.

Yuuri isn’t mine. I am his, but he doesn’t love me. He doesn’t want me. He never will. I can’t stop loving him. I don’t want to.

“Oh! Marvelous! Do give me details.”

“Are you sure that you want to hear?”

I hurt you once before, Chris, and I have nothing but the pitiful false hope of a broken heart to share. Are you asking me to torture you or to torture me?

“Tell me everything, mon amie.”

How could he deny such a request? “He’s a wonderful dancer.”

“When sober?”

“Especially sober. And he’s passionate, but unassuming.”

“A sparkle in his eye, like you’ve mentioned?”

Viktor sat up to rub his arm at the chill that ran through him. Goosebumps and a soft smile that he couldn’t help. He was so far gone and he knew it. “Yes,” he confessed, quiet at first, then with more feeling. “Oh yes. And so determined to do everything the right way. Moral fiber. Dedication. Studious.”

“Good qualities!”

“We went to a bookstore, Chris… He showed me where the fairy tales were.”

“You always said you wanted a man who would take you to a bookstore for a date.”

He bit his lip, and slowly pried his hand away from where he had clutched the fabric of his shirt over his chest. There was no need to get emotional. No need to get so wrapped up in it all. Viktor gave himself a moment to breathe, and laughed when Makkachin nosed at his side, front paws on the bench.

Chris chuckled, too. He probably knew that Viktor was misty-eyed and emotional, and he didn’t mind. He probably thought it was charming, and good for him.

“Chris…” Viktor huffed, finally. “You weren’t wrong about him stealing my heart.”

“Ensnared,” he agreed with a wistful sigh.

“Bewitched. Enchanted. Whatever you want to call it.”

Cursed. Those dark eyes that won’t leave me alone, sleeping or awake.

“And how’s that spark of yours?”

“Blazing.” Viktor ruffled Makkachin’s ears to keep the poodle from worrying too much. He hated it when his master cried. “You were right about that, too.”

“Sleeping for several years. Good!”

“I guess I just needed time… and the right someone.”

“I’m so pleased to hear that, Viktor. I knew it! I had to make sure you saw him again.”

I love him. I don’t know what I’ll do when I lose him, Chris. What do I do? What can I do? Please help me. Tell me what to do.

“Thank you, Chris. Really, thanks.” Viktor rubbed a hand down Makkachin’s muzzle, pushing the whiskers in the wrong direction, which made the dog wrinkle his nose in annoyance. “I need to get going, though… there’s a lot of training left before we see you Beijing.”

“I can’t wait.”

Viktor hung up and let his phone fall to the bench, hands trembling. He’d lied to Chris. One of omission, yes, but it was only a matter of time before he found out. They didn’t lie to each other. What was he doing?

“Maybe I need to go back to the waterfall…”

Makkachin took hold of his hand between his teeth and tugged, ever so gently. The waterfall was a bad idea and he knew it, but he was running out of ideas.

 

He would be returning to practice the next morning. Viktor had put it off for far too long. He was bored and restless, and his body needed the exercise; lazing around never lasted, even when he had very good reason to. Illness? Didn’t matter. Injury? He found ways around it. The depression, now, that was something that had defeated him from time to time, but even that got boring after a while. And avoiding Yuuri because he couldn’t control himself was exhausting and irritating and, quite frankly, insulting.

Maybe he was soft for a Russian. Maybe he was silly, too. But he was Viktor Nikiforov, dammit, and he did not let things stand in his way. He was a champion; Grand Prix, European Nationals, Worlds, and Olympic, several times over! With very few exceptions, he had accomplished every single thing he had set out to do in his life, and he had always prided himself on being a master of himself and his body.

He was an artist and a fine-tuned machine. Few in the world could do what he could, and even fewer could even come close to his level of technical skill.

So what was his problem? This was just another obstacle like any other, wasn’t it?

Was it that he’d been rejected? Another man might have refused to take no for an answer. A wolf might have forced Yuuri to see his side, or just taken what they wanted. But Viktor was no wolf; not really. That wasn’t his way. He was better than that. He’d always been better than that. Even though it meant taking the harder road.

Oh, if Cao Bin could see him then… or worse, his bastard older brother.  He was sure that nothing would give them greater pleasure than to see him suffering in such a pitiful state. Of course, he’d just send them both right back into retirement so hard that all of their ancestors would feel it, but even so…

Wait.

Cao Bin.

That was the answer.

Viktor carefully pulled himself out from underneath the covers of his bed and Makkachin and crossed the room to his bookshelf, kneeling to search for a thin volume in red. He found it immediately- a book he so often referenced; Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. He flipped to chapter six and drew his finger to a highlighted passage: Thus the expert in battle moves the enemy, and is not moved by him.

Perfect.

Just because Yuuri didn’t know that he had eros, or that he was a dangerous wolf, didn’t mean that he didn’t or wasn’t. Which meant that Viktor needed to be the one to keep him in his place. If he did, the Yuuriwolf wouldn’t step out of line and come after him anymore.

It had to work.

 

He tried it out first thing in the morning, after getting a nice morning skate in to get refamiliarized with his boots and the ice. It felt like home already, and put him right at ease. Then he stepped off, put his guards back on, and took up the clipboard to give Yuuri the rink to himself.

“So you’re feeling a lot better?” Yuuri asked.

“Yep!” Viktor went over the notes that he’d written the last time, nodding to himself, while Yuuri did his warm-ups. “I’ll get the music queued up; let’s start with On Love: Eros.”

Yuuri nodded, eager to get back to focused practice. They’d lost almost a full week together. “Okay, ready!”

“Though, wait, Yuuri, come here a moment.”

Curious, Yuuri came to him as requested, stopping at the barrier. “Yeah?”

“This time when you skate,” Viktor said, and put on his most dark and charming smile, one hand reaching out to straighten the collar of Yuuri’s jacket. He looked him over, making no disguise of what he was doing, then lifted his gaze to meet his eyes. “I want you to do your very best to seduce me. Do whatever you have to do; imagine beautiful women, the most delectable bowl of steaming katsudon; whatever it is… but if you can seduce me ,” he purred, “I can guarantee that you’ll bring the audience to its knees.”

He held onto him for three seconds longer, then let him go to admire the deep pink on Yuuri’s cheeks and his wide-eyed, helpless stare. Viktor stretched out to nudge him gently in the chest to send him gliding backward, and smiled, soft and sweet.

“Go on, then, Yuuri~ I want to see what you’ve been working on while I’ve been out~!”

“Uh. R-right!” Yuuri tried to turn around in both directions at once and immediately spun out and fell, face-first, on the ice.

Viktor winced, but couldn’t help a little smile anyway. Maybe that was a little too much Art of War . “Whoops. Are you okay?”

Yuuri was already getting up, now a deeper shade of red. “Y-yeah.”

“I’ll get the music.”

 

 

As Viktor had hoped, his dreamscape evened out into what it had been before, balance restored. At least, for the most part. When Yuuri approached, as he often did, Viktor met him head on like he used to, taking his hand and leading him out onto the dance floor. Whether Yuuri led or he himself didn’t seem to matter; the dance changed from measure to measure, anyway. It was safe to be lost in those eyes as long as there were steps to follow and rules that they both knew; boundaries that were never crossed.

He could love Yuuri while they danced together, even if only in his dreams, and no one would be the wiser. And if those dances occasionally strayed into an embrace, or they were distracted by a kiss or two, or three, he couldn’t be blamed for it. It was just a dream, after all.

The thing that puzzled him most were the times, seldom though they were, when he was the one to pull Yuuri down into the sheets; laying him on his back, taking him in, and then taking him. Fingers entwined, kisses between ragged panting, bodies moving in time to the sweet, sensual music that they made together, with Viktor as maestro.

When Viktor woke from those dreams, calm and dreamy from the afterglow that only existed in fading memory, he wasn’t left with panic, just confusion. He’d never had that inclination before. Stealing kisses, yes. Playing the part of temptress, sure. But the rest?

Of course, before Yuuri, he’d never really had trouble with any of the rest of it, either. He’d just never been the greedy sort.

Until now.

 

Viktor watched the weather forecast as the festival approached, perhaps even more eagerly than the date for the qualifier. They had their travel to Okayama figured out, and they’d be sharing a hotel room, which he was determined to not think about. Yuuri was on a budget; that was fine. He could work with that. It didn’t matter. It was a tiny competition against amateurs, and Yuuri would use it to boost his confidence and move on to the big leagues. On to the next challenge. Good. Perfect. Moving on.

The festival, though. That was first, and that was important.

When the day came, the sky was bright and clear, with only a few wisps of clouds in the distance. Viktor sighed with relief. The magpies would be able to make their bridge, so the lovers would be able to meet without a problem. At least, so long as the weather held up, but it looked that way. It set the tone for the day.

He’d arranged with Mama Katsuki to make the picnic lunch that they’d be bringing, though she insisted on surprising him.

“It’ll be great, Vicchan, just you wait!” she’d said with an overly exaggerated wink.

Mama Katsuki was enjoying the whole thing even more than he secretly was. That concerned him, but he decided not to worry about it just yet. Later.

They dressed in their yukata as planned, with regular sandals for their hour-long walk to Katano. Mama Katsuki handed them both a patterned cloth satchel for their lunch, which they slung over their shoulders for the trip.

“Be good, Makkachin.” Viktor rubbed the poodle’s head and ears when he stretched up to paw at him. “We’ll be back late tonight.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll watch him!”

“Thanks, Papa Katsuki!”

Mari lit up another cigarette and stifled a yawn with the back of her hand. “You guys better get out of here before it gets too hot. Unless you want Viktor to pass out again, Yuuri.”

“Uh. Let’s go.”

 

Off they went at a reasonable pace; Yuuri’s measured, Viktor’s bouncy, both of them soaking up the late summer sun and the sweeping views of the Japanese countryside. The roads were marked and paved, but it was easy for Viktor to ignore all of that in favor of watching the trees that hedged their view and the wildflowers that dotted the landscape. Plenty was familiar, with the manicured fields for farmland and even the occasional pine, but it was still Japan all the same.

Plus they were wearing yukata, and that wasn’t done in Russia.

He sucked in a deep breath, held it for three broad steps, then let it go with a loud harruf, lengthening his stride to get ahead of Yuuri, for an about face. “This is the perfect place for it, I think.”

Yuuri stumbled half a step, but shook his head, pressing on when he realized that Viktor was just walking backward in front of him. “For what?”

“Come on, we’re out walking, middle of nowhere, on a journey. You gotta sing the song.”

He blanched, face screwing up in confusion with just a touch of pink on his cheeks. “The… the song? What song?”

“The Country Road song! You know it. I know you do. Everyone does.”

Yuuri frowned at him, mouth folding downward into an exaggerated crescent.

“Please? I can’t sing or I’d do it!” Viktor stopped in his tracks and used his best puppy eyes and a pout of his own, head tilt and everything.

Nostrils flaring, Yuuri was only able to keep up his resistance for about four or five seconds longer before his shoulders caved and he groaned, mumbling a quiet version of the melody. “ Almost heaven, West Virginia…”

Viktor spun around, mouth breaking into a wide smile, and stepped right back into his jovial march, keeping in time with the rhythm of Yuuri’s singing.

By the time he got to the chorus, Yuuri had found his bravery once again, and even had Viktor humming along. Which led to extra rounds of the chorus and repeating verses, and even some in Japanese, which really impressed Viktor.

It was everything he could have asked for in an epic quest, even though they really weren’t going very far at all.

 

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mama
Take me home, country roads

 

A little more than halfway into their trip, the pair came to a stop at a massive field of sunflowers.

“If we don’t stop soon, we’re going to end up at the shrine,” said Yuuri. “Do you want to eat here?”

Viktor surveyed the flowers, the road, the clear blue skies overhead, and nodded his approval. It was too romantic, but it really couldn’t be helped. If they got to the shrine, they’d end up eating nothing but festival food, and Mama Katsuki’s work would be wasted. Everyone knew that he’d planned to have a picnic, even though it was probably unnecessary. So, a picnic they would have. “This,” he said, pressing his lips into a tight, thin line. “will do.”

They left the road and navigated through the tall grass and flowers to a clearing, where they set out their thin blanket, and got comfortable for lunch. The bentos that Mama Katsuki had packed were vegetables and star-shaped onigiri, spiced with dill and sesame furikake, but each had different filling. Pickled plum, chicken from the night before, and- surprise! -pickled beet!

Vkusno! ” Viktor cried. “It’s like home country all over again!” He took another bite, savoring the familiar flavors, then set it aside to save it for last. “Mm~”

“I can’t tell if she’s trying to bribe you to stay or make you homesick…”

“No one would make me beet onigiri in Russia, Yuuri.”

“I guess.”

They ate and relaxed, drinking from the small thermoses of matcha that Mama Katsuki had so thoughtfully included. Then Viktor yawned, stretching his armed out and above his head, and leaned back to stretch out his neck.

“Don’t fall asleep now, Viktor. We still have a ways to walk… and a festival to go to.”

“I know, I know.” He didn’t always need to nap. Viktor reached behind him and traced the stem of a wildflower, thoughtful. “Do you ever write haikus?’

“Me? Not really. Not since grade school.”

“I’ve been writing them the last few weeks.”

“Oh?”

“Yes.” Viktor sat up, adjusting his yukata to form a basket, which he dropped the flower into. “It was a little difficult at first, but once you apply a rhythm to it- making it more of a song than a game of math, it was rather easy.” He went for another flower, fingers picking through for the smaller sunflower blossoms.

“What do you do with them?”

“Nothing, usually. Sometimes I write them down, but they’re just for fun.” Viktor added another flower, then plucked a thick stalk of grass. “Here, I’ll make one for you now--

 

I love pickled beets

Sesame seeds are so good

So is katsudon!

 

--good, right?”

Yuuri blinked at him, smile lopsided and puzzled, but nonetheless amused. “Yeah, that was pretty good.”

“I can do more, too.” Viktor hummed a moment, adding several more flowers to his growing pile, then tapped his chin. “Let’s see.” He busied his hands with the flowers he had then, sorting them out in his lap while he spoke. “I’ll do one on skating this time--

 

Dancing on the ice

Swirling, gliding, and jumping

Just don’t make coach mad.”

 

“I’m guessing there’s a story behind that one.”

Viktor shrugged. “It’s never a good idea to make your coach mad. You should know that by now, Yuuri.” He smiled, and went back to his handiwork, fingers busily weaving and adjusting stems here and there. “Do you want to try?”

“To make you mad, or write a haiku?”

“A haiku!”

“Uhm. I guess.”

While Yuuri thought about it, Viktor worked on his construct, stripping leaves, measuring stems, braiding small bundles together with sturdy systems of grass. It wouldn’t be the prettiest flower crown he’d ever made, or the sturdiest, but it had been a long time, and it was still gorgeous all the same.

Yuuri finally cleared his throat, able to draw his attention from Viktor’s work, and delivered his poem:

"Yukata, flowers

Walking to the festival

Blue sky high and bright.”

 

Viktor sat in silence for several long moments when Yuuri finished, then shook his head. “Of course you’d be a natural. Yuuri! That was beautiful!” He then stretched across their picnic to set the sunflower crown atop Yuuri’s head. “ Et voilà!

It made Yuuri flush, but not so much from embarrassment. He looked up through the bangs that had been pushed in his eyes, and reached to brush them away from his forehead, adjusting the crown to fit more securely in place.

 

They made good time to the festival, loads lightened and spirits bright. Yuuri wore the crown the whole time, on the way there and at the festival itself, which Viktor, honestly, hadn’t expected. He had half a mind to tell him to take it off. What if someone saw? But Yuuri didn’t seem to care.

Neither did anyone else.

If anything, he fit right in. Many of the others were dressed up for the festivities similarly; not with a full-on fresh flower crown, but with other ornaments and accessories. It was a festival for lovers, after all. Maybe they just thought that Yuuri was looking the part. It did look good on him. Especially with the absence of shame.

There was always something so alluring about confidence like that.

Viktor kept to his side, taking it all in. A lot of it was similar to the last festival that they went to, only spring had been traded out for summer, and there were a lot more people at this one than the one in Hasetsu. Though, since news had travelled, and Yuuri Katsuki was a celebrity himself, they weren’t as anonymous as he’d hoped.

Not that Viktor could really go unnoticed in Japan; he still stood out like a giant sore thumb amongst them, but that was all the more reason to try to show that he was there to support and enjoy the culture. Which meant lots of food and drinking.   

There were other things too, though; paper strips everywhere, hung from the trees in strips and box kites like the branches of a weeping willow. Multi-colored, glittering, shining strips of all different kinds and widths, lengths, with writing of every imaginable style of handwriting. He didn’t let his eyes linger long, even though he couldn’t read any of it; the wishes were private between the writer and the magic of the Milky Way; they weren’t for him.

“Yuuri, when do we write our wish?” he asked, winding around another stall with a fresh stick of takoyaki. Viktor had insisted on treating that time, but Yuuri had likewise insisted on sticking to his diet; he’d been sensible, and only taken small bites of the offerings, and chosen healthier options for what served as his dinner.

“Oh right, we can do that now.”

They bought paper at a stall, each to match their yukatas; Yuuri’s a shimmering sapphire, Viktor’s a deep, glittery purple, and used a sharpie to write their respective wishes along one side.

“Is it okay if I write it in Russian?”

“That should be fine. The Kami will know. There are some in English already.”

Viktor looked around until he found one for proof, and nodded, assured. He didn’t want Yuuri to know what he would write, but he wanted it to count if he were going to be taking advantage of the lover’s magic, anyway. It was for a good cause, at least. “Whew, okay, good. And it’s supposed to be secret?”

“It doesn’t have to be.”

He considered, then tapped his lip with a finger. “It’s more fun that way, don’t you think?”

Yuuri only shrugged, and went back to writing, sunflowers drooping from the day’s wear. It was getting dark, and they’d been out all afternoon and evening together. Close, and closer still, and yet so far.

Viktor turned back to his strip of paper, considering. It was a lover’s festival, so he could wish for his heart’s desires. Perhaps for his affections to be returned?  But no. That wasn’t right. And he’d heard that others had wished to win competitions or promotions, but that didn’t make sense, either. One didn’t win anything through luck; it was only through hard work and determination, and maybe just a… little nudge of destiny when you’d done everything in your power. He’d believed in wishing stars before, after all, but his dreams had only come from the confidence in believing in himself.

So he wrote, in Russian, the following on his paper:

 

I wish for Yuuri to realize his worth and find what truly makes him happy. <3

 

Was it cheating to put down two things? Viktor wasn’t sure. He hoped it wouldn’t be a problem. It couldn’t hurt, anyway, could it? He didn’t dare ask either way. They hung their wishes up next to each other on the same branch, and stood close to make sure that they didn’t fall when they twisted in the gentle breeze. When all was assured and a smile exchanged between them, they went back for another round of drinks before the parade.

Or, well, it was Viktor doing the drinking while Yuuri took photos and tried to keep Viktor from buying too many new little knick knacks for his shelf. “But they’re so cuuuute~”

“I think you already have one of those.”

“Oh, you’re right~ but this one’s bright green!”

Viktor ended up with his satchel full and another bag with odds and ends, but it all made him quite happy. Part of that might have been the alcohol, though. There were all sorts of things for him to try, and no reason not to drink, especially since Yuuri was so cute, but so off limits, and the festival was all about lovers, and pretty paper, and all of the things he loved the most.

They watched the parade while he drank,  and the lantern light was warm, and everyone friendly and laughing. He was full, happy, and everywhere he looked was hope; people making wishes, still holding out for good in the world.

“What’d I tell you, Gavirk?” he asked, draining the last of his nth beer. “Not everyone is shinninical.”

Yuuri took his cup and disposed of it in the waste bin for him, reaching out a hand to steady him. “Maybe we should head back. Just what all did you drink?”

“A little of everything! There’s still fireworks, right?”

“We’ll be able to see them from the road.”

“Oh right… yeah, good thinking.” Viktor closed his eyes, brows furrowed to give his very serious nod of approval. “Lessh traffic that way. Avoid the crowds.”

“Yeah. Exactly.”

They set out with the road dark and the sky full of stars, leaving the bright festival behind them. It wasn’t long before the fireworks began, alerting them with a scream in the night and a burst of light that painted the landscape in hues of red and orange. Both of them stopped and turned back to watch, still and silent until Viktor nearly toppled into Yuuri.

Yuuri steadied him. “We should probably keep moving if we’re going to get you home.”

“Okay, okay.”

Viktor wasn’t stumbling too bad, but his pace was sluggish at best, dragging his feet over the asphalt. An hour’s walk didn’t seem like a long time when sober, but there were second thoughts passing between them wordlessly then, lapsing into a slow and steady silence… but only for a little while, until Viktor burst into his own rendition of Country Roads.

It was probably Russian, but it might have been English. Or French. Or maybe none of the above. At least until the chorus, that is, which was the only part intelligible, and also when he slung an arm over Yuuri’s shoulder. And, for being piss drunk and out way past his bedtime, it actually wasn’t half bad at all. Just loud.

“Sing with me, Yuuriii~!” he crooned. “Country roooooooaaddsshh~”

“It’s kind of late for that, Viktor!”

“Pshshhhhh! The midnight hour shhhe calls.. Sh me~”

Yuuri scanned the horizon for any house lights. It may have looked like a dark and empty road with fields and trees, but there were sure to be farm houses nearby.

“Oh, Yuuri. That field is a shortcut!”

“What?”

Viktor pulled away, grasping at his hand. “Come on!”

“Viktor, no!”

He let go of his hand as requested, but stumbled off into the field anyway, cutting through what he was sure was a shortcut to home. It was so familiar; the particular tall grass, the tree in the distance, the view of the whatever-that-was up ahead…

“Viktor!”

Yuuri managed to catch up with him just in time for Viktor to trip over his own feet- and take Yuuri down with him, landing in a tangle with a soft whumph. Yuuri immediately scrambled off, but Viktor lay where he was, on his back in the cool, lush grass, staring up at the sky.

“Viktor, are you okay? Are you hurt?”

“Lookit ‘em up there… Yuuri, look,” Viktor mumbled, voice soft, suddenly somber. He searched the heavens, chest tight from the sudden sense of longing that hit him all at once.

Yuuri hesitated, then got down next to him, pushing up the brim of his glasses once he was on his back. “Okay.”

Viktor was quiet for several long moments, pale blue eyes icy under the brilliant stars. “You know, it’s… funny.”

“Hm?”

“I never did get him to go stargazing with me. Not even once.” A sigh. Viktor kept his head straight, chin up, gaze fixed on the stars straight above him.

Yuuri turned his head to him. “Who?”

“Niko.”

Viktor let his answer rest for a beat, then drew his gaze from the heavenly display to look at Yuuri, whose expression perched somewhere between curious and uncertain. The flowers, now tangled in his dark hair, were soft and wilted; snowdrops in wild bramble. Midnight had cooled his eyes, taking the fire, but leaving the sparkle, and bathed him in shadows of gentle blue. Even with thoughts of Niko looming like a storm on the horizon, he had to admit that Yuuri was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

The private admission of that fact alone was enough to make him nervous, but what frightened him more was how close they were… how easy it would be to touch that soft cheek; to try to tame the hair enough to better gaze into his eyes.

He wanted to kiss him. More than anything, he wanted to close that gap between them, just mitigate those five or six inches and show Yuuri exactly how he felt.

Yuuri was already looking back at him, too; gaze transfixed, hesitant. Waiting.

But Viktor shook his head, turning away to look back at the stars above them. He couldn’t. Not even in the lush grass in the middle of the night. “We don’t get stars like this in Saint Petersburg.”

“Probably the light pollution.”

“Mnn… and these ones keep moving. Like they’re melting. You Japanese, always have to be different… streaky stars like spots on the mirror.”

Yuuri frowned again. “Yeah. Let’s get you home.”

 

By the time they made it back, both Yuuri and Viktor were beyond exhausted and mostly asleep at the door. So much so that they said their goodnights at the genkan instead of the hallway.

Oyasumi . See you in the morning, Viktor.”

“Y’mean inna few minutes.” Snort. “You could just save time and come to bed now.”

“...huh?”

Viktor squinted at him and leaned against the wall with very little grace or success, slipping and only barely catching himself, clinging to the wood paneling. He managed to right himself, and tried again. “Because you dream… yeah.”

Yuuri only blinked at him twice more, then shook his head. “Okay. Goodnight.” And then he retreated for the stairs.

Watching him go, Viktor felt an overwhelming sense of confusion, relief, and frustration that he couldn’t place. Hadn’t he said a great pick-up line? Wait, why was he hitting on Yuuri in the first place?

He padded back to his own room, leaning against the wall for support. Makkachin greeted him in the hallway, and bumped against his leg to guide him into the right room.

“You’re right, Makka… I’m not prinzess Orihime… it’s her night…”

Chapter Text


Saint Petersburg, Russia

Viktor (13 years old)

 

“Am I to understand that you’re not fond of either of your costumes?”

Viktor kept his head still, just like he’d been ordered to, but shifted his gaze as far as he could to look up and back at Lilia. “They’re… fine, but they’re not really what I want.”

“You always were a picky one. Lift your head up.” Lilia combed her fingers through the boy’s wet hair, adding another dollop of conditioner. “Rest again.” She went back to massaging his scalp, working it all in. “What does it matter, anyway?”

“What do you mean? It’s my debut.I need to look my absolute best!”

“A good performer could go on stage wearing nothing at all and entrance the audience even so. God, don’t make that face, I didn’t mean it like that.”

Viktor shuddered. “Performing naked… no. No thank you.”

“I just said-”

“I know. Like the Emperor’s New Clothes. His confidence enchanted the entire kingdom, fooling everyone. But can’t I do that and have a nice costume, too?”

Lilia shook her head, reaching back to rinse her hands. “You are beautiful, your program is beautiful, your form is beautiful. You’ve been trained well- in no small part thanks to a solid foundation-” she paused to give herself a nod of acknowledgement, “-and that will stand for itself, Viktor.”

He sighed, tilting his head back to look up at the stucco ceiling, all gold and gaudy. His former ballet teacher’s home was such an odd mix of extravagant styles all mushed together into a much too large, but somehow too narrow space. “I guess.”

“Is that really all you have to say? You ‘guess’?”

Viktor turned his eyes on her. “I guess I just thought that since this was my first performance as an individual, and not for school, that I could, you know, do what I wanted to do.”

“Oh, Viktor.” She shook her head and pulled the nozzle from the wall to rinse his hair out. “There will be plenty of time for that. How does this feel? Too hot?”

“It’s fine.”

“Yet you’re still making a face, child.”

“I dunno.” Viktor bit his lip, hesitant. “Do you… I mean, I don’t know if Coach told you or not, but I, uh, I wear mascara… but it’s the only makeup I know how to do. So I’m not sure what I’m gonna do for the program.”

Lilia checked for any remaining suds or residue, then set the nozzle back in place and shut off the water, setting to work gently wringing out his hair between her fingers. “He didn’t need to tell me; I could tell on my own, Viktor. And the lipgloss, too.” She paused to lean over and smirk at him, brow arched. “A woman always knows these things.”

Viktor opened his mouth to reply, then closed again. If anyone knew how to tell if someone was wearing makeup, it’d be Lilia. Half of her face was makeup. He sunk deeper into the reclining salon chair.

She took a towel and dropped it on top of his head. “Sit up,” she said, and wrapped it around his hair when he meekly followed orders. “As for the rest, did you suppose that your visit here was just for me to do your hair, Viktor?”

He peeked out at her when the towel was moved, cheeks tinted pink. “Huh?”

“Did your coach not tell you?”

“He said you’d show me how to style it.”

“Was that all?”

Viktor nodded, trying not to wince as Lilia squeezed the water from his hair with the towel, expression souring.

“I see.” She scowled at the closed door, beyond which Yakov was waiting. “Of course.”

“Of course what?”

Lilia rubbed the towel over his head, moving him bodily this way and that. It was almost-- playful. “I suppose he wanted meto tell you. As your coach knows nothing of makeup, he’s asked me to teach you.”

“He- what?”

“Yes.”

The color deepened on Viktor’s face. “Now?”

“This is a makeover. A trial run for your debut, yes. I’ll show you how tonight, and you’ll come back twice more before you two leave.”

“R-Really?!”

“Really. We’ll start with your hair.”

Viktor already knew how to blowdry and do minimal styling, but he knew very little about the world of round brushes, curling and flat irons. Nor did he have any particular products besides whatever shampoo and conditioner he could come by. Whatever Lilia had used made everything silky soft and so smooth.

“Your hair is an asset,” she explained as she worked in more product to protect it from the heating elements. “You mustn’t use cheap garbage from the drug store to wash it. Only use salon-quality products. Take good care of your hair and it will take good care of you.”

Viktor nodded, taking mental notes, though he wished he had a notebook with him to be more thorough.

She taught him about the application of heat via water, steam, the iron, and hair dryer to manipulate the hair, and then the cool air settings to set the style in place. When to use hair spray. How to pin things in place. Finding the natural part in his hair and using that to his advantage.

They settled on a semi-half back with a loose bun, pinned to look casual and more organic while being quite appropriate for skating or ballet. It was very cute. Feminine, without being overtly so.

Lilia pinned the sweep of bang out of the way to leave Viktor’s face bare, forehead and all, and pulled a chair over. “For makeup…”

“It’s not weird, is it? To wear makeup?”

“Of course not.”

“Even though I’m…”

“A ballerina.”

Viktor snorted, then smiled. “Yeah. Okay.”

“Good. That’s settled. Now, you’re young, and your features are already quite fine, so we won’t need a lot of makeup. You’ll just want to accent them, highlight and bring them out a little.” She set out her tools all along the counter; various brushes and powders and things that Viktor had never seen before. “We begin, as always, with a clean surface.”

Lilia explained each step in detail; the whys and whats, where to get each product and how much it cost, and why it was worth it to go for the more expensive. There was moisturizer, foundation, powder, eyeshadows and eye liners, mascara and brow pencils. Lilia showed him how to blend, how to add blush, how to do lip lining, lipstick, lip gloss, touch ups, contouring.

It was overwhelming and fascinating and Viktor had never felt so close her before. Even when she deviated from the topic at hand to lecture him about other things.

“And Viktor, are you sure they’re feeding you? I’m worried I might cut myself on your collar bones.”

“I- yes, there’s plenty of food at the cafeteria. I’m just not hungry most of the time.”

“Your teeth are so small. If you don’t start eating, you’re never going to fill out properly.”

Viktor frowned. “No one wants to dance on a full stomach, Lilia.”

“Don’t make that face; I’m working on that contour.”

“Besides, there’s just no time to eat.”

“Well, you’d better find time. The dead do not dance, after all.”

“I know, I know…”

Little by little, the makeup changed him. He was still Viktor, that much was for sure, but he was also more, somehow. Softer, more defined, with all of the little things that he liked about his face accentuated with bits of highlight or shadow. It wasn’t like Lilia’s makeup at all; it was subtle and elegant. It was so beautiful.

He was beautiful.

Lashes long and dark, like he’d always longed for. Lips just a little fuller, with a little more color to them. Violet shimmer over his eyelids, mixed with beige, spread so thin that it was almost like a moth’s wing more than actual eyeshadow.

“Is this really me?” He asked, voice just a whisper. Viktor tilted his head this way and that, shifting the shadows on his face watch how it changed the shapes in the mirror. The lighting made his eyes so light, so ethereal, he really could have been an ice princess.

“Of course it’s you, Viktor. Shall we bring your coach in?”

Viktor hunched his shoulders, a little smile creeping on his face. “I guess.”

Lilia squeezed his shoulders, then left him to retrieve Yakov. In the moments she was gone, he pulled the clip from his hair to let the swath of silver fall over his face, then tucked it back behind his ear. If he didn’t know better, he really would have believed that he was a girl, himself.

Such an odd feeling, that. He loved how it looked. Loved how it felt. It was terrifying and powerful all at once.

Viktor pulled down on the sleeves of his sweater, tugging them over his fingers, and leaned back in the chair. Maybe it didn’t matter that his costumes weren’t so flashy, yeah, if he had makeup like this. And stretched his neck out, just like this…

Yakov and Lilia returned a few moments later, both smiling in a way that Viktor could only pin as proud, though he wasn’t sure why. It reminded him of his own parents, actually, the way they’d come to stand around his chair on his birthday before presenting his gift. That had been half his lifetime ago. More than. Viktor blinked up at them, nervous smile stretching under pretty, painted lips.

Then Lilia added a thin, golden tiara to his hair, leaves and crystals interwoven in a circlet around the front.

“I was hoping to give this to you for your debut in a ballet company, but… What do you think?” Lilia asked, setting one hand on the back of the chair while her other stayed behind her.

Viktor gasped. “L-Lilia!”

“Don’t lose it. It’s likely your most valuable possession now.”

He gaped.

“Beautiful,” said Yakov, beaming. “I hardly recognize you, Vitya.”

“Really?” Viktor asked, tilting his head back to look up at him.

“Pretty as a princess.”

Tears sprung to his eyes and Viktor looked away, sniffling. “Coach.”

“Oh, Viktor, don’t cry. You’ll make your mascara run.”

“I- I can’t help it.”

Lilia shook her head. “Ballerinas do not cry.”

“I- huhh -efhnn figure... skater…”

To that, Yakov chuckled, and Lilia sighed. “Of course. You skaters and your glass hearts. Very well. I want you to practice your makeup techniques before you come back to go over this with me again, Viktor.”

“How’m I gonna..?”

Another sigh from Lilia. “We have all that you need packed in a bag to take home. It’s not as though I can come with you.”

“A bag… Makeup and everything?” Viktor gaped again. “But how…”

“It is a gift from Lilia and I.”

Lilia elbowed the man hard. “You-- you will pay your coach back when you win! And I expect you to, with all of the hard work he’s put into this. And all that I’ve done for you, too. Now come along, let’s get this makeup off of you so we can get you back to your dorms. You cannot slack on your plies just for makeup lessons.”

Viktor carefully wiped the tears from his eyes. “Actually, I want to show my roommate. H-he knows already, so he won’t say anything. Is that okay?”

The adults exchanged glances, but were not about to discourage it. Especially not when the boy slid off of the chair and gave them each a hug, wrapping his arms around them as far as they could go.

“Thank you, Lilia. Coach.”

“Of course, Vitya.”

Lilia patted his hair, then squeezed his shoulder again. “You’ll be fine, Vitya.”

 

They dropped him off right by the dorms and Viktor waved a very fond farewell, shouldering the bag of beauty supplies while the tiara glinted in the yellow street light. He followed orders, heading straight inside and to his room, so he didn’t hear the pair discussing their sweet little duckling growing into a beautiful swan, or anything about their evening plans.

That was just as well; he was tired from the excitement, and he still had so much to do before he could go to bed. Getting the pins out of his hair would take a great deal of time, and he really wanted Gavrik to see the full effect before he ruined it. The crisp September air only needed a few seconds to put a fresh tint of rose on Viktor’s cheeks and ears before he stole away into the halls, clutching the bag to his side and the sleeves over his exposed fingers.

When he got to the room, Gavrik was half-asleep and studying french on his bed. He didn’t even look up when Viktor came in, just nodded. “Welcome back, Vitya.”

“Thank you.” Viktor closed the door while holding the handle, waiting until it made the soft click of the latch catching. The Academy was old, and while kept in great repair, was showing its wear. “Lilia showed me how to use makeup. All sorts.” He crossed the room and set the bag on his own bed, turning back to watch Gavrik as he scanned the page in his book.

“That’s… good?”

Playing with the ends of his sleeves again, Viktor fought the urge to attach his gaze to the floor, leveling it on his roommate instead. He had to be brave. “Wanna see before I take it off?”

Gavrik finally looked up. “Take what off?” Then he stopped, blinked twice, and stared. Full-on staring, with wide eyes and dropped jaw and everything.

Viktor tried a hesitant smile, but it didn’t change Gavrik’s expression at all. “I won’t be wearing the tiara for the performance or anything,” he said, and reached up to pull it from his hair. “Lilia gave it to me. It was one of hers when she was an active ballet dancer.”

“She…” Gavrik stammered, then shook his head, turning back to his book with a cough. “You look really nice, Vitya.” He looked back again. “Wow.”

“Thanks.” Viktor scrubbed the back of his neck with the palm of his hand and his sweater. “Think it’ll go over well?”

“Uh. Yeah. I think so.” He tried to look away again, but couldn’t. “Yeah. Wow. That’s… really effective.”

‘Really effective’ was high praise from Gavrik. He’d take it. Viktor smiled, oh-so-pleased, and pulled himself up onto the bed to start taking the pins out of his hair. The occasional glance across the room told him that Gavrik was still watching. “I know this is fascinating, but don’t forget your homework.”

“Huh? Oh. Right. Uh. Sorry.”

“And you’re not getting my tiara.”

“What? I don’t… ugh, that’s… Vitya.” Blushing, he went back to his book.

Viktor added another mental tally mark for him vs Gavrik in the terribly uneven scoreboard. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

 

The competition wasn’t technically his first ever; Viktor had gone to local qualifiers and had participated in other tournaments, but only now would his scores be recorded and counted for the length of his career. Whatever he did here mattered. Tests and trial runs had all proven that he had the talent and skill to pull off whatever he intended to do, but it didn’t mean anything if he couldn’t do it in front of the judges of the ISU.

He checked himself in the mirror one last time. The practice with Lilia had been just what he’d needed to refine the technique; doing it on his own had let him experiment, but she had helped to rein him in, kept things simple. There was no drama in the dressing room. His hair was on point; his costume, though simple, was neatly pressed and in place; and he was calm. He was ready. He’d done all of his drills and warm ups without any problems. He knew both of his programs inside and out, backwards and forwards, every maneuver and transition as well as the next. The only thing he lacked was the experience of performing it in front of an audience. That he’d only done a handful of times.

But his coach believed in him. Lilia believed in him. His teachers at the Academy, even though they didn’t get why he would bother with figure skating at all, believed in him. Gavrik believed in him.

And Russia believed in him.

Viktor took a deep breath, held it to the count of three, and tried to rise on his toes for a releve- but it didn’t work in his skating boots as well as he would have liked. He let go of the breath with a laugh. “I’m definitely more of a skater today, I guess.”

He took one last look in the mirror, smiled, and kissed the tip of two fingers, which he pressed to his double’s lips with a wink- “Good luck!” -and then left to find his coach.

 

Viktor brought a silver medal home, which he wore around his neck, tucked under his jacket, the whole way home. Security had to pry it out of his hands, which Yakov mediated gently, and not-so-gently, on both ends. It was his first win after all. And a debut at that; just barely shy of gold. It left Viktor exhausted. He’d put in a nearly flawless performance, but it hadn’t been quite enough. The points just hadn’t added up. His routines needed to be more complicated, with a higher difficulty. How could he have been so blind?

“Vitya, this is only the start of the season.”

“I’m gonna go home and sleep for seventeen- no, twenty-five hours.”

“If that is what you wish.”

He was proud and disappointed, excited and so tired all at once. By the time they reached the Academy, all Viktor wanted to do was show Gavrik the medal and crawl into his blanket nest. He hugged Yakov over the seat and hauled his suitcase from the car to the dorm, wearily weaving through the other students that milled through the hallways, welcoming him back from his trip.

When he got to his room, he dragged his suitcase to his bed, unzipped his jacket, and looked over to find that Gavrik wasn’t there. It was some other guy. With some other bed. Different posters on the wall. Different bed spread.

