Actions

Work Header

The Power of Love

Chapter Text

 It starts with a press conference at the 2009 Tokyo GPF. Yuuko is beside him, their matching bronzes glinting on the dark black of their Japan jackets.

“Well, all I can say is that we are excited to see you both place so well. If I could be so bold—“ the woman reporter sidles closer, presses her microphone to Yuuri’s lips, “what is you two’s relationship?”

Yuuri looks over to the skater beside him. Yuuko meets his gaze, eyes becoming soft—she knows he struggles at press conferences, in the blazing lights and quick exchanges. Her fingers spread gently over his palm, gripping his hand without lacing their fingers together, and his heart swells at the communicated support.

She’s my best friend. She’s my sister on the ice, my madonna, and most importantly of all I—

“I love her,” he blurts. “I love her so much.”

Yuuko’s other hand flies to cover her mouth, chestnut brown eyes widening, and over the gaggle of Japanese reporters Yuuri can see Celestino, squinting at them uncertainly. At first, all Yuuri can feel is pride—I did it, I managed to express how much she means to me—and then the reporter swings her microphone back to her own lips and essentially screams:

“There you have it, folks, the Japanese medalists are in love!”

Ah, Yuuri thinks, his mind slogging unsteadily through the now raging group of cameras, that’s not quite right, is it? Yuuko is trying to get the woman’s attention politely, tapping at her shoulder and mouthing words, but the reporters are talking over them in a muted blaze of noise.

“The two singles medalists make a beautiful pair! Here, at the 2009 Tokyo GPF, we have the start of this power couple’s reign!”


 Georgi Popovich watches the interview later, the slave to true love that he is. He fusses over it in the hotel room until Yakov smacks him upside the head, yells you didn’t even make it to the GPF, this is not the time to swoon over relationships, especially ones that aren’t yours!

Viktor Nikiforov, his first gold medal in his hands and the screams of the crowd in his ears, doesn’t see it until much later. Georgi watches it one last time when they’re back at the rink in Russia, holds his hand on his heart in adoration until he sees Viktor blinking at the subtitled interview over his shoulder.

“Vitya,” he sighs, “Someday you’ll have a love like that.” The younger man shrugs.

“I have a gold medal.”

Georgi squints at him.

“You know them, don’t you?”

“The woman became fast friends with one of the other Russian singles skaters. This was Katsuki’s senior debut, so I’ve spent the most time with him while on the podium. We’ve all been out for dinner once, but he was quiet and she was talking to other people.”

“She’s cute,” Georgi ventures, and Viktor just laughs briefly and pulls off his skates. The older Russian pauses. “Oh, Vitya. I’m sorry.”

“What for?” The champion asks lightly.

He’s cute,” Georgi says firmly. Viktor swings his gear over his shoulder. He exits, and doesn’t look back.

“That doesn’t really matter.”

It didn’t, not for years, not until he had all of his golds, and his mouth tasted of bitter and lonely metal.


 The 2009 Tokyo GPF was not actually where everything had started.

When he was young, our Nishigori Takeshi had a clumsy classmate spill their juice on him at lunch. It had been a pain, wandering to the restroom in his soaked shirt; but it had brought him to the end stall, to the muffled sobbing and poodle-chewed sneakers that he recognized as belonging to one Katsuki Yuuri.

“Yuuri,” he said gruffly through the door. “Yuuri, what are you doing in there?”

As much as they were with each other, Yuuko had always been a welcome buffer between the two boys. But that day, that day it didn’t matter.

“I have a math test,” the twelve year old confessed through the stall door. “But I lost my key to Minako’s yesterday—“ hiccup, feet shuffling “—and then I stayed up all night and I’m scared I won’t do well and…”

“Lemme in,” Nishigori had said.

Nishigori was rough around the edges, and easily jealous, and never hesitated to tease Yuuri, and frankly—frankly, sometimes Yuuri was terrified of him, no matter how much he also admired him.

“You’re gonna do great, kid. Remember going over everything with me and Yuuko last week?” He ruffled Yuuri’s hair, knocked him gently in the shoulder. “Is it algebra? I hate that stuff. But I made it through, and you know how much of a blockhead I am. You can do it for sure.”

He pulled Yuuri off the bathroom tiles, clapped him on the back.

“Nishigori,” Yuuri mumbled quietly, eyes down, “thank you.”

“No problem.” The older boy paused. “…Does this happen a lot, you staying up all night, worrying about things?”

Yuuri had nodded.

The next time he went to the rink at night, Yuuko on his heels, Nishigori had come too, had slipped his oversized jacket onto the younger boy and quietly watched him work out the nervous energy.

“I’m so glad you know now,” Yuuko admitted to Nishigori, standing behind the glass and watching the twelve year old move in smooth circles on the ice, “he needs a lot of support, sometimes.” She held his hand in the frozen air, pressed a kiss to his cheek. She did not tell him, but she thought he would be a great father.


 In another time, another universe, this universe, Nishigori Takeshi is lucky enough not to be doused in juice.

“That was a close call,” he laughs as the can pours onto the classroom floor. He does not go to the bathroom. Yuuri does not pass his test.

And this happens instead:

“You stood me up on our anniversary,” he bites out, “to go be with Yuuri!”

“He needed me,” Yuuko pleads. “Try to understand.”

“And why would he?” Nishigori snaps, “Were you two gonna obsess over your beloved Viktor Nikiforov again?”

“No,” Yuuko replies hotly, tears welling in her eyes. “I can’t—I can’t tell you, Nishigori, can’t you just trust me?”

“You like him, don’t you? You like him and you don’t like me!”

“He’s just twelve!” Yuuko bursts. “He’s like a brother to me! To both of us!”

“No.” Nishigori’s fists tighten. “He is not. And there is no ‘us.’”

When he shoves his way out of the room where they lace up, he knocks past Yuuri, who falls hard, breaks skin.

“Sorry,” Nishigori chokes out, but he doesn’t stop.

Yuuko takes the younger boy home, cleans him up. Her eyes are hard and her mouth is set. When she dabs stinging ethanol on his knee, she says lowly, “I’ll never forgive him.”

Yuuri doesn’t want them separated. He doesn’t know why Yuuko has chosen to side with him, of all people, and he wants to voice that, but nothing makes it out of his clenched throat.

“I should cut my hair,” she says suddenly, “I should cut my hair, because he broke up with me.”

“Don’t!” Yuuri pleads, because Yuuko’s hair is beautiful. “It’s—it’s like Viktor’s hair. Prettier, even.” She laughs, hugs him from the side.

“Oh, Yuuri.” Her fingertips go through the strands, and she locks eyes with him in the bathroom mirror. “You’re right. You’re right. I’m never cutting my hair.”

“Me neither,” Yuuri says breathily.

“That’s right!” She cheers. “We’ll both be like Viktor Nikiforov. We’ll skate like him, too!” They spend the rest of the week at the rink, laugh harder and spin faster. He only sees Yuuko cry once.

When Nishigori slinks up to them days later, flowers in his hesitant hand, she smiles cheerily at him and says, “I don’t have time to date anyone, if I’m going to be one of the top female singles skaters. I’ll see you around, Nishigori.”

 Celestino recruits her when she’s seventeen. Two years later, Yuuri follows her to Detroit. Yuuko calms his nerves, cooks him katsudon, practices with him on the ice for hours, holds his hand when they’re the only native Japanese kids on campus. She hollers at him when he doesn’t reply to his new rinkmate Phichit’s flurry of texts; drags him moaning out of bed in the mornings. They’re both better for it—and Yuuri blooms into a skater earlier than anyone had expected.

At the 2010 Beijing GPF, where Yuuri isn’t under pressure from his home country, he takes silver and the madonna takes gold.

They wear matching traditional kumihimo during their free skates, and the natives in the crowd go wild at the intricate weavings of thread on their costumes. Yuuko has always been a madonna, but Yuuri—now, with the kumihimo and his long black hair piled into a topknot—Yuuri is becoming known as a samurai.

Yuuko holds him in the kiss and cry, bounds up to him as soon as it’s allowed when he steps off the podium, fat tears sinking wetly into his shoulder. He spins her, their matching dark ponytails streaming around them like ribbons—she kisses his cheek, and he flushes shyly, because the cameras are suddenly all pointed at them. Viktor and the bronze medalist watch mutely, stretching their faces into smiles for their own individual photographs.

Yuuko tells one journalist later: “We are definitely not dating.”

The hug at the podium is on the front of every skating magazine, pink lips pressed firmly to his red cheek.

“Yuuko is like a sister to me,” Yuuri confesses to another journalist during a private interview in the comfortable environment of the onsen, Yuuko’s hand on his shoulder. “I… I admire someone else.”

Nobody pays any attention. Nobody would, until the Sochi 2013 GPF.

Chapter Text

Yuuri is a competive man, and a man full of ambition and yearning. He can set a goal and work at it for years, only to achieve it and then reset the standard, start yearning anew. Land a quadruple toe loop? Most of the senior division can. Land a Salchow in practice? Viktor already has a quad flip, is working on a quadruple Lutz. Yuuri is not special for accomplishing these things; he is earning a position he’s somehow already achieved.

His goal since he was young was to occupy the same ice as Viktor Nikiforov, to have him look at Yuuri with even a drop of the admiration that Yuuri held for him. The adoration rails at him, one sided; he just wants Viktor to know his name, to acknowledge that Yuuri has bled for beauty, to see the way that Viktor inspires him and lives curled around his heart, lodged there with picks and gentle gestures of his fingertips.

The 2009 GPF dawns, Yuuri's first senior GPF, and suddenly there the legend is, in the flesh, practicing on the opposite side of him in the rink. Yuuko is off somewhere else, preparing for her own competition. Yuuri tries very hard not to stare, which is difficult when Viktor is designed for staring, when his every motion demands it. It may be Yuuri’s first GPF, but it is not the Russian’s, and he is the undoubted favorite to win gold this season. Everyone is talking about it; everyone has faith, and excitement.

So many years led up to him standing on the ice like this, and now the scenarios he’d daydreamed and the plans he’d carefully laid pale in comparison to reality. He’d always sworn that once he entered a major competition with Viktor Nikiforov he would take the initiative to make himself known to the other skater, but… What does one say to their idol, when they’re thirty feet away, when there’s a perfectly reasonable excuse—hello, I’m Katsuki Yuuri, we’re in the same division and I thought I’d introduce myself—how does he communicate desperate years of admiration? The answer, of course, is that he doesn’t.

Through skating, he promises himself, I’ll do it through skating.

  God knows he wants Viktor to see him— really see him— for the first time when he’s skating, when he’s at his best.

  So the first time he actually speaks to his idol is when medals are hanging around both of their necks, and Viktor is to his right on the podium, gold glinting on his chest. The photographer ushers them off the podium for group pictures, and though Yuuri is normally somewhat awkward in photographs he poses for he finds it easier to make a genuine smile when Viktor Nikiforov is pressing his arm around him.

“Next year, Nikiforov,” the silver medalist says with a smile, shaking his head. “Although I have to say that everybody believed you’d take it this year, and that you’ll take it again. Are you planning on making this a habit, beating the rest of us by that much?” The two other men launch into a pleasant discussion about the next series of competitions—Worlds—as the three take laps on the ice.

That, Yuuri thinks suddenly, I want that.

Easy conversation, promises to compete in the next season, recognition and acknowledgement. Apparently, all Yuuri has to do is take silver. And that decides it. He’ll make himself known, confess his hope: that maybe Viktor will consider exchanging numbers, discussing skating in the days between competitions, maybe even eating dinner together with the other skaters— but only when he reaches the next step of the podium. He’s just the bronze medalist in one event, after all. He could easily disappear from the figure skating world and Viktor would forget his short existence in the champion’s life. But if he places well at Worlds, if he makes the podium again and again…

Viktor is suddenly looking at him, smile bright and buoyant. “Congratulations,” he says, and Yuuri nearly melts at the way his Russian tongue curls over the English. “It’s your first time at the senior GPF?” Yuuri scrabbles anxiously at his medal, nods. “Then. A commemorative photo?”

Yuuri doesn’t know how he manages to still think in English, but his eyes jerk up, the yes yes please dancing on his lips—

 “Yuuri!” Celestino is waving from the side of the rink, and Yuuri’s head automatically twists to look at the sound of his voice. Yuuko is beside him, twin bronze on her chest, a bouquet in her hand for him. Blue roses. Suddenly, he feels tears welling in his eyes.

“I got you blue roses,” he murmurs quietly in Japanese, touched.

But nothing, not even the bond he and Yuuko share, can take his attention from Viktor Nikiforov for long. He’s embedded in everything.

“Ah, I—“

“Japan did well this year,” Viktor says, eyes following his line of sight. Yuuri tries to pretend that statement didn’t knock the breath from his chest. Viktor had probably been impressed by Yuuko, and not him, but it doesn’t matter.

“Thank you,” he says, ducking his head. A picture, get the picture, even if you’re just the bronze medalist—

“VITYA!” Yuuri doesn’t know how the coach of a newly crowned gold medalist could manage to look so gloriously angry.

“You sound American,” Viktor notes briefly, as though there is not a furious Russian man hollering for him at the side of the rink.

“I attend college there,” Yuuri offers quickly. Why are they talking about Yuuri? Viktor Nikiforov is here, in the flesh, gold medal dangling between his collarbones, and they’re making small talk like they met in an intro class at university. He realizes, awkwardly, that though Viktor has praised him, he hasn’t reciprocated. This is ridiculous—he’s spent almost as much time verbally worshipping Viktor Nikiforov as he has spent on the ice (which is a kind of worship for the champion in itself).

“Oh,” Viktor hums, “I always wondered what it’d be like to attend college.”

“VITYA!!” Comes the voice again, and Yuuri is beginning to suspect that Vitya is not Russian for ‘congratulations, I am so proud of your complete domination of the world of figure skating.’ This time, the champion looks over and beams at the older man.

Yuuri, in a gesture that shocks even himself, takes the sleeve of Viktor’s outfit in two of his fingertips. “Um. Today, you were…” Earlier, Yuuko had tried to drag him away, to move him back from the other competitors as they were skating because that was usually what Yuuri needed to prepare for his own free skate. But Viktor Nikiforov, live on the ice in front of him—there could be nothing more inspiring. Nothing that could take his eyes away. “You surprised me,” he confesses. He ducks his head again, doesn’t dare to look into the Russian’s face as he ploughs on. “The combination you changed since the Trophee de France, right before the Biellman—“ he may as well put a label on his forehead, stating obsessed Viktor Nikiforov fanboy “—I didn’t think you could make the transition smoother, but this way, it… it  matched the flow of the piece.”

“Really?” Viktor tilts his head, tinkles out a laugh, corner of his mouth quirking up. The way he looks at Yuuri is rapidly shifting—likely because Yuuri has just laid his admiration out on the table, but it still makes his hands tremble with the intensity of the gaze. Viktor twists closer to him with a shift of his blades, smoothly shares a secret. “That combo is actually why Yakov is aggravated today,” he admits mischievously, “he told me not to.”

“VITYA” is followed by a long string of Russian this time. Viktor glides towards the sound.

 “I should go. See you at Worlds…?”

“Katsuki,” the Japanese man breathes, “Katsuki Yuuri.”

Viktor spins to face him, chuckles wryly. “I know your name. I was wondering what I should call you.”

Whatever you want, Yuuri thinks. Call me anything, and I’ll come running.

“Yuuri. Just… Yuuri.”

“Then call me Viktor.” The other man grins, smoothly waves his fingers, and pushes off.

Yuuko holds him when he collapses excitedly into her arms.

“What is that look?” She laughs, “it’s like they just gave you another medal.”

Yuuri’s hands fly to his face, palms on hot cheeks.

“Happy,” he mutters through the cage of his hands. “I think I’m… happy, Yuuko.”

The Madonna embraces him briefly, squeezes him tightly. “I’m happy for you, Yuuri. Introduce me to Viktor Nikiforov next time.”

“Yuuko!” He laughs. “I talked to him for one lap around the rink.”

“It counts.” She holds him for a moment more. “Years,” she says when they pull back, “so many years, and now we made it.”

“Together. We made it,” he agrees. So much of this is because of you.

Celestino claps both of them on their shoulders.

“I’m so proud of both of you. More than I can say. But I think there might be a whole country of people that feel strongly about this, and they’d like to hear from you.”

“Oh,” Yuuko says, “A press conference!”

“Oh,” Yuuri groans, and normally the thought would be more daunting, but with Yuuko at his side, the bronze around his neck, and Viktor Nikiforov’s form lingering in his eyes, his words in Yuuri’s ear… how badly could it go?

 We already know how the press conference went.


 

 Yuuko comes to his room that evening. “So,” she begins, “I know a girl.”

“All right,” Yuuri says, eyes on his Gameboy DS. It’s routine, now. This is what Yuuko makes him do after competitions, rather than social media.

“Who knows a man…”

“All right?”

“And that man happens to be Viktor Nikiforov.”

He snaps the DS shut. “Why are we bringing this up?”

“Because I scored us dinner with him! A bunch of the skaters are going out.”

“I—“ he’s not Viktor Nikiforov worthy when he’s dressed up in expensive tight skating outfits, hair slicked back. Him with his glasses on, hair a mess, and clothes with department store tags would be an insult. He’d also have to… socialize.

“Yuuri,” she says firmly, “we are taking this chance.”

So they go to dinner. It’s at a bar. Most of the Russians are already tipsy, and Viktor is at the other end of the long table, pale fingers wrapped around a ruby red glass. He’s grinning, clearly still riding the high of his first senior gold at a Grand Prix Final, and Yuuri’s eyes are glued to his white teeth, the way he brushes his fringe away from blue eyes. Quickly, he and Yuuko are joined by an Italian sibling pair from the juniors division and two Canadians.

The Russians are loud, and several of them that aren’t Viktor are occasionally slipping back into the mother tongue to throw teasing, slurred sentences at one another. Viktor meets his eyes across the table approximately once, gives him a slight smile and a gesture with his glass, before returning to his own conversation. Everything feels distant, but at the same time filled with overpowering sound. The Italian female draws him into conversation briefly, and she’s as friendly as Yuuko, but before long her brother starts staring at Yuuri with a constipated expression.

“Loosen up,” the woman (Sara) says prettily, tapping her palm on his knee. “It’s okay. Yuuri already has someone of his own.” This does seem to calm her brother, Michele. It certainly does not calm the Canadians, one of whom makes a pass at her within the next few moments. Baby, that’s right, give me a chance instead, give this Canadian a piece of that pretty... Yuuri is temporarily afraid that Michele will get their end of the table kicked out of the bar, with the murderous stare he gives. Then Yuuko is there, smiling at the Canadian sweetly in a way that makes the other skater grin lewdly and Yuuri flinch.

Yuuko is the madonna: grace and firmness, morality and sharp ice. Ice Castle Hasetsu, in their childhood, had no bullies and no catty cliques, which was completely Yuuko’s influence. Protector of the weak, Takeshi had once called her.

“Sara is barely over 18. The only sweet thing you are ‘getting a piece of,’” she says gently, “is the appetizer. Unless you need us to help cool you off a bit?” She gestures with her water cup.

Yuuri buries his face in his hands. Yuuko, only Yuuko, could threaten to pour water on someone’s lap and not make a destructive scene. The other Canadian, also a woman, laughs. “You would deserve it. Leave the ladies alone.” Yuuri’s beloved rinkmate just sits there with the smile of an angel. Sara is starstruck. Michele is over the moon.

Yuuko, and only Yuuko, could easily guide the conversation back to safe ground after her own display. Yuuri finds the evening enjoyable, the company pleasant, and seeing Viktor out of the corner of his eye gives him a quiet but delighted yearning. He could have this. His career is just beginning, and maybe next dinner—maybe next dinner they’ll be on the same end of the table.

When the evening winds down, and they begin to file out of the restaurant, Michele thanks Yuuko on Sara’s behalf, and the four of them exchange numbers and promise to see each other at the next competition.

“So?” Yuuko says to him with an infectious smile. They’re on the curb, trying to locate themselves in relation to the hotel as a large and somewhat intoxicated group. The Canadian man is sitting on the curb, his female counterpart rubbing at his back.

“You’re lucky,” Yuuri replies with soft laughter, “Lucky that you’re as pretty and brilliant as you are, or I don’t think you would’ve gotten away with that.”

 “You give me too much credit.” She ruffles his hair, and he briefly squeezes her hand.

“Whooo,” one of the Russians slurs sarcastically, “so it’s true, that the Japanese have no shame about PDA. Look at you two, basically making out right in front of the rest of us.” Yuuri squirms at the sudden attention, shifts closer to Yuuko and the Italians.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Yuuko laughs, and she links her arm with Yuuri in camaraderie. Suddenly, through the group, Yuuri meets Viktor’s eyes again. The blue eyes just blink slowly before the other man pulls out his phone. He does not smile. The yearning rises up fiercely.

A silver medal, Yuuri thinks, I want one. 


He and Yuuko dance at the banquet. This is, in retrospect, a mistake. Yuuri is an excellent dancer. Yuuko is passable, considering that she wasn’t Minako’s protégé and that most of her success comes from extra time spent on the ice rather than in the studio.

The sponsors love it.

The sponsors love the idea of it. The Japanese bronze medalists, in love and dancing and laughing and communicating with wordless gestures, clearly two best friends that must have transitioned sweetly, easily, into lovers.

They want Yuuko and Yuuri to be a brand. They want them together as a couple in commercials. This, at least, is what they tell Celestino and Yuuko’s primary coach, no matter how Yuuko and Yuuri bow and politely shake their heads.

“No, we’re just friends.”

“No, we’re just friends.”

“No!” Yuuri bursts in mild horror when one sponsor implies that their routines might get a bit more… risqué in the next season. That they could advertise perfumes with titles like Sex on the Beach and Intense Pleasure—he’s nineteen now, capable of putting his face on those products. “Yuuko and I aren’t anything like—“ he pauses, gauges the sponsor’s reaction, remembering that this is his first banquet and this is meant to be an opportunity for the both of them. The onsen is doing well, thanks to his mother, but Yuuko’s parents… “Don’t you think,” he says, tracing a finger on the lip of his untouched champagne glass in embarrassment, “that there’s a lot of different types of love? Yuuko and I are… another kind of love, not so sexual like… that.” The concept is far out of his grasp of English. Possibly out of his grasp of Japanese. He’s not old enough to have experienced most of the kinds of love yet; to have met everyone he needs to.

The sponsor doesn’t care. The sponsor thinks this is impossibly romantic. She calls over her husband to repeat Yuuri’s words, a rich man who happens to be speaking to, of all people, Viktor Nikiforov. She tosses her hands and coos in French at both of the other men while Yuuri stares very resolutely into his champagne glass, trying desperately not to meet what he is sure is a judging gaze from his idol. Different types of love? What is he playing at? He knows nothing of love, and next to the suave and worldly man he must appear foolish. Fluent in Russian, English, and French, and Yuuri has never wished for Viktor to be less than perfection before, but now he hopes Viktor’s French is rusty.

He doubts it.

The woman pauses in her speech, gives Yuuri a warm gaze. “Why don’t you go dance, dear, we won’t keep you from her.”

Yuuri knows perfectly well that Yuuko is dancing with Sara Crispino, who had lured her away by promising to teach her the steps for tarantella. The excuse, however, is a good one. He bows deeply, murmurs his thanks and a farewell, and manages to summon up the courage to turn to his idol. The words come out soft, too soft, stumbling.

“Have a good night, Viktor.”

“Good night, Yuuri.” The blue eyes are on him, bright. He’s clearly at home, conversing with sponsors and admirers alike, and after Yuuri leaves the French couple he sees Viktor also take his leave, touching a pale hand briefly to the woman’s elbow and setting her husband into rowdy laughter with a final remark. Yuuri could learn from his skating. Learn from his socializing. Learn from everything about him. Viktor could be his life coach. Yuuri almost laughs at the thought, and grabs himself another flute from the champagne table.

He makes his way to Yuuko, who is flushed, long ponytail loose, her face locked in a broad smile. Absentmindedly, she reaches up and fixes his own loose ponytail, asks, “When would you like to go home?”

“Soon,” he sighs.

“Let’s have a sleepover tonight,” she suggests.

“That’ll help the rumors,” he comments quietly, nudging her with his elbow, and she lets out an amused noise before pulling him a little closer, coming to whisper in his ear.

“I want to hear everything about you and Viktor,” she says, and he shudders a little. “Everything.”

“No fair,” he complains, pulling back, “you don’t have any of your idols sharing the podium with you.”

“Idols, no.” She squeezes his hand, winks, and Yuuri instantly feels nervous. “He’s not just your idol, though, is he?” His crush on Viktor Nikiforov is something that Yuuko had herself planted in him; she’d known before he had, bought him posters for his birthday and been careful to use the word lover when discussing his future, never wife. He couldn’t hide his sexuality if he tried, though it’s not something they often discuss. Teasing Yuuri for his gay crush is Phichit’s job, not Yuuko’s. “I have someone to share, too.”

“What?” The madonna hasn’t expressed interest in someone since Nishigori. “Really? Yuuko, that’s great.” With luck, he’ll get Yuuko excited to discuss her life, and excitement is her specialty; he’ll be able to keep most of his thoughts private.

“Mm, congratulate me later. We have incoming.”

All of the sponsors just think they’re shy, and young, and definitely together. They want to discuss more couples commercials, more embarrassing products. One jokes about baby names, just “if you promise to name your firstborn after our company, we’ll definitely sponsor you.”

Yuuko flushes, shy in a way Yuuri rarely sees, and just replies, “I’ve already picked out names, I’m sorry.”

This does not help. Now the sponsors want to know exactly what Yuuko and Yuuri already have planned, their romantic future together. If they’ll live on the beach, if they’ll buy a dog together, if they’ll stay in America forever, if they watch sunsets on hills while holding hands. Yuuri knows the answers to these questions, from years of daydreaming. He does not know the answers to these questions with Yuuko as his partner.

“Yuuri,” Celestino says later, eyebrows drawn together, “these people are serious.”

“We can’t do a couples’ sponsorship,” Yuuri protests. “We’re not…”

“That wouldn’t matter, you know. People crave love stories, even ones that aren’t real. You and Yuuko could say you’re not dating and still take the sponsorships. The skating world would understand it wasn’t genuine, I think. Just promise me you and Yuuko will consider it. I know Yuuko’s main coach was excited at the possibilities, when she saw the massive online response only a day after your press conference.”

“Don’t remind me.” Yuuri burrows his face in his hands.

“Yuuri. I know you’re young, but your bodies won’t last forever. You have to take sponsorship money when it’s offered as freely as this. Again, just… promise me you’ll discuss it.”

Yuuko’s mother calls the next morning. Yuuri knows, because he lets Yuuko into his room and watches her cry quietly into his hotel pillows. She always comes to him, in the rare times when she’s sobbing and not Yuuri; not to ask for anything, just to let him awkwardly brush her long hair, murmur to her in Japanese, give her a fraction of the care she has provided to him. Her mother needs money.

“I wanted her to meet her grandchildren someday,” Yuuko gasps quietly, face swollen. “I wanted that for her, more than anything, it’s something she always talked about. We always knew she didn’t have long. I shouldn't have come to Detroit, Yuuri, I should've quit skating.” A pause, more gasps. "No, I'm sorry, Yuuri, that's not true. Don't think about that, don't listen to me. I want this. I want this. I'm sorry."

Children aren’t possible, not that quickly, and Yuuri can’t give them to his best friend. But money. Money, he can give.

There is no discussion.

When the first wave of sponsors approach, wanting Yuuko and Yuuri as the golden couple of their dreams, he signs without hesitation.

Chapter Text

Yuuri aims for silver at the 2010 Worlds. Somewhat desperately.

Wound up and half awake before his free skate, he misses two perfect landings and the podium, too. If it wasn’t for his short, he isn’t sure he would have even made the top six.

“That’s it,” he says to Yuuko, face in his palms as she rubs a hand over his back when they’ve escaped the kiss and cry, “that’s it, I medaled at one GPF and I peaked. It’s over.”

“Yuuri,” she replies firmly, “do not think that way. We’re both young.” Yuuko had taken bronze at Worlds, again. A reporter somehow snaps a picture of them in the back hallways of the rink: Yuuko, rubbing his back until he can’t help but smile up at her gratefully from his bench. Yuuri wonders if his failure to medal will finally quell the media excitement over their ‘relationship.’

It does not.

He’s trying to pack that evening, when Yuuko swings a shirt from his suitcase, one with the tags still on. Yuuri can’t remember buying it. “We’re going out?” She says, and he blinks at her until she admits, “I heard some of the skaters are meeting up for dinner, again.”

With his own obsession, and even with talking to her about it daily, Yuuri often forgets. Yuuko had been Viktor Nikiforov’s fan first. Perhaps that is why, when they arrive at the restaurant, she marches them to the miraculously empty seats at Viktor’s side, sets them both down, and proceeds to politely gush over the Worlds competition. Over Viktor’s program. Over his costume and his quad and his new exhibition skate. Viktor responds briefly, confused but gracious, and it’s enough.

Encouraged, Yuuko bubbles brightly at him, flips through photos of the poster and figurine in her room, a brief clip of her and Yuuri replicating one of his step sequences from a few years back. Yuuri turns into a flushing pile of magma and wishes he could burn his way through the booth seat, saying nothing. It’s so evident from Yuuko’s admiration of the man that Yuuri feels the same way about Viktor, so obvious that he’s a fanboy who somehow made it into the senior division. Still, Viktor is handling the attention graciously, even laughing along and reminiscing over old material rather than scooting away from the Japanese pair or making an excuse to escape to the bathroom.

“Oh!” Yuuko says suddenly, stopping and patting Yuuri’s hand lightly on the table, clearly realizing that she’s outing the both of them and that Yuuri is significantly more reserved. “Sorry.”

“Yes, don’t praise me too much, or Yuuri will think you’re leaving him,” Viktor teases. Leaving him?

“Trust me, that’s not the problem,” Yuuko giggles, giving Yuuri a sly smile from the side. “Besides, no matter how much I admire you as a skater, Yuuri is the one I cheer for. Just you wait until he takes gold, Nikiforov.”

“I look forward to him trying,” Viktor replies easily, and then those blue eyes meet Yuuri’s. A shiver moves up his spine. It actually looks like Viktor Nikiforov is considering him, considering how he’d make his way to the top of the podium. Yuuri had taken sixth place at Worlds—not even on the podium, so he’s not up to the same standard as Viktor or Yuuko— and this feels… wrong, somehow. Foolish for him to even imagine. He wants victory so, so badly.

Yuuri waves away the possibility, clumsily redirects the conversation. Yuuko and Viktor chatter pleasantly, Yuuri inputting his opinion when the situation calls for it, feeling shy and hesitant to reveal too much to Viktor’s piercing gaze. Eventually, the Russians and a blonde man with green eyes claim him at a nearby booth, and the Japanese pair pick up conversation with the Crispino siblings and several polite representatives from Finland.

It’s more than Yuuri had expected, having missed his goal of silver, but he supposes the world has always been too generous to him.


 

The 2010 GPF in Beijing is a screaming blur and a million flashing lights, when they take the podium. It’s he and Yuuko, spinning in tandem after she tackles him and presses her lips to his cheek as he steps from the podium, feeling light and airy and victorious. It’s he and Yuuko, holding up first their own gleaming medals and then, with prompting of the photographer, each other’s. Her gold feels surprisingly heavy in his hand.

 “Kiss him on the cheek again!” One of the photographers hollers. Yuuko and Yuuri step apart, bow respectfully, and are eventually ushered away by Celestino. From the corner of his eye, he can see Viktor and Christophe, laughing and lifting their own medals, smiles perfect. He doesn’t have much of a chance to talk to Viktor. He doesn’t have much time to miss it. 

Two kids, from a backwater town in the tiny nation of Japan, and they’re on top of the figure skating world. It’s like a fever dream. They wander the streets of Beijing together after the competition, exchanging rapid Japanese while Yuuko snaps photos of the city and them, together, to email back to their families. The Katsukis and the Asadas have taken to watching the competitions together on television, both Yuuri and Yuuko’s families equally clueless as to the rules and Minako too drunk to adequately explain.

Yuuko only looks up news sites once on her phone, sighs at the headlines, and shuts them again. They don’t talk about it. They eat chuan’r and dumplings from the street vendors with their medals tucked into their Japan team jackets, and they do not talk about it.


 

A reason they are complementary isn’t just due to their hometown, their Kyushu accents. It’s in their step sequences, their grace and feeling. Yuuko is as open and excited on the ice as she is off it; Yuuri expresses emotion through skating as his main outlet.

There are drawbacks, to growing up in a small town and not joining the world stage until late in the game. Yuuko has bad habits from childhood—raised shoulders before her jumps, sloppy edges on some of her landings, things a proper coach would have put a stop to when she was six, not sixteen. But there are other things, things that no unfavorable circumstances can take from her: the straightness of her spine, her grace, her effortless flexibility. Her cross-grab Biellman is her signature, and in spins she is unparalleled in the women’s division.

There is almost nothing Yuuri loves more than landing triple axels with the madonna, blades singing and cutting in perfect harmony. Phichit Chulanont, Thai exchange student and a high schooler taking a college class or two, joins their rink at 16. He watches them practice triple axels exactly once in practice and then trails them doggedly until Yuuko invites them both over to her university dorm for dinner. It’s a homecooked meal from a microwave: onion soup, steamed vegetables, and pears. Phichit asks quite plainly to be adopted.

“You’ll be my mom, and because Yuuri’s your boyfriend, he can be my dad.”

“We’re not dating,” Yuuko responds, spooning out more vegetables. “Not off-camera, anyway.”

“Awesome,” Phichit says, with no further reaction. Yuuri feels himself relaxing, knows Yuuko is doing the same. “That means Yuuri will be my son, and you can still be my mom.”

“I’m older than you?” Yuuri protests in mild confusion.

“But you’re so precious,” Phichit replies, mouth full of pears. “I know. I’ve been watching you all over campus and I’ve heard all the gossip.” Yuuri flushes to the roots of his hair. Yuuko agrees to sign the adoption papers.


 

2011 Worlds in Turin, Italy, comes too quickly. He cheers Yuuko on during her short, throws her a plush of Doraemon onto the ice, a cartoon they’d watched together as kids on the big screen at Minako’s bar after long practices. Yuuko talks to him, low and encouraging, before his short.

 When the scores come in, the Japanese pair haven’t failed to meet expectations.

 They barely manage to squeeze away from the media circus in the main area of the Palavela arena, linking arms to push through the crowd of cameras and Yuuko cheerfully waving a final farewell to Morooka, before they stumble into Viktor and the GPF bronze medalist, Christophe. They’re strolling through the calmer back hallway of the rink, exchanging words in French with light gesturing.

“Viktor!” Yuuko calls excitedly, and before Yuuri can get his bearings and properly slow his heart down he is dragged with her. Woodenly, he shakes Christophe’s sleek hand right after Yuuko smilingly pumps it with both of hers. “You both did great today! First and fourth in the standings at Worlds after the short is fantastic.”

“That means a lot, cherie, coming from the lovely woman currently in third.” Yuuko giggles at the Swiss man, and then turns to Viktor with laser focus that has Yuuri flinching internally.

“Hey,” she says, “Yuuri and I and one of our rinkmates were thinking of having a movie night. I know you boys probably have other things to do—“ Yuuri is confident that two jaw-droppingly handsome athletes have better things to do in a foreign city than throw popcorn at the hotel room television with him and Phichit “—but if you’re free, join us! You will learn more about The King and the Skater than you thought possible.”

“Ah,” Christophe sighs, “alas, the Swiss ice dancing team and I have plans tonight. Viktor, on the other hand…”

“I can’t wait to tell Yakov that I spent a calm night in,” Viktor says with a sloping grin, “and, I haven’t had time to see that movie since I was seventeen. Count me in, if you don’t mind me crashing your team party?”

“We don’t mind,” Yuuko agrees quickly, “do we, Yuuri?” She jostles his arm, and he stares at her with wide brown eyes.

“No,” he replies in a voice that is trying to be human. Viktor. Viktor in one of their rooms. Eating popcorn (does he eat that? Do they need to buy something else? Something organic or expensive?) and sitting glamorously under one of the soft, worn plaid blankets he and Phichit hauled from Detroit.

While he tries to envision this seemingly impossible situation, Yuuko exchanges details with Viktor, banter with Chris. They all start to walk for the exit.

“Oh,” she adds before they part, “sometimes my phone doesn’t work well when we’re abroad, my network can be awful. Yuuri’s phone works, though, so exchange numbers with him? So we can contact you later?”

Yuuri turns at the mention of his name, jerked away from visions of Viktor trying to politely escape if Phichit starts to sing into a hairbrush.

Viktor’s holding out his phone, pleasant smile curving at his lips, and he’s holding it out to Yuuri.

“Oh,” the Japanese man says. He takes it into his hands and hopes he doesn’t sweat too much on it. Yuuri’s tapping at the screen when he realizes Viktor’s hand is still out, patiently waiting. “Oh!” Clutching at Viktor’s phone, he reaches into his pocket and manages to drop his own into the other man’s palm.

“They’re poodles,” Viktor laughs, and it’s fond and quiet and real. The decorative black and blue phone case is being tilted in his hands.

“I also have—I mean, I have a poodle.” He assumes this is a better explanation than I want to love everything you love, but he has miscalculated, because Viktor’s next question is,

“Oh, what’s your poodle like? What’s their name?”

“I—uh—background photo on my phone.” Thank god for that. Three days ago it had been a picture of Viktor. He desperately hopes Viktor doesn’t accidentally open his internet browser, because it’s three tabs of Viktor merchandise, or his Youtube, because it’s on an interview, or—

“Cute,” Viktor hums. “Just like my Makkachin!” He offers no explanation as to who Makkachin is, which mortifies Yuuri slightly—Viktor must know that he already knows. A few presses to the phone, and then they exchange devices again.

He stares at the new contact for a few moments. Viktor and Christophe bid them goodbye and make their way towards the media circus, as though they don’t even mind. With a flick of his hand, Viktor has a pair of shades over his eyes, and Christophe unzips his team jacket just-so to hint at his chest. No, Yuuri corrects himself, they enjoy it.

“Yuuko,” he sputters in Japanese, glancing down at his phone, “what just happened?”

“I believe what you mean to say,” she replies warmly, “is thank you, Yuuko, for your quick thinking and blatant lie about the quality of your phone service.” She grins. “I’ll just get his number from you later. Seeing him land his flip today was like a dreeeaaam, Yuuri.”

She doesn’t need to remind him.

They run through their nightly routine early, settled in Yuuko’s room, each of them fussing with their respective long hair and working out the tangles while Phichit, who has learned of their potential visitor, buzzes in the background.

“Phichit,” Yuuri sighs, “you’ve developed some kind of strange habit where you keep winking at me every five seconds.”

“Don’t worry,” the younger boy replies with a grin, “I’ll make sure Viktor Nikiforov’s back is turned when I do it later.”

“He probably won’t even come, Phichit.” Yuuri has only checked his phone three times since he sent a brief text with Yuuko’s room number and a question about when Viktor wanted to start, which was… two minutes ago. It had taken him ten minutes to compose.

But Yuuri is wrong. Viktor does come.

“I brought some street food,” he says from their doorway, gesturing with a small box and brushing his fringe from his eyes with his other hand. Yuuri’s mouth is watering. “Pizza al taglio. Meat and vegetables, mostly, I tried to avoid the chocolate and gelato.”

“That’s so sweet!” Yuuko exclaims from her position on the couch. “Bring the kind man and his food over here, Yuuri.” Phichit and Yuuko had both steadfastly refused to answer the door. Yuuri now knows why—they’re both slung eagerly onto one side of the couch, leaving a small space for him and Viktor to occupy.

“Hi, sir, I’m Phichit Chulanont!” The Thai greets. “I’ll be moving up to senior division next year. The three of us are rinkmates in Detroit.”

“Viktor’s fine,” the champion replies, pulling at his scarf and flashing flawless white teeth. “Wonderful to meet you. I’m sure I’ll like you as much as I enjoy your rinkmates’ company.”

He and Viktor settle wordlessly on their end of the couch, upon which Phichit raises the remote and presses ‘play’ with a flourish. Yuuko passes them popcorn and two glasses of water.

Phichit, to his credit, does not sing into a hairbrush. He does slap happily at Yuuri’s leg in the two minutes before the King first appears, which is a fairly muted reaction, and Yuuri can’t help but to laugh and gently pat back. By the time Shall We Skate begins, the Thai skater is humming the introduction under his breath, motioning in the air with his hands.

Yuuri almost jumps at the sudden breath against his ear. “What is your friend doing? Is he going to perform for us?”

“Don’t say that too loud,” Yuuri warns, “or he will.”

Then Viktor is humming, mouthing along—picking up bits and pieces of the lyrics in a deep, quiet voice beside Yuuri’s ear—and without thinking, Yuuri joins in for a few verses.

“You can sing,” Viktor realizes with a smile. Yuuri’s cheeks heat, and he cuts himself off. “From your silence now, I’m guessing that I can’t.”

“No, no, no! You should sing your own competition music.” This is probably an exaggeration. Yuuri is a biased judge.

Viktor chuckles, shakes his head. “I’ll propose that to my coach.” Yuuri opens his mouth to whisper back.

“Secrets are rude,” Phichit inputs suddenly, not looking away from the screen but flinging a piece of popcorn in a perfect arc at Yuuri’s head. Without thinking, all competitive spirit and comfort with his best friend, he lobs the last two pieces from his and Viktor’s bowl back at the Thai, who laughs and shrieks “important things are happening in the movie!”

“Phichit, quiet, there are families in this hotel!” Yuuko hisses.

Yuuri uses the mayhem to snag the other popcorn from Phichit’s lap and pour half of it into his and Viktor’s bowl. His and Viktor’s—who can’t have missed this immature interaction. Yuuri can feel a shoulder shaking lightly against his. He chokes down some popcorn and tries not to think about it. “You’ve seen it three hundred times,” he finally manages.

“How could you do this to your best friend, Yuuri?” Phichit complains. “Also, Yuuko and I are so squished on this couch— scoot over?” Yuuri glances. His rinkmates are quite spread out. They are perfectly fine.

Viktor obligingly moves towards the couch’s arm, and Yuuri shamelessly follows him. It’s warm. Everything smells of oranges and cinnamon, a hint of strawberry with a dark touch of something else Yuuri can’t put his finger on.

Fully aware that it will upset Phichit, Yuuri tries to fight off sleep. But the day had been long, Yuuri hadn’t yet had the chance to shake his jet lag, and Viktor’s scent is swirling about him like a dream. When he wakes, the deleted scenes are rolling in front of an attentive Phichit, and a blanket is thrown over him.

