Yuuri’s heart raced behind his ribcage. The sound of it was so loud he could hear it thumping between his ears. It hadn’t stopped its frantic beating since the moment the music to Yuri on Ice had stopped. His body felt heavy, weighed down by the strain of skating so fervently and by the silver around his neck, but it wasn’t entirely unpleasant. He reached for the medal, and let it sit in his palm. Not for the first time that night, he found it still warm from the time he’d done the same thing a mere few moments ago, and carefully let it drop again.
He looked like a mess. His hair was still slicked back from his performance, but pesky strands were falling loose, and he patiently moved them away. It felt nostalgic to be holed up in the bathroom after another Grand Prix, but this time was different. No more was he crying in a stall, upset at his own inadequacies. Instead, he felt… confused. Indecisive. He’d said things that evening after his skate, told Victor things, but his resolve was already starting to waver.
At least a five-time gold medallist winner…
That’s what Victor wanted from him. Five had never seemed like a bigger number. Generally, Yuuri found that what Victor wanted was what he himself wanted too, but he felt like his mind worked in less idealistic ways than Victor’s did. For a moment, he entertained the thought of wearing just as many gold medals as his idol had, of being able to give Victor what he clearly wanted, but it felt so far out of reach. He didn’t even know what one gold felt like, let alone five. The silver around his neck suddenly felt a lot heavier.
Without warning, the bathroom door noisily slammed open. Yuuri jumped as the sound of it banging against the wall echoed around the tiled bathroom, his fingers accidentally slipping against the edge of the sink. He whipped around to see who could've possibly kicked it open, and abruptly found himself caught in the glare of someone he hadn’t ever expected to see so soon. “Y-Yurio?”
“You better not be crying again, pig,” Yurio said. He looked more like a Russian Punk than ever, and it made Yuuri instinctively recoil.
“I’m not crying,” he said, blinking – he’d left his glasses with Victor so that he could wash his face. He really wasn’t crying this time, though Yurio still seemed entirely unconvinced.
“So?” Yurio said, as he stalked closer. He was still in his free skate outfit, but he had his pants and jacket back on, of which his hands were stuffed into. Like usual, his hood was up, obscuring his face just as much as his blonde hair did. He no longer had his braid in.
“P-pardon?” Yuuri asked, stepping back as Yurio came closer. Not even all the agape in the world could rid Yurio of his furious, frightening scowl.
“So are you going to retire? Going to give up?” Yurio spat at him. “Victor told me he’s returning to the ice.”
Yuuri flushed, and held up his hands defensively. So Victor had told him, huh. Yuuri’s mind scrambled to find a time when Victor hadn’t been with him that evening – but it must have been just before Yurio’s performance began. They usually watched the younger Russian skater together, but Yuuri had been in the stands alone. He wondered why Victor would tell Yurio such a thing before his big skate, but couldn’t come up with a reason.
Was he going to give up? He’d asked Victor to coach him for another year, to stay with him for another year, but Victor had wanted five, at least. In some ways, it felt like five years meant forever. And in some ways, it reassured him, because he thought that it was Victor’s way of saying I don’t to be apart from you, in the same way Victor said “I wish you’d never retire” when he really meant I don’t want to see you stop skating.
That was something Yuuri could sympathise with. He’d seen the way Victor had watched the other competitors during the short program, had felt a resounding ache in his chest when he’d realised he was killing Victor as a competitor by having him as his coach. How could he get Victor to return to the ice? How did he see his idol, the person he loved, skate again?
By being selfish. He’d hated it, had known Victor hated it, but he thought they were both better because of his decision. In the end, he still tentatively had Victor as his coach, and they would both be skating competitively. Probably.
“Oi, stop daydreaming!” Yurio snarled. He pushed out an arm, his palm laying flat on the mirror above the sink, backing Yuuri right up against it. The edge of the sink was digging into the small of his back, but he didn’t dare complain, even though it was somewhat painful.
“W-why?” Yuuri asked after a tense moment. “Last year, you wanted me to retire. Ordered me to. Why does it matter now?”
Yurio clicked his teeth. “So now that you’ve got a medal, you’re ready to quit?”
A refute was on his lips, but Yuuri couldn’t voice it. Yurio’s anger always left him speechless, and after everything that had happened that evening, his mind was too muddled to keep up with it. Why would Yurio be angry at him for wanting to retire? He didn’t even know if he was going to yet, though he’d already said he wouldn’t be. Even with all his anxieties and inadequacies, he loved skating, and he loved being Victor’s student.
He didn’t want to lose that.
Yuiro’s scowl was worsening with each passing moment of silence. He grabbed the gold around his neck, giving it an equally scrunched up look, before pulling it off his neck with a harsh jerk. “This is what you wanted, right?”
Yuuri let out a frightened noise as Yurio snatched at his silver. It was gone from his neck and his hand before he even realised he was holding it again, and then Yurio had both. It was in a fit of rage that Yurio pushed his gold at Yuuri, making him hold is so that it didn’t clatter to the floor.
“That’s it, right?” Yurio said. “Now you can retire? Leave the ice forever? Give up?”
He said “give up” the same way someone might bark out a harsh curse. It made Yuuri flinch. Yurio’s medal felt even heavier than his own, like his wrists could crack if he held onto it any longer. He didn’t want it. It was a thought that left him feeling shocked at himself.
“Why are you doing this?” He asked Yurio. “Why bother? If I didn’t skate, you’d win a medal all the time. There would only be one Yuuri on the ice.”
Yurio’s face twisted. “You’re more of an idiot than I thought,” he snarled. “Are you thinking at all?”