“Oh, uh.” Viktor froze, zipping right back up. “Sorry, do I have the wrong--” he looked back at his bed, but no, the unicorn was still there, and all of his other stuff. That was his bed. He looked back. Gavrik’s stuff was gone. “--room?”

“Nah,” said the other boy. He was older than Viktor, with signs of facial hair and broad shoulders. Tall. Square jaw. Fifteen? Sixteen? He stuck out his hand. “I’m Feliks. Your new roommate.”

Viktor glanced down at the beefy man paw of a hand, then back at Feliks and his cleft chin. He was the opposite of Gavrik, who was weasley, and the exact opposite of himself. But he looked friendly enough. “The semester just started, though; why the switch?”

“Don’t know. They didn’t say. But when the administrators at Vaganova tell you to do something, you do it.” He laughed. “But don’t worry, I’m nice.”

Viktor took his hand and gave it the most polite of shakes before stepping back and sitting on his bed. Why had Gavrik left? Was it the makeup? The skating?

“So you were at a competition, right? Did you win?”

Viktor peered back at the Goliath roommate and shrugged, pulling a leg up  to hug against his chest. “Silver. For my junior debut.”

“That’s pretty good! Did you get a medal?”

“Yeah.”

“Can I see?”

Another shrug. Viktor pulled it out from his jacket and held it up, but there was little joy in the presentation. It wasn’t as though it had much silver in it anyway; it was more symbolic. Gavrik would have told him all about that.

“That’s great! Congratulations, Vitya.”

“Thanks.”

He let his eyes wander over the things he had on display in the room; things he’d grown comfortable with letting Gavrik see, but wouldn’t necessarily want a stranger to. There was a lot about him that he didn’t want anyone else to know. How would this Feliks feel about the makeup? How did he feel about the long hair? And how long had he been in the room, with all of his idea books and journals out and unprotected? Viktor winced, looking back at the unicorn at the corner of his bed, and reached back to cover it with his pillow.

“Oh, hey, you don’t need to worry about that,” said Feliks.

“About what?” Viktor flopped onto his side, pretending that it had just been a stretch.

“I like unicorns.”

At that, Viktor peered, incredulous. “Oh?”

“Yeah. They’re symbols of masculinity, you know? Badass stallions with phallic symbols on their heads, running around in the forest, looking for virgin maidens to hang out with… what’s not to like about that?”

Viktor sat up again, pulling the unicorn plush out to sit in his lap. For several long seconds, he didn’t even know how to respond, mind and expression blank except for the shock at such blasphemy. Then, he rubbed his temples. “They… no, traditionally in stories, unicorns are based off of deer, not horses, but even then, their horns are supposed to have healing properties, they’re not… you can’t just reduce them to phallic symbols, don’t be gross. And they don’t just ‘hang out’ with virgin maidens, they’re looking for maidens to protect, because they’re noble creatures and stuff.” He shook his head in an attempt to clear the idiocy out. “Did you really just call unicorns badass?”

“Well, yeah. Cause they are.”

Viktor looked down at his plush, wondering if he could describe it like that. It stared back at him with beady little eyes, but said nothing. “I don’t know about that.”

“Let it wear your medal.”

It was worth a try. Viktor slid the medal off from around his neck and put it around the unicorn, which needed to be looped twice to not hang too low. But, when situated that way, didn’t look half bad. He held it up for Feliks’s approval. “Like that?”

“Yeah! There you go! Now it’s badass, too.”

Viktor hugged his unicorn, shaking his head with a smile; tired, but genuine. “Whatever.”

 

Over the next few weeks, Gavrik noticed that Viktor was avoiding him, which was expected. He’d left without a word, after all, which was cruel to do to a roommate of three years. But at an academy with competition was fierce as it was, one couldn’t entertain distractions. Not when washing out meant losing your one chance at a career in the arts altogether.

“So Gavrik,” his new roommate, Anton, who was far less interesting than Viktor had been, asked one afternoon while they were doing homework in the quad. The silver haired beauty was passing through in the autumn sunlight, in a hurry as always, which raised the question. “Is Vitya gay? Is that why you changed rooms?”

Gavrik laughed. “No. That’s just his style. I switched because he’s into figure skating, so he’s not really competition. I can’t really make any power plays if he’s not a real rival.”

Anton frowned at that, turning away from Viktor to stare at Gavrik. “What? So I’m your rival now?”

Gavrik only smiled, watching Viktor retreat around the corner. “Mmm-hm. Aren’t you so lucky?”

 


 

Inhale. Exhale. Headtilt. Check one side, then the other. The nervous energy had him frantic. He checked the clock. It was only six pm. Still twenty minutes before they needed to head out for the venue. What was he doing? Was he was supposed to be winding down, or getting ready? His coach wanted him to be well-rested. He remembered her saying that repeatedly. There was a lot at stake. The qualifiers were a big deal. And Yuuri would be there.

Yuuri friggin Katsuki.

Oh, he could hardly wait! His idol! Skating together, competing again! Maybe they would talk this time. Maybe they would be able to hang out? Maybe Yuuri could give him some advice or tips or even congratulate him on winning the Nationals last year. He wasn’t sure. There were too many possibilities. All of them had him jazzed. Too jazzed. He couldn’t stop moving.

He drummed his fingers on the desk in front of the mirror. Maybe it was mantra time. Yeah, that was it. He just needed a personal pep talk.

“I am Kenjirou Minami! I am not Yugioh, nor any other anime character! It doesn’t matter that I’m not the conventional Japanese male! I do things my way and in my style!” Minami puffed up his chest, jaw set in determination. “I’m not a doctor! I’m not a businessman! I am a figure skater! I was the number one Junior Champion last year, and first in the Japanese Nationals! I can do it again!” Huff huff.“I’m small but I am mighty! I’m going to show the world my style! I’m going to-”

“Minami-kun!” His coach, in the hotel room next to his. “Stop yelling! Are you ready to go?”

Eep. “Yeah, Coach! I’m ready. Sorry.” Little huff. Minami tapped his fang with the tip of his index finger, adjusted the collar of his dress shirt, then plopped down in the stiff office chair. He could barely see his own face anymore. Why was he so short? Did Yuuri have that problem?  

No matter. It was the qualifiers. And he was Kenjirou Minami! He would conquer!

And he’d be seeing his idol, in person, in just a few minutes!  

 

Yuuri was not pleased about his assignment. Viktor patted his shoulder on the way back to the hotel, picking up their luggage at the front desk.

“At least you don’t have to worry about waiting through everyone else’s routines. I always liked going first, myself. Not being too nervous to watch, you know?”

“I guess.”

They’d only had time to take a cab from the rail station to the hotel and drop things off before heading to the venue earlier, but now that it was sorted, checked into their room- yes, two beds thank you very much -and decided to settle in before heading out again. It was late, but the upcoming competition had its own particular energy that kept them bouncing on their toes.

The room was small and simple; nothing special, but, to Viktor’s great relief, Western style. Real beds. A private bathroom. There would be no sleeping on the floor as he’d feared. Then both of them made a bee-line for the bed closest to the window.

“Oh.” Viktor frowned, coming to a halt. “Do you prefer that one?”

“Uhm. I usually do. But I don’t have to.”

Viktor shrugged, turning on his heel, and waved it off. “Nah, it’s fine. Yakov always took the bed closest to the bathroom, so I took the other one. But if you want the one by the window, I’ll take the coach bed!”

“If you’re sure…”

“Yeah, it’s fine.” Viktor flopped onto the other bed, pulling his suitcase up with him. “Besides, I’m Coach now!”

“Okay, Coach.” Yuuri offered a smile, then shook his head as he finally went to claim his preferred bed.

Coach. Viktor stretched out next to his luggage and folded his arms behind his head, closing his eyes. Yes. Coach Nikiforov. A very nice title.

“You two seem close. Did you room together a lot?”

Viktor turned his head, blinking at Yuuri. There he was, sitting on the edge of his own bed, prying again. Trying to be friendly? Spying? Sending mixed signals? He shrugged. “Yakov? Yeah. For most of my career, actually, up until a couple of years ago.”

“You’ve been together a long time.”

The statement brought a fresh sort of ache to his chest that Viktor wasn’t quite expecting. He turned his gaze to the ceiling, biting his lower lip. The tissue box was in his suitcase, wasn’t it? Not too difficult to fish out if he needed to. Not yet. He swallowed. “Yeah, twenty… twenty-one years? Almost twenty-two, I guess.” Viktor laughed, the sound soft, a little helpless. “I guess you could say that he practically raised me. I don’t know how feels about it, but he’s the closest thing I have to a papa.”

“He’d have to care about you a lot to be with you as long as he has.” Yuuri busied himself with his own luggage, turning away- a small relief. “That sounds nice, though. To have that with your coach. That can be with you when you’re out at competitions.”

“Yeah…” The recollection was as comforting as it was painful; the chilly air sucked into desperate lungs at the end of a routine. But with that, every passing moment got a little easier to bear. “It was fun and a lot less lonely that way. I think he liked it as much as I did… he could keep me out of trouble, and I’d turn off the TV when he’d fall asleep after drinking vodka.” Viktor managed a smile at that. “Only the good stuff, of course.”

“Following in his footsteps?”

“What?” Viktor tried to imagine that; drinking vodka until he fell asleep, Yuuri turning off the TV, just the way it had been for he and Yakov. Of course, Viktor preferred wine in his hotel rooms, but…

“Uh, would I need to turn off the TV after you stumble in from being out?”

“Huh? Oh…” Out? Viktor hadn’t ever been much of an out sort of person. It hadn’t occurred to him before, but if Yuuri thought that Viktor might be out, then maybe Yuuri wanted to, as well. After all, he actually had a friend or two, as antisocial as he claimed to be. Maybe Yuuri wanted to have time away from him. “Yakov always drank in the room, and I’d keep him company is what I meant. Watching TV, that sort of thing. Not that you have to.” His smile faded. “As long as you’re back in time to get a reasonable amount of sleep so you can compete, that’s… that’s fine. I’m your coach, but it’s not like I own you or anything.”

Yuuri shrugged. “I’d probably stay in the room most of the time. Unless Phichit’s there.”

“That’s what I usually do, too,” Viktor said, trying not to sound too hopeful, or relieved, as he pushed up to a sit. “Unless there’s a good shopping district or someone drags me to dinner. I’m usually too tired to do anything else.”

“Yeah. I usually have to unwind.”

Viktor rubbed his neck. Did that mean he wanted to be alone? “Hah, yeah. Competing is stressful. The last few years, it’s been nothing but room service and napping.”

“But, uh. I wouldn’t mind grabbing dinner.”

Now? Viktor stole a glance at Yuuri, who was not-not looking at him, so he nodded. “Dinner would be nice…”

“Here or a restaurant?”

Viktor shrugged. “A restaurant probably has better food.”

“Usually, yeah.” Yuuri rubbed his hands over his knees, awkward and cute, smiling.

It was almost like a date. A not date. Like the not-looking. Viktor chewed on his lower lip again, then swung his legs over the edge of the bed. “Okay! Let’s go out, then. Maybe we can find something interesting. I’ll treat. And then I can get a nightcap when we get back. I usually have the hotel send up wine anyway, since Yakov smuggles in his vodka… and I’d steal the remote when he got sleepy. That’s the way it goes. Oh, and it has to be a soap opera in a foreign language so we can make up what’s going on.”

“Okay. And I’ll turn off the TV, since you’re Coach now.”

“You stay up later than I do, anyway, so that should be easy for you.” Viktor grinned, turning his attention to the nightstand between the beds. “I’ll be sure to leave the remote where it’s easy to get to. Sometimes Yakov would hide it, but I’ll be nice this time.”

“Haha. Thanks.” Yuuri tapped a toe against the carpet, hesitating again. “So… have you talked to him since you got to Japan?”

Viktor got to his feet, stretching. It was an inevitable question, really, especially with the way Yuuri had been so curious lately. “Oh. He's not... speaking to me right now.” He kept a careful smile on his face, faint but present. “I’ve written to him... I used to write to him every few days. No response.”

“...oh.”

“Yurio says he’s doing well, though, so I suppose that’s all I can ask for.” He shrugged. “I’m sure he’ll forgive me eventually. Are you ready to go? I’m hungry.”

They found a ramen bar and avoided any further talk about Coach Feltsman. While dinner wasn’t interesting, it was good, and one of the only things open that late besides the sketchy diner that they ultimately vetoed on the premise of pancakes being extremely not within Yuuri’s diet restrictions.

It was well past ten by the time they got back to the room, and though Viktor had wine sent up, he only made it through half of his glass before he was dozing, curled up on the edge of the bed with arms hugged around his pillow. Yuuri took the glass from him, turned off the soap opera- which was in Japanese anyway -as was his duty, tucked Viktor in, then took his time getting ready for bed, himself. In the peaceful quiet, listening to Viktor’s quiet breathing, Yuuri stayed up a while longer on his phone, browsing the internet in the dark.

 

The next day was Viktor Nikiforov’s first day as Yuuri’s coach on official duty and it was, to no small degree, one of disappointment. It began with breakfast in the hotel, which was a simple offering of traditional miso and rice, and nothing like Mama Katsuki prepared. Then it was to morning warm-ups, during which Yuuri immediately began to let his anxious nerves take over. Was it the draw of the larger crowd? The miniature fan club from the night before? There was no way to tell for sure. Honestly, none of it was all that impressive.

Not that Viktor would ever say that out loud; that would be unprofessional, and it wasn’t as if the event was sponsored by the official channels. It was simply a hoop that had to be jumped through; a trial of redemption that Yuuri had to pass to make up for his failing the previous year. Embarrassing, but necessary nonetheless. The competition was meager. Fine enough at their level, but amateur. Not at all like what Yuuri had faced at the Grand Prix Finals, and not even close to Yurio’s calibre. Not that it seemed to matter to Yuuri. He was sloppy on the ice anyway, and it only got worse once the practice was open for the public to view.

He couldn’t help but notice that even the other judges were, well, pedestrian. That was well and good for a local event, he guessed, but it made things a little awkward for him. He stood out as usual; tall and very pale, with such European features that he felt a bit like a vampire amid a PTA meeting. Once Takeshi arrived, Viktor left to change into his formal coach attire, too, which only made it worse. Black three piece suit, all fine and tailored over a crisp white collared shirt, overcoat, and gloves. Overdressed? Compared to the jeans and sweater crowd, definitely. And it made an impact, just like he wanted it to.

He was, after all, Viktor Nikiforov. Viktor Nikiforov, five-time consecutive champion, Olympian, living legend, and now coach to Yuuri Katsuki, who must be very important to be worth his time. Very, very important. Yes, Morooka-san, look this way. Pay very close attention to this skater. My student.

Only, his student wasn’t paying much attention to him at all.

Yuuri was dismayed at how his coach stood out, and then too distracted by his own anxiety to even let him give any sort of inspirational speech. No chance for a pep talk. When Yakov sent Viktor out before a competition, he always had wise words, but no, Yuuri didn’t even allow him that much; just went out there as if he knew best. It wasn’t as if Viktor had abandoned his own career, spent a small fortune to relocate halfway across the world to coach him, his own life on hold, only to be snubbed by his own student. Not at all. Nope.

So when Yuuri came back, Viktor made short work of that aloof attitude. “Yuuri,” he muttered. “Turn around.” A brisk order, followed. Cameras and audience watching. He embraced him, touch tender, pressing his cheek to Yuuri’s, neck to neck, in a deliberately sensual move. Then, some Art of War.“Seduce me with all you have. If your performance can charm me, you can enthrall the entire audience.” He pulled back, voice low in his throat, letting his presence linger, warm and close, against his ear. “That’s what I always say in practice, right?”

Yuuri nodded, trembling.

Good.

Its purpose was two-fold: 1) to get the audience intrigued, which was phenomenally successful; and 2) to get Yuuri shaken up so he’d stop thinking about how nervous he was. That was also successful, but a little less so. The first half of his performance was brilliant, just as he’d hoped. But somewhere along the way, it fell apart. He was too focused on the jumps, too nervous, too worried about the composition and the points, and the music dragged him along instead of the other way around.

It was so disappointing.

Nevertheless, he scored well. Somehow.

But even that was by far the least of Yuuri’s offenses and Viktor’s disappointments of the day. By the time they got back to the room that evening- opting for a room service dinner -there was more than enough material for Viktor to give a lengthy lecture on.

 

“That Jessica,” Viktor said, shaking his head as he frowned at the television. “You can always tell when it’s a Jessica because she gives the death glares at the other women in the show.”

“But she just said her name was Ayumi.”

“Aha, you’d think that, but she’s definitely a Jessica.”

It was a drama of some kind, and though Yuuri could understand every word, neither of them had any idea what was going on in the plot. All that they knew were that several of the characters were upset and seemingly blaming everyone else for whatever the trouble was.

“Okay, so who is that?”

“Justin.” Viktor took a sip from his glass of wine and set it on the night stand, scooting back against the headboard of the bed. “He smiles a lot and is trying to defend people; so he’s probably a decent sort of person. Thus, Justin.”

“And… that woman?”

“Ooh. Jennifer. That would be Jessica’s twin sister.”

“Are they all American?”

“No way. I’m sure we’ll run into Jin, Jesus, Jezebel, and Juanita eventually.”

Yuuri reluctantly looked away from the train wreck soap opera to glance at Viktor, who was watching intently. “But they all have J names?”

“Of course. It’s part of the Soap Opera Megaverse. It’ll take a few times watching to get the hang of it, but soon you’ll start recognizing all of them and their alternate personas.” Viktor grinned, and hugged his pillow, one leg stretched out, the other tucked under his knee. It was a comfortable routine. Different without Yakov, but still familiar enough that he felt a little less raw. “Gasp, it’s Jack! And is that-- a gun?”

“I think it’s just a cell phone.”

“Oh. Drat.” Viktor sighed. The conflict was significantly less interesting without that bit of tension, but really only because he didn’t have Yakov’s dry wit to keep up the ridiculous banter. Yuuri would have to be trained. That, and there was still the things they needed to discuss before he got too tired. He turned his attention away from the TV, letting a crooked smile slip into place. “So, Yuuri.”

“Hm?” He’d gone back to watching the women yelling at each other on the screen.

“How does it feel to be the best of the best?”

Yuuri blinked, freezing as he often did when cornered with a question of any sort of personal nature. “Uh. I don’t know about the best of the best…”

“You saw the scores. You’re leading with 25.81 points; that’s fairly impressive, even though this won’t be recorded for the Grand Prix in an official capacity.” Viktor stretched out his other leg, toes pointing, then crossed them at the ankle. “It’s hard to argue with that.”

“I guess…”

“You guess. Hah. And you’ll do even better tomorrow, right?”

Yuuri shrugged. “With some sleep. I want the first time I perform my free skate to be good.”

“I’m certain it’ll blow them all away. Especially that Minami-kun.” A pause. “He seems to be quite the fan of yours. Does he remind you of anyone?”

“Huh? No. Not really. Don’t know why he would be a fan of me, either.”

Viktor frowned, glancing back at the TV where ‘Justin’ had taken the alleged ‘Jessica’ by the shoulders and was giving her an impassioned speech. Probably. He hoped it was a pep talk and not a threat. “He’s just like you,you know. Maybe you don’t get it, but he- and many others -see greatness in you. And that’s something you need to accept responsibility for. Treat it with respect.”

Though Yuuri opened his mouth to reply, he closed it soon after, instead opting to play with the lid of his water bottle.

“Yuuri, he looks up to you. You have an opportunity to encourage your juniors and foster a healthier environment for the next generation of skaters. We’re to inspire them. Help them to grow. They are the future of the sport, and what we say and do for them, in those brief moments, those tiny interactions, could alter their entire lives.” Viktor pushed his pillow over, letting it flop into his lap. “What if, for instance, I’d said that I regretted having long hair? Or that I thought the costume that became your Eros was part of my dark past?”

“Th-that’d be terrible!”

“It’s not true, of course. And I’m honored that you are skating with that part of my history in your routine… but this isn’t about you, it’s about him. This is your chance to encourage healthy sportsmanship instead of vicious wolves. Lifting others up.”

“I… I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve never had anyone look up to me before.”

Viktor went for his wine glass again, leaning back with a quiet thump on the headboard. “You’re so anxious that all you can do is think about yourself. Perhaps if you think about your junior instead, it’ll help. Clearly, he’s looked up to you for a while.”

There was a few beats of silence before Yuuri nodded, sullen and pitiful. “I know. I messed up.”

“Don’t worry, Yuuri. It’s an easy fix.”

“He probably hates me now. I don’t blame him.”

“Oh, don’t assume that. Come now.”

Yuuri didn’t reply, gaze glued to the floor. He looked miserable. Hands in his lap, feet on the floor, phone dark and dejected at his side.

So Viktor sat up, wine glass aside again, lowered the volume on the TV, then dragged himself off of the bed. “Yuuri. Yuuuri. He’s such a fan of yours; I bet if you said even just one nice thing to him tomorrow that everything would be forgiven.”

“Really? You think?”

“I know it. In fact, I’ll demonstrate.” Viktor cleared his throat, and dropped onto the bed next to him. “Yuuri, you did such a great job today. I’m very proud of you. Your triple axel was particularly tight~!”

As predicted, Yuuri perked up immediately, color in his cheeks and a little sparkle in his eyes. “Yeah?”

“Yes. See? Exactly what I said.”

The blush deepened and Yuuri hunched over, embarrassed all over again. “...oh.”

“Trust me. Just throw him a bone, you’ll see. And Minami-kun even has that little fang sticking out; I bet he’d appreciate it.”

“What does that have to do with…?”

Viktor made a helpless gesture. “You know. Because he’s… like a dog, with a fang? Throwing a bone. Dogs like bones. Tail wagging?” He frowned. “Arf arf?”

“O-oh.”

“...right.” Viktor rubbed a hand down his face. “Oh, but it looks like Jezebel has finally come to shake things up. She’s secretly a witch, you know. Don’t be surprised if she ends up ruining everything for our very dramatic friends.”

Yuuri squinted at the screen, which showed the same characters as before, but in an office setting. ‘Jezebel’ was the secretary who didn’t want to make coffee and stay late. “So you usually watch these in foreign languages?”

“Right. It’s not as fun if you actually understand it.”

“...got it.”

 

Viktor woke early as usual, long before Yuuri would even begin to stir, and did his morning stretches in bed and on the floor in front of the television in the still and quiet darkness. Makkachin was always ready to run and get moving in the morning, but sharing the room with Yuuri was like his roommates at the academy; quiet and calm. He listened to his deep, even breaths, and tip-toed around the room to get ready, then slipped from the room for coffee and a brisk walk to start the day.

It would be good to let Yuuri get some more sleep before the competition, anyway; he’d always slept as long as he could before competing, himself, and there was time. Besides, he wanted to think, and walking was good for that.

Okayama was a beautiful city; home of some of the most exquisite gardens in Japan and the birthplace of Momotaro. Kouki-san had made him promise to go sight-seeing after the qualifiers were finished, which was in their plans for the next day. There was even a black castle to visit. And koi fish feeding! He could hardly wait. It was all in the brochure that he had with him, tucked in the newspaper he couldn’t read that he’d gotten with his coffee. The photos were nice, though.

Even though Japan was so much smaller than Russia, he’d already done so much more in the way of sightseeing. Most of his life had been spent in the same area of Saint Petersburg when not traveling, and even then, he’d been running in and out of classrooms and practice rooms, studios and ice rinks.

Yuuri had shown him the beach and festivals, fireflies and castles. And they’d danced together on the train platform. Gone stargazing, if even incidentally. Yuuri had even sung for him. Sakura blossoms and goldfish, katsudon and yukata. Haiku and pottery laced with gold. What a life.

Everything had changed. All because of Yuuri Katsuki.

And he had no idea. That beautiful fool.

He didn’t even realize just how much that boy Minami-kun looked up to him. Such a shame; they were so similar. Really, Viktor saw so much of himself in him, too. Young and full of vigor, ready and eager to take on the world, not yet crushed by the cruel wolves of reality. If, in fact, it was reality that dictated the truth and not just the gatekeepers of enforced perception. Those like Wei or Cao Bin.

They didn’t need any more poison among the ranks. The current up-and-coming skaters were doing plenty of that on their own. If he could help it, Yuuri would not be joining them. Nor would Minami-kun.

Or Yurio, somehow.

Ire was such a dangerous thing. Bad blood between athletes crippled the sport; muddied the game. From faking drug tests to influencing score results, blackmail and physical violence in the locker rooms, Viktor had seen it all in his career. Colleagues dropped out, burned out, were forced out, fired, injured, quit, and any number of other things that should have never had anything to do with skating in the first place.

The wolves of competition and greed circled, snapping jaws of jealousy and envy, malice and vengeance. It made some some lose their heads and give in to the wolves of fear, joining the pack. It was difficult to wear the wolf only as a mask of protection, to walk among them but not be one of them…

Exhausting, too.

--

“Is your wolf okay? It’s bleeding.”

“Huh? Where?” The boy looked down at the wolf, who turned his head away. Travelling from village to village over the expanse of miles had taken its toll on the both of them, but the wolf hadn’t complained. He’d simply offered to carry the boy on his back.

“Its paws.”

The boy slid from his back to inspect the pink-stained fur, and the pads which were worn and cracked from the miles they’d crossed. Then he looked back at the stone roads behind them and the blood they’d left behind. “Wolf,” he said, taking his muzzle in his hands, turning his face so he could look into those pale blue eyes. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“There wasn’t time.”

“You…”  But the boy shook his head. They’d been over the same thing before, just days ago when the wolf had chided him for his own aching feet. So he stroked along his nose, and turned to the other boy. “Is there a stable we can rest in?”

“Yeah. We have one at my family’s inn. Come on, I’ll show you.”

The stable was larger than the last several that they’d stayed in, but the man it belonged to was a wealthy knight in his prime. The boy, his son, happened to be one in training. The pair gave them a tour of the grounds as they did for any guests of particular note- and a boy with a giant wolf certainly seemed important enough -and helped them set up in the stables that evening after showing them their many fine horses.

“I’ve been on hundreds of quests,” the father explained over supper, which was a hearty stew they’d brought from the inn. “And even defeated a dragon, if you can believe it! Our family is legendary for our heroism and bravery. Even my son here.”

The young knight puffed up. “I know I’m small, but I have my trusty steed and a valiant heart, and that’s all I’ll ever need!”

They listened to their tales of heroism and bravery long into the night, right up until the young knight finally turned to the wolf’s boy and asked, “And what about you? What is your quest?”

“Oh. We’re going to save the princess... “

“The princess?” The gallant knight laughed. “What, from the firebird?”

The wolf licked his paw pads, but said nothing. It was all the same idle chatter and he was tired of it. So much for the knight’s bravery.

“Yes, of course from the firebird.”

“I don’t even think the firebird is real. If it was, I would have found it by now.”

“It is real, and the princess is still out there.”

“Hah! And you know this because…?”

The boy pulled the feather out from his shirt to show him, glowing brighter than the dim lantern. “Because I have a feather. That’s where we’re going; to the tower.”

“You have a… that’s amazing!” The young knight cried.

The father, gaping, snatched it from the boy’s hand, ripping the cord. “Well if you have a feather, you don’t have to wait until you reach the tower! You can call for it now!”

The wolf stilled. “I wouldn’t do that.”

“And why not? I have my sword at the house; let’s end this now! The acting King has been searching tirelessly for its head. Come, son!”

The young knight nodded, getting to his feet. “Yes, father.”

“For honor!” he yelled, grasping the feather in his first. Then he ran to the house to get his sword. The young knight looked to the boy and the wolf, hesitating.

“Are you coming?”

The wolf shook his head. “Don’t do it.”

“Suit yourself.”

When he was gone, the wolf shuddered, ears pinned back, tail tucked, and whimpered.

“What’s wrong?” the boy asked, looking back at him. “Aren’t you relieved? If we kill the firebird now, we can go to the tower without having to fight it! Save the princess!”

“I-- I can’t be here. I can’t be here.”

“Why not?”

“The firebird knows…. It knows what’s in your heart, boy…. It knows, it knows. It will kill you if you’re not ready. It will kill him, too. The knight and his son. It’ll destroy all of this place. Stop him. Don’t let him call the firebird. Don’t let it--”

“Shhh, shh.” The boy put his hands on the wolf’s head, running fingers over his ears to calm him. “It’s going to be okay.”

“No! It’s not going to be okay. Promise me you won’t fight it. Promise me you’ll run from the firebird. You’re not ready, boy. You’re not ready!”

He looked hurt. “I… what do you mean?”

But the wolf shook his head. “I can’t be here. I’m sorry. Promise me you’ll run.”

“I… I promise.”

“Thank you.” He licked the boy’s arm, pushed his head against his chest, then slipped away into the darkness at a breakneck run, leaving droplets of blood in the dirt.

The boy watched him go, just a shape melting into the trees, then turned back when the knight called to him.

“Are you fighting with us, traveller?” the knight asked, broadsword over his shoulder. His son stood at his side, sword in its sheath.  

“I should find my wolf.”

“Fine by me. Only real men fight the firebird.” The knight lifted the feather up, high above his head, and called out for the firebird. “Face me, firebird! You can’t deny my challenge of vengeance!”

“Vengeance?” asked the boy. “What do you mean?”

“The firebird killed my brother… it owes me a fight!”

A personal offense… a chance to reclaim honor. Was that all it took? It couldn’t be that simple…

Yet, there it was, a cry in the distance; a horrible screeching  and then a blazing streak in the inky sky; brilliant gold and crimson. It cut from the tree line and rose up, directly above them, wings and tail feathers flaring.

“There it is,” said the knight, readying his sword. “Are you ready to fight?” he asked his son.

“I’m ready!”

The boy moved back away from them, his own small dagger heavy at his side. Could he fight, too? He stared up at the bird, which beat its wings to stay in position, talons raking the air. The wolf said to run. Made him promise to flee. He wasn’t ready. He was afraid. The bird was huge. Monstrous. Terrifying. Sparks and ash drifted from its body, embers wafting toward the inn.

“Come at us, firebird!” the knight yelled.

The firebird swooped up, then dove, spitting out a rush of fire out ahead of it, scorching the roof of the inn, the haystacks, the wagon, fence- everything in its path on the way to the pair. The knight held up his shield and sword, ready.

The boy dropped his weapon and ran.

It took less than an hour for the firebird to destroy everything in the town.

The animals that survived ran for the woods, and the people hid behind stone walls, huddled together like little mice until they were certain that the beast had finally left. The inn was ablaze. The stable, too. So was every cottage and shop.

The gallant knight, for all of his bravery, was dead and in pieces. Some of him shredded, some of him burned. The feather he’d used to call the beast was gone. His son, kneeling at his charred remains, wept for the loss of his father and his own grievous wounds.

“The firebird is real,” the survivors cried. “It’s back… it’s back.”

“But why?”

“It probably had to do with that boy and his wolf!”

A fair conclusion, to be sure, but neither could be found for questioning.

--

The look on Minami-kun’s face was heartbreaking.

Viktor knew the feeling all too well. Yuuri was just nervous, just trying to work through the anxiety and focus on himself, but he’d pushed the young skater’s attentions aside without a second glance. He’d crushed him. Did Yuuri forget everything that they’d talked about the night before?  

“Yuuri.” Viktor uttered, voice a low thrum of warning. He’d waited for him at the barrier for after warm ups, as was his duty, but he didn’t even bother looking at him until he was certain that he had Yuuri’s full attention. “How can someone who can’t motivate others motivate himself?”

His student, confused, stared at him.

For emphasis, Viktor slapped the skate guards against the rail. “I’m disappointed in you.” And then, without another word, turned and walked away, tissue box and all. Which seemed silly, he realized, but it was better to curtail the behavior immediately. As a coach, he would have no tolerance for bullying other skaters. None. Even something simple like that.

Yuuri would be fine for a little while on his own; he was an adult. He could handle himself, and he’d find Viktor when he was ready.

So Viktor found a seat to watch the competitors, amateur though they were, and observe Yuuri every so often to see how he would react to this style of management. Some skaters might cause a scene, but he didn’t think Yuuri would. Instead, he mingled with the crowd, brought himself toward the back wall, and brooded for a while. As expected, really; a cool-down period. That was a fine way to handle things. Process emotions, give himself space.

Then Yuuri turned away, heading for the door-- only to turn back and yell, “GOOD LUCK, MINAMI-KUN! GOOD LUCK!” at the top of his lungs.

It turned heads. It got people to stare. Neither of those things were really what Yuuri liked when not performing, but most importantly, Minami-kun heard him, and it worked like a charm. Just like Viktor said it would.

No longer the frightened little rabbit on the ice, Minami-kun, rejuvenated, threw himself into a spirited routine with every ounce of vim and vigor that Viktor expected. It was charming. Yuuri didn’t stay for long, but that was fine; calling attention to himself like that was more than enough to give him reason to sneak away and be alone for a little while. So Viktor let him.

As a coach, he had no need or desire to coddle his students.

As an audience member, though, he felt such affection for the young skaters performing their free skates; they had so much energy! And though they were raw and unpolished, there was something so exciting about their unbridled love for the sport. They hadn’t been broken yet. Some had more experience than others, like Minami-kun, but they still had years ahead of them in their career if they wanted.

At least, in theory.

It was too easy to let his thoughts wander, imagining what sorts of pitfalls they might face. Injures. Burn outs. Bad coaches. Bad luck…

But it wasn’t long before it was Yuuri’s turn. Viktor stood and retrieved his effects, moving quiet and steady to wait for him. When he did, cheeks cooled from the fresh outside air, he stopped to give Minami-kun what Viktor hoped was supposed to be a friendly pat on the back, though it looked like Yuuri didn’t know his own strength. Nevertheless, the fanboy didn’t actually seem to mind all too much in the end.

Heh.

They regarded each other coolly for a moment, then Viktor offered to take his jacket. Yuuri shed it without a word, and rolled down his cuffs.

“Yeah, this costume’s great,” Viktor said, keeping his smile small. The silent treatment was ridiculous, but he didn’t blame Yuuri. Not too much, anyway. They were still getting used to each other in a professional setting. They would learn. “You look beautiful in it.”

He did, too. Fifi had done a wonderful job at bringing Yuuri’s designs to life; the fabric clung in all of the right places, presenting such a formal, refined look with sheer cuts that were so breathtakingly elegant-- if one knew where to look. The beading helped to draw the eye, but it would be gone in a flash if the audience didn’t pay attention. And they’d want to pay attention.

Viktor leaned in to fix Yuuri’s hair, fingers brushing over gently, then paused, gaze drawn to Yuuri’s lips. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the fanboy staring; cheeks red, eyes wide. Was this too intimate for him? Yuuri was his idol, after all, and wearing such a gorgeous ensemble. And there was his coach, silver-haired and his idol, doting over him. They really were such an odd pair, weren’t they?

“Mm. Your lips are chapped,” he said, and fished the little tub of Chanel from the deep pockets of his overcoat. A twist of the cap and a casual dip of his finger, and there he was, caressing Yuuri’s lips like it was as normal as making the bed in the morning. Viktor took his time, the corner of his own mouth twitching into the barest hint of a smirk.

Minami-kun whimpered in his suffering.

He put the container away, and, without waiting for permission, leaned in to give Yuuri an overly formal coach-student hug. One hand at the nape of his neck, the other between his shoulderblades, so delicate, so ridiculous, as Yuuri still refused to cut the cold act.  

But… even so, Viktor couldn’t resist bringing his forehead to Yuuri’s shoulder. He’d always done that with Yakov, every time. It didn’t feel right to send Yuuri off without it, even when the stiff embrace was returned. Tender, perhaps, but as warm as a golf clap. So polite.

Viktor let him go and Yuuri pulled away, moving out to the ice without looking back. Still upset. Or, perhaps, waiting to see if he’d been forgiven. Was his approval really that important to Yuuri?

He glanced back at Minami-kun, who was fanning himself as he joined his fellow competitors at the barrier to cheer Yuuri on. Perhaps if a cold look from Yuuri had crushed the fanboy, a stern and pointed I’m disappointed in you from Viktor had been even moreso. Hm. Of course, Yuuri didn’t really care that much about what Viktor thought of him, did he?

...or did he?

If he did, Yuuri wasn’t very good at showing it, completely ignoring everything that he’d told him to do for his free skate. Lowering the difficulty to focus on his performance? Nope. He changed jump compositions- again; smacked his face into the wall- they’d need to get that checked by medical personnel before they did anything else; and changed his ending completely.

Which…

...actually…

...was rather sweet. Viktor frowned at him, torn between frustration and elation. Did he give him a lecture? Rush him to a clinic? Kiss him? No, no definitely not that one. Hug him? Perhaps that. Sighing, he gave in and opened his arms for a genuine bear hug, expecting Yuuri to get embarrassed and skate in for an awkward pat, but no-- no, he started to cry and rushed him.

Perhaps Viktor’s opinion did matter after all. Which meant a lecture would come when they had a spare moment. Paramedic first- staunching the blood, making sure that, no Coach Nikiforov, he doesn’t have a concussion -and then affection, hugging and the aforementioned coddling that he wasn’t going to give, showering Yuuri with praise for his scores even though they wouldn’t count, with a healthy amount of roasting on the side.

Then, when the mini fan club, Minako, and Takeshi had crowded, Viktor pulled Yuuri away. “Would you like to meet for dinner after the awards ceremony? Katsudon- on me?”

 

The group ended up being the four from Hasetsu- Minako, Takeshi, Yuuri, and Viktor, plus Minami-kun and his coach, Kanako. Minako picked the restaurant with the highest rating- and price per plate, Viktor suspected -in the area, and called ahead for reservations. It was a victory dinner, so why not live it up a little? Viktor honestly didn’t mind. Anything was better than eating katsudon alone with Yuuri again, honestly. As much fun as it had been to suffer the last time, he wasn’t ready to go back under the waterfall again, and seeing Minami-kun so worked up over just sitting next to Yuuri was embarrassing enough, thanks.

This way, Viktor could actually eat his dinner, even if it wasn’t as good as Mama Katsuki’s.

Everyone at the table got the same in honor of Yuuri. Minami-kun had insisted on it at first, and the others followed suit. It was adorable. He had question after question for Yuuri, too, interspersed with moments of intentional silence where he tried to hold it in. Just like Viktor had been when he was younger. Precious. Sad, but precious.

“We should take a photo,” said Viktor, taking out his phone, much to Yuuri’s despair.

It was a little savage, perhaps, but it made Minami-kun so happy, and soothed some of Viktor’s ancient aches. And, with Takeshi and Minako there, the opportunities to tease and give dirt on Yuuri were ample.

“He fell a lot when he was little. That cry baby,” Takeshi said around a mouthful of food.

“And with his fluxing weight, he ripped a lot of leggings.” Minako added.

Viktor rubbed his face, holding back a chuckle. Poor Yuuri.

Minami-kun was taking it all in, defensive and fascinated all at once. A lot like Viktor felt, really.

“Tonight wasn’t the first that he’s smacked his head, either. He was always really clumsy.” Minako was on a roll, and Yuuri sunk further and further into his seat. “But he always tried his best, even though he was so shy.”

Takeshi huffed, smile warm. “He’s come a long way since his first  competition, too.”

“With a dream and a prayer in his heart…” Minako sighed, and so did Minami-kun. Viktor might have done so with them, but only on the inside. The ballet teacher continued. “Copying Viktor’s routines for ages. I think he’s developed his own style now, though. What say you, Coach?”

The attention turned to Viktor, which, for a moment, made him blush. Then he laughed and waved a hand. “Yes, yes… of course.”

“Next thing you know, he’ll be setting records.”

