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Undiscovered Country

Chapter Text

It doesn’t feel strange for Yuuri to wake up with Victor’s arm slung around him. The warmth is new and unfamiliar, but it fits him like a new prescription for glasses: after months of fuzziness, the world has finally popped into sharp relief. Victor here with Yuuri makes so much sense that he doesn’t know how anything made sense before…this.

It makes so much sense that Yuuri’s grateful he’ll have this a little while longer. They have a few weeks together, at least, then…

Then what? They’ve scarcely had a chance to talk about the future.

He doesn’t want to think about how the world will feel without this, the feel of Victor’s even breaths marking a soft rhythm in the space around them. Not yet.

It’s luxurious to feel Victor’s skin against his fingertips. Yuuri can smell the citrus-sweetness of his shampoo. He can almost taste their late-night kisses lingering on his tongue. He knows that Victor is here with all his senses.

It feels strange not to doubt his joy.

“You’re awake,” Victor whispers.

“Mmmm.” Yuuri’s own voice sounds sleep-strained, his throat still dry.

“I’ve been watching you for half an hour.” Victor snuggles closer, which Yuuri wouldn’t have thought possible, until Victor’s arm wraps around him, pressing them together. “I could tell when you woke up because you stopped moving. When you sleep, you cuddle up to me. And you make these little noises…”

“Oh, no.” Yuuri squishes his face into his pillow.

“Adorable noises,” Victor clarifies. Yuuri can hear the smile in his voice.

He lifts his head to the beautiful blur that is Victor Nikiforov.

“Okay,” Yuuri says, “but counterpoint: You’re mine.”

It feels so strange, so good, to say that out loud.

The blur that is Victor Nikiforov shades slightly pink. “I’m yours. All yours.”

Yuuri won’t let himself worry about whatever physical separation will come, not when he can enjoy this moment.

“At today’s exhibition skate,” Yuuri hears himself say, “promise that you won’t take your eyes off me.”

Victor leans in and touches his forehead to Yuuri’s. “I promise.”

#

Before open practice for the gala, though, there’s a photoshoot. Victor goes through Yuuri’s wardrobe, muttering to himself. He makes a scandalized noise when Yuuri suggests wearing his suit—“Yuuri, it’s not even tailored, how are you supposed to show off your body like that?”—before settling on slim-fit jeans and a white T-shirt.

“Take your skates,” Victor says, and Yuuri does, even though it seems ridiculous to schlep them along just for show.

The make-up artist spends a full twenty minutes painting Yuuri’s face, before telling him not to move, leaving, returning with a bucket of water and then—entirely without warning—dousing his torso.

“What?” Yuuri looks down in confusion at the clinging fabric. “Why would you—”

Victor receives the same treatment in short order, and Yuuri’s throat dries. Oh. That’s why. The water lends just a touch of translucence—enough to hint at the V of muscles disappearing into the low rise of Victor’s jeans.

“Come here,” Victor says, and Yuuri standss without hesitation.

He’s vaguely aware that there’s a photographer in the room where Victor leads him. Occasionally, he even has to notice her presence, when she says things like, “Yuuri, look over at the lamp,” but why would he pay attention to her when he could watch Victor instead?

She gives up on directing either of them after Yuuri blinks dazedly the fourth time, and lets them guide each other, intervening only when they go from light touches to…more.

Victor gets on his knees to take Yuuri’s shoes off, and then moves to put Yuuri’s skates on.

“Victor, this doesn’t make any sense. Why would I skate with a wet T-shirt? I would freeze to death.”

Victor doesn’t say anything; he just hums low, under his breath. The look he gives Yuuri as he trails the tips of his fingers up the fine bones of Yuuri’s feet is so obscene that Yuuri forgets all his objections, forgets reality, forgets everything but Victor’s hands on him, Victor sliding his fingers up his calf, Victor resting his palm on Yuuri’s thigh and leaning forward…

There is no way that they’d make a poster of that, of Yuuri pink and wanting, of Victor an inch from the zipper of his jeans with that look in his eyes. Prior Yuuri would have eaten nothing but rice for a month to raise the money to buy those prints. The photos would be banned on sight.

It’s done too soon—or maybe too late. He’s been here with Victor, touching him, and being touched by him, for a full hour. He wants Victor with a full body ache that demands fulfillment, and there’s nothing to be done, because the gala is that afternoon and there’s barely time for lunch before practice.

They walk back to the rink hand in hand, fingers caressing palms, stoking the fire that smolders inside them both.

“So,” Yuuri says, when the rink is in sight. “Feet?”

Victor bites his lip and blushes intensely. “Um. Your feet, specifically?”

“Well. We’ve got two weeks together after this.” Yuuri glances over at Victor. “And, um. I’m up for anything that gives you that look in your eyes again.”

Victor squeezes Yuuri’s hand and looks upward. “Thank you, God.”

#

Yuuri doesn’t let what he is planning slip. At the open practice, he focuses on warming up (physically) and cooling down (sexually). He runs through portions from his old exhibition skate. He doesn’t need to practice what he’s actually going to do any longer—he memorized it through every late-night practice session.

He changes while Victor is talking to Yakov and covers the jacket he commissioned with his track suit. The pants are pretty generic; Victor probably won’t notice.

Probably.

He tries not to think about what he’s hiding as they take the ice for the gala warm up, but he’s lucky. Victor doesn’t notice.

When they announce his name, Yuuri turns to Victor at the edge of the rink.

“Watch me,” he says.

“Always.”

Yuuri shrugs off the jacket that covers the new blue jacket. He hears Victor gasp, but he’ll lose his nerve if he looks at him. Instead, Yuuri hands Celestino his glasses. The world turns to fuzzy outlines; he steps out onto the ice.

The crowd is deathly silent when the first notes play. Yuuri doesn’t know if they recognize Victor’s program the way he does. For him, it’s burned into his heart, lodged there through replay after replay. He’s spent half his evenings watching videos of Victor refine his choreography; the other half, he has spent on the ice, carefully trying to change Victor’s questions into answers.

He knows where every edge should fall. He knows the rise of the music and the fall of his heart. He knows every breath he needs to take.

Everything he loves about skating is in Victor’s free program. The wide, graceful, dramatic sweep across the ice—the drop to one knee, the lift of his hands above his head. He doesn’t mess around with any of the opening jumps: quad loop, quad flip, quad salchow, just as Victor performed it yesterday.

Even yesterday, Victor had skated questions—questions Yuuri knows he’s longed to have answered. Will you stay with me? Will you care for me? Will you see me?

Yuuri skates his response.

Yes, he says. Yes, I will ascend any height for you. Want me to win gold? I will.

He finishes with the quad toe, double toe combination that Victor didn’t quite manage. He wobbles slightly on the landing, but it doesn’t matter.

