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APRIL


Victor hadn’t noticed it at first, but then again, he hadn’t noticed a lot of things during the initial whirlwind of his arrival in Hasetsu. He’d been feeling far too confused and dejected and out-of-place to do much more than put all of his energy into training Yuuri, hoping to wear out his own body and mind before he had time to rethink his spontaneous decision to fly to Japan.

Everything had been strange and unknown, a whirring buzz of unfamiliar sights and sounds and smells, so Victor was grateful to have Hasetsu’s Ice Castle. Once Victor set foot onto the ice there, it was just like being in an ice rink anywhere else, and he could almost forget he was in another country. The feeling of his blades upon the ice spoke to Victor the same way it always did, and the sound of them rang out crisp and clear, echoing throughout the rink and filling Victor with a rare moment of stability. The ice was always a comforting familiarity when everything else around him was so foreign, and even if Yuuri’s rejections stung, being on the ice still acted as a cooling salve on his hurt feelings. The ice was something Victor had mastered long ago, something he understood inside and out, something that rarely surprised him these days.

Yuuri wasn’t like the ice, dependable and predictable.

Yuuri was different.

Yuuri’s verbal responses often came as a panicked “no” even though his eyes said a definitive “yes” as they darted over Victor’s body with undeniable hunger in the onsen when he thought Victor wasn’t looking. Yuuri had asked Victor to come coach him, and then he acted almost offended when Victor followed through and showed up. It felt like there was no rhyme or reason when it came to Yuuri, who’d seduced Victor during one of the best nights of Victor’s life and then gone on to spur Victor’s (fairly mild, if he said so himself) advances like they were totally unexpected and uncalled for. Victor often found himself looking through photos of the banquet on his phone when he lay in bed at night, wondering where he’d gone wrong. It felt like aiming for a quad and flubbing the landing spectacularly with Yuuri, with the shock of the impact of Yuuri’s words and actions shaking him to the core.

No, the language of skating was so much easier to understand--it couldn’t be misconstrued or muddied by any words, couldn’t be tainted by doubts or turned upside down by a fickle, beautiful boy--and so Victor decided to comfort himself in it.

It was only after Hasetsu on Ice ended that Yuuri finally started to relax, and Victor started to notice more things. More of the language of Yuuri’s life started to become comprehensible in the same way that bits and pieces of Japanese trickled into Victor’s vocabulary, changing into something meaningful. There were things like what a particular frown on Yuuri’s face meant, what story was told in the crease of his brow. How to tell when Yuuri’s stubborn insistence that he was fine and could keep going was, in fact, not fine at all. The fact that Yuuri’s swift rejections came from a panicked, instinctive response and didn’t have any real vitriol or intent behind them. How a certain soft smile seemed reserved just for Victor.

The way Yuuri would roll up the cuffs on his pants before they went out, leaving his ankles exposed.

It had seemed a curious thing, but Victor didn’t think much of it at first. Yuuri wasn’t exactly fashion-forward, so Victor could only assume that Yuuri bought some pants that were too long and never had them tailored, choosing instead to roll his pant legs up to an acceptable length every time he put them on. Victor felt a bit sorry for Yuuri, but he decided to let it go.

It never stopped, though. Day after day, Victor saw an endless stream of pants getting meticulously rolled up with each departure from Yutopia, and Victor started to feel like he was stuck in an alternate dimension where the absurd suddenly became everyday behaviour. Yuuri would leave his track pants alone, but jeans and khakis and slacks and sweatpants alike were all fair game for getting rolled up. It didn’t happen every day or with every pair of pants, but it happened often enough that it was clearly a habit of Yuuri’s.

Eventually, it came to a point where Victor couldn’t take it anymore. Yuuri deserved to have pants that fit, deserved to break out of this bizarre cycle he was clearly trapped in.

Victor needed to step in and save Yuuri from himself.

If Victor had spoken more Japanese than basic greetings, the names of his favorite foods, and some choice but inappropriate phrases the triplets had taught him, he would’ve sneaked off with Yuuri’s pants to have them hemmed, then secretly returned them. Unfortunately, since Victor’s main forms of communication in Hasetsu at this point were limited to wild gestures and exaggerated facial expressions, this left him with only one option, and that option might have been more difficult than somehow finding a tailor and getting them to secretly adjust all of Yuuri’s pants: Victor needed to take Yuuri shopping.

It took a carefully schemed and flawlessly executed plan to get Yuuri into a shopping mall on one of his rest days, but once Yuuri was stuck there, he seemed resigned to his fate and faithfully followed Victor around from store to store like a dejected puppy. Since Victor loved shopping to begin with, it wasn’t hard to do some shopping for himself first so Yuuri wouldn’t get overly suspicious when Victor suddenly suggested that Yuuri should try on some clothes, too.

It was only after a fair amount of pouting, pleading, poking, and prodding that Yuuri relented and accepted an armful of various pants that Victor swiped up for him to try on. When Yuuri finally emerged from the dressing room several efforts later in a perfect pair of jeans that hugged the curve of his ass like a second skin, accentuated those beautiful thighs, and tapered down tastefully to end right where they were supposed to, Victor knew his efforts had been worth it.

Victor had a selfish moment of weakness immediately after where he realized that Yuuri looked so mouth-watering it might not be a good idea to let everyone else see Yuuri like that, but he strengthened his resolve and reminded himself this was all for Yuuri’s sake. All for Yuuri’s ankles.

When Yuuri changed back into his street clothes and emerged again, Victor plucked the pants out of his hands and made a beeline for the register, ignoring Yuuri’s protests. “You can make it up to me by translating the menu for me at this restaurant I’ve been wanting to go to!” Victor said breezily, and he didn’t even have to resort to using his backup plan of somehow turning the act of buying pants for Yuuri into a demand as his coach.

With that accomplished, Victor waited. When most people got new clothes, they’d be eager to wear them as soon as possible, but Yuuri apparently operated under a different internal schedule, rotating through his usual collection of drab, earthy colors without any change. Victor barely contained himself for a week until the new jeans finally came into play, and when they did, oh, they looked just as good as they had in the store.

Victor realized that the sight was too beautiful to keep to himself, really, and it was only fair to let the rest of Hasetsu have a glimpse of Yuuri’s beautiful behind. He made an excuse to drag Yuuri out and around town, and if anyone they ran into happened to be jealous of Victor for being the one accompanying Yuuri (even if it was only as his coach… for now), well, even better.

When they were getting ready to go outside, standing in Yutopia’s genkan, Victor watched as Yuuri sat down on the step there, grabbed his shoes, laced them up, and then carefully rolled up the bottom of his jeans.

His brand new, perfectly fitting jeans, which didn’t need to be rolled up. His brand new, perfectly fitting jeans, which were now leaving a small spanse of calf exposed in addition to his ankles.

Victor could only stare down at Yuuri’s feet in transfixed confusion as all of his previous theories were blown away, but when Yuuri interrupted his thoughts with a gentle “Victor?” and that particular soft smile, Victor forgot all about it.

For a while, anyway.