“He still has a long way to go, though, you know.” Takeshi stretched over to take a piece of katsudon from Yuuri’s plate, chopsticks snapping- only to be intercepted by Minami-kun.

“It would have been a record if it were more than just a qualifier! A world record! Just you wait, Yuuri-kun is going to win the Grand Prix!”

So defensive. Viktor laughed behind his hand. “It’s true. We’ll see great things from him in Beijing, no doubt!”

Minami-kun pumped a fist, which let Takeshi do as he liked, and began a rousing chant of “Yuuri-kun! Yuuri-kun!” that rang through the restaurant.

“Minami-kun! Calm yourself, we’re in public!”

He couldn’t help it; Viktor tossed his head back and laughed out loud. He knew that revenge would be swift and painful, but he couldn’t resist. A flustered Yuuri was just too cute, and it was all highly complimentary. Dinner couldn’t go on forever, anyway.

“Oh, and I know you already got his autograph, but you didn’t get one of his photos…” Viktor took an envelope from his overcoat, retrieving glossy prints of an Eros shoot, which had been publicity from the Hot Springs on Ice event. He passed them around the table.

“What?! You had photos made? When?!”

“Yuuri. I’m your coach. Don’t be surprised.” Then Viktor handed him a sharpie. “Go ahead and sign it to him. Write something nice.”

“Wh- like what?”

“I can’t believe this is happening… oMG…!” Minami-kun chewed on his napkin while his coach patted his shoulder, a smile of patient long-suffering on her face. “I can’t look…!”

“A positive affirmation. Warm fuzzies. He’ll look at this often, I’m sure.”

Yuuri gave it some careful thought, then wrote out things that Viktor couldn’t even begin to understand in Japanese. When he was done, he waved it in the air until it was dry, then awkwardly held it out until Minami-kun’s coach took it from him and handed it to the younger skater, who screeched his appreciation.

“YUURI-KUN! Thank you so much! It’s the best-- best thing I’ve ever gotten in my whole life! I’ll treasure it forever and always! I-- I!” He sniffed, lip quivering. “Thank you!”

Kanako-san nudged him. “You can give him your autograph, too.”

Minami-kun immediately turned bright red and sunk down in his chair.

“I’d like one,” said Viktor. “I thought your skating showed great promise; I was very impressed.”

“Did you hear that? Viktor Nikiforov said--”

“Yeah, I heard… uh..”

More photographs were exchanged. The fanboy wrote a novel on one for Yuuri, covering the entire back and most of the front; a single signature for Viktor; and short ‘thank you’ notes for the rest of the table. When Viktor revealed that he, too, had some photos, the ladies-- and Yuuri --asked for one each, which he happily obliged. Someone had to show them how it was done.

“Did you want one, too, Minami-kun?”

“I guess.”

“Minami-kun!”

Viktor laughed. Yes. He was just like his younger self, exactly. That little brat. He made sure to sign the photo for him with an extra large heart. It was fine that he wasn’t everyone’s idol; he was happy that Yuuri had attention, and honestly…

...he’d really, really enjoyed being a coach instead of a competitor.

 

Yuuri was quiet in the cab on the way back to the hotel, gaze fixed on the barely visible scenery outside the window. It had been a very long day, and an even longer weekend; Viktor couldn’t blame him for feeling a little off. After all, side from the little onsen show off, this had been the first competition since the Japanese nationals that Yuuri had competed in. It wasn’t always so easy to get back into it, even after a short break, and Yuuri wasn’t exactly the person he would put in a category of emotional stability.

Viktor let him be. There was no point in getting into it when they were in the car with a stranger, anyway. The silence between them was comfortable enough; companionable with just an occasional le motif of melancholic discordance. He kept his small and polite coach’s smile until they able to retreat from the cooling evening and into the safety of their room, where privacy and the promise of rest begged to shoulder their masks. There, the smile turned apologetic.

“Sorry,” he said, shrugging off his coat and laying it over the back of the small chair by the desk. “Dinner was a bit much, wasn’t it?”

Yuuri didn’t answer, save only for a little nod. It was a different silence than that at the rink earlier; the emotional weight was tilted inward, swaying like snow-burdened branches in a storm.

“They meant well,” Viktor ventured again, removing his lanyard, then loosening his tie. “We all did, I think.”

“I know.” Yuuri’s voice, soft, barely carried as he sat on the edge of the bed by the window.

Viktor tugged his tie loose and draped it over the coat, glancing back over his shoulder. Yuuri wasn’t looking at him; just the floor at his feet. “You did very well today, though. Very impressive scores.”

“Thanks.”

He watched for a few moments longer, unhooking the first two buttons after his collar, then moved to the little mini-fridge under the flatscreen. Courtesy water bottles were a joke, but it was a godsend for any athlete in need of a refreshment. With two in hand, he returned to the bed and set on on the night stand, then held the other out in offering. “Yuuri…. Are you okay?”

Yuuri took the bottle, but didn’t raise his head. “Yeah.” His hands trembled. “Just… need to sit for a bit.”

“Okay.” Viktor sat across from him on the opposite bed, and watched the liquid turn as Yuuri rolled the bottle in his palms, fingertips tracing the ridge of the bottlecap. An anchor? “How’s your head feeling?”

“The pain killers have kicked in,” Yuuri said, finally lifting his gaze, smile halfway to believable.

Viktor nodded again, mulling it over. “That’s good. Dizzy at all, or has that settled down?”

“The throbbing’s stopped. I think I’ll be okay in the morning.”

“Okay. Good.” At least Viktor was able to give a genuine sigh of relief at that. “I’ll ask again then. Let me know if anything changes, okay?”

“Yeah, I will.” Yuuri nodded again, gaze lowering back to the floor. “Other than… hitting my head, was my free skate okay?”

“Yuuri.” Viktor chuckled. “There were some rough patches, but yes, of course it was. I’m very pleased with your progress… and the audience loved it, too. I can’t wait to see what you’ll do in Beijing. You should be proud of yourself. Though...” he let his smile spread, pained. “You should really try to listen to your coach more. How do you feel about it?”

“I wanted to experiment… but I’ll be better about listening to you. Maybe I won’t lose track of where I am and hit my head again.” Yuuri’s smile, though still small, went a little sheepish. But not too much. He really didn’t feel bad at all, did he? “It felt good performing it in front of an audience. Rocky, but I’ll work on it.”

“Heh… it was just like me, to be honest. No wonder Yakov was always so mad when I’d change things midway through my routine. You scared me a little, you know. It was always ‘Vitya, you almost gave me a heart attack! Blar!’ Hehe.”

Yuuri gave a pitiful little laugh. “I-I’m sorry. I’m a little shaken up, myself.”

Viktor reached over to the nightstand where the Makkachin tissue box was, then got to his feet and took the seat next to Yuuri instead. “You know, I think the water works better if you drink it, Yuuri.” Then he shrugged. “I could be wrong, but that’s always been my experience.”

Yuuri blinked down at the bottle as if he’d forgotten that it was even there, then opened it and took a swallow or two. Then, holding the bottle at his knees, he sighed. “My rinkmate… the one at the hospital.”

“That you mentioned before?”

“Yeah. With the girl that was trying to be there for me.” Yuuri twisted the cap back on the bottle again. “It was a concussion. Not serious- he was fine -still is fine, but… I was just so scared. It could have been so much worse.”

Viktor frowned. “They can be, yeah. I’ve had a few, myself. They’re never fun. I’ve seen them end careers.” He offered the box. “But you’re going to be okay.”

“I think my nose and thick skull were my saving grace,” Yuuri said, and took a tissue.

“Probably. But you weren’t going too fast, and it wasn’t a fall.” Viktor shook the tissue box again, still holding it out to him. “Oh, he’s good for holding, too. Portable Makkachin.”

It took a few seconds, but Yuuri pulled the fake dog into his lap to pet, setting the water bottle aside. It’d always worked for Viktor in a pinch, anyway, so why not?

“Thanks… for being patient with me.”

Viktor scooted closer, huffing a little laugh. “Mmm. Thank you for being patient with me. You know, I have a confession to make.”

“You didn’t go against your coach and be a jerk to a fan…”

“What?” Viktor asked, blinking. “No… What?” Going against Yakov he’d done a hundred times, but a jerk to a fan…? He squinted, trying to remember a time.

“Oh. Was that not related to your confession?”

“No!” Viktor shook his head and waved a dismissive hand. “No, no, no. I was going to say that I was trained as a ballet instructor and choreographer, not as a figure skating coach. Yakov was the best coach I could have ever asked for, and while I helped him out with a lot of things in the past few years, I’m… still figuring all of this out, myself.”

“Figuring out coaching?”

“Yeah. It’s one thing to fill out registration paperwork and make routines, but knowing how to help motivate your students? To keep them happy and encouraged and doing their best, all without pushing too hard or being too soft?”  Viktor shook his head.

“But when you’ve had that training, and you apply the methods you’ve liked from Coach Feltsman…”

Viktor shrugged, giving a helpless laugh as he looked up at the ceiling. “If only I were as good as him, I’d know just what to do. But, it’s a process.”

“Every skater is different, same as coaches. You’re a good coach. I’m not… unhappy or unmotivated. I’m just…” Yuuri bit his lip, still so soft from the earlier moisturizing treatment, searching for the word.

But Viktor shook his head and slipped an arm around his shoulders, pulling him close for a hug. “You’re fine, Yuuri.”

He leaned into him, quiet. Warm.

“We can just be patient with each other, yeah?”

“Sounds fair to me.”

Viktor gave him a little squeeze. “I’m so proud of you, Yuuri. Really. Both for your performance and for how you encouraged Minami-kun. I think you made him very happy.”

Yuuri lifted his head, proper smile back in place. “He did seem better after that, huh?”

“Much. And he’ll treasure those autographs for years to come.”

“I guess he does remind me of me.”

Viktor rubbed Yuuri’s arm, laughing again. “I bet you have secret ebay autographs from me stashed away somewhere back home, huh?”

“I didn’t… need to buy off of ebay. I think I bought a poster that had your signature on it, but…” Yuuri pulled away just enough to unzip his jacket, and dug into the inner breast pocket. “I already had a signed and personalized one.”

The photo in question was worn, with creased edges, ink fading, gloss cracked, but it was legitimate, and certainly Viktor. Long, silver hair and a smile that was… well, Viktor wasn’t sure how genuine it had been at the time, but there was so much life in it. And in his eyes, too. A guardian for The Heart of the Mountain. He recognized his signature; loopy curves where there shouldn’t have been in the Russian, the heart that he’d drawn a smiley face in, the message of best wishes and good luck. Viktor reached for it, then hesitated, looking to Yuuri for permission with wide eyes, mouth agape. “Wow…”

Yuuri handed it over, though with some reluctance, and smiled.

“This is… so old. Ten years?”

“Maybe nine, but yeah.”

Viktor turned it over in his hands, exceptionally careful with the fragile edges, and scanned the Japanese characters that he’d had his friend transcribe for him. To make sure that it would be able to be read by the recipient. He turned it back over.

“I’ve kept it with me my whole career. You were... always encouraging me.”

To say he was touched was an understatement. Viktor bit his lower lip, letting his eyes rest on the photo for a few seconds longer before he offered it back to its rightful owner. He remembered sending it. Remembered it well. It was such a fond memory from back before everything got so complicated. He turned back to Yuuri. “My little Japan skater.”

“Y-yeah,” he admitted with a smile.

Viktor leaned back, hands behind him, and breathed deeply through his nose. The smile was fixed on his face, etched in permanence. “See, what did I tell you?” he asked, and shifted to wipe his eyes, returning to his lean immediately after. “Just more proof that I’m always right. I’m sure that Minami-kun will be holding onto your autograph… referring to it for years and years…”

“And I gave him similar advice, too!”

“Oh?” Viktor turned to him. “To… always have well-fitting boots?”

“You remember!” Yuuri cried, then laughed. “I- I told him good luck, and that I look forward to skating against him one day. And if he’s ever nervous, it’s okay because it’s something he cares about.”

“You…” Viktor felt the tears in his eyes welling, and his heart bursting with too much feeling to contain it all in as prim a fashion as he was supposed to. Maybe it would be obnoxious, but he was past the breaking point. He lept at Yuuri, both arms wrapping around him, hugging tight for an encore of evening’s earlier affection. “It’s such good advice! Certified Viktor Nikiforov!”

Yuuri, for his part, squeaked. “Yuuri Katsuki tested!”

The Makkachin tissue box slid from Yuuri’s lap, but Viktor was too wrapped up in the emotions to notice, pressed close, cheek to cheek, laughing. “My little Japan skater… I’m so proud! You grew up! You’re so handsome!”

“Thanks… not so round and nerdy, maybe…” Yuuri couldn’t escape, but he didn’t actually want to; just curled his arms together to huddle closer.

“You’ve done so well!”

“Th-thank you. I couldn’t have gotten here without you!”

“Hah!” Viktor gave him another little squeeze, and nuzzled the side of his face, head to head. “Yuuri! You’re going to the Grand Prix final and you’re going to win! We’re going to win!”

Yuuri sucked in a breath and gave one, firm nod. “Yeah!”

With enthusiasm feeding enthusiasm, Viktor freed one of his arms to throw a fist in the air, alight with determination. “Yatta!

Ypa?” offered Yuuri, which only earned him another hug.

Ypa! Now, are you ready for more Soap Opera Megaverse?”

 

They left their luggage at the front desk in the morning and checked out to spend the day wandering Okayama. Takeshi and Minako had already gone back home, but they had no reason to stick around, not when the former had a trio of goblins to look after and the latter needed to report to Mama Katsuki. Viktor had heard rumors that there would be a party waiting for them on their return, but all had assured them not to hurry back too soon on their account. None of this information was such that Yuuri needed to be privy to, of course; poor guy.

The only real requirement was posting photographic evidence of their location so that Mari could keep track of their progress. First, it was a series of photos along the Asahi river on their way to U-jo castle. A leisurely tour inside resulted in several more selfies of the pair, all on Instagram for post qualifiers day out. Coach and Student enjoying culture and modern amenities!

The comments poured in.

Then they went to the gardens. Koraku-en was touted as one of the most beautiful gardens in all of Japan. They wandered over the winding paths, basking in alternating shade and patches of sunlight, stopping at ponds and paddies to admire the manicured landscape. More photo opportunities. It was all so ornate, and the way that the greenery swept through the bodies of water like it had always been there reminded him of Saint Petersburg- if only just a little.

They eventually came to the part that Viktor was most anticipating; the koi pond. True, they’d come across several already, and each had beautiful fish to gaze at, but the particular one they had been looking for was the feeding pond. For a mere three hundred yen, an old man loaded Viktor’s palm full of koi feed, and showed him what to do.

“Take my photo, Yuuri! Please!”

Yuuri obliged, taking photos of the fully grown man as he knelt on the bridge in his cargo shorts and t-shirt, one arm thrust into the chilly water below. The koi wasted no time in their frenzy, frantically bumping at his arm and his fingers, mouths gaping as they tried to suck the feed from his closed fingers.

“Yuuri!” he laughed. “They’re biting me!” Of course it didn’t hurt, and they weren’t really biting, but Viktor couldn’t help it. He bit his lower lip hard to hold back even more laughter, watching as more fish joined the fray. “They’re training to become dragons like you!”

Yuuri only shook his head, grinning. “You’re so weird, Viktor.”

Another fish, nearly twice the size as the others, charged its way in and tried to take hold of Viktor’s first, sending him teetering off balance- “W-woah! YUURI!” -and was yanked back just in time by Yuuri.

Viktor, hands now wet, but free, clung to Yuuri with wide eyes, chest heaving. “That one almost got me!”

“Imagine if you fell in… they’d all try to bite,” Yuuri said, patting his shoulder.

“Yeah,” said the old man who’d sold the food to them. “That one’s named Ryuu, and he loves the taste of foreigners. Hehe.” Then he left.

Viktor looked himself over, safe in Yuuri’s arms, then down at his hand where the fish had left their marks; little pink half moons on his pale skin. “Look. They left fish kisses.”

Yuuri peered down at his hand, and frowned. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” They were so close. So close. They’d been awfully close a lot lately. “Do you need a fish kiss, too?”

Although Viktor did, in fact, pucker his lips, Yuuri only stared at him. As if he were a real fish and not Viktor Nikiforov making a lame/cute joke.

“No?” Viktor asked. “Maybe later? Fine.” He laughed it off and extracted himself, finally getting to his feet again. “So that’s the koi fish, what’s next? Bonsai trees or something?”

It was stupid. He knew better. It was the same game over and over again; a rise in desire, a flush of his cheeks. Yuuri would always be doing something cute, something sweet, and Viktor needed to be stronger than he was. For the first time, he had a friend and companion that he was sharing his life with. Despite the complications and heartache, things had never been so good.

Viktor could not afford to mess it up. Not for himself, and not for Yuuri; not when the Grand Prix was just around the corner. They were friends, friends, friends, and that was enough.

When they were finished at the gardens, they gathered their suitcases and headed back for the train station, stopping at the Momotaro statue for a group selfie. Although it was still only the afternoon, they had two and a half hours to go by train to get to Fukuoka, and another hour and a half to Hasetsu.

Viktor napped. Yuuri played on his phone.

 

“Hey, Viktor.”

Viktor stretched, frowning at the quickly darkening sky. It wasn’t that late, but in September, the sun was already dipping below the horizon. “Hm?”

“Do you want to grab dinner while we’re here?”

Viktor glanced down at his rolling luggage, then at Yuuri’s, then back at him. “I thought you’d be eager to get back home.”

“Yeah…” Yuuri averted his gaze. “It’s just… there are some really great places to eat around here. I think you’d like it.”

“Uh huh…” That was probably true enough, but Yuuri had a terrible poker face; the way his eyes darted around when he spoke was indicative of a lie. It was like he wasn’t even trying to hide it. “Yuuri?”

He froze. “Well. Uhm.”

“What is it?”

“I bet my family is waiting for me… and they’re probably planning to make a fuss…”

Viktor relaxed. Yuuri wasn’t wrong, so at least his gut wasn’t off. Still, though. “And?”

“And… I guess…”

“Even though you won, you don’t necessarily want all of the attention?”

Little nod.

Viktor scanned the busy station again. “Okay. It looks like they have lockers here. Let’s leave our luggage and… go have dinner.” A pause. “We can’t avoid going home forever.”

I know,” Yuuri sighed.

They secured their luggage and took another train to Nakasu, which offered plentiful food stalls and ramen bars. Tonkatsu ramen was what they settled on, followed by a stroll through the more foreigner-friendly areas of the district. That meant bar hopping for Viktor, who drank with Yuuri in tow, who was in charge of photography for Mari.

“Are you drunk already?”

“No~” Viktor took his hand. “Come on, they have dango down this way!”

They did, eventually, head back to Fukuoka, collect their luggage, and settle in for the ride home. As before, they had the compartment nearly to themselves, and Viktor settled against Yuuri’s side.

“They probably will surprise you.”

“I know.”

“But you can’t tell them that I told you.”

Yuuri grinned.

“Really. They’ll be upset at me if you do.”

“How many comments do we have on those photos?”

Viktor pulled out his phone and scrolled through the messages. “A lot… people are jealous of you.”

“Me? Why?”

Shaking his head, Viktor settled back down for another nap, head on Yuuri’s shoulder. “Just ignore them.”

“...okay.”

 

The surprise in Hasetsu was a little party with more food, streamers, confetti, and a banner… but it quickly devolved into more drinking. A lot more drinking. And karaoke. Mari and Mama Katsuki kept things under control, but the men and Minako- who could clearly hold her own -were intent on making fools of themselves. At least it was late enough that their paying patrons had gone home.

Still, there was something endearing about Takeshi, Papa Katsuki, Viktor, Yuuri, and yes, even Minako, singing terribly at the top of their lungs to celebrate their little pork cutlet bowl’s success. Even if Viktor didn’t understand a damn word of it.

“Jushtz be careful… with how mush you drink, Yuuuuri~” Viktor counseled so wisely between songs around another shot of sake.

“Huh?”

No one could understand what Viktor was saying, either, so It was par for the course.

“You know; like b’fore~”

“Oh, uh huh.” He didn't. “Oi, lessee if they have Country Roads!”

“I… I luff that song!”

“Me, too!”

 

It was so easy to think of November as being an eternity away. The summer had moved so slowly, with routine pulling them along, day in and out, with the same, comfortable monotony as the lapping waves on the sand. But the season changed in its gradual way, slow and steady, taking with it the warmer-weather flowers, bringing out the deer, and draining the color from the leaves, little by little. The passionate thunderstorms of summer were more wind than anything on the worst days, taking some of the lingering heat from the afternoon’s stubborn sun.

Viktor clipped Makkachin’s coat again, trimming it down to proper Teddy length, and paid particular attention to his pawpads in the off chance that there might be the arrival of early snow. “You never know in Saint Petersburg,” he explained. “I always want my Makka to be prepared.”

The poodle licked his face in thanks. They would always take good care of each other.

Of course, the skating season meant leaving him behind with the Katsukis, who had already agreed to watch him. As much as it pained Viktor, it was nothing new. He’d always had to leave Makkachin at home, and he knew that they would take very good care of him. His Makkachin was just getting on in years, and normally, Viktor would come home between competitions. A long weekend was one thing, but a month?

Competing in Beijing and then Moscow consecutively was just too good of an opportunity, though. Saint Petersburg was only an hour from Moscow by plane. They would finish in Beijing, head to Saint Petersburg, make up with Yakov, see Viktor’s home rink and the sights, and then go to Moscow for the next heat before heading back to Hasetsu before Barcelona. There would be plenty of time for training without having to deal with nearly as much jet lag, and Viktor would be able to check on his apartment, spend time with Yurio, explain things to Yakov…

Really, that was the most important bit. An opportunity to make things right with him. Yuuri had to suspect that was the motive behind his offer, but being the fanboy that he was, how could he say no? It would be fun. They could visit the Academy, the ballet, Yakov’s house, or… er, Lilia’s, maybe… probably not, but they could take Yakov out to dinner at least! And go to the zoo. There were museums, too. And the pier! The canals. All of the places that he’d spent so much time wandering as he’d grown up, just like Yuuri had shown him here in Hasetsu.

Georgi and Mila would love him, he was sure. Yakov would, too. He could hardly wait to show him off, both in Beijing and at home.

And it was all just a month away.

 

“We should practice your exhibition skate, Yuuri.” Viktor tapped his clipboard, rolling his head from side to side to stretch his neck. “We won’t have a lot of time to go over it once we’re away from Hasetsu. At least, not if you want to keep it a secret.”

“Good point. Uh, do you want to do that now?”

“Sure.” Viktor slid off to the side to give Yuuri the ice, leaning against the barrier to take notes. “Go ahead and start from the beginning. I know you can do all of the jumps already, but I want you to focus on the performance aspect.”

“As always…”

“Yes, as always.” Viktor sighed. “This program is my heart and soul. On ice.I want you to really feel it if you’re going to perform it. First, I’ll have you just listen to it… and then I want you to skate it; no music. Just think of the words. Okay?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Viktor retrieved the remote, leaving his clipboard on the table just on the other side of the barrier, and navigated through the playlist to the song. Stammi Vicino, Non Te Ne Adare… Stay Close to Me, and Never Leave.

He closed his eyes and let it play, fingertips rubbing over the worn plastic of the remote, small smile on his lips. Every time the aria began, he got the same lilting feeling; an ache in his chest like his heart was being tugged by the wind, drawing him away from where he was… out to the unknown, into the flurry of destiny or fate. Would he be lost forever? Or would he be claimed by the arms of those he belonged to, those he longed for? His soul mate, the one he craved, his other half, his--

Viktor shook his head, sucking in a deep breath as the song ended. It had never lost its effect, not in any of the hundreds or thousands of times he’d heard it. And it probably never would. He rubbed his arms, pulling the black fabric of his hoodie over prickled gooseflesh and shivered, caught between elated laughter and the need to cover such vulnerability. Yuuri had been watching him. The whole time? Maybe.

He clapped his hands. “All right- from the starting position. Ready?”

That at least got Yuuri to turn away, but it did nothing for the chest flutters.

“One, two, three… Sento una voce che piange lontano, Anche tu, sei stato forse abbandonato.” Viktor spoke the words, keeping in rhythm with where they would be in measure but without melody, simply a beat for Yuuri to follow. “Good, good- watch that free leg, Yuuri… tighter there, all right…”

It was clear by watching Yuuri move that he’d done the routine a hundred or more times before. He handled it with a sort of reverence that was different than either Eros or Yuri on Ice; each movement graceful, precise, and with care… like he felt like he was intruding on something. And in a way, he was. Even though Viktor had given him permission, he’d been serious about the routine being his heart and soul. Seeing Yuuri navigate through it, up close, blades cutting through the ice, carved through him, too. Through every part of him.

For the first time in… well, since he’d written the original poem that had become the aria, Viktor forgot the words and found himself simply watching, lost in his own heartsong. Once more, Yuuri’s body created the music, figure weaving the melody before him in the movement of his turns, the arc of his arms, the flash of his blades.

The setup for each jump caught in his throat, and he clenched the remote in his hand until Yuuri landed the third quad, flecks of ice catching in the light like diamond dust. Then he dropped it, letting the little piece of plastic hit the ground, and pushed off from the barrier just as the chorus played on in his head.

Yuuri came to a stop as Viktor came to him. “What? Start over?”

But Viktor only reached for his hand, letting the momentum of his approach pull Yuuri along with him, first around in a wide arc, then a closer twirl, turning toward him. He’d started working on choreography for a pair version of Stay Close to Me since the first day he’d come to Hasetsu, but the implementation of it was an entirely different matter. Nevertheless, being the natural dance partner that he was, Yuuri spun out of Viktor’s arms when he dictated, breathless and confused, but smiling when he reached the end of his arm.

“Viktor?“

Viktor pulled him back in, the ice making the motion effortless; Yuuri couldn’t ignore his charms when the blades cut right through his resistance. “Did you ever do lifts in ballet?”

“Only once or twice…”

He smiled, sliding his hand from Yuuri’s arm to his back, then the other to his stomach, gaze never leaving his face. “Tense here… and here; hold position. Don’t worry, I won’t drop you.”

With a nod, Yuuri did as instructed while Viktor led him through the steps, becoming pliant or rigid when and where requested.  

Stammi vicino- and lift -” only half, but it would do, gently setting him on the ground and guiding his arm up over his chest to rest his hand on his shoulder. “Non te ne andare, ho paura di perderti.”

There were so many pieces to work out and to try; which worked best with two skaters? When to switch the lead? Viktor led him through what he could, improvising the rest. Parallel steps in some places; mirrored in others where Viktor took his place as his opposite; and even tried a round robin, where he had Yuuri set up a jump only to follow half a measure behind.

They came together again, hand in hand for a pair spin. Yuuri, bright-eyed and breathless, smiled up at him  with an awe Viktor had only seen maybe once or twice before in all the months they’d spent together. Viktor touched his cheek, tracing his jaw on his way to his shoulder.

E i battiti del cuore…” he said, toeing the ice for more speed as they went around again, the world  nothing but a blur. “Si fondono tra loro. Another lift.” Viktor picked him up again, and Yuuri stayed in beautiful form, just as expected of a ballet dancer. “Ora sono pronto… I’m lowering you into a lunge.”

Yuuri nodded, holding steady, and transitioned as his blades met the ice, letting Viktor dip him down, low and supported into a final finishing move; one hand behind his back, the other cradling his head. Yuuri held onto him, grasp firm, waiting for instructions to move.

There Viktor held him, both counting seconds while their breaths tried to even out. He felt the heat in his cheeks, saw the blush in Yuuri’s; beads of sweat tangled in his hair. And those eyes. Those beautiful, dark, enchanting eyes that had held him ever since that first night at the banquet. “...E adesso ti bacierò.

He gave Yuuri just enough time to realize that those weren’t a continuation of lyrics before he pulled him closer, meeting him halfway with a kiss; his first in eight years. The touch was slow at first, with the brush of hesitation as his lips parted, but then blossomed into a deep, warm caress the moment Viktor felt Yuuri tremble beneath him. The fingers at his shoulders tightened, curling into his hoodie, and Viktor closed his eyes to savor the moment before it could flee from him.

God, he loved him. His heart sang and broke in that instant, stealing precious seconds in an attempt to convey everything he felt. Even just a glimpse.

And then it was over. The single most incredible kiss of his life had swept him away, as everything with Yuuri Katsuki did.

He parted, lingering just long enough to feel Yuuri's breath against his lips before pulling away from the man in his arms. "I... uh..." the words were tangled, thick in his throat. "Y-you... hah, I don't think you'll have anything to worry about, with the, uh, gala."

But the exhibition gala was the furthest thing from Viktor’s mind now.

What have I done?

Chapter Text

Dance Studio - Hasetsu, Japan

Yuuri (14 years old)

 

“Great job today, ladies. I’ll see you next week.”

Stretching out the day’s aches, the women began removing their dancing slippers and conversed amongst themselves.

The bell at the door tolled.

Briefly, Minako looked at the clock, already knowing it wasn’t time for her private lesson student. She smiled as the familiar blue beanie with small ears peeked inside, and Yuuri scurried along the far wall, trying to be invisible to the class, to the far corner he claimed as his own so often on his way home from school.

One by one, Minako’s women’s class, aka Stay-at-Home Mothers That Wished They Looked Nearly as Young as She Did (it was a gift), exited the studio, bowing and saying their thanks on their way out.

Their obvious jealousies aside, they were a good bunch looking to be fit, and she couldn’t fault them for that.

She closed the door after them, then took a few steps toward the middle of the room, studying Yuuri in her wake. Did he want interaction or not? Sometimes he’d come and sit for a time and leave without a word. Just a quiet and familiar place to center himself. Others times it was seeking comfort and guidance. One couldn’t assume when it came to the independently anxious boy.

Yuuri sat on the floor, legs crossed with a magazine in his lap, frown evident.

Oh boy, what was happening in the skating world today? An article on him? His debut was impressive as far as his personal bests went. There was that one interview she was aware of. Then again, it could be one of the imported magazines that Mari helped him get. Which usually meant Viktor, but a frown?

Casually she walked to her desk to jot down her session minutes. Periodically she looked up at him across the room, until she saw his brown eyes looking back at her. Ah, there it was - the permission and admittance of wanting to talk about it.

Closing her notebook, she made her way over to him with a leap, sticking the landing with a curtsy.

“What’s up, kiddo? Can I sit?”

Yuuri nodded, chin disappearing into his scarf.

Minako sat beside him on her knees.

He’d closed the magazine, though kept his spot with his fingers. After seconds of consideration, he was handing it to her.

As Minako expected, Viktor was on the pages. Multiple images of varying quality of Viktor wearing hoods or hats. ‘ Viktor Nikiforov hiding from the Paparazzi ?!’ Well, the paparazzi was annoying, but that wasn’t typically a concern for the Russian figure skater. Looking at the dates of the photos, he’d been covering himself throughout the summer.

Yuuri then flipped back to the previous page, highlights of the senior Grand Prix.  

The long silver hair that had become iconic for the young man, now eighteen, was gone ! Short crop, save for long fringe on one side. Wasn’t a bad look, actually. Mature and fit his facial structure. Masculine. Clicking her cheek and winking “Wow, looks who’s so handsome!”

Yuuri’s frown deepened.

Oh. Was that the problem? Was he not into that?

“They say so, too.”

“Is he not?”

He shook his head. “It’s not… that. It’s just… he was handsome before , wasn’t he?”

She had to stop and think about how to answer. Typically handsome wasn’t a word you’d use to described femininity, at least, not in the media. Beautiful, maybe? Viktor had some of the best eyelash game going for him; there were a lot of women envious of him and his delicate features.

“He looks sad.”

Minako gave the photographs another lookover. He seemed more serious about his career to her. “Maybe it was starting to get in the way. I can’t imagine trying to skate with hair that long forever.”

Yuuri ran a finger over a blurry photo of Viktor in a hoodie. “It’s not just his hair, though. His clothes and his costumes for the season…”

“Kiddo… sometimes things change when you get older and you mature.”

“What if he didn’t have a choice?” He sounded so worried.

“What does the article say?”

“Stuff similar to what you said. I don’t believe it, though. Doesn’t feel like him.”

She shifted on her knees to a sit instead and gave him a side squeeze. “I think you’re reading too much into it. Lots of male skaters start out kind of innocent looking and feminine and then develop more of a manly style as their bodies change. Don’t worry so much, Yuuri. He’s still the same Viktor Nikiforov.”

He went quiet for a moment, absorbing her words while he flipped back and forth between the pages, a smile and blush across his face. “He’s still really pretty, huh?”

“Hell yeah, he is.”

 


 

“... E adesso ti bacierò.

The only Italian Yuuri knew, rather, could recite, were the lyrics to Stammi Vicino. Knew the song as well as any song in Japanese, despite being foggy on translation, and he knew the words that Viktor spoke weren’t the next phrase.

He knew and yet… Viktor’s soft face and blue eyes drawing closer took precedence.

Their lips touched and his eyes fluttered closed, warmth spreading from his mouth, down his neck and beyond. He grasped onto Viktor's hoodie, inviting more of this and then he was pulling away from him, looking as breathless as he felt.

“I... uh..." Viktor tried, "Y-you... hah, I don't think you'll have anything to worry about, with the, uh, gala."

Yuuri tilted his head. Gala?

“I think, uhm, there probably isn't time for a pair skate routine, but you'll definitely be just fine with the program itself... you...  oh, uh…” Gently, Viktor straightened them both to their feet, skates parallel for a brief moment, then Viktor pivoted, not facing him, rubbing at his neck. “If you want to use it, it's... uh, it's yours. The program, I mean.”

Program. Gala. Oh! Right. That. “Viktor?”

Why was he upset?

“Look,” he said sharply, and then softened, realizing his tone. “No, it's-- sorry. I got a little carried away, I guess... that's... how I am, you know... Viktor Nikiforov, prince of... the dramatic. Right?” A shrug. “Superfluous at every turn. I’m sorry.”

Was he apologizing and sputtering self-insults because he was mad or embarrassed? The fog in his head made it hard to tell. Either way, they weren’t facing each other and the distance was unsettling considering moments before.

“We should run through something else!” Viktor suggested, skates cutting the ice, finally turning back to Yuuri, but not meeting his gaze.

“It was a good practice. I wouldn’t mind going over it again. Unless you’re done?”

The eyes that looked back at him were the opposite of what they were before the kiss-- startled. Like Yuuri had just slapped him across the face. Or a frightened animal about to run.

No, don’t run . Whatever he had said, instantly Yuuri regretted it and looked to the ice, rubbing his own arm in thought.  

“I don’t think I could handle Stammi Vicino again.” Abruptly, Viktor glided past him on the ice. “I’ll meet you back at the onsen, okay? Keep practicing.” Without waiting for Yuuri to answer, he stepped up the barrier and rushed to the nearest bench to remove his skates.

“Y-yeah. Sure. I’ll lock up.” He really was leaving…

“Good.” A jingle of metal, giving up the keys on the bench, and Viktor failed at metering his paces to conceal he wasn’t in a hurry to get out of there.

The door closing echoed through the locker room. It was then that Yuuri’s stance wavered and let the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, out. The exhale rolled over his lips, reminding him of Viktor’s breath ghosting them…

He rolled his lips inward. Was this what it normally tasted like or was it Viktor’s?

It’d been awhile since he’d been alone for practice like this. There was a time he would have called it his favorite way to practice, but not lately. Something about having someone watching. Someone he really wanted to be watching, watching.

Discarded on the ice was the remote. One toe kick and Yuuri was sliding back towards it, lunge and grab in motion. He hit play and the aria began.

Letting the remote drop, he caught up with the timing to take the first form.

The singer’s voice intermingled with Viktor’s spoken voice in Yuuri’s memory, a low metronome keeping time.

A forest is what Yuuri always imagined for the program. Cold and dense. A deer being dragged by the call of the wind. Aura of the unknown. Uncertain, but graceful in each step. Jumps sending the deer further through forest, searching for its lost loved one or purpose. A little more hopeful as the music builds in volume and momentum.

Non te ne andare, ho paura di perderti….

The deer approaches a meadow and-

E i battiti del cuore…

A soft touch to his face. Skin.

Ora sono pronto…

A break in the storm-- a kiss.

Short a rotation. Biting his lip, Yuuri continued through the rest of the program, the deer and Viktor fighting their way to be the visual.

At the final spin and cross of his arms, chest heaving with exertion, that meadow was bright and Viktor was there smiling at him. With him.  

Viktor’s heart and soul was this program. It was a call. And Yuuri had called in return, and Viktor had answered.

 

When Yuuri returned home from the rink, Viktor had already eaten dinner and locked himself in his room.

“Is Vicchan all right?” his mother asked, serving him a plate of ginger rice and broccolini gomaae. “He seemed kind of… off?”

He wished he had a good answer for her. “I’m not sure.”

Settling onto her knees across from him to eat her own tonkatsu, she gave him a suspicious look. “Are you all right?”

“Me? Y-yeah. I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Are you two fighting?”

“No!” He was certain he didn’t not sound guilty as her look didn’t diminish, but decided to let it slide.

After dinner, Yuuri excused himself for a quick bath. On his way to his room, he paused at Viktor’s door, debating about knocking, then the anxiety came and he padded to his room.

Viktor was upset. Why else would he be avoiding him? Nobody liked a pest, so it was best to let him be until he calmed down. Both of them.

Okay, Yuuri surprisingly wasn’t freaking out. A healthy mixture of happy and disbelief. If that was a thing.

Closing his door, Yuuri opened his closet for a clean set of pajamas. In the process, one of his posters fell and rolled open on the floor.

It was the one Yuuri distinctly remembered kissing once or twice for luck when he was a teen. Subconsciously he brought a finger to his own lips. He now knew what the real thing felt like…

Heat rushed to his face and furiously (but carefully) rolled the poster back up and stowed it in his closet.

Once he’d changed into pajamas, he fell face first into his bed and pillow.

I thought I was over this.

A notification ping sounded on his phone. Probably from Phichit’s Instagram. Blindly he groped around his desk for it, rolled over and unlocked his phone to discover he was right - he’d bought a new wheel for his hamsters.

Phichit. Could he talk to him about this? He could count on a hand the people he could talk to about things, and one of them was currently mad at him. And making his chest do things.

His friend may not even have a solution, but talking to someone would at least help him process it. In theory. Steeling himself, he pressed the call button and sat up. A few rings and Phichit was grinning back at him.

“Yuuri! Didn’t expect to hear from you so soon before the Cup of China.”

“I can hang up…”

“I’m kidding and you know it!” he giggled.

Yes, he did know he was kidding, but it didn’t help the jab of guilt he felt at not talking to his best friend more often. “Yeah. Um. Do you have a minute?”

“Sure. Let me set Pakpao on the floor in her ball. Don’t want her to roll off the bed.” A bright, green plastic ball passed over the screen and Phichit soon returned.

“Actually, it may be more than a minute.”

“No worries. I’m not on a schedule. What’s up?”

What was the easiest way to approach the subject?

The delay prompted Phichit to speak. “How are things with you and Viktor?”

Why did he always make it seem like they were an item whenever he asked?! “About that…”

Phichit’s eyes widened in anticipation, and he shifted in place to get comfortable.

“I was practicing for my gala exhibition tonight - you know, just in case - and Viktor came onto the ice with me and we had an impromptu pair skate.”

“First; do I get a hint on your gala piece? Second; how do you do an impromptu pair skate?”

He’d forgotten how much Phichit would ask questions. Then again, he would need the full story anyway. “Viktor’s letting me skate his free skate from last season. And… I don’t know, it just happened? Viktor is amazing like that. I was just following along.”