Victor asked him questions, and Yuuri wants to answer as publicly, as loudly, as he possibly can.

I will be by your side in every possible way—challenging you, helping you, loving you.

He’s afraid that some of his fears come out, too: I want to stay with you, and you’re leaving in two weeks.

He ends with his arms thrown in the air. The roar of the crowd is intense—god, he can’t believe he skated that so perfectly, and holy crap—

Victor is on the ice, skating toward him.

It takes Yuuri a second to realize that Victor has changed his usual exhibition costume for something sparkling and crystalline, something that—god, without his glasses, he can’t quite make it out, but it almost looks like a silver version of…

Of…

Yuuri’s mind balks at the obvious answer, and before he has a chance to verify it, Victor skates up to him, taking his hands, sweeping him in circles across the ice.

“Hi.” Yuuri swallows. “Did you like my exhibition?”

“I loved it.” Victor leans in. “They’re going to say you skated it better than I ever did.”

“I—that wasn’t, I didn’t mean—”

“They’re going to be right,” Victor whispers in his ear. “But don’t worry. I’m taking it right back.”

Yuuri doesn’t know what to say to that, doesn’t know what that can possibly mean, but the officials are gesturing him off the ice and so he relinquishes his hold on Victor’s hands and skates away.

He finds his glasses, and is shrugging into his jacket, just as Victor comes to a halt at the center of the ice. Victor turns to Yuuri; he holds up his two hands in the shape of a heart.

“Idiot.” This comes from Yakov, who has come to stand by Yuuri.

Yuuri finds himself biting his lip in awe-struck anticipation.

He was right. Victor’s new costume—and yes, it is definitely a new costume, because Yuuri has every outfit Victor has ever worn memorized—is a white-and-silver version of the stylized blue suit that Yuuri wears for his own free skate.

The music starts, and Yuuri’s heart stops. It’s…

It’s his. His free skate. How. Why is Victor skating… What is…

It made sense for Yuuri to skate Victor’s program. Yuuri has looked up to Victor forever. It makes none for Victor to skate his.

He asked Victor not to look away, and in return, he finds he can’t keep his eyes off his lover. It’s Yuuri’s free skate, but every element has been transformed into something…less Yuuri, more Victor.

When Victor skates it, it’s no longer about completion, no longer about Yuuri’s quest to meet Victor in that same perfect space at the top of the podium.

It’s Victor’s exultation at no longer being alone.

He can see them—a them he has never let himself imagine before—in the tentative, uncertain way they first came together. They’re present in the reckless way that Victor throws himself across the ice. It’s Victor himself, unfolding in a shower of radiant adoration. It’s Yuuri’s program redone until it’s no longer about the achievement of his dreams but the beginning of a journey together.

At the end, even though Yuuri can see Victor’s weariness, it’s almost as if he reaches deep inside himself, and somehow, somehow—he lands that final quad flip, barely avoiding a touchdown.

Yuuri waits until Victor finishes and then—ignoring the official who tries to stop him—he pulls off his skate guards and hurls himself across the ice, launching toward the man he loves.

Victor catches him, spinning him around, laughing until they’re dizzy on the ice, surrounded by the sound of applause.

#

It is, in fact, true that the amateur judges score Yuuri skating Victor’s program. They analyze every edge, every last wobble. An entire forum argues over whether he should have a +1 or +2 GOE assigned to his final combination.

They claim that Yuuri would have beat not only Victor’s season best, but his best performance in any free skate ever.

But they do the same thing to Victor—taking apart his version of Yuuri’s program. They go through every last spin, every last step on the ice. And here’s the thing: They also agree that Victor would have beat Yuuri, even in his final world-record breaking skate.

The only thing the internet can’t agree on is whether they would have beat each other in the exhibition skate.

Yuuri sets his phone down on the train, letting the forums disappear.

They’ve hardly had any time together. There were interviews, and after those, when he’d wanted to do nothing but take Victor back to his room and show him how he felt, they’d instead had to wrangle Victor’s twelve massive suitcases down to send them to Hasetsu through a luggage-forwarding service. (When Yuuri raised his eyebrows at the sheer volume of stuff, Victor had protested. “But Yuuri, if I don’t look my best, how will people know I’m worthy of you? I have a high bar to meet!” which left Yuuri utterly baffled because he was Victor Nikiforov).

After that, the banquet started; they’d scarcely had time to say polite things to people who might give them money, and then they had had to slip out early—not to jump in bed, but to catch the last, late bullet train down to Kyushu.

Yuuri’s body still buzzes with the aftermath of his performance and a low-level horniness that has not gone away since the photoshoot, and here they are. In public. On a train.

And whatever stories claim about train bathrooms, there really is just no way, none, that they can or will handle their want that way.

Victor sets down his phone with a smile. “How are you?”

Horny, Yuuri doesn’t say, but maybe Victor hears him anyway, because he winks at him. “It’s okay,” he says, a little too loudly. “You promised me a bed tonight, right?”

Yuuri, luckily, does not have to answer this, because a man enters their car pushing a food cart. Yuuri tries—painfully—to remember his diet, but it’s no good. Victor orders everything he has never heard of.

“You’ll split this with me, right?” Victor winks at Yuuri, as the man hands over a mound of plastic-wrapped goodies.

Yuuri splutters. “You have no idea how easily I gain weight. I can’t.”

“Yuuri, it’s the off season now, remember.”

“But—”

“Am I going to be your coach?” Victor fixes Yuuri with an intent stare. “If so, then I order you to relax. Come on, what’s this?” He holds up a package.

This is an eel pie. Yuuri translates the name and Victor looks utterly perplexed.

“It doesn’t look like an eel pie.”

“I definitely can’t have those during training.”

Victor casts him a glance from behind silver strands of hair, and Yuuri feels his mouth dry. The look is distracting—it belongs, Yuuri thinks almost painfully, in a museum showcasing the most seductive looks of all time. “Split it with me? You can always lick my eel.”

“Victor!” Yuuri blushes furiously and looks around the train car. Luckily, it’s relatively empty, but still. “We’re in public. And that was terrible.”

“Mmm. That’s not what you were saying last night.”

“Oh my god.” Yuuri stares down at the table. “Give it here, I’ll split it between us.”

“You’re cutting my eel in half?”

Yuuri makes a show of snapping the pastry in two, and Victor shakes his head sadly. “Savage.”

Yuuri hands him his portion. “We’re on a train. Eat your own eel.”

“Ah, Yuuri. I haven’t been that flexible since I was twelve.”

“Oh my god, please don’t make me think of that.” His whole body is flaming. “It’s too hot.”

Victor just laughs softly. “So,” Victor says, as Yuuri’s surreptitiously brushing crumbs onto a paper napkin, “can I be your coach?”