A dark, rebellious side of Yuuri reared up at that. All he did was think. He could never stop, could never shut his thoughts off, could never stop himself from second-guessing every single person around him. No matter how much kindness, how much honesty and support he was shown, he doubted it, and he hated himself for it. “Do you really believe I can actually win this?” He held up the gold medal like it was an accusation. “Do you not understand how far out of my reach this thing actually is? Even with Victor’s help, even after breaking a record, a sixteen year old still beat me. There is always new talent pushing at my back, always someone new and better and more trained. Do you really believe I can compete with that?”
“You are competing with that,” Yurio said, angry. “You didn’t get beat, pig.”
Yuuri yanked his silver back, and forced Yurio to take the gold. “This says otherwise.”
“It doesn’t count.”
“What?” Yuuri couldn’t have heard right. Yurio won, he beat everyone, and here he was saying that the gold in his hand didn’t count.
“It doesn’t count!” Yurio shouted. His face twisted again, like he was going to scowl, but then his features abruptly softened, like all the fight in him had gone. “Victor spoke to me before my skate. He said he was returning.”
Yuuri assumed as much, but what did that have to do with anything they were arguing about? Victor returning to the ice was what Yuuri wanted, but it made his choice more difficult. How could his coach train someone to be his own competitor?
“He said that you retiring is your own decision, and that you’d make it after the finals. What is it, then? Your decision?”
“Why do you need to know?” Yuuri said. He sounded like he was begging, and he didn’t like it, but he just didn’t understand.
“The only reason I won is so that you wouldn’t retire!”
Yuuri’s rampant thoughts skidded to an abrupt halt. “What…?”
“Zero-point-twelve,” Yurio said. “That’s the difference in our skill. It’s nothing. But isn’t it enough to stop you from retiring?”
“I thought that-” Yurio frowned as the words got stuck in his mouth, frustrated. “I thought that as long as you didn’t win gold, you wouldn’t retire. If you won, then Victor’s training would have paid off, and you could leave. But silver isn’t good enough, right? That’s why I won. Not for me, not for Yakov, not for Victor.”
The words Yurio was trying to say were left hanging in the silence between them. I won so you wouldn’t retire. I won for you.
Something thick was settling in Yuuri’s throat. “But why?” Why do so much for me? “Why would you devalue your win like this?” Why don’t you think it’s good enough?
Yurio wouldn’t look him in the eye. All the anger had drained from him, and he’d completely deflated. He didn’t even seem to have the energy to lift his shoulders, or to scowl. “Why do you skate?” Yurio suddenly asked him.
“Because I like it,” Yuuri said.
The words escaped him before he could even think about it. “For Victor.”
Ah, that’s it.
He’d always skated for Victor, hadn’t he? He watched Victor through his television screen, and in person. He copied Victor’s routines, and was taught them. It had always been for Victor, even before Yuuri knew him personally. That fact was even more prominent, lately – that everything he did on the ice, that all the Eros and the love he poured into his routines were for Victor. He’d always looked up to Victor, everyone did, but now he felt like he was looking at Victor.
The difference in those two things had never felt greater.
Yurio let out a small, vulnerable noise, and lifted his eyes. “Not everyone looks up to Victor.”
Wetness sprung to the corner of Yuuri’s eyes.
It wasn’t in the same way, wasn’t the same type of love, but he suddenly felt like he understood Yurio more than ever. In a sense, they were doing the exact same thing, weren’t they? To stop Victor from retiring, Yuuri had done anything. Had told Victor they would end it, had skated until he was uncontrollably crying, had given every part of himself he could spare straight into Victor’s hands.
That’s why Yurio had cried, too. Not only for himself, but for someone else. He’d done everything he could to stop the person he loved from leaving the ice, the one place where he could look at him, and not up at him. It unexpectedly made so much sense that Yuuri was crying again. He instinctively lurched forwards to hug Yurio, but stopped, because he knew Yurio didn’t like that.
But then Yurio inched forwards, and in an uncharacteristically gentle way, he put his arms around Yuuri. It didn’t feel like a hug, or at least what a normal hug should be, but it was more physical affection than Yurio had ever offered him. Somehow, Yuuri felt like Yurio was too scared to touch him – just in the same way he’d been too scared to be near Victor.
“N-next year I’m really going to steal the gold!” Yurio said, before he spun on his heel to storm away. He suddenly stopped however, his shoulders tensing, before he begrudgingly turned around. He took Yuuri’s silver from his hand, and carefully looped it back around his neck.
And then he was gone.
Yuuri sniffled, and rubbed at his wet face. He didn’t know what to do with himself, but he really was going to start crying.
He must have only been alone in the bathroom for a few moments before Victor came walking in. “Yuuri, are you still in here? I just saw Yurio- Yuuri! Why are you crying?”
As strange as it was, he trembled worse when Victor held him. It was going to be hard to be coach and competitor at the same time, wasn’t it? Fiancé, too…
“I’m fine,” he said, waving away Victor’s outrage on his behalf. “It wasn’t Yurio.”
Victor cooed something sweet in Russian, and drew him close again. His gloved fingers were cradling the back of Yuuri’s head, and it was such a gentle, intimate gesture that he quietened down straight away. Victor was a comfort unlike anything else, and with Victor, he felt like he could do anything.
“We’re going to beat Yurio for the gold next year,” he finally said. He felt Victor startle in surprise, and said, “And the next year, and the next, too.”
Victor grinned, that signature heart-shaped smile of his, and nuzzled against Yuuri’s hair. “Yuuri!”
His silver didn’t feel so heavy anymore.