“Yeah, because he spends months and months over preparing each season. Which you have told me. Repeatedly.”

“So it’s not out of the ordinary?”

“Or it wasn't impromptu…”

“What reason would he have to plan a pair skate version of his program?”

“...Yuuri.”

“It was really easy to follow him since we both know it so well, but I didn’t get much practice for lifts since my ballet experience was fairly single and private.”

“Lifts? Yu-”

“There’s just no way the kiss could have been planned…”

The phone fell into Phichit’s lap. And then he was shaking it on purpose. “Wait, what, huh? YUURI! He kissed you?!”

The motion was dizzying, so Yuuri put his phone to the side until he was done. “Um… Yeah. That’s what I was calling you about, mostly.”

And maybe it wasn’t the wisest of decisions.

A few more excited cries later and Phichit simmered, as if knowing how much freaking out didn’t help with Yuuri’s freakouts. He closed his eyes and let out a very zen breath. “Okay. So. Coaches don't normally kiss their students. That's the kind of thing you find out in scandalous tabloids.”

Yuuri covered his face at the rising blush. “It’s not like that.”

“Then what is it like?”

“I… I don’t-- it’s not. Calling you really was a bad idea!”

“What else could him kissing you be?”

“Lapse in judgement?” The way Viktor came onto the ice… so entranced like he had been when they danced at the train station. It was his heart song, so of course it would have an effect on him. Relief from the world, something they could share together. They were friends. Besides, “Phichit… he’s Viktor Nikiforov! And I’m… just Yuuri.”

“‘Just Yuuri’ who Viktor Nikiforov decided was important enough to leave Russia for to personally coach. I think it means something more.”

“He was caught up in the moment. That was all. He’s here to better me as a skater since he saw that video.”

Phichit straightened and gave a very flat look. “You gonna have to take a selfie and snapchat it 'portrait of denial.’ I think he’s in love with you. Like, legit, not tabloid-y.”

“He could have anybody he wants in the world, Phichit!”

“And he’s choosing to spend all his time with you.”

“What if I asked him why he kissed me?”

“I think it’s pretty obvious, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to confirm. You can always put the eros on him. I bet that would clear things right up. Oh Viktor~” Phichit then proceeded to make kissy faces and sounds.

“S-stop that! This is way different than when I was a kid.”

“You. Are. In. Love. With. Viktor. Nikiforov.”

“I mean, my theme is love, cause that's probably what it is, but not like love-love.”

Phichit face-palmed. “Because you go around kissing everyone, right?”

“He kissed me and I... happened to react…”

“And he goes around kissing everyone.”

Neither of those statements were true, no matter how much the media tried to claim otherwise. Yuuri had made his own evaluations of the claims of Playboy Viktor Nikiforov and it never went further than rumors and forced stereotypes. There were plenty of opportunities for Viktor to have taken advantage of him. But he hadn’t. Other than their kiss hours ago.

And Yuuri had kissed back.

If Viktor kissed him for being caught in the moment, could the same be said for Yuuri?

In his younger years, he’d thought about kissing Viktor. But that had been different. A child looking up to someone. An innocent crush due to aspiration that made his heart flutter and get embarrassed at any mention of how pretty Viktor was or desire to hold his hand.

Then when Viktor came to the onsen, he’d thought the similar flutters that weighed were because he was ashamed of making a fool of himself at the Grand Prix Final, but happy and grateful for being coached by his idol, despite not understanding the why. Those reactions fled like the crush ones had over time.

Or so he thought.

He held his hand above his heart, feeling the palpitations there, clenching his shirt.

“Is it sinking in yet? I’ll wait.”

Sinking and spreading. “I’m an idiot. What if he’s been flirting with me this whole time?”

“Yeah, what if ?” Phichit tapped his chin.

Bile burned up his throat. “I’ll be back. I need to throw up.”

“Wait. Yuuri, no! He’s obviously willing to--” Phichit’s voice faded as Yuuri made his way out of the room, down the hall, and to the toilet.

He knelt at the porcelain toilet and allowed his anxious stomach to empty its contents. The sickly pressure gone, the emotional one gave way and heaving sobs followed.

This hurt wasn’t fleeting or juvenile. It was real.

Eventually he stood and flushed toilet and looked in the mirror. He was a mess. Unsure if it would do any good, he splashed water on his face, anyway. It have to do for now. Checking to make sure the hall was clear, Yuuri returned to his room to find Phichit still waiting on his screen and a tweet notification.

[What do u do when you make ur friend cry and it's a good thing but like u still feel rly rly bad?

#goodguy? #badguy? #harshtruths

[Sometimes u just gotta cry it out]

As much as Yuuri wanted to glare at Phichit for sub-outing him on his social feed, he was right. “TBH crying does make it better. So you have helped.”    

Phichit softened, maybe he was bracing himself to get yelled at. “Oh good! You, my friend, are a warrior.”

“More like an idiot with a plastic sword.”

“At least it's something! Whatcha gonna do now?”

Yuuri repositioned his phone on his pillow and slumped onto his stomach. “Still doesn't explain why he'd fall in love with me.... So I guess figuring that out is a thing.”

“Does it matter why? Can't he just, IDK, like you? Or does he have to fill out an application?”

Yuuri bit his lip, not having a response to that.

“Humor me for a sec? Let’s make a list of things to prove he loves you. No, seriously. I’m getting paper.” Phichit set his phone down, ceiling coming into view until he was back with a pad of paper and pen. And a white hamster on his shoulder. “Okay, go.”

“Is there really a point to this? I’m not…”

“Not what?”

Worthy? I lost the chance to stand with him as an equal . That was the goal he set to finally talk to him, after all. He was in the process of accepting he’d been in love with Viktor for years, how could he expect someone like Viktor to fall in love with him? “I’m… just Yuuri.”

“Again, Just Yuuri who Viktor Nikiforov put his career on hold for. Come on, give me something here.”

Yuuri looked around his room at the bare walls, eyes coming to his desk with the small framed photo and a plastic display box. It had the flower crown Viktor had made him at the Tanabata festival inside. He’d come home that evening and asked his mother to help him preserve it. “He… made me a flower crown.”

Finally getting an answer, Phichit smiled and set to work.

“He's patient with me. Doesn't get mad when I'm freaking out. He brought me miso in bed once.”

Phichit did a knowing eyebrow wiggle at him.

“Um. He’s a really good coach - runs through things with me. Taking a break from his career to do that like you said.”

“For you and only you.”

“My video inspired him.”

“And his program was like his, what did you call it? His heart calling?”

Yuuri nodded and thought back to the ice rink. How he came onto the ice and pair skated with him, was that Viktor answering him again? “And I kept skating with him... Lead and leading like a conversation. Caught in the song and dance as Viktor was. Starry-eyed.”

“You were both in your own little world?” Phichit slammed his hands on the notebook in his lap like he just received the greatest epiphany. “L-like the King and the Skater?!”

“Oh… I guess that’s a way to put it.”

“Ahhh he-you-he. Yuuri! Okay, so what do you want? Do you want him to love you?”

Yuuri clutched at his chest. “I've always loved him. Before I thought maybe it was just stupid crush I'd eventually get over. How could I ever stand a chance, anyway?”

“And now he lives in your house and skates with you every day and kissed you.”

“Then when he got here, I think I had been convincing myself that I was being a stupid fanboy again.”

“And now?”

“The feeling has gotten stronger and it hurts and…” tears welled in his eyes, and his heart seized tighter. “I don’t know what to do!”

“Aww, Yuuri! It’s okay. He’s with you until the Grand Prix Final. That’s plenty of time to figure this out, right? Honestly, if you’ve loved him forever and, going off this list, and him kissing you, I’d say you’re both in love with each other!”

“What if he finds out he doesn’t want to stay with me…”

“Why would he--ugh, Yuuri. If you try and he doesn't want to stay, he's going to leave. If you don't do anything, he's going to leave. What’ve you got to lose?!”

Yuuri rolled in his lip in thought. And to see if Viktor’s taste was still there. “Well… he actually ran away after he kissed me.”

“What would you do if you accidentally got caught up in the moment and kissed someone you liked but didn't know if they liked you back?”

“Regret? Probably run away, too…”

Phichit made another audible thinking sounding and took the hamster from his shoulder to pet her between her ears.

“He looked so pained. Like I’d slapped him. And then he was trying to laugh it off. Started talking himself down. I tried to tell him we could keep practicing… I didn’t want him to leave or keep feeling awkward about it. Cause obviously I was fine about it…”

“I’m trying to picture it… Guess he was hoping for a different response. It's not like you're psychic.” The hamster weaved between his fingers and ran up his arm and Phichit retrieved her before she could reach his shoulder again.

“I messed up.”

“Now you’re the one belittling yourself. You want my advice?”

“Just give up, because I'm already bad at this?”

“OMG you’re really bad at guessing my advice! Jeez, Yuuri.”

Yuuri winced.

His friend sighed and allowed his tiny critter to go where she pleased. “Do you still have The King and the Skater soundtrack that I sent you? Who am I kidding, of course you do. I'd kick you out of my harem if you didn't~”

The Harem he spoke of consisted of his home country of Thailand, his Instagram followers, pet hamsters, and then Yuuri. It was an odd way to collect and rank the most important things in your life, but Yuuri couldn’t complain about the sentiment. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I do,” he smiled, thinking of the playcount of the soundtrack.

“Good. Do me a favor and listen to track twelve. If you pay attention to the lyrics, you’ll understand. I promise! Be the King, Yuuri! Don't sell yourself short; there’s a lot to like about you.”

“It’s strange I’ve been doing this Eros skate for him in mind, because that’s what he’s told me to do in practice, but I never thought of the possibility of him actually…”

“So you’ve worked real hard to seduce him never expecting it to work?”

“Take longer... Maybe by then I'd believe it.

“He couldn't take it anymore. Your eros was too much for him, breaking down the barriers he had for trying to be all pro coach.”

“What if I'm really ruining his career?!”

Phichit held up his hands in defense. “He dug his own grave deciding to come teach you the eros dance. That’s all on him . Not your fault that you're so good at it~”

It was useless to hide the color on his face at this point, at which Phichit laughed. Everything his friend was saying made sense, felt like it made sense, yet it was all so difficult to for his mind to process. “Should a coach be dating their student? Asking for a friend…”

“Hehe, probably not, technically speaking, but secret affairs are always really fun and saucy. I don't think it's against the rules necessarily. Not that Viktor seems to care about the rules.”

“I AM going to ruin his career!”

“Again, that's his choice. Also, I can't say I'd date Ciao Ciao, but who’s to say you can't date Viktor? Oh, by the way, I saw your region competition floating around online. I took screencaps of Viktor hugging or putting his arm around you.There are tons.”

“...Really?”

“Yeah, really.”

“Uh, so... If Viktor also ran away to his room.... What do you think that means?”

“That he doesn't know if you want him to like you or not.”

“Oh...”

“You can get kinda cold when you're mad.”

Yuuri dragged his hands down face. It was true but, “I'm not mad, though! I didn't say anything that would-- did I?” He stopped to think and nothing came to mind what had he said that would make him believe he didn't like it? “He doesn't deserve this. I don't deserve him . I must have done something!”

“Whatcha gonna do about it?”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Storm into his room and lay a big fat kiss on him!”

“NO!” The thought was downright horrifying, what would that even prove? Aside that he’d never kissed before...

“Okay fine, have fun being awkward”

“And storming in there isn't awkward how?”

“At least it would be DOING something.”

“‘Sorry I'm a moody little bitch, imma kiss you now, okay’?”

“You don't have to say it like that. Plus, you're not a bitch, Yuuri. Though, you’re getting really heated and definitely need to calm down before you talk to him. Promise me?”

Yuuri took a long breath and exhaled. “Yeah, I can't tell to him like this. More of me to burden him with.”

“Yuuri, it's okay Just take it easy and relax and try to be normal. Try and sleep. It’s late. Okay I sent those screencaps.”

His phone pinged and a mail envelope appeared at his tool bar. With another heavy sigh, a pathetic laugh followed. “Thanks for talking to me. Sorry. I’m ridiculous.”

“It’ll work out somehow. Time for regrouping. Oh, and don’t forget to listen to the song. It’s important!”

“I will. I’ll… update you after I talk to him.”



I Will Be Teacher Now

From The King and the Skater

 

Teacher:

Sire, the evening is full of starlight

The air is scented with ginger, rose

and honeysuckle chrysanthemum

 

The river weaves such a beautiful song

Can you hear its melody sing for their king?

The water lilies bow to you

 

See what my cards can show you

Would you like to take to the ice again?

I can already hear the koel calling



King:

Who cares of the koel when you are here?

You speak of lily and orchid canopies

And stars in the sky

Yet all I see is your eyes



Teacher:

Summer sleeps entwined in this garden

Even ice remains, enchanted in place

Devoted and loyal as any you've touched

 

Ah, here I can explain about the rain

And how it scatters the grain, on the plains, in-

 

[speaking] Your Majesty?

...Oh, he's distracted again. Well. No matter.

 

Look how the petals have fallen to the bank

Drifting back toward the surface

A feather on ice, under twilight sparkling heavens

 

Sailing in a dream that we share-

-with the shining birds in willing splendor

Shall we skate again, like we did before?

 

King:

Skate like we did before?

When a king was in the arms of a man

Who says everything but the feelings of his own heart?

Perhaps I will be teacher now

 

[speaking] A king doesn't waste time with words.

 

Teacher:

[speaking] Pardon?

 

King:

I will be teacher now

You will listen to me

Hold my hand, watch my eyes

And find you have much to learn

 

Teacher:

[speaking] Your majesty, I don't know what you're talking ab-

 

King:

I will be teacher now

Ignore the birds and the waxing moon

Show me what you really feel

I can even tell you how

 

Teacher:

But... the moon is waning,

And the air is so sweet

Perhaps a walk would be preferred?

 

King:

[speaking] No.

 

Teacher:

[speaking] No?

 

King:

I will be teacher now

And you will listen well

There is no need for words

This embrace will prove my love

 

Teacher:

[Speaking, soft gasp] ...Oh!



Sleep came easier than Yuuri had imagined, and he thanked being emotionally exhausted. Waking up with his alarm was good, that way he’d be on time for breakfast and to meet Viktor at the rink. Not disrupting routine was a sign things were good, right?  

He dressed and made his way down to the table where Mari and his breakfast were waiting.

She took a drag of her cigarette, giving him a sympathetic look, “Did you and Viktor fight?” Was it really that obvious something had happened between them? “Why? Was he okay this morning?”

“A little more neurotic than usual. Tetchy. I mean, I’m used to you being in a bad mood in the mornings, but Viktor is the happiest person I know to be awake at the buttcrack of dawn.”

Yuuri reached for his small bowl of tamago kake gohan. “Not really a fight… Maybe a misunderstanding? Did he still head to the rink?”

“As far as I know.”

If Viktor was at the rink, that was a good sign. That meant he wasn’t avoiding him.

He finished his meal, zipped up his hoodie, and started his morning run to Ice Castle Hasetsu.

 

There were mornings Viktor was on the ice already, may it be skating his old routines or going over what he was to teach Yuuri for the day. Or standing at the barrier with clipboard in hand with the day’s exercises, a bright smile on his face.

Today’s was the latter, though he hardly looked up from his work to greet Yuuri; a brief “Good morning,” and then “Let’s start from the top.”

Yuuri didn’t argue and stripped off his tracksuit into his warm-ups, then laced up his skates to start with the short program.

Viktor didn’t join him once, staying firmly on the sidelines of the barrier, barking at him more than usual. At least lately. Any changes they would undoubtedly make would be after seeing the competition and adjust as seen fit.

But now… Viktor was taking it - whatever emotion it was - out on him. None of the corrections were out of the ordinary, but the frequency and tone were projecting way too much for Yuuri to blame his own stubbornness and defiance. Between the drilling and mental and emotional uncertainty, Yuuri was exhausted when they finished for the morning.

“Watch that free leg, Yuuri.”

“Yeah, I will,” he said, for the fifth time that day, slipping back on his warm-ups.

“Hold tighter on the rotation on that last quad. Getting too loose there.”

Zip. Pack away skates. With practice over, maybe they could talk. “Sure. Hey, Viktor?”

“Need to work on sticking that landing in the second half, too.”

“Viktor?”

“Tomorrow we’ll work on refining that with more drills.”

Still wasn’t listening. Or hearing him. His back was turned to him, engrossed in what was written on the clipboard and coach mode. That never seemed to stop him before from pausing if Yuuri had a question. Yuuri pushed off the bench and took a few steps towards him while Viktor continued to rattle off a checklist and touched his shoulder.

The reaction was immediate; a jump with a sharp intake of breath, turning to face him, taking a step back.

Yuuri held up his hands, “S-sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

A few blinks and Viktor looked less frightened, but still on edge. “No. It’s… fine, Yuuri. What is it?”

“Um. About yesterday?”

“Oh. Don’t worry about! Just chalk it up to the playboy in me. I can’t help it.” He forced a small smile. “You know what they say. Literally. You've... probably read every one of those magazines."

“I’ve read them.”

Viktor, put a hand on his hip, looking anywhere but at him. “Then none of this should be a surprise to you, I guess.”

“Doesn’t mean I believe them.”

He was quiet at that, thoughtful in how to respond. A few more moments and he wet his lips with a swipe of his tongue before finally speaking. “Well. Not every story was a lie.”

What parts were true in that case?

Viktor huffed, cheeks tinting a little in pink. "...I'm going to run some errands. Go ahead and take the rest of the day. You earned it."

How had he earned it? Viktor spent the whole morning session telling him everything needed work! “Uh-”

“See you tomorrow morning!” And with that, Viktor dropped the keys for Yuuri to lock up.

 

With that incident, it was clear Viktor really was upset and avoiding talking about it. It was like how it had been at the bookstore, but ten times worse. Although, the bookstore did give him an idea and reminded him of a promise. Now having the day off, Yuuri showered and changed into street clothes and walked to Minako’s studio to catch her right after her morning class.

The door chime sang as he entered. He removed his shoes at the genkan walked up the ramp on his toes like he did when he was five to find Minako doing her after class routine of stretches.

She caught his reflection behind her. “Good morning, Yuuri. Joining me today?”

“Until your next class at least. I’ve got the day off.” He padded over to shelf where Minako kept her many pairs of slippers, and Yuuri found his tucked away behind them.

“Ah, your coach giving you a break?”

“Something like that. I also have a favor to ask.”

“Always an ulterior motive with you.”

He chuckled as he took position beside her. “I like doing two things at once I guess.”

“I’m intrigued. Go on.”

“Would it be all right if Viktor and I used your studio every once in awhile to dance?”

She narrowed her eyes whilst pulling her leg up and over her head. “You want to use the studio to dance with Viktor?”

Yuuri nodded and balanced on a foot to do the same.

“Look at you being all Mr. Forward.” If her hands hadn’t been occupied, Yuuri was sure she’d be jabbing his side with an elbow.

“H-he just wants to dance.”

With you.”

He nodded. It did typically take two people to dance, after all.

“Sounds pretty romantic to me~”

“Maybe a little.”

“I don’t mind if you two use it. I’ll have to look at my schedule. I’ve got the place wired with cameras, too.”

“What do you think we’d be doing?!”

“You have a crush and he has a rep, I’m just playing it safe. But I guess he’s alone with you all the time, the setting shouldn’t change anything.”

That much was true. Hence why Yuuri was led to believe more and more Viktor wasn’t what the media claimed he was. “Can I... ask you something else?”

The hesitance in his voice didn’t go unnoticed by her. Her leg finished extending and she let it drop to the floor. “...I'm listening.”

Yuuri too abandoned his exercise. “If someone kissed you and then later they seemed upset about it, what would you do?”

Her eyes widened and she lunged forward to grip his shoulders. “Oh my god, you kissed Viktor Nikiforov and you freaked out!”

“W-what! No! It wasn't me! I mean, I-I. No! Viktor kissed me!

“Okay, so your newly found womanly wiles finally sunk in? I’m so proud of you!”

He hadn’t considered that. “...Oh. Maybe. I don't really know. That's not the point. Answer my question, please?” How was she condemning Viktor one moment and then proud of Yuuri the next for seducing him?

Minako pulled away, placing her arms akimbo. “Is asking for the use of my studio related to the kiss?”

“I actually promised him on the way back from Fukuoka. He was feeling down, there was a song playing we both liked, so I took his hand and danced with him. It cheered him right up! I thought if I could bring him here, it would have the same results.”

“...Yuuri, there are some juicy details you're not telling me.”

“There's nothing juicy to say!”

“You danced with your crush. That is a big deal. This is something you used to get all cute and flail about doing when you were little.”

“I wasn't thinking of it that way, then.”

“And you are now?”

His heart skipped a beat. It wasn’t his intention for asking permission, but the thought of holding his hand in dance, or skating, again…

“Wow, you’re all reeeed.”

All he could do was nod, the burning in his face wouldn’t stop.

“So, let me get this straight: Viktor kissed you and now he’s seemingly upset about it. You want to try and smooth it over by dancing with him? There’s a step missing somewhere.”

“Well, we’d talk about it. Figure out why he’s upset. Tell him he doesn’t need to be. That I, uh, liked it.”

“And that you’d marry him tomorrow if he asked.”

“No I would not! Speaking of missing steps, jeez.”

“Boyfriend, then?”

“That… sounds more my speed, yeah.”

“My little Yuuri all grown up.” Minako took a step forward and clapped his shoulders, head bowed, then raised, “See? You knew what to do before you even asked me. This plan has merit and I will do my part to see it through.”

 

The next morning after practice, Yuuri approached Viktor with renewed purpose. He had respected Viktor’s space and let him be after being told to have the day off and hoped that would earn him his graces and would may be more attentive to what he had to say.

“I talked to Minako-sensei yesterday,” he started, feeling his nerves trying to take over. “She gave us the go ahead to use her studio once a week. Sorry it took me so long to ask, but, looks like we can.”

There was a flicker of excitement behind his ice blue eyes, face softening at the proposition, and then it was gone. He cleared his throat, authoritatively. “No. We need to work on your programs. We’re only a month out from The Cup of China. We have to focus. Can’t afford to be distracted. Until evening practice, I want you to do your usual exercise routine.” He motioned to pick up his duffle bag, but stopped when he realized he was already holding it. “Got your things? Let’s lock up for the morning staff.”

Too stunned to object, Yuuri followed Viktor out the door.

 

Yuuri’s plan failed and it was a hard blow. If Viktor rejected an invitation to dance, what else could he do to try to bridge the gap that was between them now? Approaching directly certainly didn’t work. Food and gifts would be bribery and he didn’t want to seem desperate.

All Viktor wanted was to talk about the upcoming event, his programs, the buzz in the media. Business. Any attempt at anything else was quickly dismissed.

After the fourth day of failed ideas, Yuuri decided to give his coach what he wanted - silence unless it was about skating. Impersonal and detached.

It hurt to give up, but he couldn’t risk making things worse and push his coach away further. Coaching was why Viktor was here, he couldn’t jeopardize that by being a pest.  

He wish he knew what he did to make Viktor like this and he’d hoped being pleasant and acting like things were fine would prove that he liked the kiss. And he’d kissed back. Or at the very least, their relationship didn’t need to change and remain as it was.

But no, Viktor acted like Yuuri had rejected him. No matter how many times Yuuri went over the pair skate in his memory and their discussion afterwards, he couldn’t figure out what went wrong.

 

Over the next few days of Yuuri relenting his efforts, he noticed a shift in Viktor’s avoidance. Rather than being quick to get out of Yuuri’s presence or jumpy, he seemed melancholy and resigned to be around him. He’d given him the peace he wanted and now it was like Viktor was pouting about it? Which confused Yuuri more than the previous attitude. He supposed it was better than getting snapped at.

On Sunday when they finished practice and dinner was eaten and cleared, Yuuri stood to stretch and announced he’d be taking a bath. He had expected that to be the last he’d see of Viktor until tomorrow, as it had been since the incident, but Viktor stopped him with the call of his name at the table.

“Yuuri. I think we should discuss hair and makeup choices for your programs. Can we do it after your bath?”

His voice was subdued and he didn’t quite look at him when he asked. But it was Viktor talking to him, proposing interaction that wasn’t skating (okay, it was skating related, but they weren’t on the ice), Yuuri didn’t want to say no and chance for the worst. Yuuri smiled gently. “Yeah. That sounds great.”

“Would you mind if I joined you?”

Yuuri had never been so excited for a bath in all his life.

 

He had never regretted something so much in all his life.

A bath was something they had shared casually pre-kiss almost nightly and it hadn’t been an issue, other than Yuuri trying to be polite for modesty sake. With all the new/renewed feelings raging, it was proving incredibly difficult to be polite in his line of vision and thoughts. He was glad Viktor was keen on keeping his distance. If only it were for the same reasons, he’d almost feel relieved.

The temperature was brisk and tranquil, cicadas singing their last songs before disappearing for the colder months. Moonlight cast on the ripples of the water and seemed to make Viktor’s pale features glow. It was all so picturesque. And unfair.

Viktor propped himself up on his elbows over the pool’s edge, allowing Yuuri an appreciative view of the slender curve of his back, narrowing and dipping into the soft muscles of buttocks. He wanted to run his hands down it…

  Blinking hard, Yuuri forced his gaze higher, traveling up his spine and broad shoulders.

What once was sharp of Viktor’s features had toned and softened, filling out his frame. Healthy.

Yuuri turned his head to the side as Viktor pulled off from the edge to turn around and rest his back instead. He brought a hand to his fringe, dampening the ends as he pushed it out of his eyes.

The movement was entrancing. Especially when coupled with leaning his head back for a breath and a swallow, Adam’s apple bobbing down his long neck.

Yuuri sunk into the water, praying for strength to get through the rest of this bath. However long it would last.

“Yuuri, don’t stay under too long. That’s one of the first things you taught me when using the hot springs.”

He jolted up, voicing cracking. “Huh? Y-yeah, you’re right. Let me know when you’re done.” So I can prepare myself to look away…

Viktor hummed and settled in once more, contentedly letting his eyelids waver to the heat of the water. He looked so much more relaxed than he’d been in a while, and that realization made Yuuri happy.  

There was little warning when Viktor did eventually stand to get out, but Yuuri caught the motion enough in advance to avert his eyes. Then followed after when hearing the rustle of a towel.

The pair dressed, backs turned to one another, grabbed the bag that Viktor brought along with him for the evening into the broiler room where it was quiet and they wouldn’t be disturbed as easily as in the house.

At least they were clothed, now, but the light from the broiler and soft moonlight illuminating the steam from the springs through the the shutters was almost as bad. Soon Yuuri would be the center of Viktor’s attention and he wished he could question why he agreed to it. It was something that needed to be done, much to the dismay of Yuuri’s awakened frustrations.

Viktor sat him him down in one chair, pulled up a taller stool from himself behind him, and a final stool to ready his tools.

“Hair first?”

That made sense. With hair done, it would be out of his face for the makeup. “Yeah. Sounds good.”

Yuuri turned his head to watch Viktor unzip a bag that rolled out into a long cloth with vinyl slots and holders for makeup and hair supplies of all kind. Was this something Viktor always had on him for competition? Recalling his trivia, Viktor usually did do his own makeup, yeah. He’d be using Viktor’s…

He bit his lip.

Viktor ran his fingers through Yuuri’s hair, deeming it wet enough from their bath to continue. Taking a comb, he made deliberately even strokes through the strands, scalp to ends, one hand holding his head steady so not to pull.

Yuuri closed his eyes. He always liked it when others did his hair. Would Viktor be the one to do this from now on? Why else would he want to practice on style?

“Would you like something similar to the qualifiers?”

Honestly he came up with something last minute and it happened to work. “What would you do to improve it?”

“More volume. A better comb would define the grain of your hair as well. Gel for hold. More sophisticated.”  

“Let’s go with that.”

Being behind him, he couldn’t see Viktor’s face, but his voice… something was off. Bored? No…

Little was said as Viktor set to work on his hair, gently combing his way through Yuuri’s dark locks and styling it into position. Viktor rubbed gel onto his fingertips, intricate touches like picking up rice one grain at a time. With as short as Yuuri’s hair was, the task was, likewise, short.

“What do you think?” Viktor asked, holding a mirror in front of him do see.

It was enough of a difference that Yuuri could tell someone that knew what they were doing had their way with it. Sophisticated. Refined. Perfect. “Wow.”

“Amazing what some product can do.”

“Yeah! I really like it.”

“Test run of hair; complete. Now for your makeup.” A clink of plastic on wood, and then wood on wood as Viktor moved the stool to sit in front of him, tool stool within reach.

Now Yuuri could watch him. Which was both a good thing and a bad thing.

Unscrewing the cap of the moisturizer, Viktor squeezed a large dollop in one palm, inserted a finger, then dabbed at Yuuri’s forehead, cheeks, and chin, until it was spread throughout his entire face. He held three tubes of foundation up to Yuuri to choose the closest tone. Yuuri could never remember, so was glad the silence wasn’t for him to decide when Viktor made a selection. More cold goop all over his skin, touch delicate like Viktor was touching a hot surface. Tickle of blush.

The eyes were next and little was said between them or consulted on. Yuuri trusted Viktor to make the right choices, he just found it odd he wasn’t asking for input for the makeup. He’d be right in assuming he knew little beyond basic covering up and contouring. Trying to decipher the colors from the dark tubes and pencils, he couldn’t be sure on the shades being applied to his face.

“Close your eyes.”

Yuuri did so, once more confused at his tone. They hadn’t discussed what had happened, but Yuuri had hoped their time tonight was some sort of compromise. Maybe it wasn’t.

Small bristles painted on his eyelids.

When asked to open them, he caught Viktor looking back at him mildly strained. Did he look bad?

“Mascara.”

Looking upwards, he could see more of his coach’s troubling expression. Did he not want to do this? He frowned.

The frown was straightened once Viktor set to work on his lips, all the while, Yuuri continuing to observe this odd behavior.

A few more touchups with a brush on his cheeks and nose and Viktor held the mirror up once more.

Yuuri’s brown eyes were accentuated in charcoal tones with a bronze highlight. Lips a pale pink like his blush. Simple, but enough to merit the word-

“Stunning,” Viktor breathed, but lacking in the enthusiasm Yuuri had come to expect.

Looking from the mirror to Viktor standing behind it, he was hardly concerned about the makeup anymore, but the stark difference of their eyes.

“Thank you. It looks great,” Yuuri said, taking the mirror from Viktor’s hands. “Viktor? You… look tired.”

Viktor’s blue eyes widened at that. It was so easy to notice this close, did Viktor not realize? He dropped his gaze to the floor between them, hunching his shoulders, but said nothing.

“You should take the day off tomorrow. Get some rest.”

He looked up at what Yuuri hoped sounded like a gentle order, brows furrowing in uncertainty.

“We can do something fun together? Or, uh, if you want to be alone… that’s fine, too.”

Viktor blinked and shook his head, worrying at his lip. Still silent.

“I don't want you to overwork yourself for me. I can't be at my best when you are…” Yuuri waved his hands at him in a useless gesture, “Like this.” Tired. Worn. Sad. Miserable?

A laugh, small and awkward, followed. “Do I really look that bad?”

Taking advantage of Viktor’s lowered head, he poked his whorl. “It just may be thinning.”

Pulling away, Viktor brought a hand to his head, blinking, then gave a faint smile. “You're so mean, Yuuri…” he mumbled. “But you're probably not wrong.” Pursing his lips, he looked down again. Thinking. Hesitating. “Yuko... was saying something about how they go camping. I've only ever been once…”

He wanted to go camping? He didn’t seem like the outdoorsy type, but maybe that’s because he didn’t  have many opportunities. Maybe it was too cold in Russia to really enjoy it? Viktor, who had spent the week mad at him, was asking to go camping. With him. Yuuri couldn’t say no to that if he tried. “Hmm a little cooler than normal for camping, but ... I think we can do that. We can hike a trail nearby. It’s not an official campsite, but should be fine for a night. Spend the night. Come back in the morning?”

Viktor’s face had softened by the second. “Can Makkachin come?”

“Of course! He’d love it.” Yuuri couldn’t imagine leaving their four-legged companion.

“Good. He'd be mad if we left him behind.”

“Then we better not leave him out!”

 

While a reconnect was pending with their approaching campout in a few days, they still hadn’t discussed the kiss. Viktor’s gloom was most concerning, and Yuuri was convinced it wasn’t just because he was tired and overworked. Already he’d proven the methods he had wouldn’t work.

“Did you listen to that song?” Phichit asked over video chat once he’d cleaned the makeup off in getting ready for bed.

Yuuri slumped onto his desk. “Of course I did. I don’t think Viktor has seen the movie, though.”

“Maybe if he saw he’d also understand and then he’d kiss you for real!”

“Not a bad idea to ask, but I don’t know if it’ll be that simple. He agreed to go camping at least. Somehow I still think he’s going to avoid talking about it.”

“Somehow you gotta wheedle it out of him… hmm.” Phichit scratched a hamster’s back in his palm like an evil genius in the movies would with a cat. “Wait! I can’t believe I haven’t thought of this before; your books! What would they do in those saucy romances in this situation?”

“They’re not all saucy!” While at university, Yuuri had taken to binge reading cheap romances novels on his phone during down time. It was an enjoyable way to improve his English. And no, they weren’t all saucy.

“Still, all lovey-dovey stuff, right? Just do what they do.”

 

Between morning and evening practice, Yuuri snuck away to talk to Minako. He didn’t need her to know about what he read in his leisure time (it’d open up way too many doors for blackmail fodder), so left out the bit where he spoke with Phichit.

She tapped her chin, then her lips curled into a knowing smirk. “Just use your newly discovered womanly wiles.”

“What do you mean, exactly?” Although after his friend’s suggestion, his mind was already starting to lean the direction of Minako’s suggestion:

“Flirt with him. Be obnoxious and drop some hints. Be savage.”

“I-I don’t know if I can…”

“Just think of all the stereotypically petty girlfriend drama you see in anything. He kissed you, Yuuri. He obviously has feelings for you. He’s just being an asshole about it. Don’t let him get a free pass.”

 

With renewed purpose, Yuuri arrived at the rink for evening practice, mind racing for how to begin. Couldn’t start too strong. That’d be suspicious. Even though resorting to these tactics at all was suspicious. But… if Viktor was going to act weird and not own up to it, this was only fair. He just hoped it wouldn’t make things worse.

Skating went without incident. Viktor still quieter than usual, reserved in his emotions and comments, but at least he didn’t make Yuuri’s heart ache so much with guilt. The prospect of their outing made him hopeful. And now…

Yuuri let the momentum of the blades take him across the ice to the barrier where Viktor stood with clipboard in hand, making figures. “Viktor?” He waited until he was looking at him before he reached to touch his arm. Then gave a sweet smile and said, “Thank you for today.”

The pen in Viktor’s hand dropped and rolled onto the clipboard and to the floor.

Maybe this wouldn’t be as hard as he thought.

 

Yuuri, having never dated before, let alone flirted, was getting a thrill from seeing Viktor get so worked up over his tactics. Over the following days, some attempts garnered more of a reaction than others.

Blatant attempts usually resulted in confused stares--

 

"I hope you like bad boys... because I'm bad at everything ."

Honestly he couldn’t fault Viktor for not being impressed. Or looking at him like he just showed up to skate in a fish costume. It was pretty pathetic. Pick up lines were not his forte and he tried to avoid them after that.

 

-- while the blending praise with appreciation managed to be very effective. Like thanking him for practice and being a good coach, reinforcing he liked the makeup and hair from the other night. Bringing his fanboyism into it didn’t get much beyond a thanks and a smile back, until he mentioned the only reason he knew how to do certain techniques was because of him. Then he’d blush and look away again.

 

Dropping hints that might have been a bit too obvious, but was too playful to be ignored, though; that seemed to be what really got Viktor riled.

 

“I think someone who sings is really nice.”

“I guess it's too bad that I can't sing,” said, Viktor sniffing, and picked up his clipboard. “Are you skating today or what?”

“Modest, too.”

“Yuuri. Ice. Now!”

 

“Someday I hope to get a bouquet of flowers after I podium.”

“Really? You haven’t ever received flowers?”

“Not of my faaaaavorite,” Yuuri pouted.

“And what’re your favorite?”

“Camellias.” That was true, at least.

“I’ll be sure to make that happen. If you podium.”

 

And sometimes Viktor would start--

“What’s it today? Are you going to tell me that you like candlelit dinners, too?

A pause Yuuri played cheekily thoughtful, when really he was thinking “With an ocean view. I want to hear the waves.”

Long stare, cheeks pinkening and a pointed glance away. “Okay. Well. Good to know. Seems kind of excessive, but I'll keep that in mind. Do you have a preference in wine, too?”

“Red wine.” Probably? Sounded romantic at least.

“Noted.”

Yuuri even saw him write it down for show.

 

But when he tried to play into finding out what Viktor liked, be it real or convoluted for the sake of the game they started to play, Viktor just couldn’t .

 

“Do you have a favorite flower?”

Stammering. “I… blu.. Yuuri. Get back to work.”

 

“What other animals do you like?”

Flushed. “What? Poodles are enough.”

 

“If you could go to any place in the world with your lover, where would it be?”

Hunched shoulders, a quick about face. “I’m not…”

 

“Ideal first date?”

Blatant avoidance. The tables had turned.

 

Yuuri would keep trying, but so far, dropping the hints, may they be true or not, did pique an obvious reaction. He’s just have to keep up the game. Either way, Viktor seemed to be having fun, and seeing a smile here and there - even a reluctant, secret one - was satisfying.  

 

In the late afternoon, the pair and their dog set out carrying their own sleeping bags and blankets upon their backs, and a sack each of what Mama Katsuki made them for dinner and breakfast for the morning.

Yuuri lead the way through the forest line along the coast, Makkachin running around and between them, barking at the birds and squirrels and his own happiness to be outside with his two favorite people.

Before the sun could start its final descent into sundown, they reached their destination in a small clearing in the forest. Yuuri explained his father used to take he and Mari out here when they were little. Far enough away to not see the city, but close enough if they needed to return home quickly with summer rains.

Firewood and kindling was gathered, and Yuuri set a match to it, and coaxed it into life to warm up their stew in time for twilight.

While they ate, Viktor told a story about how the rabbit stole the moon, explaining they lacked paw pads because they rubbed off due to trying to keep the moon in their paws. With the moon full on the sky as they laid out their sleeping arrangements was the temperatures dropped, Yuuri tried to picture the rabbits trying their very best to hold on.

A breeze rattled the nearby tries, a comfortable lull in conversation, until Yuuri felt Viktor’s eyes on him. “What?”

Viktor rubbed his hands on his jeans. “It’s so quiet.” A twig snapped in the fire, startling him, but then he smiled and relaxed in spite of himself.

“Yeah. It's nice sometimes.”

Tugging on the sleeves of his hoodie to coax them from his jacket and cover his fingers, Viktor turned his gaze to the sky. “We could be the last people in the whole world.”

“It kind of feels that way out here, huh?” There was a time the thought would have startled him, being alone. Not so much now with Viktor. “Peaceful, though.”

“Yeah…”  He dropped his gaze again, leveling it on Yuuri once more, who pulled his hood up. “Yuuri…”

“Hmm?”

“Do you ever... think about what you'll do when you retire?”

Yuuri smirked. “I thought we were the last people on Earth? We wouldn't need to think about that stuff?”

“Hah…” Viktor managed a weak smile in return. “I guess you're right. No competitions or anything, so no need to stop skating.”