Yuuri takes a while to push more crumbs around. “Um. Well.”

On the one hand, he loves the idea. Victor would be an extraordinary coach. Yuuri knows that he’s been skating incredibly well over the last months, and Victor is to thank for it.

He’s patient, he listens, and he never accepts less than Yuuri’s best. He’s a five time world champion, five time Grand Prix Final winner, an Olympic gold medalist… If Yuuri had no other considerations, he’d pick him in a heartbeat. But all those things give him pause, and for multiple reasons.

He looks over at Victor, who is watching him think.

“Let me think aloud,” Yuuri says cautiously. “Because I don’t want you to think I don’t want you. I want you as my, um, my…” He drops his voice, because they are in public. “My everything.”

Victor blushes. After all these months, Yuuri still can’t quite believe that he can make Victor blush.

“But.” Yuuri swallows. “Um. This is me, so I have some things I’m worried about, and I wanted to see if we could talk it over?” He’s not used to the idea that he has to talk over his life decisions with someone else. He barely even talks about things with his parents or his sister, even though he knows the choices he makes will impact them.

“Okay, sure.” Victor smiles at him and takes a bite of his eel pie.

“So, um, first.” Yuuri gathers up his courage. “I, um. Can we talk about your coaching f—”

His tentative attempt to discuss finances is interrupted as Victor coughs and spits out his bite.

“Ack!”

“You don’t like it?”

“It’s—I don’t know if I like it! It’s sweet!” Victor says this, pointing at Yuuri like it’s an accusation. “I wasn’t expecting it to be sweet!”

“Yeah, it’s a dessert.” Yuuri looks down at the piece he’s holding.

“It’s an eel pie.” Victor gestures at the crumbs. “I thought it would be full of eel!”

“Does it look like it’s full of eel?” Yuuri makes a face. “It’s, um, more like…” His English dessert vocabulary escapes him. “Maybe a cookie?”

“Why would you call it an eel pie if it’s not made of eel?”

“Why would you call it a pie if it wasn’t sweet?”

“British people do it all the time!”

“Yes, but British food sucks.” Yuuri shrugs. “It’s like a moon pie. Do you expect a moon pie to be full of moon?”

Victor just stares at him. “What’s a moon pie?”

“Um.” Yuuri grimaces. “If you’re going to coach me, I think I probably shouldn’t answer that? I’d have to admit that I ate one, and, um. Yeah. Let’s…pretend that I never mentioned it.”

“Yuuri.” Victor leans toward him, narrowing his eyes. “If I’m going to be your coach, you have to tell me everything. None of this holding out on me.”

“If you’re going to be my coach,” Yuuri blurts out, “I’m going to have to pay you, and I don’t know if I can afford it.”

There’s a moment of silence. Victor’s brow furrows. He bites his lip.

“I mean,” Yuuri explains, “I was paying Celestino about…twenty thousand US dollars a year?” He winces, just remembering scrambling to make those fees. “And you’re, um, a more decorated skater, and a better coach for me, and, um… I don’t know what you’ll expect, but I’m sure it’ll be expensive. Even though I got silver at Worlds, I still have a lot of expenses, and I…don’t know where I’m going to be living.”

Victor winks at him. “You can have the special boyfriend rate.”

Yuuri feels a twitch of irritation. Not at Victor, not really.

But the situation is annoying him, and Victor has never worried about money, and Yuuri doesn’t want him to have to do it, but… No. No.

“I’m not going to pay you less because you’re sleeping with me. I mean—” he feels his cheeks heat, but whatever, he might as well go for it “—if that’s going to have any effect on pricing at all, I should be paying you more, but I really don’t think either of us want to go there?”

Victor seems struck by this.

“If you’re thinking of being a coach after you retire you can’t start off low-balling your rates. Because the next time you start negotiating, what are you going to say? ‘I spend a lot of time with Yuuri, but he’s barely paying me.’ You should be charging me more than Celestino, not less.”

Victor stares at him for a moment. He licks his lips. “I should be charging less than Celestino,” he says, “for two reasons. First, you’re a world class skater and I am a brand-new coach, and you are giving me a chance when I’ve never coached anyone. If you do well under me, you will make me famous as a coach, not just a skater. You’re helping me build my coaching resume.”

World class skater. Yuuri doesn’t even know what to do with that description. He wants to argue it, but he doesn’t think it’ll go over well. Yes, technically, he did just get a silver at worlds, but…that was…

Not actually an accident, since he won Four Continents before it and he broke Victor’s world record while doing it?

Victor interrupts this bit of self discovery with a touch to Yuuri’s hand. “Are you okay?”

“What the fuck,” Yuuri says in a daze. “I just realized I’m a world class skater.”

Victor stares at him in disbelief.

Yuuri looks down at his hands. “I mean, I guess it should have been obvious after Four Continents.”

“You made the Grand Prix Final,” Victor says. “Maybe it should have been obvious then?”

“I… It’s just…”

Victor stares at him a while longer, before nodding his head so slightly that it almost seems as if the gesture is meant for himself.

“Yuuri,” he says slowly, “when you were thinking about how to pay me, did you include sales from your posters?”

It takes Yuuri a moment to remember. That’s right; there is that poster they did, the one of just Yuuri. He remembers Victor saying that he would lose money if they sold less than a thousand-something copies, and he winces, because taking money if Victor is losing it feels like cheating, or maybe—worse—a form of charity.

He hadn’t really thought about his individual poster since the photoshoot, only dimly remembered, but… “No? But seriously, how much could that be?”

Victor exhales in frustration. “My project manager sent you a link. I know she did; I was cc-ed on the email! There’s a website where you can log in and see sales. It’s not completely accurate—it only counts sales from locations that have point-of-sale recording—”

“What?”

“—and our online direct sales, of course, and there’s about a week lag on the online reporting.”

“So I shouldn’t be too disappointed in the low numbers, is what you’re saying.”

Victor blinks twice before continuing, in a suspiciously mild tone of voice. “What I’m saying is we’re only the first day of sales. We don’t have numbers for any purchases after you broke my world record. Maybe you should look at that number before we talk finances? It’ll take two minutes.”

“In my defense,” Yuuri mutters, “I was busy graduating and breaking your world record.”

“Maybe,” Victor repeats, just as mildly, “you should go look now.”

Fine. With Victor looking on, his relatively mediocre sales are just going to be embarrassing, but Victor owns the company. It’s not like he doesn’t already know.

It takes Yuuri a moment to dredge up the email on his phone. Yes, there is a website, and yes, it has login information. He pulls up the site and finds a bewildering sea of numbers.

That, right there… What. What?

