Yakov takes at least five minutes to read the email on his phone. Or rather, he takes two minutes to read it and another three to turn it over in his head, looking at it from all possible angles. Viktor knows this; knows his old coach's habits like a son might know his grouchy father's peculiarities. It is an insight he keeps, fondly, to himself.
Now he waits. This is one of the many good things about Yakov, what helped him coach Viktor and then Yurio and Mila to the podium. He is meticulous, rigid and slow but careful, and--
"So you are serious," the old man sighs. He shuts off his phone and sticks it back into his pockets, then folds his arms and regards Viktor sternly, who smiles. "I'll have to work you hard to get you back into your previous shape, let alone to redeem yourself in the eye of the skating world."
"Thank you," Viktor answers graciously. The skin around Yakov's old eyes tighten, like he doesn't quite believe having two of his own world records shattered in a single Grand Prix the very year he decides to retire has demurred Viktor. This is true. Viktor is not JJ, or Yuuri. His self-esteem is built on a bedrock of cruel, hard talent and an even more immovable six tons of hard work. He is, however, inspired, and grins wider at Yakov.
This seems to assure the old man, who sighs. "You always do whatever you want," Yakov mutters, a tired, worn-out accusation that's turned into the statement of a fact. He adjusts his hat and huffs. "I suppose you bringing that young Katsuki to us makes up for some things."
"Yuuri is wonderful. You will see," Viktor says immediately. Then he grins toothily. "What do you think about us pair-skating? Stammi Vicino was well received last year, no?"
Yakov's nostrils flare. "You can't just mow down traditions like that, boy!" he thunders, though there is a distinctive note of warning in his voice. Two men pair-skating has never been done before, and just thinking about taking that sort of leap in world competition already has Yakov shivering under his skin, not that he will admit it aloud. "It might look good on the ice, but the judges won't grade you kindly for it."
As soon as he says this, he knows it is the wrong thing to bring up. Viktor straightens from where he is leaning on the rink's barrier, his smile thinning back to a wicked, sharp crescent. Yakov curses inwardly. Viktor has built his entire career on taking traditions by the throat and snapping it one-two-three, all the while smiling his pretty smile. He's going to take this as a challenge.
But then the oddest thing happens. Yakov opens his mouth, ready to tell Viktor more reasonable rebukes to this plan, only for the silver-haired man to say lightly, "Ah, well. I have to consult Yuuri first, anyway." His tone hints (with regret) that the answer will most likely be no. The wry acceptance tinting it is almost unbelievable coming out of this man's mouth.
Yakov blinks. Squints at Viktor, who now leans down to take off his skate guard. This sends the small gathering of younger students -- who have been skating close to them with varying degrees of surreptitiousness, desperate to eavesdrop -- scattering.
"That boy's really changed you," Yakov observes.
"He's going to keep me in line," Viktor answers brightly. He tilts his head, grins with only the slightest trace of chagrin, and steps onto the rink. "You'll love him. Please reply to his email soon."
The proprietress spots Viktor from across the lobby the very moment his foot hits her pristine floor. She looks up from her expansive knitting project and squints at him, making him freeze in the doorway.
A moment passes in silence. Two. Viktor physically shakes himself free of the dreadful trance and comes inside, closing the door behind him. He puts on his most charming but open smile and says, "Hello, Emina Valerianovna."
"Viktor Artemovich," she replies in the same thin, reedy, mildly suspicious voice Viktor remembers. "You are back. Here I was, thinking you have totally abandoned your country."
"Never," Viktor replies, wondering what exactly he misses. He goes to her anyway and gives her a light hug and a kiss planted just as lightly on her wrinkled cheek. When he draws away she is smiling, as he knows she would. Viktor has no grandparents, but Emina, who has been his proprietress since he was sixteen, is something close to it.
She takes one of his hands in her own blue-veined one and examines it -- examines the ring on it. "Well, what was an old lady supposed to think, seeing you kiss your dear skater on international television like that?"
There are only two people left in the world who can make Viktor blush. Yuuri is one of them, Emina the other. His cheeks heat like he's just taken a mouthful of hot coal, and while he tries to stutter something coherent and smooth, Emina has removed her hand and gone back to her knitting. "Do you think your boy will like this shade of blue?" she asks thoughtfully, holding out her work. Viktor has now recognized the half-finished creation as a scarf.
And oh, does his chest expand -- with the cinnamon-scented air of the lobby, with hope. He kneels down so he is eye-level with Emina and smiles at her with heartfelt gratefulness. No matter how adamantly Viktor insists -- to Yuuri, to himself -- that Yuuri will be welcomed in Russia, there still lurks a shadow of doubt. And Emina has just waved it away like one would a fly.