“Yeah…” But, reality wise... Hmm. Well. “When I quit skating, I tried to think about that. My schooling was finished. My skating career would have only lasted a few more years, anyway. Probably help out at the onsen until I figured something out.”

Viktor gave a thoughtful nod, reaching over to pet Makkachin's head. The dog didn’t even bother to give anything more than a quiet sigh in return. “Did it scare you? Not knowing?”

“Of course it did. My career, my dream, ended before I wanted it to, so I was upset about that for a while. But around the time I picked myself up…” A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “You helped. There’s time to figure it out. Not knowing is scary, but I'm also not a good planner!”

The admission drew a little chuckle from Viktor, who turned his head away like he had been all week to avoid showing his reaction.

“Um. So. Maybe I'm being lazy?” Was that for agreeing with him or admitting he also wasn’t a good planner? Maybe they were both professional procrastinators on top of skating.  

“At least I bought you some time I guess. You're not being lazy, though; we're going after your dream right now.”

“Well, I mean, after that.”

“I guess we'll see after the Grand Prix Final, when you have gold in your hand.”

“Go for the next dream.”

“Yeah... I guess so. I think you have a good few years left in you. I told Christophe to watch out.”

“R-really?” They were friends, so it wasn’t really surprising, but how much was he exaggerating?

“Mmmhmm. He needs some good competition.”

“And you think that's me?”

“Of course I do! I trained you myself; you're going to give everyone a good shakeup.”

“Ahh but he's like second amazing.”

Viktor rolled his eyes. “Hell, I'd love to compete against you.”

“Wh-what? Really?”

“Yeah, really. But I'm your coach. And Chris... Chris gets bored so easily. He's worried that no one is going to keep him motivated. Between you and Yurio, though....”

“I will do my best to not bore him!”

Viktor laughed. “Good. And the rest of them, too. Don't want them to get complacent with me gone.”

While they were at it… “So, uh, what about you? After you retire?”

There was a long, awkward pause, and Yuuri almost regretted asking until Viktor finally answered. “Oh... I keep trying to figure that out, but I've been skating so long, and it's all I've ever wanted to do, that I... have no idea.”

“You’ve been a really good coach.” Would he want to continue doing it, or was Yuuri enough?

“Thanks... I guess we'll see how this season goes.” Flustered again, Viktor rubbed his neck with just the tips of his fingers.

“We'll both prove ourselves this season.”

“It's hard to imagine life without skating... competing... sort of empty...but coaching could be…” He sucked in a breath, frowning, and let it go. “I always thought I’d make it into the Olympics one more time. I didn’t realize I’d gotten so ol- Hey!”

Yuuri stretched over to touch his whirl in the name of age, but Viktor ducked, instead falling to his side on his sleeping bag, defeated, hands covering the top of his head.

“Yuuri! Mean!”

“You’re not old. Though I guess they won’t let you compete much longer out of recommendation for safety.”

“Regardless, with this latest stunt I've pulled, I don't know if they'll allow it anyway.” Viktor stretched out on the sleeping bag, uncovering his head. “I'm always on thin ice with the Russian Skating Federation.”

“You, uh, did it out of the goodness of your heart. If I win, doesn’t that count?”

Viktor chuckled. “For Japan…”

“Oh. Right.” It was so easy to forget, sometimes. The race and culture between them.

Viktor breathed and rolled onto his back, Makkachin promptly draping on him. The thought crossed Yuuri’s mind to flop on him as well, but didn’t. Instead, Yuuri left the rock he’d been sitting on by the fire to sit on his own sleeping back. With Yuuri on the low ground, Makkachin came to see him, Viktor mumbling ‘traitor’ after him. May it be out of spite, or to be cute, Viktor reached into his bag for a cream-colored knit hat with ear flaps. It was too cute. Yuuri felt personally attacked. Especially when he laid on his side and propped himself up with a hand on his cheek.

“There's just something about the Olympics that's different…”

The contentedness he felt over Viktor’s cuteness started to waver. “Than World's?"

“Yeah... Because you see all of these different athletes from everywhere. So many different sports and they all want to be there. Everyone loves what they do so much… It's not just figure skating: so many dreams, from all over the world, coming together in one place.”

"Yeah. That part was definitely neat.”

“You? ...oh.”

Yuuri kept to petting Makkachin. Maybe Viktor would drop the subject. Not likely. It wouldn’t be fair, what with Yuuri asking probing questions, and Yuuri hadn’t averted it smoothly, either.

“That makes sense, since you're the top figure skater of Japan…”

“Yeah. Didn't amount to much there, though.”

“It's… a saturated competition.” Then, hesitantly, “Sochi?”

“Yeah.”

“You must really love Russia. The Winter Olympics, last year’s Grand Prix Final, the home country of your obnoxious coach…”

He snorted. “Not like I had a choice in going there. It's... not the location's fault. You were there. And you won. It was incredible watching from the stands.”

“You watched me~? Of course you did.”

“I was glad I was there for that.”

“A lot of people were there; people who don't normally watch figure skating. People all over the world watched. Saw what we did.” Viktor sighed. “I'm glad you were there, too. Sorry you didn't have a better time, though. I guess a lot of people didn't.”

“Seeing people become fans is always fun. It wasn't a good experience for me, no.”

“I’d ask what happened, but that’s probably a stupid question.”

“I don't want to ruin your vision of the Olympics. Even though I'm sure you saw the same things I did. Mostly I... lost pretty early on and it hit me hard. I wasn't in a good state of mind, and the atmosphere didn't help.”

“Doping scandals and shady dealings not really your scene, huh?” He offered a  weak smile.

Yuuri shook his head, shivering. “It would have been worse if Mari hadn't been with me.”

“It was kind of a mess, wasn't it? I lost count of how many drug tests they had me do…”

“Awful. All of it.”

“I don't know; it was kind of poetic. Like a beautiful train wreck. Maybe you’re right. You work so hard to get there, jump through all of their hoops, only to find out that there are wolves there, too. Nothing is sacred, I guess.”

Viktor had worked hard since he was young through his skating career, and yet, “‘That’s right, you weren’t in the games during your senior debut… I always wondered why.”

“Yes, it’s strange, isn’t it? Why wouldn’t the Junior World Champion be part of the Olympic team? So, so strange.”

There was a bitterness there that Yuuri could have missed, had he not known better. "Did it... have to do with your hair?"

Viktor kept his gaze on the stars. “All we were told was that I wasn't qualified. Everything else was speculation. When I talked to a rep, he said…” A pause. “...a lot of things, really, but it came down to that I wasn't ready to represent Russia. Georgi went instead. And Sasha.”

"So you really don’t know why?"

"Oh. I know."

"Oh. But you... can't say." Of course it wouldn’t be that easy. Disappointing.

Viktor shifted in his sleeping bag, prompting Makkachin to slither between them. “No.”

Yuuri hugged his legs. “I’m sorry.”

"It's okay. We're the only ones left in the world, right? So it doesn't matter… We can both win gold in every event."

"We can invent the rules."

"I was going to say that I'd win gold for being best coach, but if you want to be silly, sure..." Viktor turned a smile to him, an ear flap draped over his cheek, distorting it a little.

The fire crackled, slowly dying.

“This is nice,” Viktor said, breaking the silence of nature. “Makkachin and I would sleep out in the backyard growing up sometimes, but the only other time I went camping was with Yakov.”

Viktor was volunteering information. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. He tried to take me hunting.”

“Oh?”

“But I can’t talk about that, either.”

“Oh.” Can’t or won’t?

He smiled wide, coy and pleased, fingers on his lips.

“Viktor.”

What else wouldn’t he answer…?

“Hmm?”

“Why did you kiss me?”

Stunned silence followed, like a chill.

“Or... can you not talk about that, either?”

Viktor swallowed, shoulders rolling up as he shied away, brows furrowing. “The truth… Yuuri…”

Yuuri waited. Was he really going to-

“...Look, drama follows me wherever I go... so it... doesn't matter why I did it…”

He felt his heart sink.

“This isn't about me . This,” he gestured at the starry sky. “Is about you. I’ve had my fairy tale already. This isn’t Viktor Nikiforov’s time. This is Yuuri Katsuki’s. And a good fairy godmother doesn’t… kiss Cinderella and distract her from the ball. Not when she has lots of gold medals to win.” He dropped his arm. “It’s my job to get you to the ball and nothing more.”

“But the fairy godmother did kiss Cinderella.”

Instead of responding, Viktor turned onto his other side, back to Yuuri.

“But if it was just an accident... That's that, then.”

“I can't mess this up for you, Yuuri.”

How would kissing him mess it up? Didn’t love make people stronger? That was always something that brought comfort to Yuuri. Was Viktor someone that thought being with someone was a hinderance? If he said he liked the kiss, having been told it was an accident, it probably wouldn’t do any good.

“l was selfish... I'm sorry, Yuuri.”

“You don't need to apologize.” He really didn’t, because he did like the kiss, he did feel something, and it had consumed his thoughts and very actions for the last week and he had no intention of stopping. Not for a second. “I've always wanted to go stargazing. Maybe not with a fairy godmother, though.”

Viktor rolled back over to face him. Skeptical.

Yuuri continued. “What good does someone with infinite wisdom get out of looking at infinity?”

“Sorry to disappoint. Fairy godmothers aren't perfect. You know that, right? We make mistakes constantly. Obviously. To be honest, we’re just retired princesses, anyway. Just people in the end.”

“Do they still have to learn what their godchild needs?”

“Well, yeah...”

“Even after the initial call?

“Sure. They just do their best and use their resources to try to make dreams come true… I had no idea what I was going to do when I got on that plane. I came up with most of my plan on the flight.” He paused. “It's a really long flight.”

“Has most of your plan been laid out?”

“I think so. I won't know for sure until I can see the competition up close. And adjustments made depending on performance.”

“Still have to have the dress made.”

“It's on its way.”

“Really? I was just kidding…”

“I called Fifi a few weeks ago. She needs adequate lead time. We're professionals here, you know. We magic workers.”

“My gala costume?”

Viktor snickered. “What else~?”

“Oh, I don't know. I guess it's a surprise.”

Viktor tapped his lips again. “I'll let you know when it gets here. Maybe.”

“Oh good. I think.”

There was a satisfied smile on Viktor’s face, Yuuri could almost believe they hadn’t been at odds. So selfish of godmother to sneak a kiss… he wondered if there was more behind the guilt. He crawled inside his own sleeping bag. “Stargazing would be nice with hand holding, huh? Holding in through infinity…”

Even in the glow of the nearly-dead fire, Yuuri could see the flush. “I, uh, wouldn't know.”

“Yeah, me either.”

“Too bad I'm a bitter old fairy godmother,” Viktor said with a weak attempt at a laugh, covering his face with a hand.

“A shame, yeah.” Yuuri pointedly looked at the stars. Beside him he heard the rustle of Viktor’s sleeping bag. He glanced to the side at him to see a casually set hand between them. Selfish accident, huh? Yuuri sighed dramatically, ignoring the offered hand. He would not be the one to cave.

“Makkachin, do you like camping?” Viktor asked his dog, not so successfully smooth.

The poodle huffed, then curled tighter.

“He likes it.”

“He's been pretty quiet, so I've wondered.”

“He's just enjoying our company,” Viktor said, and yawned. “Two favorite people and it’s past his bedtime.”

Makkachin confirmed by thumping his tail on the sleeping bags.

“Yours, too.”

“I guess so. Like a bitter, old fairy godmother.”

“Best not risk a cranky fairy.”

“I'm not... cranky.”

“If you don't sleep well?”

“I hardly slept all week.”

“Oh. Right.” Yuuri said with a wincing smile. “Um. Sleep.”

Viktor, thoroughly chided, curled up on his side and tugged on the ears of his illegally cute hat, getting all settled and snug in his sleeping bag. And managed to put his hand back in place, palm down this time. “Sorry.”

“For?”

“For being so... grouchy. I was mad at me, not at you. I'm trying to do better.”

“O-oh. Yeah... I did think you were mad at me. Don't be mad at yourself. Fairy godmother works hard just like a coach.”

“Fairy godmother is a coach... among other things. But it’s no excuse.” He closed his eyes with an sigh. “I never appreciated Yakov enough, Yuuri.”

“What do you mean?”

“In all the years he was my coach, he always knew what to do, always had a steady hand and a plan, always had the answer. He didn't let his personal feelings endanger my career; he always put his skaters first, always took care of us. No matter what we were going through, or what he was going through... I never missed a season, despite everything. He always found a way to make things work.”

“All those things are probably true, but Coach Feltsman also has had years of experience. You're... still new at this. You've been focusing on your career until now. His job has been focusing on his skaters. It's like you said: We just need to be patient with each other?”

“....yeah.” Viktor snuggled into his pillow. “But I want you to have that gold.”

“I'll do my best.”

“So will I. I'll give you my very best, Yuuri. I promise.”

“That means a lot, Viktor. Thank you.”

“You're welcome.”

“I understand and I forgive you, even though I wasn't blaming you.”

“That makes me feel a little better anyway,” he said through another yawn.

“Good.”

A long stretch of silence until Yuuri heard Viktor’s breath evening out.

Oyasumi.

“Mmn...?” Viktor sleepily answered. “Oh... spokoynoy nochi .”

Yuuri waited for Viktor's breathing to relax and even before he risked rolling onto his front, looking over at him, fully.

His hand laying there innocently, now that he was asleep, was still and inviting.

Awake, and for the sake of the game and pride, Yuuri had resisted the obvious bait, but now… the temptation was hard to bear.

Carefully he reached for Viktor's exposed hand and slotted their fingers, pressing their palms together. The touch only caused a sigh from his sleeping coach, but Yuuri remained as still as he could, holding his own breath.

He'd noticed the difference in their hands when they had danced, when he'd lifted him, when he'd touched his cheek… Holding like this was warm. He was sure it'd be warmer if Viktor were conscious.

Giddy, Yuuri ducked his head into his own shoulder. It was silly and ridiculous. Selfish, even. But he couldn't deny the fluttering in his chest.

 

The discussions at their campout added more to repair the bridge of their communication. Although he had received an answer about the kiss, Viktor still sounded like he was hiding his real reason. Yuuri wouldn’t give up his new tactics until Viktor decided to be fully truthful with him.

One morning Yuuri woke up before his alarm and couldn’t get back to sleep. Restless, he got up and proceeded with routine. Viktor would still be there at the rink, though not expecting him so early.

It wasn’t meant to be deliberately sneaky, but since Yurio had returned to Russia, he saw less and less of Viktor’s skating outside of Yuuri’s programs. But that morning, maybe he’d see something else.

Quietly, he entered the lobby, pulling the door behind him to minimize the sound. He set his duffle bag down on the bench in the locker room and took to standing in the doorway where he could see the rink and hear the soft echo of the song being played - it sounded like a pop song from the states that had been instrumentalized. Phichit had exposed him to a lot of music.

Light cast through the window in soft golds over Viktor, skating in that grace that was his. His movements weren’t exactly rusty but there was a raw feel to it, figuring out the right components. Stopping, correcting. Stopping, changing his mind. Loose and playful. No restrictions. Beautiful.

Yuuri watched him skate three playthroughs of the song (which he noticed was a mashup of two songs), how he picked up the momentum so effortlessly with the bass line. So free and happy. A lot like Viktor’s programs from his younger years. Hopeful and brimming with life.

And romantic.

Viktor didn’t want to think about retirement, that was obvious under the stars and here.

 

The day before Yuuri was meant to leave for press conference in Tokyo with the other skaters of Japan, the package from Fifi arrived. Viktor made a show of hiding it, even when he cut open the box at the top to verify the contents, his back was to Yuuri, so it wasn’t like he’d be able to see.

“Should I try it on? Make sure it fits.”

Viktor tapped his chin, looking from Yuuri to the box in his arms, and back. “Let’s have a costume rehearsal. I’ll grab my makeup bag.”

Having received the mail between practices, they headed back to the rink, the costume Yuuri had yet to see, now in a garment bag slung over Viktor’s shoulder.

They arrived at Ice Castle and Viktor began to set up shop: costume hung on a locker door, makeup spread out securely on a bench next to them.

“Go on, Yuuri. You can open it now.”

Excited to finally get to see the secret costume, Yuuri restrained himself from skipping over to it. He unzipped the garment bag, and immediately stopped at the sight of the upper half.

It couldn’t be…

He looked to Viktor, who sat, looking all too pleased with himself.

It was. He’d done it on purpose. “Just like… yours, but blue.”

“Almost! I felt it was only appropriate. You skating my program, may as well wear an homage to mine.”

More than an homage, it was a direct color swap. “I’ll… try it on.” He finished unzipping the bag and toed off his shoes. Suddenly, Viktor there watching him undress wasn’t a concern. He slipped on the form fitting black pant ensemble, then the black collared undershirt, sleeves covering his arm to thumb. And then the blue, sheer vest, sparkling while he hooked the silver accents together.

Yuuri stood in front of the locker mirror, admiring himself, his hand feeling the material, smoothing it down his frame. He wasn’t tall and trim like Viktor, but the way his Stammi Vicino costume looked and felt, he liked what he saw.

Viktor stood behind him, reaching a hand over his shoulders to adjust the collar, a pleased smile on his lips. “Do you like it?”

“I… I love it.” His admission was quieter than what was going on in his mind. He’d never had a costume like this before.

“Good. Let’s complete the ensemble, shall we?”

Viktor straddled the bench parallel to the set up and invited Yuuri to do the same in front of him, and grabbed the brush and spray bottle. Hands and brush worked through Yuuri’s hair in gentle motions, scalp to ends, while Yuuri examined the sleeved gloves of his costume. It all felt so soft and fresh and he could smell the new fabric all around him.

When Viktor came to sit in front of him, Yuuri hadn’t realized how lost in thought he’d been. Guess the hair was done.

Not having his pores be freshly opened from the bath, Viktor cleansed his face with a moist towelette. Putting the used cloth aside, he uncapped the moisturizer and set to work. With one hand he held Yuuri’s chin to steady and maneuver his face as needed, and the other to spread the moisturizer.

Knowing his tone, selecting the foundation came with ease. He painted with his fingers across Yuuri’s face, thoroughly covering with care.

It was calming compared to last time. Most of the uncertainty gone. The quiet between them was reverent and comfortable as Yuuri trusted Viktor to make him beautiful again. The beating of Yuuri’s heart was less hormonally charged, and more somber and absorbing of the moment. Touch of his hand at his chin so tender. Fingers and brushes lingering on the canvas of his face, yielding to the master’s touch.

When prompted to open his eyes, this time Viktor stared back at him with such wonder, Yuuri had to avert his gaze, lest his face melt.

“Would you like to see?” Viktor asked, voice cracking.

He nodded, despite being incredibly flustered by Viktor’s expression.

Viktor reached for the mirror and held it for Yuuri see, almost bracing himself for an unfavorable response.

And he wouldn’t receive the negative critique he feared. The marvel that peered at him through Viktor’s eyes, he completely understood. The makeup was more or less the same as at the onsen, but with blue added with the bronze as an accent. Hair perfectly coiffed. And the costume completed the look and… Yuuri had to catch his breath and hold back a sob.

“Don’t ruin your mascara, Yuuri,” Viktor gently chided, though sympathizing.

“I… I know, I’m trying not to.” He was pretty and handsome at once. A princess in prince’s clothing. A few shaky deep breaths and he found himself composed enough to don his skates.

Viktor assisted, making sure the pant cuffs were smoothed inside the skate, spread out creases, then took a moment for his eyes to travel up him. Had he not been so emotional, Yuuri probably would have turned red again. Like a gentleman, Viktor took Yuuri’s hand and placed it on his arm and walked to the rink with him, uneven skate steps and all.

Yuuri entered the ice and took position in the center, waiting for the music to start, heart so very full, head bowed.

It was as if he was made to be Viktor’s proxy. He looked everything the part, had permission to skate his heartsong, trained by him.

When would he have what he wanted most from him?

The Aria began. Head rising, fall, tilt, rotating, hand caressing.

Sento una--

Straighten, push, rise. Every movement ingrained in his muscle memory. Felt it through his bones. Automatic. Would the audience see Yuuri on the ice or Viktor?

Quad. Flying sit spin. Quad Salchow. Triple lutz. Triple flip.

Being Viktor had never been a goal, but to share the ice, and the gala exhibition was the closest he’d get to feeling that sense of achievement he longed for throughout his career. But…

Now he wanted more .

Toe loop. Figures.

The verse approached… Yuuri came to the barrier where Viktor stood transfixed and--

Extending his arms to him, hands reaching like the program called for. Physically calling for another.

This song was Viktor’s soul, of course he couldn’t resist the hand gesture. Instinctively, Viktor started to reach back, but just as quickly pulled away, pained, spell broken.

The audience wasn’t supposed to join the skater, no, but Yuuri thought… maybe he would. Answer him directly. Join him in the pair skate once more.

Galas were singles, anyway. He needed to finish the song.

Combination spin, then arms raised above chest. Breathe.

Viktor’s clapping in applause was a lot softer than the emotion he held in his eyes.

Why didn’t you take my hand? You wanted to…

 

Yuuri considered going over it one more time, but it took too much energy both in body and mind, so relented to changing out of his costume and call it a night. His hair a little wind swept, but his makeup still intact, he decided to leave it on for the walk home. He felt nice.

Viktor offered to carry the garment bag, treating it like precious cargo.

Their words were sparse, both shaken by the obvious, heavy tension between them.

Yuuri wanted to address it, but the ache was almost comforting and he didn’t want to chase it away with conversation. Instead, he chanced a glance at his coach.

He was smiling.

 

Mooroka-san picked Yuuri up at the airport and they took a cab together to the press conference. Viktor would have come along, as what was expected of his coach, but Yuuri insisted he was okay to go alone. He’d be back the next afternoon. No worries, it was fine. He tried his best to not be suspicious and he wasn’t entirely sure if he succeeded, but at least he convinced Viktor to stay at home with his family.

“How is prep for the season coming along, Katsuki-kun?”

“Good, I think. A little nervous after my big loss last year, but…”

“You’ve got Viktor in your corner! And me. You’ll do great. Make Japan proud!”

“Yeah. I’ll do my best!”

Mooroka was always so enthusiastic, despite everything.

The cab pulled up to the hotel and Yuri let Mooroka lead the way until the were amongst the other Japanese skaters of Japan. Singles, pairs, and dancers.

Press gathered with their notebooks and cameras at the ready.

The skaters filed to their seats and one by one they each stood to share their theme for the year.

Yuuri took the canvas board in his hand, and with a broad marker, wrote “love”.

Soon the girl sitting next to him was poking his arm, signalling it was his turn.

He stood, one step at a time, willing his body to move, and his brain to not doubt his resolve.

“Please, if you’ll show us your theme for this year,” Mookoka-san’s voice finally registered to him, gesturing with a hand to Yuuri and the audience in wait. “We’re dying to know.”

Yuuri turned his board and placed it on the pedestal for all to see. All in attendance gave a hushed gasp.

Grasping his microphone, Yuuri kept his vision to the back row, grateful for their blurry faces without his glasses. “I struggled to find a theme for this Grand Prix. It was hard, but in the end, I chose love. There’ve been so many people who have helped me in my competitive skating career. I somehow never thought of it as love until now. I was lucky to have people supporting me, but I had a hard time accepting that support, so I always felt like I was fighting alone. But since Viktor came into my life and became my coach, I’ve started seeing things differently. This love isn’t something as clear-cut as romantic love. It’s more of an abstract feeling that encompasses my relationships with Viktor, my family, and my home town. It took a long time, but I’ve finally realized I’m surrounded by love everyday. For the first time, there’s somebody I want to hold on to.”

He paused and thought of them reaching for one another at practice.

“That person is Viktor. I don’t really have a name for that emotion, but I’ve decided to call it love.”

Yuuri clenched his fist. “It’s changed me! I’m stronger now! And I’ll prove it at the Grand Prix Final with a gold medal!”

The press applauded his uncharacteristic outburst.

Satisfied, Yuuri took back his seat. His love for Viktor was stronger than anything. It went beyond platonic and romantic. He was sure Viktor seeing him declare it on national TV would prove it.

Chapter Text


 

Saint Petersburg, Russia

Viktor (14 years old)

 

The dance floor was covered in a thin layer of PVC coating, which made it comfortable enough to lie on when desperate. Which Viktor was. He stared up at the catwalks, closing his eyes just enough that his lashes diffused the stage lights to a bearable level. Breathing was at least an option again, and he drew air in slowly, gratefully, one lungful at a time. Everything hurt, but it was the good kind of pain; the sort that came only after wearing out every part of every muscle he knew the name of through hours of hard work. Exhaustion, complete and utter.

“Vitya.”

Viktor blinked up at the figure that cast a shadow over his form and smiled. “Feliks.”

“Are you ready to head back yet?”

They’d been at the Mariinsky Theater for the better part of the day, which was all part of the upcoming recitals, though most of their peers had left some time ago. Viktor tested one leg, then the other, and shook his head. “Nope.”

“It’s going to start snowing again. We’re going to get caught in it if we don’t head back soon.”

That was a concern. They’d brought winter gear, as was customary for anyone attempting to survive the Russian winter, but the buses didn’t always run when the snow got too heavy… and what took fifteen minutes by public transport took forty to walk. Or, in Viktor’s current condition, he’d never make it. It would be safer to stay in the theater, and wait until the storm passed and travel back to the dorms in the morning.

Viktor groaned. Though it was wise to leave, he really didn’t want to move. “You’ll have to carry me.”

“Vitya… I’m not going to carry you. It’s not my fault that you insisted on hours and hours of tango.”

“I had to tutor.”

“No, you didn’t. You volunteered.”

Viktor dragged an arm from the floor and draped it over the self-satisfied smile that snuck onto his face. “Oh. Right.” Tutoring for his classmates was the only way he could learn both parts to each pas de deux without anyone throwing shade. The girls loved having him for a partner, which was fine , but they were the ones that had the really intricate footwork, and that was the interesting part. Filling in as a partner for the boys who were too shy to ask for female assistance was almost too easy. There were plenty who were willing and needed the help.

Really, a lot of them were great at ballet and terrible with the tango. Vaganova Academy prided itself on producing students that were well-rounded in all aspects of the art of dance, from history and linguistics to a broad variety of dances. It all supported ballet. And yet…

“Come on.” Feliks nudged him with a dance flat against his hip, which earned another tired groan.

“Nooo… I can’t.”

“You have two feet. Use them.”

“No, I don’t.”

Feliks nudged Viktor’s feet next, one after the other, and folded his arms when his roommate only whined again. “Vitya. I can’t always carry you around.”

“Why not?” Viktor dropped his arm to look up at him, putting on the pitiful, pleading expression of shameless innocence. “You know you like it.”

“I do not. You’re being lazy.”

“Nooo. You’re strong … and the ladies all love it.”

The older boy paused to consider this. It was true that when he’d carted his much smaller roommate around before that they’d received quite a bit of attention. The girls did seem to love it. They’d said it was cute. So cute. Feliks and his little buddy, Vitya. Like brothers. He smiled at the thought, but it faded when he saw the way that Viktor was smiling up at him. It was a sly. Too sly. “Vitya. Come on. All of the girls went home already.”

“That’s not true.” Viktor held up an arm. “Help me up. There’s a company here practicing for next season. They’re older than you, but some only by a couple of years… recent graduates, I bet.”

Feliks took his hand and hoisted him up, which wasn’t difficult; Viktor didn’t weigh much even on the best of days. He held onto him until he was sure that he was steady, then sighed and picked him up.

“Oof! Wait, I thought you weren’t going to carry me.”

“I wasn’t.” Feliks pushed him up until Viktor could climb onto his shoulders, then took hold of his knees, frowning at the tremor in his legs. “You really overdid it. Are you going to be able to dance tomorrow?”

“Oh yeah.” Viktor draped over his head. “A long, hot shower and some ibuprofen and I’ll be fine. Icy hot, maybe.”

“Foot massage, too, I bet…”

“I’ll trade you.”

Feliks sighed. “Sure, sure. Now where are the girls?”

“Thataway!” Viktor pointed off stage left, and tucked his heels against Feliks’s ribs to urge him forward. “Feliks ho! To Mariinsky II!”

Feliks took off at a gallop across the stage. There were still a handful of hours before that evening’s performances would begin, assuming that the incoming storm didn’t prompt closure, so the theater was open to performers and staff that were supposed to be there. This included, at least for the time being, students of the Academy, though they weren’t supposed to be running around like idiots and were called out by several staff members in their wake.

Not that they listened.

The Mariinsky II was the newer, much more modern theater built to be a companion to the original Mariinsky, and was accessible via bridge over the canal that separated them. In current conditions, it was more of a snow tunnel, with white plastered against the glass from the wind.

“Maybe we should head back,” said Feliks, slowing to a walk as he made his way through the artificial dark. “I really don’t want to get trapped in the theater overnight, Vitya.”

“But what if it’s haunted?”

“...wouldn’t that make it worse?”

Viktor smoothed out Feliks’s hair, then patted his head. “No. That’d make it more interesting.”

They pushed on and into the next section, stopping to listen, then followed the sound of the music being played. Orchestral accompaniment; a rehearsal, as Viktor had said.

“If they’re dancing, we can’t interrupt.” Feliks sighed.

“No. But we can watch.”

“Fine. But only for a little bit, and then we’re going back home.”

“I’m fine with whatever as long as you carry me.” Viktor tapped out a rhythm on his head. “Oh, but not the auditorium. Let’s go backstage.”

“Backstage?”

“Feliks.” Viktor leaned over sideways to peer at him. “You and I both know that you love watching from backstage.”

Feliks conceded, then turned on his heel and slipped through the door marked for the stage, drowning them in darkness. They fought through the curtains and props, and that was when Viktor saw her.

Seated just off stage was a black woman with a large sketch pad, scribbling away with a piece of chalk pastel. Her face was fixed in concentration, so fierce and determined. Like a hunter seeking out meaning in the lines of her art. It helped that her skin made him think of the sun-soaked stripes of a tiger, and that her hair was swept back in a fearsome mane of jagged curls. She was amazing.

“Feliks,” he whispered. “Put me down.”

“What? Why?”

“I want to talk to her.”

“Who?”

Viktor turned Feliks’s head and angled it until he was sure that his roommate was looking directly at her, then pulled his head back again. “ Her.”

“Woah. So that’s your type? I think she’s a little old for you, buddy.”

Viktor huffed. “I don’t want to date her, I want to talk to her.”

Feliks crouched down, letting Viktor slide off of his back, but took hold of his arm. “I don’t think you should bother her, Vitya. She looks busy.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Viktor batted his arm away and crept ahead, dance paws making his approach nearly silent. Like a little snow leopard stalking a panthress. “Just watch the girls dance.”

Feliks didn’t stop him.

“Excuse me,” Viktor whispered when he was standing next to her. The drawings on the pad of paper were so expressive they were almost violent. Gorgeous. “Miss?”

She looked up, hazel eyes catching the light of the stage for an instant, which made Viktor absolutely certain that she was part cat. She shook her head.

Pardon?”

“Hi.” Viktor realized that he hadn’t planned out what he was going to say, but he had to talk to her. So he rubbed the side of his neck and tried to be cute. “Are you drawing the ballerinas?”

The woman stared at him a moment longer, then shook her head again. “Do you speak French?” she asked in Russian, though the accent was terrible.

“Oh! Uhm.” Viktor closed his eyes, attempting to recall the past four years of classes. “Sort of.”

She frowned at him, then continued on in her native tongue. “Yes, I’m a designer. I’m drawing the ballerinas to get ideas for their costumes.”

Viktor squinted at her, piecing the sentence together, but the process was agonizingly slow. No, that wouldn’t do. He held up a finger. “One second,” he said, then turned and hurried back into the shadows where Feliks was. “Pssst. Feliks.”

“What?”

“She’s French. I need you to translate for me.”

Feliks turned to him, frowning. “You’re in your fourth year, aren’t you?”

“Yeah… well… come on!”

Even though it meant giving up the opportunity to watch the dancers, Feliks came along and crouched in the dark to listen to the quiet conversation and help translate.

“She says she’s designing costumes for this season.”

“Oooh.” Viktor bounced in place. “Okay, okay, ask her what her name is.”

“You know how to ask for that, Vitya.”

“I don’t want to sound stupid.”

“It’s kind of late for that.”

The woman watched them with a little smile of amusement on her lips. “Perhaps we should talk in the hallway, no ? Your little friend makes it sound urgent.

“I guess.”

As they moved to the hallway, Viktor explained his plan to Feliks. A designer like her would be perfect for making his skate costumes, he just needed to talk to her, get his story out, and she would agree. It was obviously destiny or fate or whatever, so Feliks had to help him or he would never be able to break the silver streak and win/continue to skate and his life would be over.

Feliks sighed the heavy sigh of patient long-suffering, and relayed the basic message once they were out in the hallway. “This is Viktor Nikiforov. He isn’t just a ballerina, he’s a figure skater. He needs costumes for his competitions, but he’s broke. He thinks you’ll help him.”

Viktor put on his biggest smile. He’d at least understood most of that. “Yeah!”

The woman put a hand on her hip. “Oh, is that so? And why would I do that?”

Feliks translated, and Viktor batted at him again. “I understood that one!” he said, then puffed up his chest, calling on all of grit he had in him. “Look, I know this is crazy, but sometimes that’s how life is, right? You’re an artist. You get it. The universe brought us together, so obviously there’s gotta be something that I can do! Please!”

She considered for several long moments, then crouched down and touched his chin, tilting his head this way and that. Viktor went still, but let her do as she pleased. “Tell me, Vitya, was your mother a ballerina, too?”

He understood the question, along with the significance of the past tense. “She was. For the Imperial Ballet.”

Feliks translated and the woman gaped.

“Incredible.”

“Did you know her?” asked Feliks.

“I tried to get her to model for me so many times, but she was always too busy dancing.” The woman gave a soft, sad laugh. “You look so much like her, Vitya.”

“That sounds like him, too. Any time anyone needs a dance partner, they come to our room and he’s always ready to go.”

“I’m going to guess that’s why his French isn’t very good.”

“Probably, yeah.”

Viktor frowned at them. “...what’re you saying about me?”

The woman stood up again. “Very well. I’ll give kismet a chance this time. I’ll need to speak with his coach, of course, but I think we might be able to arrange something.”

“Oh yeah? The modeling?”

“Yes. A photo shoot. A few hours of his time could make my time worth it with his unique looks. He’s like a little unicorn, isn’t he?”

Feliks nodded. “Yeah, that makes sense.”

“What are you saying?!” Viktor whined. He was never going to fall asleep in French class again.

“But I’d need to see if he can really perform. Of course, students of Vaganova are only allowed to stay if they’re good…” She hummed. “Then again, they’re supposed to be fluent in French, too.”

“Oh, so that’s why you’re here at the Mariinsky.”

“Yes. My studio comes here to do the costuming as part of our master course in winter semester.”

“He’s performing tomorrow. It’s the tango unit for his group.”

“Oh? Here at the Mariinsky?”

“Yeah. The original one, though. At three.”

“Perfect.” She took out a bill fold from her pocket and withdrew a business card. “Fifi Séverine. I’ll be here tomorrow to watch.”

Viktor turned the card over in his hands, nodding, though he’d only caught bits and pieces of the conversation. It had something to do with him and the tango, which got him excited, but also made his legs hurt all over again. “So what’s the plan?”

Feliks grinned. “I’ll tell you on the way back to the dorm. You really need to rest, Vitya.”

“Huh? Oh…” Viktor tucked the card into his pocket, then waved at the woman Fifi. “Okay. Though, Feliks, are you gonna carry me again?”

Feliks sighed and scooped him up to throw him over his shoulder. “Let’s go.”

Viktor watched Fifi as Feliks carried him away, staring after them mystified. It was a common reaction from adults, and Viktor didn’t mind. At least she was sure to remember him.

 

--

Paris, France

That Summer

 

“It’s amazing that our little Vitya was invited to go to Paris! For a photo shoot!”

“Yes, yes it is.”

Viktor huffed, turning from his aunt and uncle to look around the studio again. They’d been repeating the same thing ever since he’d given them the news and translated for Fifi, but they wouldn’t shut up about it. Yes, Paris was beautiful, and he was excited to be in France, but he’d been there before, just for skating. It wasn’t exactly new. What was new, though, was standing in a hallway wearing skin-tight black leggings and an over the shoulder poly-lycra blend top cut in feminine style- with his aunt and uncle staring at him.

He liked the costume, honestly; it had a lot of nice pieces that alluded to wings or tails, and the deep crimson lining was a beautiful contrast to the sapphire pattern on the outside. The stiff stitching along his chest made it look like rose leaves, and the matching choker around his neck tied it all together. But his surrogate family couldn’t stop picking at it.

“It’s just not… well, you know. Very manly.” His aunt said, shaking her head. “But at least they’re not making you wear makeup like they usually do when you perform.”

That wasn’t true, though; they’d put a lotof makeup on him, but it didn’t look like it hardly at all. Pale and powdered. And his lashes? They were long and luscious, sure; they’d been curled and treated with some kind of product in them, but they were almost white. What good was war paint if he looked naked?

Really, the only small comfort Viktor had was that his relatives couldn’t speak French, which meant that anything anyone said had to be filtered through him. They were only able to watch.

Viktor rubbed his arms and tried to shut out the commentary while he waited until they were ready for him. He’d had his photo taken several times, but nothing quite like this. They did class photography at the Academy from time to time to show off how skilled the students were for brochures and programs, but individual attention was rare, and here, he was the star.

His aunt touched his hair again and he pulled away, chewing on his lower lip. “Auntie…”

“What? I’m getting impatient because I’m so excited for you.”

“I’ll… I’ll go find someone. You two wait here.” Viktor gave them his best smile and tip-toed to the door and cracked the door open just wide enough to slip inside.  

“Look how he moves; so graceful, just like his mother!”

“I don’t know. I still don’t think ballet is very good for him.”

Viktor ignored them, rolling his eyes as he wandered away from their criticism. Fifi should have been there to bring him in already. He was fine doing ballet in exchange for her design work, but the longer he had to wait, the more anxious he became. Yes, he understood that she had other models, but she’d said he was her special guest. Didn’t that come with perks?

The inside of the studio was dark; lighting controlled only by what the photographers had set up around the staging area. Viktor only had a vague sense of what they all did, but it looked both complicated and expensive, so he approached with caution. The staff members were chatting and changing scenery. Maybe they’d just finished? It’d be just his luck to get impatient at the exact wrong time. He frowned, coming to stand at the edge of the taped area, watching a man set up a fake tree against the wall.

“I think that’s for you.”

Viktor froze, eyes widening. The voice was french, male, and came from someone standing far too close; he could feel their breath against his neck. “Uhm.”

The speaker swung around to face him, wearing an easy smile and only half a shirt. He was a teenager, Viktor guessed maybe a year or two older, and had the kind of hair that looked like it was fashionable bed head, but could only be the work of stylists and a lot of mousse. No one had that much natural hold. He looked Viktor over from head to toe, thick, well-groomed brows rising as his smile widened.

Bonjour, my sweet,” he said, taking Viktor’s right hand and bowed to kiss his knuckles. “I heard that we were expecting a foreign guest, but I had no idea that you would be so beautiful.”

“Uhm,” Viktor repeated, struggling to find a reaction that made sense for the situation. “Wow. Thanks.”

The boy lifted his dark-eyed gaze, smile going crooked.

Somehow, just that little change brought on a sort of warm daze that Viktor could not explain. He laughed, though it came out as nothing more than an awkward little trill, and turned his head away. “You know I’m not a girl, right?”