“Oh.” Yuuri feels baffled. “I guess some people…wanted it. That’s…just from presales?” He pulls his phone closer to his eyes, but the problem is not that his glasses have suddenly gone wonky. “I think there has to be an extra zero or something, because…that’s twelve thousand posters sold? That can’t be right.” There’s another number next to it, a projected royalty number, and Yuuri can’t even bring himself to say think it because it’s ridiculous.

“I should have realized it.” Victor smiles at him smugly. “I don’t know why you’re talking about paying me money.”

Yuuri stared at him in confusion. “What? No. That can’t be right. You must be…paying me too much.”

“In the sense that I could have negotiated a substantially less favorable rate, yes.” Victor grins at Yuuri. “In the sense that I made more money than you, when you’re the one who’s that beautiful? No.”

It is still weird to hear Victor call him beautiful.

“Plus, there’s our joint poster still to come.” Victor takes Yuuri’s hand. “And there’s the fact that I’m going to take my world record back from you, and you’re going to take it from me. And, you know, watching you do my free skate as an exhibition gave me an idea for a pairs ice dance we could do, and that is going to be like printing money. I’ve already had a few people ask whether we’d appear together at some ice shows this off season, so there’s that to count in as well.”

“I just—that—” Yuuri blinks, utterly confused, and finally gives up on understanding. He picks up his own piece of unagi pie and takes a bite, even knowing that every bit of that sugary, rich cookie is going straight to his hips. He’s still baffled by the sheer size of the dollar amount that he just saw. It’s screamingly large, plus, plus, plus… Ice shows? More posters? Whatever he’s going to get from worlds? There are too many pluses and barely any minuses.

He is not used to money having more pluses than minuses. That’s not how money works, that’s not how it ever works. He has no idea how to process any of this.

He gives up and goes on to the next thing that’s been gnawing at his brain.

“I don’t want to take you away from the ice,” he whispers, “and I don’t know how to make it work. You’re going to be training in St. Petersburg, and…”

He trails off. Yuuri could go to St. Petersburg, too. He probably will. He’ll have a slice of spring and maybe summer to spend in Hasetsu, and then…

Victor just shrugs. “I mean, sure. But I was seriously considering quitting after the Grand Prix Final. You’re the only reason I’m here at all, so it’s fine if you take me away.”

His tone is so flippant that Yuuri is almost offended at how easily he’s talking about Victor Nikiforov, Five-Time World Champion retiring. Yuuri glares at him.

Victor just pulls out a package of Tokyo Bananas. “Come on, Yuuri,” he says with a smile, “we’re on vacation. Can we hash out the details later?”

“Fine.” Yuuri sighs. “But I want the rum raisin Kit Kats.”

#

They have a hotel in Saga, where the train deposits them late that night. They’re not that far from home, and Yuuri’s mom had offered to pick them up at the station, but Yuuri hadn’t wanted to impose, not in the middle of busy season.

He’s also desperately aware that his mom would come in the family’s fourteen-year-old van, and…

Well. Yuuri had made the reservation for the hotel, planning to splurge by paying for it for both of them. He’d tried to pick something that Victor wouldn’t turn up his nose at. The hotel is staggeringly expensive by Yuuri’s hostel-trained standards—en suite bathroom, separate in-room dining area, all-wood interiors, beautifully lit with soft, indirect light. A round cypress soaking tub rests on a balcony overlooking the city.

They’re brought an array of tiny courses on tiny, brightly, colored bowls. Yuuri, onsen owner’s son, can immediately price the dishes out as Way Above Yu~topia Katsuki’s Usual Range.

He thinks of the restaurant Victor took him to, and…even this is probably beneath Victor’s standards.

There’s rice, tempura, soup, sukiyaki. Victor tries everything.

“Amazing! You have to try this.” He holds a piece of sukiyaki out to Yuuri on his chopsticks.

Yuuri tentatively takes a bite. The beef has been simmered into perfect tenderness, the flavors so carefully balanced. It melts in his mouth.

“I’ve never had anything so delicious,” Victor moans.

Beneath the delicate broth of Yuuri’s simmering anxiety, he finds himself smiling.

Ha, he thinks. There’s one thing Hasetsu has over this place, balconies and all. Hasetsu has his mother and her cooking—and their pretty dishes won’t save them, not in a head-to-head. If Victor thinks this is good…

Victor pauses on the other side of the table, chopsticks midway to his mouth. “What’s that smile?”

“I’m just…” Yuuri takes a deep breath. “I’m really happy you’re coming home with me.”

“Oh?”

“There’s a lot I want to show you.” He means that literally; Hasetsu is his home. He hasn’t been there in ages. He misses it…

Victor’s foot finds his under the table. “Mmm?”

They’ve been wrapped in heat and want ever since the photo shoot. Yuuri isn’t sure how they finish dinner. Mostly they don’t, rearranging the cushions until they’re eating practically in each other's laps, feeding each other bites with chopsticks, then spoons, then fingers, until—all too soon—there’s no need to even use food as an intermediary, and Yuuri is on Victor, fingers in his mouth, tasting Victor like he’s the best dessert ever.

“I’m so tired,” Victor says after one long, searing kiss.

Yuuri pulls back. “It’s all right. You should sleep. I don’t mind.”

Victor hooks a finger through Yuuri’s belt loop and gives a yank, pulling him close. “That’s not what I meant,” he says. “Make me sleep well.”

They move to the futon, shedding clothing as they go. Yuuri can feel every ache from his exhibition skate; it’s enough to touch and lick, to kiss his way down Victor’s ribs, to feel Victor’s muscles tense as he swallows his cock whole.

“Oh, fuck.” Victor’s hands slide against Yuuri’s scalp. “Let me… There. Please, please, God, I can’t last—yes, oh, God. Yuuri.”

That, Yuuri thinks as Victor gasps and opens his eyes from an orgasm that has him him shaking. That’s another thing Yuuri can give him in Hasetsu.

“Tired?” He’s still hard and wanting.

Victor looks at him and smiles. “Not tired enough, if you’re doing most of the work.”

“Can I fuck your thighs?” Yuuri asks.

“Please.”

A little lube, and god, it’s so perfect, sliding between Victor’s muscled legs. He’s not that kind of person, to only care about fame, but there’s something about this—about knowing that his cock is slipping between gold-medal winning thighs—that adds an extra charge to every thrust. He stares into Victor’s eyes—blue, full of tremulous hope and wants, and wants, and God, he wants, he wants.

He comes hotly, perfectly.

They lie in a tangle of limbs, gasping for air.

“I don’t think I can get up.” Victor speaks first.

“We have to get up. We’re disgusting.”

“Mm.” Victor burrows his face in Yuuri’s neck. “On the contrary. You’re perfect.”