MAY


Victor hadn’t exactly done the most thorough of research before flying to Japan, so Japan’s rainy season came as a shock to him.

Victor loved chatting with locals about the weather because it was one of the few conversations he could hold in Japanese--if you could even call it a conversation, and he chose to call it that to preserve his pride. He’d picked up phrases for asking about the weather and the important words for answering: things like yuki, ame, hare, samui, atatakai, and kumori, which he’d happily parrot back at bemused locals.

He had a strange feeling of accomplishment whenever he happened to overhear a conversation about the weather and got the gist of what was being said, so when conversations suddenly changed from familiar territory into tsuyu tsuyu tsuyu over and over again, it had all sounded like some kind of mysterious chant, barely even words at that point.

Victor tried his best to piece it together from context and puzzle it out for himself, but he never figured out the meaning of the word from eavesdropping on conversations. After that, he tried to gauge the weather every now and then, point at the sky, and ask Yuuri, “Is this tsuyu?”

Yuuri would only laugh with a slight shake of his head and tell him, “Not yet, Victor,” which didn’t help much.

Victor perked up when the Katsukis had the news running on their TV and the weather report came on, but even with visuals, the meteorological map didn’t look any different than it had prior to suddenly becoming not-yet-tsuyu. Sunny days weren’t tsuyu. Rainy days weren’t tsuyu. Hot, cold, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t tsuyu yet.

Victor refused to look up the word in a dictionary, as he did with many Japanese words. He liked that moment of realization when something clicked naturally, when a word in Japanese suddenly shifted from being beautiful but incomprehensible syllables into something meaningful, purposeful, useful. Once he learned a new word, he would snatch it up and squirrel it away for use later, adding to his vocabulary bit by bit. And so he decided to bide his time and wait for tsuyu to be added to his collection.

When the weather changed from not-yet-tsuyu to tsuyu, Victor didn’t need to ask anymore.

Victor woke up one morning to the roar of rain pelting down on the roof of Yutopia, and when he peeked out the windows, he was half-certain he was trapped in the middle of a hurricane or a typhoon or a flood or some other kind of horrible natural disaster he was completely unfamiliar with and totally unprepared to deal with. When he went downstairs, however, Hiroko and Toshiya Katsuki were sitting calmly at one of the low tables in the main room eating their breakfast like nothing was wrong, like nature hadn’t suddenly turned its back on the beautiful town of Hasetsu to assault it with a torrential, windy downpour.

“Ah, Vicchan! Ohayou!” Hiroko waved him over to the table where breakfast for Victor was already set out at one of the empty seats.

“Hiroko, this is tsuyu, right?” Victor asked, pointing up at the ceiling.

Tsuyu ga hajimatta ne!” she replied with a nod.

Victor took it as a yes.

Tsuyu, apparently, was a rainy nightmare. On that first day of the rainy season, Yuuri asked Mari to give them a ride to Hasetsu Castle, telling Victor that even if they tried going outside with umbrellas, chances were good the umbrellas would just snap inside out instantaneously and be blown away into the streets. Victor was a little horrified at the thought, and he wondered if Yuuri might be exaggerating. He soon forgot about it, though, because Yuuri was walking over to grab his sneakers, still chatting away, and his pants were already rolled up at the bottom of each leg.

This was brand new. This was an escalation. This was bad.

Yuuri always rolled up his pant legs right before they went out. Victor knew this because he’d suffered through watching Yuuri do it day after day for over a month now, each time as baffled as the last. But now? Yuuri had shown up ready to go with his pant cuffs already rolled up, which he never did. What did it mean? It had to mean something, right? Was this, too, part of the mysterious tsuyu?

Victor fretted over the thought intermittently throughout the day’s practice, but he couldn’t figure it out, and the more he thought about it, the more of an enigma Yuuri seemed to him. Victor’s head was spinning from trying to understand the conundrum of Yuuri’s endless parade of exposed ankles. It was like something in a Lovecraftian horror, some terrifying, alien unknown that could drive a man to insanity just from glancing at it once, but Victor couldn’t stop himself from diving right in.

He wasn’t about to be distracted and thrown off of the mystery this time. Not even when he saw Yuuri’s beautiful smile and shout of triumph after a difficult jump went well, and he felt his heart melt a little bit. Not even when Yuuri’s Eros was a little too effective, and Victor had to excuse himself to the restroom, adjust himself, splash some cold water on his face, and give himself a pep talk in the bathroom mirror. Not even when Yuuri asked Victor to check his ankle after an awkward fall, and when Victor gently ran his hands over the arch of Yuuri’s bare foot, he glanced at Yuuri’s face to see Yuuri looking back in a way that was equal parts hesitant and enticing.

… OK.

So he got distracted and forgot about it, but who could blame him?

Victor remembered it the next morning, though, and he was ready to spot the exact pivotal moment Yuuri adjusted his routine.

He watched Yuuri like a hawk from the moment Yuuri shuffled downstairs for breakfast with a yawn, and they chatted for a bit over breakfast about their plans for training during the rainy season. Yuuri mumbled responses with his eyes still half-closed, looking like he might nod off again and faceplant into his miso soup at any moment, but Victor was ready for any potential disasters. He’d long since learned that Yuuri was half-conscious at best in the mornings, so he was ready to swipe any kitchenware out of harm’s way should his sleepy pupil give up on staying awake and fall back asleep with an unceremonious crash onto the tabletop.

Victor continued to keep an eye on Yuuri when Yuuri dragged himself back to his room to get changed and ready for the day, and he did his best ninja impression as he followed Yuuri upstairs once he was out of view. He dived into his own room, sliding the door into the hallway open just enough to poke the top of his head through and stare at the door to Yuuri’s room. It wasn’t like Victor had X-ray vision and could see Yuuri inside as he got changed, but he stared at the door and tried to piece together Yuuri’s morning routine from the rustling sounds within. Makkachin padded over to sniff at her foolish owner’s face as he peeked out of his bedroom on his hands and knees, but she gave up on hoping for attention once she realized Victor was completely focused on his silly, pointless task.

When Victor finally heard the sound of Yuuri’s door opening, he shot up with a jump, backing into his own room and trying to look casual as he leaned against the wall inside. He kept his eyes down as Yuuri walked out of his room with his gym bag slung over one shoulder and slid the door open to Victor’s room, and then he saw: Yuuri had his pants rolled up already.

It definitely had to mean something.

After a week of this new habit, Victor came to the conclusion that this had to be a result of the rainy season, and it was probably even for practical reasons. The streets outside were often flooded a few inches with small streams of rainwater, and even though he and Yuuri weren’t outside much when the weather was so awful, it seemed likely that Yuuri was rolling up his pants to keep the bottom of them from getting wet outside. It was possible that once the rainy season kicked in, Yuuri instinctively started rolling up his pants at the start of the day without even thinking about it.

Victor decided to sacrifice himself to test out this theory. If this new development in ankle exposure was a result of the weather outside, then if he could get Yuuri to go outside in some truly terrible weather, would there be any further developments? Would Yuuri start hiking up his pant legs all the way to his knees? He had to know.