“But of course, Viktor.” Still holding onto his hand, the boy reached his other to touch Viktor’s cheek; an action so tender, so gentle, that it almost didn’t feel like he was touching at all. “That makes no difference, however. You’re still absolutely stunning.”

“O-oh.” Viktor’s voice failed him halfway through. “Uhm.”

“I’m Raphael,” the boy said, and slid his fingers along the side of Viktor’s face, tucking stray locks of hair behind his ear. “But you may call me Rafe. That blush looks good on you… like rose petals in the snow.”

Viktor bit down on his lower lip, caught in a helpless stare. What was this? Who was this? Rafe? No, it was a cute boy. A real, genuine cute boy. Really cute. So cute. And existing. In real life. How was he supposed to act? What was he supposed to do? The cute boy was still watching him, sizing him up. What did that mean? Oh no. oh no. He was really cute. Really, really cute. REALLY cute. He’d never run into one of these before, only heard stories. How… how was one here, of all places? Because it was Paris, the city of love? Maybe… That would make sense. Oh no. Ohhh no. Oh no. He wasn’t prepared.

“You look nervous, Viktor.”

“M-me? Haha…”

“Yes, of course you.” Rafe brought two fingers to Viktor’s chin, tilting his face up. “Perhaps you’d like me to kiss you… that might help.”

Help? How would it help?! Kissing?! No! No. Nooo. Viktor shook his head.

“No?” asked Rafe.

Viktor shook his head again.

Rafe let his smile spread a little wider. “I think that might be a yes, then.”

Viktor choked on nothing.

“Rafe! Leave Viktor alone!”

The teen model sighed, pulling his hand back and proceeded to slip his bare arm back into the sleeve of the button-up shirt that was hanging off of him. “Yes, Fifi.”

“I’m sorry. He’s the worst, but trying to find a better model for these projects is impossible.” Fifi put herself between them, bending down to give Viktor a kiss in greeting on each one of his cheeks. “Thank you for coming. I’m so sorry to keep you waiting.”

“I-it’s okay…”

“I see that you’re all ready for the shoot, though; you look magnificent, my little unicorn.”

Viktor sidled closer to her, peering around the woman at Rafe, who was adding a jacket to his still-opened shirt. “Thank you, Fifi. Will this take long?”

“No, just a couple of hours. We’ll take breaks, of course. I just want to get some good poses and action shots, but there are several costume changes to make.” She untucked his hair from where Rafe had messed with it, then nudged him toward the stage. “Go ahead and get familiar with the props we’ve set up. I hope there’s enough space for you to dance.”

“Oh, uhm, I think so.”

“Your french has gotten a lot better since the last time I saw you! I’m impressed.” Fifi strode away to one of the camera men, shouting orders to get ready to begin.

Viktor approached, taking deep, even breaths to get into ballet mood. He needed to be calm and poised, just as his instructors had taught him. They’d be seeing the photos, after all, and if he messed up this, they’d have his head for sure. He was an ambassador of the academy whether he liked it or not, and would be until his skating career became anything of note. If it ever did. Which it wouldn’t, unless he owned this photo shoot.

The setup looked like some sort of bizarre garden; some elements realistic, others very abstract art. Viktor didn’t get it, but thought he might after next year’s round of courses, when he’d be taking modern art history. He started his stretches, arms, neck, legs, taking the time to really feel the pull in each one. Then it was down, fingers curling around the end of his ballet slippers to work out the remaining stiffness in his back and hamstrings. He needed to be loose.

It was at that moment, of course, that Rafe goosed him.

Viktor screeched.

Rafe laughed.

Fifi yelled.

In seconds, Viktor had his left slipper off of his foot and in his hand, and chucked it as hard as he could at Rafe’s stupid head. “You jerk face!” It hit home, right against his forehead, and he clasped his hands over his face while the laughter continued.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” he cried. “I couldn’t resist!”

“Get out, Rafe!” Fifi screamed.

Viktor smoothed down the back of his costume, shoulders hunched, hair messy and face red.

“You’re so precious when you’re angry, Viktor!” Rafe called as he scurried from the studio. “Keep up the good work, my love!”

Viktor sniffed once, gaze dropping to the fallen slipper. Well. At least it was good to know that cute boys could be scoundrels, too. Maybe even more so. And to think, he’d almost fallen for it.

Huff.


 

“...And I’ll prove it at the Grand Prix Final with a gold medal!”

 

In the seven months that Viktor had lived in Hasetsu, he’d picked up a decent chunk of the Japanese language. He was nowhere near fluent, but he could get by in half Japanese, half English conversations with any of the locals, and his vocabulary had grown to include several hundred of the most common words. Understanding a grasp of basic grammatical structure to accompany context was helpful, too. Immersion was good for that, and learning foreign languages was nothing new. He wasn’t trilingual by accident.

Though, even if he hadn’t been able to pick out a handful of words among the heavily accented, passionate speech (was it some kind of country thing? He’d only heard Yuuri talk like that when drunk), he definitely would have been able to pick up the awkwardness that radiated from both the television audience and the onsen crowd. The former clapped politely, barely masking horrified or confused faces; the latter stared incredulously, all while a clueless Yuuri Katsuki looked on, smiling and waving.

Ai was the word used. Love. It was one of the first words he’d learned, even before he’d left Russia. Yuuri’s theme. That was a given. But he’d used it in connection with his name, Viktor, with the cute little oo at the end that sometimes happened when Yuuri got too excited. Viktoru.

Love. Viktor.

But it wasn’t that simple. He’d mentioned a lot of other things, too; things he didn’t catch.

Love. Viktor.

His heart was trilling, and he hugged Makkachin close to his chest to smother the sound. What did it mean? What had he said? Had it been some kind of confession? Was that why they were upset? Viktor slid his gaze from the TV to the Nishigoris and Katsukis, to Minako, then back again. They were muttering, displeased, but what about?

If it had been one of the soap operas, it would have been easy enough to guess; to make up a narrative as dramatic and disastrous as they came, but broadcasts like these went online. Yuuri Katsuki fans would repost it. Viktor Nikiforov fans would--

He forced a smile. “When you come back, we’ll burn that unfashionable necktie, Yuuri. Let’s buy a new one before the Cup of China.”

The others turned to him, stares confused, some annoyed. Viktor waited them out, simply smiling. It only took sixteen more seconds before Mama Katsuki gasped.

“Oh, Vicchan! I’m sorry, you probably didn’t catch most of that, did you?”

Viktor shook his head. They didn’t need to know what he suspected; it would be better to get the story presented without assumption. “Not really. What’d he say?”

One by one, the anger shifted on their expressions to an awkwardness similar to that of the audience, though they’d moved on to another competitor by then.

“Uhm.” Yuko tried and failed to surmise it.

“Well…” Minako made a vague hand gesture. “You’ll probably have to ask him.

“He’s such a dork,” said Mari, ever helpful.

Mama and Papa Katsuki both winced, but looked unwilling to participate.

Takeshi opened his mouth and Yuko jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow.

Viktor frowned. Personal feelings aside, it was starting to look like there might be damage control to take care of, in which case, he needed to get to work right away. “Anyone?”

It was the goblin trio that finally came to his rescue.

“He basically said that he loved you.”

“Yeah, and that we were chopped liver.”

“Abstract chopped liver.”

“But that he wanted to hold onto you.”

“And he’s going to prove it with a gold medal.”

“But he still doesn’t care about us.

“Pretty much.”

“Yep.”

“But you know what they say about cats and gold.”

“Girls…!” Yuko began her reprimand, but didn’t really have anything to counter with.

Especially not when Takeshi joined in with a sage nod and a coy, “They’re right. He’s had a crush on you for ever , but wow.”

Viktor tucked his chin behind Makkachin, glancing back at the TV again. He was sure that it wasn’t a direct translation, but no one was correcting them, and Minako’s cold stare was heavy; she was waiting to see how he’d react to the news. And how was he supposed to take it, surrounded by Yuuri’s core support network, who loved and berated him all at once?

Love. Viktor.

He smiled, soft and thoughtful, and tipped his head to kiss the top of Makkachin’s head. The dog leaned back to lick his nose in return. Then he laughed. “Yuuri’s so cute.”

It was dismissive… his words and the shrug that followed. Viktor didn’t mean to be patronizing; he was sincere in his assessment, but it was all too easy to read it as a man casting off the childish admiration of his junior. The chest flutters tightened their hold, escalating in arpeggio. He’d read the full transcription later. It wouldn’t be difficult to find. It’d even be in his inbox and from multiple senders, he had no doubt.

For now, Viktor needed to deal with the family. They watched him, expressions mixed and bewildered, but he didn’t yield anything more. So they relented, turning away. Their manners forbade them from doing anything else.

They sat through the other skaters and their announcements out of courtesy, though no one was really interested. Viktor felt their eyes on him, stealing casual glances in hopes of gaining more information, but he gave them nothing. As a coach, he had an obligation to keep abreast of the competitors in the field. That was his reasoning and excuse.

He waited them out, a wolf biding his time while the hounds lost interest. And eventually did, breaking away and filtering out little by little as the evening wore on. Viktor got up, stretched, and made his way toward his room. It was late enough that no one would need him for anything and still early enough that he had time to gather his thoughts. He needed to get to the rink.

“Hey, Viktor.”

He stopped halfway down the hall and looked back. Minako’s poise was her usual swagger, but her expression was downright devious. Predatory, even. Maybe not a wolf, but like the kitsune he’d heard about. “Hm?”

“Why haven’t you been dancing at my studio?” she asked, one slender brow arching. “I already gave Yuuri permission. Didn’t he tell you?”

Oh. Right. The dancing. Viktor fought back the sudden urge to confess the truth- his heart was such a tangled mess! -and instead offered a helpless shrug. “Well, you know,  we should be focusing on getting ready for the cup of China. We’re leaving in just a few days, every spare minute is devoted to practice.”

Her eyes narrowed; she wasn’t buying it. “Dancing is practice. It's beneficial for fluidity.”

“R-right... but…” Great. He was losing traction. But he couldn’t help it; she made him nervous. And she knew it.

“It's not like Yuuri asked a favor of me, thinking it'd help you feel better.”

“He said that?”

“Sure did.”

More evidence, more things stacked in favor of Yuuri caring…

Love. Viktor.

Viktor tugged at the nape of his robe, adjusting it over his neck.  “I guess it'd be rude not to come by, wouldn't it?“

“Maybe a little…” Minako waved a hand that was meant to be dismissive but her tone was anything but. It was a threat. “I've only had to keep a slot open for the use.”

“I'm sorry. We'll come by.”

The venom disappeared all at once, replaced by a tight, but pleasant smile. “Oh good. That will make Yuuri so happy.”

“Yeah...  uhm…” With how Yuuri had been lately, Viktor had no doubt. Not that Yuuri had been clingy, exactly, but there’d been so much contact and dancing, well, that was dangerous. So dangerous. “How about next Thursday?”

“Sounds great.” She clapped her hands together, then halted. “Actually, tomorrow would work better for me.”

“T-tomorrow?”

“Yeah, forgot that I have that day booked with a bunch of private lessons.”

He doubted it. “Oh... right... of course…”

“Perfect. See you then!”

 

Once he was able to get away, Viktor changed into his sweats and t-shirt, grabbed his coat and sneakers, and called for Makkachin. They snuck out through the front door and nudged the gates of the onsen open just as Yuuri had shown him.

“Let’s go, Makka.”

They took up an even, jogging pace, puffs of breath visible in the street lamp light through the city. Viktor and Makkachin used to jog together every day just like that, alone together when the world was abandoned to the chill of darkness. Mostly in the morning, though often also at night. These days, Makkachin preferred to linger with the Katsukis and come to the rink with Yuuri if he came at all. The warm weather had been good for him, and it was getting colder now.

Like Saint Petersburg.

He checked for ice when they approached the bridge, but found none. It wasn’t quite time for that yet, apparently; not so far south. They kept running.

Love. Viktor.

They’d confirmed it for him. His phone had been pinging with notifications but he couldn’t bring himself to check them- not yet. He wanted to hear it from Yuuri himself. Even though he knew… he knew and Yuuri knew and everyone knew what Yuuri meant. That’s what he’d always meant, even if he hadn’t known.

Viktor ran harder, pounding pavement with an extra spring in his step. Makkachin raced ahead, looking back with wild eyes and a smile, ears flapping with each bound. Poodles were so good at reading emotions. They felt it, too. And Makkachin was leaping for joy.

No. He couldn’t think about that- not yet. Not until he’d had a chance to sort it out a little more. Make a list. Organize his thoughts. There were so many things to consider. Viktor needed to think. He couldn’t rely on his heart.

Could he?

He followed Makkachin’s lead and took the steps up to Ice Castle Hasetsu two at a time, racing his companion to the doors only to fumble with the keys. His hands were shaking. Why were they shaking? It was so silly. He steadied himself, took a deep breath, and unlocked the doors.

The lobby was dark, but he didn’t need anything more than the dim, after-hours halogens to guide him. He knew the facility like he knew his home rink. Ice Castle Hasetsu was his home-away-from-home rink. In no time at all, he was lacing up his skates with Makkachin at his side, watching with drooping expression. Skating meant that he got to nap.

Viktor rubbed the dog’s ears, then got up to set a playlist over the PA system with his phone. It would be short, but he didn’t have the stamina to skate for too long; not so late at night, and not after a jog like that. That was fine. He just needed time away from everyone else to move, to think, and to feel.

The first song began, and Viktor took off his guards and stepped onto the ice to meet it, shedding his coat on the way. Nothing felt as free as being on the ice. Gentle harp plucking gave way to horns and oboes as Tchaikovsky's Waltz of the Flowers filled the air, and he settled into the familiar routine to warm up as the strings joined the instrumentation.  

When he’d left Russia, he hadn’t known what to expect. Chris had wanted him to find romance, obviously, and Yakov had probably expected him to take a brief excursion and come running home terrified. But he’d gone off to become a coach with the sub plot of soul searching and snaring his apparent soulmate. In retrospect, it really had been insane. And painful. But beautiful, too. Other than hurting Yakov, really, he wouldn’t have done anything differently. And even then, if Yakov had kept an open communication, would he have been brave or stubborn enough to stay? He wasn’t sure.

Yuuri had answered his prayers in a lot of ways already. He’d been desperate for a change. He’d been wasting away in Saint Petersburg, consumed with the stress and fear that only grew every day. Even that, the chance of doing something else, having a glimpse of a future that wasn’t just empty nothingness, made it all worth it. He’d learned so much coming to Hasetsu; stood on his own two feet, proved he could handle himself- at least so far -and had done it all on his own. Sort of. Close enough.

Independence was something he’d always counted as one of his personality traits, but Yuuri was truly the independent one. He didn’t need anyone. Or, maybe he did… his support network, the abstract loves in his life….

With Viktor being the first one that he’d ever wanted to hold onto.

The song faded right into the next one- a strings and piano medley mashup of Love Story and Viva la Vida -it wasn’t his usual style, but there was something sweet about it that he couldn’t resist. Hopeful. Even though he wanted to resist it, it had kept him going most mornings. The routine that went along with it was full of energy, and the building layers kept the momentum moving forward in his skating, each leap and quad a little more dramatic than the last.

Something he’d learned from Yuuri. He loved it.

And he loved Yuuri.

So much that it ached all through him.

Each compliment that Yuuri gave burned him. Every touch was painful. All of his smiles and hints tightened the vice that his heart was in, and the displays of concern were daggers in his back.

Did Yuuri love him?

Viktor slowed toward the end of his routine, gaze falling on the spot just ahead where they’d been during their pair skate when he’d ignited that forbidden flame. He toed the ice and slid to it, taking in the dark rink around him once he was in position. It had been just like that; only hours earlier, with the sun setting and the world drenched in roses.

He’d thought about the kiss so many times, relived it in his mind so often that he almost wasn’t sure if it had really happened or not. But oh, he could remember the taste, how easily Yuuri had given into him, how soft and sweet it all had been…

And he remembered, too, just barely, that Yuuri had kissed back.

Only for a moment, but in that moment, Yuuri had held onto him, and reciprocated.

Viktor tapped his lower lip with his index finger, considering, then brushed his thumb along the bottom and tried to recapture the feeling. It didn’t compare.

The song ended, and Yuri on Ice took its place. Viktor shook off his thoughts and hurried to catch up and put himself in position. He’d done Yuuri’s free skate enough times to know how much room he needed to complete the jumps and turns, and though he was already getting tired, he threw himself into it full force.

Yuuri wasn’t used to love; not the way Viktor had been trying to give.

Quad-triple combination.

Maybe he hadn’t recognized it before, and it had taken root over the summer.

Quad-double. That had been an interesting change… but it did feel good. Sit spin.

Their time together had been priceless. It could very well end his career, but that had always been a risk. His time was running out either way, and spending it with Yuuri, someone who was eager to learn, who cared about him, who loved him, seemed like a worthwhile way to go.

Quadruple Salchow. How did Yuuri keep up with this pace? They ran through the program so many times at once… Camel spin. Triple toe loop. And then his favorite part…

Viktor stretched his limbs, elongating his form like all of his instructors had taught him. He knew which muscles to tense and which to relax to maintain a perfect arc, transitioning from outside spread eagle to Ina Bauer to lunge, twirling, then out to a triple axel.

They were the same, he and Yuuri; ballerinas on ice. Dancers who faced the world alone, by choice or by chance. But maybe they didn’t have to be.

Yuuri loved him.

There were still so many complications with that; reasons why it was imprudent and potentially disastrous.

Triple flip. The music picked up tempo, and Viktor had to concentrate to keep the pace, chasing the steps with the same impatience that Yuuri always had. It was difficult not to; not when there were so many moving pieces left and the song was reaching its climax.

Maybe it didn’t matter that they shouldn’t be together. At least not at that moment. He wouldn’t be able to confirm with Yuuri until he got home the next morning, and even then, Yuuri probably wouldn’t even own up to it. Why else would he give the announcement on Japanese television? Convenience, yes, but did he really expect Viktor to understand it? Doubtful.

Or maybe… Yuuri was smart, but he wasn’t very good at planning, as he himself had said. He was impulsive, much like Viktor. They were the same in so many ways. Cautious until the right wind pushed them to be reckless. Alone by choice but terribly lonely. Admired but never good enough. In love, but--

--but what?

When Viktor came to the final pose, arm outstretched, he was panting. Makkachin lifted his head from the bench and looked at him, angling his snout to sniff in his direction. When Yuuri did his routines, he did them without his glasses or contacts, so the crowd was blurred; Viktor always assumed that it helped him concentrate on the programs and the music and distract him from the audience. The ending pose, though, always had him pointing at the coach position. At Viktor. Yuuri had made that change at the qualifiers, and done it in practice ever since, but Viktor hadn’t bothered to try the new ending until just then.

Viktor held the pose until the first few measures of the next song began- Ten Minutes Ago from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella -then lowered his arm. “Makkachin! Come here, please.”

The poodle stretched and dragged himself from the bench, coming to the edge of the ice and hesitating only to sniff at it before picking his way across the rink at a trot. He was no stranger to ice, and he wasn’t a pup, so it was easy to keep his footing until he got to Viktor. There he sat, tail wagging.

“Good Makka,” said Viktor, and crouched down to scoop the large dog into his arms, hooking half of him over his shoulder. “Oof, you’re getting heavy. Have you been stealing food again?”

The poodle looked away, feigning innocence.

Viktor laughed, shifting the dog in his arms until he was secure. “Okay, are you ready?”

Makkachin licked his ear, which was a yes for him, and Viktor pushed off to carry them into a wide arc, humming as he went. It’d been a long time since he’d been skate dancing with his Makka. He’d been so busy. Or… maybe that was just an excuse. He just hadn’t felt like this in so, so long.

Love had found him, after all these years, and though he didn’t know what to do about it yet, he could at least enjoy the feeling for one stolen night.

 

--

“Thanks for checking, Yuko-chan…” Hiroko blew a sigh of relief. “I hate to have you go all the way out there, but he didn’t say where he was going.”

“Oh, it’s no problem. I wanted to make sure that everything is locked up, anyway…” Yuko checked the locker room first, though she had a pretty good guess where the missing Russian skater would be, and nodded to herself as she headed for the staff room. “I’m almost there.”

“Thanks again, dear.”

“I hear music.” A musical?

“Oh, so is he just skating after all? It’s kind of late for him to be out.”

“He’s an adult, I’m sure he can…”

“Yuko-chan?”

“You won’t believe what I’m seeing.”

“What? What is it?”

“He’s… skating with Makkachin.”

“That sounds unsafe!”

“By the looks of it, I’d say they’ve done this before.”

“Good to know he’s found. Is he all right?”

“He looks pretty fine to me. More than fine.” Yuko leaned against the wall, in shadow and out of sight. “I’d say he’s happy.”

“Well… as Yuuri as that confession on TV was, Vicchan must have felt what he meant. Even with us trying to explain it to him.” 

I may never come down again.

I may never come down to earth again.

From time to time, Yuko had lingered around to watch Viktor and Yuuri in their evening practices. It was indulgent to watch her childhood friend and idol in the coach and student role. Her skating days had remained leisurely, content to watch the pros and admire and mimic their skills. The best part had been being able cheer Yuuri on in the last few years.

Seeing them together, knowing how Yuuri felt about Viktor, made her just as happy as if it were happening to her.  

If that was the first time Yuuri had confessed his feelings, Yuko was confident they were reciprocated.

--

 

Viktor was waiting for Yuuri when he came home, dropped off by Mooroka-san just in time for lunch. He put on a cautious smile, and met him at the gekkan with a little wave. “Yuuri! Welcome home.”

Yuuri looked up, face flushed as he finished removing his shoes. There was hesitance there, plain and palpable, in his body language and in his smile as he lowered the face mask that he wore when he traveled. “Thanks…” He straightened up, unbuttoning his coat, shifting from one foot to the other. He was waiting for Viktor to say something.

There was hope in that smile, too.

That made it all the more difficult to do what Viktor was going to do. Just like with Chris.

“Great job on your presentation. I’m not sure about your choice in suits, but you did look good up there.”

The color on Yuuri’s face deepened and he took a moment to adjust his glasses. “Oh, yeah?”

Maybe he was being cruel, dragging it out like that. Viktor let his smile turn a little playful as he nodded. “Your speech was very passionate. I had the others translate it for me because I still don’t know Japanese.”

Yuuri paled immediately.

Viktor stepped closer, reaching to set a hand on each shoulder for a reassuring squeeze. “They’re all very hurt that you think of them as abstract, by the way.”

“...oh.” The smile faded, as did any trace of hope. He dropped his gaze.

It hurt to watch. As curious as he was at the play of emotions that raced through the fascinating, incredible Yuuri, Viktor couldn’t bear it. He thought he had a plan, so thorough and precise, but actually following through wasn’t so easy.

He tried to push the smile a little further, but it didn’t hold. They were standing at a metaphorical crossroads, and Viktor had to make the decision; it was in his hands. Yuuri’s shoulders slackened beneath them, shrugging to pull away.

“I’m tired. I think I’ll go to bed…”

Each word came weighted with dejection and disappointment that crushed Viktor’s heart, squeezing the breath from him with a spike of panic. He was losing him. Wasn’t that a good thing? Letting him go? No! He didn’t want to. But how could he-?

Viktor tightened his hold on Yuuri’s shoulders with just enough pressure to keep him there. “Yuuri.”

Yuuri stood quietly, face turned away.

He’d tensed up, closed himself off, and was ready to run. Viktor knew all the signs too well. He gave Yuuri’s shoulders a gentle squeeze. Was it a mistake to give in? Maybe. But maybe Yuuri was worth it. He had been every other time, too. That conclusion had already been drawn. He was a fool, but a fool in love.

“So,” Viktor smiled again. Timid. A little nervous. If he was going to compromise in any way, he needed to be sure. “You’re going to prove it with a gold medal, hm?”

Yuuri stiffened again, but it was with energy that time, blinking twice as hope flickered in him once again. He turned to Viktor, face once more determined. “Yeah! I definitely will!”

It wasn’t as confident as it had been on the broadcast, but it still eased the tension and brought back every bit of chest flutter from the night before. Viktor nodded once, his smile small but genuine as he rubbed his hands down Yuuri’s arms. “Okay.”

Yuuri blinked at him again, uncertain, and pulled out of his arms. “I’m going to just… go, though. Really tired.”

Viktor hated that tired, miserable look on Yuuri’s face as he pushed past him. “Yuuri…” He reached for his arm, then took it back as soon as he made contact. Viktor had nothing to offer him; no answers, no conclusions. Just more mixed signals and frustration.

“Sorry,” he offered lamely.

Still, it brought him to a stop.

“Oh. I forgot about this.” Yuuri dug into his coat pocket and pulled out his closed fist, which he held out to Viktor without looking at him. “For you.”

Viktor had long since learned that intentional suspense was a tool for wolves, and he avoided taking the bait when he could, but this was Yuuri, so he gave it only a second thought. He held out his hands. “What’s this?”

Yuuri dropped a little ceramic figure into Viktor’s waiting palms, peering at him from the corner of his eye with nose upturned. Sniff. “Famous dog.”

It was an Akita by the looks of it, with folded ears and harness in a very familiar sitting pose. Viktor held it up and out to inspect, then gasped. “Hachiko! It’s a tiny Hachiko! You brought me a Hachiko!”

“Yep.” Yuuri gave one firm nod, attempting to hide the pleasure of Viktor’s reaction behind an aloof little frown. It did nothing to disguise the blush, though. “For your nook.”

“I love it.” Viktor stroked the little dog’s back with his index finger, then tucked him away in his pocket, freeing his arms to wrap them around Yuuri’s neck. “Thank you, Yuuri!” He kissed the reddest spot on Yuuri’s cheek with a loud muwah! , then released him to run off down the hallway toward his room. “I’ll put him on my shelf right now!”

Yuuri stared after him, glasses crooked, jaw slack, eyes wide, which Viktor saw just before he took the corner.

He jogged backward, peeking around the wall, and grinned. “Go put your stuff away and get ready! Just because you were in Tokyo doesn’t mean you get to slack off. That’s how I show my love, remember?”

“Huh?!”

Viktor stuck out his tongue. “Besides, Minako-sensei will kill me if we don’t go to her studio today.”

“Wait, you- the studio?”

Laughing, Viktor took off again, bare feet thudding on the wooden floor. The bewildered expression on Yuuri’s face had been priceless and so charming; he’d really need to be careful if he was going to keep his wits about him.

 

After Yuuri had been given a chance to change, eat, and rest for a little bit, student and coach went out with gym bag in hand bound not for the rink, but for Minako’s studio. Yuuri might have been dragging his feet at first, but the closer they got, the more pep he had in his step. He really was looking forward to dancing. With Viktor.

Viktor stepped into the studio after Yuuri just in time to catch the dance instructor’s wink as she set up a playlist.

“Oh good, you made it.”

Yuuri slipped off his shoes and crossed the room to her, abandoning Viktor at the door. Was he mad? Happy? He couldn’t tell.

"What did you say to him?"

The tone was conspiratorial. Viktor took off his shoes and pretended not to notice.

"Oh, just threatened his life."

"Did you really?"

"Nah, I guilt tripped him."

Viktor moved over to a bench to set down his bag and dug through it. Minako, much like him, loved to have the upper hand. He had been right to be wary of her, but this was her territory. What could he do about it? "Are we doing ballet? Should I change into slippers or...?"

Minako looked back at him. "Yuuri kept saying dancing together so that was my assumption."

"Okay." He dropped the slippers back into his bag. There went that escape route.

Yuuri’s brows creased. "Unless you want to do ballet..."

The disappointment again. Viktor shook his head. "No... no..." He zipped up the bag to stow it away. Barefoot was fine, especially since they weren’t doing anything en pointe. That was actually a relief. “This is a ballet studio, but... right, what should we start with? I didn't bring any music."

Minako held up a remote. "No worries. I’ve got it covered. I trust you’ve warmed up?"

Viktor rolled his shoulders and ditched his coat, then made his way to the center of the studio. “Some.”

“Stretches, then.”

She ordered them through various ballet positions and stretches to start, which all felt far too much like the days in the Academy. But at least he was able to show Minako that yes, he had been trained, and very well thank you. Watching Yuuri was a very nice perk, too.

Finally, she announced that they were ready while a waltz began to play.

“So, Yuuri,” Viktor began as he approached, looking almost as nervous as he himself felt. “Do you have a preference in who leads?”

Yuuri shook his head. “I’m fine either way.”

“Very well.” Viktor held out his hand. “We’ll switch between songs, then. I’ll start.”

Once he took his hand, Viktor pulled him in and settled his other hand at his waist. Then, after his posture was adjusted, he offered a small, polite smile, and began the dance. Just as before, Yuuri moved along with him without hesitation, following his guidance as easily as if they’d done this dance a thousand times before.

And they had… at least, in Viktor’s dreams.

“I know you’ve studied dance. You must have. Did you do more than just with Minako-sensei?” Viktor kept his tone light and casual, just like the dance space between them. From the corner of his eye he could see Minako sneaking glances while she pretended to be busy with paperwork. He wouldn’t have been surprised if she were taking covert photos, either. He could always sense that sort of thing…

"Yeah. Did some ballroom and modern throughout my time in Detroit."

He nodded, turning his attention back to Yuuri. "That explains why you're so well-versed and practiced, since you just graduated. It's been years since I've done much, so you'll have to forgive me if I'm a little rusty."

"You're not bad." Yuuri smiled as he said it. Was he teasing or being sincere?

"Not... bad?” Viktor couldn’t decide if he should be offended or not. “But not good?"

"Hehe, of course you're good."

So it was a compliment. Or a tease. Or something. Viktor frowned, nodding, and let his gaze fall away. "Oh... okay. You're quite good, too."

"Thanks.” Yuuri adjusted his hold on Viktor’s shoulder, bringing his step in just a little bit closer. “I've missed dancing."

"Me, too…” Viktor made the admission before he realized that his tone had shifted again- it was wistful. He retaliated by twisting his palm against Yuuri’s, angling their hands to lace their fingers instead of simply holding on. “I always forget how nice it is."

If it did anything to fluster him, Yuuri didn’t let on, simply keeping perfect time with each of his movements, smile soft and fixed into place. A gentleman. "And how easy it is to fall into step."

It was easy to fall into step, especially with such a good partner. The triple time carried them around the room in languid circles, feet moving with the melody. "Mmm. Or get lost in the music..." He was falling into that trap again, watching Yuuri’s eyes, body moving on its own, really and truly lost. Viktor pulled Yuuri closer. "And pretty soon... you're the only ones left in the world..."

"We keep doing that... Being in our own world."

"We do.” Viktor longed to keep it that way. To be taken in by that spell and give all of himself away without hesitation. But the music came to an end, as did their dance, and Viktor pulled back to bow to him instead. "The next song is your lead, Yuuri."

"Y-yeah..."

“Okay, here we go!” Minako started the next song, one with 4/4 time and rhythmic tempo. “Let’s see what you’ve got!”

A tango. It was a tango.

Viktor turned a flat smile on Yuuri. "I guess we need to show Minako-sensei that we know what we're doing and don’t need her meddling."

Yuuri shot one glance at Minako, then turned back to Viktor with equal coolness. "She knows that I know what I’m doing... I think she's testing you."

"Testing me...?" Great, just what he needed. It was one thing for her to drag them out to the studio, but he’d complied with her threats already. What kind of testing did she need to do? Viktor narrowed his eyes, looking to the woman in the corner. What did she think she was going to do? Stop him from being Yuuri’s coach if he didn’t do whatever she had in mind?

All thoughts, paranoid and otherwise, came to a screeching halt when Viktor’s attention was pulled away by the touch to his face. The back of Yuuri’s hand, two fingers to wrist, slid down his cheek and along his jawline, lingering only long enough to give the impression of follow through- neck, shoulder, chest, oh yes -before he took it away with an innocent smile.

It left Viktor stunned, staring and helpless, head turned back to Yuuri with all attention undivided once more. Had he taught him to do that? It didn’t matter. There wasn’t time to think. Yuuri pulled him in and all at once, the music had him, too.

Yuuri was confident, and that had Viktor weak to every suggestion, subtle or not, which made him an exceptionally receptive dance partner.

It felt like that night at the banquet, with Yuuri’s hands on his thigh or at his back, supporting him through the tight turns, the dips, the leg lifts and hooks, only Yuuri wasn’t drunk. Yuuri knew what he was doing; every movement had feeling behind it, and the intimacy of dancing so close, stepping so quickly, miming the actions he ached for, all left him dizzy and breathless and so, so , wanting.

In the end, Yuuri held him in a dip through the customary beats of final pose, then brought him back to his feet.

“Thank you,” Viktor said, and took two steps sideways to give himself room to breathe and cool off, like the proximity to Yuuri were burning him alive. He brought two fingers to his cheek where Yuuri had touched him earlier, surprised at the heat there. Worked up. Over a tango. But a tango with Yuuri...

"Partner switch! Let's give Viktor a breather."

A breather? Since when did Viktor Nikiforov need a breather? Still, his heart was pounding and he couldn’t get his head to clear. Those hands… the way he’d--

“Go on, off the dance floor. Shoo!”

Viktor dragged himself away, returning to the bench and his gym bag. He fished out his water bottle and drank, letting his gaze rest on them. They were setting up for a jive by the sound of it. Cute. Just the sort of thing a teacher and student could do without it seeming too predatory.

Not like that last dance.

Minako had been trying to make a point. And perhaps she was right to do so. If he hadn’t turned his head away in that last dip, and Yuuri had gone in for a kiss- what would he have done? Given in, probably. It was dangerous, the game that they played. Yuuri didn’t always know what he was doing, but he knew what he was doing.

If he had any sense at all, he’d run. Cut the intimacy between them, force cold professionalism, and keep his head this time. Not like he had after the kiss. Those days had been miserable and hard on them both. He thought that if he could get through the week that maybe it wouldn’t be so difficult, that they could talk it through and dismiss things. But then Yuuri had to keep trying to cheer him up. Had noticed that he wasn’t himself. Had told him to take a break and touched his head, played with him, like before…

God, no. There was no helping it. Viktor had no sense and he didn’t want any. Not if it kept him from Yuuri. And yet…

Minako was doing most of the work on the dance floor, as was the usual in partnered dances. The women always had the best and most interesting steps. Not that Yuuri was a slouch; he was doing his part very well, but Minako was the one showing off. It wasn’t fair. Granted, it’d been the same during the tango, too; Viktor had been the one pressing his knee to Yuuri’s side or using him as a pole to twirl around.

It was stupid.

And he was jealous that he wasn’t the one dancing the jive with Yuuri. Either part. Which was also stupid. He took another long pull from his water bottle and slumped back on the bench. They really were cute, though.

When they finished, Viktor clapped, setting his bottle aside. “Bravo!” he called. “Encore, encore!”

“Nope,” Minako said, crossing over to him. She took his hand. "Will you lead me in a samba?”

"Aha!” Viktor got to his feet, casting one glance at Yuuri as they switched places on the bench, then turned back to her. “So now I see what your plan was all along.”

"Oh? And what plan might that be? I could lead you if you prefer."

"I'm quite comfortable either way,” Viktor shrugged, then tugged on her hand to gently guide her into a twirl, right up against him. She responded beautifully. “But I think you just wanted to have us come so you could dance with me. "

"Maybe a little. You are using my studio."

"Of course, Minako-sensei. I'm happy to."

The samba was one that had always intimidated his male peers at the Academy; they could do lifts and leaps just fine, but moving their hips? It probably shouldn’t have been a surprise, but Viktor still didn’t understand it. There were few dances that were as fast and as fun, allowing both partners to show off their moves, and he loved it.

Of course, he had no problem shaking his hips, so that may have been why.

She asked Yuuri to start the music, and then they began; standard steps for a song that Viktor was familiar with. A classic. He hoped that Minako would be impressed by his polish, leading them through a mix of simple and more complicated moves to stretch out the pacing. He knew what he was doing when it came to dance, on or off the ice, and he wanted her to know that. More importantly, he hoped that Yuuri was watching. Perhaps even wanting, too. Although the samba wasn’t as intimate as the tango, it was still a passionate dance, and Viktor could fake that better than most.

By the end, Viktor was breathless again, but only from the exertion, laughing to himself as he twirled Minako once more for good measure. “There you go. One samba!”

“Very nice.” She twisted from his hand and turned back to Yuuri, smile sweet. “Yuuri, could you dance on your own for a little while? I want to talk to your coach.”

“Uhm. Sure.”

“This way to my office, Mr. Nikiforov.”

Viktor sighed, but knew it was an inevitable outcome. The samba wasn’t one for discussion, so if Minako wanted to corner him, it’d have to be another time. Of course he wasn’t going to get off that easily. He followed her into the little corner office and stepped aside while she closed the door.

"I think I understand you a bit better, now," she said, and moved to sit on top of her desk.

Viktor stayed standing, arms folded across his chest. "Oh do you now? Am I passing your little test?"

"With flying colors and extra credit."

"Okay, I'm used to breaking world records but that statement concerns me. What is this about?"

Minako crossed one leg over the other and leaned forward, steepling her fingers over her knee. "Yuuri hasn't been one to be fooled by the playboy rumors. Tabloids and all that. He wants to believe in the good of people."

"So he's told me..."

"You put on a persona is all. And it's more than finding an experienced dance partner."

He didn’t like where the conversation was headed. "Is that so?"

"Dancing with me was how I'm used to seeing you; pro flirt, but subtle."

"And why shouldn't I, right?" Viktor leaned against the door, lips drawn into a frown. “You’re a beautiful woman.”

She smiled, calm and invincible as ever."So closed off and not letting anyone in, even while dancing with you."

It was as if he hadn’t even given her the compliment. Was she listening to him at all? Viktor shook his head. "That's not... Are you saying I wasn't a good partner?"

"No, no, of course not. I'm just saying there's a difference between dancing with me and dancing with Yuuri. Here, let me show you." Minako took out her mobile and unlocked it, swiping to her recent photo reel. “Your posture is a big giveaway."

Wincing, Viktor pushed from the door and stepped over to peer at the image on the screen. It was from the waltz- that much he could tell by their posture -and the soft, dreamy look on his own face was impossible to miss. He swallowed.

"Not saying it's bad one way or there other, but you were stiffer with me. Loose and open with Yuuri."

She scrolled through more photos to show him, all while Viktor dragged a hand through his hair. The evidence was clear; he couldn’t pull his eyes away. He couldn’t stop touching. They got closer and closer…  

"Awww this is a good one. You like his hand there."

He choked.

"I didn't get him touching your face, but I got your face after. Priceless."

Viktor frowned at the color on his cheeks and the wide-eyes, so terribly obvious that it hurt to look at. He closed his eyes. "Damn..."

"Yuuri may not notice everything , but he knows, okay?”

"So was the point of this to... what, warn me?" She had him right where she wanted him. It wouldn’t be difficult for someone like her to destroy the fragile image he’d built up in the community. Viktor had let his guard down since coming to Hasetsu; he knew that, and yet he still hadn’t expected this…

"Yuuri asked to use the studio to dance with you. He told me you kissed him.” She shrugged and set the phone aside. “He was pretty frazzled about it. I wanted to help him out since he's loved you forever. Then he was so sad when you said no. I approached you on my own. All me. He was ready to let it go."

Viktor reached behind him, feeling back until he found a chair to sink into. "I didn't say I..." He needed to breathe, to calm down, to clear his head again. There was a rational way to approach the situation. Was Minako for or against Yuuri being in love with him? Viktor wasn’t sure. The evidence suggested for, but then again… Viktor shook his head. "I don't want to stand in his way or hold him back. I don't want to distract him or ruin his chances. I don't want to make things difficult. I've been down that road before, Minako-sensei."