Yuuri feels himself flush. “Flattery won’t get you out of a shower. Besides, we can use the…” He’s tired enough that the western word slips his mind. “That…hinoki cypress thing waiting on the balcony?”

“The bath?”

“It’s good. You’ll see. Get up!”

“Mean,” is Victor’s only comment.

Yuuri will take it.

#

Yuuri has to explain how baths work to Victor.

“Wait,” Victor says in disbelief, “why do you shower before you take a bath? Isn’t the whole point of a bath to get clean?”

Yuuri decides not to point out that Westerners didn’t even figure out the concept of not walking through their own sewage until halfway through the nineteenth century, and just goes with: “Cultural differences.”

Victor almost falls asleep in the bath, and Yuuri has to prod him into bed, where he collapses into immediate torpor.

Yuuri, by contrast, is so exhausted his mind won’t shut up. He’s glad they stayed in Saga an extra night; otherwise, he’d be showing Victor his first glimpses of Hasetsu right now, and…

He’s not embarrassed by where he came from. He’s not. And he knows Victor wouldn’t say anything about the cracked vinyl in his family car, or the carpet worn bare in the highly-trafficked areas of the onsen. He’s too nice to complain.

But Yuuri can’t help but think that Hasetsu at night is…not how he wants to introduce the love of his life to his hometown. What would he do? Point out all the dilapidated buildings?

“Here’s Hasetsu’s nightlife! It’s a bar, run by my former ballet teacher.” Yep, that is going to be exciting.

He has looked up St. Petersburg’s Wikipedia page far too many times to imagine that his slowly dying hometown could be anything but a charming, rustic diversion.

He can’t blame Victor for finding it lacking. And it’s not like Yuuri has any right to speak. He hasn’t been home in five years.

Somehow, though, his hometown’s slow senescence feels like a personal indictment. As if deep down, Yuuri’s failure is encoded in his childhood.

Except something is wrong about that.

Oh. Right.

He looks up at the hotel room ceiling, thinks about everything he has actually managed to accomplish.

Right. He’s not…actually a failure? There’s a silver medal stashed in his carry-on to prove it. He’s a world-class skater. And Victor loves him.

He falls asleep on that note.

#

“Wake up, Yuuri, wake up!”

Yuuri blinks himself blearily awake to a morning that he absolutely did not authorize.

“Wha…?”

“I just checked! If we pack now,” Victor is saying, “we can catch the seven a.m. train to Hasetsu!”

Yuuri’s mind isn’t working. “Why would we do that when we could sleep and take the train at eleven?”

“Yuuri, Yuuri. I can’t sleep, I’m too excited.”

“It’s Hasetsu, not Disneyland.”

“But Yuuri,” Victor says, and even without his glasses, Yuuri is moved by Victor’s puppy-dog eyes. “I’ve never been to Hasetsu. I want to see where you come from.”

Oh. Well.

Yuuri can’t get upset about that.

#

Yuuri tries to sleep on Victor’s shoulder the entire way there—except he’s interrupted approximately every three minutes.

“Yuuri, what’s that?”

“Yuuri, you didn’t tell me there were mountains, I didn’t know you lived near mountains.”

“Yuuri, DOG. Oh, you missed it. You have to pay attention to these things!”

The closer they get to his home, the more anxious Yuuri becomes and the more sleep eludes him. He’d daydreamed when he first started dating Victor about bringing Victor to Hasetsu and showing him around. Knowing he was going to leave, and hoping he wouldn’t.

He knows now that Victor isn’t leaving him anytime soon. But Yuuri hasn’t been home in five years, and with every passing kilometer, every building he recognizes in every tiny town, his heart hurts more. Nostalgic emotion is rising in his heart. He hasn’t let himself feel his homesickness all these years. There was no point.

But he’s coming home now. The closer he gets, the more his sheer desire to arrive hits him.

For Victor, this is a vacation. Yuuri could never ask him to make it anything more. It’s unreasonable to expect someone like Victor to grow heart-deep roots in a place like Hasetsu, no matter how excited he seems now about the visit.

There’s nothing to be done about the matter. Yuuri loves Victor; if that means that the location of his home changes, that he only visits Hasetsu every few years, watching it slowly die, there’s nothing to do about it.

Victor grips Yuuri’s hand excitedly. “One more stop, Yuuri!”

Yuuri smiles and runs his thumb across Victor’s ring finger. “Yeah,” he says softly. “Next stop.”

The last kilometers of the railway take them between hills crowned with almost-blooming cherry trees. A view of water glints briefly on the horizon, then the bay pops into view. Victor squeezes Yuuri’s hand harder.

He doesn’t let go, not even when the train stops. It makes it that much harder to wrangle their carry-ons onto the platform. But when Yuuri tries to guide Victor to the escalator, Victor resists. He stands in place, shuts his eyes, and inhales deeply.

“Victor?”

“Wait.” Victor tilts his face up. “My therapist told me to take the time to experience the things I’m excited for. I just want to feel this.”

Yuuri swallows.

“I can smell the sea.” Victor smiles. “Like St. Petersburg!”

Like St. Petersburg? Oh, will Victor ever be disappointed when he opens his eyes.

“There’s sun,” Victor says. “It’s warmer here than in Tokyo.” Then Victor opens his eyes. He doesn’t say anything about the tiny train station, about the vending machine hawking who-knows what at the side. His gaze focuses on something just behind them.

“Oh my god,” he says. “It’s you!”

Yuuri turns and finds himself wincing.

“Those posters!” Victor grins. “Oh my god, I’m going to love it here!”

#

Victor introduces himself to Yuuri’s parents in very respectful, if somewhat mangled, Japanese. He further ingratiates himself (as if they weren’t already delighted by him) by offering them little gifts from Russia—vodka for Yuuri’s father, chocolate for his mother, vodka-filled chocolates for Mari—as if he’s known them all his life.

“Yuuri,” Mari says around a mouthful of alcoholic chocolate, “did you bring us omiyage?”

“Uh.” Yuuri flushes. “I, uh. That’s. Um. I was busy graduating?”

“For five years.” She rolls her eyes affectionately. “Sure, I get it. Well, he’s a keeper, at least. Don’t mess this up.”

It takes Yuuri’s mother a hot second to start affectionately referring to his boyfriend as Vicchan.

“I didn’t know you spoke Japanese,” Yuuri says in confusion, after Victor distinctly tells his mother that the katsudon she serves for lunch is delicious.

“Only a little,” Victor says. “I’ve been trying to learn. I wanted to make a good first impression on your parents.”

Yuuri shakes his head. “It’s hardly a first impression. They’ve been watching you on TV since you were sixteen.”

“Yeah,” Mari calls from across the room. “You should see Yuuri’s poster collection.”

Victor perks up. “Posters? I should.”