Viktor makes to examine the scarf critically. It is a very deep shade of royal blue, and he does not need to touch it to know it is thick and soft and warm, a precious gift for the brutal Russian weather. "He would cherish it," he says. Then, because it is true and required, "Thank you, Emina." And he kisses her temple.
She pats his cheek, winks. "Don't forget to show him to me, some time."
Viktor plans to parade his and Yuuri's engagement from here to Ukraine anyway, but he smiles and answers, "Of course."
Yuuri stumbles into Viktor's arms at the airport, the skin under his eyes bagged and bruised from a stressful, turbulent flight and not enough sleep in general. Viktor kisses his forehead, worried, and drags him out to Yakov's borrowed car while Yurio and Mila look for his belongings on the conveyor belt.
Not much is said on the trip back. Yurio mumbles something mean-spirited under his breath about this being a waste of time and how much he hates having to wait on Yuuri, which is cut short at Viktor's quiet and viciously cheerful reminder that he chose to come with them to begin with. Mila giggles from the backseat, pulling the half-dozing Yuuri to rest his head on her shoulder, brusquely ignoring Yuuri's weak protests.
Viktor takes his eyes off the busy traffic for a second to study them in his rearview mirror. Something lodges in his throat, this warm car they are all sharing, the beeping road all around them, their destination forty-five minutes' drive away. The promise of tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that. Yuuri, recovered from jet lag and ready to go sightseeing in this worn, beloved city Viktor has always called home. Yuuri, in his bed, in his apartment.
"Drive, you damn geezer!" Yurio growls. Viktor steps on the gas, sliding smoothly back into his own skin in the present. He controls his own bubbling happiness with a grin and a chirpy tone of voice.
"Are you hungry, Mila?"
"I can eat later. Let's see your Yuuri to a proper bed first," Mila answers, whispering just loud enough for them to hear. She has lost the fight with Yuuri's dignity, which is a shame. Leaning his head against the window like that can't be too comfortable. Viktor automatically takes a left, choosing the longer but less bumpy way back to the apartment complex.
"Is he okay?" Yurio whispers, sounding faintly but genuinely concerned.
"He will be fine in about six hours," replies Viktor, who is intimately acquainted with the wreck traveling often makes of his beloved. He glances at Yuuri's drawn face in the mirror again; worries. "Take the car after we get there, Mila. I will give you the credit card--"
"I can afford gas and a meal, Vitya," Mila sighs in exasperation. She smiles at him, fondly. It warms Viktor that she then glances at Yuuri and the expression does not fade or change.
"I don't want to eat at your usual trashy restaurants," Yurio says, horrified.
"Well then, you can pay for your own food," Mila retorts with a flip of her hair.
"Don't worry, Yura. I have some change for snacks," Viktor supplies. He is rewarded with a boney teen elbow in his ribs, mostly cushioned by his thick coat. Chuckling, Viktor returns his attention to the road.
It turns out the trip is faster this way, the back streets mostly empty now that it is well past midnight. They pull into Viktor's apartment building yard at record time, and there is a brief but crisply organized blur of suitcases being taken out of trunks and half-asleep jet-lagged beauties getting helped to their feet, typical of people too used to travel.
Viktor passes the car keys to Mila. She accepts them, then leans over and pats Yuuri's elbow. "See you later!" she whispers loudly.
Yuuri smiles at her, the expression only somewhat strained. "See you later," he replies, Russian heavily accented but understandable. While Viktor beams and Mila grins, he leans on the shotgun seat's window and says, "It's good to see you, Yurio."
"Don't call me that, pig," Yuri snarls. Yuuri smiles fondly in return and backs off, yawning.
Then they are pulling out of the driveway, back onto the streets, leaving Viktor and Yuuri standing in front of the door, with Yuuri's two suitcases and backpack and a life ahead of them.
Yuuri leans his head on Viktor's shoulder. Yawns again. Automatically Viktor's arm goes around his shoulders to hold him close. "I'm glad they like me," he mutters.
Viktor thinks of Emina, who is likely sound asleep by now. He thinks of Lilia, of Yakov and their gruff, pleased anticipation. He thinks of all the other rink mates who have been eagerly asking to meet the Grand Prix silver medalist -- and Four Continents silver medalist, and World Championship bronze medalist, now. "I can't imagine who wouldn't," he says warmly, bending over to take one of the suitcases.
In the dim light Yuuri smiles at him, tired and so steeped in affection Viktor feels his heart lurch. He stands up, kisses him, and then leads him into the apartment.