“Yuuko—“ he begins sleepily. She frantically shakes her head, a finger to her lips as she nods to a space over his shoulder. There— there’s Viktor Nikiforov, breaths deep and silver eyelashes fluttering on his cheeks. They’re under the same blanket. Yuuri has probably drooled on his smooth maroon shirt. All of this has Yuuri jerking wide awake.

“You went first,” Yuuko whispers with a soft, barely contained chuckle. “He didn’t make it through the final card game of the movie.”

“I only took ten pictures,” Phichit announces, eyes still on the screen.

“Which you are not going to upload to Twitter,” Yuuko says firmly. Yuuri doubts this. Yuuko is team mother, but Phichit manages to escape her imposed rules about bedtime and social media more often than not. The madonna is ferocious and threatening and probably couldn’t seriously scold the teenage skater without feeling guilty.

The Detroit skating team is terrible at whispering, because Viktor’s shifting against his shoulder with a waking sigh. He blinks his blue eyes blearily, though he’s instantly far more alert than Yuuri.

“I fell asleep,” he says, with a furrowed brow, as though this is something Viktor Nikiforov doesn’t do. A day ago, Yuuri wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t—napping had humanized him, somehow. “Should I have done that, after you went to the trouble of inviting me?” His accent is heavier when he’s awoken.

“Don’t be silly.” Yuuko has a wide smile and soft eyes.

“I went first,” Yuuri quickly admits, staring at his lap and feeling immensely grateful for the evening, “sorry. This was… fun?”

“Fun,” Viktor agrees, his own smile slowly spreading. “Even though you did drool on me.” Yuuri swallows. It is not the first time that he has wondered exactly how blunt Viktor can be.

“Let’s do it again!” Yuuko smacks her arm of the couch for excited emphasis, and Phichit slowly raises the remote. The Japanese pair nervously and affectionately push it back down together.

“Not right now. We’ve taken up Viktor’s whole night.” Yuuri sneaks a look at him from the corner of his eye. The older skater pulls out his phone and flicks at it. Yuuko begins to wrassle Phichit into standing, fully aware that he might attempt to watch the director’s cut if they leave him be.

“Ah. It is late.” Viktor brushes off the blanket, standing and briefly stretching out his long legs. “I’ll see you at the competition tomorrow, then!” With a lazy wave, he makes his way for the door. Yuuri follows, opens it for him.

 “Goodnight, Viktor.” His eyes are on the floor. These are words he could get used to saying.

“Goodnight, Yuuri.”

 He shuts the door. Yuuko screams into a pillow. Yuuri wishes he could do the same.

“He’s going to be our friend,” she says when he returns to the couch. “Viktor Nikiforov, Yuuri!”

“I like him in person, rather than on your computer screen,” Phichit adds. “I should’ve drawn on your faces when you two passed out.” Yuuri shoves him lightly, grins.

When he goes back to his own room, he falls into bed. Staring at the ceiling, he listens to his heart’s rapid pace in his chest, feels the glow move out from it to his fingertips and toes.

Happy, he thinks, remembering Viktor’s serene face propped up in one hand, I’m happy.

He had thought it the wildest dream for Viktor to be with him on the ice—and that desire is still there, an ache, but now it’s accompanied by an urge to see him outside of interviews and Armani commercials. Yuuri wants to see him in sweats, sweaters, falling asleep on the couch with eyelids drooping over bright blue, wants to walk with him in the lamplit streets of Beijing or Turin and pick out street food from vendors in foreign tongues.

If Yuuri is honest with himself, he’s wanted Viktor as a person for a long time, swallowing up photos of his dog and his French actress mother, listening to the music he liked, as though that would be close enough. Hoping and praying—despite what everyone told him his idol would actually be like, what celebrities were always like—that Viktor wouldn’t disappoint. As they are now, they don’t know each other. Maybe they never will. But Yuuri wants to try.

His fingers tremble as they press the letters on his screen. Thank you for joining us tonight. He tries to turn off his phone desperately when he realizes his thumb has swiped the send button, because this was an exercise in bravery, not meant to actually happen.

The response is instantaneous and brief.

Thanks for the invitation. :) Say goodnight to Yuuko for me.

I will, he texts back. Sleep comes slowly, heart pulsing in his ears.


 

The 2011 Worlds in Turin earns Yuuri bronze, and Yuuko takes a respectable silver after she lands a jump on an incorrect edge. Yuuko—Yuuko has always had this in her, and Yuuri can't imagine a world where she doesn't make the ice her own, but Yuuri has surprised even himself. There’s a slight sting to it, taking bronze after he had accomplished his goal of silver once, but it’s still a podium.

At the banquet, he sees Viktor and Christophe disappear when the sponsors start to filter out—afterparty, Phichit whispers in his ear, and Yuuri imagines himself consuming alcohol in front of Viktor for about five seconds before the thought of him following is summarily dismissed. He and Yuuko have been passed between sponsors all night, smiling and nodding and agreeing yes, our commercials are so sweet, the producers do a wonderful job and no, we haven’t thought about marriage at all, that’s not on the horizon and Yuuri clings desperately to the only honest thing he can say, which is Yuuko is brilliant and brave and I’m so proud of her, of what she’s accomplished. They’re both exhausted.

I love her, he thinks from the edge of the room, watching her teach an older sponsor the simple box steps of a waltz, I really do.

“She’s wonderful,” Sara Crispino murmurs at his elbow, violet eyes shining softly, champagne sparkling in her hand. “You’re a very lucky man.”

“Lucky to be her best friend,” Yuuri agrees, and Sara blinks at him oddly.

“Best friends make the best lovers.” Then, softer, “oh.” Yuuri doesn’t know why she seems surprised. He’d thought the rest of the skating community knew, thought only the sponsors and media were caught up in the romance that never was.

Yuuko returns, giggling. “You should hear the commercial this man wants us to do. It is syrupy sweet—he’s a romantic.”

Yuuri scowls lightly, bites at his lip. “I hope they just film us skating.” Yuuri was never meant to be an actor—all of his emotions are real, far too raw to fake. Most of his posters have to capture him actually skating, uninterrupted, to get anything with a remotely usable facial expression.

“It’d be an Olympics commercial,” she laughs, rolling her eyes playfully and grinning at Sara, “I mean, can you imagine? A whole Olympics commercial with me and Yuuri twirling in circles around each other while the photographer encourages us to blow kisses and they play ‘I Will Always Love You’ by Whitney Houston in the background?”

“With matching outfits,” Yuuri moans quietly, but she pokes at his cheek until he’s smiling at the thought, too.

“It’ll never happen.”

“Guess what happened,” Celestino’s voice booms from Yuuko’s speakerphone the next morning. Ever fashionable Sara Crispino, who’s generously escorting them to the Italian airport and who they’re sleepily waiting with in the hotel lobby, starts sketching out elaborate, ridiculous outfits with too many ruffles. Michele Crispino praises them unsarcastically, and Yuuko and Yuuri snicker kindly at them. Yuuko draws three necklaces on their drawn forms, and Yuuri scribbles on a cape and crowns. Together they draw a chain linking their wrists, thin and swirling.

“It’s a bracelet,” Yuuko says. Later she lays her head on his shoulder in the cab, and he stares out the window at their last moments of Turin speeding past.

“It’s nothing like Hasetsu,” he murmurs. She nods, ponytail tickling at his neck.

“Sometimes I miss the quiet,” she tells him on the plane, and he agrees wholeheartedly. Before they take off, Phichit texts them—he’d taken a later flight to meet with a few potential sponsors, Celestino at his side—it’s Yuuri and Viktor, draped on the couch in loose slumber. Viktor is ethereal, silver hair shining even in the dark of the room. Yuuri is indeed drooling on him.

“I hope,” Yuuko starts, cuts herself off with a delighted laugh, and she doesn’t have to say anything more. Yuuri smiles the whole flight home.

Chapter Text

 It is the night after the short program in the Trophee de France. Yuuri does not know how he ended up here, but he has a sinking feeling that the night won’t end without him doing something shameful in front of Viktor Nikiforov. He shouldn't have congratulated Christophe on his short program. Shouldn't have accepted the invitation to go out clubbing with them. They'd all chatted on the walk over, Christophe and Viktor easy conversationalists, but now things are different.

“Yuuri,” Chris hums, and he sidles closer—this makes sense, because they’re in a club and Yuuri can hardly hear the Swiss, but Yuuri still feels as though it’s a poor excuse to stand so close. Christophe wouldn’t lay a hand on him, but his concept of personal space is… small. “Yuuri, aren’t you going to drink? Or dance?”

If Yuuri drank, both of those would definitely happen. He’d probably also end up confessing his undying love for Viktor Nikiforov, complete with an actual list he has on his phone that ranks his favorite exhibition skates, so maybe he shouldn’t. His phone buzzes as he considers this, and he jumps to look at it.

Phichit (your soulmate, besides VN)

YUURI I see you up there in the club [beer emoji]

Phichit once used Google Maps and Twitter to pinpoint the exact street where the director of The King and the Skater lived, so Yuuri is not surprised that Phichit knows this without Yuuri breathing a word of it to him. He is also not surprised when this message is quickly followed up by:

Yuuko <3 (your actual other soulmate, don’t delete this, Yuuri)

Phichit says you’re clubbing. As skate club mom I say: two drink limit. As bff I say: if it takes you five drinks to dance with Viktor, do what you’ve got to do.

Yuuri promptly shuts off his phone. Chris smiles slyly at him, slings an arm about his shoulder.

“Texting the lovely lady?”

“She’s worried,” Yuuri admits. “But she wants me to have fun.”

“Well, she has nothing to worry about,” Chris says, with a smile, “because this is a gay bar.”

Yuuri stares blankly at him, long enough for Viktor to slide back into their booth, holding three mugs of bright blue liquid that are practically glowing neon in the hazy dark of the club. The Japanese skater strongly suspects that this liquid is meant to be consumed in shot-size volumes, but you don’t reject something given to you by Viktor Nikiforov. He takes the mug and one electrifying sip.

“I’m sorry for the wait, the bar line was long enough to need its own bouncer,” Viktor sighs, and puts his drink up to his lips.

“Even when you flirted with the bartender? Shame,” Chris replies. “Well, I guess this is the best club in France.” They launch into a conversation—a debate, possibly, about what the best club in France actually is—and Yuuri leans back in the booth and tries to nurse his drink. Yuuri is not a man that does things halfway, so his second mug (Viktor brought another) is almost empty and the room is looking significantly less well-defined before Chris nudges Yuuri with an elbow and smiles. Yuuri smiles back, easy with the alcohol, and squints between the remains of his drink and the blue glowstick wrapped around his wrist with a hazy joy. “You know, I wasn’t expecting you to understand how these clubs work, but you grabbed the blue glowstick right away.”

“I like blue,” Yuuri mutters.

Christophe laughs, low and bumpy with alcohol. “Ahh, I told you, Viktor, he didn’t know.” He leans forward, knocks his glass against Yuuri’s, his own pink glowstick very visible. “Pink means single, queer, and ready to take a partner home.” Chris winks, and Yuuri’s eyes involuntarily dart to Viktor’s wrist, which is glowing green. “Of course, green means queer but taken.” Maybe Yuuri needs more alcohol. He’s well aware that Viktor is probably dating someone—maybe even multiple someones, the amount of people that want to date him is in the thousands and he’s a generous man—but it’s different to see it, to hear it, to be sitting next to Viktor and to want him the same as always. “Viktor doesn’t like to party too hard the night before a free skate, you see, so he’s pretending to be taken for tonight.”

The queasy feeling in Yuuri’s stomach settles. Maybe the alcohol is finally agreeing with him.

“Blue?” Yuuri questions, moving his arm towards the Swiss skater’s face. Depth perception gone, he brushes his knuckles up against Chris’ nose, who smiles.

“It means you’re straight, cherie.”

“Huh,” Yuuri says, taking his arm back, and pops it off.

“Well,” Chris laughs, “that answers that question. Does your beloved Yuuko know?”

Yuuri shoots him a vaguely displeased look, and his drink pours words out of his mouth. “Yuuko’s not stupid.”

The Swiss man’s laugh is a rumble. “You two are precious.”

“Yuuko is very precious,” Yuuri replies. “Look, look what she texted me.” He thrusts his phone forward, the newest message glowing on his unlock screen, and Christophe gives a placating sigh.

Yuuko <3 (your actual other soulmate, don’t delete this, Yuuri)

Stay safe, we love you!

“I’ll give her my medal, if I win one tomorrow. I give her all my medals and she hangs them up for me. She doesn’t even,” he leans in to whisper this, “care if I win, or that’s what she says. She’s always being funny.” His feet are starting to itch. “You said dancing? When are we dancing?”

Finally,” Christophe says, and then with no further words they’re weaving their way to the center of the dance floor. Now that Yuuri is warm with alcohol, he doesn’t mind the hot bodies around him as much, the all-encompassing noise. In the squeezing masses, he loses sight of Viktor and Christophe, as tall and eye-catching as they are. Almost-Drunk Yuuri doesn’t mind—he dances by himself, loose-limbed, moving his shoulders in time with the heavy beat and the meaningless fog of French lyrics.

He can’t find Christophe and his pink wristband, which is a sad thing. He does find Viktor, the roll of his hips pronounced in a way Yuuri has only dreamed of, has never been able to see on the ice. This makes sense—the power in it, the savage beauty, is something the judges could never handle. When Viktor meets his gaze, the dancing catches in time with the beat and stops. His eyes are too blue, too calm for the motions he’s just made. Yuuri’s so swept up in it that he hardly notices when Viktor is close enough to take him by the elbow, to lead him from the swathes of people.

His smooth words to the bartender in French produce them two cloudy plastic cups, the water cool in them.

“Thank you,” Yuuri says gratefully, and nuzzles his head against the taller man’s shoulder. “Everyone should know that you’re as nice as you seem in interviews.”

“Oh, my, are the gossip rags saying otherwise?”

“Hmm,” Yuuri replies.

“The media aren’t always right,” Viktor says, so slow, and Yuuri blinks at the other man. “I’ve been wondering. About you and Yuuko…”

Yuuri wants to crush the cup in his hand. He's hot and stretched out and exhausted. It’s one thing to be barraged constantly by it from fans, from the media, from sponsors, from the other students on campus, people who don’t know any better. It’s shameful to hear Viktor acknowledge it, for him to bring their embarrassing and false media image up, the one they sold themselves for, because Viktor knows, of course he knows. Yuuri is sure all of the skaters see right through it.

“I’m tired,” Yuuri murmurs. “I’m so tired of talking about it. Our relationship isn’t for—for public consumption.”

“Ah,” Viktor says quietly, looking down into his drink, “I see. I won’t make you talk about you and Yuuko.”

Yuuri does crush the cup then, bites his lip and shudders with regret. That isn’t what he had wanted to say, he hadn’t wanted to push Viktor—out. Of anyone that he’s ever met, Viktor is someone that he wants to hold onto. But the champion is this impossible, beautiful thing, and Yuuri is... Yuuri does want to push him away. Yuuri doesn’t want the other man disappointed, to see his stress fractures—cracks— and his too-soft interior, leaking out.

Christophe swings into their view, a tall man on his arm, and shoots them a dazzling smile.

“Viktor, darling, I’m headed back to the hotel. Keep our wild Yuuri well behaved.”

Yuuri laughs at that. At least he is Almost-Drunk Yuuri. Drunk Yuuri would be a challenge to keep behaved, to keep clothed.

“I am going to get another drink,” Viktor announces. Yuuri weaves after him through the club, follows the shock of silver, and watches Viktor down three successive shots. Red green purple.

“Viktor,” he sighs, and he knows the sorry sight he must make, hair and clothes stuck to a frame sweaty with dancing, eyes wide and dark. “As my rinkmates would say… wait for one to kick in before taking number two?” Yuuri isn’t someone to control another person’s alcohol intake, but this seems excessive. The blue eyes stare at him, briefly, before he turns back to the bar.

“Another.” This one is bubblegum pink, too soft against the cherry red of Viktor’s cheeks. After that one, Viktor turns and smiles at him, shining. The music rushes over Yuuri’s skin like warm rain. Alcohol smooth in his veins.

Even as he acknowledges that the expression looks wrong, Yuuri is falling down, down.

“You don’t have to smile like that,” he says. The champion touches his cheek, fingertips bumpy with sugar and salt, and smiles again.

Viktor throws back more shots. Rust brown, metallic white, yellow with shimmering flecks.

They leave after another twenty minutes. Viktor waves goodbye to the bouncers and collapses partially onto Yuuri’s shoulder, who’s honestly not much better off but who can keep his feet. They should hail a cab. Viktor should stop fussing at opening of the coat that Yuuri had managed to wrangle onto him before they stepped outside. Yuuri’s head isn’t clear enough for call a cab to become a goal, so instead they lumber back in the direction of the hotel.

“You’re not drunk,” Viktor complains.

“I didn’t take ten shots and chase it with more vodka.”

“True, true! You got me, Yuuri. You’re so… put together.”

Yuuri is an anxious mess, barely taped shut. Even with the confidence of alcohol thrumming low in his bloodstream, he can’t summon the courage to wrap his arm around Viktor’s waist while he hauls him, too afraid the touch will burn.

“Not really,” is all he replies. Viktor sighs, traces one fingertip—the one that so often rests lightly atop his lips—along Yuuri’s arm.

“So put together. You have— so much.”

No, that’s you, he wants to say, gold medals and the world at your feet. But Viktor seems sure, brows narrowed in concentration while he brushes at the fuzz of Yuuri’s navy coat. It’s incomprehensible, but then again, Viktor is too drunk to walk. Finally, their hotel looms over them, and once inside Yuuri props Viktor on the elevator handrail and fusses with the number pad.

“What floor are you on?” In response, Viktor hiccups. Yuuri bends a bit, makes eye contact with the other man as he sways, sweetly tipsy. “Viktor, what floor are you on?” There’s fumbling, and then Viktor is producing a sleek black leather wallet, flipping it open one-handed. Yuuri slips the keycard from one of the pockets, presses the button.

Having shuffled down the hall, a smiling Viktor takes his keycard back and swings it at the door.

“Lemme help you,” Yuuri offers, reaching to take it, and Viktor just grips the card tighter, smiles wider and tighter.

“You can’t,” he says. Yuuri frowns at him, puts a hand atop Viktor’s and guides it instead. He’d thought the touch would burn, and it does, low and flickering. But it’s not too much.

Viktor’s still got an arm slung around the Japanese man’s shoulder, when he teeters forward into his room. Yuuri is stepping along, intent on getting the other man safely to the bed, when Viktor stops, presses a hand to his chest.

“Ah ah,” he says cheerfully, smile sly, “you shouldn’t come in.”

Yuuri flushes, shame curling up in his chest. “Didn’t mean to…” he knows the word, knows it in English, “intrude.”

Viktor tilts his head back and forth, considering. “I’m going to take all my clothes off now, Yuuri. Tell me goodnight, like we always do.”

“Goodnight,” Yuuri whispers, stepping back into the doorway. The metal of the doorknob is cold in his hand, in the lateness of the evening. Shame often follows at the heels of desire for Yuuri, but now he feels the shame first, desire second, watching Viktor stand there, nudging his coat buttons free in the slanted moonlight of his hotel room.

“Goodnight,” Viktor says, and the coat falls from his shoulders, wrist a ghostly green beneath. Yuuri shuts the door. 


 

When Yuuri returns home from the Trophee de France, silver medal in hand and having seen Viktor only on the podium following the free skate, Yuuko is excitedly waiting for him. They’ll be at the NHK trophy in two weeks—they’re always in the NHK, Celestino and Yuuko’s main coach say they pull in massive crowds—but in the inter-rim there are quiet evenings on the ice and at home.

At some point, Phichit had found two neighboring apartments, one for Yuuko and one for Phichit and Yuuri. Their sinks don’t work half the time, and the students upstairs smoke weed, but it’s a five minute run from the rink and with the three of them, it’s home. On Friday nights when Phichit throws parties Yuuri stays for an hour and then meanders over to Yuuko’s empty apartment, curling up on her couch with his Gameboy underneath her massive, singular poster of Viktor Nikiforov. On Friday nights when Phichit doesn’t throw parties Celestino invites them over to his house out in the suburbs of Detroit, with his lovely American wife and his modest but grassy backyard. She brings them sour lemonade while they sit in a big wooden swing together, no matter how cold it is outside, and sneaks them slivers of cookies away from Celestino’s eyes in the kitchen, where he’s cooking a healthy dinner.

It’s fall in Detroit, and Phichit has started an Instagram series dedicated to the different shades of dying leaves. They’re mostly brown. “These match my eyes,” he declares about a pile, and Yuuri and Yuuko look at each other and push him, flailing and screaming “MY PHONE, MY BEAUTIFUL BUTT” down into the damp. His theme for his break into the Seniors is Pride.

“We’re proud of you, we’re proud of you,” Yuuko squeals, pressed cheek to cheek with him. Yuuri does the appropriate thing, as his best friend, and learns the dance for one of the numbers from The King and The Skater as stress relief, demonstrates it for him when he gets back from the Trophee de France and pulls the Thai boy into the dance. Yuuko takes a video, and Phichit posts it on Twitter. Yuuri doesn’t look at the number of hits it gets.

Yuuko’s theme is Longing. It’s surprisingly solemn, a change from the elemental themes of her past years, but when they go on cooldown runs together in the twilight he looks at the determination on her face and thinks that it makes sense. Yuuko has changed her leadups to her jumps, worked on her edge landings until Yuuri imagines he can see her pristine white skates bleed red. The Madonna is aiming for gold.

“Yuuko,” he says, carefully, the week before the NHK trophy. They’re running satisfying figure eights, loose-limbed, around the rink. Yuuko has just popped back in from a water break, shoving her phone into her bag. “Who are you texting?”

Her mouth goes flat, her cheeks red.

“Um,” she says softly, “Nishigori. He wanted to congratulate me on Skate America. It’d be rude to not reply, so.”

“I didn’t know you both still talked.” At the way her shoulders dip, Yuuri rushes to say, “it’s not a bad thing! I wish… I wish you hadn’t had to… separate, back then.”

“I’m glad,” Yuuko replies firmly. “I’ve seen the world, Yuuri. But he still texts me, before and after every competition, and it’s just… it’s nice. It’s a taste of Hasetsu, and consistency, and even though Nishigori royally screwed up and I will never regret choosing skating and you over him, I still like talking to him. He cares a surprising amount.”

“It’s not surprising,” Yuuri says, and she skates over with a clean, rustling noise and ruffles his hair. “Who wouldn’t want you?”

“The only one I want to want me,” she huffs. “Yuuri, I have to wait until the Grand Prix Final. That’s a month. Why are assignments this way?”

“You could confess this year,” he nudges, and she looks back up at him with a smirk.

“I’ll confess if you do, Yuuri. We’ll leave notes in their skates in the locker room and call them out behind the GPF rink like two high-schoolers.”

“Nobody touches Viktor’s skates,” Yuuri garbles out.

“But what if he wants you to? You could kiss them.” Yuuri feels scandalized.

“I don’t deserve to kiss Viktor’s skates.”

“Just saying,” she shrugs, grinning, “you two looked pretty cozy, in that booth at the club. You always look cozy. Also, Yuuri, you’re the defending silver medalist. Who else deserves it?”

“Ahhh,” Yuuri replies, “we’ll see about the silver medal, after this GPF.”

Something’s going to change this GPF, though probably not that,” she says. “Trust the Yuuko intuition.” 


 

Something does change.

They arrive in Quebec City, Yuuri drowsy with jetlag, they happen to come into the airport at roughly the same time as the Russian crew. Yuuri’s in his cold mask, and his hair looks like he was sitting on the wing of the plane rather than wedged between a chick-flick-watching Yuuko and a napping, mumbling Phichit.

He’s still nervous and embarrassed, of course, but those feelings are now sharing his brain with other emotions: relief, genuine excitement. He hasn’t seen Viktor since the Trophee de France, and before only in scattered text messages. There’s something in him that settles when he sees the familiar, beautiful curve of his jaw and his lithe form standing tall between his teammates.

Yuuko wastes no time. “Viktor!” She exclaims, approaching the red and white group with suitcase in tow. “Mr. Feltsman. Georgi, too, hello.”

“Ah, the lovely Miss Asada,” Georgi says, reaching out for her hands. He is an unstoppable, romantically minded force of nature, and the Japanese pair can only hope he will someday focus those powerful emotions onto whatever girl has agreed to go out with him. Yuuko and Yuuri have established what Phichit calls the Popovich-Protocol for this, after several competitions with the other man; Yuuri skids his suitcase forward between the two of them, and awkwardly shakes the Russian man’s hand instead. He sighs, smiling over Yuuri’s shoulder at Yuuko, who turns her attention to Viktor and a redhead that Yuuri is confident was in the Juniors GPF the year before, and recognizes from the background of Viktor’s Instagram videos.

“Oh, you’re Mila Babicheva,” Yuuko says, because of course Yuuko knows her. “Asada Yuuko. I’ve been watching you grow. I’m so happy to see you joining us in the Seniors this year.”

Mila smiles, only a bit wobbly, and Yuuri is briefly reminded that this is Yuuko’s third year at the Seniors GPF; she’s established, someone younger skaters look up to and possibly fear. If she weren’t Yuuri’s best friend, he might be intimidated too.

“Yuuri,” Phichit says, coming up from behind him and running face first into his back, phone before him. Though he didn’t make it to the GPF, Yuuri, Yuuko, and Celestino had made the executive decision to fund his flight; they were a unit, and Yuuri was much less stressed in his friend’s presence.

“Where’s your suitcase?” Yuuri asks him gently, and Phichit’s eyes dart up before he scrambles back towards their gate.

“I haven’t raised him right,” Yuuko sighs. “We get him on a plane without Wifi for a few hours and he goes on the rebound once we land. Why is my child like this?”

“I don’t know,” Yuuri says, with a small smile, “I’m apparently not the father, so you can’t blame me.”

Yuuko laughs, tugs at his ponytail, before smiling back at the Russians. “This has to be fate. We want to go throw our things in the hotel room, but after that we could all grab dinner somewhere?”

“I want to go,” Mila replies, almost instantly, and Yuuko beams at her. Their coach squints.

“Is Celestino here?”

“Right behind us, sir,” Yuuko assures him, and Celestino and his ponytail swing into sight, Phichit beside them.

“Feltsman!” Celestino greets, and the Russian coach lets out a long-suffering sigh. Yuuri must look curious enough, because before he knows it Viktor is leaning to him, whispering conspiratorially,

“Celestino likes to challenge other coaches to drinking competitions.” This, Yuuri knows. “Yakov hates taking him on, because he hates losing.”

“Russian pride?” Yuuri asks, smile impossible to stop, and Viktor chuckles.

“Something like that.”

Yuuri pauses. “Tell me we’re not also part of this drinking competition.”

“No promises, Yuuri,” the Russian teases lowly.

It’s strange, how natural it feels, how easily he can mold back into a friendship that had started with a frantic, all-encompassing admiration for the other man. The feeling doesn’t end, not even when their skating groups meet back up at a restaurant downtown, especially not when they’re seated next to each other, exchanging tidbits about competitions and practice. Yuuri is awkward, to put it kindly, but Viktor could carry an engaging conversation with someone that didn’t even speak his language. Yuuri finds he doesn’t care what they’re eating, or how many times Celestino and Yakov have flagged down the waiter.

“Celestino,” Yuuko says, firmly, “do not get wasted. The short program is the day after tomorrow.”

Celestino seems to take this to heart. Yakov finishes their competition one beer ahead, wiping at his mouth with a muted satisfaction.

“I think you owe us,” Yuuri mutters, and Viktor just smirks and sips at his own beer.

“He will be in a good mood, tonight. Doesn’t mean he’ll let me get away with anything too exciting at the GPF.”

There had been a fragile awkwardness in their drunken time together at the Trophee de France, something hazy and hidden. Yuuri can’t see it anywhere, now. When the Russians decide to retire for the evening, Yuuri can’t help but tug gently at the cuff of the other man’s expensive shirt sleeve.

“Do you, um, want to do something? Sometime during this GPF?”

“I would,” Viktor says simply. “Tomorrow around 10pm? And at some point, Christophe and I are headed to see Quebec City’s night scene—though Christophe is being haughty about how lively it will be compared to France.”

“Oh,” Yuuri replies, and fiddles with his glasses, “um, could we go earlier? I think a lot of the sightseeing might be closed if it becomes that late.”

“Sightseeing,” Viktor repeats, as though this is something that has not occurred to him before. Yuuri is suddenly consumed by a licking flame of embarrassment. Viktor has probably already gone sightseeing in more exotic places than this, and if all he has is Yuuri for company, it can’t be too entertaining.

“We don’t have to go,” Yuuri scrambles to rescue himself, “nevermind.”

Viktor settles a hand on his shoulder. “I didn’t say that. We should go.”

Yuuri stares up at him. “Don’t do it if you don’t want to.”

At that, Viktor laughs. “I don’t usually explore the cities I’m in, unless I plan to be there for awhile. This would be good.”

“Good for your social media presence, for sure,” Phichit pipes in, and Yuuri is suddenly and jarringly aware that their two teams are surrounding them, ready to separate for the evening in the hotel’s lobby.

“Ah, I’m always working on that,” Viktor agrees easily, with a wink. He smiles genially, waves. “Goodnight, Yuuri. Yuuko.”

The next day, after practice is over and he’s showered, Phichit pats him on the back.

“You’ve got this,” he says. “Yuuko and I have faith in you.”

“I’ve got… hanging out with Viktor?”

“Your first date is going to go so well,” Phichit assures him. Yuuri has to sit on the bed and count backwards from one-hundred twice before he summons the courage to leave.

“It’s not a date,” he calls from the doorway.

“Okay,” Phichit and Yuuko chorus back at him. When he’s in the elevator, his phone vibrates. Yuuri groans.

Your Loving Father, Who Wants What’s Best For You, My Son

Chapstick and mints are in your jean pockets. ;) 


 

Wandering the streets of Quebec City with Viktor is an odd experience. He starts off slow, strangely charmed, but by the time they have wandered through the third boutique in Petit Champlain he wants pictures with everything, has his credit card at the ready.

“Ahh,” he hums, looking over a price tag, “we probably don’t want to carry too many bags, if we’ll be exploring the shrine later.” The blue eyes swing to Yuuri, suddenly thoughtful. “You seem done with shopping. We could go to the shrine now?”

Yuuri shakes his head rapidly. “You like shopping. This is fine.” Viktor looks back to his hand, where he’s flipping the tag with long, graceful fingers. He has his sunglasses propped atop his head, though Yuuri hasn’t seen the other man use them yet.

“This is fun,” he says suddenly, and the words are oddly thoughtless and plain.

“Good,” Yuuri replies, looking down to his shoes. His anxiety has been humming at him, telling him that he isn’t being exciting or engaging enough, since he and Viktor first caught a taxi from the hotel to this district. Something glints in the light of the sunset through the shop window, and Yuuri looks to it. Usually, he isn’t a huge fan of trinkets, but it’s a simple pendant, clear crystal jutting from dark, shining and impenetrable rock. It’s clearly set in the women’s section of the store, but Yuuri doesn’t care. He reaches out, cradles it in his fingertips.

“I like that one too.” Yuuri twists it, and the orange light from the window refracts into rainbows over the palm of his hand. “Reminds me of an outfit I had. I think it was my first year of Seniors.”

“Last year of Juniors,” Yuuri corrects absentmindedly, mesmerized by its smoothness in his hands. There’s a strange noise beside him, and he turns to ask Viktor what it was, but before he can his own sentence hits him. He flinches, dropping the pendant and self-consciously grabbing at his sweater. “Forget I—said that,” he pleads.

“Do you think I mind?” His laughter is so warm that even Yuuri’s anxiety can’t misinterpret it, can’t think it cruel. “That’s flattering of you, Yuuri.”

“Well, I—okay,” he croaks, still tugging at his sweater, feeling the sudden need for his cold mask over his mouth. Maybe over his eyes, too. He just wants to bury his whole body somewhere Viktor would never look. Instead, he trudges to the next boutique in Viktor’s wake, listens to the other man compare fabrics, music samples, and colognes, until it’s clear that the disgusted tension he’d imagined falling over their conversation following his slip-up would never exist.

Instead, everything is warm. An odd sort of fond, different from what he feels with Phichit and Yuuko. Comfortable and calming at the core, but still brimming with excitement and a kind of fear. He wants Viktor to enjoy himself, but Yuuri has always been the kind to flow with an evening’s plans, laid out by someone else, not the one to direct it.

“Sugar pie and maple candy are apparently the staples here,” Viktor says, returning from a quick conversation with the cashier in French. “I don’t think I can eat a whole slice of sugar pie a day before the competition.”

“If we share, maybe Christophe will take the gold but we’ll still medal,” Yuuri suggests—he only means it a tiny bit for himself, because Christophe could definitely take him— and the Russian snorts. Before he knows it, Viktor’s buying them a (small) slice, which they nibble at, sat in iron-wrought chairs next to the cobblestone street. After they finally manage to make it to the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre shrine, they wander between the pews and crane their necks up at the intricate domed ceilings, stained-glass windows dripping colors onto Viktor’s silver hair. The Russian pops out at him from behind an elaborate marble statue, and Yuuri barely contains his scream, so he drags them from the basilica, grin holding back his laughter, before they cause a disturbance.

They’re wandering by the river in the twilight, Yuuri toeing at pebbles, before he spots the display of maple candy, feels obligated to return the favor.

“They’re small,” he promises, “a repayment of earlier.”

“I hope I can afford to donate one slice of sugar pie,” Viktor says with an amused sigh, strangely fond, but Yuuri shrugs, doesn’t look him in the eye. Yuuri has no talent for fashion, but he’s confident that the brands on Viktor’s clothes aren’t something he would find for thirty bucks in a department store in Detroit. Even without years of sponsorships and medals, Viktor’s mother had been an internationally acclaimed movie star; Yuuri has never seen news on what his father did, but it’s not hard to assume that Viktor has always had money. Enough to plate his skates in gold, and yet he skated and earned gold, pushed himself to his limits. So. Plenty of money. That doesn’t give Yuuri any right to it.

He licks at his own maple candy, holds one out on its stick for Viktor to take, but the other man just leans and nibbles while it’s still in Yuuri’s hand.

Don’t think about it don’t think about it, Yuuri tells himself frantically. He does not move, and eventually they start to walk along the riverside again, and Viktor holds the candy for himself.

“Do you always go sightseeing?” Viktor asks, and Yuuri nods.

“Usually with Yuuko. Before we moved to Detroit, Minako would always be our guide.”

“Minako?”

“Oh. My old ballet teacher.”

“Can I see?”

Yuuri holds his maple candy in his mouth, fumbles for his phone in his jeans pocket to show a picture. “Minako.”

“She’s lovely,” Viktor says. “I’m sure if you brought her to competitions all of the Seniors skaters would be swooning for her.”

“She won the Benois de la Danse,” Yuuri says, popping the candy from his mouth.

“Very impressive.”

“In the 70’s,” Yuuri adds, and Viktor, choking, reaches for his phone again.

“You can’t be serious!”

“Everyone tells me I’m too serious,” Yuuri says, rolling his lips together in muted happiness at the floor as he holds the phone away from his companion. But Viktor is taller, trickier, and he has the device again before too long. Viktor peers shrewdly between its screen and at him.

“And how old are you, Yuuri? Forty? How do you keep your hair so thick?”

Yuuri can’t help it, can’t help the tingle that spreads up from his toes. “Maybe that old. But just remember that you’re older than me, still.”

“No,” Viktor gasps in horror. The phone exchanges hands again. The streetlamps come on, bathing them in soft white, their shadows stretching and merging. Yuuri doesn’t want the night to end.

“So you had to give her up, when you moved to Detroit?”

Yuuri blinks. “Oh, no. Minako’s too nice to us. She, um. She’s like our mother.” He traces his finger over where her image had been on his phone screen. “She always came with us to competitions. Calmed my nerves and reminded Yuuko and I to loosen up. She came to the NHK trophy and promised to buy a ticket to Worlds, too, or at least she wanted to last week, when we talked.” Viktor is still walking, jaw tight and defined, one hand in his long coat’s pocket, eyes to the sky. “…You took ballet too, right?”

“Mm,” Viktor agrees. “Madame Baranovskaya. She demanded your body and soul.”

“That’s—terrifying,” Yuuri admits.

“She was,” Viktor agrees again, “but if she approved of you, of your technique, you knew no one else in the universe would dare disagree.”

“I’m sure she loved you.”

The gaze that slides to Yuuri is surprisingly empty.

“Perhaps. My dancing was acceptable to her.” Meaning, Yuuri thinks, she did.

“You keep saying ‘was.’”

“Madame Baranovskaya currently teaches in Sochi,” Viktor says. His eyelashes flutter carelessly. “She and Yakov are in a year-old marital spat, and I am his skater.”

“Oh,” Yuuri says softly. The maple candy is gone, and the stick is too papery, too tasteless, on his tongue. Yuuri is terrible with words. “I’m sorry.” He plucks the maple candy trash from Viktor’s hands, throws it in a nearby bin, comes to stand before the other man despite the fact that his legs feel as though he’s walking through a pool of sand. He raises one arm, then both, and Viktor tips into the offer with a strange kind of surety. The way he rubs one hand between Yuuri’s shoulderblades, it’s almost as though Yuuri is the one being comforted. Yuuri doesn’t like that, so he grips harder, nudges his chin into Viktor’s shoulder. “Sorry,” he says again.

When they separate, start to walk, Viktor pulls out his phone. “I think I got some good pictures of the basilica,” he says easily. Yuuri starts to breathe again. Before he can bring himself to think too hard about it, he pulls out his own phone and quickly fires off a text.

They elect to wander back through Quebec City, rather than call a cab again, Viktor tapping at shop windows. They’re almost back to the official hotel.

His phone buzzes against his thigh—Minako.

Minako

You’re all set to go. Be sure to thank Camille. Do it properly, Yuuri.

Minako lets him get away with nothing. This is probably why Yuuri possesses any social skills at all. Thank you, he texts back, I’ll try.

Even with the plan set and Viktor’s curious blue eyes on him, it’s difficult to say the words.

“Come with me,” he blurts. He starts walking, away from the hotel, and Viktor falls into step beside him, long legs easily keeping up with Yuuri’s pace. They continue on in the darkness, bundled up in so many layers that the neon lights from the bars and flickering storefronts they pass could never reach their skin.

“Is it a surprise?” Viktor asks, after five minutes, and Yuuri bites at his lip.

“Yes.” Or at least, he hopes it is. 


 

Camille greets them at the wooden door.

“Minako’s protégé!” She exclaims, French accent light, and ushers them in with an impatience that implies she’s been waiting days for them, rather than the half an hour since the other ballerina had called her. “I wanted to see your arabesque, but Minako said I wasn’t to stay, or I might make you nervous.”

Yuuri swallows. “Um,” he says, and she waves a long-fingered, graceful hand and shakes her head.

“I’ll be waiting outside. You and your friend have fun. The Centre Uriel is yours for the evening.”

Beside him, Yuuri can see Viktor take it in—the studio, with heavy black curtains hanging from the ceiling at the center of a perfect square of mirrors. The two of them, extending out infinitely in the reflection with the wooden floor and the barre.

“You seemed to miss Madame Baranovskaya teaching you, so I thought—“ he ducks his head, fumbles with his phone, checks his texts to be sure.

Here whenever you’re ready. Just stretching in the studio.

“My ballet instructor from back home is willing to give us a lesson. If you want.” Viktor blinks, perfectly expressionless. Maybe this was a foolish idea. “She— received the Benois de la Danse, like I said, so she may not be Madame Baranovskaya, but she’s close.”

There’s a pause. A breath. “Just because I talked about Lillia?” Yuuri fidgets. Nods. “You’re willing to share?”

Yuuri doesn’t understand. It’s not sharing, not like he’s giving Viktor half of a steamed bun or a spot on a bench. This is the kind of thing that’s broad and shapeless and endless; Minako loves him, is willing to do this for him at 11am on a Saturday, and Yuuri’s just leading Viktor to the display of her love.

So he doesn’t answer that question. Just opens Facetime with Minako, props the little phone against a wooden chair leg off to the side, and kicks off his shoes. It won’t be a proper ballet session—Viktor doesn’t have flats, and neither does Yuuri—but he’s hoping it will be enough.

They move through positions, first, and Minako corrects them fiercely. Though it’s true that the older man is out of practice, his lithe grace still shines through, and when they launch into jumps he comes out of one, sweating and panting, with a blinding smile on his face.

“Viktor Nikiforov,” comes Minako’s voice from the phone, “don’t look so pleased with yourself. That was a sloppy jump, and you know it.”

The laughter that follows is helpless, Viktor propping his hands on his knees while half bent, shaking his silver head. “Yes, madame.”

Sensei,” Yuuri corrects gently.

The word rolls from Viktor’s tongue clumsily, but it wiggles into his ear, drops through his skull and ribs, and curls tight and warm around his stomach. He wants Viktor to say things in Japanese—Yuuri’s name, Hasetsu, good morning and goodnight, Yuuri wants and wants

“Yuuri,” Minako breaks in, “show this world class figure skater how we do ballet in Japan.”

Yuuri tries. Minako still corrects him, the scolding light and gentle.

When an hour has passed, quick as the snap of Minako’s fingers in tempo correction, she bids them goodnight.

“Don’t stay up too late, boys.”

“I’ll get Yuuri safely home at a good hour,” Viktor promises.

“You won’t, judging by what Yuuko’s told me,” Minako replies with a smirk. The flash of shame that briefly crosses over Viktor’s face is jarring to Yuuri, surprising in how deeply the other man seems to feel it, so he nudges Viktor’s arm with his elbow.

“I’m an adult, Minako, and Phichit’s a much worse influence anyway.”

“True,” the ballerina says grimly. “Tell Thailand’s darling that the last Instagram video he uploaded of him in class needs some work during the transition.”

Yuuri chuckles, steps over to his phone and plucks it from the ground. “I’ll tell him. Thank you, Minako. Good night.”

Viktor has his shoes in one hand, but is staring into the mirror on the opposite wall, silver lashes low and eyes half lidded. Yuuri’s breath catches in his throat.

Normally, he wouldn’t be so bold, he knows. On the ice and in daily life, Viktor is laughably superior, someone Yuuri could never hope to catch. But here, in the low light of a ballet studio, the familiar smell of wood polish and sweet sweat permeating the air, Yuuri is in his element in a way that the Russian is not.

“One last dance?” His words slip out. Viktor looks to him, draws his lips in a tight line, pink from the exertion of the practice session still painting his high cheeks. The shoes, dropped, thud lightly on the floor.

“Yes.”