--------------

“Yuuri, I want to go to the conbini!”

The weather outside was dreadful. Visibility was near-zero through the sheets of rain cascading down from an ominous grey sky, and it was clear from even a momentary glance outside that the wind was just as bad as the rain, if not worse. There was no way that anyone in their right mind would possibly want to go outside.

It was the perfect opportunity to do just that.

“Victor, what could you possibly need from the conbini at this hour, in this weather?” Yuuri raised a brow and gave him a skeptical look.

“I heard from Ishii-san down the street that the Lawson usually starts putting stickers on food for 50% off at this time of day. Yuuri, I could stock up on breads in one trip and try so many new kinds right now! Can we go?” Victor included his best pleading look, putting all of his energy into channeling the essence of Makkachin when she begged for scraps. Victor didn’t care that much about saving money, to be honest, but he’d learned that Yuuri was a frugal spender, so appealing to his thrifty ways would be a good start to convincing Yuuri to go with him.

“Victor, are you sure? I’ll go with you if you’re serious because I don’t want to leave you out there by yourself, but... We’re going to get completely soaked. What about your clothes?“ Yuuri gestured at the window. “I know you’re always wearing designer clothes with special cleaning instructions and everything, and this weather can’t be good for it,” he said with a frown.

Shit. Victor had studied the best ways to convince Yuuri of all kinds of things, but he’d forgotten that Yuuri had just as much opportunity to think about the reverse, if not more considering how long Yuuri had been his fan. Victor couldn’t back down now, though. This was for science. For Yuuri’s ankles. For Yuuri’s sake, really, so Victor could better understand him as his coach.

“Great thinking, Yuuri! I’ll go get changed into some of my training clothes instead, and then we can head out.” Victor silently applauded himself for his quick thinking. “I know it’ll be pretty bad out there, but I’ve never been in a rainy season before I came here! I want to see what it’s like outside! I mean, when will I get a chance like this again, right?”

Something in Yuuri’s expression darkened for a moment, flitting across his features, but it was gone in an instant. “You’re right, Victor. I’ll go get my coat,” Yuuri said a little stiffly before dashing up Yutopia’s stairs and out of view.

Victor’s theories were once again brought to ruin when Yuuri came back to reluctantly slip on a pair of sneakers and stand beneath the entryway outside, watching the raging storm with a look of dread. Yuuri’s pants were exactly the same as they’d been earlier in the day, rolled up to some precise point that only Yuuri seemed to be able to calculate but no further than that. Victor was no closer to working out a formula to the mystery, and now he had to pay the price for his curiosity.

It was even worse outside than it looked. Victor had to scrunch his eyes against the rain pummeling him from what felt like every direction, and even breathing felt like an ordeal as they struggled forward. Victor had the feeling that the sky itself was trying to drown him from above, with drops of rain somehow getting up his nose and stinging with every breath he tried to take. Trying to take a step forward against the wild winds reminded him of the occasional dreams he had where walking felt like being stuck in slow-motion. Yuuri didn’t seem to be faring any better, and his glasses were almost completely fogged over from the rain.

The Lawson was usually only a 5-minute walk away at most, but it had never felt so far away. By the time they charged in through the doors of the convenience store to the startled “I-irrashaimase” of the store clerk, Victor and Yuuri were so drenched that they left a puddle beneath them where they stood. Victor thought about the damage his hair had just suffered and took a minute of silence to mourn it while Yuuri tried to wipe his glasses off on his sleeve.

“Victor, you were right!” Yuuri had composed himself quicker than Victor, and he stood in front of the shelves of snack breads. “These are all half-off. It’s your lucky day!” Yuuri beamed at him, looking like a complete mess with his hair plastered to his face and his glasses fogging up again, and Victor had never felt more charmed. Suddenly it seemed like a lucky day indeed.

They scooped up a bunch of breads and a few custards into a basket, with Yuuri giving recommendations or putting back items he didn’t think Victor would like. Victor knew they were being loud and way too excited and silly considering the circumstances, but he felt giddy as he watched Yuuri walk around grabbing carb-loaded calorie bombs for Victor. Victor couldn’t stop himself from hugging Yuuri in front of the checkout, and he didn’t even feel offended when Yuuri shrugged him off with a blush and a grumbling complaint about Victor’s clammy wet hands all over him when he was already cold and wet.

When they finished shopping and paid, Victor paused in front of the automatic sensors that would open the doors outside. He did his best to work up the nerve to go back out into the watery hellscape, but he was already soaked through, and not even thoughts of relaxing in the warmth of the onsen back at Yutopia could inspire him to move. He was too proud to give Yuuri any impression that he thought the whole endeavor had been a bad idea, though, so he tried to stay light-hearted.

“I know, Yuuri! Let’s run back and only slow down when we reach a covered area. We’ll have to dash a little bit, but if we go as fast as we can through the open spaces, it should go a little faster and keep us drier, too! It’ll be fun.” He said it partly to reassure himself along with Yuuri.

“I don’t know, Victor, it’s pretty slippery out there.” Yuuri sounded hesitant, but when Victor followed up by teasingly asking if Yuuri just didn’t think he could keep up, Yuuri got that familiar competitive spark in his eyes, tossed the shopping bag into Victor’s arms, and immediately barged outside.

Victor felt like he was a child again as he ran down the sidewalk with Yuuri, stopping to pause under awnings and trees where the rainfall didn’t penetrate as thickly. Yuuri gave him a teasing smile and told Victor he’d need to speed up if he wanted to keep up, and somehow it seemed like they were back at the gates of Yutopia in a flash. Victor didn’t even notice the cold seeping through his clothes as he slowed down to walk under the awning in front of Yutopia.

Yuuri fidgeted in front of the door as he waited for Victor to approach. “Victor,” he started, but he stopped when Victor drew near. Yuuri’s fists clenched by his side for a moment before one hand reached up tentatively. Victor felt the cold brush of Yuuri’s fingers against his forehead as Yuuri wiped a clump of Victor’s fringe out of his face. “You’re ridiculous,” Yuuri said with a soft, fond look in his eyes. If it had been anyone else, Victor would’ve sworn he was about to be kissed, but he was semi-fluent in Yuuri Katsuki now, so he wasn’t disappointed when Yuuri snatched his hand back like it was burning and turned away to go inside with a shout of “Tadaima!

If only Victor could be so fluent in the language of Yuuri’s clothing habits.

Chapter Text

JUNE


When the storms of the rainy season finally ended, they departed much like they had arrived, disappearing overnight with no forewarning. The cloudy skies parted, and in the sunny days that followed, the oppressive, humid heat of Japan’s summer started to set in.

When he wasn’t busy with Yuuri’s training, Victor found it hard to work up the motivation to do much of anything. His whole body felt sticky with sweat the instant he walked outside, and his carefully kept hair soon turned limp and stringy under the blazing sun. Victor contemplated all kinds of bizarre workarounds, like carrying a change of clothing with him everywhere he went or bringing volumizing sprays to apply to his hair in public. Eventually, though, the heat of the summer left him feeling fried enough that he just wanted to laze around Yutopia and keep his face permanently pressed to the cool tatami mats on the floor. Even that didn’t always help because Makkachin would find him and flop down on top of him, smothering him like a walking, furry oven.