They don’t end up leaving Yuuri’s room until dinner.

#

Showing Victor around Hasetsu isn’t anything like showing a tourist around. For one, Victor attracts a sizable crowd. (“They’re here for you, too, Yuuri,” Victor murmurs, when Yuuri expresses dismay, and it takes Yuuri a little while to realize that yes, this is apparently true—they appear to think very highly of him? They ask him for autographs, and they’re not all just trying to be being polite.

He realizes the latter when a man who has to be ten years older than him starts crying when Yuuri politely scrawls “thank you for your support” on one of the Victor-produced posters and repeatedly, profusely thanks Yuuri for his kindness.)

But Victor’s different for another reason, too: Tourists never care. If they start conversations with the store clerk at the konbini, it’s usually all about the town—where to eat, what to see, what’s the best time to walk on the beach, tell me about the onsen, what if I don’t want to go naked, can I wear clothes?

Victor uses his terrible Japanese to ask about the clerk. How long have you lived here? Do you like it? Is it always this warm at this time of year? What is it like living in Hasetsu? Hm, why did your brother move away? Does he like Tokyo?

No Japanese person would be so nosy, but Victor’s so friendly about it that soon the whole town is talking about Yuuri’s nice, talkative foreign boyfriend.

“Really,” he hears the shopkeeper tell the florist next door, as Yuuri’s picking out cans of iced coffee for the two of them from the fridge in the back, “it’s nice having him here. He does talk a lot, but this way we’re actually getting news about Yuuri.”

Victor compliments every dog he sees in Hasetsu in his terrible Japanese. Yuuri sees him poring over his phone dictionary trying to find the right words for every dog. “Beautiful dog.” “Cute dog.” “Those eyes! Your dog is smart!”

And then there are the ubiquitous questions: “How old is your dog? Does she like treats? Can I give her this? Is it okay if I pet her?”

He hugs an old mutt with a bad case of mange, cuddling it close, before looking up at the befuddled owner and offering up this gem: “Nice paws, lots of wisdom!”

Yuuri is still not sure if that is what Victor intended to say. Probably. It sounds like something he would say in English, too.

Victor donates several hundred posters to the Hasetsu Town Council. Victor leaves reviews (helpfully translated into French, English, Russian, and his very bad, entirely romaji-written and therefore unintelligible Japanese) for all the restaurants in town on every tourist review site, making mention of his favorite foods at each place. Victor instagrams himself at Hasetsu Castle. Victor snapchats Yuuri skating at the Ice Castle. The town counsel sends him thank you cards.

When they skate, Yuuri discovers that Victor is apparently already friends with Yuuko, and he’s talked to her girls. At length.

(“Of course I am!” he says with a grin when Yuuri expresses surprise. “How else would we have set up the ice show we’re doing next week?”

Yuuri just blinks. “The what we’re what?”

“Oh, right.” Victor laughs. “Yuuko said not to tell you until after worlds because you were going to worry too much. Now I’m telling you!”)

#

The sixth day they’re there, they go to the beach and watch clouds go by. Victor turns to see Yuuri looking at him. It’s not the first time Yuuri has stared at him wistfully since they arrived. It’s not even the first time he’s been caught.

But it is the first time Victor reaches out and takes Yuuri’s hand. “Is everything okay?”

It’s great. It’s wonderful. It’s never been better. All those things are true, and yet…

“I love having you here.” Yuuri’s voice is quiet.

“What is it?”

“Nothing.” Yuuri looks away. Nothing he wants to even admit to himself.

“Nothing?”

“Nothing,” Yuuri says, even though it’s a lie. “I’ve just… I haven’t been home in a while, and it’s nice. It’ll be a while before I come back. That’s all.”

“Mmm.” Victor takes this in, tilting his head back to watch the sky. “Why? Now that you’ve finished your degree, you’ll have more time. And if it’s money… You really should look at presales for our joint poster, you know.”

Yuuri shuts his eyes. He did, actually, and it’s too much. He could afford to come home whenever he wanted. If he had the time.

“It’s just, you’re going to coach me, remember?” Yuuri makes himself smile. It’s not hard, when he can look at Victor as he does it. Victor makes it all worthwhile. “I’m going to move to St. Petersburg.”

He’ll learn Russian. That place will become their home. Yuuri’s fine with it; he really is. It means he gets Victor.

“It’s nothing,” he says, with another smile. “It’s nothing if I have you.”

And he shuts his eyes. Pursuing competitive skating has always meant sacrifices; his home is one that he gave up years ago. He just hasn’t been honest with himself about it. Home is a country he’s had to relinquish. He’ll have to discover it again somewhere else.

Hasetsu isn’t home anymore. From here on out—if he’s honest with himself—he’s going to be a tourist here, too.

#

He still can’t help hoping, even though he knows he shouldn’t. He knows how things will go. But Victor isn’t a tourist, not in the usual sense of the word. He’s the one who grabs Yuuri’s arm and takes him down an alley, just so he can get the perfect view of the sunrise through the cherry blossoms. He makes Yuuri take him to the high school he once attended, asks him how classes work…

“It’s your home,” Victor says with a laugh. “I want to know everything about it!”

It’s exactly what Yuuri has wanted. It’s nothing like Yuuri expected.

#

Yuuri wakes up ten days into their stay to discover that Victor is not in bed.

Victor is usually not in bed when he wakes up; Victor is a morning person. Yuuri stirs under his covers, not wanting to get up and wanting to go find Victor simultaneously. They don’t have that long together anymore—Victor had told him originally that he could take a few weeks off, and there’s an ice show coming up in a few days. After that…

They’re going to have to make decisions. He might as well leave sooner rather than later. He’s already been mentally packing in his mind.

He gets up, goes down stairs—

“What the heck,” he says, looking out the front windows of the onsen.

It’s April now. The drifts of snow are entirely out of place, weighing down branches that yesterday were fragrant with blooms. He’d watched the weather with Victor last night, and he distinctly remembers planning an afternoon watching new cherry blossoms together.

“I’m bringing something special,” Victor promised with a wink. So much for that.

“There you are,” his mother says, appearing at his elbow. “Would you mind clearing the front path?”

It takes Yuuri a while to find his winter jacket and gloves, and even longer to find the onsen’s sole snow shovel, buried beneath rakes and brooms in a distant closet.

He opens the door to see Victor, bundled in coat and scarf, out on the street. He’s talking to a man in a car. As Yuuri watches, Victor looks up and down the street, both ways, so conspicuously, brazenly shifty that he looks like he’s playing a spy in a movie. Then he opens his wallet and takes out what is definitely a giant wad of cash.