It starts slow. Their right hands nestle together, and Viktor’s left palm hovers around Yuuri’s hip before the Japanese man takes it with his own and brings it up to his shoulder.

“I’ll lead?” Yuuri had thought there was no tension in the other man’s frame, but he somehow relaxes further, settling back on his heels, blue eyes flicking up to land on Yuuri’s and staying there. He squeezes Yuuri’s hand.

Waltzes are not Yuuri’s favorite dance, but they’re simple to start and universal. The rhythm they settle into, eyes still locked together, makes Yuuri want to cry.  As a child he’d wanted Viktor, ethereal and untouchable Viktor on the ice, confident Viktor in interviews, Viktor who put a finger to his lips and let no one, not even his coach, force him to go against his heart when he skated.

Now he wants to keep Viktor. Palm to palm, in step, turning about the room in silent harmony, while the world outside sleeps. Yuuri wants Viktor as his own, and it’s terrifying and relieving all at once.

Before they tire of the waltz, he spins Viktor out and reels him back in, starts a new series of steps. Faster and faster, until they’re moving in a full tango, crossing the room. The realization Yuuri has just had is too serious, too world shifting, and he needs—he needs to have fun with this, to pull back, or any last shard of his heart he’s kept from Viktor Nikiforov is going to fall in love. He moves into a lunge, and urges Viktor forward with the arm that’s around his waist until Viktor is leaning, raising one leg high, his weight pressed into Yuuri’s fingers. Like he trusts him. Like this is something Viktor wants, too.

When all of their feet are flat on the ground again, Yuuri twists away, and Viktor catches on too quickly, spinning in a circle opposite him, arms moving through patterns in tandem. He can’t help but laugh, to move faster, and Viktor keeps up, until Yuuri dashes to the middle, holds up his hands.

“You’re off beat,” he teases, claps as he spins, and Viktor continues in the circle around him, settles into rhythm with the tempo Yuuri sets. Then they’re pulling together again, a kind of magnetism, Viktor aligning with him in a doomed orbit.

They come together, and Yuuri changes the dance again, the start of a storm, twirling the other man about, faster faster faster, spinning to the sound of their own hearts, until they come to a standstill in the center, Viktor held aloft over his hip, one leg in the air. Laughing, breathlessly, pressed close with smiles matching and Yuuri’s hand cupping his cheek.

There’s no music, no movement, nothing but them. Together. Viktor’s head had been thrown back, impossible grin lighting his whole face, but with a chuckling gasp he tilts, presses his forehead to Yuuri’s, blue eyes opening.

“You’re…” he can’t seem to find the words, just nudges the warmth of his face against Yuuri’s sweat sticky skin, smile beginning to fade into a thoughtful, hesitant expression. “Yuuri.”

The Japanese skater pulls him up, settles them both on their feet. He’s not embarrassed, no, he knows Viktor had fun, but this has been more than that.

He’d tried not to fall in love, to make himself long for the impossible—he should have known better. Yet there’s no one to blame. The only way Yuuri could have saved himself from this would be to have never watched a sixteen-year-old Viktor Nikiforov, perfect and so human in front of him on a static-filled television screen in sleepy Hasetsu. Maybe not even then. Maybe his soul belonged to Viktor, and no matter where they stood, no matter what choices he made in life, no matter how little it meant to Viktor himself, Yuuri would always love him.

You and I know this to be true.

“We should probably head back.” He flashes a smile at Viktor, takes his touch from the other man’s hips and skin. “I don’t want to screw up your skate tomorrow.”

“Or your skate,” Viktor prompts, and Yuuri snorts. He can screw up a skate all by himself—he doesn’t need a night of dancing to do it. They slip on their shoes, and Yuuri bows gratefully to Minako’s friend, who cheerfully waves them away and wishes them the best of luck.

Back on the streets of Quebec City, the stars invisible above them and the city still alive so late into the night, Yuuri feels like the magic is broken. Now he’s bundled up thickly, his steps still beside Viktor’s on the pavement, but he knows he’s far behind the other man. Tomorrow they’ll skate, and if Yuuri is lucky he’ll make the podium.

They reach the hotel, and when Yuuri looks up from the ground for the first time since they started walking to press the elevator button, he finds Viktor’s eyes on him. Soft eyes, baby blue in the dim white of the elevator, rather than the sharpness of a clear winter sky.

Viktor reaches out, touches his arm while it’s raised, pressing Floor 6.

“Yuuri,” he says, quietly, “tonight was…” his hand drops, but his throat is still working, preparing the word. Yuuri can feel his muscles tensing. Tonight was great, but I think I’ll be much too busy to hang out with you again. This wasn’t as exciting as what I usually have planned.

The elevator jerks to a start, and it seems to throw the words from the Russian’s lips.

“More than I’d hoped.” He pauses. “If it’s not too much, we could do something like this again. Next competition. Every competition, we could see each other. If— Yuuko and Phichit won’t mind me stealing you.”

Every competition.

He scuffs his sneakers on the floor, feels the heat rising in his cheeks.

“I’d love that,” he admits. “I’ve always wanted to—“ Yuuri barely stops himself in time, but Viktor is still looking at him, waiting. “—I wanted to know you. For us to be close.” He flinches. “That sounds strange, doesn’t it.”

“No,” Viktor replies simply, quietly. The elevator whirrs to a halt, and they step out onto the same floor.

“Are you here too?” Yuuri asks, but Viktor shakes his head. “Ah. Well… while you’re here you can say hello to Yuuko.” She’d likely be in the room Yuuri was sharing with Phichit, doing something ridiculous with the Thai. While Yuuri often sat out of their more exciting excursions, Yuuko and Phichit were a force to be reckoned with no matter where on the planet they went together.

Yuuri tries his key twice, feeling clumsy with the blue eyes and amused smile on him, but before he can try a third time the door swings open and Yuuko sings,

“Yuuuuri, how was your—“

He presses a finger to her lips frantically, hearing the word before it escapes. Date. Viktor probably had not intended this as a date, regardless of Yuuko and Phichit’s very strong opinion on the matter.

“Yuuko,” he greets, trying to inject a warning into his tone. Behind her he can barely see Phichit, tossing his way through—Yuuri’s suitcase? Yuuri can’t tell, as Phichit is hardly visible through the door from where Yuuri stands.

“What?” He questions, and Yuuko smiles, pats him on the shoulder.

“Long story. Oh! Viktor, you’re here!” He reaches out a hand, and Yuuko bobs their shake up and down with enthusiasm. “I’m glad that someone as world-wise as you is showing Yuuri around. As always, I can’t wait to see you skate tomorrow! Tell me that combo you’ve been showing off on Instagram is going to end up in your GPF program?”

“Ah, you caught me. Yes, that’s going into the second half.” Yuuko catches his gaze with a pout, and Yuuri laughs, knowing he’s won the bet—Yuuko had thought Viktor would hold off on using it until Worlds. Yuuri had known that Viktor was too close to perfecting the move not to use it, to surprise people as soon as he could. “I’m looking forward to seeing your step sequence, Yuuko.”

She beams. “Of course. Yuuri and I have been putting a lot of time into those.” They smile pleasantly at each other for another few moments.

“Well,” Viktor says, inclining his head, “It’s late. I think I’m going to retire for the night.”

“Goodnight,” Yuuko tells him with a soft smile.

Yuuri’s fingertips tingle. It feels odd, to have tangled himself up in the other man so thoroughly and yet to say goodbye as distantly as this. Before he can stop himself, stop the flood of emotion, he steps forward and tugs Viktor into a quick hug. “Um, goodnight.” He’s about to pull back when the Russian returns it, squeezes him briefly.

“Goodnight, Yuuri.”

Yuuri watches him as he turns and moves down the hall, graceful even in just walking, but Yuuko snaps her fingers for Yuuri’s attention before Viktor can get too far. Yuuri jerks his thoughts back to his best friend.

“Surprise time, then. Take off all your sweaty clothes and get in here.”

“Shouldn’t I do that the other way around—“

The madonna giggles. “Just get in here, Yuuri, I promise I’ll make it worth your while.”

“Okay,” he laughs in return, only slightly wary, and starts to pull off his scarf. Maybe this is why Phichit is rifling through his clothes. Just paces away, at the end of the hall, Viktor steps into the elevator. Yuuri’s eyes are still on him. He doesn’t look back.


 

“Guess what,” Phichit says brightly once Yuuri has come in and Yuuko has shut the door. Yuuri cannot guess. “We decided you’re no longer allowed to buy your own clothes. Or at least not ones you wear out on dates with Viktor Nikiforov.”

“What’s wrong with my clothes?”

“The appropriate question is what’s wrong with you, Yuuri. You have the best butt out of all of us—as determined by online poll— and yet it remains tragically hidden away from the world by your choice of pants.”

“You both have great butts,” Yuuri protests, before slapping a hand over his mouth.

“Katsuki Yuuri, playboy,” Phichit sighs. “Always complimenting everyone’s assets.”

“I—“

“We all know what you meant,” Yuuko interrupts. “We’re family, and families make sure everyone knows they have great butts.” Yuuko shoves Yuuri lightly towards the suitcase. “Boys, let’s focus. What if Viktor wants to hang out with Yuuri again?”

There’s a pause.

“You’re not disagreeing with us,” Phichit says slowly. “Normally you’d have told us that you bore Viktor and he never wants to see you again at least five times by now.”

“He—Viktor, he, um. Said we should see each other. We danced, and he—at the next competition, he said.” The words are falling in a jumble, like if Yuuri gets them out fast enough they’ll be true, will always be true for the rest of his skating career. Viktor wants to spend time with him.

“Yuuri,” Yuuko squeals, and Phichit shoves the suitcase shut and pops up to his feet. “Yuuri, this is wonderful!” Phichit tackles him into a standing hug, and Yuuko settles her arms around both of them. Together, they move as a six-legged disaster to one of the hotel beds, and collapse on it in a burbling pile of limbs.

“My baby son is dating a world famous athlete,” Phichit yells into his shoulder. “แม่

, did you hear the news?”

“I knew this would happen,” she says fiercely, shifting and trying to puff Yuuri’s ponytail from her mouth unsuccessfully. “You’re both amazing, and when you talk to each other you just click.”

Yuuri feels the smile taking over his face, feels his lip trembling. “This is more than I’d ever hoped for. But we’re not… we’re just friends.”

“For now,” Phichit scoffs. “Just like the sun is set right now, but we all know what’s happening tomorrow morning.”

“It’s not inevitable,” Yuuri protests, but something deeper says, yes, it is. For Yuuri, this has always been inevitable. He’s belonged to Viktor for years, but assumed Viktor would never have him in return.

Yuuri’s theme for the year is Ascent. It wins him silver at the GPF.

He’s less than ten points behind. It’s the closest anyone has been to Viktor in years. Yuuri hadn’t deserved it, not with the way Viktor had skated—a god among men, even a god who occasionally gets wasted at clubs, a god who misses people, a god that deigns to tease and push at his least-worthy disciple. Rebirth, that’s Viktor’s theme, the living legend that lives on.

The podium is small. Viktor smiles for the cameras, a perfectly flat picture, something painstakingly painted. And then, then he looks to Yuuri, blue eyes alight, and the world snaps into three dimensions. Yuuri’s heart chambers unflattening and pumping, his lungs blooming with air, his imagination expanding to places he’s never dared before.

He wants Viktor. Wants him more than anything. Wants him as more than a fan, or as a child worshiping him. Dares to want him.

“You’re crying,” one newscaster says, “is this win something special to you, Mr. Katsuki?”

Yuuri gives a watery chuckle, rubs helplessly at his eyes. “I always cry,” he says, too honest. “I cry at every competition.”

He and Viktor dance at the banquet, palm in palm, and Yuuri’s secret burns between them. 


 

He’s breathing in layers of powder foundation and eyeshadow. It coats Yuuri’s throat—he only sneezes three times while they sit on the too-fancy couch in front of the cameraman and director. The director of the Olympics commercial that they’ll be starring in, for some incomprehensible reason.

“Well,” the director had sighed, when he suggested they start the whole thing with a kiss and Yuuko and Yuuri had staunchly refused, “this is going to be a different commercial than I’d thought. That’s all right. We’ll take a different approach—I’m an artistic man.”

The approach turns out to be Yuuko and Yuuri sitting on a domestic couch, in a not at all domestic studio with bright lights. The approach is their knees pressed together, talking familiarly with an interviewer about their impressions of each other. Of their love for one another, and how it came to be.

Yuuri can’t fake emotion, can’t even summon it well when he tries. This is why he is so inconsistent, on the ice.

Yuuri hyperventilates in the small family bathroom just off the main set area after the twentieth take. Yuuko knocks, their knock: two raps with her knuckles, followed by four more in rapid succession. He lets her in.

“Yuuri,” she says, gently, and sits with him for a while. This is Yuuko’s approach to his anxiety—just a consistent presence, an occasional distraction. It works well enough. “You know,” she finally suggests gently, “you don’t have to lie, or make up emotion. There are plenty of sources; it doesn’t have to be about me.”

Yuuri closes his eyes, when he answers the interviewer’s questions.

“What do you find the most romantic, the most inspiring, about your beloved Yuuko?” Deep breath.

“She never fails to surprise me,” he says quietly, her hand tightening in his own, “ever since I first saw, that day back in Hasetsu, it’s been a never-ending chain of surprises.”

The director usually says cut, at this point, says go again.

“That was powerful,” he says instead, soft and nodding. “That was real.”

Chapter Text

The commercial starts off the way everything in Yuuri’s life does: on the ice.

First a shot of Yuuko, in fluid, flying motion—and then Yuuri, coming into the shot from the air, landing a quadruple salchow to join her.

Twirl around each other, the director had yelled, look into each others’ eyes!

There’s music soft and sweet, in the commercial, violins accompanied by piano and flute. Yuuri and Yuuko had only heard it eight million times while recording this scene—sometimes, Yuuri still hears it rattling about his brain before sleep, tired from use, grating.

But this portion is still better than what follows.

“Did you ever think you’d find a love this strong?” The interviewer asks.

Yuuko laughs. It’s genuine, a response to a question so ridiculous there is no answer. “Never.”

“You’re both so young—Yuuri was only nineteen the day you publicly revealed your relationship. Have you ever considered breaking that sole devotion, exploring your options?”

They’d wanted Yuuri to answer this one. They’d demanded Yuuri answer, demanded love. On the fifth take, Yuuko had helped anyway.

“Since he was young,” she said, hand firm on his shoulder, “Yuuri has only ever had eyes for one person.” The pleasant surprise rose within him then, grateful gaze catching hers.

“That’s true,” Yuuri admitted with a helpless chuckle. They couldn’t stop the shared smile—something flashing and brilliant and private, something between them, two kids from Hasetsu with overflowing dreams. Yuuko doesn’t help bear his dreams, but she knows them, knows him, and it’s more than Yuuri could have asked for.

The camera catches it, that private thing. When Yuuri sees it on the screen for the first time, his stomach roils.

That’s ours, he wants to protest. That’s ours, and you’re ripping it apart to use like puzzle pieces, to form whatever you’d like.

The smile hadn’t even been the end of it.

“What do you find the most romantic, the most inspiring, about your beloved Yuuko?” Deep breath—he can see his shoulders rising and falling. The video has cut out the sound.

“She never fails to surprise me,” he said quietly, her hand tightening in his own, “ever since I first saw, that day back in Hasetsu, it’s been a never-ending chain of surprises.”

Them, on the couch, fades away. Ice, and a curling line cut by a skate, take its place. Panning up, the camera reveals the rink, their two figures weaving together. The rink, shiny and perfect, constructed specifically for beauty and not for functionality—there’s no stands, just banners and spotlights.

Love does exist, the commercial hums, overlaid upon Yuuko and Yuuri, on the ice again. Triple flip. Triple axels, in tandem. Use its power. Use Trebonai.

After the product name— Trebonai— slides from the screen, taking the ice rink with it… there’s six interlocked rings. The Olympics. Where the commercial will debut.

He and Yuuko are going to the Olympics.

“Call Viktor,” Yuuko orders him one day. “Call Viktor, and tell him you’re representing Japan.”

“I’m not doing that,” Yuuri splutters. “Besides, he’ll know when the announcements come out.”

“He already knows, Yuuri, how could he not?” An eye roll. “You’re the best Japan has—besides me. But that’s not the point! I know you have deviousness in you,” Yuuko says. “Though apparently you still need an excuse to call Viktor, so use it when you’ve got it!”

She sits him down in her apartment, on her bed—Yuuri’s walls are far too embarrassing for him to dare Facetiming from there.

“Maybe we should check the time in Russia again,” Yuuri frets. “Maybe—“

“Yuuri,” Yuuko says firmly. She takes his phone from his hands. “How many times has Viktor texted you since the GPF in Quebec City?”

The answer is every time Makkachin does something cute, but then he might have to show Yuuko the photo roll he has saved in his phone—Makkachin licking at Viktor’s face, the videos Viktor has sent where he narrates. “What do we have here? Someone has decided my new toaster is an evil intruder.” Then, he’ll flip the camera from his grinning face to Makkachin, planted firmly on the kitchen tiles between him and the shiny appliance on a clean counter, letting out a single bark. The toast pops up, and Makkachin jumps into the air with it. There’s laughter—and Yuuri wants to be there, wants to be in that apartment, wants to be lying on the couch with Viktor laughing at their dog. Their dog, that’s as far as Yuuri’s imagination can get before he shudders and shuts the fantasy down. “I guess it’s time for a newer toaster,” Viktor mourns in the video.

Yuuri loves Yuuko. Adores her. He’s never letting her see the ten videos and countless pictures he’s saved. How many times?

“Enough,” Yuuri replies to her question, eventually. But this isn’t true, because fifty texts, a hundred, a thousand, will never be enough. “A lot.”

“Great,” Yuuko says, “that’s what I thought.” She hands him his own phone, and Yuuri briefly tries to summon up the courage to dial the number—which he has memorized—before he realizes. Scrambling for the button to end the already ringing call, he’s interrupted by his phone, clicking with the connection.

“Yuuri,” Viktor’s voice comes through. “You called.” His silver hair is slightly mussed, different from the videos and pictures he’s sent. Yuuri’s eyes cling to it helplessly. As far as Yuuri can tell, he’s propped up on the couch in his apartment, leisurely laid upon the armrest. Dark curls shade the bottom line of the camera frame. “Say hi to Makkachin.”

“Hi, sweetheart,” Yuuri says automatically, as a wet nose and two sparkling eyes come to sniff at Viktor’s side of the screen. That’s what Viktor calls her. Suddenly, there’s a gasping from the opposite end of Yuuko’s living room—Phichit’s just walked in the door, and he’s clinging to Yuuko with flailing arms.

“It’s happening, it’s happened,” he hisses, low. “He IS talking to Viktor, isn’t he?”

“Phichit,” Yuuri chokes. “No. Stop.”

“Phichit’s there?” Viktor questions.

“We live next door. We—never mind. Um. Sorry. I don’t want to take up too much of your time.”

“You’re not,” comes the reply. Gentle, slow, like the motions at the start of a program, building up. “Talk to me.”

“I got the official call yesterday,” Yuuri says, trying not to let the hand holding the camera phone wobble. “I’m going to the Olympics. You’ll be there too, of course. I just wanted… to tell you.”

“That’s wonderful, Yuuri!” The Japanese man can see it, the way his face lights up across the electric screen. Miles away, across an ocean, Viktor Nikiforov is happy that Yuuri is going to compete against him. “Congratulations. I knew it would be you.” Maybe Viktor hasn’t seen Yuuri’s mental weaknesses yet—maybe he doesn’t know how easily he could panic and let everything slip through his fingers.

Still, the grin that develops at the praise is impossible to stop.

“Thank you,” he murmurs, ducking his head.

Yuuri looks up from the screen, at Yuuko and Phichit. The two are doing a terrible job of pretending to be interested in Phichit’s phone rather than him. He’s sure he’s quite the sight, sitting on Yuuko’s bed talking to Viktor Nikiforov, surrounded by photos of Yuuko and Yuuri or the three of them together, and posters of bands that Yuuko is bouncily passionate about. It’s a contradiction of the familiar—their Detroit family—and the impossible. Yuuko winks at him, tugs gently at Phichit’s arm. They’ll likely run off, visit some café with cheap and terrible coffee but a cozy booth, and settle in for a few hours of homework. Led by Phichit’s Instagram updates, Yuuri will find them later. They’re better friends with each other than with him, Yuuri knows, but they’ll wedge him between their bright warmth, welcome him. It always happens this way.

As they open the door, the Thai sarcastically and wetly blows him a kiss, accompanied by a suggestive raise of his eyebrows. Yuuri blows a kiss back with an exaggerated sweetness that Phichit understands, smirks at.

“Sorry. Phichit and Yuuko are leaving.” He shifts on the bed, refocuses on the screen. “I was thinking. If you’re not busy, we could explore Vancouver?”

Yuuko has already told him, last night, that this is a perfectly normal thing to desire. Viktor had explicitly asked to see him, at future competitions. This doesn’t mean Yuuri’s heart doesn’t tremble, a bit, at his daring.

“Oh?” Viktor is staring at him, blue eyes somehow still just as bright and magnetizing through a tiny phone screen. They seem to dart, temporarily, before settling back to one spot. “I’d love that.” Abruptly, he shifts and stands, and then Yuuri is for some inexplicable reason being gifted a tour around Viktor’s apartment. It’s better, this way, than disjointed snapshots and blurry videos. Before long, though, they’ve returned to Viktor’s couch. “Hold this, sweetheart, please.” The words have Yuuri dropping the phone, scrabbling for it in the sheets of Yuuko’s bed, a sudden and whiplash statement in its casualty. Are you talking to—oh.

Yuuri is fairly sure he (the phone) is propped up lightly against Makkachin’s fur. Viktor was talking to Makkachin—of course he was talking to Makkachin. Yuuri knows this. He knows. It’s still so easy to pretend.

He swallows and has to calm himself as Viktor flicks, focused, at the tablet in his hands. Entranced, Yuuri can’t help but watch the mild intensity, the grace in the sweep of Viktor’s fingers as he does something as rote as using technology. There’s an absent smile beginning to curve his thin lips, and Yuuri realizes that he has to say something before continuing to obsess.

“Um,” Yuuri ventures, trying to be quiet, “I know I called and interrupted your day, so if you need to be doing something else right now—“

“Here!” Viktor announces without further explanation, and twists the tablet to reveal several pictures: hikers on a peak overlooking a city, a trolley, a hazy skyline. “Last time you made the itinerary, so this time it can be my turn!” The Olympics happen in a little over a month’s time, but there’s already excitement dancing across his face. This is something Yuuri had never anticipated about Viktor, prior to the text messages and time spent together at competitions. The Viktor from interviews can be calm or brilliant or sly or even overly professional, smile tight—his social media is mostly pictures, with the occasional caption. But the Viktor that he’s spending time with, the Viktor he wants to know even better, is someone youthful. Someone unapologetically honest in words that come from his dishonestly set mouth, teasing and scolding with a smile. Someone beautiful. Someone with all the facial expressions he crafts, elegant and too pleasing, that Yuuri is still having to explore the creases and shadows of. Someone Yuuri wants to hold.

“Show me the places you like to go,” he says, “okay?”

The things you like to do. The things you love.

Viktor beams at him from the tiny screen, and everything is bright.

 


 

His phone rings most mornings, when he’s halfway out the door. The remaining rebellious strands of his hair, and his ponytail, get stuffed beneath a beanie. By two weeks after their first Facetime, Yuuri has given up on trying to appear put-together in front of the Russian at 6am in the morning. Now, he carries a granola bar in his mouth as he flies down the stairs, eats his breakfast as Viktor eats his lunch, mumbles around the food and holds his phone up in freezing hands.

“Practice is delayed,” Viktor says with a sly smile. “So I can talk a few minutes longer.”

“What did Georgi do this time,” Yuuri replies.

“Yuuri! Why can’t I be the one that did something?”

“You’d be more pleased with yourself,” Yuuri mutters and bites his lip to hide his smile, bending to set the phone on the pavement as he tightens his shoelaces.

Viktor laughs, takes a spoonful of whatever soup he’s put in a thermos. “You’ve got me,” he says lowly. I wish I did. “Georgi asked Anya out today.”

“Wow.” Yuuri picks the phone back up, stretches his calves against the wall. “If I wasn’t already late, I’d take the long route to the rink to hear this story.”

“Run slower?” Viktor suggests sweetly.

The more they talk, the more the answer on the tip of Yuuri’s tongue to this kind of prodding is then how will I beat you at the Olympics? Something a friendly rival would say. Something someone worthy of Viktor would tease.

He hasn’t built up the courage yet. The daily Facetimes, the texting between classes, it all seems like some kind of strange and self-indulgent dream. Someday. Someday he will get the words out.

“Talk faster,” he challenges softly instead, and breaks into a run. He straps his phone into the holder on his arm, which means he can’t see Viktor anymore—but his voice, washing over Yuuri, is more than enough.

“—so there’s balloons and confetti and stuffed animals falling onto the ice, and the man running the Zamboni is desperately fighting with his controls to avoid them all, and Anya is torn between being touched and terrified. Then Georgi rips off the top part of his costume to reveal the printed shirt beneath, which says—oh, how do I translate this—“

Yuuri stumbles out of the freezing Detroit winter into the light chill of the rink, unzips his jacket.

“Yuuri!” Phichit calls. Yuuri rips out one headphone, jerks his head up to stare at his best friend, who’s already geared up and leaning on the boards. “Celestino has a warm-up written out for us, I just got the text. Make some time for your partner in crime?” Yuuri pulls the phone from his arm, sits on a bench and plops his backpack on the ground.

“Sorry,” he says to Viktor’s infectious smile, “you didn’t talk fast enough. My best friend is demanding I skate now. I’ll…” he swallows nervously, and Viktor takes another sip from his thermos quickly, winces at the heat. “I’ll call you later?” Twice in a day seems ridiculous. “You’ll probably be tired after practice, so you don’t have to.”

“I should be off by your lunchtime, unless Georgi’s stunt costs us another hour, in which case I’ll want to stay after 7. Just text me?” The words are light, and sunny, and Yuuri bites his lip to suppress a smile that feels ridiculously giddy.

“Okay,” he agrees softly. “Goodnight, Viktor.” Viktor laughs, and Yuuri stutters, “I-I mean. Goodbye.”

“Goodnight,” Viktor replies firmly, an elegant incline to his head, and hangs up. His phone blinks, Viktor’s number fading from his screen, and Yuuri stares at it in frazzled bliss for a few moments. I love his voice. I want to talk to him. I want—

“Hey,” Phichit shouts, “who do you think can get through the warm-up faster?” Yuuri grins at him, pulls his skates from his bag.

“Just wait a minute.”

“No way! I’m here first, and on time, so I get a head start. Those are the rules, Yuuri, sorry. Last one to finish cooks dinner tonight!” Phichit pushes off, and Yuuri scrambles to right his laces, shakes his head.

“I didn’t know Thailand’s best skater needed a head start,” he calls. “Whatever would the prime minister say if he found out?”

Phichit cackles, builds up speed and whips by Yuuri’s side of the rink.

“Rude, Yuuri! Wait till I tell Viktor what a mouth you’ve got on you,” he shouts. “Unless he already knows? About your mouth?”

“Don’t, please, don’t,” Yuuri begs, and gives a final, testing tug to his skates. “I’m coming! Stop cheating.”

Phichit moves into a spin, form light and arms perfect. The rink is bathed in sunrise shades, dim pink and gold, cold air solidifying in his lungs. Everything is familiar, comfortable, and yet now more than ever he feels like he could be missing something.

I want him here with me, Yuuri thinks. So we could talk more.

Phichit launches into his first jump, ice spraying beneath his feet, a flurry. “I’m a winner,” he sings, “I’m, a, winner!”

“Did somebody talk about winning?” There’s the Madonna, voice clear and high, her smile lines so familiar that Yuuri could map them in his sleep. “Hi, you two.”

There’s so much that Yuuri wants, so much he dreams, that he can barely hold it in his heart.

 


 

They talk in the evening. They talk the next morning, too, Viktor calling before Yuuri rolls from bed. Lifting the phone above his face, he squints at the blurry, too-bright pixels and groans.

“Hi,” comes the voice.

“Who,” Yuuri demands in return.

“You’re not a morning person,” the awful person on the other end concludes, a warm laugh trailing at the heels of the statement.

“I’m not a person at all, yet,” Yuuri scoffs. “Do you… mm… just. Five minutes…” When he drops the phone on his face, he wakes himself up for the second time with a yelp. “Oh my god! Hello. Who’s there?”

“Still me,” says Viktor Nikiforov. Well, if he’d ever wanted to date Yuuri, he certainly doesn’t now.

“Viktor! Let me, um, let me get up. And get changed.”

“Oh,” says Viktor. There’s a hint of pink at his neck, but before Yuuri can analyze why he’s hung up.

He calls back as Yuuri finishes breakfast, tuts at the purple bruise on the side of his face.

Please don’t make me explain, Yuuri thinks desperately. He’d rather say he got in a fight than admit he’d had a minor collision with Yuuko out of his own stupidity.

“Bad fall?” Viktor questions, and that’s possibly worse, so Yuuri flushes and shakes his head.

“Not quite. Yuuko.”

“I see,” Viktor says lightly. “Well, we’ve all been there. Sometimes things get rough.”

“Mm,” Yuuri agrees. “Anyway. Phichit wants to run with me this morning—we go for an extra two miles on Thursdays. Can I—can I talk to you later?”

“If you’d like.” Yuuri peers at the screen, swears that there’s a flatness to Viktor’s face. He knows Viktor is pretending. He’s not quite sure how, or why.

He doesn’t like it. It’s also none of his business. If Viktor wanted—surely he’d talk to him? Viktor is one of the most outgoing people he’s ever met, a man who never shies away from anything, and… Yuuri thinks of quiet conversation about Lilia Baranovskaya, awkward hugs at Quebec’s riverside. He should ask.

“Are you,” he blurts, “are you okay?”

Viktor blinks, eyelashes fluttering. “Why would I not be?”

There’s an irony to that. Sometimes, Yuuri needs no reason at all to start falling apart, to start trying to keep himself together in public. But that’s Yuuri, and Viktor is different. Better, probably. Stronger.

“Nevermind,” he murmurs, retreating.

“Okay. Goodnight, Yuuri. Have a good run.”

“Goodnight.”

It feels good to exercise, to let his muscles and lungs scream for him. Phichit slaps his back, elbows him once they get to the rink.

“Hey,” he says, “are you okay?”

Be strong, Yuuri tells himself. Be stronger. Don’t make people think you’re not.

“I’m mostly okay,” he replies instead. A tan hand comes to settle on his shoulder, squeezes.

“Love you,” Phichit says firmly. Unlike Yuuri, Phichit and Yuuko say it so readily. Yuuri isn’t the same as them, and sometimes he wishes achingly, dryly, that he was. “You can talk to me.”

Yuuri doesn’t want to be a burden. “Really. I’m okay. Just having a lot of thoughts.”

Phichit nods, squeezes his shoulder one last time. “I respect that.” His laces tighten at the same time as his chest. Phichit steps on the ice and moves into easy figures, tosses him a bright smile. I’m here for you, it says.

Ice comforts him in a way that little else can, not even Phichit, and today he lets it.


“Important question: how do you feel about sushi?”

Sometimes, Yuuri’s worries are founded. Sometimes, he wakes up the next morning and it’s like he merely imagined the anxieties of yesterday. Bright and early, Viktor had called him again, beaming at him across the phone. It must be an off day—Makkachin sits with him, yips.

“That depends on the sushi,” Yuuri admits. “But I like most of it.”

“Vancouver is supposed to have excellent sushi,” Viktor hums. “Christophe has quite the palate, but he’s not a huge fan of seafood, so I’ve been deprived.”

“You two often eat together.” Yuuri wonders how long they’ve been friends. Christophe has been showing up on Viktor’s social media for years—blooming from a young, rosy cheeked teenager into the chiseled icon he’s become. Yuuri had idolized them, wished desperately to be like them. Christophe and Viktor are some of the few people that can pull off the ‘sweaty’ look and make it seem like a sparkling sheen.

“When we’re at competitions,” Viktor confirms. “He trains in Switzerland, you know, so unfortunately our friendship is…restricted.”

Yuuri can’t imagine having Phichit whole countries away. At the same time, Phichit has assured him that those things don’t matter. I love my phone, Yuuri, and then BAM! You’re there, on my phone, Facetiming me! The best of both worlds. Get out of Detroit, Yuuri. Or let me go visit home for a while. We’ll talk more, I bet.

Viktor pushes ahead, disregarding the question. “The famous Hidekazu Toji runs an excellent sushi restaurant. We could go after the Olympics are over? I think I can get reservations.”

“Sounds great.” Yuuri has never heard of him, but he’s not about to admit this. “I’ll try anything with you.”

“Is that so?” Yuuri wants to feel embarrassed, too exposed, but the question is so soft that it’s impossible to feel judged.

“Yes,” he admits. Viktor doesn’t reply, just smiles at him—a trembling and pleased thing, eyes sparkling—before he returns to his tablet.

“Okay. I’ll work on reservations. Then we’ll see each other soon, Yuuri. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

His fingers almost tremble too much to press the button to end the call, a heated electricity that trembles from his brain and heart down through the rest of him.

Soon can’t be soon enough.


 

The Olympics are a massive, sprawling mess of people. Athletes at every turn, speed skaters and curlers and ski jumpers and so many Russian team jackets, but no Viktor, not yet. Yuuko and he knock elbows as they push through hotel lobby of the Olympic village, until it’s clear that Yuuko has spotted someone she knows across the hotel.

“Go be a girlfriend,” Yuuri urges her. “You only get so many chances.” With a comforting, grateful pat to his arm, she steps away to weave gracefully through the other athletes. Yuuri, meanwhile, narrowly avoids being smacked in the head by a tall curler’s equipment bag. So much to do, so many people in his way, so much pressing noise, and he has to check in, has to move his bags, and find his room, to try to relax but god it’s all so loud and—there. There he is.

Submerged. All other thoughts quiet. Even the crowd surrounding him, blissfully and strangely silent. There he is.

His eyes can't help but catch in tandem with his breath, all of him focusing. The rest of the crowd is just background, the world a poor comparison to Viktor. The other man's head is tilted, white neck in a perfect curve, blue eyes trained on something far away.

Warmly, Yuuri follows his gaze, and realizes he's looking at a television. On its surface, the commercial blares brightly. Television Yuuri launches into a jump. The screen makes him look larger than life, magnifies the spark in his eyes when he speaks.

All of his words are for Viktor. About Viktor. It's embarrassing and exposing and soothing, all at once. The words exist. They're out in the open. Maybe they don't encompass everything he feels, maybe they weren't said to Viktor himself, but they're a start.

 And surely-- surely Viktor, insightful Viktor, whose skating conveys emotions and entire stories with a shining twist of his blades-- surely he can understand that the words are about him. These things that Yuuri never thought would be expressed aloud, but there they are. Indirect enough that, if Viktor wants to reject him, it'll be easy on them both.

The commercial ends. The instant movement of Viktor's attention to Yuuri seems impossibly smooth, surreal. As though, in this massive crowd, he'd already known where Yuuri was. His eyes widen, shoulders rising in a quick intake of breath, when their gazes meet. Twenty people between them, and it’s as though Viktor’s hand is curling soft in his own, tracing the lines on his palm.

Please, Yuuri thinks. 

Viktor looks away.


 

During the Parade of Nations, he takes Japan’s flag in hand, his grip alternating with Yuuko’s. Four hands, and a whole country to bear.

She laughs and laughs, can’t seem to decide whether to look at the crowd or at Yuuri’s face or at the flag they’re waving together. Somewhere, Phichit is marching with the other Thai athletes—Yuuri wishes he could see his rinkmate at his first Olympics, wishes he could take pictures for him.

Can you believe it? Yuuko mouths, and Yuuri just smiles, so wide he can feel it sparking in his eyes and ears.

No, he mouths back. He can’t believe he’s here with her, with Viktor, with everyone. He can’t believe he’s here to represent his homeland.

Most of all, he can’t believe that people are expecting him to do so well.

“It’s all gold,” Yuuko had said, eyes shining when they first arrived in the flashing, screaming stadium. “From here on out, Yuuri: we go for gold.”

A firework sings through the air and smashes in a bloom of color against the night sky; the announcer says something first in English, then French.

Yuuri closes his eyes, lets himself exist as only his hands lifting the flag, as ears for Yuuko’s laughter. Behind his eyelids the world lights up gold. All gold.


 

During warm-ups, Viktor looks so sharply focused, every line of him taut, that Yuuri can’t bear to interrupt. So he breathes, focuses on his own warm-up, focuses on the goal: victory. Victory, to be on even ground with Viktor, who he wants desperately to match. Maybe if Yuuri can catch him, he can finally… can finally…

When they move to come off the ice, Viktor puts a hand on his elbow.

“Good luck,” he says.

“Goodnight,” Yuuri corrects impishly. For a moment, Viktor just stares, as Yuuri fears he’s made a fool of himself. Then he’s melting, chuckling, thumb brushing softly at Yuuri’s arm as his hand drops.

“Then,” he hums smoothly, “davai.”

Yuuri could listen to him speak Russian for the rest of his life—even if he never understood a word.

Ganbatte,” he says in return. “Ganbatte, Viktor.”

Move. Yuuri should definitely move, but instead he’s standing here, barely holding himself back from sliding closer to Viktor on the ice next to the exit. Would anyone notice, if he pressed forward until Viktor was held between him and the wall? Would anyone care? Would Viktor even care?

Someone clears their throat.

“Are you two still in the men’s singles division, or does this intense conversation mean you’re moving over into pairs skating together?” The voice is smooth, accented, and definitely Christophe’s.

“Oh, excuse us,” Yuuri blurts, moving from the rink and immediately going to snap on his guards. A pair skate with Viktor is far too tempting to think about, now.

“Even if we did pairs skating,” Viktor is saying, “we could take you on. I’d throw Yuuri right into a quadruple axel. It’d be magnificent.”

“Only a quadruple?” Yuuri mutters to himself. If Viktor did a pair skate with him, he’s sure his heart would buoy him upwards, straight through the roof. Five rotations. Ten. Twenty. He’d never touch the ice again. He’d be skating on the moon.

“Trouble in paradise,” Christophe says with a wink and shaking laughter. “You two can’t even coordinate what jump you’re doing—I bet I could still hold my own against you.”

“We’ll see,” Viktor says, leaning on the boards as Christophe steps off the ice. “I look forward to it, Chris. Even if you never nail your Lutz.”

“Well, I’ve nailed other things,” Christophe responds with a wink. “But thanks for trying to comfort me with that, Viktor, it was very… you.”

“Naturally,” says Viktor.

If Yuuri lets himself go down this particular train of thought, he’ll never be ready for the short program. So he wanders off, ready to go through his pre-skate ritual of listening to music and trying not to hyperventilate, before Viktor catches him.

“We could watch the other competitors together?”

Yuuri licks his lips, his eyes darting to the board. “I should,” he says, the heavy knot in his stomach prompting the words, “I should watch with Phichit.” If he panics in front of Viktor, he’s sure no amount of generosity on Viktor’s part will save him.

“Oh, of course.” The words are easy, light, and Viktor nods his head regally as he takes a step back.

Davai,” Yuuri tries, hesitantly. The smile on Viktor’s face deepens, just a little, smile lines crinkling his eyes.

Davai,” he corrects gently.

Yuuri tests it out once more, and it’s heavy on his tongue—Viktor’s language, what he’d speak at home and for comfort. A welcome weight, a silly desire that someday he’ll speak it to Viktor more.

“Perfect,” Viktor says, and Yuuri hopes his skate will be.

 


 

Yuuri has never been perfect. This is the world’s only truth.

But when he’s on the ice, he can come so close. So, so close.

“Katsuki hasn’t dethroned Viktor Nikiforov,” the announcer says, when the free program is over, “but no one has ever been so close.” Close to Viktor.

Viktor breaks his own world record, and Yuuri’s within five points of him.

“Next season,” Celestino murmurs after a long discussion on their way back to the hotel. He’d tried celebration—Yuuri liked celebration, too, but he was talking about the next season before he knew it. Worlds hadn’t even happened, and Yuuri couldn’t wait, couldn’t help himself. “I believe Nikiforov will have the quadruple Lutz. He’s adding another quad.”

“What a coincidence,” Yuuko says, silver shining at her throat, “I think Yuuri will add a quad, too.”

Yuuri closes his eyes, in the backseat of the cab, and hopes.

 


 

They’d had dinner together each night of the Olympics, something light and reasonable for it being competition season. After the short program, they’d wandered through Stanley Park, met three dogs and then quietly played with a Frisbee that Viktor had found in the chilled grass.

Yuuri’s heart is so full, every heartbeat so loud, he wonders if he can skate, or if each pump of his heart will shake his legs, his entire frame. But now the competitions are over, and the general mood of the Olympics is either the high of victory or of desperation. There’ll be parties tonight—Phichit hasn’t stopped talking about them, about all of the people he wants to meet—but Yuuri can only think of gentle hands and blue eyes and having an evening where he can be as relaxed as he’ll probably ever be.

Viktor is in the lobby, dressed in a crisp black suit. Yuuri wonders if he remembered to take the tags off of his own blue one, but trusts that Yuuko and Phichit did it for him.

“Are you ready?”

Yuuri was ready a long time ago. “Yes. Let’s go.”

Viktor knows how to use chopsticks, being as traveled as he is. He’s not talented enough, however, to beat Yuuri in pulling the last piece of sushi from their shared plate. Yuuri laughingly knocks his clumsy chopsticks away, deposits his shrimp tempura victory on his own plate.

“Have pity,” Viktor says.

“Sore loser,” Yuuri manages to tease. Viktor leans across the table, and Yuuri can’t look away from the soft smile, the amused light in his eyes. “Okay, then.”

He lifts the sushi, towards Viktor’s plate, only to pull it back and snatch half a bite for himself.

“Yuuri!” Viktor protests. Yuuri holds out the remaining bite for him, and before he knows it he’s feeding Viktor, their eyes locked together as the other man’s pink tongue darts out to lick his lips, brief and mindblowing.

Yuuri has to fist his hands in the white tablecloth that’s pooling on his knees, has to wonder if maybe, maybe I could have this, have it as a real date…

 


 

Their lives revolve around beautiful things, suspended above frozen water.

Vancouver’s Aquarium specializes in the opposite.

“It’s terrible,” Viktor says, and giggles. “Look, it has three eyes and terrible fangs. Look at it wiggle.”

Yuuri will look at terrible, ugly fish with him for all of his life. The intimate darkness, the way Viktor wraps one hand around his elbow as a shark drives itself towards them and laughs, wild and helpless… those are all bonuses.