Yuuri called him a big baby, but then again, Yuuri seemed to have a clear genetic advantage. As the summer went on, Yuuri’s skin became a beautiful golden tan that had Victor’s gaze lingering on Yuuri even longer than usual--and Victor’s lingering-gaze times had already been worthy of a Guinness World Record before that. Victor, on the other hand, soon discovered that he burned to a crisp under the searing heat of the Japanese sun, and only an overabundant application of sunscreen kept him from resembling a giant but fashionable lobster.

Victor felt sluggish and foggy when he wasn’t in the invigorating, crisp air of Hasetsu Castle or planted in front of a fan at Yutopia, but Yuuri looked completely unaffected by the change in the weather. Not to say Yuuri wasn’t sweating buckets like everyone else, but he didn’t seem all that bothered by it, perhaps due to his stubborn resilience. And where Victor tried to dress in as little clothing as possible whenever he could get away with it, Yuuri’s outfits had only one major change:

Yuuri started wearing capri pants.

In the kind of weather that had Victor wishing he could just go out in public in nothing but his underwear (and you’d better believe he’d make it look good), Yuuri didn’t even make the full leap to shorts like a normal person would. No, Yuuri started to wear slim, form-fitting capris that ended halfway down his calf and accentuated the gentle taper of his lower legs down to his feet. Yuuri’s footwear switched to slip-on canvas shoes, leaving his ankles as exposed as always to further assault Victor’s eyes.

As an experienced scientist, Victor didn’t want to jump to conclusions, so he started to observe other groups of people for comparison.

Victor still liked to wander around Hasetsu when he had the time and energy for it, and many of the locals knew him as “Vicchan from the Katsukis’ place’” instead of “Victor Nikiforov, figure skater and celebrity.” When he was especially lucky, he’d even hear people whisper that he was “Yuuri’s foreigner,” and he didn’t correct them. It seemed like everywhere he went, people wanted to stop him to ask about how Hiroko was doing, if Yuuri was planning on staying in Hasetsu permanently from now on, or if Mari was any closer to getting married yet. Victor barely understood what people said to him, but his charisma and charm got him through most of it, and it warmed his heart to be greeted cheerfully like he belonged.

This gave him the opportunity to confirm his suspicions: none of the other men around town wore capri pants. Victor already thought that cropped pants were strictly within the realm of women’s fashion, but he’d wondered if it might be some kind of cultural difference he wasn’t familiar with. However, no matter where he looked, he saw exactly what he’d expect to see in summer fashion: a lot of loose, baggy pants and shorts and jeans. No capris. Only Yuuri.

It was at this time that Victor began to suspect Yuuri might be toying with him.

Victor could only come to the conclusion that Yuuri had noticed him staring at Yuuri’s legs and feet for months now and was putting them on display in this strange way to subtly goad Victor and say, “I know what you’ve been thinking.”

Sure, Victor’s curiosity over Yuuri’s increasingly exposed legs had started out as nothing but a sort of puzzled interest in a mystery he wanted to solve, but as time went on and Victor found himself falling harder for Yuuri, the staring evolved into something else before he realized it. Victor couldn’t deny that somewhere along the line, he’d become enamored with Yuuri’s feet in addition to Yuuri himself. Victor loved the beautiful, battered instruments that brought the music in Yuuri’s body to life and propelled him across the ice in graceful steps and launched him into powerful jumps. And now every time Victor got an eyeful of Yuuri’s legs and ankles above his shoes, it made him think of Yuuri’s feet, and then he kept on staring until he caught himself.

Victor was beginning to think that the Victorians had the right idea in how they’d considered a glimpse of ankles to be something scandalous and provocative, though in Victor’s case it was more because he was distracted by what was beneath them than what was above.

He didn’t think he’d been that obvious, but had Yuuri noticed? Victor soon found himself in a spiral of paranoia every time he saw Yuuri emerge from his bedroom in another pair of capris, the pants looking pointedly accusatory to Victor’s eyes. Yuuri never acted like anything was different than usual, though. Was he trying to taunt Victor until Victor gave in and confessed that he’d been staring? Did Yuuri want to see Victor on his knees begging for forgiveness and promising he’d be more professional as Yuuri’s coach? (Victor admitted to himself that he liked something about the visuals of that, too, but he decided to set that aside for another day.)

In the end, it turned out that Yuuri noticed Victor acting strangely before Victor could give in to the pressure of his own feelings of anxiety and suspicion.

“Victor, I’ve been thinking…” Yuuri started one morning over breakfast, setting his chopsticks down. Victor knew it had to be something serious if it was enough to get Yuuri to stop eating, and he felt a sick lurch of anxiety in his stomach.

“Do you want to go somewhere and get out of town today? I know the heat’s been pretty rough on you, so you might not want to go out, but you’ve been looking a little pale lately.” Yuuri frowned. “Since today’s my rest day, anyway, I thought it might be good for you to see some new scenery or do something fun…” Yuuri trailed off with a quiet mumble.

For a moment, Victor felt like his heart might burst, overflowing with affection, but the crushing pressure of guilt squeezed it back down to size. Here Victor had been worrying about Yuuri being suspicious of him and laying a trap of some kind, and Yuuri was ready to give up his day off for Victor? Victor needed to do better for Yuuri. Victor needed to be better.

“Yuuri!” Victor shouted, and only the table between them kept him from catching Yuuri in a bear hug on the spot. Makkachin woofed in assent next to him, not sure what was happening but ready to join in on her owner’s excitement. “I’d love to! Where are we going? Where do you want to go? Can Makka come?”

Yuuri smiled shyly. “I was thinking we could go to Fukuoka today, although Makkachin can’t come. I’m sure you get bored of being stuck in a small town like Hasetsu all the time, so maybe it’ll cheer you up to be in a real city for a day.”

Victor was anything but bored of Hasetsu, but he wasn’t about to say no when Yuuri was biting his lip and looking up at him with those warm, beseeching, puppy dog eyes.

“I’d love to!” Victor answered. “As long as we can go somewhere air-conditioned for at least part of the day, I’ll do my best to hold up in the heat. If I get heat stroke and pass out, though, will you catch me?”

The hesitation on Yuuri’s face cleared away, and he laughed. “You’re pretty heavy, but I guess I’ll manage if it comes to that.”

The train ride to Fukuoka was uneventful; they managed to grab seats, and Yuuri promptly fell asleep, his head slowly drifting down and onto Victor’s shoulder. Victor did his best not to squirm in his seat and wake Yuuri, but Yuuri seemed to have some unconscious, innate sense of train stations, as he suddenly jolted awake and mumbled, “Our stop’s next,” a minute before the train rolled to a stop at their station. It wasn’t the first time Victor had witnessed this strange power in action, but it was startling nonetheless.