"Why don't you let him make that decision?"

"Because he's impulsive like I am!" And that had only led to disaster.

"I suppose, but I've never seen him work for something like this."

"I want to prove it to him: that he can win... that he can do it."

Minako studied him for a moment, then frowned. "...Oh, you're talking about skating."

"I'm talking about all of it, but especially now."

"You want him to win your affections?"

"I- what?"

"Pffft, well if you do, he deserves a trophy."

"N-no, look, I just have to-” Viktor gestured with his hands, but the movement didn’t even make sense to him. He was flailing. “I can’t. Just until the grand prix final, get him to gold, and then, after that..."

"Well, isn't this 'dance' putting unnecessary strain on him? It'd stress me out."

She was right. She was completely right. He groaned. "It wasn't supposed to be like this..."

"Affections on hold for months to win a competition... Didn’t expect him to wrap you around his finger?"

Viktor responded by dropping his head into his hands and groaning again. She was right about that, too.

"I'm surprised and proud, to be honest."

"Oh I'm sure you are,” he grumbled, voice muffled by his palms. “After teaching him those moves for Eros. "

"He had it in him the whole time. I just had to convince him it was okay to let it all out. He needs a little push from time to time."

"God I'm in trouble..."

"I'd say if you're not interested, tell him, but we know that's not the case."

"It was hopeless from the start. From the very first moment…” Viktor finally lifted his head, meeting her smirk with a look of weary despair. “I'm sure you're just loving this, aren't you?"

"Even five-time world champs need a push."

"You're a bully, Minako-sensei."

"Is it bullying when it's something you want?"

"Yeeeees. Technically, it is." Sighing, Viktor pushed up from the chair. "And what'll you have us dance next, oh Puppet Master?"

"I can start busting out the threats if you'd like."

"Threats?"

"Clearly I put you on edge. So you'll take anything I say very seriously."

Again, truth. Viktor hesitated where he stood, completely unsure if she was teasing or not.

She continued. "You were expecting me to anyway."

"That does seem to be your modus operandi. "

"Yuuri is very precious to me. It's my job."

"Well if it's any consolation, I'd much rather it be my heart and reputation broken than his. So no matter what happens, I'm prepared to take the fall if I possibly can."

"Sweet, but... That's still Yuuri grasping at straws."

"So what you're saying is... that this isn't noble at all."

"Break your heart all you like, but this? This will wear on him."

Viktor straightened up again, arms returning to their previous position; folded, closed off, cold. "So it's pointless, unnecessary torture that I'm putting us through, that's what you're telling me."

"It's noble to a point, I see what you're saying, but you aren't considering Yuuri. What he wants, what he's capable of. At the very least, tell him what you told me."

"What, that I don't want him to go through what I did?" Viktor rolled his eyes. “How is that not considering him?”

"That's something you need to talk to him about. You can't assume things like that. Some people are willing. Besides... you wouldn't want it to happen to him, so you'd do your best so the same things wouldn't happen, right?"

"Of course, but I can't change the world, Minako-sensei. The wolves are everywhere."

"I suppose not... Can I ask you something?"

He gave himself a moment to consider, studying her while he sorted things out in his head. If she wanted to know where he stood with Yuuri, he’d tell her. He’d own up to it. Yes, he loved him. More than anything. With everything that he was. If she really wanted to hear that from him, he’d say it. "Sure."

"You talking about the world and what you went through, it reminded me of when you cut your hair. Was that your choice? Yes or no, is fine."

Viktor stilled. Of all the things she could have asked, that wasn’t  what he expected. It’d been so long since anyone had asked him about that; so long since he’d had to deliver the lines prepared and excuses that had been made. He struggled to recall them again; the proper wording in English, the right nuances, how to keep his voice from wavering and his hands from reaching to touch the severed, silver ends when he talked.

Every second he hesitated was another bit of power that he gave up, exposing weakness, revealing too many secrets. Things he wasn’t prepared to discuss. Not with her, not with anyone.

Was it his choice?

"It's- complicated," he finally said, voice strained.

"I see. Yuuri knew a lot about you."

Viktor stared at the floor. "Oh?"

"At the time I didn't give it a whole lot of thought, just trying to placate him. He was worried about you."

"Way back then, huh?"

"Yeah. I told him it was probably because you grew up and it was getting in the way, things like that happen, etc. And I know it does, but it’s not always that simple. He was fourteen; I wasn't going to get all political on him. I'm sure by now he's pieced together more."

"...it's not exactly a pleasant topic of discussion."

"I imagine not. Are you worried about that for him?"

"Of course I am..." It was one of the many things on the list that he was worried about, and definitely one of the most concerning. Hasetsu seemed reasonably safe, even with Minako the Bully, but the rest of the world? Competitive skating? Viktor didn’t trust any of it.

"He's dealt with it to some degree. He's not completely naive."

"No... but as you've said, I have a reputation."

"Well, you kind of mucked that up coming here for him."

"I know... I know. This is all my fault."

"He doesn't like to be coddled, so don't protect him. Well, from everything."

Yuuri had said it himself that he hated that, and Viktor had told him that he wasn’t weak. He still didn’t think so. Was Minako right? Was he coddling Yuuri, doing too much to protect him when he didn’t need protecting? Viktor brought his hand to his neck and rubbed at the undercut of his hair. It was damp with sweat and getting too long; he was due for another haircut. He sighed. "You're right."

"He's been denied what he's wanted for a really long time."

"Me, too,” Viktor said, and pressed his back against the door. The truth of it all weighed on him. He was tired. "I know I don't need to tell you this, but... I love him. I do. I just need to... figure out a way to make it work."

She clutched her chest, the narrow-eyed coldness fading. "No, you didn’t, but that was so sweet to hear. Just talk to him. Lay out the concerns."

The door that separated him from Yuuri was smooth under his hands. "Right... he's probably wondering what we're talking about."

"Yep. And I'm sure he will ask you about us, so you better tell him."

"I'll tell him you were a bully."

She laughed, and the tension broke.

"...Anyway, thanks for letting us use your studio."

"You're very welcome, please use it anytime."

Viktor managed a half smile. "It was nice to dance again."

"I could tell. Hey, so, you think you can introduce me to Christophe Giacometti at the cup of China?"

Oh. Of course. He should have been expecting that. While Minako’s smile spread into a brilliant and charming plea, Viktor’s went flat once again. "I certainly can, but he's taken."

"Oh I know. He's still super hot."

"I'll let him know.” He shuddered. “...You two would get along; you both like to meddle."

"Meddling with you specifically ooooor?

"With everyone, but especially me."

"Jeez don't look so jealous~"

"I'm not." He wasn’t. He thought. Probably.

"Someone saying someone is hotter than you bothers you."

It didn’t. At least, he was relatively sure. "No it's just- okay I think…” Viktor turned away, hand on the door knob. “I think we're done here."

"Sure, sure~"

"Yuuri!"

Yuuri looked up from where he was at the bench, wiping his face with the end of his shirt. The music that played had been abandoned, but he’d kept dancing as asked. “Yeah?”

"Have you had enough fun dancing? We can leave now if you'd like."

"Is everything okay?"

"Oh yes everything is…” Viktor considered his words, forcing a tight smile. “Great."

He regarded him with a wary glance, but nodded. "I'm... done if you are."

"I am. That is, unless Minako-sensei had any more special surprise traps for us."

"Someone is testy,” Minako said from the door frame where she’d taken residence, leaning and examining her nails. “Nah, I'm good."

"She says we can come back anytime, though. So don’t worry about that."

"Let me know when.”

"Right, so you can be prepared to meddle."

"No, I have paying students. Don't be so full of yourself."

"We'll let you know." Viktor went to the bench to gather his things in a huff, and looked Yuuri over when he came to his side. "How tired are you?"

"Not too bad."

"Even after all that travelling this morning?" Viktor patted his face down with a towel, then smirked up at him. “Wow.”

"Just a little winded. Why?"

He pursed his lips. "...Quick question."

"Yeah?"

"Who's hotter, me or Chris?"

"Huh?"

"You know, Chris... Christophe Giacometti. Swiss skater. Minako says he's hotter than me."

"Oh. Is that why you're upset?"

"Uh... sure.” It wasn’t. But Yuuri didn’t need to know that. “Just answer the question."

"Um... Minako-sensei is entitled to her opinion."

Viktor looked him over, gaze traveling from his face down to their matching bare feet, and then back again. It was an opportunity to openly compliment him. Was Yuuri still in the game, or not? "Sure but what is your opinion?"

What followed were a handful of seconds for Yuuri to look thoughtful, and then he smiled, lifting a hand to Viktor’s face once more. "Isn't it obvious?"

When the heat prickled under Yuuri’s fingers, Viktor let his water bottle slip from his grip and fall to the floor where it bounced once, then rolled underneath the bench.

He was still in.

Viktor snapped Yuuri’s hand away from his face and dragged him back out to the center of the floor. "Minako-sensei!”

"What? Changed your mind?"

"Yep! One more for the road please. I'll be leading... do you have any preferences, Yuuri? Cha cha? Mambo?" Viktor spun him, bringing him in as he’d done to Minako before, then out again to a starting pose. “How about... a salsa?"

Yuuri had to skip a step or two to keep up, but turned out gracefully, free arm extended. "Yeah. I'll see what I can do."

"After that tango I'm sure you’ll be fine. Minako-sensei, a salsa please."

“Sure thing.”

As before, the pair of them were ready when the music started, and Viktor led Yuuri through his paces. Salsa meant that Yuuri would be given ample opportunity to show off, which was just what Viktor wanted. It wasn’t that he needed Yuuri to earn his affections as Minako had wondered; Yuuri had them already. He had his heart already locked up and the key was gone. So where was the resistance coming from?

Salsa was all about the legs; step after step, shifting weight to create the movement in the hips, while the rest of the body just followed after. Viktor was free to touch his waist, sides, and shoulders, whatever he needed to in order to guide Yuuri where he wanted, so long as they both kept moving. Yuuri complied, kept moving, another step on each beat while Viktor stayed close, pulling him along.

Wasn’t that what Minako had hinted at? That Viktor was stringing him along? Interested, but unwilling to own up to it. He spun Yuuri out again, taking his time to return to him with his own quick step, wishing he was wearing real dancing shoes or a nice pair of heels. Was it the fear of the media? If so, why had he asked Yuuri out in the first place? It hadn’t bothered him then. Or had it just not occurred to him to worry?

He was stupid. Yuuri had proved that he wanted give and take. He was quiet. Good with secrets. It wasn’t like the media didn’t already suspect; it was all over the internet that Katsuki and Nikiforov may or may not be a thing. Them not being together didn’t change that at all. So what was the problem?

Yuuri stumbled once, his movements a little sluggish as he made up for the lost time, getting back into step. He was tired. And the salsa was not an easy dance by any means. Viktor should have recognized it long before, but at least he could do something about it now.

When Viktor pulled him in next, Yuuri twirling in, back against his chest, Viktor caught and held him there, arms around his middle. And there he just… stopped.

"Music... Still going." Yuuri looked back at him, confused.

"We don't have to finish. Are you okay?"

"Yeah... Just tired."

Tired was one way to put it. Viktor could feel him shaking. "Rain check on the salsa?"

"Yeah! Sorry about that..."

"Not at all.” Viktor offered a gentle smile, loosening his arms to let him go, but Yuuri stayed where he was, leaning against him. “I shouldn't have pushed you."

"Not a push when I wanted to."

"Yuuri tired?” Minako laughed, coming over to see why they’d stopped dancing. “I don’t believe it."

"He was dancing the whole time you were lecturing me, and he just flew in from Tokyo this morning." Viktor didn’t like the way that she was looking at them, examining their body language, trying to puzzle them out. He tightened his arms around Yuuri again, and set his chin on top of his head. Protective.

"Giving him the night off?"

Viktor nodded, which nodded Yuuri’s head, too. "I don't want him getting hurt."

"I could have stopped…” Yuuri settled his arms on top of Viktor’s, apparently quite comfortable with the arrangement. “But it was fun."

"That's why you have a coach... to stop you anyway."

"I guess so..."

Minako watched them for a few moments longer, then waved them off. "Well you both should stretch out before you leave."

"A good idea. And then a hot bath, right Yuuri?"

"That sounds nice."

"Okay, stretches, c’mon."

"Hai, hai."

Viktor let him go once more, keeping just one hand on his shoulder to make sure he was steady. After what Minako had seen, there was no way he could just ignore it. He had to figure it out.

 

The lamp lights switched on not long after the pair of them made it to the bath, freshly scrubbed and tired. Evenings in early November weren’t as popular for guests, especially during the week, so they mostly had the onsen to themselves. Not that it would have mattered, anyway; they were always given privacy by the locals and Yuuri’s family, which hadn’t occurred to Viktor to be significant until then. Was it really that obvious?

Perhaps they were just being respectful. Viktor was a celebrity, after all. That could have been it… just giving him space. He and Yuuri both; living legend and the country’s top skater, alone together. He had to smile at that, wondering just how many knew. Certainly, there were paparazzi photos floating around by then. The news hounds had come to Hasetsu once they’d figured out where he was, and it wouldn’t have been difficult to sneak in as a guest for photos; it wasn’t like Yu-Topia had tight security.

Viktor leaned his head back against the smooth rocks that made up the sides of the pool, eyes closed to savor the warmth that spread down his spine. It didn’t matter to him if they saw; his body had long since ceased to be his own property, but how did Yuuri feel about it? He was much more reserved…

They sat in comfortable silence for several minutes, just soaking and relaxing, before Viktor opened his eyes again. The tension was gone, leaving him with the floating feeling that mineral water always did, aches and pains numbed for the time being. Yuuri seemed content, too, with a little smile of contemplation playing over his lips, eyes half-closed and unfocused.

It was nice, seeing him happy like that. Not at all like that morning.

“Can you believe that we’re leaving for Beijing in just a few days?” Viktor asked, voice just loud enough to carry over the steady trickle of fresh water into the bath.

Yuuri shook the daze off to look at him, then smiled and drooped again, sinking until the water just covered his shoulders. “It’s weird thinking that earlier this year, I was convinced I was never going to do this again.”

“And I thought I’d be going for my sixth consecutive win.”

“Crazy how life changes like that.”

“Yeah…” Viktor wasn’t sure which part of it all was the craziest, but it had all led to this . He stretched his arms above the water, letting the droplets chill on his hands above the mist, then lowered himself to soak up just a little more warmth. “You know, I’ve probably said this before, but you’re an excellent dancer.”

Yuuri laughed, such a sweet and soft sound, so calm and open that Viktor had to turn away from the stars to watch him. “You have. Once or twice, I think,” he said, and canted his head to one side in the most impossibly cute expression of sincerity. “You’re incredible.”

There was no mistaking the ache in his chest at hearing those words, and Viktor ducked his head in defense as if the sweetness of the complement and his face were too much to bear at once.  Why did it hurt so much? Was that why he was pushing Yuuri away? Acting so hot and cold, sending mixed signals of yes, I want you, with but we can’t be together, all adding up to a menagerie of confusion for them both? He was afraid, and the realization had him staring through the sting of sudden tears at the surface of the water.

Viktor Nikiforov was afraid.

Loving someone was one thing, but being loved in return was such a terribly vulnerable thing. It wasn’t safe or cautious, it left one open for so much pain and exploitation. Yet there it was, right in front of him, warm and inviting, with the most precious smile and beautiful eyes. His soulmate. Someone who wanted to hold on to him, who wanted him to be himself. Just Viktor.

Perhaps for Yuuri, he’d try to be brave.

Viktor met his gaze, painfully aware of just how raw his heart was, and gave his surrender with a quiet hum. “Thank you.”

 

This continued over the next few days, with Yuuri offering his flirtings and sweet nothings and Viktor shyly accepting them. It was hard to take, but harder still to see traces of hesitation on Yuuri’s face. There was practice each morning following the same routine, Yuuri meeting Viktor at the rink to go over the programs for fine-tuning before Beijing. Viktor offered his criticism, honest but gentle, and Yuuri took it in stride.

That in turn made Viktor more confident and thus, more receptive. And the more receptive Viktor was, the less aggressive Yuuri had to be until they settled into a companionable level of affection that neither could define… not that they needed to. Not yet, anyway. Trading compliments and innocent touches to shoulders and arms seemed enough. The occasional significant glance that lingered was appreciated and wondered at. They sat close together, spoke softly, and teased playfully.

The air turned colder as the days grew shorter, and before either realized it, the time had come to leave their sleepy Hasetsu to begin the season.

 

“Yuuri. Come with us to the beach!”

“It’s November…”

Viktor crouched at his door with Makkachin, arm around the poodle’s neck, cheek against his ear. “Makka really, really wants to go one last time before we leave.”

It was the day before their flight, and Mama Katsuki had told them to be ready for dinner by seven. Katsudon, because it was Vicchan’s favorite , not Yuuri’s, therefore an allowed exception to the diet.

Makkachin licked Viktor’s face from the side of his mouth, then panted happily as his master wiped off the slobber with the back of his hand.

“Come on, Yuuri. Please?”

Both man and dog gave puppy eyes, which was known to work wonders on even the busiest of Yuuris, and he relented with a smile. “Okay. Let’s go before it gets too dark.”

They set out a few minutes later, both in jeans and t-shirts, and made their way to the beach just as the sun began to sink toward the horizon. Yuuri had been right to be wary; it was cold, and the ocean uninviting in its chilling sprays of salty mist off the shore. Not that it seemed to matter to the dog, or the Russian for that matter, who abandoned his shoes the moment they were in the sand.

“Now this! This is like Saint Petersburg!” Viktor laughed, waving his arms in the air and taking in the scent of the sea with a deep breath. “Makkachin! Let’s race!”

Makkachin didn’t need to be told twice, taking off at a gallop across the sand with tail high and waving. Viktor chased after him, kicking up sand as he went, which got the poodle barking. He loved this game!

They weaved in and out of the surf, Viktor letting the water come to his ankles before he ran out again, laughing and leaping into the air. “It’s cold! Yuuri! It’s so cold! Come on!”

And Yuuri followed, jogging after without so much of the crazy, though he couldn’t hold back the smile on his face. “Of course it’s cold!”

That only made Viktor laugh harder, and soon he was turning his frenzied jumps into twirls and sashays, arms spreading out to dance, though he had no idea which dance he was trying to do. Half of the movements looked like they might have been from Stay Close to Me , but the rest were a mishmash of all sorts of other things, and he didn’t care. It was cold and he was in love, and they were going to Beijing to start their journey to win gold.

Viktor pivoted in the sand and pounced at Yuuri, taking his hands to swing him around. “Dance with me!” he yelled, breathless from the running and jumping, but he couldn’t stop. And when Yuuri, laughing, followed suit in the impromptu ring around the rosie, Viktor couldn’t help himself. He had to declare it, one way or the other, heart too full to do anything else.

So he did. In Russian. And at the top of his lungs. “I’m in love!” he crowed. “In love with you! And it’s SO cold!”

Yuuri stared at him, glasses askew, expression somewhere between charmed and so confused, but at least didn’t seem to understand what Viktor had said.

He let go of Yuuri’s hands, smile so broad that his face hurt, and took off again, jogging backward. “Come on, Yuuri!” Viktor called to him again. “Come on, come on!”

It was only a few more yards before Viktor tripped over his own feet and went sprawling, flat on his back in the sand with a wUMF . The sand that billowed up was swept away by the freezing wind, and in return, both Yuuri and Makkachin raced to his side.

“Viktor! Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m--- ack!” Viktor coughed as Makkachin pounced him, licking his face all over. It was one of Makkachin’s other favorite games; tackling whenever a man was down. It left him laughing again until he was winded. “NoooOoo! Makka!”

Yuuri grabbed Makkachin around the middle to haul him off, letting Viktor sit up and comb the sand out of his hair and shake it off of his clothes. The poodle was only temporarily deterred, though, moving back in for more affection as soon as Yuuri’s grip had laxed.

“Sorry!”

“It’s- fine! Makkachin, c’mon!” Viktor ruffled the dog’s ears, then ran his hands down his neck and to his shoulders, then took him by the front paws to make him dance. “Tram-param-param-param-pam-pa!”

Makkachin, who had never been a fan of being made to dance- with the exception of being carried on the ice -licked Viktor’s hands until he let go, then backed up, barking again.

“No more dancing? Aw…”

“Guess he doesn’t like it. Like you said.”

“Oh well.” Sighing, Viktor offered his hand to Yuuri instead. He clasped it, shifting his weight to pull up- only for Viktor to yank him down to the sand with him. “Ha!”

“Woa-hey!” He tumbled, first into Viktor, and then scrambled to his side, flushed, but eventually got settled again. Sitting, as requested, right next to Viktor. “You could have just asked.”

Viktor shrugged, stretching one leg out, then the other, bare toes digging into the sand. “I guess,” he said, then heaved a sigh and dropped his head onto Yuuri’s shoulder with a little plop. “But that was fun.”

Yuuri said nothing, only tilted his head a little. To catch his eye? Maybe. Viktor kept his gaze on the vast expanse of open water ahead, keenly aware of the warmth between them where the skin of their arms touched and their sides almost met.

It was nice… to sit and watch the sunset like this, even though it was cold. Yuuri didn’t complain, and neither did Viktor. Not for a long stretch of time, simply sitting together, close and quiet, listening to the waves on the shore and the occasional call of a gull.

The golden autumn sunset faded with the sinking sun, setting in a deeper chill with the night. Viktor turned his head, touching his nose to Yuuri’s neck, smirking when he shivered and laughed in response. “It’s cold,” he said, and pulled himself away to sit up straight and stretch out his arms.

“Yeah. We should probably head back.”

“It wouldn’t be good to get sick before the competition.”

“It wouldn’t.”

Viktor shifted onto his hip, lips pursing a moment as he considered. “Hm.”

“Hm?”

“Oh, nothing.” Viktor tapped Yuuri on the end of the nose, then got up with a grunt, reaching back for him after shaking off the cold. “You’re just cute, that’s all.”

Yuuri took his hand after staring for several seconds, cheeks rosy once again, and let Viktor help him to his feet.

“Makkachin! Let’s go home!” Viktor called, tugging Yuuri along. “Where did my shoes go?”

They found them near the start of the road where Viktor had discarded them earlier. He bent to take them with his free hand, only for his other hand to slip free. He hadn’t meant for that, but then, he hadn’t exactly meant to keep holding Yuuri’s hand, either. One awkward glance told him that Yuuri hadn’t, either. He flexed the fingers of his cooling, now empty hand, shifting his weight from foot to foot. “I’ve, uh, got ‘em,” Viktor said, waiting. Hopeful. Even though it was stupid. Childish, even.

Yuuri looked at the shoes, then Viktor’s hand before meeting his gaze again, nodding. “Good. Don’t want to lose those.”

“No…” Viktor shook his head and forced another little smile, shuffling off toward the road again. “Okay, let’s go before we miss dinner.”

“Viktor.”

Viktor turned to him, fighting to keep the dejection seeping into his expression, and hesitated at the smile that greeted him. Yuuri stepped up close and took his hand, lacing their fingers before he continued on.

Had it been anywhere but Hasetsu, and any time other than under the cover of nightfall, Viktor might have been more worried. Instead, all he could do was bite his lip to calm his giddy smile, sure that he’d stay plenty warm for the walk home as long as Yuuri kept holding his hand.

 

Saying goodbye was tough, especially for Viktor. Yuuri gave out his hugs and said his farewells just like every time he’d left for a competition before, while Viktor lingered with each one. Normally when he left, the only one he had to say goodbye to was Makkachin, not an entire loving family, who squeezed tight and wished well in their own words.

It was hard to leave them. The family, Makkachin, Hasetsu, all of it.

Viktor hugged Makkachin twice as long as anyone else, giving him instructions like he had for the others on how to take care of things in his absence. Yu-topia wasn’t his apartment; Makkachin wasn’t just going to get to sleep all day until the superintendent came by to take him on a walk. He had people to look after and love on.

“And don’t you dare steal any steamed buns, okay?”

“Viktor, we’re going to miss our flight!”

They left, carting luggage into the frosty morning, bound and ready as they’d ever be for Beijing.

It was going to be a long day, but at least both of them were experienced travelers; moving through airport security without any hiccups or confusion. Having gone on so many international flights, the process had lost all novelty.

Almost.

“Do you ever think about how everyone in this airport has their own story?” Viktor asked, pace leisurely to keep up with Yuuri’s shorter-legged hustle through the crowds. “I mean, how many of the people here do you know?”

“Probably no one.”

“Exactly. And yet they all came from somewhere, have families and memories, hopes and dreams… and they’re all going somewhere, too. Some will be on our flight, but are any of them going to the Cup of China, or just to Beijing? Or is it just a connecting flight for them?” Viktor shook his head, smile wide and dreamy as he took in all of the people around them. “Where are they going? Why are they going there?”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s amazing! Don’t you just wish you could ask them?”

“Not… really.”

Viktor bumped his shoulder. “Yuuri,” he said, and clicked his tongue in disappointment. “It’s fun.”

“Sorry.”

They got quiet after that, walking to and waiting in their terminal while Viktor watched him, thoughtful. Was he nervous? That would explain the terse responses, anyway. But Yuuri had flown a hundred times before at least, and the Cup of China was only the first leg in their competitive tour. If the anxiety was already eating at him…

Viktor kept his comments to himself until they’d boarded and he felt comfortable joking about the seats. Flying coach! Of all the things. Now that was different. Champagne? But Yuuri didn’t seem amused. He just wanted to sleep.

And Yuuri was nervous. He could feel the muscles in his arm tense against his own, see the way his gaze shifted from seat to seat ahead of them, then to the window, aimless and roving. Brows creased, mouth drawn in a tight, thin line. Was it the flying or the competition? Viktor wasn’t sure.

So he reached over to borrow some blanket, dragging it slowly away from Yuuri until he noticed, then flashed him a smile. “It’s cold,” he said, feigning innocence.

Yuuri frowned at him, but said nothing, just shifted in his seat to get comfortable once more.

Once the blanket was shared well enough, Viktor folded his arms and stretched out his hand to brush over Yuuri’s fingers, teasing at first, then gently. He watched Yuuri’s face, smile quirking when he looked down to the blanket where their hidden hands were.

“It’s going to be just fine,” he said, voice quiet.

Yuuri took his hand, sliding fingers between Viktor’s to lock them together, and nodded.

“I’m with you, Yuuri.” Viktor wriggled in his seat until he could lean against his shoulder, getting comfortable, himself. “And I’m not going to leave. Okay?”

Yuuri squeezed his hand once, then nodded again. “Thanks, Viktor.”

 

The flight from Fukuoka to Beijing was just under five hours, which amounted to several short naps for Viktor, and one long one for Yuuri. By the time they disembarked, went back through the terminal, picked up their luggage, and found a cab to get to their hotel, both of them were restless. Viktor had been sitting still for way too long, and Yuuri, well, the anxiety was still gnawing at him as far as Viktor could tell, which only made him more antsy.

They got their room keys, dropped their luggage off- Yuuri taking the bed by the window, Viktor taking the ‘coach bed’ by the door, then got ready to check in at the venue. It wasn’t far from the hotel, and though it was plenty cold, neither of them would be outside for long. But, dealing with people- particularly the press -they had to be prepared. For Yuuri, that meant trading his coat, hat, and scarf for his Japan jersey. For Viktor, it was a complete outfit change. A light jacket and a soft v-neck tee was fine for traveling, but a public appearance meant wearing clothes that would boost his masculinity. The key was layers- his stiff and heavy black jacket over a rounded-neck t-shirt in neutral grey would do the trick. It broadened his shoulders and added a nice bit of contrast, making him look bigger, tougher, and, well, more confident. It was the armor he could wear when mascara wasn’t an option.

They set out to the rink, making plans for the evening. Registration never took very long the night before, and though they’d been given snacks on the plane, Viktor was already dying to try out the local restaurants. Hot pot? Perfect.

It wouldn’t be a date, but it might as well be. Just like going out before the Japanese qualifiers. Then it’d be relaxing with wine and the Soap Opera Megaverse, just the two of them. Maybe, just maybe, he’d come up with a clever way to sit on the same bed as Yuuri. Getting a little cozy couldn’t hurt…

The walk was short and pleasant, but as soon as they stepped through the doors, they were assaulted.

“Mr. Nikiforov!”

“Yuuri Katsuki!”

“We have questions for you!”

“Are the rumors about your relationship true?”

“How would you describe his coaching tactics?”

“We’ve heard that you’re not coming back to the ice; do you have any statements to make on that?”

“What are your plans for next season?”

Viktor frowned at the group, lips pursing in a tight pucker, then put an arm around Yuuri’s shoulders to guide him through the flock of camera-hungry reporters. “Sorry, I need to get my skater checked in at registration. We can answer your questions after that, if you’ll just excuse us, thanks.”

They moved, but they weren’t happy about it. Not that they could do anything against the Russian, who made it clear that he was going that way whether they were in his way or not. Yuuri went with him, stiff once more, eyes a little wide.

“Just ignore them.” Viktor sighed, patting him on the shoulder. “You know how the paparazzi are.”  

“Right…”

They went beyond the roped off area, and to registration, filling out the necessary forms to retrieve their badges.

“There.” Viktor rubbed his thumb over the laminate where it read Coach Nikiforov , unable to hold back a proud grin. Yes. He was the coach. Then he looked to Yuuri. “Hot pot now?”

“Er, I think we’re supposed to answer those questions.”

Viktor sighed. Right. His patience for the media ran as hot and cold as anything, but now that they were interrupting dinner plans, it was nothing but icy. “Fine, fine…”

He managed a smile, scouting the lobby, and took note of the familiar faces that he saw. Chris was already there, talking to his coach while his manager, Mr. Mancakes, looked on. Good. At least that would keep him busy. As much as he wanted to see his dear old friend, there was a particular niggling feeling in his gut that flagged as a warning. He wasn’t ready to face him just yet. Almost. Close to. But not yet.

With little effort on his part, Yuuri was soon swept up by a different crowd of interviewers, who nudged him on the makeshift platform for on-the-spot appearances, and began their grilling. At least the questions were a little less invasive.

Viktor stood at his side, half-listening, ready to take care of damage control if he needed to. But Yuuri was rambling on about his theme; that was a safe enough topic. Or, at least, it should be if Yuuri had any sense at all.

They asked about Yuuri’s goals and what love meant to him, but all he could get out were half-formed answers and vague suggestions. Yuuri still wasn’t sure what his confession had even meant, it seemed, which was cute but nothing he didn’t already know. Viktor’s attention wandered. It was difficult to stand idly by instead of making up elegant answers off the cuff for the stupid reporters. How did Yakov stand it?

Speaking of Yakov…

Viktor angled his head back to take in the sight of his former coach stalking toward them, though his gaze was focused straight ahead, right past Viktor. He looked serious. Gravely serious. But that wasn’t unusual during competition time. With him was Georgi, as was expected, though his expression was strained. Was he trying to stay focused, or was he in trouble? Viktor couldn’t tell.

“Huh? How much… power of love do I have?” Yuuri asked, awkwardly running a hand through his hair.

The questions were tough, but only because they were ridiculous. Viktor turned to Yuuri with a hopeful smile. “Yuuri. Let’s go have hot pot already.”

“Hey, I’m in the middle of an interview!”

That was technically true, but it wasn’t one that Yuuri was being paid for, and Yakov was getting away, along with his chance at fixing things before they got any worse. Well. He could leave Yuuri for a moment. With a flash of a bright smile, Viktor hopped off of the tiny stage and hurried after Yakov to catch up.

“Oh, Yakov! Ne, ne!” Viktor took hold of the back of the older man’s coat, tugging at him. “Want to come eat hot pot with us?”

He used his particularly sweet voice, which was impossible to resist with the sudden excitement bubbling up inside of him. Yakov! Finally, Yakov! It’d been months! Yakov!

The man kept walking, steps heavy, head not even turning a fraction of an inch. It was as if he hadn’t even heard him.

Viktor laughed, half hopeful, half choking, and tugged a little harder. “Heeey, why are you ignoring me?” It came out playful, but there was a plea underneath that he knew Yakov would understand. Yakov had never ignored him before. Not more than a few seconds, anyway, and certainly not in public. It actually really hurt.

He tugged once more, and finally, Yakov stopped.

Viktor!” he barked, turning to glare at him from over his shoulder.

Viktor let go, and took a half step back. Viktor? Not Vitya? He shook it off, forcing the hopeful little smile again. It was so good to see him, but at the same time-

“Listen, I feel sick when I see you playing pretend-coach,” he said, voice nothing short of a disgusted growl. “I’d prefer if you’d only talk to me when you’re ready to plead for your return to skating. Got it?”

The smile fell away in an instant, and Viktor shifted his gaze from Yakov to Georgi behind him, who waited for Yakov, but wouldn’t turn his head. Then he looked back at his coach. Had it been any other person in the world, Viktor would have retaliated with witticisms and banter, matching blow for blow with haughty retorts and a flippant attitude.

But Yakov. It was Yakov.

The one person he’d always been able to rely on, no matter what. The man who had always been there. Now yelling at Viktor, insulting him, calling him out, not only in front of his former teammate, who looked ashamed , but in front of his student, the press, other skaters and coaches, sponsors…

Yakov wouldn’t have done that if it wasn’t a bridge he couldn’t risk burning. He was too rational, too careful, too good at his job to destroy someone that way unless he’d meant to.

Viktor hesitated. Just three or four seconds was all that it took for the disbelief to clear away, leaving him perfectly ended. There was nothing he could say. He didn’t want to fight, and couldn’t possibly stand hearing another word. Not if he was going to survive with even a shred of dignity to his name. His heart was broken; the anguish a real and tangible, and the tattered pieces of metaphorical hope clung to the flagpole of his standing facade. If leaving Yakov had been a mistake, thinking he could approach him again had been a death sentence.

The hard limit had been reached and he needed to leave.

So he did, turning on his heel and walking quickly to sling an arm around the stunned Yuuri, who stood with equally stunned reporters, and dragged him away. “Yakov’s not interested,” Viktor announced, voice cheerful, even sing-song. “Let’s go!”

It was all he could do to afford himself a graceful exit, and he owed them both that much. They made a bee-line for the doors and out into the evening, where Viktor hurried them along back toward the hotel.

“Viktor- are you okay? Hey, wait up!”

Viktor glanced back over his shoulder, wondering when he’d lost hold of Yuuri, and slowed his step, but only a little. He had to keep moving. If he stopped, he would have to think, and he thought, he would-- he shook his head. “Let’s not talk about it, okay?” he said, a terribly weak smile plastered on his face. “I just- I just want to get hot pot. It’ll be fun.”

“Yeah, okay, Viktor. Sure.”

 

The wolf ran hard and fast through the underbrush, branches tearing at his fur and his ears, rocks and bramble cutting his pads. He had to run, even though he knew that no matter how fast he went, or how far, he would never be able to escape what he’d done.

What she’d done.

He came to a stop in a small clearing, panting and tongue lolling out of the side of his froth-soaked muzzle. Exhaustion didn’t quite reach the depths of what he felt. It was despair. Agony.

His paws only carried him a little further before his legs gave out, and the wolf fell against the mossy earth with a groan. Maybe he’d die there and save everyone the trouble. No one needed the princess. Not when she just brought anger and misery to everyone she came in contact with.

Shuddering, he let the fur fall away, desperate to feel the rocky ground with her own skin. Once transformed, she pressed her cheek against the rain-slicked stones, dug her fingers into the mossy earth, and sobbed there among the gnarled weeds.

It was what she deserved. Baba Yaga would never take her back, never let her come home. The witch had warned the princess not to leave the tower, but she hadn’t listened. How much more blood did she need to have on her hands before she would finally realize that her life ended the night the falcon came?

She lay there, silver hair strewn, tears rolling down her pale cheeks, and tried to sleep.

...

“Wolf!”

Startled, the princess tried to sit up. The boy! He’d found her? No… no, that wasn’t good. He couldn’t see her like this!

“Wolf, where are you?!”

He was… looking for her. Out in the dark woods, all alone.

She wiped her eyes. Crying didn’t change the fact that she’d started this journey and gotten him into this mess. She’d have to see it through, no matter what, if for no other reason than for him.

“Wolf, please… I listened to you, I ran away like you said. Please.”

The princess donned her wolf cloak and, with great effort, followed his scent to meet him. The wolf ached everywhere, tired and streaked with blood, but the boy didn’t look much better when he found him. He was worried half to death.

“I’m here, boy,” the wolf said. “I’m sorry for worrying you.”

The boy ran to him, as he’d done before, and threw his arms around his neck, also as before. “It’s okay,” he said through tears. “I found you.”

 

--

“Má fán nǐ, liáng wè,” Yakov said in his best Mandarin.

The waitress politely bowed, grabbing two menus, and lead the two Russians to a table, where Yakov spotted several obvious foreigners. He couldn’t pronounce the name of the restaurant, but it was one he made a point to visit when competition brought him to Beijing.  

He’d even brought Viktor here before.

Yakov helped Georgi decide on a dish that satisfied his pallet and competitive season diet (forever grateful for the pictures as an aid) and ordered his usual of egg foo young and a bottle of baijiu he had no intention of sharing.

Once the order was placed, he removed his heavy coat and hat and draped them on the back of his chair. Settling back in his seat, he folded his hands and rested them on the table, fingers drumming on his knuckles the seconds it took for Georgi to undoubtedly speak.

Fifteen… sixteen… seventeen --

“Viktor looked well.”

Even though Yakov knew it was coming, his hands clenched on themselves. “He did,” he admitted, sharply.

The tone served its purpose of warning, and Georgi visibly backed off, ducking his head, and clamping his mouth shut.

However, Georgi wasn’t wrong. Viktor did look well - color in his complexion, cheeks fuller, and hair thicker. Eyes bright.

Until Yakov rejected his dinner invitation.

There’d been so much hope on his face at the sight of him, and just as quickly, Yakov snuffed it out like a candle.

The old Russian didn’t consider himself a cruel man - bitter, perhaps - but what he did…

“Coach… why didn’t we go get hot pot with Viktor?”

All of his skaters had varying amounts of persistence and stubbornness. It made for excellent athletes. Not so much in being able to avoid probing of personal affairs. Had it not involved a fellow skater, a skater that clearly Yakov had a favoritism for, the chance for the subject to be dropped was higher.

But Viktor - Vitya - was a sore spot throughout the rink.

Yakov heard the unsaid ‘Didn’t you want to see Viktor?’ in Georgi’s cautious voice. Of course he did, and no, he hadn’t admitted it to his student, either. He couldn’t bear it. Not now. Not yet.

“You’re welcome to join him,” Yakov said, straightening in his seat.

Georgi did likewise. He made a move to cross his arms, but then rested them on the table instead. Good. Otherwise Yakov would have taken it as a reprimand than a thoughtful suggestion. “It wouldn’t be the same without you, Coach.”

It was then that their food arrived, platters hot and fresh, bottle of baijiu and corkscrew and two glasses placed neatly.

Even if Yakov felt like being generous, he wasn’t one to encourage his skaters to drink the night before a competition, thus pushed the would be unused glass to the center of the table.

The meal was an appreciated deterrent from conversation. The alcohol would provide a greater one.

Georgi meant well, he always did, in skating and attempts at comfort, but he couldn’t possibly understand what it was like to be approached as if he hadn’t been cast aside without a second thought.