Hold his hand, his mind screams. Hold his hand!

“The dolphin exhibit,” Viktor huffs, “is closed.”

“Maybe next time,” Yuuri says. Viktor is looking just behind him.

“May I?” He gestures, and Yuuri nods without fully understanding. Viktor reaches around him, and Yuuri can feel the tingle in his scalp as fingers sift through his hair. The lines of his smile are visible even in the blue shades of the aquarium. Yuuri wants to drag him into one of the exhibits, soak him, kiss him underwater until Viktor’s having as much trouble breathing as Yuuri is right now. “Next time,” Viktor agrees then. He settles Yuuri’s ponytail gently on his shoulder, pulls a single grain of rice from the strands. “Got it.”

“O-oh.” Face burning slightly, Yuuri’s gaze darts down.

“Really, Yuuri,” he says. “I’ll be so happy, with a next time.”

Yuuri could float all the way back to the hotel, if he wasn’t neatly held down by Viktor’s warm shoulder against his own on the walk home.

Viktor presses the button for Yuuri’s floor. He does not press his own.

Please, Yuuri thinks.

But Viktor just stands with him outside the door, doesn’t approach it. Doesn’t mention what Yuuri wants so desperately to talk about.

There is one thing that Yuuri has to talk about. Maybe it’s the heavy comfort of a good meal in his stomach, maybe it’s the lingering feel of Viktor on his shoulder, his arm. Maybe it’s the way they’d laughed, at the aquarium, but Yuuri steels himself.

“Viktor,” he says, “you saw the commercial, didn’t you?”

“The Trebonai commercial,” Viktor confirms. Yuuri’s fingers are trembling, his mind going blurry, but Viktor is standing oddly still.

Yuuri dares to step closer, to try to say the words. "It's about Yuuko and I," he says, "but I wanted you to see it as a... a message to you."

"A message," Viktor repeats. And Yuuri can see it-- the stiffening of his frame, the tightening of his jaw. He's upsetting Viktor-- and he knew this, he knew he would, because who wants to hear that the competitor you've been talking to, poor and deluded and so far beneath you, is harboring an extended crush on you? Everything is about you, he wants to say, everything has always been about you. “From the commercial about you and Yuuko’s relationship.”

"Yes," he admits, and shuffles, feeling more awkward as Viktor continues to stare. He ploughs on, desperate to fix it, to sprint, to make it through. “A message for you. Our… relationship doesn’t have to change, if you don’t want it to. You’ve… your presence has always meant so much to me, in my life, I just—“ he cuts himself off, shakes his head. “Yuuko told me I had to make where we stood clear. I’m sorry, this is awkward, and I hope you still—want to be friends.” Friends, despite the fact that Yuuri has confessed his deepest admirations on international television.

Yuuri waits. Waits, and then the answer trickles slow into his mind, burning.

"I'm sorry," Viktor says. Yuuri’s said those words a thousand times: I’m sorry. I’m sorry I broke down. I’m sorry I wasn’t enough. Now, they take on a whole new, stinging meaning. I’m sorry, Yuuri, I can’t reciprocate your feelings. "I should have behaved differently. It was that obvious, was it?" Yuuri flinches, steps back. "I can try harder to discourage the feelings. That’s my… specialty.” He laughs, and it’s like a physical blow. Good luck, Yuuri thinks. I’ve tried to stop this before. It hasn’t worked. “I hope… we can still be friends, too."

The hallway is empty, stretching out long around them. The occupants are probably absent, out celebrating or drowning their loss in expensive alcohol, and he and Viktor together are so alone. It makes something pull, heaving and wounded, in Yuuri’s chest.

“Goodnight, Viktor,” he says. Viktor, beautiful Viktor, all humor and cheer and talent so blazing that it melts you, smiles back at him. A smile that Yuuri hates, sharp and flat all at once.

“Goodbye, Yuuri,” he replies, and there’s a finality to it.

 


 

Detroit, as cold as it gets, has excellent options for hot chocolate. Phichit still has to study, but they promise to bring him back some, and trudge out into the unforgiving snow of the city. Somehow, they squish their layers through the doors of a coffeeshop, tumble into the sweet smell and whirr of appliances.

“My treat,” Yuuko says, cheeks a windswept pink as she peers at the chalkboard menu.

“Yuuko,” he protests.

“Let me do this, okay? I’m older.”

“I’m not five anymore,” he laughs, “we earn the same amount of money from our sponsorships, you know.”

She bites her lip, grips her purse a little tighter. Of course their earnings are equal—their sponsorships aren’t for Yuuri and Yuuko separately. They’re for a relationship that doesn’t exist, a paid show.

“Order up!” A steaming cup is placed on the counter, topped by a mountain of whipped cream that’s dusted with cinnamon.

“That one,” Yuuri says immediately, and Yuuko bursts forward, animatedly chats with the cashier and hands over a crumpled bill. Together, they shuffle off to the side, Yuuko pulling out her phone. “How many times has Phichit texted you?”

“Only four times since we left the apartment,” she giggles. “One is actually a question about a class, too. He’s doing well.” Yuuri leans, and she shifts easily to accommodate him, tilting the phone his way.

Phichit (UR ONLY SON, UR SONSHINE)

I’m on page 12 of this paper, nbd just rockin it. Is Washington Post a legit finance news source u think or will Prof Winterwood be mad

huuuuungry. Where’s hot chocolate

[attached photo] crisis averted Yuuri was hiding tater tots in the freezer, my hero

BAES guess who just texted me (I say baes cause I know Yuuri’s looking)

Yuuri knows who hasn’t texted him. Who hasn’t called, since the Olympics.

Admittedly, he hasn’t called Viktor, either.

“Work,” Yuuko murmurs as she types, “on. Your. Paper. Put. The phone. Away. How is his GPA so high?”

“I’m not going to call him a genius,” Yuuri replies, leaning in to squint at the blurry photograph of their freezer drawer, Phichit swooning onto a white bag of tater tots. It yanks a laugh from his lungs, and he and Yuuko lean their heads together over the screen. Contemplate their friend. “But…”

Slowly, Yuuri feels it. There are eyes on them, peering up from below. A little girl, trembling hands clutching a napkin.

“Are you,” she says, “are you the figure skating couple from Japan?”

Yuuko slips the phone in her pocket, leans over a little. “We are the figure skaters from Japan! Who are you?”

“Amrita,” she squeaks.

“Do you skate, Amrita?”

“A little,” she admits, face going pink. “I want to be like you.”

“It’ll take a lot of work,” Yuuko says, “but I believe in you. We’ll look out for you on the screen someday, okay?”

“O-okay.” Flustered, she refocuses on Yuuri, who can feel his legs locking up. He loves kids—wants kids, wishes Mari was at all inclined towards them so he could be an uncle already. But they’re so impressionable, so small. “I want a prince,” she adds seriously, “like him. That’ll love me for forever, like him, and dance on the ice with me.”

Yuuri’s heart stutters, tips from his ribcage and crunches on the floor.

I want a prince too, he wants to say, to dance on the ice with me, silver-haired and impossibly beautiful, to look at me and tell me ridiculous stories and say things he really, really shouldn’t and talk to me until I fall asleep—

Yuuko bends all the way, wraps her arms around her knees and whispers, like she’s sharing a secret.

“Do you want to borrow my prince for a little while? If you ask nicely, I bet he’ll dance with you.”

 This is how she ends up standing on the top of his feet, so light he can hardly feel her in his winter boots. Barely, he manages to shoot a few panicked looks to Yuuko—what if I drop her, what if she gets upset, where are her parents, what if—but it’s too late. So he goes along with it. When she grins up at him, she’s missing a tooth.

“Hold on,” he warns, before stepping forward into an easy waltz. She clings to his knees and squeals, won’t let go until he urges, “let me spin you, okay? Step off, so I can spin you.”

After a twirl, she’s still holding his hand. But she looks to Yuuko, the shyness returning slowly.

“Kiss him on the cheek?” The young girl requests, and Yuuri feels more than sees the flash of emotion that strikes Yuuko’s face.

“Not in front of everybody,” Yuuko whispers. The girl giggles, holds out the napkin. For Yuuri and Yuuko to autograph. It’s a bit crumpled, from the dancing, but the intent is clear all the same. Wordlessly, Yuuko pulls out a pen and does her duty, hands it over to Yuuri next. “Thank you for cheering us on.”

With a skittish smile, the girl takes the napkin back, all chubby hands and crooked teeth.

“They’re out on a date, sweetheart,” her mother says. Sometime during the dancing, she had arrived, phone held aloft and red recording light blinking. “So say goodbye, now.” She does, and the family moves away, the girl cooing to her other mother excitedly.

Suddenly, Yuuri is aware. The eyes on them, the smiles that say we know, we know, how sweet.

They don’t know.

“I can wait outside,” Yuuri chokes out rapidly, but it’s already too late. They stand farther apart, like two strangers that met in a twist of fate at a coffeeshop, started a conversation that died. Yuuri can’t make eye contact with her; can’t stand right before the woman that is his best friend. When their names are called, the looks don’t stop. Unsubtle pictures are being taken, so Yuuri scoots closer, pulls her hood up.

“Thank you,” she says. She’s grateful, he knows she is—there’s the smile meant for him, the smile he’s always hoped to keep earning. As they step out the door, three cups in hand, a passing stranger jostles Yuuko—he knows what’s going to happen before he sees the drink splatter out, steaming, onto the freezing pavement.

“Here,” he says, and hands her his hot chocolate. By this time, the stranger has turned, eyes wide with apology.

“I’m so sorry,” she says, “I’m late to a meeting. But your boyfriend is quite the keeper!” She hardly stops her steps, just pulls a five out of her sleek leather wallet and pats it into Yuuko’s hand before striding off. They stand, in the gusting wind, drink darkly speckled onto their shoes and pants.

“I just wanted hot chocolate.” Yuuko is staring at the five dollar bill, crinkled in her hand. At the Styrofoam cup Yuuri has passed to her, the curling blue logo of the company. The wind fits freezing fingers down Yuuri’s spine. “I just wanted hot chocolate with you.”

Yuuri doesn’t hug her. One of the strongest, brightest, most beautiful people he’s ever known, and even without a hug she understands. Yuuko doesn’t initiate, not like Phichit—just waits. Patiently, gently. His home away from home, uprooted from Hasetsu and planted here, like a gift. She sits and waits. Then, once he comes to her, she reaches out and asks. She doesn’t ask, now, and doesn’t need to. Everything is unspoken.

“I wanted us to have a day off, too.” She turns to him as he says it, all soft eyes and smile and excitement drained from her. “I… I wanted…” The words cling on his lips. Something’s straining, pulling uncomfortably taut in his chest. Something has to give—soon.

One of their relationships has to die, and he can’t let it be their friendship.

“We’ll be okay,” Yuuko concludes, sudden but sure. “We’re going to be okay, Yuuri.”

Maybe Yuuri is a pessimist. But with Yuuko, he tries to believe.

“Let’s go home,” he says. “I think this was a sign from the skating gods that chocolate is off the menu, until next competition.”

“Skating gods, please,” Yuuko chuckles, lightening, “Celestino probably hired that woman. ‘Knock the chocolate from their hands! Toss her five dollars and tell her to buy broccoli instead!’”

They walk together, shoulders bumping as they shake with laughter, back to their apartment.

“By the way,” Yuuri says, calm, once they arrive. “I think it’s time for another round of me and Phichit teasing you about your romance.” Then Yuuko is bounding up to their floor, two stairs at a time.

“No way! I’m going to my apartment!” Yuuko tosses over her shoulder. “I’m locking the door!”

“We have your spare key!” Yuuri calls after her. “Make us popcorn!”

They’ll be okay. They will be.

Even if he and Viktor aren’t.

 


 

Yuuko doesn’t make the call, this time. His fingers find the contact all by themselves, his eyes watering from the dry brightness of the phone in the pitch dark of his bedroom. Beyond his wall, the space is empty—Phichit is out for the evening, something about a group project. Yuuri isn’t lonely. Or, at least, he’s not lonelier than he usually is.

Viktor’s ID picture barely fits Viktor and Makkachin in the miniscule frame, heart-shaped smile and brown fluff.

Call him.

He texts Yuuko first.

Me

Sleeping?

Yuuko (Kitagawa look-alike)

Skyping with my mom. What’s up?

Me

Just saying goodnight.

Yuuko (Kitagawa look-alike)

<3 Call Hiroko soon, my mom says.

No pressure, Yuuri, just a reminder.

Rolling over in bed, Yuuri stares up at the ceiling, darkness a blinding haze. Guilt grips him, quietly, and he thinks of silver medals and late nights at the rink and how much more money he could be sending home. Thinks of how much he’s missing, how much he’s always missing.

Call him.

He presses the button on his screen, and wills himself to be stubborn enough not to run. The call connects.

Yuuri should be aware of his messy hair, the leftover tape on his wall that’s still up from his Viktor Nikiforov posters. His pajamas are the same ones he’s worn to bed since he first arrived in Detroit. His eyes are still squinting in the light, and there’s probably an imprint on his face from the pillow.

None of that matters, for the briefest moment, when Viktor picks up the phone.

I miss you, he wants to say. It’s laughable—he and Viktor only talked for a month, only spent time together in brief snatches of moments before that. I still miss you. He misses the sharp humor and the excited rambling and being the one that Viktor calls while he soaks his torn up feet after practice. He misses dancing until his heart constricts in his chest. He misses Viktor Nikiforov looking at him like he’s strong and beautiful and desirable, somehow. He should know better.

All of it is presumptuous, and wrong, and probably not what someone as stunning as Viktor wants to hear from someone like Yuuri, first thing in the morning. I’ve missed you for so long.

“I saw a poodle mix today,” he says instead.

“Yuuri,” Viktor breathes. Gently, his mouth slopes up into a hesitant smile. He shouldn’t have called—he shouldn’t have called. He shouldn’t have thought— “let me put my book up. Let me sit. I’ve got a few minutes before practice, just… let me.”

When Viktor’s settled, Yuuri realizes he didn’t plan for enough to say. Didn’t anticipate or practice anything—not anything worth speaking. He’s sitting here because of impulse, and weeks of stress over calling. Now anxiety about it is eating him alive.

But it’s still Viktor, who’s staring at the phone with sparkling blue eyes like Yuuri is going to open up the world for him, show him something alien and exciting. Like Yuuri is earthshaking, electrifying, a solar eclipse on a snowy day in May. None of those things are what Yuuri is. The things I would be for you, if only I could.

“I think she was a mix with a Labrador,” are the trite words that come out. Nothing earthshaking. Nothing that will fix what happened at the Olympics. Yet Viktor just nods, responds easily,

“They have a name, do they not? A…”

“Labradoodle,” Yuuri supplies with a nervous, pitchy laugh, “that’s what Professor Slight called her—she’s the dog owner, by the way, she teaches one of my classes. She’s, uh.” He nudges his face against the pillow, feels incredibly self-conscious. “You’d like her.”

“If you do,” Viktor agrees after a beat, “then I’m sure I would.”

Yuuri’s never been one for a lot of conversation, not even with Viktor. But here he sits, babbling uselessly and awkwardly like it’s the easiest thing in the world. Ten minutes, fifteen minutes, half an hour, Viktor just smiling at him through the screen like this could somehow be holding his interest.

“I saw the video,” Viktor says suddenly. “Of you and Yuuko, and the little girl.”

Yuuri blinks. The coffeeshop. “Oh. Is that online? Yuuko’s fans are sweet.”

“You didn’t even know,” Viktor chuckles, shaking his head. “I’m glad to see you’re doing so well.”

Swallowing, Yuuri shifts on the bed so he’s looking down at Viktor, rather than Viktor peering down at him, sinking into his pillow. “I guess.” His mouth is full, overflowing with words Viktor doesn’t want to hear. I miss you. Deeper down in his throat, right next to his heart, sit more. Even when I’m surrounded by people, even when I’m happy with Phichit and Yuuko, I’m lonely for you. “I saw the music video you made with Mila and your Juniors rinkmate… Plisetsky.”

“Yuuri,” Viktor says seriously. Yuuri’s heart squeezes in his chest.

“Yes?”

“His name is Yuri.”

“O-oh.”

“He likes to skate your routines, sometimes, though of course he has to adjust them because he's so young. He’s getting quite good at the one from two years ago—maybe even better than you.” A wink, and all Yuuri can think of is the way he didn’t even make the podium back then.

They’ve been keeping up with one another. Viktor’s seen him online, thought about him, recognized his old programs.

Yuuri is greedy, and yearning, and so weak. Ugly, miserable feelings. Feelings that refuse to settle, that lay heavy with him in the dark and leer at Viktor through the tiny screen.

“Yuuri,” Viktor says at last. “Are you not tired? I have to go to practice, but you should… go to bed.”

“I’m already in bed,” Yuuri replies, and it shouldn’t come out that way, challenging and sassy and slightly flirtatious, when he knows this isn’t what Viktor wants. “I—just. Have a good practice. Bye.”

“Yuuri?” He pauses, finger hovering over the end call icon. “Thank you for calling me. Feel free to do it any time. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye,” Yuuri says. He waits for Viktor to hang up, so he can finally let relief wash over him. But Viktor’s face remains on his screen, stays with him.

“Can we be friends again, Yuuri?”

He pauses, jolted, and tries to make his heartbeat slow. What can we be? “You don’t have to ask,” he says after a drawn out breath. His relationship with Viktor is never going to be slotted away neatly, labeled friend in thick letters. No relationship works like that. But here he is, all earnest questions and confirmation, and he’s waiting for Yuuri.

Can we be friends again?

“Let’s be,” Yuuri agrees, finally. 

 


 

Yuuri Katsuki and Yuuko Asada have long been the sweethearts of the international skating community, but we here at Star magazine have JUICY news! Yuuri’s been spotted with Russian heartthrob and known playboy, VIKTOR NIKIFOROV! Is Yuuri’s unshakeable devotion dying out?! Read the rest of this scandalous tale on page 11…

“I don’t usually read gossip magazines,” Viktor says, after his coach has thrown it down on the desk. “I should’ve guessed that you do, Yakov. Which parts do you like? The pregnancy musings? The petty fights? Maybe… the divorce battles?”

Hush.” Yakov steeples his fingers. “I’m not going to ask you if any of this is true, Vitya. I just have this to tell you: together, they are one of skating’s treasures. You’ll gain no love from anyone by breaking them up.” Yakov pauses, pushes the magazine forward again so the crude shot of Yuuko and Yuuri is even more evident. “Not even him.”

“I know.”

“Did you see that boy’s interview? Their commercial? Anyone with a single brain cell can tell. He’s in love, Vitya. Has been for years.”

The response is slower this time. Quieter. “I know.”

“I won’t watch you be hurt by this. You’ll listen to me, because I’ve seen love be fickle and foolish and powerless when it comes to horny or star-struck young athletes before, and it’s never gone well for anyone. It won’t go well for you and Katsuki. So for god’s sake,” finishes Yakov, rubbing his wrinkled forehead with one hand. “Be his friend. Be his competitor. Be his idol. But don’t be…”

He taps at Viktor’s picture on the glossy page. Star had stolen it from one of Viktor’s old photoshoots, unused at the time because the photographer thought it made him look too approachable, too unguarded, too human.

“I won’t be,” he agrees.

Chapter Text

 

In the wake of the Olympics, 2012 Worlds feels almost quiet. Athletes that didn’t medal in the Olympics are here, looking to people like Viktor and Christophe and… Yuuri, too. Even Yuuri can’t be too inwardly focused not to notice the looks, the determination pointed his way. He is, at the least, a repeat medalist. Even if he’s not a champion, he’s a stepping block to one.

Upon his arrival at the stadium for the first time, he can’t help but look for Viktor. Text messages, subdued video chats that are finally starting to lose their awkward edge, those are what has sustained Yuuri. Seeing Viktor, in the flesh, is a temptation and a necessity all in one. Even though Viktor’s made it clear that Yuuri isn’t meant to touch, or be close in the way that Yuuri desperately wants to be, seeing Viktor happy and relaxed is something Yuuri longs for.

He gets it, for just a few moments. Viktor’s chatting with Christophe, Mila hovering at his elbow with her phone in her hands. Together, the three of them fall into an easy pose, Viktor wrapping an arm around Mila’s slim shoulders and drawing her and Christophe close.

Then Christophe spots him. “Ah, Yuuri! Japan’s lifeblood.”

“Then what is Yuuko?” Mila pipes up.

“Its heart, of course. Come take selfies with us, Yuuri.” Christophe has never been anything but friendly to him—Yuuri can’t deny that even looking at the other man, always the picture of calm whether he’s in a nightclub or about to perform at the Olympics, is somewhat soothing. Not soothing enough. Viktor’s eyes on him have his stomach swooping, his heart pulsing in his chest. Yuuri wishes he could smile, when he was stressed. Wishes he could smile and not show the storm that’s always in his head. But faking emotions, pretending he has a durable heart instead of a glass one, has never been a possibility.

He tucks himself in beside Christophe anyway, bites his lip and thinks of the video of a dog Phichit sent him that morning. There. There’s a smile.

It’s the only one he’ll have, at Worlds, next to Viktor Nikiforov. From the practices, to the short, Viktor smiles, and waves, and stays so very far away.

Friends, Yuuri thinks. The word smarts in his chest, sours on his tongue. It shouldn’t.


 

Yuuko is skating soon, and Yuuri should be watching. Should be waiting for her, at the side of the rink, smile breaking over his face and arms filled with celebratory plushies and flowers.

Instead, he’s hiding out in the farthest back reaches of the rink, sitting on a dusty old fold up chair. He should’ve played games, should’ve slept more, should’ve listened to what Yuuko always told him.

Head between your knees, his therapist’s voice echoes. Yuuri bounces his heels, his legs, and takes a few raggedy breaths. He can do this. He’s earned silver before, at the Olympics. That has to mean something. But Yuuri’s success has always been fleeting, has always relied on a combination of delicate and sometimes undefined factors. None of them seem to be aligning, this competition.

“Yuuri?” Comes a soft voice, and then things are worse.

As much as he wishes it were possible, Yuuri can't sink through the floor. He can't hide the sheen of cold sweat on his skin.

"Hi, Viktor," he attempts weakly. "What are you doing… back here?"

"Nobody seemed to know where you'd run off to during the women's skate, so I thought…" Viktor trails off, blinks at Yuuri's quaking knees. "Is something wrong?"

"No," Yuuri blatantly lies.

"Are you sick?"

Deep breath. "No."

He's coming in close, hand hovering over Yuuri's shoulder before returning to his side. "Yuuri. Not that I listen to him, but Yakov has always told me it's better to take it easy when ill, rather than injure yourself. You're young. No one is going to question your skills when you just took silver at the Olympics."

"N-no!" The exclamation is too loud. Scraped open, and the embarrassing heat of it makes Yuuri want to retreat. Instead he stares at the floor, waiting.

"Yuuri," Viktor continues on softly, after the pause. "I’m not trying to sabotage you. I swear. But with your PCS scores, tomorrow you don't have to risk—"

"Nothing's physically wrong with me!" The words burst raw from his lips, settle sourly in the air between them. Covering his face, Yuuri curls forward onto his forearms, swallows. It's dark. It's more compact, more comforting pressure this way, and he can almost pretend Viktor isn't in the room to witness him.

"You're nervous?" Viktor says it as a question, as though it's not painfully obvious. The watery chuckle falls from him before he can curb it.

"I guess," he intones flatly. "I guess that's what you could call it."

“Let me do something for you,” Viktor offers, like Yuuri’s state of mind is a difficult spin or jump, and if he just practices enough, just has his form corrected…

“A drink of water,” Yuuri’s voice muffles into his knees.

It hadn’t been intentional, but after Viktor steps from the room and his footsteps echo off down the hallway, Yuuri realizes he’s created an escape. Heart and mind buzzing, he rushes into another room and sinks into a new chair.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax every muscle in the body, one by one, even if they spasm and shake.

He should text Viktor. He should apologize for leaving, but the thought of apologizing and explaining sounds infinitely difficult, an impossible task with no reward other than Viktor intimately knowing Yuuri’s greatest flaw.

So instead, Yuuri breathes.

When he finally picks up his phone, there’s a text message. It’s not from Viktor.

Phichit (is it ur bday cause I’m a gift)

Heard u r in the back. Viktor thought I should handle it. So hi son. I’ll come to u

Yuuri can’t think too much about it. All he wants now is to continue trying to come down, but at this point Yuuko should be skating, and he wants to be there.

Me

No. Coming back now

When he steps out into the area beside the rink, it’s not hard to find the Russian skaters, their banner for Mila raised high, Yuri Plisetsky trying and failing to look bored about waving it. Beside them, there's Viktor, blue eyes scanning the ice.

First Yuuri shoves his unwanted feelings onto the other man, and now he gives Viktor a reason to think he’s fragile, weak. 2012 is not the year for Katsuki Yuuri. And Viktor had gone to find Phichit. Probably thought that Yuuri, scrunched up over his knees and wound tight, wasn’t something he wanted to be near.

Before him, Yuuko takes center ice. Yuuri could close his eyes and see her entire performance perfectly in his head: a twirl, arms sweeping around her. The flawless flow into a triple axel, double toe combination, a start to a program whose intent is clearly victory.

When he opens his eyes, the dream becomes real in front of him. Blades flashing, Yuuko lands everything-- a miraculous skate for the Madonna. Here I am, she says, spinning into the final pose. Arms out and open, beauty that she is laid bare, chest heaving with pride and freedom. Even gravity bows before her.

Yuuri's running before he knows his own feet. Around the rink, heart pumping with excitement for his best friend, to the exit. Her arms are stuffed with flowers, plushies, and in a mild, breathless collision she meets him at the ice's edge. In his face, she's pushing one of the stuffed animals, wiggling it against his nose.

"All elegance," he laughs, "till you come off the ice and start torturing me."

"Lucky you're not my brother my blood, aren't you?" She replies warmly, softly. "Otherwise I'd have tortured you since birth." Now it's just been since he was a child. Since they were both kids. Since they were skating sloppy figures in a rundown rink, hidden in a backwater little tourist town in Japan, Viktor Nikiforov a distant dream.

"You've earned this high score," he tells her firmly.

"They haven't given it yet, Yuuri, come on!" Snapping on her skate guards, balancing with a hand on the edge of the rink, she beams at him before taking Celestino's arm. At the Kiss n Cry, Phichit is waiting for them, two bouquets in hand.

“Here comes my superstar mom and son,” says Phichit. “Wedge your large butts into this small bench."

Yuuko elbows him, plops down in her seat before taking both Phichit and Yuuri's hands. "Here we go," she breathes. Her grip is tense, trembling. It won't be long.

“And there’s the score!"

"No," she whispers, but there's already electricity zapping through Yuuri's body.

"Yes."

"Ladies and gentlemen! Asada Yuuko has! Asada Yuuko has broken the women’s short program world record! A stunning start to this Worlds competition and a confirmation that Asada is going to go down in history!”

In that moment, all he can do is stand and cheer. To scream. To squeeze an arm around her and Phichit, to take pictures as she laughs and hugs both of them, nearly knocks them onto the floor.

“You’re blubbering, you’re blubbering,” he teases, sweeps her bangs from her forehead while Phichit presses his cheek excitedly to her shoulder.

“No ib nod,” she protests, and cries more.

“So proud of you,” Yuuri says, quiet, as Phichit begins to compose a victory announcement on Twitter. Yuuko scoots closer, wipes her face on his shirt, a mess of glittery eyeshadow and ecstatic tears.

In that moment, the world bleeds away into glowing white. He’s untouchable, lifted high. Happy.

 


 

It’s only late that night, alone with his thoughts in the dark, that he realizes.

He has to be better. For Yuuko. For Phichit. For Viktor. They give him so much, and Yuuri can’t return it.

And Yuuko—laughably, he’s supposed to be Yuuko’s match. Their sponsors want both of them to medal, want their victories to gleam the same color.

We’re going for gold, Yuuko had said, so many times. Yuuri wanted nothing else, bled for nothing else, and he couldn’t keep up.

When they were younger, she was always the first to master Viktor’s moves, the first to give them fluid motion. The first time Yuuri skated, Yuuko had been there, two pigtails and one front tooth—follow me, Yuuuri, she’d said. That’s your name, right? Hand in hand, they’d circled the rink while his skates wobbled, and she’d been so steady, so graceful, even then.

I gotta go to my class now, she’d said sweetly, as they clattered to a halt beside Hiroko. She’d turned, pigtails flying, skates singing as she pushed off. Before Hiroko could stop him, Yuuri had tried to follow. Bottom lip wobbling and eyes still shining with amazement, he’d reached out chubby fingers for the end of a sleek pigtail, taken a step.

The first time Yuuri fell on the ice, it was to the sight of Yuuko leaving him behind.

She always came back for him. Always supported him. Always sat, patient, while he battled his nerves and his weak jumps, and never pushed.

I can’t be a burden, he realizes, I have to be better.

Yuuri takes silver at Worlds. Yuuko’s competition barely scrapes past her, in the free program, and as a couple they match. But the decision is made.

“I’m putting a quadruple flip in my roster,” he announces to Celestino on the plane ride back. “It’s my best choice for another quad.”

He and Celestino both know it’s the quadruple that Yuuri cares about the most. The one he’s practiced, quietly and stubbornly, despite Celestino telling him to wait.

"We have a summer," Celestino replies gravely. It's not a no.

In some universes, a summer is all it takes to fall in love. In this one, half a summer is enough to begin inconsistently landing a quadruple flip.

Half a summer. Then, as if summoned, Viktor Nikiforov is texting him, a simple picture: plane tickets.

 


 

"Why is he coming to Detroit?" Yuuko's got her long hair in a plait, but strands stick to her forehead and flushed cheeks. Even through a Skype screen, it's clear that Hasetsu is sweltering. Yuuri can't empathize-- Detroit's summer is cooler. "I mean. Besides for you." She pauses, looks down. "Sorry. That's…" Personal. Something that, a few months ago, would have been her teasing him about his potential relationship. Now the statement just buries itself uncomfortably into his skin, reminds him of what he and Viktor aren't. Yuuko may be eager. She doesn't often cross lines.

"He's my friend. His name isn't a taboo just because he, understandably, doesn't want to date me." Yuuko's face pinches, at that. If it were taboo for him to hear, Yuuri wouldn’t be able to go out in public. Even in the USA, Viktor Nikiforov is a household name.

"So you two being friends is working out, then."

"We talk sometimes, when he's not at nightclubs or reading, yes." She laughs, and resettles on her bed, cross-legged and loose.

"Is that all there is to the great Viktor Nikiforov? Nightclubs, reading, and skating?"

"No," Yuuri corrects, "he also has Makkachin, best large poodle in the world." And a great butt. A personality and ease in conversation that Yuuri would kill for. And a grace, in his every movement. The way he tells stories is fluid, practiced, like he's spent time preparing them in his mind-- almost everything Viktor does is poised like that, until it’s not. Until Viktor is dropping his phone because Makkachin surprised him, whispering into Yuuri’s ear as he speed-walks in the dark recesses of the Russian rink to escape Yakov for a few moments, chuckles across the phone line. Yuuri, shhh, don’t tell—

Yuuri loves him poised, loves him messy. Yuuri also wants him disheveled and sleep-soft, like he is when he calls before bed. He wants…

"Yuuri," the Madonna sighs from across the screen. "Yuuri. Come back to me."

The shame burns in his cheeks, guilt heavy and sticky in his heart. Feeling this way, despite Viktor's rejection, is more than unfair to himself. It's unfair to Viktor. Viktor, who he wants to respect. Viktor, who'll be arriving soon for an appearance in an ice show celebrating the Olympics and skating in general.

"I'm here." He ducks his head, plucks at the pills on his sweater.

"I googled it. He's in that ice show, the one they asked us to join, yes?" Yuuri nods. "They asked you to be in it too?" Yuuko already had plans to be in Hasetsu for much of the summer-- plans she refused to change, no matter how her coach grimaced. It had been too long since she'd seen her mother.

After learning Japan's star figure skating couple couldn't join them, the show had graciously extended the offer to Yuuri alone.

"It'd have been disappointing to see me without you," he shrugs. Katsuki Yuuri was a consolation prize, if you couldn’t have Japan’s power couple or just Asada Yuuko. “They didn’t even mention pay, in the first email.”

"Oh, Yuuri." She purses her lips. "Call them back. Tell them you'd like to make an appearance in the Detroit show! They'd kill to have the Olympic gold AND the silver medalist guest starring. Just brush off your old programs and your exhibition. Then you and Viktor can make a night of it!"

"Mm," Yuuri agrees.

"Show some excitement," she teases. "If the ice show idea doesn't inspire you… then how about THIS?" Throwing her legs over the side of the bed, she pads with the computer out into the hallway. Propped happily in Mrs. Asada's lap is Yuuri's heart.

Rolling, Vicchan yawns. Sleepily, Mrs. Asada strokes him, his curls giving way to her gentle hands.

"Vicchan," Yuuri coos. At the sound of his voice, Vicchan’s head lifts, fluffy ears perking.

"He keeps walking down to Ice Castle Hasetsu during the day, and Nishigori always stops by here before delivering him to Yu-topia."

“Why…” Yuuri begins, tapering off, but Yuuko is already answering him.

“Nishigori works there, now. Basically owns it.” She takes a deep breath, brown eyes sparking. “He’s different, Yuuri—calmer. Sweeter, like I think we both knew he always was underneath that gruff exterior. He teaches the skating class for five year olds— oh, I sent Phichit a Snapchat but I know you don’t look at those, I’ll text you the video, it’s precious…”

With Vicchan’s panting and Yuuko’s delighted flurry of Japanese a comforting stream around him, Yuuri relaxes. After half an hour, Yuuko winds down, blinks happily at him and lets Vicchan sniff at the screen.

“Any exciting news for me?” She questions.

“My quadruple flip,” he replies, “it’s getting better.”

Viktor would be so impressed, she doesn’t say. “I can’t wait to see, Yuuri. When I come back to Detroit I expect you to have the axel, lutz, and loop down too. I need them in my life.”

He chuckles, shakes his head. “Ladies first.”

“No way! You’re no gentleman!” She giggles. “That’s the biggest lie our sponsors peddle.”

Yuuri’s mind wants to snag, wants to spiral with the idea—a lie. Their lie. But joking about it, with the one other person who could possibly understand, is something they desperately need. Yuuko has asked him for this, to try. So he does.

“Everything else the gossip magazines says is true,” Yuuri states flatly. “Us being madly in love. Our secret elopement. And… we’re pregnant, did you know?”

“No!” Yuuko gasps, hand flitting to her belly in mock horror. Yuuri smirks, trying and failing to be grave.

“Not you. Me.”

By the power of Trebonai,” she whisper-quotes at him. “Anything is possible. How is our baby?”

He shakes his head again, murmurs, “I can’t believe the gossip magazines know and you don’t, Yuuko. Babies. Sextuplets, actually.”

“A baby for every figure skating jump,” she laughs, “like I’ve always wanted.” Yuuri knows. “Oh, Yuuri.” She wipes her eyes. “I wish you were here in Hasetsu, too.”

The smile slides off his face, and Yuuri bites his lip. “I will,” he promises. When he’s done what he came to the USA for; when he’s made something of himself. When he’s made a living. When he’s worthy.

When he’s finally gotten to know Viktor Nikifor—

No. There are parts of the dreams he used to have that sting, worse than the rest. You’re his friend, Yuuri reminds himself. Years ago, you would’ve broken both legs to be able to say that. Yuuri supposes he’s always been greedy, always taken more than he deserved.

Maybe it’d be easier, if he couldn’t remember the gentle grip of Viktor’s hand in his own, the delighted peal of a laugh when Yuuri surprised him over a Facetime call. If he didn’t know the feel of Viktor’s weight, held in his arms, or still shiver at the long-ago brush of his fingers on Yuuri’s elbow, his arm. The shape of his smile, sweet and daring. Daring Yuuri to… daring him to… Viktor’s always leaning into him, nestling up next to Yuuri’s heart, and—

Yuuri,” Yuuko emphasizes. A warning.

“I want to skate,” he responds abruptly. Across the screen, the broad sea, she presses her lips together and nods.

“Do what you have to do.”

 


 

When Viktor’s plane lands, Detroit sags beneath a heavy downpour.

Viktor

We’ve touched down. So much rain! Not like home.

Me

Because in Russia it’s snow, instead?

Viktor

J I can’t say you’re wrong

Me

Stay dry. I hope Mr. Feltsman is doing okay.

Viktor

He’s not here, fortunately. He wasn’t particularly happy about this show.

Viktor’s coach might not be, but the flutter in Yuuri’s stomach makes him realize that he is. Dancing over the keys, his fingers reply before he can stop them.

Me

I’m excited to see you.

There’s a long pause. Yuuri knew he shouldn’t have sent it.

Viktor

Skating together will be fun.

Yuuri falls forward onto his bed. He buries his face in a pillow. It’s all you ever wanted, he reminds himself, to share the ice with Viktor. The dream had been beautiful, too indulgent, but now it’s happened, and Yuuri realizes being with Viktor is better than he had allowed himself to dream. Better, and he’s ruined it.

Living in Detroit for several years with Phichit and Yuuko means he knows its heartbeat, its trashy bars and gleaming restaurants where sponsors occasionally treat him and Yuuko. Detroit is Phichit’s tipsy off-key singing and Yuuko sliding down the bar stool, giggling. Detroit is staring a sponsor in the eye over a hundred-dollar steak and trying not to scream.

Detroit is a place he could give to Viktor, another inadequate gift in a long line of unwanted, inadequate gifts.

Are you hungry? He types. In just thirty minutes, Yuuri could meet him somewhere. Viktor Nikiforov, the man Yuuri loves, and he’s mere minutes away.

Viktor just wants to be friends. Viktor just wants to skate together, and that’s all. It’s foolish to think he could ever change Viktor’s mind, and desperately disrespectful to try. So he deletes the message, and types another.

Me

Be safe. Text me if you need anything.

Viktor

You too.

See you at the run-through.

The last thing Yuuri’s routine from the Olympics needs is an increase in difficulty. It’s just an ice show. There’s no need to shred his knees with the quad sal or the quad toe. When he takes the ice the night Viktor flies in, though, he launches into jumps with ferocity, whirls through his step sequence until he knows his feet are bruised and bloody in his skates.

Stumbling back into his apartment in the dark, mind and body pleasantly numb, he barely registers Phichit in their living room.

“C’mere,” the Thai says, and lifts his fuzzy red blanket in invitation. “I’m watching Hamtaro.” Yuuri wanders over, slumps his head onto his best friend’s shoulder. “You smell like someone that’s not enjoying their off season.”

“Ice show’s soon,” Yuuri mumbles into the thick fluff of the blanket.

“Yeah, I hate to break this to you, but I’m pretty sure they won’t be handing out official medals. You can relax for this. Nobody’s judging you—except me, of course. You got me a free ticket, right?”

“Phichit,” Yuuri laughs, “so cheap. Am I not worth a few dollars to you?”

“I’m a college student,” Phichit huffs. “Excuse you. Also, I see you every day! I definitely get a discount on your face by now.”

“This sweaty face?”

“YUURI, SON, YOU’RE GROSS! I didn’t raise you to put your sweaty self all over unsuspecting victims.”

“You didn’t raise me at all,” Yuuri replies, deadpan, and tosses the blanket over Phichit’s head. “I’m going to shower. I can’t believe I got you a front row seat at my ice show.”

“Me neither!” Comes Phichit’s muffled exclamation beneath the fuzzy red. Rather than get up, Yuuri pauses, watches the orange hamster on the screen dash through the cartoon landscape. Tugging the blanket past his chin, and nudging Yuuri gently with a socked foot, Phichit urges, “hey. What’s up?”

Ignoring the twisting of his stomach, Yuuri tries. “Viktor’s in the ice show, too.” I want to see him. I want to be alone with him. I’m scared to be alone with him.

Phichit tips his dark head back and forth, considering. “If you two champions don’t mind a future Olympic winner tagging along to dinner afterwards, I could be your buffer. Just… uh, you should probably suggest it, because a three-time gold medalist is intimidating.”

“He’s easier to talk to than he seems,” falls from Yuuri’s mouth. His brain is too busy wondering how Viktor would react to a dinner invite, and doesn’t process his own words.

“What a change from your old opinions! But I’d hope he’s easy to talk to,” Phichit hums, snuggling down deeper into the couch, “considering you two talk and text every day and this is after—“

“Phichit,” Yuuri groans. After a supremely awkward confession and rejection, he knows. Every text, every impromptu call is a heart-stopping reminder, a clear message: stop wishing, stop hoping.

When he’s settled in the shower, he curls up beneath the warm spray. Muses at the blues and purples, watercolors spreading over the bones of his feet.

“Stop wishing,” he tells himself, and it echoes quietly over the tiles. There’s so little in his life that seems attainable by the wretched, wanting Katsuki Yuuri.

But for so long he’s been treating Viktor’s attention like something he could earn, something he could practice for. Maybe Yuuri never even qualified for that competition. Maybe there’s something deep, in his core, that drags him down.

Yuuri hates feeling helpless. Hates to sit and wallow in anxiety, which only pulls him deeper if he lets it. He has to move.

Me

Phichit and I are going out to eat after the show. Do you want to join me?

Viktor

Always.


 

As a later addition, the ice show had determined Yuuri would be a surprise, the final build-up before Viktor Nikiforov took the stage. Insistent, his and Yuuko’s agent had requested that Yuuri clip dark lenses over his glasses and wear a rain jacket and light scarf. It’s supposed to be a surprise, Yuuri, don’t let them down. He has to admit that the anonymity is comforting, the lack of eyes on him doing wonders for his anxiety. Rather than feel like some secretive celebrity, though, he feels he’s taken on his true role as another shapeless mass in the crowd.

One of the other skaters barely dodges him in the hallways designated for the performers in the show.

“Excuse me,” says the other man, polite, but then Yuuri’s eyes are darting up to meet icy blue. “Ahh.”

Yuuri fumbles to prop his glasses atop his head, tug his cold mask down. “V-Viktor.”

“I almost didn’t recognize you,” Viktor says, light smile gracing his face. “I suppose I should have known your early-morning-class look better.” Viktor’s seen him, brushing sleepily at his hair and tugging on a coat for 8 am classes, talked to him with a toothbrush hanging from his lips and teased his impeded words. Viktor is impossible to say with a toothbrush in the mouth, and the Russian knows it.

The near collision has put them so close. From here, Yuuri’s mind is already assaulting him with memories of the other man’s scent—rich cologne that Yuuri would never buy, mixed with aftershave. Right now, he could open his arms for a hug. Friends hug, don’t they? Phichit and Yuuko don’t as much, but they’re not Westerners. Viktor is.