They made a quick transfer to a busy subway line, hopping into a packed train car, and Victor suddenly noticed something. A young man wearing capri pants was getting in the train car at the next door down. Victor took a second look, peering through the gap between a few salarymen. It wasn’t just an illusion. The capri pants-wearer chatted with a girl next to him, oblivious to Victor staring at him from across the train.

“Victor, are you OK?” Yuuri interrupted quietly.

“Just fine,” Victor lied, tearing his eyes away from the miraculous match to Yuuri’s bizarre fashion sense.

When Victor and Yuuri got off the subway and made their way outside, Victor was immediately overwhelmed by the oppressive humidity blasting him, but he forgot about it when he saw the beautiful greenery outside. There was an expansive park all around them, and the sun reflected off the calm waters of a large pond in the middle. A light breeze took some of the edge off the heat, and Victor felt invigorated by the excitement of going somewhere new.

“Yuuri, what a beautiful park!” Victor exclaimed.

Yuuri smiled. “You’ve seemed a little distracted lately, so I thought it might be nice to just take it easy at a park for a while. We don’t have any parks this nice in Hasetsu, and as great as the beach is, it’s nice to see something different, right? I promise I’ll take you somewhere with air conditioning after this, and I’ll even go shopping with you if you want!” he hastily followed.

“That sounds amazing, Yuuri, thank you.” Victor hugged Yuuri, and his heart leaped in his chest at the way Yuuri hugged him back for a moment when just a few months ago, Yuuri had jumped at the slightest touch from Victor.

As they started to walk along the sidewalk, Victor noticed a lot of couples and groups of friends sitting or walking by the waterside. And then Victor noticed more men in capri pants, which shocked him into speaking up. “They’re wearing capris!”

Yuuri paused with a confused look on his face. “Cropped pants? Who is?”

Men!” Victor wondered how Yuuri couldn’t be just as surprised as Victor himself was.

Yuuri looked down at his own pants (capris again…), at the people around them, and back at Victor. “OK? Victor… Why wouldn’t they be?” The tone clearly said you’re being crazy, but Victor paid no heed to it.

“Yuuri. You’re the only man in Hasetsu I’ve ever seen wearing capri pants. I’ve been looking for weeks, and it’s only ever been you. I’ve been dying to know why you’re wearing them when no one else is, and then the one day we leave town, suddenly they’re everywhere, and it’s like everyone but me is in on something. What is going on?“ The thoughts that he’d been keeping pent up for so long came out in a rush.

Yuuri burst into laughter, the hand covering his mouth doing little to stifle the sound. “Oh my god, Victor. Are you serious?”

Victor felt a bit sheepish, and he didn’t answer.

“Victor, everyone in Hasetsu is a million years old. Anyone under the age of 40 gets the hell out to go to a bigger town as soon as they can. I don’t think any of your drinking buddies are younger than 60, and all the guys in the neighborhood I see you chatting with aren’t much younger. Why would any of them be wearing capris?”

“What?”

“Capris aren’t really oyaji-style.”

“But they’re someone else’s style?” Victor struggled to grasp Yuuri’s point.

“Victor, for somebody so obsessed with style, you’re pretty out of the loop.” Yuuri looked slightly scandalized. “Capris are just like jeans or shorts or sneakers or anything else. Anybody can wear them?”

“...Oh,” Victor said, suddenly feeling very stupid. “But… But it’s not like that outside of Japan.”

“Well, we’re in Japan,” Yuuri quipped, and then he paused.

“Wait a second, this isn’t what’s been bothering you, is it? ...Oh my god, it is.” Yuuri wheezed through snorts of laughter as he watched Victor’s reaction. “I’ve been worried about you for the past couple of weeks because I saw you looking so upset, and you were thinking about capri pants. I knew you were weird about fashion, but this is extreme.”

Victor felt relief wash over him like a cool breeze in the summer heat. If Yuuri thought that the problem was Victor’s obsession with fashion and not his obsession with Yuuri or Yuuri’s feet, that was probably for the best. Victor felt embarrassed just the same, but he couldn’t bring himself to care too much if his personal shame got Yuuri to laugh like this.

Yuuri, I’m your coach. You can’t laugh at me,” he said indignantly.

“Well, if I recall right, today’s my day off, so you’re not here as my coach Victor, you’re just here as my Victor,” Yuuri replied sarcastically. He only seemed to realize how the words sounded after he’d already spoken them, and a faint blush bloomed on his cheeks.

“I-I didn’t mean it like that. Or mean anything by that. Anyway... Let’s check out the park, OK? There are bridges cutting through the pond, and the view looks really beautiful on a day like this.” Yuuri snatched up Victor’s hand like if he did it quickly enough Victor wouldn’t notice, and he started rushing forward, dragging Victor along with him.

Victor thought that the only beautiful view he needed was one of Yuuri’s face lit up in laughter, but he kept the thought to himself.


JULY


For all of the heat and humidity, Japan was surprisingly lively in the summer. Victor hadn’t realized there were so many summertime holidays, but suddenly it seemed like there was a constant stream of celebrations and decorations all over the town.

Victor first noticed the change on one summer morning when he and Yuuri made their way to the rink. Victor rode his bike as Yuuri jogged alongside him, and when they passed by one of the shrines on their usual route, Victor caught an unexpected flash of color. He was zooming along, wanting to get to the rink and out of the heat as soon as possible, so he hadn’t caught more than a glimpse of blurry color as they went, but he glanced back and saw strips of colorful paper hanging all over the trees and swaying with the branches in the breeze. As he kept biking, Victor noticed more of these colorful papers hanging on trees in front of houses, schools, and even a few businesses. It was an odd sight, and he made a mental note to ask Yuuri about it later.

He got his chance at the end of practice that day as Yuuri cooled down with some stretches.

“Colorful papers?” Yuuri peered up at Victor from a split on the ground, legs splayed wide as he stretched in a graceful curve. “Ah, you mean the tanzaku! I completely forgot that today is Tanabata.”

Victor sighed at Yuuri’s matter-of-fact tone. “Yuuri, telling me what it is in Japanese doesn’t help.”

“Sorry, sorry, you’re totally right. Tanabata is a summer holiday here, but it’s been so long since I was back in Japan that I completely forgot about it.” Victor himself sometimes forgot that even if Yuuri was Japanese, he’d been away from his hometown and country for years. It was only in small moments like this, when Yuuri made some casual statement about his time away, that Victor realized Yuuri might have moments of his own where he felt out of place in Hasetsu.

“Anyway, on Tanabata, you write down a wish you want to come true on a piece of paper and hang it in a bamboo tree. Not like a wish for a present for Christmas or your birthday, like an object you want, but something you want to be, something you want to accomplish, something you can work for. For example, students will wish that they can pass tests to get into their dream school, or they’ll write about a career they want or what they want to be when they grow up.”

Victor leaned in eagerly from the locker room bench he was sitting on. “What did you wish for when you were younger?”