What the heck. The first thing that comes to Yuuri’s mind is that it looks like a drug deal, but that’s ridiculous. Even if Victor were the type to do drugs—and he’s so serious about skating that Yuuri knows he never would—he knows as well as Yuuri that drug tests are random and can be triggered at any time, even during the off season. Also, that giant wad is too much money, even for designer drugs.

His question is answered a few seconds later, when the man opens the back door of the car.

Bark. Bark! A giant brown poodle jumps out, tackling Victor. Victor laughs.

“Oh,” Yuuri says in confusion. “Makkachin?”

He isn’t talking loudly, but Makkachin, with a dog’s hearing, looks up and sees Yuuri. Her ears perk and she dashes to him, tail wagging madly. Before Yuuri has a chance to understand what’s happening, the dog has jumped on him and is licking his face.

“Hey, Makkachin!” Victor looks utterly pleased, walking up the path. Not that Yuuri can see him as anything other than a blur, with his glasses smeared with dog saliva. “Hey, you know the rules! Don’t knock people over!”

Makkachin gives Yuuri’s face another swipe before backing off and giving him a play bow, so much like Vicchan that Yuuri feels something in his heart melt. Throw me a ball, throw me a ball!

“Victor,” Yuuri says, leaning down and scooping up a handful of snow, “how on earth did you get Makkachin into the country? I know how strict Japan is on their quarantine laws.”

“Mmm.”

Yuuri throws his snow ball, and Makkachin chases it excitedly, bursting into a snow drift, and then shaking off the white flakes happily, before gamboling back to Victor, barking happily.

Victor looks entirely too satisfied. “I just asked the right people very nicely.”

“Did that asking involve a huge quantity of money?”

“Not huge,” Victor says carefully, but since he apparently thinks that thirty thousand dollars is not that much, Yuuri doesn’t exactly trust him.

“Isn’t it going to be hard on her, just being here for…a little longer?”

Yuuri trails off, because Victor’s smile flickers uncertainly.

“Yeah.” Victor exhales. “So. I…maybe should have asked you this before. But…”

Yuuri feels his heart stutter.

“I like it here,” Victor says simply. “I need a change of pace, and—you know, when we were working together via Skype, I realized that if I could do it with you, Yakov could do it with me. Ice Castle has plenty of free time on their schedule. I already asked Yuuko. And Yuri Plisetsky will come out in a few weeks so I can choreograph a program for him. And…you told me that you missed being home, so…”

Yuuri exhales. He hadn’t realized how much he wanted to stay until the option opened up to him. He feels stunned by hope.

“Yuuri?” Victor looks at him. “Are you okay?”

He doesn’t know what to say. He’s okay. He’s more than okay.

“I had thought I could stay here, if you wouldn’t mind?”

Yes, Yuuri thinks, imagining waking up with Victor. Going to the onsen with Victor. Walking home with Victor after a long day of practice, holding his hand, going to the beach with Victor in the summer. Definitely yes.

“Or…I could get an apartment here if you’re not comfortable with that?” Victor offers, sounding a little desperate. “Yuuri, talk to me.”

“I…” He swallows. “That’s…”

“I’m skipping steps,” Victor says, pulling back. “Let me ask. Yuuri, how do feel about living here with your boyfriend in Hasetsu for the next year?”

Yuuri’s head is an utter mess, but one thing is clear, even though Yuuri is pretty sure it shouldn’t be.

“No,” Yuuri hears himself say. “No, I don’t want to live with my boyfriend in Hasetsu.”

Victor’s face falls—just a fraction before he hides it in a fake, fake smile. He hides his grimace by biting his lip. “Sure. Um. That’s…fine.”

“I want to live with my fiancé in Hasetsu,” Yuuri hears himself say, and oh god, he’s such an idiot, such an idiot, why did he say it like that? Why did he say it at all? There had been that joke about marrying that Victor had made at the interview, but he hadn’t mentioned it since, and so obviously it was a joke.

Is Yuuri trying to lose everything through clinginess? They’ve been dating for four months, and it’s too fast, far too fast, who does that after four months?

Victor’s eyes widen.

Yuuri swallows. “I mean, it’s nothing! I can live with my boyfriend instead. I shouldn’t have—I know you didn’t mean it at the interview, not like that—it’s ridiculous, I don’t know why that just slipped out—”

Victor takes a step forward. “Yuuri, are you asking me to marry you?”

“Um.” Yuuri feels very far away. “…No?” It definitely comes out as a question.

He looks up into Victor’s eyes and feels his heart stop beating. Victor’s watching him with an intent expression, eyes wide.

“That would be…weird and definitely too soon and irrational and, um.” He swallows again. “Maybe you already asked me? But…also, I’ve been thinking that you would look really good with a golden ring, and if we were actually engaged maybe I could buy matching rings and just, you know, give you one? For good luck in our skating next year?”

“Yes!” Victor crashes into him wrapping his arms around him. “Yes. My answer is yes.”

“You don’t think it’s…” Yuuri swallows and tries to gets his thoughts in order, because he’s fairly certain that he just stupidly asked his boyfriend to marry him and he’s just as stupidly certain that his boyfriend said yes. “You don’t think it’s too soon? Stupid? Clingy? I mean, we haven’t even lived with each other yet, and, um…”

Victor just beams at Yuuri, his face mere millimeters away. “Of course it’s too soon. That’s why I didn’t want to bring it up again.”

Yuuri takes a step back; he feels his back hit the hotel door behind him.

“Oh?” He tilts his head back.

“But, um, when I called Vasya for advice when I came out for Four Continents?”

“Oh?” Yuuri holds his breath, wondering if he’s finally going to hear what passes for advice from Victor’s sister.

“She said, um. ‘What is it they say? Maybe he’s not that into you.’”

A scandalized noise escapes Yuuri’s mouth. “I…that’s… No. Obviously. She was wrong.”

“And I said, ‘Well, then, it’s going to make for a really awkward wedding.’” Victor sighs. “So this is perfect. We’ll call them engagement rings.”

“Um.” Yuuri glances at the snow shovel in his hand. “Okay.”

“Can we get rings today?” Victor grins at him. “I want to get rings today.”

#

Three years later

“Hey, Yuuri. Yuuri, wake up.” Yuuri jolts to wakefulness from something that is not quite sleep, and definitely not restful, to discover that Victor has set a cup of something hot in front of him. He blinks in confusion, his eyes focusing first on the ring on his husband’s finger.

Oh.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, not anymore, not after they’ve been married for two years, not after he’s spent the last years listening to his husband (oh my god, he thinks to himself, Victor is his husband) reminding reporters that he’s Victor Katsuki-Nikiforov, thank you very much, because did they remember him getting married to Yuuri Katsuki-Nikiforov? It was a lovely wedding, and here are the pictures, have they seen how beautiful his husband is?