His arms are lifting before he can put more thought into it. We’re friends, he nearly chants in his head, when Viktor tips into the hug instantaneously, none of the fear that’s whipping through Yuuri’s body present in his frame. Friends. Friends.

Viktor squeezes, impossibly gentle, and Yuuri’s hands fist in the silky designer shirt without his permission.

“Hi,” he murmurs, close to Yuuri’s ear, and Yuuri can’t say it back, not when his voice would break. Not when he’s missed this—not when his side of the hug is drenched in emotion, and Viktor has never and will never feel the same. Yuuri should let go. Yuuri should count his heartbeats, rushing through his ears. Use them as a limit. One. Two. Three. Let go.

He still holds on. Four. Five. Six. Seven heartbeats, in Viktor’s arms. Eight—

“Yuuri!” A voice calls. Startled, emotions jittering in him, he jerks back, arms falling to his side. “I didn’t know you were in this show!”

“Ah, Sara.” Gracefully, she speeds towards him, white dress fluttering. He bites his lip. “I was a last-minute addition.”

“Yuuko didn’t mention it,” she pouts, and behind her, Mickey lumbers over, gaze warily set on Viktor. In an instant, she’s tugging Yuuri in for a brief hug, patting him on the back. “Not at all!”

“I’m sure you two have something to talk about other than me,” Yuuri laughs quietly, eyes darting to Michele. “Hi.” They both incline their heads in polite, quiet greeting.

“I suppose,” she replies with a cheeky grin. “Yes, she’s been giving me virtual tours around Hasetsu. Lovely, you know?” With a twist of her body, she turns to face Viktor, smiles at him. “You should visit sometime!”

“I’m sure it’d be amazing,” Viktor agrees easily.

“Yuuri will have to take you.” She smiles prettily, and Yuuri can’t help but smile back, a little, even if the suggestion has his whole body clenching. Viktor, in Hasetsu, like a long-ago dream bursting from Yuuri’s sleeping mind into reality. Sara doesn’t mean much by it—she’s just being friendly. Aside from Michele’s defensive nature, the Crispinos are always friendly, have been a supportive duo to Yuuri and Yuuko’s own pair. “Yuuri’s shy, but—oh, hello!” Yuuri follows her gaze, to where a group of younger skaters, and one tan teen peers at them.

“No way,” whispers a skater from the group, clearly mostly Juniors. He tries and fails to be subtle. “So it’s true that Nikiforov and Katsuki are actually friends.” Yuuri can’t blame him—he feels equally surprised, sometimes.

“What,” Sara huffs back, rapidfire, “of course they are. Are you not friends with other skaters? We should all try for that! Also…” she looks to the lanky, tan one. “Leo de la Iglesia, right? Your choreography is so unique. People are saying your musicality is going to give Yuuri a run for his money someday!”

“Oh, I could never…” the teen steps back, eyes wide, slowly waving a hand.

“Don’t be too modest,” Viktor warns kindly, and at his words Leo stiffens, rapt attention on the champion. “Unless you want to challenge Yuuri in that, too.”

Oh god. “Viktor,” he protests weakly. He can hardly imagine where Viktor’s going with this, and his mind is screaming, too eager to find out.

The blue eyes are on him then, carefully darting over his face, lingering at the flush on his cheeks and the set to his mouth. It’s too embarrassing. Yuuri wants to tug his cold mask back up, he wants to hold Viktor’s hand, wants to drink the praise straight from his mouth so it doesn’t get let out into the open air and lost forever.

“It’s true. You’re too modest, especially in your interviews. Nobody has step sequences like you. If scoring were only PCS, you’d be the gold medalist, and your triple axel is so clean that…” he trails off. Yuuri feels like he’s falling, dunked into the ocean, mouth full of saltwater and incapable of letting loose years of stored adoration, praise. It’s all because of you. When I skate it’s for you, so many of my step sequences can’t compare to the emotion in a single curl of your fingers, the motion they were inspired by, I—

“You and Asada doing triple axels together!” One of the Juniors squeaks. “Oh, geez, it’s incredible to watch. How did you two get to be so in sync?”

The cascade on Yuuri’s lips, a million ships about to launch, stutter and shake. His mouth is still full of them, his brain hardly able to switch tracks from Viktor Viktor Viktor to the reality of him and Yuuko. “I—we’ve been skating together since we were kids.”

“Oh, gosh,” one girl sighs. Yuuri wants to sigh too—the sound of their blades, slicing sweetly at the ice together, is something that never fails to calm him. “She’s perfect.” Yuuri nods, an immediate reaction to what he knows as truth. “Is—is she here too?”

The disappointment at Yuuri skating alone might be widespread. Yuuri had predicted this, and he still stumbles over his next words. “Ah, no. She’s visiting her family in Hasetsu right now.”

“You must be so lonely without her,” the girl continues, empathy meant to be connecting but it digs in, like pinpricks. Yuuko isn’t his babysitter—she doesn’t have to waste all her time looking out for him.

And Yuuri is always a little lonely, but that’s his own fault.

“Maybe, but—“

“Say hello to her for us!” One bold Junior blurts. “Please.” Blinking, pulling his mask up, Yuuri nods. So many people, so many emotions, so much conversation when he could be out on the ice instead.

Sara lays a hand on his arm, warmly answers for him. “We will. Now, though, I think most of us are due for a practice run. Right?”

“Thank you,” he murmurs, as the Juniors stumble off.

“Aw.” Her pink tongue darts out at him, a joke. “Don’t thank me. Thank Yuuko for all those hours of Skyping with me, and chatting about you. The attention can get a bit overwhelming, I guess, huh? It’s hard for me to put myself in your shoes, but I guess that’s true! Anyway, Mickey and I are right after the Juniors. So bye, Yuuri.”

“Bye.”

He and Viktor are last, in the ice show. Viktor is the grand finale, the main event, and Yuuri is a cheap surprise that will only be a disappointment, once people realize Yuuko isn’t there.

Skate for fun, Phichit and Yuuko had both told him. No judges. No competition. Just Viktor Nikiforov, waiting in the wings. So Yuuri will.

“Watch me?”

Viktor looks to him, all bundled up, anxiety fizzling in his veins and palms sweaty. Yuuri wants to hug him again, wants to press so close, face and ears disappearing into the scented fabric of Viktor’s shirt, swallowed up. So deep that he won’t hear when Viktor says: please, let go.

“How could I not?”

 


 

“Is this not the off season?” Michele asks, when Yuuri slides from the ice, pops his earbuds in to listen to the soundtrack once more. “Have you honestly been holding back on the rest of us?”

“What?”

“It’s not honourable,” Michele mutters. Yuuri squints at him, music in his ears overpowering any understanding. “That skate! You even had a quad. It would’ve earned you a great score.”

“Oh.” Yuuri fidgets. “Thank… you.” Before he can continue the conversation, his eyes are drawn—there’s Viktor, taking the ice. His starting pose is different, and when the music fills the stadium, every movement changes before Yuuri’s eyes. A whole free skate, pulled apart by the seams and cobbled back together beautifully. It’s a simpler version of his Olympic skate, yes, but the story has changed. Yuuri can feel the difference, the swell of the lump in his throat. All of Viktor’s skates are cloaked in imagery, meaning. This one feels split wide. Heartbreak, his mind whispers. It’s all heartbreak.

Or Yuuri just thinks that, because of the ache in his own chest.

Tears have been shed over Viktor’s skating before—into his arm, spreading stubbornly onto his cheeks while Yuuko cries with him and Phichit generously ignores the display. Crying into his pillow, consumed by the night, when cramps in his calves wake him and he lays alone in the dark.

 “Both of your skates are…” Sara is there, too, even her eagerness unable to bring the feeling to words. Yuuri can’t bring it to words, either.

All he knows, when he takes the ice in the real ice show, is that the feeling strumming along with the music is loss. It’s I miss you, it’s an apology, it’s dashing his feelings out on the ice till they’re smashed to pieces, because Yuuri can’t.

Yuuri’s felt this strongly about so little, in his life, besides skating. Maybe it’s healthier to let it go.

The crowd had screamed for him when he came out, a surprised clamor for the silver medalist that wasn’t even advertised. When Viktor takes the ice, his eyes look lost, glazed. They skate past each other, so close their fingers could kiss if one of them just reached out.

“That was stunning,” Viktor murmurs, and Yuuri watches his lips. Viktor’s lips, moving all for him.

Davai,” Yuuri tells him. Then he leaves the ice, tries to leave Viktor behind.

Escape is impossible. Yuuri can be his friend, when they’re off the ice, he knows he can. Calls and texts and Yuuri typing I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please every night into his phone before deleting it. Every night, I’m sorry, please and Yuuri’s still never figured out what he’s pleading for.

By the time all the skaters return to the ice, a final bow, Yuuri has rubbed his face dry.

 


 

“I’m starving,” says Phichit, sitting on the locker room bench. “Your meet and greets with the public took forever. Your line was so long, Yuuri! Shimmy out of your sparkly outfit and let’s go.”

“Just let me find my clothes.”

“Overrated,” Phichit informs him.

“Don’t be cranky just because you can’t turn your camera on in a locker room,” Yuuri scolds, amused, his hand closing triumphantly around his jeans and a sweater within his backpack. He hears words under Phichit’s breath that sound suspiciously like that’s what you think. “Unzip me?” Phichit complies, and Yuuri’s tugging on his pants when he makes the mistake of looking up.

Plenty of athletes have seen Yuuri shirtless, in essentially only his dancer’s belt before. Somehow, he’s avoided those athletes being Viktor Nikiforov.

“Ah,” says Viktor, and doesn’t stop, just blithely continues to a locker and swings open the door. Yuuri shuffles into his pants, rips his shirt from the benchtop and yanks it on. Though it’s been the off-season, working tirelessly at the quad flip has kept his form lithe. Shame has no room to fit in your thin little waist, Minako had instructed him. That may be true, but it’s impossible for Viktor not to have noticed the flush that painted its way down his neck.

“We’re ready whenever you are,” Yuuri blurts. Viktor turns at that, swings his bag over his shoulder.

“Where are we going?”

 


 

“So,” says Phichit, “I’m going to lay some Yuuri-BFF information on you.”

“I have talked to Yuuri, you know,” Viktor replies, showing his teeth in what Yuuri might have called a smile, if he hadn’t spent the last several months Facetiming with the Russian. “But okay. Enlighten me, best friend.”

“Yuuri really, really likes pork. And you have to have an American experience—so! Ribs.”

Why had Yuuri let Phichit pick where to go? It is a nice restaurant, though, and the smoke wafting from the kitchen has his mouth watering after his time on the ice.

Still, the idea that Viktor’s going to dig his elegant fingers into a slab of meat and probably get barbecue sauce all over his face—or worse, Yuuri will get sauce all over his face— the idea seems… Well, Viktor is elegant and beautiful, but Yuuri’s also now seen Viktor laugh so hard that he choked and soup nearly came out his perfect nose. Still elegant, and beautiful, but also flawed. There are consequences, mostly a high heartrate and careless giggling, to Facetiming Viktor Nikiforov while he eats lunch.

Maybe Yuuri can imagine him, messy, eating barbeque with those fingers.

Phichit snaps pictures after they order, gestures Yuuri and Viktor to lean together across the table, because he doesn’t know that even having their heads a few inches apart sets Yuuri’s heart on fire.

“So, that was an intense version of your free program,” Phichit comments to Yuuri. “Is that what you’ve been practicing in the evenings?”

“Some of it.”

“I thought practice was during the day,” Viktor pipes up, chin in his hand.

“Yeah, Yuuri pretty much only sits down to eat, go to class, and beat me at Halo. Otherwise, he’s on the ice or in studio.”

“I’ve just had a lot of things to work through,” Yuuri explains, squeezing his eyes shut.

"I know,” Phichit replies quickly, and Yuuri can’t bear it, silently wishes don’t say anything to Viktor, don’t say anything. Even though, if it comes to secrets, he knows Phichit can keep them. When Phichit continues, his voice has gone soft, realizing. He switches track, doesn’t mention Viktor at all. “Well, when your one true love is off with the Asada family in Japan, it is hard to skate."

Yuuri chuckles. "You've been Skyping Yuuko too, I see." He didn't realize Vicchan spent that much time with Yuuko's family, enough for Phichit to notice.

"Yeah, would you mind if I stole your true love away from you someday? The love of my hamsters is great, but our apartment says I'm only allowed to have three of them, and it's not enough." Yuuri flicks him in the forehead, light.

"Our apartment says you're only allowed to have none of them. So no stealing for you. I won’t have my true love go to a criminal."

"You're the worst best friend," Phichit replies promptly. "The worst. Isn't he heartbreaking, Viktor?" 

"Yes," Viktor says. A beat later, he gives a brief, airy laugh. Viktor knows whose heart is broken. Yuuri just knows that it’s uncomfortable, for Viktor, to sit next to him when Yuuri clearly hasn’t organized his feelings. But the pain in the Russian’s voice—that’s inexplicable.

Yuuri loves the poise to him. Loves even Viktor's tight smiles and indecipherable taps on his lip. But he wants to take Viktor's face in his hands, to run a thumb over his lips until the smile crumbles, like it's already threatening to do.

Talk to me, he thinks, I don't know why you won't talk to me.

But Yuuri does know. After the Olympics, he'd destroyed everything, made them awkward. They might be friends, he might know when Viktor's faking a yawn or a smile or lying sunnily through his teeth, but Yuuri doesn't have the key to Viktor's heart or his mind.

He probably never will.

“Yuuri keeps relate Russian rink stories to me, but I want to hear them from the source,” Phichit chatters, as though the words can dissipate the heavy mood Yuuri feels descending between him and Viktor. Weaving in and out, Yuuri fills in details Viktor’s missed from his own earlier account, and he and Phichit add commentary that has Viktor’s lips curving up, eyes shining. Beautiful.

There are people that are sharp, and there are people that are soft, and then there’s people like Viktor Nikiforov, who can slice you open with a smile that’s gentle and sweet. It makes sense—someone that sends Yuuri’s heart flying was always capable of crashing it to the earth, too.

When a foot accidentally nudges his under the table, Yuuri can dismiss it, familiar with just how long Viktor’s legs are. Viktor fiddles with his fork, pulls his foot back immediately, regret evident in the tightness of his mouth.

Friends, he thinks. Friends

So they are.

 


 

Viktor leaves Detroit too soon. Yuuri doesn’t cling to him at the airport—just waves, as Viktor and his luggage wheel off. Back out of Yuuri’s sight, soon to be just a beautiful face on Yuuri’s screen, a number flashing on his phone in the evenings and mornings, the texts that have him scrambling for them during class, no matter how studious Yuuri has always tried to be.

Yuuko comes back. The smell of the sea lingers in her hair, tan lines curling white over her shoulders. They go to the rink on her first day, her head shaking as she explores the clean ice, the impeccable boards, so different from Ice Castle Hasetsu. Seeing Yuuko like this, so clearly marked as Hasetsu’s, makes Yuuri want to show her everything. To give her glimpses of himself, in the dark quiet of this rink, even if he’s never brave enough to bare his soul to anyone.

“Would you watch?” He asks.

“Of course.” She smiles at him, and he skates backwards with a twist of his blades.

A quadruple flip. Two. A whole program, a flying step sequence, before the third and final.

“Yuuri,” she breathes. Tears wet her face. “Oh, Yuuri, you’re so—“ The look on her face, like she’s staring at Viktor Nikiforov himself, in his glory and grace. “Amazing!”

I will be, he thinks. So I don’t let anyone down. I can do this. I can bear it.

So he doesn’t let himself down, like he’s done in many other ways.

 


 

There’s only one qualifier with Viktor—but it’s Rostelecom, and Viktor spends the entirety of it surrounded by the Russian press, getting called away by Yakov in the middle of a rushed meet-up the night before the free skate.  

“I’m so sorry,” he says before he pulls on his coat, squeezes Yuuri’s arm before pulling back, staring down at him. All blue eyes, cheeks ruddy still from the cold. Just staring, like he can hear everything Yuuri’s heart is singing, and none of it is driving him away.

“Don’t you,” Yuuri breathes, “don’t you have to go?”

“I have to,” Viktor agrees, and ducks out of the tea shop.

Yuuri waits until his drink is cold in his cup, looks through old pictures on his phone, even though he shouldn’t. Viktor and Makkachin. Viktor with Mila and Yurio. Viktor and Yuuri, in Quebec and Toronto and Paris and Detroit, smiles frozen in time and eternal like his friendship with Viktor probably won’t be.

“Take it slow,” says Celestino, and for once Yuuri listens, changes his quadruple flip to a triple. He still takes the podium, eyes at the level of Viktor’s medal, his reflection dancing on the corner of its surface.

So close, he thinks. Soon, I’ll surprise you.

Viktor won’t ever want him, and Yuuri’s prepared his heart for that for a long time. But as his friend—as his friend, Yuuri can hold on.

 


 

At the GPF in Fukuoka, after his short program, it’s Yuuko who’s running to him.

“A quadruple flip, Yuuri, one of two people in skating’s history to have landed one, YUURI!”

Yuuri is the second. Celestino would tell him not to focus on that, just to focus on the accomplishment, but Yuuri wants to think about it. Wants to brand himself, quietly, as someone worthy of Viktor’s friendship. Worthy of the praise that Viktor has been easy to give, in the last few months after the ice show, like he’s figured out the way it makes Yuuri’s heart swoop and his palms sweat, tugging at the messy tangle of Yuuri’s heartstrings.

They’re less than a point apart.

There are pictures, of him and Yuuko, of their tears together. Tomorrow, they’ll be in all of Japan’s newspapers. Tonight, he’ll hold a press conference where they’ll lie through their teeth, and Yuuko will run off to be with the one she loves only once they’re back in the safety of their hotel. Yuuri and Phichit tease her as she goes, and Phichit’s bouncing on his hotel mattress when Yuuri’s phone buzzes.

Viktor

Come to the rooftop?

Yuuri can barely still his fingers enough to text back yes.

 


 

The rooftop’s an empty expanse, stars above and intricate concrete below, a metal garden with windchimes singing softly and a couple of chairs strewn across it. Viktor’s laid in one, legs propped up and hair shining in the light of the moon. He’s a man made for cities, Yuuri thinks. To look over their impersonal flashing lights and miniscule people, from above, to stand apart.

He looks as lonely as Yuuri feels.

Don’t be, Yuuri thinks, and maybe that’s why he did the quadruple flip after all. To crawl ever closer to the Viktor that stands high on the podium, to make him a little less lonesome, even if Yuuri isn’t who he wants.

“Hi.”

Viktor’s got on sunglasses. “The moon’s bright,” he explains, and with a warbling laugh Yuuri takes them from his face, holds them out and steps teasingly towards the roof’s edge. “Yuuri! Those are Chanel.”

“It’s eleven at night,” Yuuri protests. Viktor lays back with a sigh, head propped up on one arm.

“I have no way to stop you. Do what you must—hurt me. With all the power of Chanel sunglasses.”

“I know you care about these,” Yuuri tries to lightly threaten, rolling the frames in one hand and staying far from the rooftop’s edge. “You pretending not to care doesn’t work.” Viktor’s head rolls to the side, eyes still staring up listlessly at the stars.

“I’m aware.” The chair’s big enough for both of them, and the night is so cold. “I can’t help how much I care.”

After a few moments of silence, Yuuri moves, settles into the chair opposite Viktor.

“You… know all the best places at hotels, I guess.”

“Years of living in them does that to you.” Yuuri had rushed out here in his pajamas, foolish as he was for Viktor’s sake. Now, the armrests are freezing on his skin, and he regrets it. Viktor continues, “always check the roof, and always get a room with a balcony if you can. And never, ever, get a room near your coach’s. I’m sure you and Yuuko don’t.”

“We’ve never minded much,” Yuuri hedges, unsure of exactly why. “I… grew up in a hotel, I suppose. They don’t bother me.”

Viktor rolls, looks Yuuri in the eye. His gaze could pull Yuuri’s still-beating heart from his chest. “You’ve mentioned that before. Would you tell me?”

“If you want to,” Yuuri fidgets, props his head up on his arm, “listen?”

“Yes,” says Viktor.

So Yuuri talks. He talks, to murmured questions and requests for stories, even when Viktor’s lashes flutter down onto his cheeks, even when his breathing slows. “Wake up,” he says gently, finally. His teeth chatter. The moon is high above them, so full it could burst in a shower of light and shadow, magical dust.

“I’m awake.” Viktor shrugs out of his jacket, drops it over Yuuri’s lap with a teasing smile that slips and trembles. He refuses to take the jacket back. “Yuuri.”

“Yes?” Viktor, shining in the moonlight, staring at him like there are secrets. Secrets Yuuri doesn’t even know that he knows.

“Who do you skate for?”

Swallowing, Yuuri shuffles his arms into the sleeves of the jacket. “I skate for myself.” There’s no response, just quiet confirmation. Does Viktor skate for himself, now? “Until I… until my skating can make other people proud, I skate for myself.”

Sometimes, Yuuri skates for Viktor. Inadequate gifts. But this isn’t something to be shared.

It’s warmer, in Viktor’s jacket—the heat pulls his eyelids down, and he shuffles, wants to stay awake. Viktor is here, and he has so little time.

“What has Yuuko done for you?” Viktor asks quietly. Yuuri freezes, halts in shifting the Russian team jacket over his shoulders. “I know you didn’t want to talk about it, but… I want to hear about you two, in Hasetsu. I think I need it to,” he shakes his head, doesn’t finish, just moves on. “Just to hear it from your mouth. What is the best thing she’s done for you?”

The jacket smells like Viktor, musk and cologne and that implacable, undeniable cool breath of the rink.

“Yuuko’s given me so many things.” They’re under the stars together, the stars of a Japanese winter. The same stars he’d seen that first day, running to Yuuko’s house on chubby legs, huffing Viktor… Nikiforov… Viktor… Nikiforov… She’d opened her door, let him in, held his hand as they walked to the television to see his skate. It’s okay, she said to the awed tears welling in his eyes, it’s okay to love him and want him. “She gave me her friendship, first. The best skater in our whole town, and the cutest girl too, but for some reason she wanted to skate with me, the crybaby who used to run around the town naked.”

“What?” Viktor laughs, delighted.

Yuuri buries his face in the jacket. “I was raised in an onsen! I told you that! When you’re four nobody likes wearing clothes anyway, and I thought—“

“I understand, I understand,” Viktor releases, breath stuttering with in his amusement, fondness curling around every syllable. “I’m similar.”

“She introduced me to skating. She helped me love…” you. “…skating. And, well.” He breathes in, traces a finger around a constellation in the sky. “You’ve seen our hair. There’s a tradition in Japan,” he admits, quietly. “Where a girl will cut her hair after a breakup. So we decided to do the opposite, together.” He bites at his cheek, feels the admission of guilt bubbling in his throat. “She and her first love, her best friend, broke up because of me. I never believed, um. That I would ever be that important to another person. I think she regrets it, now. But she still gave him up for my sake. She’s done so much more, but that was just—the start. We… started by idolizing you.” Silly words. Words that can’t convey his depth of feeling now, but the other words are one Viktor doesn’t want to hear. Deep breath, the cold of the evening sparking sharp within his lungs. “In a way, because of skating, Yuuko gave me nights like this. Nights with you.”

They don’t speak, for a long time after that.

“Thank her,” Viktor says finally, “for giving me nights like this, too.”

“I will,” Yuuri responds quietly, but he won’t. Nights like this, with Viktor, he’ll keep to himself.


 

To Yuuri’s greedy joy, he gets another night.

The banquet is boring, his skin itching. Christophe, bronze medal gleaming at his neck, has no problems weaving through the reporters and well-wishers, whispering into Viktor’s ear. At his elbow, Yuuko and Sara are scheming sweetly, something about surprising the young Mila Babicheva, who’s spending her first GPF as a Senior eyeing the snack table.

Yuuri and Viktor can text and call and spend nights stargazing on rooftops, and they always seem to end up here anyway. In a room of strangers longing for Viktor, and Yuuri being one of many, an imposter with a medal on his chest weighing him down.

A sponsor approaches, the next in a long line that Yuuri’s already twenty people deep into. He recognizes her, a longtime fan of theirs. He can see their twin silvers glinting in her eyes, can already hear the words.

Not tonight, he thinks. No more. His knees are sore, his body too hot. There are so many people, so much need for shifting air, but so little dancing.

“Hello!” Yuuko greets. Yuuko, his best friend and not his lover, Yuuko who holds a World Record and barely missed gold. She’s so strong. Yuuri feels like he’s choking, drowning out of water.

“You two have done it again,” the sponsor exclaims. The rest of her words disappear in a haze, Yuuri pressing a hand to Yuuko’s arm, bowing deep before he excuses himself.

There’s no balcony, no outdoors—all Yuuri gets is a dim stairwell, sealed off from the noise of the banquet. No one to bother him, no one to find him. Just a stairwell and a cool cup of water.

The door at his back opens. “Yuuri.” Splashing, the water tumbles down the stairs, bouncing before it rolls off into the darkness. He doesn’t dare turn. “Should I get Yuuko?”

“No!” He stands, pulls helplessly at his taut tie. Choking. “No, please. Just.”

Viktor shuts the door, the light and sound of the banquet being sucked away. Darkness. “You just want some air.”

“Yes.”

For all of their talking, no words come to mind now.

“Viktor,” he says. Dooms himself. “Viktor, would you leave?”

“Of course,” Viktor replies, lowering his head in acceptance, and pulls at the door handle. Yuuri presses it shut, desperately, realizing the other man has misheard.

“No, I mean—“ he eyes Viktor, the way he leans, the way he looks at Yuuri. Looks, like no one should. Looks at him like Yuuri wants him to, even if it’s impossible. “Together. Can we leave together?”

You’re selfish, he thinks. Viktor wants to be here. This is a celebration for him, of him.

The stiffness in Viktor’s spine, the tight grip of his hand on the door, it slides away in the dark. They’ve said so many words to each other, every one more important than the last, and still never the words Yuuri so darkly, horribly wants to hear. In this moment, Viktor lets free just one. “Please.”

Down the stairwell, bursting into the starlight, they go.


 

When Yuuri thinks back on that night, he hardly remembers where they went. It’s Fukuoka, a city that should belong to Yuuri and his homeland, should sit in his bones. They buy street food and walk between the tall buildings, window shop at stores that long-ago closed till Yuuri drags Viktor away by the elbow, begs him there’s more.

There’s old, historic ruins and shrines; it’s late enough that all they can do are stand at entrances, to breathe in the atmosphere in the dark. Yuuri wants to show him everything. Yuuri wants to keep Viktor all to himself, in the night, wants to stand on the edge of the world with Viktor and never go back.

A bike rental still has its flickering open sign, and Viktor darts in, drags Yuuri by his coat sleeve. “I love biking,” he explains quietly, rings a bell while Yuuri fumbles in his wallet for enough yen to buy two. “I’ll pay you back.” Yuuri feels compensated enough. Speeding through the streets, wind in their hair, they pass through districts still alive and brightly lit, past the candle-light glow of more shrines and closed museums.

With me, Yuuri thinks, with me, he’s with me.

They hook their bikes up in a park. Hiroko had brought him here, once, years ago—it was all flowers and bursts of green, the blue sea heaving at the corner of their eyes, beckoning.

“Is this what Hasetsu is like?” Viktor questions, steps silent on the park path. “Yuuko put up photos on Instagram, but it was hard to tell. The internet had so little.”

“You looked?” Viktor doesn’t reply—Yuuri puts it down to a peaked interest, inspired by Yuuko. “Mm. The sea, maybe. Everything else…” The city lights, blinding behind them. The impersonal, rushing clamor of it. “Everything else, not at all. Hasetsu is,” Viktor’s shoulder bumps his, and Yuuri nearly bites his tongue. “Intimate. Home.”

“Hasetsu raised you and Yuuko,” Viktor hums, “so it must be a miracle.” Things like that—Viktor shouldn’t be allowed to say them. He shouldn’t be allowed to push his words straight through Yuuri’s body, to make every nerve in his spine sing.

“I guess.” It can’t hurt to say—they’re close, now. Never close enough, but that’s by Yuuri’s desperate standards. “You’d be welcome, there. Come any time.”

“Oh,” Viktor says, a hushed voice deep and sure and endless, something he could get lost in. “I’d love that. I’ll keep it in mind.”

The park isn’t frozen over, but it’s motionless and brown, caught in the beginning of winter. They circle it too quickly, return to the cheerfully colored bikes that wait for them.

“I took you away,” Yuuri confesses in a heated sputter, once he’s seated on his bike, Viktor still fiddling with his. “I—I took you away from the banquet. I’m sorry.”

Viktor presses his lips together, pushes his kickstand up. “Skating sometimes takes me from you.” He leans, a hand moving to Yuuri’s forearm. “We’ll consider it karma.” Yuuri can’t help but move a hand atop Viktor’s, to squeeze at the long fingers.

Viktor pulls his hand back, abrupt. “S-sorry,” Yuuri blurts. “Sorry.” Don’t dream. You should know better by now.

“No.” Frustratingly blank, Viktor looks him in the eye. Empty temples in the night, flickering with gentle lights, everyone gone and the places hauntingly lonely. “I initiated that. Are you—“ he cuts off, pushes at a pedal, propels himself forward. “Let’s go back to the hotel.”

“Okay,” Yuuri says.

It doesn’t take long, for it to become a race. Yuuri pumps at the pedals, laughs until he’s crying with it and the merciless slap of the winter wind, as Viktor yells from behind him.

“Cheating!” Yuuri catches from over his shoulder. “I can’t—read—the street signs—“

 “Home field advantage!” He tosses back.

Still, he barely outpaces Viktor, is scrambling with his bike lock when Viktor pulls in, hops from his seat. “I’m here! I can lock up faster than you.”

“No, no!” Yuuri protests, but Viktor is shoving playfully at his shoulder. They tumble through the front doors of their hotel, past the knowing gaze of the doorman—what do you know? What do you see, with us?

Then Yuuri turns on his phone. Three messages from Yuuko. Two missed calls. Six messages from Celestino. He’d only spent an hour or two at the banquet—it hadn’t been enough.

Still, Viktor’s in the elevator with him. Real. In the flesh, with his silver hair and his awful jokes and the smile on his lips that flickers on and off, on and off. His eyes floating between Yuuri’s face and the wall of buttons on the elevator panel. Only one lit. Every time, he walks Yuuri back. Every time.

The carpet in the hall soaks up their steps. Yuuri wants Viktor’s shoes caught in the plush of it, trapped in front of Yuuri’s door, till he has no choice but to toe them off and step in.

“Thanks for walking me,” Yuuri says, flashing him a small smile.

“Anytime.”

The silence is easy, sated. Everything is wrong, nothing makes sense, but with Viktor it feels perfect. Right.

“Watch me skate?” He requests. “Next competition?”

“You’ll skate for me?” Viktor teases, low, and Yuuri has to break eye contact to summon up the courage to reply.

“Who do you think the quadruple flip was for?” There’s no answer. Yuuri is going to make a fool of himself again, to split himself open because of a few lengthy gazes, because of the way their conversations get longer and sweeter, because of biking through Fukuoka in the night. No. He alters his approach, makes it a challenge. “In front of the whole world, I’ll skate for you. I’ll… I’ll be above you on the podium, next time.”

He peeks up at the resulting silence. Viktor’s face is oddly flat in expression, eyes widened slightly. His hand moves to Yuuri’s shoulder slowly, squeezes at it, and before Yuuri can catch up, he’s leaning in. His breath rushes over Yuuri’s lips, so warm.

Really? Tonight, this kind of tonight, is so much better. His stomach drops to the floor, his breathing picks up, and all he can think is a steady chant of please please please

Viktor pauses, suddenly, an odd emotion glinting in his eyes, but Yuuri is so high on the idea of this, of him—Viktor who can be silly and smooth, Viktor who hides his intentions, Viktor who pushes and pulls to better you, Viktor who didn’t want him but is leaning in like there’s a magnetic pull, Viktor—that all he can do is whisper:

“Were you going to kiss me?”

Viktor rejected you, some small part of his mind reminds him. But maybe Viktor had just been rejecting Yuuri’s messy feelings, maybe there’s still some kind of shallow attraction. His skating—Viktor’s been praising his skating.

Yuuri wants a lifetime, but if he could just have a moment, then maybe that could be enough.

The motion is so small. Hesitant. But Viktor nods. Yes. His hands on Yuuri, their lips a breath apart.

Yes.

Viktor wants him. And just like that, Yuuri’s blown open, vulnerable. Hopeful.

“Please,” he breathes. Please. “You don’t have to say goodnight.”

Yuuri closes the distance between their lips with boldness that surprises even himself.

Chapter Text

Kissing. Yuuri and Viktor, the man he loves-- kissing.

When their lips meet, it’s stepping onto a rink for the first time, a switch from walking to flying, dangerous and familiar all at once. Yuuri’s addicted to this too, this elegant glide of their bodies, fitting together. Fingers are suddenly skittering desperately over his palm, and Yuuri grips the other man’s hand gladly, letting it ground him.

Yuuri’s spent half his life imagining what the silver strands would feel like, on his palms, so his free hand reaches up. But once it’s drifted through his fingers, cool still from the rushing wind of their bike race, Yuuri seeks heat instead. Viktor’s neck, a thumb over his pulse point, stuttering up into Yuuri’s skin. Pressing closer, kissing deeper. He’s not sure if he steps back or Viktor maneuvers him forward, just that at some point his back hits the hotel door.

Wretched Katsuki Yuuri wants so much, and now all his desires are here, a hand on his waist, his tongue running along Viktor's bottom lip. Even that isn’t enough. Yuuri wants to see blue eyes, softened in the dim hall. Looking at Yuuri like he has over phone calls and restaurant tables, like Yuuri’s the first beautiful thing Viktor has ever laid eyes upon.

The burning in his lungs demands he slow the kiss, too, to pull back and breathe. Still nestled close—still Yuuri’s desire and love made tangible in his arms.

But Viktor pushes forward, licks into his mouth, and Yuuri doesn’t know what air is anymore. Tossed into a storming sea. Everything around him Viktor, seeping into his skin, the clasp of their hands the only anchor in the waves of feeling.

Yuuri pulls away finally just to gasp, to gather his breath and look into Viktor's eyes like his heart has been straining to do.

I'm so happy, he thinks. I'm so--

Viktor's eyes are closed, his shallow panting filling the space between them. As if they can feel Yuuri's heavy gaze, his shoulders sink. Shudder, once.

But he'd kissed Yuuri back. Lips hot on Yuuri's own, bodies melting into one another. All of the cracks in him, filled and made whole. He wanted me.

Lifting up onto his tiptoes, he nudges their foreheads together, quiet gasps still mingling in the air between them.

"Viktor," he whispers, and at that the blue eyes fly open, lock onto his. Not breaking the connection, Yuuri leans in, presses another kiss to his lips. Loose and sweet.

Then, just as quickly as everything began, it ends.

Shit,” Viktor hisses suddenly, pulling back, “just one. Just one." Then, the devastation: "I’m better than this.”

Four words. Yuuri’s heart plummets, his anxiety catching hold of him like wildfire. Everything he had thought before the evening began is suddenly coming true—of course Viktor Nikiforov would realize that Yuuri wasn’t good enough for him, of course he wouldn’t want to kiss him. The pause had been him reconsidering, realizing that whatever strange thought had seized the Russian and prompted him to lean in wasn’t compelling enough.

“That was a mistake,” Viktor says firmly. He lets go of Yuuri’s hand.

And the wildfire of shame is suddenly accompanied by something else: anger.

“You couldn’t figure that out before invading my space?” He asks quietly. His shoulder feels cold and loose without Viktor’s hand there. Yuuri is a physical person, made of dance, of pushing and pulling lightly at hands, hips, to guide another person’s way. Viktor had invaded that space without knowing the steps or signals—without intending to dance at all. Yuuri feels foolish and frustrated and ready to collapse into his bed.

Viktor has the decency to raise a hand to his face, cover up the half not blocked by silver fringe. He doesn’t look apologetic—just worn.

“You sound like you wanted this.”

The anxiety curls tighter in Yuuri’s chest. He feels mocked. Of course he had wanted it. He had kissed Viktor first. He had admitted his heart’s deepest desire besides victory, for the second time in his life. And now his dream, his castle on a cloud, is crashing in pieces around him.

All he can do is nod.

“Yuuri,” Viktor says slowly, lightly, face pointed at the hallway wall. “You don’t understand. Everything you have is—perfect. Don’t throw it away just because an old idol offers you a kiss. You’ll realize later. That this is for the best.”

“What?” Nothing is making any sense. All Yuuri knows is that he’s being rejected, that he’s ashamed, that tears are pricking at his eyes and his pride doesn’t want Viktor to see them. "I don’t…"

“Life and love,” Viktor murmurs quietly, firmly, as though that makes everything clear, and Yuuri can’t listen to him anymore. "I won't ruin a perfect life for this."

The words hit him. Send him reeling, but only for a moment, because this is something he's always suspected and known, deep down. Hearing it aloud is just a confirmation. Yuuri can't ask Viktor to destroy his perfect life with the addition of a nervous, dime-a-dozen skater from Japan. Not with the person who he's found breaking down more than once, who confessed his love and was rejected already, but didn't take the hint. The man who's in an obvious and embarrassing fake relationship that started because of his own inability to communicate, the skating world's dirty little secret.

Viktor had told him he wanted nothing to do with Yuuri's feelings. That he wanted to try to suppress them.

"I-I just," he warbles, trying to stop the shaking of his knees, "I know it'd just be… casual."

Viktor steps back, steals away the heat they'd shared, for just a moment. A rueful smile is curling onto his lips, so small and too tight. His eyes are far away. "I didn't think you were the type of person that did casual relationships, Yuuri."

Casual. Yuuri, with his glass heart clutched in his hands as an offering that Viktor will never want. Hoping, and waiting, and always desiring so much more than can be given. A casual relationship with Viktor, not something devoted and real, would be heartbreak by another name. Heartbreak dragged out over months or years, however long he could cling to the shreds of Viktor's attention. A casual person.

"No," he laughs, self-deprecating and miserable, "no, I'm not."

They stand in silence, wait for it to shatter.

"I know you're not. I know what you really want," you, forever, "even if this happened." Viktor's still not looking at him. Close, close enough that Yuuri could take his hand or press into the fold of his arms, if only he were wanted. Look at me, Yuuri thinks, please-- and Viktor does. Unwavering, sharp and hurt in its honesty. Eyes on Yuuri's own.

"Viktor," Yuuri pleads, and he doesn't know what he's asking for. All of his dreams are unreachable, smoky and vague hopes that never were. Please.

"I believe in love," Viktor says quietly, "and this, between us, isn't it."

The pain hovers at Yuuri's shoulder, its ominous weight something Yuuri can feel. It leaves him numb and floating. Just for a moment, before he can crash down. He wants to step back, to run, wants to lean out his hotel window over the shining city and the dark streets until the fear of falling dominates him. Anything but this.

"I k-know I'm no good," he heaves, finally. "I know."

Yuuri wishes Viktor were always cruel. Maybe that would cauterize the wound, burn his heart till the bleeding stopped. Instead, Viktor's mouth drops open, expression pained, shaking his head.

"These things happen," he insists, rapid. "Sometimes they happen, but it doesn't mean your relationship is ruined. I just…" Yuuri almost doesn't want to hear the words. Then, in swift and devastating conclusion, Viktor releases more words, voice trembling: “I’m not a homewrecker.”

Oh. “You’re dating someone,” Yuuri breathes, and the tears do come. Viktor, thigh pressed firm against his on benches. Viktor, singing to Makkachin across the phone screen as Yuuri fixed dinner on a Wednesday night, deep and unpracticed and beautiful. “Shit, Viktor, that’s--” he laughs, high. Hysterical. "I'm leaving."

He fumbles with the key to his room, his mind scrambling for what he’s going to do. Obviously, at least five minutes will be spent crying into his pillow; at some point he’ll text Yuuko or Phichit, when he’s capable of typing, and then— and then he’ll never speak to Viktor again, never see him again, except as a competitor a step up the podium. No, he thinks fiercely, I’m going to surpass him.

“What, no, I’m—why?” The statement hangs helplessly in the air, Viktor’s voice catching on it. A drop onto a hook that leaves his tone ragged, on a thread.

Yuuri’s door finally gives in, opening and providing an escape route. But another door opens with it.

“We thought we heard voices!” It’s Sara, peeking out Yuuko’s entryway at them across the hall, smile white. “Yuuko and Phichit and I were about to watch a movie and drink champagne, to finish off our last evening together.”

“Very classy!” Yuuko chimes in happily from behind her. “We wondered where you'd run off to during the banquet-- we have text Celestino, but we can worry about that later. Join us! It’ll be a double date.”

“Hey,” Phichit calls from somewhere within the room. “What, am I gonna be kicked out for your date before we can watch my favorite movie?”

“Hush,” Yuuko says, flapping her hand and grinning. “Now, Yuuri—“

Yuuri turns around. She sees it at the same time as Sara. His face, an utter wreck, and Viktor standing tensely beside him.

“Yuuri.” She’s at his side in an instant, just two fingers on his upper arm. “Hey. What’s going on?”

His eyes slide without conscious thought to Viktor, Viktor’s lifeless face—why does he look like that, why— and then Yuuko is herding him into his own room with graceful determination.

“Yuuko and Yuuri time,” she says softly. “Go wash up? Maybe get in bed? I’ll get music.”

She turns to Viktor at the last second. “I’m not quite sure what’s happening, here.” She observes him for a few moments, then takes a breath. “Whatever you’re ashamed about, I’m sure it’s not a huge issue. If you made Yuuri cry, well, we can work it out tomorrow. Yes? Then, goodnight, Viktor.” She nods pleasantly, turns to Sara. “It’s okay if you start the movie without us.”

“Will do, cara. Text me.”

“Yuuko. You don’t need to,” Yuuri says softly.

“Don’t be silly,” Yuuko replies, and pats affectionately at his cheek. "I'm here." She reaches out for the door. Begins to swing it shut.

Yuuri catches Viktor’s icy eyes in the narrowing gap, wide and glossy with something that Yuuri would almost label as vulnerability. Viktor, vulnerable, fists clenching at his sides. He never fails to surprise, never fails too to be incomprehensible to Yuuri.

You don't want me, Yuuri thinks, so don't look at me like that.

"Goodbye, Viktor."

He's never meant goodbye, before.


At least, once the door shuts, Yuuri doesn't have to look at Viktor anymore. Years, and all he's wanted is his eyes on Viktor and Viktor's on him in return. Now, the feeling is unbearable.