“Me?” Yuuri seemed surprised by the question. “When I was really little, I think I remember that I wanted to become a sentai superhero,” he said with a laugh. “That one didn’t work out. Once I started skating, though, it was always about the next competition to beat, the next jump to master… the dream of meeting you someday, of skating on the same ice as you.” Yuuri’s words were quiet, but there was something burning in his firm gaze that left Victor feeling exposed.

Victor wanted to latch onto those words and the look in Yuuri’s eyes like a dog with a bone and really dig into them, but he made himself let go. He’d seen the way Yuuri watched him lately when he didn’t think Victor was looking, and it was a prolonged, deliberating, heated gaze. Victor felt like he was standing on the precipice of something with Yuuri, and there was an awkward tension lurking in the background of all of their interactions lately. He didn’t want to accidentally push Yuuri away by trying to push him forward, though, so he would let go and wait for Yuuri in a way that he was sure everyone back in Russia would laugh at and claim was very unlike him. Truth be told, though, Victor had never felt more himself, had never felt more alive with this kind of anticipatory thrill in his bones every day.

“Yuuri, can adults make wishes too?”

“Sure, anyone can. Do you want to try writing one?”

“Really? It’s not too late, is it? Will my wish still be good? What if I can’t write it in Japanese?” Victor bombarded him with questions.

Yuuri shook his head and laughed in response. “You’ll be fine, Victor. The wish is more for yourself than anyone else. Just let me call home when I’m done stretching so they know we’ll be back a little bit late today.”

Although Victor had been the one to suggest it, once he found himself standing in front of a tree at a local shrine with a pen and paper in hand, he had a hard time thinking of what to write down. To make matters worse, Victor couldn’t even take a peek at other papers hanging on the tree for ideas because he couldn’t read them. The vertical lines of Japanese script on the slim papers ranged from beautiful and elegant to childish scrawls, but they were all equally meaningless to him.

Victor glanced at Yuuri, who was using the back of a nearby bench as a desk to write his own tanzaku. Victor was certain that Yuuri would be writing a wish about his skating this year, and Victor wondered if he should make his wish a professional one, too. When Victor thought about what he wanted, though, his mind was only filled with thoughts of Yuuri, Yuuri, Yuuri.

Victor wanted Yuuri to be happy. Victor wanted Yuuri to cast aside his doubts and skate his way to the top of the upcoming season like Victor knew he was capable of. Victor wanted to be with Yuuri. Victor wanted to wake up next to Yuuri. Victor wanted Yuuri, plain and simple. But this had to be a wish about himself.

What he settled for writing was I want to become someone that Yuuri deserves.

Yuuri was already finished when Victor went to hang his up, so Victor was grateful he’d written his in Cyrillic, just in case Yuuri happened to see it. “Do I need to say or do anything special when I put it in the tree?” he asked.

“No, you can just put it up with the rest there. It’s a silly tradition, I know, but I hope your wish comes true, Victor.”

“I hope so too.”

Victor took one last look back at the tree full of papers as they walked back to the sidewalk, his tanzaku already blending in with the rest of the colorful mass.

-------

A week later, Yuuri asked Victor if they could end practice a couple hours early that day, promising to make up for it by staying late by himself the next day.

“What’s the occasion?” Victor asked.

“It’s a surprise,” Yuuri said with a secretive smile, and how could Victor say no to that? Victor loved surprises.

When they got back to Yutopia, Yuuri immediately rushed upstairs to his room, shouting at Victor to not feed Makkachin any snacks from leftovers in the kitchen. Sometimes Victor swore Yuuri had psychic powers and knew exactly what he was about to do.

Yuuri soon returned downstairs with a flat, rectangular box in his hands. It was wrapped up elegantly in a ribbon, and the top of it had a logo in looping Japanese script. “Here,” Yuuri said with a blush. “Go on and open it.”

Victor took the box from Yuuri, running his hands over the smooth surface before carefully undoing the ribbon and gently removing the lid. He reached inside to remove a layer of pastel tissue paper, revealing a charcoal gray fabric covered in subdued geometric patterns. Victor looked up at Yuuri, who gave him a gesture to go on, and he took it out and held it up to reveal a long robe.

“It’s a yukata,” Yuuri said. “Men don’t wear them very often, but they’re pretty common to wear at festivals in the summer. You always seem to like the inn’s robes, so I thought you might like to try wearing one...” He trailed off.

Victor perked up. “Yuuri, I can’t wait to try it on. You’ll have to help me put it on, though, since I don’t really know how.”

Yuuri still blushed, but he only chuckled and said, “No kidding. Your robes around the inn are already half-open all the time as it is, so I’d better make sure you’re actually covered if you’re going to be out in public.”

Victor felt a smug sense of pride at the realization that Yuuri had noticed, but then he remembered the rest of what Yuuri said.

“Out in public? Where are we going?”

“I thought we could go out to a festival?” Yuuri said it more like a question than a suggestion. “When you were asking about Tanabata last week, it made me remember that it’s festival season around here, too. You seemed so excited about Tanabata, I thought it might be nice to show you a festival, too. There’s one going on tonight in a town about half an hour away. It’s a small town like Hasetsu, so it’s not too exciting, but I’ve always liked the fireworks in the countryside.”

“There are fireworks? A festival? Let’s go, let’s go!” Victor was ready to head out right away, but Yuuri managed to drag him off to the onsen first for a shower and a quick soak, telling Victor to wait for him in his room afterward so Yuuri could help him put on the yukata.

Victor waited on his bed for Yuuri, clad only in his underwear, and he felt jittery with nervous energy. It was odd--they bathed together without either of them batting an eye now, and Victor hanging around in his underwear had stopped being a shock to Yuuri after the first month or so, but somehow it felt different tonight. Somehow he felt more unguarded, and he absentmindedly stroked the fabric of the yukata in his lap to occupy himself as he waited.

Yuuri soon entered, sliding the door closed behind him, and Victor pouted at the sight of Yuuri in his boxer briefs and a T-shirt. “Yuuri, aren’t you going to wear a yukata, too? I don’t want to if you won’t!”

“I’ll change after I help you get ready. I’ll be a lot faster since unlike some people, I don’t need to do a 15-minute hair check before I go outside,” Yuuri replied. Victor stood up at the foot of his bed, awkwardly holding the yukata in front of him, and Yuuri plucked it out of his hands, all business.

“Just stand still, OK? Put your arms out to the side for a second.” Victor complied quietly, listening to the rustling of fabric as Yuuri moved behind him. He tried not to jump at the brief brush of Yuuri’s fingers along the nape of his neck before the cool, smooth fabric was draped over his body. Yuuri put Victor’s arms through the sleeves, straightening and smoothing out the fall of the fabric over his figure, and Victor thought that he could’ve done this himself, but he never would’ve wanted to when he could have Yuuri fussing over him with a gentle touch instead.