--

 

Baijiu had been the right choice. Strong like vodka, great with food, and perfect for a Russian trying to forget. Viktor savored each sip like he did any night the wolves were howling, drowning them with the satisfying burn down his throat and haze in his head. Perfect. It wasn’t like he was competing, and he held his alcohol better than most that he knew. Including that damned Celestino that showed up, invited by Yuuri’s friend.

“Are you having fun playing coach still, Viktor?”

“You bet. Let me buy you a drink.”

“Hah! I’ll take the drink, but don’t think that kissing my ass is going to make me like you any better, Nikiforov.”

Viktor shook his head, pouring himself another shot. “Not at all. I intend to earn it by having my skater beat yours.”

“Oh really? Yuuri beat Phichit? Hah!”

Phichit and Yuuri exchanged nervous glances across the table. Why dinner had turned into a competition between the two coaches was beyond them, but there was clearly something going on… and it only got worse once the other bottle of baijiu arrived.

“You’ve already finished off a lot of your bottle,” Celestino said, taking a shot of his own. “So I’ll be a sport and catch up. I know you’re a Russian, but I doubt you can drink me under the table. I’ve heard things about you, Nikiforov.”

“Oh, I’m sure you have.” Viktor let him drink, pacing himself by eating more of the shrimp. It was such a wonderful indulgence, and since no one else was interested, he had it all to himself. “You probably hear all sorts of things.”

“I do, as a matter of fact.” Another shot. “Even from your ex coach, old Yakov. I heard that you two had a fight tonight.”

Phichit gaped. Yuuri grimaced. But the two other men ignored them entirely.

“We’re not on speaking terms, it’s true.”

“Because you’re a traitor, from what I hear.”

Viktor calmly poured himself another shot and downed it, tossing back his head. Another wolf drowned, and he turned an icy smile on the other man. “So I took a sabbatical to give a fellow skater a chance… I don’t think it’s a crime to see if a career can be salvaged if only with a decent coach.”

“Viktor… Ciao Ciao wasn’t a bad coach!” Yuuri hissed.

“Yeah!” Phichit added to the defense. “Don’t talk about him that way!”

But Celestino waved it off. “Let him talk. Yuuri, you do seem to be doing a lot better this season.”

“Uhm. Thank you.”

“But I have to wonder about the ethics of his teaching methods…” Celestino leveled his suspicions on Viktor, challenge on the table by pouring himself another shot. “You know, with your reputation.”

Viktor licked his lips, slow and steady, and filled his own glass without looking. He lifted it halfway across the table to accept. “Of course you’d know all about that. You are the Italian Stallion, after all, aren’t you?”

“Ohhhh…” Phichit fumbled his phone onto the table and scooped it up, fingers trembling as he hurried to find the best recording app. “This is getting real , Yuuri.”

Yuuri hadn’t stopped wincing “Viktor, maybe you don’t need to do this?”

“Oh yes. I do.” Viktor didn’t even need to turn his glare on Yuuri to get a little apology from him, and the two coaches continued to drink.

Viktor wasn’t wrong about the baijiu; it was like vodka, and the two men were steadily becoming very drunk very quickly. Moderation had no place in a figurative pissing contest.

“Wow.” Phichit leaned back in the booth, free fingers drumming on the edge of the table. “I didn’t realize that Viktor hated Ciao Ciao so much. Do you hate Ciao Ciao, Yuuri?”

“No, of course I don’t!”

“Okay, so why does he hate him?”

Yuuri, shifting uncomfortably where he sat. “Dunno.”

The pair of coaches were glaring at each other over their empty glasses until Viktor offered Celestino another shrimp. “Are you sure you don’t want one? They’re really, really good.”

“Ugh! Get that out of my face!”

“Hey Viktor.” Phichit held up a pair of chopsticks to his mouth as if it were a microphone. “Do you hate Ciao Ciao?”

Viktor blinked slowly at the chopsticks that Phichit turned on him and set the shot glass down with a solid plick. A game? A fake interview. He offered a charming smile and an oh-so-casual shrug to accompany the haughty sniff that followed. “That depends. Can you really hate a monster, or is it just professional courtesy at that point?”

He let the words sink in, gaze flicking over his audience while their reactions registered a mix of shock, disbelief, and horror, then laughed. Perfect.

But Celestino wasn’t one to be outdone. He stole the makeshift microphone and Phichit’s hand along with it to air his own assessment, mouth cracking into a wide smile. “At least I’m a real coach, Nikiforov! Did you even fill out your paperwork? Are you even certified?”

Viktor rolled his eyes. “I take my duties as a coach seriously, unlike some people.

“Ohhohoo, and what is THAT supposed to mean?!”

The smile dropped and the glare returned. “Leaving Yuuri like that, that’s what I mean!”

“I have NO idea what you’re talking about!”

They poured another drink, eying each other while Phichit and Yuuri exchanged nervous glances.

Yuuri set a hand on Viktor’s arm, but both coaches took their shot anyway. He waited until they were finished, then tried again. “Leave me… Viktor, I fired him.”

“It’s not about that! It’s about the banquet!”

“He’s an ADULT!” Celestino fired back, hitting the table with the flat of his hand. “He can handle himself!”

“You’re his coach!”

“He doesn’t need a babysitter!”

“No, what he needs is a friend!”

“Wow.” Phichit wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to post any of what he was getting, but it was such good drama. Such a shame.

Yuuri was nearly as helpless, but for entirely different reasons. “I’ve been to several banquets… I don’t know what he’s talking about.”

“Yeah, I have no idea.”

“It sounds to me like you’re blurring the coach/student line, Nikiforov.”

Viktor stiffened, teeth grating against each other. He shouldn’t have given so much away, but the more he drank, the less able he was to control it. He picked up the bottle of baijiu and swished it; it was three quarters of the way gone. No wonder he felt so hot under the collar. He stared at it, and the bottle doubled in his hand. That wasn’t a good sign. Huh.

“Oohoo, did I hit a nerve?”

Ohhhhh. No. Viktor snapped his attention back to the Italian coach and poured himself another shot, though a decent amount ended up on the table instead of in his glass. “ You’re the one that was fired, Celestino!”

“Wow again,” said Phichit, hand to cheek. “This is getting really savage.”

“Viktor, calm down…”

Celestino knocked his glass over when he went to fill it up in response, righted it, and successfully got it half full with only equal amounts on his napkin and plate. “Yuuri!” he laughed. “Let the real men speak!”

“Don’t you talk to him like that!” Viktor sloshed the baijiu out of the glass as he picked it up.

Phichit reached across the table to grab Yuuri’s sleeve with an insistent tug. “Yuuri! I think he’s fighting for your honor. OMG.”

“You’re damn right I am!”

“But… why? What are you on about?”

“He knows what he did,” Viktor hissed without taking his eyes off of Celestino.

“I didn’t do anything!”

“That’s exactly the problem!”

“Wow.” Phichit took his hand back to rub the ear closest to his coach, wincing. “You guys are going to get us kicked out. And is that… Italian or French? I can’t even tell, they’re slurring so much.”

“I think it’s a combination…” Yuuri grimaced. “At least lower your voices?”

They took another shot, but did, at least, drop the volume in their drunken argument. To Celestino and Viktor, it all made perfect sense. They didn’t look like red-faced idiots fighting over vague events and alcohol; they were having a heated and well-articulated discussion about very serious matters like real men.

In their minds, the conversation went something like this:

“Yakov and I have been talking.”

“Don’t you even…”

“You’re selfish.”

“So. Are. You. You should have been there for him, Celestino. He was under your care. He was alone and unattended and any number of things could have happened that night. Especially that night.”

“Maybe, maybe not. He’s old enough to make his own mistakes.”

“Coaches are supposed to watch out for their students.”

“Like Yakov has for you?”

“...Yes. Just like that.”

“Well, now Yuuri is under your care, so maybe it worked out for the best. In fact, maybe you owe me a thank you. If it hadn’t been for me dragging him to that banquet, would you have had your fun with him that night? Oh yeah, don’t think I didn’t hear about that. And now you’re his coach. Everyone who’s talked to him for ten minutes knows that he’s obsessed with you. How’s that working out? Is he stroking your ego?”

“Don’t you dare insult him or me like that.”

“I’m a drinker myself.”

“Obviously.”

“Who was looking out for me that night? Who is looking out for me now? My student is just taking photos of me while I’m getting wasted. He’ll probably post them like it’s a big joke. Who looks out for any of us, Nikiforov?”

Touche.”

“If we don’t take responsibility for ourselves, no one will.”

“Thank you, Lilia.”

...but all Phichit and Yuuri heard was vaguely European gibberish and growling between drinks and insults until Celestino passed out, foaming at the mouth. Viktor reached for his bottle of baijiu, but couldn’t figure out which of the four was real, and knocked it over in the process of elimination, so Yuuri gently guided his hands away.

“I think you’ve had enough, Viktor…”

Viktor mumbled something under his breath and then flopped on Yuuri’s shoulder, nuzzling against his neck. “I won…”

“That’s... Uhm… nice. Good job.”

Phichit continued to take photos. “So are you guys a thing yet?”  

“...no. We aren’t.”

“Aw man, what? Why not? Look, he’s all over you!”

Yuuri nudged at the cuddly Viktor, who clung to him. “Yeah, because he’s drunk. I don’t know, I’ve tried talking to him about it. At least he isn’t upset at me anymore.”

“Viktor, what’s your deal?” Phichit aimed the chopsticks at him again. “Don’t you like Yuuri?”

“Mmm… Yuuri…”

“I probably messed it up again, Phichit.” Yuuri sighed, and picked up the half-empty glass of water in front of him with the hand that was free.

“What?! Don’t say that!”

“I confessed on TV.”

“But that’s so romantic.”

“He doesn’t speak Japanese.”

“Oyasumi…” Viktor chimed in with another nuzzle.

“So tell him again!”

“Like now would do any good.”

The group dinner had not gone well.

“Viktor, adoring fans want to know: do you love Yuuri?”

“Phichit, he’s drunk! It’s not fair to ask.”

“I guess. But seriously, Viktor, you should confess. Yuuri’s kind of dumb and needs things put really clearly.”

“Phichit! Uhm, Viktor, what are you doing?”

Viktor rubbed his face against Yuuri’s neck again, then stretched up to do the same to his cheek. “Yuuri,” he whined. “Yuuri, it’s so hot.”

“That’s because you’ve been drinking, you lush. Here, take off your jacket.”

“Hehe…” Viktor leaned away from him to do as suggested, head drooping, hands fumbling. “Issa good idea…”

“Wow. He’s really drunk.”

“Yeah. I haven’t seen him get this bad. Ever. Er, here, Viktor, I’ll help.”

Phichit watched the photo roll pile up as Yuuri worked the jacket off of the squirming Viktor in such a small space, draping it over the bench behind them. “I guess drink battles are a bad idea.” Then Viktor took off his shirt. “Wow. A really bad idea.”

“Aaaahhh… much betterer, yeah…” Viktor latched back onto Yuuri. “So smart, Yuuri…”

Wow. Yuuri.”

“Ah, V-Viktor! Put your shirt back on!”

“Too hot,” he mumbled. “Hot… hot… springs…”

“Well.” Phichit set his phone on the table. He was going to fill the whole thing at this rate. “I wanna stay and talk, but you have an octopus coach and I have a dead one.”

“Y-yeah, sorry.”

“It’s okay. It sounds like you don’t have any new stories, anyway, since you’re a huge wuss.” Sighing, Phichit swiped to send a text instead. “I’ll see if Leo will come help me drag Ciao Ciao back to the hotel.”

“You know, we could talk about other stuff. Like friends do.”

“Lol like what? Viktor is all you talk about anyway.”

“Meee…” said Viktor, being so helpful.

“Ouch, rude.”

The phone flashed and Phichit checked it, tapping out a reply without missing a beat. “I’m kidding, sorry. I just want you to be happy.”

“It’s not my fault you don’t date anybody so I can’t razz you…” Yuuri slumped back, taking Viktor with him.

“I told you. Thailand is my one true love.”

“I know. I’m kidding.”

“Okay, looks like Leo is on his way.” Phichit leaned over to poke Ciao Ciao on the shoulder, but the man only gurgled. “I told him I needed him to interpret. Won’t he be surprised. Hehe. Oh, by the way. He and Guang-Hong are totally dating now, I just know it.”

“Wow, really?”

“Yep!” Phichit switched galleries to bring up some photos he’d saved from Skate America of the two of them together. “It’s the cutest little romance, just like in your books. I think you’d be all over the story.”

“Long distance, though… I bet that’s hard.”

Phichit shrugged. “Yeah, but they make it work because of the internet. Watch their social media feeds; you see signs of it all over the place. They just can’t help it.”

“That’s really cute.”

You’re really cute,” added Viktor, though neither of the others could actually understand him.

Phichit decided to ignore him, and continued. “I only texted Leo, but I bet you anything that they show up together. Maybe even sneakily holding hands. That’s kind of their thing, I guess. Juvenile, but it’s so cute.”

“You’re not much older…”

“Yeah, yeah. And yet they’re the ones in a relationship while you and Viktor…”

Phichit didn’t need to go on, and Yuuri didn’t want him to.

 

Fortunately, it was only a few minutes more until Leo arrived with Guang-Hong in tow, the hands between them hidden behind the bulk of their coats. Phichit cast significant glances at Yuuri who, yes, had noticed, but was preoccupied by trying to stop Viktor from stripping.

“Yuuri… Yu-Topia… Hot Springs… nice place…”

“No, Viktor!”

The bill ended up on Viktor’s credit card, which Yuuri retrieve from the wallet in his pants when Leo gave them back along with his underwear. There were apologies to all, but Viktor was uncooperative until the others had gone. Then, and only then, did Viktor allow himself to be redressed.

“Viktor, we can’t have you catching pneumonia. Or getting arrested for indecent exposure.”

“But it’s hot…”

“You can be naked in the hotel, okay? Ten minutes.”

“Mmmnhmmm… okay… Oooh, your haaands...”

“Viktor!”

Yuuri tried walking with him, arm around for support, but they weren’t getting anywhere with the way Viktor was stumbling. At least the cold night air had gotten him to stop complaining, but it was getting later and later, and there was open practice in the morning.

“Ugh. Viktor, I’m carrying you.”

“Wow, really~?”

“Keep your arms around me the best you can.” Yuuri stooped down and helped Viktor climb onto his back, then hefted him up. “We’re going to have a talk when you’re sober. For someone who wants to be professional… this sure is the opposite.”

“Mmm-hmm.” Viktor agreed, though he wasn’t sure with to what, only pleased that he had much better access to Yuuri’s neck this way. That meant being able to nuzzle him while they walked.  “Dun’ be mad, Yuuri~”

“No… I’m not mad.”

“Goooood…”

The hotel wasn’t far, which was definitely a good thing. Viktor kept his eyes closed for the majority of the trip, because the moving lights of the city in triplicate made him very, very dizzy. Besides, Yuuri smelled so good and he was so warm, it was much nicer to burrow against him instead.

He must have dozed off, too, because before he knew it, Yuuri was shifting his weight to get the key card for their room out of his pocket. Viktor tried to help, but only got a smack on the back of the hand for it, and pouted. “Mean…”

Yuuri got them through the door, locked it, kicked off his shoes, and made his way into the room just as Viktor kissed the back of his neck. “Viktor!” he shrieked, and quickly dropped him onto the bed closest to the door, then hopped out of the way of his reaching arms.

“Yuuriiiii…”

“What, want out of your clothes?”

Viktor groaned. “I want you , Yuuri… you don’t… remem… remember, but I do. When we danced.”

“Of course I remember dancing with you.”

“No… n-no…” He choked on a sudden wave of emotion, draping an arm over his eyes as if it’d help hold back the tears. “I’ff luffed you… so long, Yuuri… but you…”

“Tell me about it in the morning.”

“No! Yuuri…!”

“You’re not making sense.”

“Ish breaking my heart!” Viktor dragged his arm away, showing the tears and the passion in his plea. “I luff.. Lovf… love you… so mush…  only you… in the whole… in the whole world, Yuuri.”

“Well.” Yuuri hesitated. “I’ve tried telling you back, but you keep getting mad.”

“The whole world, Yuuri…”

“What?”

“Yuuri…” Viktor reached for him again, with both arms outstretched. “I need you… only you can satisfy me.”

Yuuri stood there for several long seconds, watching him from the side of the bed. Then he took off his coat and tossed it onto the empty bed, sighing again before coming to sit at the foot of Viktor’s bed.

“All right then, Viktor,” Yuuri said, and patted the duvet next to him. “Show me.”

Chapter Text

Japan Junior Figure Skating Championships - Sendai, Japan

Yuuri (15 years old)

 

Yuuri held his finishing pose, breath and heartbeat drowning out the applause. Muscles gradually unlocked and he allowed himself to skate off the ice to his coach. Coach Ito said something while he handed him his guards, but the buzzing in his head was too loud to hear it.

They walked to the kiss and cry to receive the results. It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes for the judges to tally their scores, as was normal, but to Yuuri it felt like hours.

Numbers came through the PA system, tinny, carrying through the arena. More applause.

A personal best. A record for junior Japanese figure skaters.

And the gold medalist of this year’s Junior Nationals.

He’d done it.

Ito embraced Yuuri, congratulating his student, and urging him to take the podium with a hearty pat on the back.

The spotlight prevented Yuuri to see much of the audience much like the lack of his glasses did, but not the pair of his fellow skaters at his sides.

Yuuri’s skating career thus far had been a mixed bag of results and today was his first gold. Animosity among his country kin wasn’t thick like it was with those of other nationalities in the competition due to his unpredictability. He could feel that changing.

He took the medal in his hands, fingers tracing the grooved edges.

One step closer.

 


 

 


“Show me.”

In several books Yuuri had read, there had been a similar setups. The sober protagonist would be forced to confess feelings in return and the drunk-stupid crush would have them pinned to the bed in seconds. They’d make love guilt-free and somehow climax together as if it were choreographed and coordinated, not a drunken night of dubious consent. The morning after had a 50/50 chance of the night giving positive outcomes.

However, this was real life.

Wonderful, comfortable, and logical real life.

Viktor watched Yuuri from the bed on his back, squinting like he was processing the request, and then he was raising his arms. Was he inviting him-- no, now his legs were moving. He was trying to get up. Like a turtle.

Sighing, Yuuri pushed him back down by the face. “When you’re sober.”

“Mmmsober now,” came a muffled response.

“Uh huh. Go to sleep.”

Viktor kept Yuuri’s hand on his face as he tried to take it back “Yuuri… Yuuuuuuri.”

“W-what?”

“I dream of you. Only you.”

Drunken babble or not, it still brought color to Yuuri’s cheeks.

“Luff Yuuri. Only Yuuri. Cold hand… good hand.”

Yuuri gave him have his hand, letting the temperature difference in their skin be a relief. Eventually Viktor stopped saying his name and dragged Yuuri’s hand to his lips and gave his palm a kiss. To save himself from a possible outburst, Yuuri allowed it. With his drunk coach’s voice slurring so much and movements more lethargic, he was likely to pass out soon. It wasn’t hurting anything, just odd. And strangely kind of cute.

The kisses slowed and morphed into puffs of breath as sleep finally overtook him.

Carefully Yuuri retrieved his hand and wiped the moisture on his own pants and got up from the bed.

His coach really was a pathetic sight: mis-buttoned shirt, partially tucked in, pant pockets inside out. He’d never seen him get drunk like this before. Was it Coach Feltsman yelling at him at the registration hall that had driven him to drink himself senseless? Even so, it wasn’t responsible. Viktor was Yuuri’s coach, now. He needed him at his best.

There’d definitely be a lecture in the morning.

For comfort sake, Yuuri undid Viktor’s belt buckle and shimmied Viktor out of his slacks and let them fall to the side of the bed. He didn’t know how well Viktor handled hangovers, and decided it best to prepare a water bottle and ibuprofen for him for the morning on the night stand.

Yuuri got ready for bed soon after, wondering if it would be for better or worse if Viktor would remember the restaurant or his confession.  

 

A large THUD awoke Yuuri, jolting him upright in bed.

“Ow…”

Yuuri looked to the bed next to him, finding it sans Viktor - the source of the whine. Bedsheets were pulled over the edge. An alarm was going off somewhere in the heap he couldn’t see. More groaning and the shrill beepig was silenced.

Glancing at his phone, Yuuri wondered how long Viktor had ignored his own. It was unlike him to sleep in. The effects of his hangover, probably.

With a stretch and a yawn, Yuuri got up to assist. “Viktor?”

“Ugh my head…”

He rounded the bed to see his coach tangled in sheets, shirt halfway over his head, leg up against the bedside. Yuuri crossed his arms. “Serves you right.”

“Wha-why?!”

“I had to drag you back here last night because you got so drunk.”

“Oh.” He looked away, confusion morphing into shame. “Did I get hit by a car?”

That was a dramatic conclusion. “If you did, we’d be in a hospital.”

“Did I get into a bar fight?”

“No, but you did have a fight with Ciao Ciao.”

“Oh god, he beat me up, didn’t he?!”

“Of course he didn’t.” Although, Yuuri wouldn’t put it past him for being capable of doing so. “You had a drink off and he passed out first.”

“So I won…”

“Congrats, you won a hangover.”

“But I don’t get hangovers,” Viktor pouted.

“Well, you sure drank a lot. Something Chinese.”

Viktor moaned. “So this is what it’s like.”

“There’s some water and pills on your night stand.”

Angling his head towards the location, Viktor tried to reach up with a hand to no avail and collapsed back onto the sheets, paling. “Don’t feel good… Yuuri, help me, please?”

Sympathy rising despite his efforts, Yuuri did so. “No more drinking the rest of the competition, okay?”

“Or never. ,,,Heh, just kidding.”

“Yeah, I thought so.” Yuuri took his hand and pulled him up to a sit, then held the water bottle and pills out for him.

Viktor took a few cautious sips as he downed the pills. He capped the bottle and closed his eyes for a few moments and then, “Can you help me to the bathroom?”

Yuuri got to his knees and slipped an arm around Viktor and hoisted him to his feet. They stood until Viktor’s world stopped spinning, then began a staggering walk to the bathroom.

“Please don’t tell Yakov or Yurio… or Georgi. Or maybe Mila? Yeah, not Mila, either.”

“Because you don’t usually get drunk?”

“We get drunk, but not hung-- gover .

“Need to throw up?”

“N-yeah…”

Both pairs of feet padded on the tile floor as they entered the bathroom and turned the light on. Yuuri helped Viktor to his knees and lifted the toilet lid.

“You don’t have to--” Viktor lunged at the toilet to empty his stomach.

Yuuri turned away from the oh so attractive sight to focus on the painting on the wall of downtown Beijing. When Viktor finished, coughing and moaning, Yuuri patted his back.

Reaching for the handle, Viktor flushed the toilet, then slid from Yuuri’s touch to fall on the floor, cheek to tile. “I’m dying.”

“No dying. I need you today.”

“Is this what it’s like every time you drink?”

“Depends on what I drink and how much.”

“Put me out of my misery, Yuuri.”

“How about I go to the grocery store next door and make you a turmeric shot, instead?”

“If it helps. If it doesn’t, then we put me out of my misery?”

“Nope. Consequences.”

“Uuuuugh. It was like vodka, but not quite. Maybe I shouldn't have had so much.’

“Note to self,” Yuuri suggested, dryly.

“Yakov would have liked it. Oh, Yakov… Goingtobesickagain.” Viktor scrambled to his knees and stuck his head in the toilet bowl once more.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can, Viktor,” Yuuri said as he stood up from floor and didn’t wait for a answer. He grabbed his coat and wallet and headed for the elevator.

The sooner Yuuri could mix a remedy, the sooner Viktor would - hopefully - get to feeling better, and be able to stand for warmups and his short program. Yuuri envied that Viktor had never had a hangover before. He was Russian, but still.

Puking thinking about his coach… That proved that he was the reason. Whenever Coach Feltsman came up in conversation, Viktor would light up and deflate all at once. Did he think seeing him would mend whatever bridge there was between them?

After The Cup of China they’d have to talk about it. It was too important to Viktor not to.

For now, Yuuri would help him feel better so they could both focus.




 

 

The satisfying burn of aftershave settled in fresh skin. He leaned in closer to the mirror one last time to ensure his perfectly intentional scruff was maintained. Oh, a missed hair on his jaw... One swift pluck with tweezers and the offending hair was gone and Christophe was ready to face the day and for  the world to receive him.

Steam escaped the bathroom like a visible cloud when he opened the door to the suite he shared with his companion.

Said companion was seated in the armchair by the window, polishing his oxfords. From his stylish dark hair to his charcoal suit, to his posture in the soft glow from the window, he was nothing short of perfection. A perfection he sustained for the benefit of professionalism and for what it did for Christophe on personal levels.

As much as he loved watching his lover preen, there was something he loved even more.

Bastien’s blue eyes lifted to acknowledge Christophe’s presence, and then went back to his shoes.

Christophe laid out his skating costume and jersey onto the bed, taking his time to smooth out the creases, and then he let the towel about his waist fall to the floor.

He didn’t need to turn to know Bastien was watching him, and he’d give him something worth watching. His full-bodied costume wasn’t the easiest to slip into - off was a different story for later - but there was nothing he couldn’t make look good, and Bastien knew this, eyes alight with interest.

In no time he’d swayed and shimmied inside, casting looks his lover’s way, and by the time he had it onto his shoulders, Bastien was standing to assist with the zipper.

“Thank you for the pre-show,” Bastien cooed, savoring where his hands fell whilst pulling the zipper upwards.

When the zipper reached its destination, Christophe turned to wrap his arms around his neck, Bastien’s resting around his waist. “There’ll be an aftershow. You won’t want to miss it.”

“I’ve already purchased front row seats.”

 

This year’s Grand Prix had line up included several skaters Christophe had skated with throughout the years, all of which he looked forward to seeing their improvements. As a senior to a majority of them, it was something he found joy in.

Unfortunately, his favorite part of the competitive season would be absent. He was present, yes, but would otherwise be occupied. Out of all the people to leave the safety net of the ice, Viktor was the last he’d expected to do so.

And for love?

Well, that part wasn’t too surprising.

When Christophe had presented the viral video to him, he didn’t expect him to immediately pack his bags to pursue. Romantic, but not thought out.

That wasn’t surprising, either.

Still, from the last time they spoke, Viktor had been successful in his endeavors of the heart and that was more than he could ask for. Viktor was a known workaholic, it was good for him to pursue wholesome desires.

Even if that meant losing the chance to skate against his best friend.

“I’m going ahead to the stands. The less bodies in the back area, the better. And less distracting.” Bastien stopped in the breezeway and paused to brush a stray eyelash from Christophe’s cheek and let his fingers stay. “I’ll see you from the sidelines, mon amour .”

Christophe took his fingers and moved them to his lips to kiss his palm. “I’ll see you soon.”

“He’s in your care, Josef.”

“Must you two be so dramatic?” the old coach asked with a long-suffering sigh.

The pair of lovers only shrugged and then Bastien was leaving them to business, walking onwards to intermingle with the other competitors.

“I’m sorry… I wasn’t going to, but my hand slipped.”

“No fair you big cheater, we didn’t post ours!”

Christophe looked towards the offending cries. Yuuri Katsuki looked dismayed over, by the sounds of it, something Phichit Chulanont had posted. He unpocketed his phone and checked Phichit’s Instagram page for the latest photo - Viktor shirtless -nude? Drunk perhaps- and clinging to Yuuri. What fun had he missed out on last night?!

Putting his phone away, Christophe sidled his way behind Yuuri and copped a feel of his ass, just to check. For a friend. Ooh, how firm! The Japanese skater tensed and emitted a small squeak. “Yuuuri, why didn’t you invite me to the party?”

“I-it was just hot pot…”

That was all the protest he got?

“You’re in better shape than last year. I guess your new master must be giving you very thorough training, eh?”  

Yuuri smiled nervously back. He was in better shape than last year (and he thought he looked good at the banquet on the pole!), but the double meaning was lost on the poor boy. Or was it just his skittish nature?

“Hi, Chris.”

And thus his best friend, the five-time world champion, had finally taken notice of him. Here to reprimand him for touching his lover so inappropriately?

“How are you doing this year?”

Odd. So formal. Just because he was a coach now, didn’t mean Viktor had to greet him like they haven’t spoken in months! Was this how he thanked a friend? “I’ve lost all motivation, how could you abandon me?” A partial accusation.

Viktor didn’t flinch, even as Chris took his lanyard. “It always takes you a little while to get warmed up.”

“He’s right you know,” piped in Josef. “Chris can’t get serious without you to skate against. It’s time to come back into the fold.”

It wasn’t that he couldn’t get serious , the stakes just weren’t as high. He’d appreciate if his coach had more faith in him. Hmph!

“Hi Viktor.”

“You’re seriously a coach, then?”

Viktor walked away far too easily towards the lady Russian skaters. Was he happy to leave the conversation? No, it was the same conversation, just different people. Was he avoiding him ?

Suspicious...

Christophe turned to his friend’s beau, instead. “Yuuri~ You’re committing a grave sin, keeping him to yourself. The whole skating world is hoping for his return.”

Yuuri frowned while he watched Viktor and didn’t answer.

It was meant to tease, but also to garner a reaction, something , as neither of them seemed to show any sort of skinship. It was one thing to try to keep their relationship status on the downlow as both their nationalities frowned upon such things, but where was the eye contact? The warmth? The undeniable magnetism?

“Yo, Yuuri!”

Young Chulanont must have felt forgotten, having stolen his friend. Christophe took a step to the side to include him.

“Oh, hey Phichit.” Yuuri rubbed at his neck, “Sorry, I didn't mean to leave you hanging.”

“That's okay. I know you're busy being all cool. Especially after that post on my IG blew up! I noticed you liked the post, Christophe. Wild, right?”

“I'll have to make a reservation for the next party. Do put me on the list!”

The boy visibly held himself in place from jumping through the ceiling. Had Christophe known he'd been dying to get to know one another, he'd have approached him much sooner. “Yeah, sure thing,”

“Viktor can normally take his alcohol, so I'm oh so curious to the happenstances.”

“It was intense!” Feigning nonchalance, Phichit then nudged Yuuri. “Oh hey, maybe we should go to dinner tonight!”

Yuuri was weary at that, but agreed to the gathering, regardless.“Was there anyone you wanted to invite, Chris?”

“If it's not too much trouble, my beau Bastien. He's a quiet one, but quite the entertainer when the mood strikes.” The skaters from China and the US stood in the background, anxiously looking their way. More shy ones. “Oh you two over there, won't you join us tonight?”

The pair looked like he'd just told them he was giving them an all expenses included cruise.

“Yeah! I know Leo and Guang Hong would like another chance to meet Viktor, too, since they showed up when Viktor was already wasted . What do you say, Yuuri?”

“Yeah, I definitely think last night should be remedied…” the Japanese skater sighed.

“For what it's worth, Ciao Ciao seems to think that they're good friends now…”

“Wow, Viktor said the same thing after puking his guts out, despite everything...”

“The yelling and insults and glaring? Crazy.”

“It is part of the drinking culture, believe it or not,” Christophe nodded affirmatively.

“Is it also part of drunk culture to strip in public and spill secret confessions ? Cause I haven't done a lot of drinking, but yikes.”

There was an awful lot of emphasis and winking as Phichit said all that. The Thai boy wasn’t at the banquet last year, so he wouldn't know that was precisely what Yuuri did. Unless Yuuri informed him. “In recent cases it seems,” Christophe said, leaving it at that.

“I didn't get it all on film, but it's pretty incriminating... Wasn't it, Yuuri?”

“Y-yeah... uhm. Phichit, aren't you first in the lineup? You should probably get out there.”

Everything Christophe was hearing wasn't aligning with Viktor and Yuuri being a couple and it was progressively making him want to revoke his trust card with his best friend.

“Oh, right! I guess Ciao Ciao will be looking for me. He hasn't been on the top of his game today after that hangover.”

“I missed out on a lot,” Christophe smiled. “I hope the fun will continue tonight! Send me the deets and I'll be there.”

Phichit ran off, flashing a peace sign in his wake. Guang Hong and Leo followed after him, leaving Christophe and Yuuri alone. Aside from Viktor, who was still speaking with his country kin, though he clearly was only humoring them and their giggles with closed off body language. Poor girls.

Was that why Yuuri hadn't gone with the younger skaters to the rink; waiting for his lover?

“Confessions, eh? Isn't it a bit late for that?”

Deer in headlights. “I... don't know what you mean. Just drunk babbling. He was a bit out of control.”

Was he embarrassed that Viktor was being open about their relationship while being intoxicated or was it because he had no idea about Viktor’s true feelings? It was hard to say given how reserved the Japanese tended to be. He’d just have to keep an eye on them.

 

When Yuuri took a fall during warmups, Christophe didn’t expect Viktor to go to him and kiss his knees, but his professional composure could have been more in favor of concern than exasperation.

Thinking about past years... Yuuri did often flubbed his jumps in warmup and in competition. So that couldn’t be helped, he supposed.

At the sound of a buzzer, the skaters exited the rink from the free practice and filed back into the waiting room. Christophe watched Viktor and Yuuri as they walked ahead, a distance between them.

Something wasn't right.

Were they together or weren’t they?

Phichit was the first skater in the lineup of group one, and the rest of the skaters mingled and stretched in the waiting area.

Christophe took up a mat for his own stretching, observing his friend and potential beau.

Viktor looked good in that suit. He was glad he taught him how to buy one. However, he still needed to work on accessorizing. He’d look better in it if he were wearing heels. Probably feel better, too. Had he bought any while in Japan, he wondered?

 

Five years ago, having left the banquet at Trophee de France early, Viktor and Christophe stole away to Christophe’s hotel room. His dear friend came to him with a request, reluctant in the shadow of rejecting him in the spring of that year. Viktor was, to put simply, tired . And a fashion disaster with a neon sign.

The latter being the reason he came to him.

Christophe dug through his luggage for the menswear catalog he picked up at the airport. He was in the market for some new clothes himself and he was happy his purchase could have double use.  

Viktor was nursing the glass of wine he brought back with him from the banquet, legs crossed. He sighed, looking himself over. “I’m not fooling anyone, am I?”

Regrettably no, but that was why Christophe was helping him. He tossed the catalog on the bed beside Viktor and tapped his knee. “A bit wider apart--just like-- yes, there.”

He frowned and took a sip. “Thank you.”

“Perhaps if we go the metro angle…”

“Ooh! Then I get to buy expensive clothes!” The brightness in his eyes faded, ashamed of his sudden outburst and then, “I mean, what a waste… I’m not gay, I just love clothes!” and then he dragged his free hand down his face.

Constant denial of oneself. No wonder he was so tired. “Not having to explain metro to you saves me a step.”

"I just know it means expensive. And probably not in the prada heels way.”

“A simple definition, I suppose. Tailored suits and shoes. Watches and belts. Well dressed and mindfulness of setting. It would curb your dress-up desires, at least. We just need to get you more conscious of your clothing. When you think of a cute boy, what do you picture them wearing?”

Viktor swished his drink in his hands. “When I think of cute boys, I think of bookstores and coffee dates and warm hands… not what they’re wearing.”

That wasn’t insightful at all. “All right, when you think of a straight man, what comes to mind?”

He took longer to answer that time. “Well, I think of how if I wore high heels and blazers and short skirts that I could probably make them un straight, but that doesn't really help...  and I don't like skirts.”

“That doesn’t tell me anything about what they are wearing, Viktor.”

“Maybe if straight guys dressed like ladies I'd pay more attention. How come girls always get the cutest clothes? I wanna wear cute turtlenecks all the time…”

The irony of a gay man coming to another gay man on how to be straight… Honestly it was touching Viktor trusted him with the task. “Viktor, why don’t you look at that catalog there. See if anything strikes your fancy.”

“What do boys usually wear? Pants and shirts? Shoes?” Viktor muttered and mused, taking the catalog and thumbing through the pages. “Feliks had terrible taste and he’s straighter than those poles you dance with. Er, that your co-eds do, anyway.”

“A lot of straight men do have terrible tastes, it’s true. That’s why I’m here. Ooo, that one there!” Christophe reached to point at a three piece suit. “Good, yes? Oh, that’s for me.” Quickly he dog-eared the page. “Sorry, continue.”

Viktor continued along with the same bored expression, slowly transforming into helplessness. “Do I really need to dress like a fancy salad? You want me to dress like a cute boy, but I can't dress like a fun coffee date. Or sweet nothings? Or ... Chris I-I can't do this!”

“Are the suits salads? For goodness sake, here-” Christophe took the catalog and flipped to informal wear. “There, find your coffee shop whatever.”

A small pout on his lips, Viktor looked again, seemingly taking longer on each page, and Christophe hoped it was because he was more interested rather than trying to not get scolded. So childish.

Several solid pieces and outfits passed his fashionably challenged friend by and it was maddening! Choice was a powerful tool, he didn’t want to start assigning him. Yet. But maybe he could give him an incentive. “I have a slightly inappropriate proposition for you.”

His prudent friend gave him an uneasy look. No faith!

“How do you feel about undergarments?”

Pink dusted his pale cheeks. “Oh, I’ve always worn briefs. Except, um, for him.”

“Ah I see.” Christophe made the attempt to unsour his voice. He wasn’t sure if he was successful or not. “Imagine not doing it for him. Did you like it?”

Viktor looked down at the catalog in his hands in thought.

“Many find wearing flattering underwear as a way of expression.”

“I guess if I was careful, no one would ever see it…”

“There’s all sorts of things we can try.”

“...Somehow I don’t think you need to try anything, Chris.”

“I meant we as in --oh nevermind. Maybe I just want to go shopping, too.”

“Yeah, yeah, okay.”

“It doesn’t have to be anything lacey if you don’t want. Even just the cut of women’s unmentionables will suffice.”

He nodded, gears in his mind obviously turning. Good.

“I personally enjoy thongs.”

“THAT--” he coughed. “Uh, okay, thank you for that, Chris…”

“Pesky lines show through sometimes, gotta do something about it! Is my choice so surprising?”

“No, I just wasn’t expecting the image in my head.”

Fair enough. Picturing your best friend in their underwear, whether they had a past crush or not, probably was unwanted. “Anyway, consider that while you’re looking through there. You’ve got to have some joy in your life while trying to deny your true self.”

 

But, of course, he continued to deny himself joy. Obviously since he still, for whatever reason, wasn’t together with the tail he went to chase! Perhaps it was a matter of he didn’t trust himself in this area anymore than he did shopping. So unsure and sure all at once, it was just easier to defer to his best friend or a catalog full ad or simply buy the mannequin on display. Several years of shopping after banquets and Viktor hadn’t learned much.

Yuuri paced the hall up and down in a jog, looking worked up and mentally distant.  

Christophe got up to ask Viktor if he was all right and was quickly dismissed with a shush.

Shushed and leaving Yuuri to deal with his thoughts and struggles. If Viktor was going to quit his career for someone, wouldn’t he dote? He certainly seemed the type.

If the two of them truly weren’t an item, why would Viktor lie about it? Yes Chris had helped in setting this in motion, but if Viktor wasn’t able to woo Yuuri, it was nothing against him. Disappointing, but…

The princess was still running from the ball.

 


 



A turmeric shot, bath, and nap and Viktor was on his feet by afternoon warm-ups. A lingering headache and groggy, but that was to be expected. It was something he could easily conceal behind his coach persona, Viktor assured Yuuri as they got ready to leave for the venue.

Beijing reminded Yuuri of Tokyo with its highrises, compact streets, and traffic along with hidden tre