Yuuko sits on one of the beds, swings her legs as he mechanically heads for the bathroom sink. The rushing of water, echoing through the small space, is a strange comfort. His heated skin appreciates it, the splash of relief as he buries his face in dripping palms.

Years.

Dragging his palms down his cheeks, his jaw, he looks up into the mirror. Three fingers rest on his lips, ghost over them-- lips, they'd touched, it'd meant so much… so much to Yuuri. Now it can't mean anything at all.

He opens the bathroom door, goes and kneels on the bed, traces over bedsheets with one finger.

"Hi," says Yuuko. "Is me being with you okay?" At his jerky nod, she scoots closer, leans forward so she can meet his gaze, which is focused resolutely on the bed. "I don't know what happened. I'm here, if you want to talk."

Asada Yuuko, the girl who's always been there. From their town, less than a pinprick on a map, to Detroit and then China, Russia, Canada, whirling around the globe together steadily, always there. Inexplicably. Kindly. His partner and his Madonna in everything. I will deserve you.

"I don't want to talk," he murmurs. She sighs, but doesn't move away. "I don't want to take you away from your night, either."

"Oh, Yuuri," she laughs, soft and disbelieving. "Don't worry about that."

"N-no," he insists stubbornly. "Let's-- let's watch the movie. If you go back, I'll follow you in a few minutes." Yuuri can have a private breakdown in five of them, can recover and rejoin society.  Finding his hand, she squeezes it, so gentle.

"Okay, Yuuri. We'll be waiting for you."

Yuuri will always be waiting, will always be hoping and dreaming. Even if he shouldn't. Even if it's impossible.

Thank you, he wants to tell her, for always being here while I burn. But the words won't come out. "I'm sorry," he blurts. "I'm so sorry."

The Madonna hears him, all the same.

When he makes it to her room, with Phichit and Sara, she lifts the brush in her hands, gestures to the spot on the floor she's saved for him. His red eyes are still puffy, his face sallow and his joints creaking. Nobody mentions it.

"Come sit, son," says Phichit. Yuuko takes his ponytail down, starts brushing at the end, fingers teasing the strands apart. Sara presses the play button on the movie.

The Madonna always hears.


 

Viktor Nikiforov is not a man who falls in love just once. No, for our Viktor Nikiforov falling in love with Yuuri happened like a lightning strike at the banquet, then again months later on a couch through a phone screen, and finally, like the slow sugary drip of syrup, for the first time in Hasetsu one lazy summer morning. It happened with a kiss, that third time. They were toeing the edge of becoming lovers. Holding hands, nudging knees, evenings spent with their legs flung in a tangle as they read on separate ends of the couch.

Viktor always woke early. Hours before they started practice. But Yuuri found him, curled up next to the kotatsu, breakfast half-finished as he dozed.

“Viktor,” he laughed gently. “Why did you get out of your bed if you were going to do this?”

“It’s my morning nap,” Viktor mumbled, sitting up. Yuuri had brushed his fringe back from his face and affectionately kissed his forehead in passing, padding into the kitchen where Hiroko was cooking. Viktor had closed his eyes again but fisted his hands, suddenly wide awake and overflowing with the tenderness of it. That was that. As the months went on, falling in love was frequent, every week and then every hour, shy smiles at family dinner and vulgar cursing in bed and Yuuri, god, Yuuri.

It’s not difficult to fall in love, not at all.

This Viktor falls in love with Yuuri for the third time because of a kiss, too.

He doesn’t know the man’s name. Doesn’t even know why Chris thought he would be a good choice, for the evening. For the early morning, really, a morning after Viktor called Christophe to beg him for drinks and company and anything that wasn't Katsuki Yuuri. Christophe's voice had been soothing, the bass thumping loud in the background, what's wrong, cherie? I can be back at the hotel in ten minutes. Vikor hadn't wanted to put words to it. He'd just wanted the feeling to stop. No, I'll come to meet you there.

The man. They’ve been introduced but it was loud in the club, and it would have been awkward to ask again. The television is buzzing in the background, news clips and car commercials, throwing light over their bodies where they lay on the hotel bed. The other man is objectively handsome, and good with his tongue. Viktor has been playful and entertaining and utterly vapid, headache pounding in his veins at 3am in the morning. The clothes still covering the other man smell of cigar smoke and coffee, and Viktor wants them off. His partner for the evening is already ahead of him, sneaking a hand beneath his shirt—it tickles, just a bit, and the high laughter comes out before he can think about it. His shirt is pulled off with no comment. Then,

“You’re different, you know.”

“Different good?” Viktor teases, but the other man shrugs. Viktor is tipsy. Viktor just wants him to smile, just a little. He’d agreed to come back to this foreign hotel room because the other man had made small talk about his phone background—Makkachin, of course—and let him play with his fingers under the bar and had asked what Viktor did for a job. (Viktor had lied. The other man thinks his resemblance to “that celebrity I saw in Russian commercials” is hilarious.) He is blonde, with dull blue eyes, taller than Viktor by an inch or so. Viktor had agreed for that too, agreed because he didn’t have dark hair and shining brown eyes and dusky golden skin and a girlfriend he’d happily confess his love to on international television, love that he claimed surpassed physical, superficial love. At seven, or even younger, Yuuri had found love-- and Viktor had forsaken it.

“Seeing you waltzing into the club, I just thought you would take charge. But you’re… lying here. It’s going slow, which isn’t bad, just—want to be sure this is what you want. It’s a one-night stand, but I’m not forcing you.”

Viktor smiles up at him, remembers at the last moment to crinkle his eyes so it looks real.

“This is what I want.”

When he summons up the energy to roll them over, to play a more active role because he’s apparently been lackluster about it, they hit the remote on accident. The channel flip is accompanied by a burst in volume, and they both look to the screen on autopilot.

Katsuki. It’s always Katsuki. Katsuki and interviews.

“I see this hot guy on commercials all the time,” the man complains. “With that pretty long-haired woman. Who is he?”

“Figure skater,” Viktor says tonelessly, and his partner raises an eyebrow at him. “Nobody skates with emotion and music interpretation like he does.”

Katsuki’s talking with a reporter, hand on his neck. If I could just make it through the next season without letting my emotions get the best of me, that’d be wonderful.

“Huh,” the other man says, “so he’s got awards and commercial deals and a celebrity wife.” Yuuri has more, too, more than this man knows. The Japanese pair don’t touch a lot, in their interviews. Just brief taps on the shoulder, words of support. Viktor can see Yuuko patting his hand, grinning at him while he ducks his head and flashes a smile. Shy and gentle and honest. “A guy like that has it all. They still throw money at him, too, like— what does he buy with it? What more could he even want?”

“Nothing,” Viktor says, “nothing at all.”

The other man leans in, and Viktor’s eyes are still on the television. I can’t believe she let him wear that tie again. If I was—

If we were—

Yuuri and he wandering through the boutiques in Petit Champlain, the taste of sugar pie fresh on his tongue. Yuuri, floating reverently through the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre shrine like an angel had placed him as a gift on its altar. Yuuri, insisting he pay for the maple candy and letting Viktor nibble at it from his hand. Yuuri, quietly repeating Viktor’s French greetings to the locals under his breath until Viktor sat him down on a bench next to the river and taught him hello and good evening and in a masochistic fit of selfishness kiss me, which he had sworn up and down to Yuuri was goodbye. Intelligent and reserved and disbelieving, Yuuri had scoffed and perfected the sound until Viktor’s emotions were in tatters. Yuuri, bathing in starlight under his home country’s sky, looking at Viktor like he’s everything.

Yuuri, crying just a few hours ago. Like Viktor was capable of laying a finger on his heart. Yuuri, so confused and confusing in their conversation, and it hurts too much to think maybe—

This Viktor falls in love again; and falling, falling, is all it feels like.

Viktor asks him to leave, to his partner’s disappointment. How many times, since Yuuri, has he tried and had to stop? How many times has he failed to move on? There's no future with Yuuri; no future in...

It’s the early hours of morning. He dresses as presentably and quickly as possible, intending to take a walk, to escape the room. To have the streets to himself, in that dream space before the dawn, when no one is there to know his name. To let the early morning air cleanse his skin of the man he didn't want, while his mind is filled with thoughts of the man he can never have, the one he has to stop loving. Buttoning up his jacket, he steps out into the hotel hall.

He’s not alone. The female Italian skater is there, Sara Crispino, and she startles at the sight of him, presses a finger to her lips with a wink.

“I’m sneaking back to my room before my brother notices I’m gone this morning. I won’t tell if you don’t?”

Her hair is mussed, violet eyes fluttering with sleep. There’s a single bruise blooming low and lavender on her neck. A remnant of a kiss.

“The Thai skater is a lucky man,” Viktor offers. She laughs, tosses her dark waterfall of hair in a shake of her head.

“Phichit isn’t exactly my… type.”

“Ah, I thought you and Yuuko were close,” he jokes, trying to make it light. Jokes, because he has spent most of past two nights knowing exactly who Yuuko is close to, sore ache spreading in his chest.

A blush spills over her tanned skin, colors her face rosy pink in the early light of the hallway. No. Viktor’s heart stutters painfully. No, they can’t—they are.

“Remember,” she takes in a breath, smile bright. “Don’t tell.” Her door opens with a soft click. “Good luck at Worlds, Viktor.”

Cheating . They're both-- he doesn't do casual relationships, and she's cheating. After everything we've been through, knowing how I feel, would he even believe... 

Yuuri loves her, he loves her, he loves. 

The Russian doesn’t handle these things, doesn’t know how, is fumbling and blunt. A tiny, tiny part of him says you should be happy and he takes that feeling and shamefully shoves it back into his heart.

He’s always believed in love, in its power and possibility. In its surprises.

The 2012 GPF and its banquet end. Viktor takes home gold, and Yuuri takes silver, and he can’t look the man he loves in the eye.

Chapter Text

 If Yuuri thought he’d lost Viktor before, he was wrong.

The silence after the GPF in Fukuoka is deafening, maddening. Viktor Nikiforov has always been a staple in his life—posters, and skating, and interviews that set Yuuri’s heart on fire.

Now Viktor is everywhere. He’s every tall student in a long coat on the snow-caked walkways of Yuuri’s college, the sweep of Yuuri’s arms and the curve of his spine. When someone taps Yuuri on the shoulder, so light, Viktor is the face he expects to turn to.

Viktor is the way Yuuri’s phone doesn’t ring in the morning or in the dark of the evening, and that’s the worst part of all.

Wretched, wanting Katsuki Yuuri, alone again because of his own foolishness.

His words were cruel, Yuuri thinks, but he still loves him.


 

Yuuko knows—of course she knows, it’d be hard for her to miss their lack of conversation, the way his name has stopped falling from Yuuri’s tongue every moment. He gives her the short of it: Viktor doesn’t want me to ruin his perfect life. She and Phichit know, and they close in tighter, give him their presence.

One evening, they drag him out—some silly, school sponsored event, with non-alcoholic glasses of punch and clumsy dancing in one of the university’s glazed wooden halls. Out the curved windows, the sun is setting, Detroit’s streetlights pulling themselves out of their slumber to cast light and shadow on the walkways.

He’s waved Phichit off after the fifth dance together, settled with punch in the windowsill. Staring out at the golden sky, he realizes he hasn’t thought about Viktor in nearly an hour; a record. Something to celebrate.

Then his phone rings. He’s willing to bet that it’s Minako, some critique of his arms on his last skating video ready to wash over him. But it’s not Minako’s number, flashing in his palm.

Viktor.

Yuuri picks up the phone with hands that feel they’re moving through water—muted motions, the face on his screen sinking him down, down, down in a slow riptide.

“Hello,” he says.

“Yuuri.”

The sun is burning on the skyline out the window.

“Isn’t it the middle of the night in Russia?” He can’t help but ask.

“Yes.” Yuuri can’t hear anything but soft breathing, not even Makkachin. “How… are you and Yuuko?”

Yuuko and Phichit are dancing, faces open and sleek motions easily distinguishing them from the rest of the clumsy, pumping crowd. Phichit whirls her around, catches her with a stretched out hand, but she’s spotted Yuuri. The smile fades from her face, brow dipping, before he reels her back in. Around them, the crowd sways and bumps; Yuuko makes her way to the window, leaving Phichit in a circle of dancers.

He’s told her and Phichit almost everything. The evening, the wind in their hair, the kiss that shouldn’t have been a kiss. The way Viktor told him his life was perfect, without Yuuri in it.

“She’s with me right now.” The punch is set in the windowsill, and he nods at Yuuko, fights the urge to run. Yes. It’s him. “We’re…” There’s distant laughter, drinks, heels hitting the dance floor, Yuuko’s hand patting on his shoulder-blade in a show of support. Viktor doesn’t want to ruin his perfect life. He’s not going to blame Viktor, for that. “We’re doing well. Great! I meant to say great. We’re out dancing, actually, tonight.”

“I see,” says Viktor. Curt, vague, and rather than ploughing on like Yuuri knows he could do, like Yuuri has been gifted with so many times before, Viktor goes quiet for a few beats. “I’m sure that’s wonderful. Are you happy right now, Yuuri? Happier, there with Yuuko… than at the last GPF?”

Even if he doesn’t want Yuuri romantically in his life, he still cares. He still checks up on him, and the gesture has Yuuri’s eyes watering, Yuuko’s hand swooping in wider circles on his back.

“Happy,” he agrees. “I have to go! Now. I have to go—now.” There are moments of silence, after that, and Yuuri waits. Waits for nothing.

Viktor must have hung up. He presses end call on his own phone, and Yuuko takes his hand.

“Dance with me,” she says, “like we did, back in Hasetsu, while we waited for the katsudon to finish cooking. Silly little kids, dashing around on the tatami, no shoes.”

They toe them off, and Yuuri lets the night be lost.


 

Nothing Phichit and Yuuko do can stop Worlds from arriving, on a freezing morning in March. It had come in a haze, Yuuri’s quadruple flip inconsistent and wavering over the months in between, his motions grim with focus.

I have to be my own man. I have to do this skate myself, for them.

Yuuko’s world record breaking short program is as stunning as ever. She doesn’t break her own score, but comes close, falls into a battle for gold with a fellow skater from Japan, Erika.

The battle for gold in the men’s competition seems less fierce. More subdued. Christophe slides past Yuuri in the short program, and Viktor slides past him in the hallways and on the ice without even a wave. Like they were never anything at all.

Yuuri takes home silver, but he feels so far behind.

There’s something sharper, in Viktor’s short programs. Something unyielding and desperate and shoved deep, where Yuuri can’t see it. Yuuri’s never felt cut off from Viktor’s programs, before. But maybe he never truly understood them in the first place.

At Phichit’s insistence, the Crispinos and the Detroit family take pictures in front of the stadium with their medals, Sara with her bronze, Yuuko and Yuuri’s twin silvers, Phichit and Michele’s empty necks but determined smiles. They’re all on the rise, Yuuri thinks. Soon enough, Phichit or Michele might take his place at the GPF. Things shift and change. Medalists like Yuuri fall.

He waves Sara and Yuuko off to enjoy their precious little time together, a date night in Nice. He knows, when they’re out of sight of Sara’s overprotective brother and cameras, that they’ll hold hands in the safety of the evening shadows, walk together in the sea breeze of the French Riviera. Maybe eat ripe fruit at the Cours Saleya, peaches bursting in their mouths, sharing a kiss glazed in pink raspberry juice. Or maybe the Avenue Jean Medicin, to windowshop and walk and learn French—

No. That’s what Yuuri had wanted to do—with Viktor. It’s embarrassing to admit it, even to himself, standing there and watching the couple disappear into the bustling streets. He’d researched Nice before he’d even gone to Fukuoka for the GPF, foolishly imagined them rekindling a friendship like the one they had before Yuuri ruined everything.

He watches Yuuko go, and tries to stop hoping.

“Finally,” cheers Phichit, “just three young guys, out for a night of fun!” He slings an arm around Yuuri’s neck, grins at Michele in a way that even has the Italian softening right into Phichit’s hands. Pulling out his phone, Phichit attempts to snap one last selfie of them and the rink—but there’s two bodies, in the back of their picture.

The glamorous Christophe Giacometti, and Viktor, the man Yuuri shouldn’t love.

“Well hello,” says Christophe, “who’d have thought we would find you boys here? Hi, Yuuri.”

“C-Chris. Hi.”

“We’re going to go have a fantastic night,” Phichit proclaims. Yuuri senses a ramble coming on—Phichit has gotten better about Viktor, having heard so much from Yuuri, but Christophe is still one of skating’s greatest, his bronze essentially reserved for him beside Viktor and Yuuri. “Hope you two have one just as fun. We could, well…”

“Why don’t we combine, hmm?” Christophe proposes. “We could offer our French, and certainly more skaters would be more fu—“

“That’s all right,” says Viktor, merging perfectly with Yuuri’s voiced no.

Phichit tightens his arm around Yuuri, swings his wide gaze to look to Viktor directly. Beside them, Michele huffs, confused.

“My sister won’t be attending,” he asserts with the slightest hint of a polite tone. “So no need to be so eager to hang out with us. She’s off with Yuuko.”

Putting up one hand in a calming gesture, unperturbed, Christophe smiles. Viktor, on the other hand, seems to start—eyes snapping to Yuuri’s before crashing to the pavement. Michele seems to take this as an admission of guilt, fists balling at his side, so Christophe soothes, “we would never dream of pursuing the Madame Crispino without your blessing. Though perhaps… you?” He winks, which seems to serve as the perfect distraction— Michele’s eyes widening as he sputters. “Ah well, tonight we’ll find other entertainment. Won’t we, Viktor?”

That seems to be the end of it, Michele’s hackles falling and Phichit snagging the Italian’s shirt sleeve, taking Yuuri’s shoulder. “Thanks for the offer! I hope you guys have a great night. Congratulations on your win!” He sunnily nods to Viktor and Christophe in turn, and Yuuri thinks they’re going to make it. He’s going to escape this situation, escape Viktor.

“Yuuri.”

Just his name, and everything is lost. Everything. He turns, still tucked into Phichit’s side.

“I know you’re busy, but could I steal you for a moment?“ He doesn’t have to steal. Yuuri belongs to him. To his brilliance and beauty and even his cruelty.

“All right,” says Yuuri, and waits.

“In private,” Viktor finishes after the pause, and Yuuri’s stomach drops.

“I,” he breathes, and the word rolls around on his tongue, comes out too easily. Twice, Viktor has rejected him. It’s been nearly 3 months, since he kissed Viktor, since everything he wanted slipped through his fingers again and Viktor said he was better than what Yuuri could give him. “Why?” Rather than reply, Viktor steps back—towards the doors to the stadium. Hesitantly, Yuuri ducks beneath Phichit’s arm with a nod to the younger man. “I’ll be back.”

They haven’t been alone since they stood together in that hallway, too close. Viktor looks unaffected, immaculate—the slightest pink in his nose from the wind outside the most human thing about him.

Three months, and Yuuri still wants. Maybe that’s what Viktor is going to talk about. Yuuri can’t hear a rejection again—can’t go through that embarrassment. He’s already been weak in front of Viktor so many times.

“I don’t think I want to hear this.”

Please don’t bring up what happened. Please don’t bring up my feelings. Those are private. They’re private and embarrassing—

“Yuuri,” Viktor says seriously, “I understand that relationships have their rough patches, especially when there’s famous athletes involved. I wasn’t sure if it was my place to say something, especially after what happened at the last GPF—“

The last GPF. That’s all it takes, for Yuuri’s blood to rush into his ears.

“I don’t want to hear it!” Yuuri bursts. He realizes, after the words are out, that the sound is too loud, his protest echoing in the hallway. “I—I’m sorry.” Breathing hard, he backs up a step, arms wrapped around himself, an attempt to disappear into the circle of them. “Whatever you have to say can’t change the way I feel.”

Once, when he was fifteen and had a particularly bad day at the rink, he’d come home and taken all of his Viktor posters off the walls. Fifteen, and a boy who was still struggling in his Nationals competitions—his coach wasn’t world class, his triples were shaky, and Viktor may as well have been among the stars in the sky, for all Yuuri felt he could reach him.

Sometimes it still feels that way. Yuuri wants to tear pieces of himself down, on the inside, wants to make a mess of his own emotions over it. But he doesn’t worship Viktor anymore, not like that.

Now, he loves him.

Viktor’s about to say something else, something he looks like he’s already regretting, but there are footsteps.

“Yuuri?” Comes a voice, and it’s Yuuko, it’s always Yuuko. It’s both relieving and upsetting to have her walk in. He doesn’t need her protection, but he feels braver, with her there. “Sara realized she’d left something with her brother, so we came back, and Phichit said Viktor asked to bring you inside?”

“Here we are,” Yuuri agrees, voice trembling.

She strides forward, puts a hand on his elbow, her form taking on a firm line, like she’s about to skate. Immovable—and Yuuri wouldn’t want to get in her way. “Viktor.”

“Yuuko,” is his response, perfectly pleasant, but the tilt to his head makes Yuuri want to run. The Madonna doesn’t even flinch, just sets her mouth into a stubborn line.

“So I heard,” she begins slowly, words speeding up as she goes on, “I heard about your conversation at the last GPF with Yuuri. Of course, we can’t control your feelings, and your perfect life is your own, but I have to say that I’m disappointed in you.”

Viktor’s chin lifts, eyes icy. “Is that so?”

“It is so. Life is better with Yuuri in it,” she asserts. “And I, for one, wouldn’t want to give him up.”

“Really,” he challenges, the calm before a storm, and Yuuko responds to the tension in the air.

Her hand squeezes his shoulder, her energy coursing into him through the contact as she continues, “Yuuri won’t say this, but you were our idol for years, and you took advantage of it, you were arrogant about it. Maybe you didn’t intend to, but you should feel asha—"

I should feel ashamed?” Viktor chokes, that vulnerability shining in his eyes again, and unconsciously Yuuri takes a step towards him, defensive even now.

 “Yuuko,” Yuuri interrupts, looking to her, insistent even as his throat tightens. “We can’t tell Viktor how to feel.”

She pauses, a soft no, we can’t dropping from her subdued lips.

“It was,” Viktor’s hands in his hair, his tongue in his mouth, moving against that door in a rhythm all their own. “It was only a s-stupid kiss. Just one. It was my fault,” he looks at the floor, “for wanting it.” For wanting more, from Viktor, when he’d already been given so much. Viktor’s friendship was everything—his happiness, his career, everything.

“Fine.” She bites her lips, rocks back onto her heels, eyes downcast. “Okay.”

“Stupid,” Viktor laughs, he laughs, dry and merciless and cold, and it makes Yuuri crumple beneath Yuuko’s hand.

“Hey!” Yuuko growls, as though she could take him, nearly six feet of lithe Russian athlete. “Yuuri doesn’t deserve that.”

“Yuuri deserves someone who loves him,” comes Viktor’s reply, sharp and low. “Doesn’t he, Yuuko? He deserves someone who wouldn’t betray him with someone else.” He’s looking into Yuuri’s eyes, all quiet insistence and trembling hands that he tucks behind his back when he sees Yuuri watching. Like skating, like there’s a message he expects Yuuri to understand, but there’s not enough motion, not enough words or music, for the message to come across.

“What,” Yuuko says, “are you talking about? You don’t think you’d treat him better?”

Yuuri deserves so little; he does, at the least, know that if Viktor doesn’t love him, that if they aren’t balanced, it would destroy him to be together. Even in brutal honesty, Viktor is good for him. “Yuuri,” Viktor’s gaze is piercing, too hot and hopeless and heavy, “what do you want?”

You.

He knows better than to say it.

“Right now,” Yuuri says, “I just want to enjoy a night in France with my rinkmates. I want to,” he takes a deep breath, “never talk about the last GPF again.”

Always only you.

“You heard him,” Yuuko says with a sure nod, a guiding hand on his elbow, “come on, Yuuri.” She flashes Viktor a smile, the one that’s let her escape harsh conversations in the past, the smile that lets her confront bullies and get away with it. Something in the other man’s form goes brittle and dull— words Yuuri never thought would describe Viktor, who’s sunlight bending through water, beautiful and flexible and dancing through Yuuri’s slow hands in the quiet depths.

You don’t love me—but do you honestly think you’d betray me?

It’d odd, to think of it that way. To think that Viktor might have so little faith in himself. Then again—this is Viktor, who mostly talks about his dog and his rinkmates. Lonely. A lonely man, in his perfection, who would sometimes call Yuuri and say so little, just stare at him with soft, thoughtful eyes while Yuuri talked about his day.

Viktor doesn’t want to be alone, and this is all Yuuri knows.

The answer to the question doesn’t matter, in the end, because Viktor thinks Yuuri will make his life worse.

Viktor walks out of the stadium behind them, crosses to stand beside Christophe.

Allons manger,” he says to Christophe, through white teeth.

“Finally,” Sara sighs upon seeing Yuuko and Yuuri emerge, “I’m starving.”

“She’s starving,” Michele accuses, as though this was someone’s dastardly plan, and Yuuri can’t help but laugh a little.

The last few months have been longing, his heart heavy in his chest, the whole world a haze. But there are things that don’t change—Phichit, scrolling through a travel website for restaurants on his phone, the Crispinos, slung comfortably over each other. Yuuko, not defending him, not anymore. Just supporting him, through the downfall that is his disastrous love for Viktor Nikiforov.

For a moment, a silly moment, Yuuri is untouchable. Surrounded, by things familiar and comfortable.

Then Christophe winds an arm through Viktor’s, and it punches a hole in Yuuri’s chest. Like a break in a boat, everything bursting out and in and Yuuri sinking, sinking.

“We’ll be taking our leave, amis.”

Yuuri wants to take his arm, too, wants to touch him everywhere in a way he’s never wanted before, wants to at least be his friend. But he’d given all of that up when he confessed, when he pressed his lips to Viktor’s in a dim hallway. It’s gone.

There’s a chorus of goodbyes from his friends, even as the two taller men turn, Viktor leaning into the bronze medalist for a few moments. Yuuri’s sinking, and the lean tips him over, his lungs capsizing under. There are no goodbyes, from Yuuri and Viktor.

Je ne peux pas t'aider si tu ne me dis pas ce qui se passe,” is all Yuuri can hear from Christophe, and he looks to Michele automatically, who shakes his head. Italian and French may share the same Latin roots, but the comment was low, too rapid to parse.

“Something about helping him,” Michele offers, when they’re a distance away.

“Maybe,” Phichit ventures, “talking to you alone was his attempt to say sorry, and make contact again.”

“Why would he want to do that,” is Yuuri’s instant response, flat. Even as he says it, he knows—Viktor has proclaimed affection and friendship for him too many times. As unlikely as it seems, when his mind is whispering dark thoughts to him, he knows Viktor wants him close. Not as a lover, of course, but as a friend.

“Something’s wrong,” says Yuuko, too soft. “Something is wrong, but I can’t figure him out.”

There’s too much push and pull—Viktor and Yuuri, Yuuri Yuuri Yuuri and his glass heart, dropped on the floor because he pushed it into Viktor’s unwilling hands. How is he supposed to—

Sara’s phone rings. The world spins on.

“Who’s that?” Mickey questions. Sara smiles and tilts the phone Yuuko’s way, who presses the accept call button without another word.

“Crispinos! Detroit medalists! My fellow Czechs have abandoned me.”

“Come with us, Emil,” Yuuko welcomes, and Michele’s mouth pinches. They quickly exchange meetup information, Sara leaving the phone in Yuuko’s capable hands, sidling up to Yuuri.

“That looked uncomfortable,” she says with a sympathetic smile, lowering her voice. “I’m sorry. Yuuko’s kept your privacy, but I can guess at some things. It may not seem like it now… but it’s a privilege, to hurt and be hurt. Holding on and letting people go is such a huge part of life. You just have to decide whether you’re better together or apart, and take the consequences as they are. I know you’ll handle it, Japan’s Ace,” she winks, lavender eyes sparkling, “you are, after all, my Yuuko’s best friend.” He is.

“I didn’t mean to ruin your date night,” Yuuri confesses, quietly.

“Aw,” she pats him, “it’s okay, Yuuko and I like groups anyway. We’ll sneak off together later. Now, I really am starving, so…”

Hurt and be hurt. It seems like that’s all Yuuri is capable of doing. Off in the distance, he can see Viktor’s silver head, shining and made small by distance. Minutes ago, making Yuuri’s cracks show, trying to tell him to get over it; months ago, rejecting him for what needs to be the last time.

He’s hurt Viktor. Yuuri, in all his insignificance, has somehow damaged him and made him lash out.

Viktor might be ashamed, but Yuuri is, too. Confused, and ashamed.

Hurt and be hurt, he thinks, and a month later, when Viktor texts him for the first time in a long time, he knows how to reply.

Viktor

Tonight I . None of this is fair or right and I needed to . Yuuri

Please ignore that. I meant to send it to someone else

Yuuri

My name’s in it.

Two minutes go by.

Viktor

I didn’t mean to send it at all

There’s a million messages he hasn’t sent to Viktor, impressions pushed into his phone, ghosts of emotions.

So strange, to think that Viktor’s been making those impressions too.

Yuuri

You really don’t need to worry about me and what happened. I’m stronger than you think.

Viktor

I know you are.

Yuuri

We were friends, and I miss you.

And there’s so many expectations and I want you to be able to come to me however you want to

If Viktor wants to be his friend, or even just an acquaintance, or just a competitor, Yuuri will take it. He can’t demand Viktor’s love or force him into a role he doesn’t want—love doesn’t work that way.

Yuuri wants to call him, now, wants to hear his voice so much that it has his teeth grinding, his feet aching to skate.

Yuuri

So I need space.

He needs time, if he doesn’t want Viktor to see everything.

I’ll see you at the GPF, Viktor.

 


 

A whole summer, and every quadruple flip is still something that doesn’t belong to Yuuri completely. Sometimes he closes his eyes, and it’s like Viktor is there, behind him—they’ve danced together before. At banquets and in quiet halls, dancing. But they’ve never danced on the ice, together, and maybe that’s why Yuuri wants it so much. It’s the only part of his childhood dreams that hasn’t happened, yet.

The NHK is a blast. Yuuri and Yuuko, though they skate a day apart, wear two halves of the same costume for their free skate, the intricate pattern fully formed when they stand beside each other. Silver and gold, silver and gold, at the NHK and the Trophee de France. Silver and gold, with a program Yuuri had produced all by himself.

Ambition and Acceptance, two themes hand in hand.

“What are you accepting,” Phichit teases Yuuko during dinner at Celestino’s precious weeks before the GPF, “a gold medal around your neck?”

“Don’t talk to your mother that way,” Yuuri says dryly, over the rim of his cup. “But yes, Phichit, of course she is.”

“More than that,” Yuuko laughs, and looks down at the wood. “It’s more about self-love, Phichit, which I think you empathize plenty with.”

Me,” Phichit replies in mock offense, “Thailand’s finest? I only have two posters of myself in my room, thanks. I have more of Yuuri.”

Yuuri nearly spits out his tea. “You do? Where? Are we going to take them down?”

“And this is why they’re hidden.”

“I have some too,” Yuuko pipes in, and Yuuri gives up on drinking his tea completely. Phichit forces them to pose for giggling selfies until the dining room is filled with the rich aroma of meat.

“So lively,” says Mrs. Cialdini, and hands them plates. “Celestino is almost done.”

Daily life is sweet and quick. Laughter and pictures and trading vegetables when Celestino looks away.

Ambition burns, so bright, in Yuuri’s chest.

 ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss

It’s odd, that certain things stay the same, even when the universe has splintered so very far.

I’ve told you this story, but if you’re interested, I’ll tell you another: the story of Lohengrin.

Once, there was a war. There have been many wars, of course, but this one was special, because this one involved the lady Elsa of Brabant and a Knight of the Holy Grail.

Elsa had lost her father, and her brother, and her title. Everything she held dear. The men who stole her throne to make war accused her of murdering her brother; they wanted her gone. When she pled please, God, he sent her a miracle: a powerful man, nearly a god himself, a Knight of the Holy Grail, though she did not understand that then.

On her knees, she asked him to be her knight, to give her his time. He agreed to serve her, on one condition: she was not to know his true self. She could not ask the knight’s name.

The knight fought for her, and won. He rejected titles, and gold, and all he demanded was the proof of Elsa’s innocence, of her right to her royal title, her victory.

All he wanted was her hand in marriage and her love, which she gladly gave to him.

Then, at the wedding altar, the villains tricked her. Overcome with doubts, Elsa asked:

What is your name?

The villains were slewn and her title regained, but Elsa of Brabant lost her knight in the end because of her own foolishness.

Celestino offered several pieces of music for our Yuuri’s programs for the GPF in Sochi, discussed the options.

Our Katsuki Yuuri had chosen Ambition as his theme, Lohengrin as his program, for one reason. He had been an ordinary man craving a crown and a god, a god whose true identity he would never know, but who he needed all the same. He chose it for his program, and like the fairytale, his program ended in tragedy.

Katsuki Yuuri, this Yuuri, still chose Ambition and Lohengrin. He produced it himself. Chose the story because Elsa loved a man who was like a god.

She loved a man, and lost him, because even after knighthood and marriage and vow upon vow, war and dancing and love, it’d felt like love and Elsa always needing more of him, so much more because she loved him

She’d dared to ask for his name.

Elsa of Brabant had asked for everything, for too much, to truly know him.

did know him so intimately already, loved him with all her heart, loved him and loved him and needed him with her, always—

And the man named Lohengrin had been lost.

 ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss

Five years, and attending the GPF is still nerve-wracking.

Yuuri’s never been at a GPF where he produced his own programs before, either. But this is his ambition: this is what he must do, what his friends, what Viktor and his love for Viktor, have pushed him to do.

When he looks up at the board after his short program, hand clammy and tight in Yuuko’s, Celestino at his shoulder, it all seems wrong.

Katsuki Yuuri is in first.

He’s beaten Viktor out by five gaping points—points added to his own personal best.

Yuuri!” Yuuko nearly yells in his ear, overflowing with joy, “oh, Yuuri, this is amazing and you were brilliant—”

He’s never taken first in his short, before.

The flip is in his short, too. Maybe Viktor was watching him—maybe he wasn’t. Yuuri pretends that he had been. Yuuri feels eyes on him, and refuses to hope.


Yuuko knocks on his door, when Yuuri has just finished carefully washing off his short program makeup, pulling himself from his damp outfit, and taking a steaming shower.

“Yuuri,” she ventures, and from her tone he knows he’ll need to sit down. Primly, ever graceful, she settles into an armchair near the bed, pulls her legs up.

“What is it?”

“I’ve been thinking,” she says. Her gaze is soft, caught on various items in the room—his open suitcase, the bedcovers, the hairbrush she always uses on him in their nightly ritual. “Yuuri. Let’s end this.”

Oh.

Yuuri thinks of years, and them on the ice, and of her mother. “Are you retiring?”

“Oh,” she waves a hand, rapidly, ponytail shifting between her shoulders with the no of her shaking head. Yuuko has always been quick to cry with joy, but in times like this, her eyes are dry. “Not yet, Yuuri.”

Surging forward feels natural, holding her even more so. “I can’t believe,” he laughs. “I can’t believe we’re going to stop pretending—” reason sets in, prickling and damning “—but your mother? What are we… what are we going to tell people?”

“Oh, god, I don’t know,” she sputters warmly into his shoulder. “I think I’ve saved up enough for mom—it’s been five years, Yuuri—but the public… I don’t know, we’ll have to work it out. We can announce it after Worlds, maybe? Or after this GPF? I don’t want any pressure on you when you’re skating.”

“After this GPF,” Yuuri says firmly. “We can tell our publicist to make a press conference after I finish skating.”

“I’m so excited,” she breathes, “Yuuri, imagine us going out in public and just—just being together as best friends. Not having to listen to a million sponsors pressure us and—oh, Yuuri. If you don’t want to stop because of your career, I understand.”

“No! Of course not, we both want this. But,” he is almost afraid to ask, “why now, Yuuko?”

She pulls back, gives him a small smile.

“It’s just… well. Seeing you get first today, the emotion in your short, I have to wonder if we…” she pauses, eyes far away. "I want us to be free, Yuuri. Not just for me, and my relationship with Sara, but for you. I feel like pretending takes a toll on you, and maybe if Viktor didn't have to deal with our fake relationship, he'd have felt differently about a romance with you."

She’s guilty, unsure, and Yuuri thinks an emotion like that doesn’t belong on her face. Never again, he promises to himself.

"None of that changes the way he feels about me, Yuuko."

"No, but," she tries to smile, pats his hand. "Every time he looks at you, it's like…" she trails off, with a small sigh. "Sometimes it's hard to believe he'd be as cruel as he was, at the last GPF, at last Worlds. I mean, Viktor has always been a gentleman. What did he… say, exactly? When he first found out about our relationship being fake?"

He takes a moment to consider it. Then, blinking, Yuuri shakes his head. "I don't know."

Yuuko's hand freezes, resting lightly on his arm. "…how do you not know, Yuuri?

"He's been kind enough not to talk about it a lot," Yuuri protests, quietly. "He's intuitive like that." Sometimes. Sometimes Viktor is blunt, but it's not because he doesn't know where the nerves are.

"No, Yuuri." Narrowing her eyes, she grips his arm tighter, increasingly desperate. "Not in general. I mean the first time he found out, the first time you told him."

A lump rises in his throat. "I didn't have to tell him. Anyone that sees us together, in the skating world, surely they know. There's no way they haven't recognized that we're pretending. They can't think that you— that you would be with me. Can’t think that any romance between us is real, that I'm not hopelessly and one-sidedly in love with Viktor. That our pretending is real—"

"Yuuri." Yuuko sucks in a breath, grip on his arm clenching painfully before she pulls her hand off to clench at her side, falling back into the armchair. "Oh god, Yuuri, you can't be…"

He bites at his lip, both resolute in his answer and anxious about her reaction. "What?"

The Madonna's brown eyes lift to meet his. One deep breath. "I love you, Katsuki Yuuri, but you can be so…" Letting out a minute growl, she gestures towards a different chair. "Sit!" She announces, too loud and too firm.

Yuuri has no choice but to obey. She stands, and takes his face between her hands.

“Ah, Yuuko?”

“You’re going to listen to me!”

“I-I’m listening.”

"What have I told you about undervaluing yourself?"

"That, um," he chokes. "That I shouldn't do it? Yuuko, how is that related to…"

"You're a four-time GPF silver medalist!" She slams her hands on both the armrests of his chair, twice, makes him jump. "You're handsome and sweet and my best friend! Of course people think it's a possibility that we're actually dating.” Everything about Yuuko is tender, even when she’s worked up, even during the rare moments when she yells at him. “Yuuri, just because you feel like an imposter and think it's obvious to everyone that you're pretending, both out on the ice and in our relationship, you have to acknowledge what's real. Your talent in skating is real. The deep bond we have is real, and visible to everyone. Visible, even if others don't understand that the bond is platonic. No one looks at you and thinks you're faking anything, Katsuki Yuuri. Tell me," she insists, “tell me that you understand.”

No one?

His ears are ringing, blood a rush in his ears. The whole world realigns. Gravity fails and sends his body soaring into sickening fear.  "What are you saying?"

"Unless you told him," she replies firmly, "Viktor doesn't know."

Everything seems so far away. Muted. Gravity is still failing, the sea slipping into the sky.

"He has to know," someone says. "Because he's the only one I love. He has to see it. He has to know."

"Did you tell him?" Even passionate, even now, Yuuko can be soft. "Yuuri, did you tell him?"

"N-no," he gasps, "no, oh, I never— Yuuko, I never—"

She holds him, and never once thinks that he's weak.

 


 

"You know what I've learned from this experience," Yuuko says, later that evening. "We don't talk enough. I'm fine with you being quiet, Yuuri, you are about most things."

"Most," Phichit snorts with a smile. At some point, Yuuko had texted him and he'd come, water bottles and blankets and popcorn at the ready. "Except for your admiration for…" Yuuko raises an eyebrow at him. "Sorry, Mom."

"You're entitled to your privacy, of course you are, but there's so much you don't say. So much you don't tell us, trust us with. This whole time, with Viktor, if we'd just known some of your thoughts, we could've…" She wipes her eyes swiftly, sets her trembling mouth in an unstable line. "There's so many situations like this, too, where you stay silent! Sometimes I wonder if you trust us, if you even— if you even like us. And I know that's silly. We're best friends and rulers of the ice and fellow terrorizers of Detroit and our poor coach. But when you don't depend on us, when you don't think we care enough to be hurt by you, you hurt us."

Yuuri looks between her and Phichit. The quiet, but steady gazes.

With a casual shrug of his shoulder, Phichit nods, breaks the quiet. "Hey, Yuuri? It’s not a big deal but I, well. I feel that way too, sometimes. Even if you are my son, and I love you."

"I didn't know," Yuuri confesses in a heated rush, and his mouth is dry but his eyes are wet. "I'm sorry. I'll try to be better. I do..." Love you. He loves them both.

"Don't say sorry," Yuuko announces fiercely, "and accept that you are better than you think."

He gives a watery laugh. "I'm… better than I think?"

"Say it!" Phichit cheers, and throws a piece of popcorn.

"I'm better than I think," he repeats, still hesitant. "I'm…" The lump in his throat is still there, every conversation with Viktor a whole world he's never seen, history burning in front of his eyes. "I'm terrible," he whispers. "He has to hate me. He must think I cheat, that I don't l-love him."

"Hey, hey," Phichit interrupts, soothing and low. "Not gonna lie. Not telling him outright was an awful choice. But Yuuko and I love you, and we understand. I bet Viktor would understand, too. There might be, uh, some apologies in order though?"

"Definitely. And," Yuuko adds, still gentle, "Yuuri. You can't beat yourself up if Viktor's mind doesn't change."

"It can't," Yuuri says instantly, because then the world would shift again, the stars tumbling from the sky into his lap. “It won’t.”

"I hope it will," the Madonna murmurs. "I think… it will."

Yuuri just has to tell him.

 


 

If there was one thing that could slow him down, could stop him from telling Viktor immediately, it would be Yuuko skating.

This—oh, this he couldn’t miss. He leans over the boards before her skate, watches her straighten her spine and stare off into where several other skaters sit. Sara, tense and stunning and ready, awaits her.

“You’re going to be beautiful,” he tells her before she takes off to center ice, and she beams at him.

“I’m going to do my best!”

Yuuko’s best is better than anyone’s.

Her free program is nothing short of perfection, her outfit half of her and Yuuri’s whole, sparkling and deep blue, hair twirling about her in her final spin like a ribbon, like a magic spell. The program had been so technically challenging, so unconventional, that it’s hard to believe he got to be witness. Yuuri cries. Fat and ridiculous tears, as Celestino throws his hands up in victory and embraces him. They stare to her, Yuuko in that spotlight.