Yuuri talked as he folded one edge of the front over the other and reached for a tie to go around the waist, explaining why the yukata had to be left-over-right and that the tie was called an obi, but Victor found it hard to focus on the words when Yuuri’s hands were touching him all over while he made slight adjustments to the yukata. Yuuri’s hands were a firm, warm weight on his hips as he wrapped the obi around Victor, and Victor could feel the heat of Yuuri’s body close to him as Yuuri circled around to face Victor’s front. Yuuri kneeled on the ground and leaned in close, tying the obi in a series of steps, and Victor tried his best not to think about the sight of Yuuri kneeling before him with his head centimeters away from his groin.

Yuuri looked up at him from where he knelt, hands pressed to Victor’s front, and sheepishly confessed, “I had to practice tying these because it’s been so long. Don’t tell anyone, but my mom had to help me.” Victor had to close his eyes and will himself to think pure thoughts while Yuuri finally finished and stood up to drag Victor over to a mirror.

“Ah, kakkoyoka~,” Yuuri sighed. “It’s not fair that you look so good in a yukata. What do you think, though?”

Victor had to admit he looked pretty good, the yukata accenting the broadness of his shoulders down into the carefully tied waist. It felt like it would be a bit awkward to walk in, but Victor figured he’d get the hang of it by the end of the evening, and if he didn’t, well, he’d get a free pass for being a foreigner.

“I’ll go get changed and meet you downstairs,” Yuuri said. “You can borrow my dad’s sandals when we go out!”

After fixing his hair (in only 5 minutes, thank you), Victor went downstairs to have Hiroko fuss and coo over him, announcing loudly to all the guests how handsome her Vicchan looked. Victor took a few selfies in his yukata, including some with Makkachin, and got to work updating his social media pages.

“Ready to go?” Victor looked up from his phone to see Yuuri at the bottom of the stairs, and he felt his throat go dry. Cute. Yuuri’s hair was a messy halo around his head, and he wore a patterned blue yukata that matched the color of his glasses. The tightly tied obi seemed to make Yuuri look even slimmer than usual, and it gave him a look of fragility that Victor knew was at odds with Yuuri’s fierce determination and inner strength.

And oh, how Victor had let his guard down.

The ankles were back in full force.

Was it just his imagination? Victor looked down at the hem of his own yukata, but no, his own yukata ended firmly at the line of his ankles. Yuuri’s yukata was clearly tied to end a few inches higher, showing the bottom of his calves, and Victor found his eyes darting back down to Yuuri’s feet as they stepped into sandals at the genkan. The sight of Yuuri’s pale, bony, taped-up feet on display beneath the straight lines of his yukata set something alight inside of Victor, but he couldn’t put a name to the feeling.

Victor felt slightly self-conscious on the way to the station, but once they got on the train and stepped off at their destination, Victor spotted more groups and pairs of people dressed similarly, and he relaxed and gave in to the excitement of the festival.

The town grew more crowded as they walked through the lit-up streets and approached rows of festive booths and stalls, and Victor was surprised at how many people had come out to what Yuuri claimed was a small, commonplace festival. Victor’s gaze was drawn to the unfamiliar sights around him, and as he swiveled around to take in the view, Yuuri grabbed his hand.

“So you don’t get lost in the crowd,” Yuuri said without looking him in the eye. Victor thought that nobody could stand out more in the crowd of Japanese people than himself, but he squeezed Yuuri’s hand and let himself be led around. They walked to a main street that had been blocked off for the festival, and Yuuri weaved through the people there before squeezing in front of a line of people by the street.

Victor and Yuuri stood and watched as a lively procession moved through the streets, people in traditional costumes dancing through followed by large floats carried on the shoulders of townsfolk. Victor was intrigued by the parade, but he was admittedly more focused on Yuuri’s hand still held firmly in his throughout the whole thing.

After a while, Yuuri gently tugged him back onto the sidewalk, saying, “Sorry, you must be hungry. Let’s go find you something to eat!” Victor wanted to try everything, and he soon found his arms loaded up with takoyaki, yakisoba, taiyaki, and a potato that appeared to be swimming in a pool of butter. He felt sorry to lose the warmth of Yuuri’s hand in his, but he couldn’t hold back his excitement at the prospect of so many new foods to try. Victor asked Yuuri if he wanted anything, too, but Yuuri gave him a wry smile and told Victor that a certain coach of Yuuri’s had told him he needed to stick to a strict diet throughout the summer. Victor wanted to hug him, as he seemed to always wanted to these days, but with his arms full of food, he settled instead on the idea of letting Yuuri have a bite of everything later.

Colorful lanterns kept the streets bright and lively as the skies grew darker around them, but Yuuri motioned for Victor to follow him away from the crowds and noise and off into the darker side streets. “We should find a good spot to watch the fireworks,” he explained. “You can’t see them really well from the main festival area, but a lot of people like to go down to the waterfront to watch.”

When they reached hills sloping down to the waterside after a short walk, Victor spotted people camped out on the grass--some groups of friends drinking and laughing, some couples whispering as they sat close together, some families having picnics. Yuuri and Victor found a good spot to sit near the top of the hill, and they carefully sat down on the grass.

“Sorry I forgot to bring a blanket,” Yuuri apologized. “I promise I won’t judge you if you get any grass stains on your butt. I won’t be any better off.”

“It’s fine, it’s fine!” Victor waved it off, digging into his assortment of foods.”Great food, great company, great weather--what more could I ask for?” They chatted as they waited for the fireworks to start, and Victor occasionally shoved a bite of his food at Yuuri and delighted in the way Yuuri’s face lit up with pleasure.

After he finished eating and set his leftovers aside, Victor kicked off his sandals and stretched his legs out with a sigh.

“Good idea,” Yuuri said and did the same. “Sandals are traditional for yukata, but I wish I had worn my sneakers, to be honest. I didn’t realize how tired my feet would be after walking around in sandals for so long right after a full day of practice.” Victor was entranced as Yuuri’s long toes curled and straightened when Yuuri flexed his feet. Even this small act seemed like an elegant display that captured his gaze.

“You should put your feet on my lap,” Victor blurted out.

“What?” Yuuri asked, gaping.

Shit. “I should’ve thought about it,” Victor said quickly. “About the condition of your feet, sorry. I’m a failure as a coach! Let me make it up to you by checking on them now and giving you a massage. We still have to walk back after this, and I want to make sure you’re in the best shape possible. When we get back to Hasetsu, I’ll have you soak your feet in a hot water bath for a bit and put a cold compress on your legs if we need to, but for now this is the best we can do.”

“Right here?” Yuuri asked as he looked around them, sounding skeptical.

“That or let me princess carry you back to the train station. Coach’s orders!” Victor said.

Yuuri sighed and muttered, “At least it’s dark out,” but he scooted close to Victor and swung his legs over to rest his calves across Victor’s thighs with his feet dangling in the air. “This is embarrassing, so don’t make this a thing, OK?”

“I’ll be as quiet as Makkachin when she’s taking a nap!” Victor said, and then he looked down at his lap where Yuuri’s yukata had ridden up almost to his knees, leaving his calves exposed where they rested warm and heavy against Victor’s lap. Victor had a panicked moment in his head where he wondered just how visible an erection would be through a yukata if the worst came to pass, but he got a hold of himself and took a deep breath, reminding himself that this was for Yuuri’s sake, and that he really should’ve noticed something as Yuuri’s coach before now.