It’s not a surprise anymore, not in the sense that he ever forgets that he is married.

It’s a surprise, though, in the sense that every time he sees the proof of his husband’s devotion, he’s filled with a sense of awe and wonder and disbelief, that somehow he got to marry Victor. That he gets to know the side of Victor who rarely comes out in interviews, the Victor with the dorky sense of humor, the Victor who built a ramp with his own two hands so that Makkachin could get on their bed when her hips started hurting.

“Vitya?” Yuuri blinks. He reaches a hand out to try to find his glasses—where—last night, he was on his phone—dammit—

Victor puts them in his palm. “Come on, Yuuri, we’re late, we’re late.”

“Mmm.” Yuuri reaches for the cardboard cup and sniffs gingerly. Victor went to the new tea-shop in Hasetsu, he thinks. Because now that they live here full-time, after a year here, a year in St. Petersburg, and a year careening back and forth, there’s apparently a new tea shop. And a new wine shop. And…

And this smells like ginger, which means Victor got one of those flavored teas.

Yuuri takes a sip. It’s not bad, for flavored tea.

“Come on,” Victor says impatiently, “we have an appointment, we don’t want to be late, what on earth are they ever going to think of us?”

They’re going to think, Yuuri suspects, that between them, they have three Olympic gold medals, eight world championships, and all the world records. They’re going to think that Yuuri is not a morning person. That’s just the truth. He yawns and stretches.

“I picked out clothing for you,” Victor says, vibrating with an almost desperate energy. “Come on, Yuuri, we have to make a good impression.”

“A tie?” Yuuri frowns dubiously. “Isn’t that one of yours? If I have to wear a tie, what’s wrong with one of mine?”

He has his glasses on; he can see the shifty look that passes over Victor’s face.

“Oh, ha, nothing,” Victor says, in the tone of voice that implies—Yuuri knows this now, after their years together—that everything is wrong with Yuuri’s ties. “I just think this one would look nice today?”

There’s a time to give in, and a time to be stubborn. Yuuri stands up, stretches—oh, that muscle, there, he must have strained it a little in practice yesterday and he didn’t notice. Victor holds out the collared shirt and tie expectantly.

Yuuri takes a sweatshirt from his drawer.

The noise out of Victor’s mouth is so pitiful that if Makkachin had ever made it, Yuuri would have burst into tears and given her anything and everything she wanted, including one of those steamed buns that she keeps trying to steal.

Yuuri ignores it.

Yuuri.” Victor is almost whining. “Yuuri, they’re going to think we’re barbarians. Do you want them to think we’re barbarians?”

Yuuri finds a pair of socks. They match, so he’s not sure why Victor whines when he puts them on.

“Victor,” he finally says, “I am not going to go look at puppies wearing a tie. At best, it’ll get slobbered on. At worst, it’s going to get chewed.”

“But Yuuri, this is the first time we’re going to meet our puppy, our first puppy together. Don’t you want to make a good first impression?”

Makkachin is our puppy.”

“Okay, yes, but—you know what I mean. There’s an actual baby dog who is going to meet us today. Do you want them to think we’re unsophisticated?”

Yuuri yawns and heads to the bathroom. His hair is sticking up every which way. “Truth in advertising,” he calls, and Victor whines again.

#

In the end, Victor wears a tie; Yuuri goes in his sweatshirt.

Victor picked out the breeder through extensive research. “You can’t just get poodles from anyone,” he had explained, and had gone on a tirade about interbreeding and genetic scans and birth environment and how at the age of just ten weeks, little puppies are already past the point of full socialization because what if they got a puppy who had never encountered sand before? Or people in hats? Or people on skates?

They’ve been together long enough that Yuuri recognizes all of this for what it is—Victor is nervous, and he wants Yuuri to comfort him.

They pull up in front of the house. Victor looks down at his jacket and tie, and then at Yuuri’s sweatshirt and comfortable sneakers. He sighs.

“I promise you, Victor, our puppy will love you no matter what you’re wearing. Puppies are easy. Just feed them a little chicken, don’t yell when they chew your stuff, and it all works out. And we’re not taking one home today; they’re only six and a half weeks old. We’re just picking ours out.”

“Are you calling our puppy easy?” Victor says.

“No,” Yuuri says. “It’s going to be a lot harder for you. You’re the one with the expensive shoes.”

“Yuuri!”

Yuuri looks over at Victor, and casts him a grin. “Come on,” he says. “Let’s go meet them.”

There are six dogs in the litter. Two are already spoken for—breeding dogs that are going to other kennels. The other four are little wiggly masses that look a lot like chubby brown hamsters. Yuuri does not tell Victor this, partially because he’s certain that Victor would not hear.

Victor sinks down on his knees, holding out his arms. “Puppies!” He speaks in a reverent tone.

He is mobbed. All six of them want to say hi to Victor. They sniff him, then clamber atop him with uncertain puppy paws. Their eyes are no longer the steel-blue from the first photos; they’re now varying shades of warm brown.

When they figure out that Victor brought treats, appropriate for dogs that are not completely weaned, they jostle around him, climbing him, demanding little bits of the dehydrated chicken.

“There’s enough for everyone!” Victor says laughing. “Don’t crowd, it’s okay!”

The little pups do not listen—all but one, who stands at Victor’s knee, surveying his brothers and sisters with a tilted head. Every so often, that dog places a gentle paw on Victor’s knee, and Victor, innately fair and unable to neglect any dog ever, makes sure to reward him, too.

After a while, the dogs wear themselves out. They collapse in little brown heaps, sides heaving, sleeping as if they are dead.

“Well,” says Mrs. Sakamoto. “Have you decided?”

“Yes,” Victor and Yuuri say at the same time. They haven’t talked about it at all.

“That one,” they both say at the same time, pointing to the same dog—the little one who stood to the side. “That’s our dog.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Sakamoto says, with a sad smile. “Pon-chan. My favorite. I wish I could keep him!”

They agree with her that Pon-chan is definitely the sweetest and the cutest and the smartest, and that they’ll be back for her next week.

When they’re halfway home. “Yuuri. Am I too high maintenance?”

“No,” Yuuri says, learning over and kissing him on the cheek as best as he can without causing a wreck. “Not even a little.”

Victor ducks his head; they drive for a little while longer.

The cherry trees have dropped their blossoms. Victor and Yuuri have experienced every season here by this point. Yuuri thinks about the dog they’ve shared these last three years. The days they’ve spent on the ice. The case of medals they both contribute to.

He thinks about the future, the puppy that will come home, and the fact that apparently, sometimes Victor Nikiforov wonders if he’s good enough for Yuuri.

He leans over and kisses his husband again.

“You’re just the right amount of maintenance,” he says, and it will never stop being true.