As with everything, Yuuko and Yuuri are together, crying. Graceful even in emotion, Yuuko collapses to the ice with reverence, tears dripping and disappearing onto the glassy surface. The Madonna, weeping.

A whole childhood— a whole life— has led up to this moment.

Acceptance, and Asada Yuuko accepts her gold medal with pride.


 

 There is no easy way to explain to the man you're in love with that your famous romance with your best friend, over four years strong, is fake.

When he sees Viktor, practicing out on the ice, the evening before the free program, mere hours after Yuuko’s victory, it feels hopeless. He can't help but feel the words would evaporate from his mouth anyway, even if he had been preparing them for months. As it is, he’s had several confused late-night hours to try to piece together the baffling pieces of his relationship with the other man.

He pulls out his phone. Yuuko and Phichit said to depend on them. They did. He can send one text; he can bother them one more time, about this.

There are already three messages from Yuuko, and two missed calls from Mari.

Mari never calls without warning.

On his screen, Yuuko's message comes up first, automatically, jumbled with feeling. Another comes in as he reads, and Yuuri feels the dread rising in the pit of his stomach.

Yuuko (you are a girl's best friend)

I'm sorry

Yuuko (you are a girl's best friend)

I screwed up I screwed up

Yuuko (you are a girl's best friend)

I'm so sorry. Don't read any online stuff, okay? Please call me when you get the chance

Yuuko (you are a girl's best friend)

I was stupid and too excited from today and I didn't take the right precautions and I just. Paparazzi caught me and Sara kissing.

Yuuri's response is instant, flying from the tips of his fingers before he can fully process everything.

Me

It's going to be okay. You didn't do anything wrong

 

He should call her. He's going to, but— the phone rings, and he picks up.

"Yuuko, it's going— it's going to be okay. I think," he tries to assure her, "you didn't do anything wrong. Today is the day you took gold. Don't let this ruin it."

But the voice that comes over the phone doesn't belong to Yuuko.

"I don't understand what you're talking about," says his sister. "This is Mari. But Yuuri… I'm so sorry, Yuuri, this was my fault. I should’ve been watching, more careful. But we've been in the animal clinic all night, and Mom— she swore you had to know."

"What do I have to know," Yuuri whispers into the phone, everything in him slipping down, down, and Mari tells him. Slowly, her voice trembling, she tells him.

Nothing feels real. Not the words, coming across the tinny line of his phone. Not Viktor Nikiforov, moving smoothly over the ice in front of him, dancing through step sequences and slow, breathtaking spins.

His movements, the beautiful core of him, always make Yuuri want to cry. There's something in him that calls to Yuuri and moves Yuuri's body, plaintive and irresistible, but only his tears flow. Tears are the only honest piece of him.

Mari stops talking, eventually.

"Vicchan's condition is critical. They told us there's a chance he'll make it, but a chance that he… won't. We couldn't keep it from you, but don't come home, okay? You can't. This is your year. Even someone as stupid as I am about skating can tell you're winning." Yuuri doesn't answer her. On the ice, Viktor moves through his starting motions. Stay Close to Me and never leave… "Hey. Don't do anything, okay?"

"Okay," he says. The phone hums, the line clicking off.

Viktor turns with a sweep of his arms, opens his eyes. Opens them to Yuuri, phone in his hand and tears dripping down his cheeks. Everything shaking, like ice is melting beneath him and he's sinking in.  

The program shudders to a halt. Perfection stares Yuuri in the face, and his brows knit.

I was going to tell you, Yuuri thinks, numbly. Today. Then maybe things would have changed.

"Yuuri," comes his name, across the space between, and Viktor's calling for him. Another skater, Cao-Bin, slows and looks their way.

"I have to go," he replies, voice shuddering. "I have to… go."

If the sight of Viktor skating before his eyes couldn't stop him, Celestino doesn't stand a chance. Yuuri makes it out of the stadium, into the night's stormy skies, the air that stings with the promise of snow.

I have to do something. I have to.

Like so many things in his life, the world spins around him, holds the string of his anxiety and twists it tighter about him as it turns.

I have to skate, he thinks, after hours in the cold. He runs to the stadium, skating his relief and his downfall all in one. Figures are all he should do, can do, the night before a competition. If he closes his eyes tight enough, if he listens to the music in his limbs, it's like being back in Hasetsu's Ice Castle. Yuuko on the ice ahead. The younger kids, the thunk of their ice picks into the ice like footsteps over thick snow. Vicchan, tail wagging as he waits on the bench.

Gone.

Celestino is gone. Yakov is gone. The crowds— gone.

Viktor remains. Quiet and watching, like a dream Yuuri has had every night since he was a child.

"I should've told you outright," Viktor says. His hair, like moonbeams streaming across the ice late at night. Here, rinkside, all for Yuuri to behold. "I wanted to tell you, for so long. Seeing you crying today, I realized I was wrong, and I should’ve said something…"

I should've told you, Yuuri thinks, an echo. I should've told you.

"Why are you here?" He asks.

"I know you," Viktor says, but his breath catches at the end of it, like he's scared it might be a lie. "I knew you'd come back to the rink eventually, once I saw the news."

"The news," Yuuri says blankly. Vicchan, Vicchan. Vicchan isn't news for anyone but Katsuki Yuuri. He pushes forward, and maybe it's foolishness, maybe it's desperation. Viktor's rejected him in every way, but Yuuri keeps rotating back, every attempt to escape his feelings a pirouette that must falter and slow, to come back to the grounded realization that he loves Viktor.

He loves Viktor, and he might have hurt him.

On the barrier, Viktor's fingers grip tightly. Closer, closer, Yuuri glides on his skates, till the smooth, pale skin is beneath one of his own hesitant hands.

"About Yuuko. Are you…" The words fall from Viktor's lips, go silent when their eyes meet. At the very least, they're friends— best friends, silly friends, people that Facetime every day and text on water breaks. Maybe that was a year ago for Viktor, but Yuuri still remembers it, still aches for it.

"My dog was in an accident," he says. Only after the words are out does he realize that it is a plea, an unearthed hope. Please comfort me. Please be with me.

It seems raw, and weak, and if he were this exposed in front of anyone else, Yuuri would be halfway out the door. But this is Viktor, sweet and sharp and understanding and nestled deep in Yuuri’s heart, and Yuuri wants him close.

Viktor doesn't reject him. Leaning over the barrier, he pulls Yuuri to his shoulder gently, lets his face rest in the curves and valleys of him. There's no need to count the heartbeats of the hug, to retreat— the reason for the hug is an excuse and a destruction, all in one.

"I'm so sorry."

Only when he feels the wet rub of his own cheeks on Viktor's jacket does he realize he's both crying and shaking his head, fiercely. "They said, they said he might make it, but he's... I shouldn't hope."

"It's okay to hope," Viktor murmurs into his hair. "It hurts to, but we'll do it together."

Viktor is so gentle, so perfect, and Yuuri’s been keeping everything to himself.

Yuuri wants to hit him, wants to kiss him, wants to hug him more tightly and never let go. "I'm coming off the ice."

Patiently, Viktor comes to sit by him as he unlaces his skates to tug them off, follows the motions with his eyes. Like he's learning— like he wants to know how to take off Yuuri's skates for him, how to put them on and tease at the laces until they mold into Yuuri and become his wings.

Yuuri slips on his ratty old sneakers and a fresh pair of socks, and refuses to consider it. Not until I've told you. When I tell you, when I tell you—

They don't know what to do with themselves, when the movement is done. They're here, sitting on a bench in an empty stadium. Yuuri knows that Viktor's got an itch under his skin, an urge to take action, to heal a hurt that's a million miles away and in the hands of the universe.

If anyone could make miracles, Yuuri thinks to himself helplessly, it would be you.

Yuuri's always initiated hugs, but this one comes uninvited, arms slipping around him before he can properly register it. Falling into the touch, he shuffles closer, vaguely registers the stroking of a palm at his back. Yuuri's the type of man who has to practice everything, but for having never been in Viktor's arms, he already feels natural. Thoughtlessly knows where to put his arms, knows to pull his legs up and turn, until he's cross-legged and leaning. Viktor pulls back, and to Yuuri's shame his instant reaction is a whimper, the noise from his own throat scaring his hands into releasing Viktor and scrambling to clutch at each other in his own lap.

"S-sorry."

"Just moving," Viktor soothes intently, like it's not strange at all. He tosses a leg over the bench and leans back in, the third embrace just as easy as the second. Yuuri speaks most intimately with touch, a language he and Viktor haven't seemed to share, but the silent contact is the best comfort.

It’s been so long since they touched. Viktor’s kept himself so far away, because Yuuri asked, but that’s broken tonight.

Stupid, he's stupid with it. Maybe that's why, after several minutes, lulled into the peace, he pulls back, hands sliding from Viktor's back down the edges of the Team Russia jacket. It's unzipped, like Yuuri's own blue Japan jacket, and before he can stop himself he pulls the zips of their jackets together.

They fit. Uncomprehending, but willing. That’s how he'd describe Viktor, in this moment, with soft eyes and hands that are resting on Yuuri's knees. Up, he tugs the zipper, and then does the other side, until they're cocooned in one large jacket, together.

Viktor gets it.

"Phichit figured out we could do this with our jackets," he feels compelled to explain, voice tight. “Our federations buy from a certain company.” He and Phichit did not sit in them, together, for longer than a few moments. Phichit certainly didn't pull his arms from his sleeves and wrap them around Yuuri's torso, or continue to say, I'm sorry, I'm here.

 "If Makkachin were hurt, I'd be beside myself. If it happened at the same time as…" he trails off, the circling of his palm on Yuuri's back pulling away to just delicate fingertips, feather-light touch.

When Yuuri pulls away, he doesn't move back far enough. Their faces are too close, close and tempting. Luckily, Viktor isn't looking at him— gaze locked on the rink, the ice.

"What… are you thinking?" He and Viktor haven't talked. The last time they had, Yuuri had told him he needed space. Selfishly, he'd insisted on it, despite everything Viktor had done for him. Despite the quiet voice in his head, the one he rarely listened to, that asserted he might need you too, as a friend, you can't leave him.

"I should've told you."

"Told me…" Yuuri can't imagine how puffy his eyes are, how his face is swelling, so he tucks it safely back into Viktor's shoulder. I should've told you. "I, I have something to tell you too. You probably already know, I just." I have to tell you. I have to be sure.

Viktor flinches, when the words come out, and Yuuri feels it.

"For mine, I wanted to tell you— I tried, but it went terribly. I tried, last Worlds, and then you said you didn’t want to hear. You seemed so happy, and it wasn't a secret about my relationship, seemed like a desperate lie someone in my position might make up." He waits, breathes. The breath of a man at the edge of a precipice, waiting to fall. "Sara and Yuuko have been together since the last GPF. I found out the day after the last GPF banquet. When I saw you crying today, I realized you must have… that you didn’t really know, and I should’ve made it clearer."

Balanced on the bench, wrapped around each other, Yuuri can feel the way his hands fist, the muscle in his jaw tightening against the shell of Yuuri's ear.

Yuuri clears his throat, pulls back to stare down at his lap. Before him, Viktor’s face goes into his palms. Shame, Yuuri thinks, and a million other emotions, just hovering beneath the mask of his fingers.

“Viktor?” He reaches for the shaking hands, gently wills them to reveal Viktor’s face. "I’m only crying for Vicchan. As for Sara and Yuuko… they’ve been together longer than that," Yuuri softly corrects. "A while."

Viktor’s gaze rises over the horizon of his hands, the bright blue of the morning.

There's something, in his tone, that Yuuri is scared to name. Worship and fear. "You knew." He takes Yuuri by the shoulders, shakes him too gently. "Yuuri. Just because you love her doesn't mean you have to let this happen! You deserve--" he cuts off when Yuuri shakes his head, too quick, breathes no.

Yuuri swallows. "Yuuko's my best friend. We don't keep secrets from each other. We…" Tell him. Tell him.The tears are already welling up again, embarrassment and frustration wedging painfully in his throat. "We don't keep secrets from each other, we just, uh, keep a secret from the public."

His eyes dart up, just to check— to check the knowing, judging look that surely must be in Viktor's expression. Why are you telling me this? Do you honestly think anything will change between us?

Nothing's there. Just Viktor, staring at him, vulnerability shining in his eyes. Understanding, nowhere to be found.

Yuuri's said it aloud before— to his parents, Sara, Phichit. Yet that dark shame, swirling in his chest, makes him squeeze his eyes shut.

"What are you saying," Viktor breathes. "Yuuri. What are you saying."

"Yuuko and I," he begins, trying to be confident and brazen. Trying to be all the things he's not, and he's tired of that. Tired of pretending. "We're— we're not—"

So much shame. So many years. Yuuri and Yuuko, on that world stage, bruised from pushing, pressure squeezing the air from gasping lungs, their wrists chained together. Inextricable.

There's no room for escape now either, not with Viktor's hands on his shoulders, sealed in the warmth their jackets make, this private space between them. He begins tugging at one zipper, everything suddenly too warm.

"Stop, please," Viktor's pleading. One zipper slides free. “Please don’t run, I can’t—"

Say it. If you love him, say it.

“Yuuko and I aren't together!"

It’s said.

Just like that, it’s said.

So many words, so many years, that Yuuri can’t take back. That Yuuri won’t.

The warmth is there in Viktor, flickering on and off. His mouth is tries to form words, remembers the shapes of them but can’t couple them with the sounds. Finally, a question tumbles out, torn and whispered.

"For how long? Since," he seems to struggle, lip trembling, the next sentence released like a secret. "Since last year? Because of what happened between us at the last GPF?"

Hope is a sharp, deadly thing. Yuuri knows it, feels it still embedded deeply in his chest. Viktor and Vicchan. Vicchan and Viktor. He can see hope now, too, in the champion.

Hope, making Viktor bleed out.

"Since always," he shudders, "always. We never..."

He can't help it. Viktor is there. Viktor is subject to the harshness of the world they live in, too. He understands what it means to keep sponsors, to have people that have never met you behave as if they know you, as if by ripping you up they have a right to every piece of you.

Burying his face in Viktor's shoulder, he cries.

For hours, for minutes, for the time it takes for Yuuri to recognize that the stuttering gasps in the air are coming from his own throat, Viktor holds him.

"You were playing a role," Viktor realizes finally, voice hushed. Awed. "It was for publicity."

"It was an accident," Yuuri heaves, sobbing, into his shoulder. "But then it all moved so fast— and we needed— Yuuko needed—they wouldn't listen to us. They wouldn't listen, but I love her, Viktor, she's so important to me, and it's damaging our friendship."

“Shh, shh, solnyshko,” Viktor’s murmuring, his weight slowing Yuuri’s twisting into gentle rocking. “I used to suspect… but then it seemed so real and at every turn it was there, crushing…”

They'd chosen this. He shouldn't cry. This was Katsuki Yuuri's decision, his signature on that dotted line. His tears dry, a wrecked calm washing over him.

"This was my fault," he acknowledges, solemnly. "And you didn't… you didn't know? I thought we were," he bites his lips, color rising in what he's sure is already a face pinched red with crying. "I thought it was painfully obvious."

"Never." The statement is calm, Viktor's voice betraying nothing. Trembling, Yuuri pulls away and tugs at the other zipper until it falls free. "I never knew. And you didn’t tell me. Why…"

“Why,” Yuuri laughs laughs in reply, watery and self-deprecating.

Do you hate me? Do you think I'm trouble, that I'm pathetic, yet?

Yuuko would urge him to push away these thoughts. She'd stay, patient and present, no matter what Viktor said after this reveal. She's so important to me.

Yuuri's spent the last few hours in a dark daze over Vicchan, and the last hour wrapped in Viktor Nikiforov's arms.

Where has Yuuko been? His first instinct is with Sara or Phichit or Celestino, of course, she'd want them to comfort her because today…

“The media frenzy surrounding her and Sara’s kiss,” Viktor says, “it’s vicious, and it doesn’t have to be.”

A media frenzy?

Don’t read what’s online, Yuuko had told him, and suddenly it all makes sense. While Yuuri retreated to panic over Vicchan, Yuuko had stood to face the storm.

Sara will likely be dealing with her own issues with the paparazzi— she hasn't spent a lot of time in the public eye, yet, for anything besides skating. But now she's the bronze medalist to Yuuko's gold, the woman Yuuko was caught kissing.  And Phichit and Celestino— is that who Yuuri would want?

They'd be wonderful, but they wouldn't be Yuuko. Yuuko, who understands the pressure, who'd whisper to him in their shared mother tongue and wait him out. Who'd let him be alone, if he needed it, but watch over him.

There's still that voice that says, she doesn't need you. There's so many others that could handle this better than you. You're selfish, you're clumsy, you'll screw this up because you can't stand to be close.

“Yuuri,” says Viktor, and he knows, he always understands things that Yuuri doesn’t. The world is different and new, in his lens, sees truths that Yuuri hasn’t dared to imagine. I couldn’t take my eyes away from you. “Where is Yuuko—do you have to go to her? Is she all right?”

Oh.

I left her all alone.

Depend on us, Yuuko had said, but love should go both ways.

Yuuri scrambles for his bag, suddenly, which sits on the floor beside the bench. He hasn't properly looked at his phone since Mari's call, just cried over a picture he'd begged Mari to send, Vicchan in the animal clinic.

Three more texts from Yuuko, two calls from Celestino. Five from their publicity agent. Three texts from Phichit.

"I have to go," he says.

He doesn't expect Viktor to grab his arm, blue eyes wide and desperate. "Now? To Yuuko?"

"Yuuko needs me," he acknowledges. “You’re right, Viktor, I should go. You always see everything.” I need her, and she needs me. He's never said that aloud, before. Never allowed himself to admit it. "She's upset because of the paparazzi scandal, and I should be close." Shutting his bag, he looks back up at Viktor, still frozen on the bench. "Viktor," he chokes, "thank you. I'm sure none of this was what you wanted the night before a free program. I really hope I haven't, um, disturbed your skate for tomorrow.”

Viktor tips forward, forehead to forehead.

“This... is a lot to take in.”

His eyes, endlessly blue even in the dim lights, just a breath from Yuuri's, are a lot to take in. I could kiss him again. But Yuuri's hurt him enough.

“I—I know.” Don’t say you love him, not again. Not with the tsunami you’ve directed at him tonight. “Still, I want to see you on the podium. Thank you."

One more hug. Then Yuuri is throwing his bag over his shoulder, trying to look apologetic and grateful all at once.

"Yuuri."

"I'm sorry. For everything! For not telling you, and for putting this all on you. Thank you. I’m," he ducks his head, "I'm so embarrassed. Goodnight, Viktor."

"Wait," Viktor interjects, and stands up. He's staring at Yuuri's lips, his eyes, fist clenching and unclenching at his side. "I'm so confused. There's so much that doesn't make sense, over so many years— but we can talk later. I've waited for so long,” he cuts off, abruptly, long enough for Yuuri to hear his own heartrate spike. “One more day can't hurt. If all of this is true, then you haven't ruined my skate, I'm…" His voice breaks, and Yuuri can't help but turn, to stare at the hesitant smile, the way Viktor's hand rests against his forehead. "I'm happy." At the disturbed look on Yuuri's face, he shakes his head, silver hair shifting. The laughter that follows is wild, disbelieving. "I'm sorry, I don't mean about your dog or Yuuko being discovered. Don't listen to me. Just…" Yuuri's brain is too shocked, too worn, to consider all the implications of Viktor's words. "Goodnight, Yuuri."

Yuuri thought he'd started the last hug. Viktor moves forward, gives him one more, his breathing beside is Yuuri's ear. Oh.

Walking away from Viktor Nikiforov is something Yuuri never thought he would do. Now he has, multiple times— and here he is again. Tentative steps, gaze still tossed over his shoulder to meet Viktor's blue eyes, sharp with hope.

Tomorrow, he thinks, after the GPF is over. After everything is settled.

Tomorrow, Yuuri will confess his love for the third time. Or is it, his mind sings, is it the first? How many times will he confess his love for Viktor, in a life? It doesn’t matter if tomorrow is the first, or the third, or the thousandth, just one more glowing confession in a starlit sea of them, Yuuri falling for Viktor in every universe.

First or third or millionth doesn’t matter, as long as it isn’t the last.

On the ice, with his body, with his mouth. Wrapped up completely in Viktor and every dream a hole in his heart.

Maybe this time, Viktor will say yes.


 

The door to Yuuko's room opens so slowly after he knocks at it that he almost thinks her gone. Packed up, returned to Japan with Sara and her gold medal in tow. Away from the press and the pressure.

But she'd never leave him. Yuuri can see her, through the doorway, knees to her chest on her bed. Celestino, who opened the door, pulls him in gently.

"We're glad to see you. We were worried sick, Yuuri. Are you all right?"

No.

“I will be, coach.”

Celestino leaves. The room is so quiet.

"I'm sorry!" Yuuko bursts, dropping her knees, red eyes coming up to meet his. "I'm sorry, Yuuri."

The way she looks at him, like he's going to turn on her, like he's going to use words as weapons. But she's Yuuko. No mistake, no accident founded only in love, would ever make her worth less.

"If Viktor wanted to kiss me," Yuuri says, unsteadily, "I'd kiss him in front of a whole stadium, if that's what it took."

She laughs, drowning in her own tears and timid, and he sits beside her.

"Please tell me you didn't read any of the articles— they're horrible. I dragged Sara into it, too. I’m horrible."

It still feels awkward, to brush the tear off her cheek with his thumb. His mind snaps to Viktor, always Viktor, of the way his touch didn't make Yuuri feel weak. Just buoyed up.

"Sara loves you, no matter what. You're better than you think," Yuuri tells her. “Say it?”

She laughs again, and he sits patient beside her.

"Yuuri," she says, in weak wonder, "I love you."

I'm here, he thinks, I'm here.

 


 

Rhythmically, she moves through every piece of his hair, gentle strokes. It feels later than it is. The darkness of Sochi, draped outside their window, pinpricked with the snow that’s been falling since Viktor held him close.

“Nishigori told me about Vicchan,” she tells him, quiet. “I know how much he means to you. We’re all hoping for him to get better.” How?

“How did Nishigori know?”

“He’s the one that found Vicchan on the side of the road. With us away, they’ve become close, I suppose… and Nishigori missed him at the rink.” Any later, Mari had said, and Vicchan wouldn’t be with us anymore. Yuuko doesn’t need to see his face, just the shaking of his shoulders, to realize he’s splitting apart. “Oh, Yuuri. Oh. It’s going to be okay. It has to be okay.” She can’t know that. “Phichit and your family and Celestino and I—we’ll be here.”

Their sponsorships and supporters could be gone. His dog could be dying, a world away. He’s been desperately in love with Viktor, and now he’s realized the other man didn’t even know—a heartbreak of Yuuri’s own foolish creation, a disaster sent not by wrathful gods or circumstance but his own flawed love.

Today was supposed to mean so much.

Yuuko walks him back to his room, tries to soothe. She’s still apologizing—still aware of what her freedom has cost them. It isn’t her fault, that Yuuri’s night is sleepless. It isn’t her fault that he wakes up, remembers everything, and spends an hour crying in his bed. He has to skate. He has to tell Viktor that he loves him.

The goal of a golden medal is all that pulls him from bed. Yuuko’s there—Viktor’s there. Yuuri has to keep up.

He’s in first place, for the first time in his life, and it incites him, whips his mind into a frenzy. He scarfs down breakfast, wears too many layers—hot, constricting— to walk to the rink, and avoids the press as best he can.

Everything trembles, his vision going hazy and bright, air too heavy to heave into his lungs.

“Yuuri,” says Celestino. He has mere minutes before his skate. Viktor will be taking the rink soon.

Vicchan. Viktor. Yuuko.

I’m in first. I have to stay in first. I don’t want anyone to leave me. Please stay close to me. You need me, now. I won’t let you down.

Vicchan. Viktor. Yuuko.

“I’m ready,” he says, and he’s not ready at all. Yesterday had been his downfall. Today is his day of reckoning. Judgment.

“You’re panicking,” Celestino urges, “breathe with me.”

Yuuri can’t. His pulse jumps in his wrists all the way to the center of the ice. This is his first program he’s produced himself, his first competition showing it. Fiercely, fiercely, he wants to do well.

His whole body is an earthquake, a building collapsing in on itself, and through the rubble Yuuri realizes that he’s lost.

“Yuuri,” Celestino says, “sixth in the world isn’t bad.” Yuuri nods, blankly. “Everyone has a competition where they struggle, especially under these circumstances outside of the rink.”

He wonders if, now that Yuuko has gold and their sponsorships are gone, she’s going to retire. The ice is a part of them, but she’s become weary. Her blades dulling and spins lengthening, drawing out to a slow and sweet completion, the last notes of her song ringing out into the air.

Maybe Yuuri should retire, too.

I’d leave Phichit and the ice behind, he thinks, and then: I’d never see Viktor again.

Just like that, he knows that he can’t retire. He’ll follow Viktor until he can’t feel his feet, until all the crowds are gone and Viktor says goodbye, Yuuri.

Despite Yuuko and Celestino’s best efforts, a reporter catches him on his way out of the rink. Flinching, Yuuri turns to him, expects questions about Yuuko’s imaginary betrayal, about their bond.

“Please don’t retire,” says the reporter, and that’s all he speaks of, like none of the rest of it exists. The decision is made, but Yuuri still can’t give him an answer.

Yuuri almost makes it from the stadium, into the freshly falling snow. He wants to call his family—wants to get an update on Vicchan. Something in him had imagined that if he skated and won, if he defied all odds, that Vicchan would too. That Vicchan, healthy, would be his prize.

Now he’s fallen from the top of the podium, from his place beside Yuuko and Viktor. The hotel—he’ll cry at the hotel, if there’s time before their press conference. There’s been too much crying, in the last few hours. The door is before his eyes, Celestino and Yuuko attempting to be a comforting presence at his back, when he hears it.

Yuuri!

Viktor Nikiforov, in all his glory, red and white jacket that Yuuri knows the fabric of intimately. Long legs, blue eyes locked on him, Plisetsky at his heels and Yakov following at his side, begrudging.

It’s a twister of emotion, upending joy and the cold, sure wave of disappointment washing over him. His feet take a step towards Viktor anyways.

Suddenly, he realizes they make quite the scene—the champion and the fallen. The steady golden sun and Yuuri, a shooting star that’s always been tumbling to earth, silver sparks burning up in the atmosphere. Is he still wanted? Has he ever been? What defines Yuuri now, in the crowd’s eyes?

Does he care? Is he strong enough not to care?

Viktor hadn’t planned what to say, that much is evident. They both just stare, Yuuri’s hand trembling on the handle of his suitcase. I love you. As if Viktor can hear that thought, can see the flash of affection in his eyes and uses it as a guide, he’s striding forward. All determination and tender sorrow, unsure of whether he’ll be accepted.

Oh, Yuuri realizes, he’s never known. And he’s still been here, with me. I’m not going to hide, and I’m not going to walk away. No matter if you reject me or not. The thought has him stepping forward, too, suitcase forgotten and every motion becoming lighter and lighter. Viktor—

Celestino puts a hand on his arm, just as Yakov lets out a warning of: “Vitya.”

“Yuuri,” Celestino says, “I think there’s been enough scandal for one GPF. Please, for his sake if not your own, wait until after we do a press conference to sort this out.”

The world weariness, settled sour and dense in Yuuri’s bones, agrees. Everything else still yearns, still strains forward to where Viktor has stopped, Yakov’s Russian cutting across the tiles between them.

A press conference about him and Yuuko. A press conference about falling on the ice, about the way he tried to produce his own programs, to overcome his wild emotions, and failed. Something that will throw light onto all of Katsuki Yuuri's weaknesses, formerly curled up in the dark.

Maybe revealing the truth could heal them, too.

Just paces away, Viktor's there, still looking to him with wide eyes and paying little attention to the words of his coach.

"I'll be here, Yuuri," he says, finally. "When you're done."

That's all that Yuuri needs to hear.

"Do I have any time," he asks Celestino, the words feeling flat and desperate. "Before the press conference."

After a moment's consideration, he says, "we can get you an hour in your hotel room. If that's what you need."

The feel of Viktor's hand on his arm, his back, comes flooding back, all violence and love, love and violence, a war in his head. Just a little more, he thinks. They leave Viktor in that hallway, Yakov's grip on his shoulder. I don't want to hurt him. His career is worth so much.

The hotel door is easy to lock, the deadbolt moving in with resounding, metallic click.

"Yuuri," comes Yuuko's voice through the door. "I wanted to check on you." With a scraping slide, he pushes the second lock in.

Tossing his way through his suitcase— old suits and ties from high school, his short program costume, socks and sweaters— he finds the bag easily.

Deep breaths. There's a long mirror on the wall, and he stands in front of it, tugs his ponytail over his shoulder. It sways down to his hip, dark and sleek. Over a decade ago he'd seen Viktor Nikiforov with hair like this, unexpected and light and free, a man who defied and yet was so young, his hair a representation of too many things to name. An idol.

This is the hair he and Yuuko have been known for, the perfect match. This is the hair he'd risen to the podium with, that Viktor had sifted his fingers through while he smiled, hidden away in the water-tossed blue shadows of an aquarium.

Yuuri's hair is heavy with expectation and hero worship, with history and duty. All Yuuri wants is freedom.

All he wants is love.

The first cut is the hardest. Even watching the black strands drift to the floor doesn't make his mind register it.

"Yuuri," says Yuuko, muffled through the door, even quieter. "I just want to make sure you're okay."

He feels the give, of the last slice through the bundle of hair. His whole head is light, floating, pressure lifted.

"I'm fine," he says. He puts the scissors down, and unlatches the door.

"Oh, Yuuri," she says. The tears welling in her eyes are incomprehensible for a few moments.  Then his light head thinks of nightly rituals and childhood promises and the twisting of them, to everyone else. "I understand that you still love me," she says, and wipes her eyes. "I understand why it had to go. I'll still miss your hair." She reaches a hand out, brushes at his bangs. "Let me fix this before we put you on international television, okay?"

Neither of them are professionals, but she attentively snips, fingers brushing in light comfort over his skin. When she's done, it lays dark and ruffled across his forehead, cut short at the nape. Years, piled up on the floor.

"Are you ready?" She asks.

They go off into the unknown, to face the world together as Yuuri and Yuuko, a second time. 


 

The truth is this: it would have been easy to lie.

Yuuko’s coach, besides Celestino, had already spun a beautiful tale, like a performance sorrowful enough to merit a free program. During Yuuko’s summer in Hasetsu, she and Yuuri had drifted apart, had realized their youth and that they’d never tried to love anyone but each other. They felt it right to have some distance— and Sara Crispino had been a beautiful accident, an old friend there to comfort at just the right moment.

Sweet falsehoods, with glimpses of the truth peeking through.

"I don't want to lie," says Yuuri, voice tight, wedged in the cab with Yuuko. "I'm so tired of lying."

Everything is exposed and raw. The time for spinning sweet sorrows and love songs has died.

"Then we'll tell the truth," Yuuko replies, firm. The Madonna, back to her old ways, a defender of  beautiful things.

"My name is Katsuki Yuuri," he says into the microphone, sitting on the white table and waiting to swallow his words. "I'm twenty-three, and lucky enough to be chosen to represent Japan in the international world of skating these last five years."

"Asada Yuuko," she echoes beside him. "Twenty-five. With the help of my coach and rinkmates, I was able to achieve my lifelong dream of a gold medal at a major international skating event."

At her words, Yuuri can see the hunger in some of the reporters' eyes— Yuuko is the one caught, the one they are ready to tear to pieces.

“Ms. Asada,” one reporter begins, “how does you long-time boyfriend, Katsuki Yuuri, feel about you being photographed cheating with a fellow skater? How far have you and silver-medalist Crispino—“

“If you’re asking about my feelings,” Yuuri interrupts, a heat that resembles embarrassment but burns hotter, fiercer, jerking his tongue into action. “Then you should probably direct that question to me.”

The reporter just stares, startled, but another is quick to pick up where she left off.

“And how do you feel, skater Katsuki?”

Before he can even answer, another reporter says, “does your disastrous free skate today represent your emotions about—“

“Does cutting your hair have anything to do with—“

“Please tell us if you suspected—“ “—is it true that—“ “—for how long—“

Quiet, please!” The Madonna: always his hero. Always the one he’s followed, the one who sees into his glass heart and smiles. Her head drops, teeth digging into her lip. “I’m sorry,” she breathes into the microphone. “Just, one at a time? Please.”

She’s spent a whole lifetime rescuing him from the little anxieties, the daily barrage. Now, it’s Yuuri’s turn. He takes her hand.

A small motion, just two palms pressed together on a tabletop, fingers not interlinked. The raging wave of bodies and equipment that is the press, flesh and metal and flash, stills. The question is obvious: does their legendary love live on?

Is she forgiven?

Yuuri looks to her, the chocolate eyes that mirror his own. “There’s nothing to forgive. Except…”

“If you’ll forgive us,” Yuuko finishes. Too quiet and too loud, all at once, soft words meant for thousands. Reporters and fans and sponsors alike, the world over.

“I love her,” Yuuri says, and this time, it’s no accident. “I love her so much. This is… what I meant to say, all those years ago, but didn’t quite understand yet. I couldn’t get the words out. Asada Yuuko is my best friend, my sister, someone who knows my dreams and cheers me on as I pursue them. Because of her, because of others—” Celestino. Phichit. Viktor. Viktor. “—I don’t bear my dreams alone. But there’s many kinds of love,” his throat threatens to close, to seal shut. Yuuri expresses himself with skating, with motions and action and touch. But he’s been misheard, misinterpreted, for so long. These words must be said. “The one Yuuko and I have has always been just—just friendship. Never a romance. And that’s… that’s powerful, too. I’m sorry if we… let anyone down. If our lie was too much. That’s,” he bows his head, clutches tighter at Yuuko’s hand. “That’s what I have to say.”

A press conference has never been quieter.

Then, whispers of rippling sound begin. Sporadic, and then faster and faster, frantic with realization.

“You’re not in a romantic relationship,” someone says. “You’ve never been.”

“But why?”

“How did you—“

“How COULD you—“

“One at a time,” Yuuko gasps, helpless smile on her face. Yuuri knows why.

He can feel it too. The pressure, crushing and insidious and choking—it’s gone. Lifted. Every flashing light doesn’t make him want to hide. He feels right, at Yuuko’s side. Recognized for what they are.

Maybe Yuuri’s not an expert at press conferences just yet. He withstands the rapid questioning, adds in his opinion only when needed. He’s there, when Yuuko hangs her head and gives the reason behind it all, behind their façade: her mother, the initial misunderstanding, their struggles. Their attempts to reveal the truth, and stay true to themselves.

Even someone like Yuuri, who can’t read a room, knows that when Yuuko’s coach is nodding and the questions become gentler, genuinely curious, it’s going as well as they could have expected.

Yuuri and Yuuko have been forgiven by the press. The story they’ve told now—the truth—is perhaps even better than a fairytale romance. At least, in terms of news sales. As for their fans—they’ll have to see.

“You’ve been brave,” someone says, and no one’s called Yuuri that before. He doesn’t feel brave. He feels incomplete. Everything that’s yet to be said still hanging in the air, freed and ready to be told.

The press conference begins to die down; the professional questions slink from the remains of the scandal and reveal, finally ready to come to light. Someone asks Yuuko about her gold medal, their themes; about Yuuri’s loss, and his move forward.

Yuuri lost everything, but he's strong. He's more than strong-- he's supported.

“Skater Katsuki,” says Morooka, “will you retire?”

The answer is simple. Yuuri wants to run and hide, but the feeling rises up unstoppable in him. He’s run, he’s denied, for so, so long. Now is the time to speak up, and hold on.

“Not until I show my love.” A deep breath. “Not until the whole world knows why I’m skating. I’m skating for Yuuko, yes. For Phichit, and Celestino, my family, the proud nation of Japan that has always stood behind me, and, well—“ it feels right. It is right. “—myself. But most of all… all my messages are for one man. Since I first took the ice in competition it’s been this way—and in the upcoming Worlds, and every time I’ll skate after that. All that time, and I never properly told him yet. I’m not retiring, and I’m not giving up!”

I’ll be waiting, Viktor had said. There’s a camera, right behind Morooka. Yuuri’s there, in its gleaming curve, the image of him small and yet powerful enough to reach every television, every home.

“Viktor Nikiforov,” he says, “you know who I’m skating for.”

Chapter Text

If asked, Yuuri could genuinely not tell you a single thing that happened at the press conference after his declaration.

Yuuko assures him, much later, that he’s all the gossip magazines talked about for weeks. Apparently, it was even exciting enough to land them a mention on national news. Yuuri and Yuuko’s fall from grace—followed by a storm of theories and media coverage—followed by understanding. Forgiveness. But Yuuri doesn’t care about those things—doesn’t care about media, or sponsors, or his fans' opinions, or even competitors.

For once, Yuuri refuses to let regret rule him.

For Viktor, Yuuri will be embarrassed and foolish and blinded with love, will climb up onto rooftops and shout out proclamations with every last breath of air in his lungs.

Still. It’s one thing to say it to a press mob and his best friend. Quite another to look the man in his eyes, knowing that every part of him is laid open and vulnerable. Viktor said he was happy that Yuuri wasn’t romantically involved with Yuuko; Viktor said he would wait. Viktor seemed to think that Yuuri was worth it.

Reporters and competitors can try to talk him down. Right now, none of them matter like Viktor does. He has to see him.

After the press conference, Celestino gets a cab to drive them back.

Yuuko doesn’t invade, doesn’t speak, just gestures to the seatbelt he’s forgotten to buckle. “Yuuri.” Viktor would buckle it for him. “You look exhausted.”

“Doesn’t matter,” he says automatically. With his stamina, being worn down is so rarely an issue. His best trait can’t give out on him now. “I have someone I need to talk to.”

Yuuko smiles, patient, pulls a tangle of headphones from her pocket along with her phone. “Want to listen to some music?”

“I know what you’re trying to do,” he mutters, but takes the offered earbud anyway. Piano and strings slip from it, set his mind afloat. It won’t work; it can’t work. He has to talk to Viktor—sleep, rest, pulling himself together? None of that is necessary. Viktor deserves to see the mess, deserves to have all of Yuuri so he can decide if…

Celestino shakes him gently by the shoulder, which only partially wakes him up. Together he and Yuuko stumble inside, to their neighboring rooms. Yuuko hangs in his doorway, and Yuuri collapses bodily onto the mattress with a sigh, curls up into himself.

Before he can fully descend into unconsciousness, his phone vibrates against his thigh. He pulls it out without a second thought.

Just a Twitter notification. It’s not from @v-nikiforov, but it still has Yuuri awake and scrabbling with his phone, dialing out the number by heart.

He takes a moment to remind himself: things might not change.

Even if they haven’t, Yuuri has. He presses the call button with no hesitation, because he and Viktor belong to each other in a way where, even if he crashed and burned and said too much at a press conference, he knows Viktor will still pick up the phone.

With a soft click, they’re connected.

“Yakov said you would call.”

Yuuri’s tired brain can’t make the leap. The voice is a woman’s. “I… wrong phone number?”

“Katsuki Yuuri, right? This is Mila. Mila Babicheva.” There’s brief shuffling, and Yuuri’s chest constricts. “Ah, ah, Viktor said I should keep talking, not let you assume anything. He’s making a press statement, and then Yakov has threatened him with… something… to get him to go to bed. I was designated as the keeper of the phone.”

“Oh.”

“If it helps, the press statement is about you.”

Oh.”

“Right,” she finishes, lightly. “Though I’m told he’s going to deflect most of the questions. So, I must ask, what kind of gossip has Viktor managed to keep to himself? We were all shocked that he’d be able to keep his mouth shut about a romance.”

Mila is… seventeen? Yuuri has to think about it.

“I should probably let Viktor speak for himself.” He pauses. “Don’t you have his phone?”

An exaggerated, pitiful sigh. “It’s locked.”

“Would you,” Yuuri hesitates. “Would you tell him sweet dreams from me?” This is hardly the medium he wants to say it in, through a seventeen year old messenger. Yuuri is desperate.

“Is this how skating’s resident playboy breaks hearts?”

Playboy?” Yuuri coughs.

“You’ve made public love confessions to two current world record holders.”

Yuuri has to remove the phone from his ear, stare incredulously at it for a few moments. “…I guess that’s true?”

“You guess,” Mila laughs.

Yuuri doesn’t have to put up with this. “Please,” he says. “Tell him?”

Yuuko’s murmured addition from the opposite side of the room is playful, fond. “That’s all you want to say?”

“That’s all I want to say… tonight.”

“I’ll tell him,” Mila replies, not unkindly. “Also. For the sake of spying on my rinkmate and Russia’s most famous man, when you and Viktor are together—“

Yuuri doesn’t have to put up with this.

“The password to Viktor’s phone,” Yuuri interrupts, “I know it.” This probably isn’t even a lie.

Really?” She’s delighted. “I’d love to—“

“Have a nice night, Mila,” Yuuri concludes calmly, and hangs up. Then all he’s left with the dimness of the room, the soft hum of Sochi outside. Yuuko, tsking in the doorway with a smile.

“She adores us, you know. Though I think she’s a bigger fan of Sara.”

“Mmm. It’s just—I need to talk to Viktor.” Just two days ago, he’d spent a whole hour in Viktor’s arms, and somehow that had made the craving worse, left him parched and longing.

Love can be too powerful, sometimes. Love has been dominating him, forcing him to his knees, but this is just because Yuuri has been straining to keep it close to his chest, rather than letting it go free.

He’s ready to let everything go.

“I don’t have long hair anymore,” he says. “How are we supposed to do our nightly ritual now?” She sits on the edge of the bed, right next to his hip. Runs a hand through his hair to fluff it, to push it up and away from his eyes. He raises an eyebrow at her, challenges her to admit the look is silly. Like he knew she would, she giggles. Bright.

With this Yuuri is confident, sated and calm, lets the feeling ease out along with their aching muscles as they do loose stretches on the floor. Feels it, warm and filling, when they share late night tea.

The feeling of confidence. Confidence in one thing: it’s never just been about their hair. The hair, or the skating, or even holding onto home. Yuuko and Yuuri, Yuuri and Yuuko, the two kids that won’t quit. That don’t want it to end here.

Never give up on what you love, that’s what Yuuko means to him.

When he closes his eyes that night, he dreams of Viktor, skating in the dark—the blue and purple of the rink, his hair shimmering silver. Arms outstretched towards Yuuri.

Never give up on what you love, what you love, who you love.

Yuuri won’t. 


 

Despite everything—or maybe because of it—Yuuri sleeps in.

His dreams are so full of Viktor, he half expects to wake up to silken hair and broad shoulders in his bed—he could almost swear he feels it, that whisper of warmth left behind by another body.

But no. Viktor isn’t here. Viktor isn’t his—not yet.

Apparently, half of the internet disagrees.

Scrambling for his pathetically buzzing phone, Yuuri silences Twitter, flinging the notifications from his screen, heads straight for his texts.

Mari

Why have three reporters called me about you and Viktor?

They seem surprised to find out you’re pledging yourself to him

I could’ve broken this story ten years ago, is this supposed to be news?

Yuuri quickly backs out of that conversation. Looks for the number he needs to see. Looks and prays and—

Nothing.

His stomach drops, leaves him in lurching vertigo.

Just strained texts from months ago— the cracks in their foundation.

And one long text:

Yuuko

About the exhibition skate today…

Knocking on her door is futile. She’s already at the rink. For a moment, with his hand on the wood of her door and a restless fear of being late, he almost forgets.

Vicchan. The free skate. His failure. God, the press conference.

Yuuri won’t be showing at the exhibition in his own slot. Strange, after so many years. Should he attend, much less do what Yuuko’s asked? After the grand mess he’s made, showing his face seems foolishly arrogant.

But Viktor is skating. Yuuri would never miss a chance to see Viktor skating in person, will never again miss a chance to support his best friend.

So on goes his cold mask, and a pair of pants Yuuko and Phichit had gifted him, a sweater he’d worn on one of his and Viktor’s outings over the years. Always so blue, Yuuri? He is his own man, Katsuki Yuuri to the core, burrowed safe deep inside himself—now he’s shielded in these pieces of other people. His mother’s cheeks and father’s steady fingers, Minako’s light grace in his step.

The costume, the simple one he’d thought he would never wear, is stuffed into the bottom of his skate bag.

As he goes, he calls Mari to check in on Vicchan.

“He’s doing better,” Mari says, quietly. “Don’t get your hopes up, but the vet says he’s through the worst.

And then, because he can’t put it off any longer, he calls Hiroko.

“Mom,” he says, frame bowed, eyes on the cloud-silver sky, “I’m sorry. I messed up. It’s going to be a bit longer until I come home.”

 


 

Yuuri arrives at the rink, unsure of what to do with himself—but there’s a spot at Celestino’s side. His coach’s surprise doesn’t quite hide itself, but he pats his student on the back, once. “Glad to see you out today, Yuuri.”

“Mm.”

“An hour, before Yuuko’s up.” Longer, until Viktor takes the ice.

Yuuri expects the fellow skaters in the stands to at least pass him questioning, pitying looks—last place at the GPF, ridiculous enough to confess to Viktor Nikiforov on international television—but only a few make wide, awed eye contact before ducking away.

Then, Yuuko is hanging over the barrier, thirty feet away, red-rimmed eyes still so bright. This GPF has been her reaching the mountain’s peak and falling from its sheer cliffs all at once.

“Yuuri,” she calls. “Come on.”

He’d accepted, over text. He should have known she wouldn’t let him back out.

“Is this what the change in program music at the last minute was about?” Celestino questions.

Any answer to that will be woefully inadequate to explain, exactly, what this whole situation is about. Yuuri stands, swings his skate bag over his shoulder, and heads to the locker room.

 


 

Strictly speaking, he and Yuuko have never rehearsed this, but it’s been their go-to in practice for over a decade now.

He’s already exposed everything he has to the world, for just a fleeting chance that it would bring Viktor into his arms and keep him there. What’s one more admission?

The music comes on, he and Yuuko out on that ice together, like they always have been. All it takes is a few chords for the seasoned fans to begin to scream.

Viktor Nikiforov’s first world-record breaking performance, reworked as a pair skate.

Triple axels in tandem, step sequences flashing, laughing in the middle of a performance. The only break in the push and pull of it all, that seamless rhythm, is in the lead-up to the triple flip.

Yuuko veers, skates singing, twirls behind to give him enough room to—ah.

He lands it, clean, pressure sparking beneath his skates rather than weighing on his shoulders.

His free skate had been a scream in an empty, collapsing room—and this, this is him climbing atop that rubble, jumping to airy freedom, Yuuko’s hand pulling him to his feet. This is how he should have skated, to say what he needed to say.

To Viktor.

There’s cheers, and raucous screaming, a million pairs of eyes— and Yuuri isn’t even sure if Viktor has seen.

In fact, Viktor is nowhere—not in the stands, when Yuuri sweeps them with his eyes as he and Yuuko exit, waving. Not in the skater-only area, where he nervously darts through, Yuuko at his elbow.

“Yuuri,” she says, her voice forcefully calm, despite the trembling joy in her fingers, the bounce in her step as she tugs him back to the stands, places him beside Celestino. “You’re going to see him. Soon.” Yuuri’s only ever been looking at him, for him. When he finally sees him, it shouldn’t be a surprise: Viktor, taking the ice.

So familiar, and so uncertain, his heart pressing its fears and hopes loudly into his ears, body awash in light and excitement.

Will you skate for me?

The first few notes of Stammi vicino ring out—nothing has changed.

Yet when piano joins the violin and a deep, rich tenor joins the lone voice—oh, everything does.

Everything.

Viktor receives a standing ovation, and even Yuuri manages to take his feet, clapping hands stinging, awed tears blurring the shining lights, the blue ice. So many years of never speaking, so many skates that failed to bridge the gap. But this—just this. The confusions clear to reveal an uncertain, open future.

Yuuri is still terrified of the unknown, but if there was ever anything worth fear and sacrifice and hope, it’s Viktor.

Mine, Yuuri thinks. God, he wants to be mine.

 


 

Over his lifetime of training to be a professional skater, Yuuri has run thousands of miles. Slow ones, at the beginning. Huffing and puffing on pudgy legs, his sister blinking at him each time he circled back to the onsen’s front, pausing in her sweeping to sleepily smile, hesitant but encouraging. Miles at sunset, after a disappointing day in the studio. Miles in the dead of night, sneaking out of his bed, the glossy eyes of Viktor Nikiforovs the only ones on him, Vicchan bounding at his heels. Miles in the afternoon with Phichit and Yuuko, going until they weren’t sure if the stitches in their sides were from the running or the laughter.

Miles in the early morning, Viktor’s voice soft in his ear, sharing their day.

Because they shared everything. Everything, except for those important things, those vital things, those shards of secrets embedded in the heart.

These few steps he’s running now are the most important.

He reaches the rink’s exit before Viktor does, chest empty and straining for breath.

“I saw,” Viktor calls, face alight and still so careful, sweeping towards him, “Yuuri, I kept my eyes on you, did you watch—“

It’s not a kiss, but from the audience reaction, it may as well be. A hug, as he tackles him down onto the ice, twisting them midair so he takes the brunt, freezing blow of the ice on his back. Yuuri forgets to mind his head.

Viktor cradles it for him. Clings to him, tight, warm, both their chests heaving.

“I see you,” Yuuri breathes, “I see you, Viktor, you’re so beautiful—“

“You said you’d been skating for me,” Viktor says, “I wanted to do the same. To be where you were.”

To meet Yuuri where he was.

As though Viktor was the one who had to catch up. As though Viktor was the one who had just failed spectacularly at the Grand Prix Final, rather than Viktor having to slow down, to turn around, to reach below his podium.

But this isn’t about the podium, or the glinting of gold, or the screaming crowd. This is about Yuuri and Viktor, Viktor and Yuuri—everything is about sharing the heat in their hearts, the ice beneath their feet.

And everything on the ice is love.

Yuuri doesn’t have to be perfect. He just has to summon that infinity of love and desire and stupid, unstoppable stubbornness within him—to try.

“You are where I am,” Yuuri says, and pulls Viktor’s hand to his chest. To his frantic, hopeful pulse. “Here. Always.”

In his eyes. In every motion of his hands, his blades. In his heart.

Viktor’s face, that beautiful collection of color, curving up, up, into a smile—all jarring joy.

On the ice, together, they are love.


After that, it’s like the noisy bustle of Sochi’s great ice skating stadium has become the ocean, in Hasetsu. Ever present, breezes and the lapping of waves echoing throughout the town—but quiet. Dazed and peaceful.

After the exhibition skate, Viktor holds his hand.

They’re mobbed by the press, who Yuuri thinks should’ve had their fill of him by now. Surely, after his press conference last night, they already have plenty of material to work with.

“Viktor! Does this mean you have a more concrete answer to the question, ‘what will you do next?’” A journalist exclaims, microphone weaving in front of their footsteps. “Both with skating, and with Katsuki?” At least three more breathless, heaving questions follow this.

It’s all noise, so mild compared to Viktor’s hand in his own, this feeling that’s going to shake the world apart.

“We’re working on it,” Viktor says. “You can imagine that our last twenty-four hours have required us to live in the present, and not the future.”

The onslaught doesn’t stop, not even as they reach a cab where Yakov sits in the front, scowling; in the back, Yuri Plisetsky catches a whiff of the press and of them—a unit—and sours. Viktor sluices the questions off, holds the door open for Yuuri to clamber through.

But one question is thrown between him and the leather of the cab’s backseat.

“How long,” is all the reporter asks, “how long have you been skating for him? A year? Two?”

Yuuri’s publicist had always told him to answer questions with questions, if you wanted to really intrigue the public. Watching interviews stampede past him, crushing the things he meant, Yuuri had always felt too clumsy for wordplay. He speaks the truth, and that’s all. So that’s what he does here.

“What year,” he begins, “was Yuuko’s exhibition skate originally from?”

The reporter’s face folds—a tabloid reporter, then. Here for the scandals; not for the skating. She knows about Viktor’s supposed ex-lovers, but not his programs. Not Viktor. Another journalist steps in, eager to try and supply what she lacks.

“That! That was from Nikiforov’s debut back in—“

“That was a rhetorical question,” Yuuri murmurs, and climbs into the taxi.

I already know the answer.

Moments later, Viktor settles in beside him, and they’re sealed off from the swallowing world.


The cab hits a pothole. The miniscule spaces between his and Viktor’s fingers sew shut, automatically bracing. Yuuri’s confessed to him on international television and in a stadium filled with millions of people, and Viktor—Viktor has confessed back.

All they’re missing are the actual words.

Well, that and a bit of privacy.

“I thought nothing was worse than skating without quads that I can already do,” Yuri Plisetsky snarls, “but clearly I was wrong. So you and Asada are what, best friends?”

“Yes?”

“She’s too good for you anyways!”

Yuuri pauses, shifts awkwardly in his seat. “…yes.”

“Why would the second-most idiotic skater in the world throw this shitshow off and on the ice during a GPF that was supposed to be his?!”

“I… who’s the first?” This conversation is making his head hurt. “And do you always talk about Viktor like this?”

Viktor is the most idiotic skater,” Yurio snaps.  “You’re the second-most! The silver medalist. Congratulations. Let me put something heavy around your neck, and then I’ll show you the Black Sea.”

“Yuri,” Viktor sighs, and that’s not fair, those syllables are supposed to belong to Yuuri, not a hissing fourteen-year-old. “Are you so frightened of Yuuri’s talent that you’ll drown him before facing him in Seniors?”

“Scared my ass, after disappointing everyone today he should—“ a Russian swear, Yuuri notes vaguely, “retire. And then you can stop fawning over him, and choreograph a Senior debut for me!”

Retire.

As though he could. Yuuri is greedy, stubborn and tireless, willing to pay any price, suffer any embarrassment, to keep his loves. Skating, Yuuko, Phichit, dance, and…

Yuuri hasn’t looked at him, not once, since they entered the car. It feels like an impossible effort, Herculean—if he looks, will it truly be Viktor holding his hand? Yuuri’s Viktor? All Yuuri’s ever allowed himself is looking—besides two days ago, and that night. And that night, Viktor rejected him.

Or did he? Has he ever?

Yuuri’s spent so long living in a reality where Viktor rejected him that even now, knowing it’s Viktor’s knee gently brushing against his in the cab, Viktor’s fingers gripping his own, Viktor who now leans and rests his forehead against the soft, inky mess of Yuuri’s hair—

“I’ve been waiting to see you smile.” Viktor’s voice, against the shell of his ear.

Yuuri’s been smiling, ever since Plisetsky underestimated the lengths he’d go to.

Yuuri turns, fiercely presses his forehead to Viktor’s own, that startled spark arcing up between them. To take every liberty beyond looking that he can, to ravage and burn, to build up something that’s spent so long hoping.

“I’ve been waiting for you to smile.”

A sputtering, still-beautiful laugh. “I’ve been smiling since last night.”

There’s a flicker of it, deep in Viktor’s eyes, but Yuuri knows his lips are lying.

He pulls back, looks at his lap, squeezes Viktor’s hand. “Not like that,” he says, softly, “I want you to really smile.”

They need words for this, too. This knot they’ve made of their relationship that still sits, aching, where Yuuri’s heart should be. The tension he can feel in Viktor, too. Overjoyed, but unsteady. Yuuri made a mistake—but Yuuri’s made millions of those, before. There’s no one better at making silly mistakes than Yuuri—and no one more practiced at recovering from them.

“I’m going to throw myself from this car,” Plisetsky announces. Yakov soundlessly goes for the master door lock switch, and does not turn around.

The hotel looks just the same as when they left it.

When they get out, Yakov takes Viktor by the shoulder, the same one Yuuri is next to.

“Don’t you need to get ready for the banquet?”

“Ah, Yakov—“

“You usually spend hours preparing, won’t listen to a single word I say, and now that you finally are able to look your best for him rather than just in front of him, you want to attend in your sweaty exhibition costume?”

The dusting of pink on Viktor’s cheeks is enough for Yuuri’s hand to loosen, Yakov’s tone enough for him to understand.

If he wants to talk to Viktor, he should speak to Yakov first.

Viktor goes, albeit hesitantly. They’ve been separated for years; they can wait a few hours more. Especially if those few hours mean Yakov’s blessing, which Viktor might force himself not to care about…

But Yuuri doesn’t want Viktor to have to force anything, not anymore.

Yurio stomps off, and then it’s just Yakov—bundled and grim, judging and harsh. And they walk.

Yuuri is just surprised that Viktor actually left.

“Vitya might choose to ignore most everything that I say,” Yakov grunts, “but I couldn’t be a successful coach to him without knowing how to appeal to the side of him that still desires things. If I meddle and he resists, he at least knows that I have in mind what’s best for him. Whether he rebels against it or not.”

The snow crunches beneath their feet, a soft blanketing made rough by freezing wind. Sochi is cold beauty and falling from grace—someday, Sochi will be snowmelt. A cool, hesitant spring.

“I don’t really know…how to convince you,” Yuuri says. “That the one true thing— among all the lies and press and everything else— is that I’ve been skating for him.”

Yakov turns, and his eyes—they’re blue.

Not Yuuri’s blue—Viktor’s eyes are his favorite color—but surprisingly blue, nonetheless.

“Explain, Katsuki,” Yakov says grimly. “Just try.”

Yuuri summons that reserve inside him, all that love and hope—exposes himself, no matter his fear—and tries.

 


 

Yuuko’s banquet dress is a swirling watercolor of pastels—blue, purple, pink.

“Save a dance for me,” she laughs, arms above her head, a twirl that belongs on the ice rather than on the worn carpet of Yuuri’s hotel room.

“Although I’d love a dance where everyone isn’t drooling over our ‘romance,’ we all know you’ll be too busy dancing with Sara to pay me any mind,” Yuuri retorts with a grin. Yuuko just shakes her head. Oh. A lot has been happening; not every relationship can survive horrendous press, an intense international competition, and a fake romance—especially one that’s breaking down. “Are you and Sara…”

“Just save it for me,” she insists, “before you run off with Viktor again.”

Yuuri is laughing before he even realizes it, soft and disbelieving.

“We’re not running away,” he says, “never again. From now on, I’m only going to run towards him.”

 


 

Yuuri may not belong at this banquet—last place by a hundred points is hardly worth celebration, in most people’s eyes—but Viktor is here.

Yuuri grabs one, just one, flute of champagne and downs it. His skating, his secrets, his public image, were already destroyed yesterday. He doesn’t need alcohol to dilute his pride, to dilute his fear, so that he can say what he’s really thinking.

Yuuri doesn’t have anything to lose.

So he walks past wide eyes and mouths, harried whispering behind hands, right up to the person he’s looking for.

“Yuri Plisetsky,” he says, “I have a proposal.”

Ah. Maybe he shouldn’t have used the word proposal—Viktor’s cheeks pink, eyes going wide and vulnerable. But surely Viktor wouldn’t think of that, not when they’ve barely…

Yuuri’s been thinking it, though. Just thinking about it—in that vague, dreamlike way, all desire and no certainty, not yet.

Viktor, his, for all of their lives. No matter the mess that Yuuri has made of them.

“You said I should retire. Beat me, and I will. But if I win… you and Yakov give Viktor a break after Worlds. Before he choreographs for your Senior debut.”

Plisetsky is just staring at him, mouth twitching, pride and fury clearly too much to contain in his graceful, pixie-like stature.

“Fine, you idiot!” Yuri readily agrees—Yakov looks like he’d rather not. “You’ll be sorry, when I whip your pathetic self in…” There’s a pause. “Are we skating, Katsuki, or what?”

“There’s no rink here,” Yuuri says, “don’t be ridiculous.” He takes a step back towards the floor. “We’re having a dance-off, Plisetsky.”

 


 

It’s been so long since he danced with Viktor that he’d forgotten.

This is what it was like, to have the person you loved in your arms, heartbeats in time with each other and the music. This is dancing.

Yuuri’s body still remembers, intrinsic, the way it feels to have Viktor’s hand on his shoulder. Their breaths, in that ever-smaller space between them.

He dips Viktor, and the way his back arches, his leg raises up, head thrown back, his whole self surrendering—Viktor remembers, too. He remembers a late-night ballet session in Quebec, mirrors and red curtains pooling, two people balanced on the cusp of understanding: this is love.

It had been love for Viktor, too, and through dance Yuuri knows. That he’s loved and been loved, for years, is suddenly an intrinsic truth of the world.

Viktor tilts his head up, slow, the vulnerable line of his throat still so close. His forehead presses to Yuuri’s, both sweat-slick and shaking, blue eyes lidded low.

“You’re…”

“In love with you,” Yuuri whispers, because truths should be told. “Yes.”

And there, in his face, is that vulnerability again. That burning, intent hope. A reflection of everything Yuuri has felt, their feelings matched.

“I wasn't sure. I didn't know.”

“You do now. I’m sorry you had to wait so long.”

“If not for you, I might have waited my whole life, Yuuri.”

They rebalance, and Viktor smiles.

“I can’t wait,” he says, “to take the podium with you.”

Never give up on what you love, that’s Yuuko.

But you don’t have to fight alone, trust yourself, you don’t have to be perfect, you are so loved: these are Viktor. These are what Viktor means to him, what he wants to mean to Viktor too.

Viktor still believes in him, in his skating, and always will.

“Well,” comes a new voice, one that seems far too knowing. “Wasn’t that romantic. Hardly the steamy, catty affair the tabloids broadcasted, no?”

A pinch, and Yuuri is certain of who it is.

“Hi, Christophe.”

“Everything good here, cherie?” That’s directed at Viktor.

“Amazing,” Viktor replies, eyes shining.

“Yuuri’s danced with two gold medalists tonight—I think it only fair that the temporary silver medalist get a turn. Come along, darling.”

Yuuri almost wants to protest—but that look, in Viktor’s eyes. There are still things left unsaid. This, at least, is guaranteed to give Viktor a bit of joy.

 “Your instructor in Detroit and I were once on very close terms, Yuuri. Why don’t we try some special dancing?”

“I—is that a pole?”

Wow,” Viktor breathes, and oh, god, no.

But he’s already decided. For Viktor, Yuuri will do anything.

 


 

Perhaps it was a bad idea to leave his trousers with Viktor. At his side, Plisetsky is still fluffed up with rage and determination.

“You have to put them back on?” Viktor whispers.

“Yes! Don’t—“ Luckily, Viktor isn’t that tall. Yuuri reclaims them.

“I have so many ideas for programs, I want us to—“

Plisetsky scowls. “Well, isn’t that nice. So many programs and not enough competitions to use them in before you keel over—why don’t you hand one to me?”

Yuuri rounds on him, even though he’s still struggling with the buttons on his dress pants and that’s probably not very intimidating. “I won the dance-off, didn’t I? After Worlds, if he wants it, you’ll give Viktor a proper break.”

“A break? He doesn’t even know what the word vacation means, it’s always crosstraining this and staying at the rink till 8pm that!”

“There are things,” Yuuri finally manages, even as he’s rapidly realizing he doesn’t want to voice them in front of the gathering crowd of nosy skaters, “that Viktor could do. For example, I—I’m going back home. To my family’s resort, in Japan.” He meets Viktor’s eye. “To show them my gold medal, from Worlds.”

“Oh hell—“ interrupts Plisetsky, but Yuuri speaking is a train wreck and he’s crashing, crashing, he can’t stop and he doesn’t want to.

“You should come, Viktor,” he says. “If that’s what you want. Come and work on those programs with me.”

A little gasp-- just a intake of surprised air, Viktor's eyes sparkling-- and Yuuri is allowed to dream. “You inspired them.” His face is warm wonder. “It’s only right to work on them together.”

Promise and hope, crystallizing, becoming reality.

Viktor doesn’t say a word more, so Yuuri leans, fills in the space, takes his hand. “Oh. Yuri, even though I beat you, you’re welcome to join us for a little, too. Yuuko may be there—I know you admire her.”

“Ah,” Yuuko laughs, “it’s not me, you know.”

“What?”

“Yuuri, I can’t believe I used to have the best blackmail on you, and now I have nothing in comparison to everyone at this banquet.”

“Oh god, don’t remind me.”

“We’d better hope nobody gets their grubby little hands on my laptop without asking.”

He’d complain, but she’s already shaking hands with Viktor Nikiforov and pulling him off to the floor.

“One dance,” she says, “you promised. One dance, before I hand you over to Viktor Nikiforov and you disappear from my life for five years.”

He twirls her, once. “I’m never going to do that.”

“Oh? I feel like you might have, in the past. I’d have understood. I was always glad you stayed in Detroit, you know.”

Thank god for a lifetime of ballet—he doesn’t even stumble.

“Where would I have gone?”

“Oh, I don’t know… Russia?”

Yuuri scoffs, and then thinks about what he would have done if Viktor had asked, had hinted, had so much as blinked at him in a way that offered.

He'd have packed up all his belongings and flown, no regrets. He's not sure, at first, that he could have looked back.

“I might have,” Yuuri admits. “I wouldn’t disappear now. You’re so important to me, Yuuko, and I’m not—we go for our dreams, together. I know, even if I never achieve my dream, that you’ll always support me. And I’ll support you.”

Even if he leaves—if Viktor asks him—Yuuri will stay in contact. He’s not going to disappear.

They’ve settled into simple steps. The music is slow, the crowd around them focused on their partners—not Yuuri and Yuuko, Yuuko and Yuuri, the romance that’s never been.

“We’re here,” says Yuuko, and squeezes his shoulder, grins up at him. “And we always will be. You’re my best friend.”

Yuuri won’t cry, can’t cry, shouldn’t—but he is. “You’re mine, too.”

“I’ll see you back in Detroit. For training. And vegetables—so many vegetables.” He nudges sadly at her foot, and she giggles. “What, it’s the truth!”

“We’ll give it our all. I’ll get gold at Worlds,” Yuuri promises, “and we’ll bring our golds home.” She deposits him back into Viktor Nikiforov’s waiting arms, and he knows.

He came in last place at this GPF, but there’s so much he’s already won.

Katsuki Yuuri’s career isn’t over yet.

 


 

They’ve already run away together from one banquet—it doesn’t bear repeating. This time, when everything winds to its natural close, they leave together. Hand in hand. Plisetsky huffs at them, Christophe winks, and Sara and Yuuko look on from where they are delicately, carefully dancing.

The elevator ride is exactly what all of the other elevator rides should have been.

“Which floor,” Viktor gasps between kisses—Yuuri lets Viktor start them all. The question is irrelevant—the small of his back has already lit up the wall, pressed into the rows of buttons by Yuuri’s roaming hands.

“Mm, Vikt—there—no, no, not my floor. Which floor are you?”

Viktor pulls back, still punch-drunk and liquid in Yuuri’s hands. “Sixth floor. Why my room?”

My hotel room will have a Twitter account with a million followers sleeping in it.”

Two more kisses, from Viktor. “Yuuko has—?”

“Phichit Chulanont,” Yuuri explains through gritted teeth, then rolls his hips, and god he does not want to be saying his best friend’s name in the middle of this. “My—ahh— roommate from Detroit? We like to bring him along. You’ve met him.”

Viktor’s already flush with color, but he goes darker. “I thought you lived with Yuuko.”

Yuuri jams the button for the sixth floor with his thumb, hits the 10th floor button with it. “What? Why would you… we weren’t going to—to play house for the press,” he pants, “she was our neighbor, Viktor.”

“You were just always in her room, so I thought—“

He looks like he’s about to bite his lip, so Yuuri thumbs at it instead. Gently.

“Fake.” The reminder is practically breathed into Viktor’s mouth. “Fake. Relationship. I wasn’t in her room on purpose, I just didn’t want to Skype from mine because…” he buries his face in Viktor’s shoulder, confesses into the clean silken lines of his suit. “I had so many posters of you. Embarrassing.”

The elevator dings. Yuuri feels terrible for the next person to get on it, but he tugs Viktor out into the hall, waits. The doors slide shut behind them, and they’re still alone.

“There’s so much,” Viktor whispers, “that I misunderstood. Enough that it makes things hard to believe, I— I can’t even begin to untangle it all in my head. I pride myself on being perceptive, and still… I suspected it was fake at first. But I was so terrified of hearing that you loved her, that you'd never consider being with me, that I couldn't even really bring myself to ask. Then, suddenly, everywhere I turned, there you were— together and happy. All those times. Times where you had to have been talking about Yuuko, times when you rejected me, those all happened.”

There’s a reason Viktor can’t let everything go.

"I love her like a sister, Viktor. That's all." Yuuri swallows, blinks back tears. His lips are bruised with kisses, now, to match his heart. “Besides, I am—or I was— pretty sure you were the one rejecting me.”

Viktor starts, turning to grip Yuuri’s hand. “How could I— Yuuri.”

“I mean,” Yuuri begins, feeling a babble begin to come on, hand coming up and jerking defensively, “I see now that it was because you thought I was with Yuuko, that’s understandable. Me not telling you was wrong, nothing can excuse it, I'm so sorry, Viktor, I just…”

They stare at each other. But they’ve done enough of that—now is the time to move.

“Come on,” he says, “Viktor. We need to talk.”

 


 

Viktor’s room is spacious, suits hung up carefully on the rack, travel bottles of his hair regimen stacked neatly on the marble tub’s rim.

Flitting over to a dresser, coffeemaker and hot water heater perched atop it, Viktor wordlessly fusses with cups and packets while Yuuri toes off his dress shoes. Looks for slippers, before he realizes there won’t be any.

“Tea?”

Yuuri shakes his head. “No, thank you.”

“Is the temperature all right in here?” Yuuri’s lips, his whole body, are still burning. It’d be impossible to tell.

“I’m fine.” He takes a few steps in, looks at the carpet.

“Wonderful.” Pulling off his vest, Viktor moves to the window.

When it comes, there’s little warning.

“The Olympics,” Viktor begins. “After the aquarium. When you told me your commercial was a message to me about you and Yuuko, and how in love you were, and that I needed to back off and be your friend.”

The Olympics? The Olympics where Yuuri had tried to tell him that every single word he’d spoken in that now-viral commercial about love was actually…

No,” Yuuri sputters, “Viktor, god, no. I was trying to confess to you! That whole commercial, from my end, was about you. I’m so sorry I never told you we weren’t really dating—I thought you knew. I thought everyone in the skating world knew. I was so wrapped up in my shame and insecurity that I couldn’t bear to bring it up. I couldn’t say a convincing word in that commercial’s interview unless I thought about…”

Flushing and still so stubborn, he ducks his head in the other man’s direction.

Me?”

Nodding is nausea. Yuuri’s arms crossing, his eyes squeezing tightly shut. “Does it bother you?” He manages to ask, hushed, the black of his field of vision his only comfort. “That I’ve wanted you for that long?”

Slowly, too slowly, Viktor shakes his head.

“I wanted you then. But in Fukuoka… when you kissed me, after you already knew I wanted you so much, you said it could be—“ Viktor nearly hiccups the next word, hands trembling where they’re laced behind his back, “—casual.”

Yuuri’s stomach drops. “I’d never—“ But no. Yuuri had proposed that, as a last-ditch scramble for his pride while Viktor rejected him. Of course Viktor didn’t have to love him—Yuuri had already thought that was impossible—he just had to want to kiss him. For a moment he’d thought that if Viktor could want Yuuri, for even a few hours, it’d be enough. Yuuri’s prideful, but he’s not stupid enough to lie. “I said it,” he agrees, voice trembling. “But that’s not what I wanted.”

Viktor swallows. “It seems like there’s a lot you claim to have wanted, but never said. Are you sure?”

Claimed? Is Yuuri sure?

Yuuri was a fool, true, but at least he was a genuine one.

“Who would fake love, Viktor? Why would anyone…” But this is his Viktor. His Viktor, smiling like there’s a hole in his heart. “I wouldn’t pretend to love you. Yuuko and I—that was an accident we couldn’t escape, something we agreed on together. Look around: there’s no press here. Just us. And… you shouldn’t have fake any emotions, either.”

“I’d never—“ Viktor starts, but all it takes is a leveling stare.

They were best friends. Yuuri knows him.

“Don’t. You’re beautiful no matter what, Viktor, but I see how hard you work sometimes to be someone you’re not.”

“So when you said you needed space, after all of that…”

 “You’re the one who said what we had wasn’t love and that my crush was ruining your perfect life.” Yuuri ignores the burning in his throat, the things that want to pour out of his mouth, the sorry and please and I love you, I’ve always loved you, I want you to be the one I always say goodnight to. “In Fukuoka, you were the most important person to me. You’d already rejected me twice, and I still loved you, couldn’t stop. I wanted to hold on to our friendship, to let you come to me as you were. I—I didn’t want to lose you.”

The bed creaks, when Viktor tenderly sits on it. He cradles his face in both hands, and Yuuri gets to watch him breathe.

In. Out. There’s something brokenly peaceful in it. Resigned.

Then, quietly, comes that deep voice: “I meant your perfect life.”

Nothing makes any sense.

“Mine?” Yuuri whispers, and comes to sit beside him, to pull each pale finger from his face, to kiss the tears away, if Viktor will let him. “You have to talk to me. Viktor, please. We’ve spent years saying everything but this.”

Viktor breathes, one last time. Looks at the window, as though there’s someone out there he can drive away. Like Viktor can’t bear to look at Yuuri.

Or be looked at. Seen.

“For so long,” he says, “I couldn’t tell what you wanted me to be to you. It seemed like every role in your life was filled—you had the perfect lover, a successful coach who loved you all like family, a best friend who lived next door instead of a world away. You had sponsors and fans, step sequences and the support of your entire country. When long hair no longer worked for my image, I cut it, and there you were—topknots and private smiles with Yuuko. You even had… had my quadruple flip. There was no place for me, except as an old idol for you to knock off the podium.” He makes a noise low in his throat, bows his head. “I thought you had love, whereas I didn’t and never would, and it made me…”

A perfect life.

Viktor thought Yuuri had it all. Years, and they’d held up each other’s public images like they were real, like Viktor and Yuuri weren’t always calling to talk in the dark of the night or the early glow of the morning, like they couldn’t be close enough.

They’re still not close enough.

“My quadruple flip was for you. Everything,” he takes a deep breath, “it was for you.”

Viktor’s voice is even, but Yuuri can see the trembling of his hands, takes them in his own with all the courage he can summon. “You said that in the press conference. I wasn’t sure, with all our history, if you meant… Now, even knowing all of that, I still don’t know what I have to give you, Yuuri. If you tell me what you want me to be to you, I’ll do my best. Let me try, I swear— I will make your life even happier. You deserve to be happy. To love and be loved. You deserve everything.”

This takes a moment, to sink in. When it does, he can feel his response, smoldering deep in his chest.

Love isn’t some kind of trade. Love isn’t what he had with Yuuko for the public—playing a role for a million eyes, the approval of sponsors or coaches. Love is so much more. Power and sacrifice, yearning and letting go, appreciating things both temporary and lifelong. He’s spent years in a heartbreaking dance with Viktor, spinning away and coming back together over and over again.

Now, Yuuri just wants him close.

“You never needed to fill a role with me!” Yuuri bursts, feeling the tears welling in his eyes. “I want you as you are! As Viktor! Just… come to me as you are, and I’ll love you.” He shudders, buries his face in his arm, feels the tears wet his sleeve. “I’ll love you, Viktor. Always.”

For so long, he’s been scared to look Viktor in the eye. He does it now— stubbornly, firmly. Viktor’s so picturesque, all paleness with pleasing streaks of colors. Sharp blue eyes, a rosy blush that starts low in his neck and creeps up to his cheeks. Does it start over his heart? Yuuri doesn’t know. Yuuri wants to know.

Yuuri’s not sure he’ll ever know, not yet.

“I’m the one you want,” Viktor says, sounding firm but looking dazed, eyes far away. Yuuri doesn’t think it’s a question, but he answers anyway, squeezes Viktor’s fingers gently to bring him back.

“Yes. You, Viktor.” Rejection, failure, is the monster that always carves away at Yuuri’s heart and eats it. But it is Yuuri’s turn to hurt, to offer himself up. “I’ve spent so many years being silent and stupid and stubborn—hurting you. Will I make you happy? Even if I give you a press barrage and, well, me?” He closes his eyes, and the last words slide out so easily; truth is here, in the room with them, finally. “You’re the one that deserves everything, Viktor.”

A perfect life. The best life. Every happiness in the world.

“Whether I deserve everything or not,” Viktor says, “all I want is you.”

Yuuri has never felt capable of much. But this—this, he can give.

“Viktor.” He pulls on Viktor’s fingers, long and smooth, leads the dance he’s about to begin. Their dance, one they’ve never done before. That’s all it takes for Viktor to lean in, helpless and yet so sure. “I feel like I should ask, this time. Can I?”

Viktor’s lips, those of the man he’s always watched, so determined and so casually careless, at times. It occurs to Yuuri that he hasn’t spent a day without thinking of Viktor Nikiforov, not a single day in over ten years.

The things he thinks about now are different than they were ten years ago. Different than even five years ago, three years ago. When he was younger, at the cusp of puberty, he wondered how Viktor’s lips would taste, how warm he’d be to the touch. How quickly he’d pull away. Whether, when he left, if a strand of hair would be abandoned as a memento on Yuuri’s jacket, his cologne in the air with all the crisp, empty glory of a snowstorm that had long-ago passed.

Now. Now, he wonders how Viktor will melt. Viktor, Viktor, his Viktor—if he’ll give that small smile against his lips that Yuuri’s seen a handful of times, unconsciously delighted. If he’ll sigh, like he has when they streamed a skating competition together once, and their shared admiration for the beauty of it all was in perfect harmony.

When he pulls away, will he beam? With a heart-shaped smile, and palms seeking touch anywhere and everywhere on Yuuri’s body? If Viktor has wanted—no, if he’s wanted like Yuuri’s wanted—please want like I want, please Viktor

“Kiss me,” Viktor whispers.

Please be mine.

And Viktor is, oh, he is.

 


 There is something that Viktor learned, a long, long time ago. Before half of his universes came to be. You trade life and love and passion for shining lights and skill and ice; you trade shining lights and skill and ice for gold; you trade gold for fame and fortune.

You do all of that, and you just want the life and love and passion again.

But all the fame and fortune in the world can’t be traded back for what you might have had in the first place.

Please, Viktor had thought, for years, eyes trained on the back of a man who had so much. Please, let me gain something valuable enough, powerful enough, to trade for his love. Anything.

His aging body. His time.

But he should have known Yuuri’s love was priceless; he’d take those things, but he cost more. He wants nothing and everything from Viktor: a glimpse of his soul.

“Love’s not a trade,” Yuuri murmurs, quiet and reverent, when they’re wrapped up in each other’s arms. Viktor’s hotel room is dark; outside the curtains on their window, snowflake shadows fall in front of streetlamp glow.

As long as you try, it just is.


 

Viktor, with charm and his much better grasp of the Russian language, works with the airport and reroutes Yuuri’s trip so it passes through Japan. Just for a few days—enough to see Vicchan. Enough to say hello, and maybe goodbye.

Yuuri’s not going to miss that chance.

This is all done in bed, Yuuri’s head pillowed on Viktor’s chest as he drifts in and out of sleep.

He finally wakes up to Viktor’s eyes on him, dry but dreaming, heartbreakingly blue.

“Good morning.” This is what Viktor’s breath feels like, the sound of his heartbeat, steady under Yuuri’s ear. “Something on your mind, Viktor?”

“Yes.” He pulls Yuuri’s face in with gentle hands, even though he doesn’t need them—Yuuri is helpless to do anything but meet him for a kiss. “You. And the way that you’re here with me.”

“Mm hmm.”

“How we’re going to Skype when you go back to Detroit, and I’ll still get to see this bedhead in the morning—except now I’ll know how it feels.”

“Every day,” Yuuri promises. “And before I get back to Detroit, you can Skype with my poodle.”

“Your poodle?”

“Viktor, the love of my life.”

Viktor swallows, heart stuttering beneath Yuuri’s palm.

“Viktor,” Yuuri reminds him, with a kiss on his pink nose, “is my dog’s name.” A pause. “But I could’ve been talking about either of you.”

“You tease.”

“You clearly haven’t been teased enough in your life.” With a flick of his arms, he pulls the covers back, exposes sleep-warm skin to air. “I’m going to change that.”

Yuuri wants to stay here and tease him until he’s flushed and laughing, shameless and excited, breathless with the power of love.

Cold, Yuuri,” he gasps, and Yuuri tosses a leg over him. “I—“ Viktor is so easy to bruise—the smattering of lovebites down his neck and chest are a path Yuuri’s already treaded. One he’s going to carefully mark, every time he passes through. “I’ve been thinking—“

“Yes?”

“Thinking about how I’ll—Yuuri—join you, in Japan, once Worlds is over—“

His roaming fingers and teeth settle, eyes traveling back up over blooming red and dusky pink, pale white under Yuuri’s golden hands.

“You’ll come?”

“I chose you a long time ago, Yuuri. There’s nothing I’d like more.”

He moves up, kisses right above Viktor’s heart, feels elation burst up in him.

So happy.

“My parents and sister will love you. Minako will learn to. Nagahama-san won’t be able to feed you enough. Vicchan is going to love on you until you convert to worshipping toy poodles—don’t make that face, Viktor. No, don’t hide it, either, just, nevermind. Yuuko already loves you, and Nishigori just wants to know what all the fuss has been about this last decade—“

Viktor laughs, hips moving unconsciously against Yuuri’s, that vulnerable, hopeful smile.

“That sounds like a whole lifetime’s worth of love.”

“All of it’s yours,” Yuuri promises, returning to the trail he’d been marking on Viktor’s skin, the touches they’ve spent so long without. “All of it and more. So come to Japan—come and be with me, Viktor—be with me, Viktor, come on, come on, be with me here and now—“

He flies out that night, the lights of the city glimmering beneath him—Viktor, the man he loves, impossibly small and lost in the spaces between them.

Yuuri might be leaving him, for now, but they’ll still stay close.


 

His family hardly had warning, but Mari still meets him at the train station.

Bundled up in her arms is another Viktor that Yuuri's loved, for years and years, and wants to be close to.

"Hi," he says, and Vicchan licks his face, squirms in his blankets. "Hi, boy. I missed you."


 “Yuuri!” Someone is knocking on his bedroom door. “Yuuri, if you don’t pick up your phone and get out of bed, Yuuko says she’s gonna text Viktor pics from your middle school entrance ceremony! And I’ll help her do it, too.”

“Traitor,” Yuuri tries to growl with vengeance, but it comes out in a sleepy slur.

His phone is ringing, though. He slides receive call with one finger before plopping it onto his dresser and tossing through his clean clothes chair.

“Hi, Vitya.”

Zolotse.” He beams, takes a spoonful of soup. “I’m ready for my morning Japanese lesson!”

“Just because I sometimes forget how to speak English before the sun rises doesn’t make it a Japanese lesson.”

“Immersion is the best language learning technique,” Viktor recites immediately, which Yuuri does not point out must be from his massive Beginner’s Japanese text that he’s seen in the background of their Facetime for weeks.

“Ah, Vitya, I forgot to take a shower last night. I’m sorry. Can I—“

“Take me with you!”

“Yuuko used up all of our Ziplocs making,” he shudders, “these, um, healthy snack… clusters. I think Phichit and I are going to feed them to the rabid squirrels outside our apartment.”

“I bet the bears would like them.”

Yuuri stops tugging his shirt off. “Exactly how many bears are there in Russia, Vitya? Can I… can I still jog outside without getting tackled and eaten by one?”

“Hmm, Makkachin will tackle you,” Viktor says, which is not reassuring. “In Japan we’ll get to bathe together, won’t we? So go on. Abandon me this morning, and we’ll make up for it later.”

Yuuri kisses the camera. He doesn’t even think about how silly it must look. “Say hi to your rinkmates for me.” Snapping open his bedroom door, he calls, “Phichit! Do you want to gossip with Viktor?”

There is a pause, then a crash. “A hamster is currently behind our television, so I’m going to have to hit him up on Insta later!”

“Give him to me.” Yuuko peeks around the corner. “I haven’t gushed at him about his photoshoot with Gucci, yet. Someone needs to love on him.”

Yuuri smirks and tosses her the phone. “Don’t steal my boyfriend, Yuuko.”

“Your boyfriend, who once lectured me about sleeping around while fake dating you?” From the phone, Viktor makes a soft ah. “I think you’re safe. I’ve never seen two people so in love.” Yuuri almost ducks into the bathroom. Almost. “But does he know that you’d probably give up a whole week of kisses for a bowl of katsudon?”

“He’d what?” Comes Viktor’s voice from the phone. “Yuuri? What is she talking about? It’s not true, is it? Yuuri!”

Yuuri shuts the bathroom door.

“You’ll understand,” Yuuko assures him, voice muffled, “when you come to Japan. We’re going to take such good care of you, Viktor.”

Yuuri will take care of him for the rest of his life.

Now he's with Viktor, who is more than he’s ever dreamed—but Yuuri is greedy. He’ll take another few years of the ice in Detroit, in Japan, in Russia. More early mornings and late nights and straining muscles, more of his friends competing at his side.

He’ll take gold.

Viktor, at Worlds, I’m coming for you.