Victor did his best to stay quiet as he carefully lifted one calf up and ran his other hand down Yuuri’s leg and foot, feeling for any swelling or injuries. “Your muscles are pretty tense, especially your tendons here, but if we take good care of your feet for the rest of the night, you should be as good as new tomorrow.” He started massaging Yuuri’s leg, working down the calf to knead the soreness out of the muscles before brushing past Yuuri’s ankles. He let his fingers linger on them for a moment.

Yuuri stayed silent until Victor moved on to the arch of his foot, jerking away with a giggle. “Sorry, it tickled,” Yuuri apologized, and Victor looked up to try to gauge Yuuri’s expression in the darkness. Even when he squinted, he couldn’t really make out Yuuri’s features, but he watched as Yuuri’s shoulders rose and fell with each breath.

“Don’t squirm,” Victor chastised, and he guiltily admitted to himself it was more for his sake than Yuuri’s that he wanted Yuuri to stay put. He finished massaging one foot, taking care to stretch out each toe before putting Yuuri’s leg back down and picking up the other one. He heard a soft intake of breath as he massaged the other foot, but when he glanced up for a moment at Yuuri silhouette, he still couldn’t see much more than vague features in shadow. Victor used all of his mental willpower to tear his eyes away and focus on the task at hand until he was done.

When Victor finished, he patted both of Yuuri’s shins and asked, “Feel any better?”

He could dimly make out Yuuri’s smile. “Much better… Thank you.” Yuuri lifted his legs off of Victor’s, but he shifted in close next to Victor, their legs barely touching where they sat side by side. “Thanks for taking care of me,” Yuuri said quietly.

“Of course! I’m your coach, aren’t I? I like being able to take care of you,” Victor admitted, although he didn’t admit that it didn’t necessarily have anything to do with Victor as a coach. Victor would’ve been just as eager to care for Yuuri as a simple smitten man, completely disregarding his status or obligations as his coach.

They sat for a few minutes in a comfortable silence, and Victor tried to calm his pounding heart when Yuuri let his head rest on Victor’s shoulder. Yuuri left it resting there in the quiet until an announcement boomed out around them. The chatter around them hushed for a moment before resuming, even louder than before.

“What’s that?” Victor asked.

“They’re about to start the fireworks. I hope you’ll be surprised; even small towns in Japan go all out when it comes to firework shows,” Yuuri said.

Yuuri hadn’t been exaggerating, as when the fireworks show started, it was a spectacle of lights and sparks and sparkles reflecting beautifully off the water, each explosion sending a thunderous vibration through Victor’s chest. They looked in silence for some time at the fireworks lighting up the night sky before Yuuri finally spoke up.

“Victor, do you remember when we wrote down our wishes for Tanabata last week?”

Victor waited for a pause in the explosive booms to reply. “Yeah, that was fun!”

“Well… I wrote two of them.”

Yuuri!” Victor gasped and turned to look at Yuuri, his face lit up in brief flashes of color against the night sky. “Isn’t that breaking some kind of wish rule? You cheated!”

“Hey, you can write as many as you want!” Yuuri countered. “You just never asked me if you could write more than one. Anyway...” he continued, “one of them is a proper wish, but the other one was just a small wish for myself.”

Victor couldn’t make out Yuuri’s face in the dark, but he saw Yuuri’s hands trembling where they rested on his lap.

“You won’t think less of me for it, will you? For wishing for something selfish when I know I need to put everything into the upcoming competitions.” Yuuri sounded hesitant and quiet in the cacophony of sound in the background, but Victor only had ears for Yuuri’s soft voice.

“Of course not, Yuuri. Why would I? You’re allowed to want things for yourself; you’re more than just a skater, you know. And if it was just a wish for yourself, it’s fine if you don’t want to tell me what it was.”

Yuuri’s face was in shadow as he turned to face Victor, his expression unreadable as the fireworks in the sky reflected off of his glasses in miniature.

“I thought that I wouldn’t say my wish out loud in case it didn’t come true, but now I feel like if I say it, it’ll have to be real because if it’s not, I’ll embarrass myself too much.” Yuuri paused, but Victor waited in silence for him to continue.

Yuuri didn’t speak again, and Victor wondered for a moment if he was going to say anything else at all, but Yuuri suddenly leaned in to whisper into Victor’s ear. “I wished that I could have the courage to kiss you.”

“Oh,” whispered Victor dumbly, and then Yuuri was drawing in close in the dark and tilting his head to kiss Victor, chapped lips clumsily brushing against the side of Victor’s mouth for a moment before finding his lips and pressing softly.

Victor was frozen in shock for a second before he pushed back, barely noticing the way Yuuri’s glasses dug into his cheek awkwardly. Yuuri let out a soft breath against him, going boneless, and Victor pulled his body in close, wrapping an arm around Yuuri and trying to convey every ounce of affection he had for Yuuri through the slide of his lips against Yuuri’s.

“I’ve wanted to kiss you for months,” Victor mumbled against Yuuri’s lips, feeling his heart race, and when Yuuri replied breathlessly, “Me too,” Victor felt the world around them dull into meaningless background noise.

Yuuri grabbed onto the front of Victor’s yukata and hooked him in to kiss him again, his efforts a little awkward and fumbling but so earnest and eager that Victor couldn’t bring himself to care. Victor reached out to gently remove Yuuri’s glasses, folding them and setting them on the grass next to them before turning back to Yuuri to show him what a real kiss was.

They missed the rest of the fireworks.

When they walked back into Yutopia, practically attached at the hip with their fingers entwined, Mari turned away from the TV and took one look at them before rolling her eyes and barking out something in Japanese to Yuuri. Victor couldn’t understand what it was, but Yuuri’s face turned an adorable beet-red, and he flustered at his sister in a stammering response.

“Finally,” Mari said to Victor in monotone, and that was that.

Chapter Text

AUGUST


It was August now, and Victor and Yuuri were completely immersed in preparation for the rapidly approaching competitive season. The heat outside hadn’t died down at all, but the pressure of time and the momentum of developing Yuuri’s free skate routine had them powering through the weather with a new sense of motivation and purpose.

Yuuri’s confidence was growing with a program of his own choosing, and it was shaping up to be a beautiful expression of Yuuri’s life as a skater. They had a long way to go before it was competition-ready, but Victor couldn’t wait for everyone to see Yuuri back on the ice again.

They were spending more and more time on the rink working out the details of jump placements and step sequences, refining Yuuri’s short program, working to master new jumps--it seemed like there was an endless list of things to do and not enough time in the day to accomplish everything. And even though Yuuri was the one working himself to the bone, he was the one who had to be dragged away from the rink at the end of the day despite protests of “just one more time.”

So it came as a surprise when Yuuri suddenly requested to have a few evenings off. Not only did he request to have the time off from training, Yuuri wouldn’t tell Victor why he wanted the free time. When Victor asked what was going on, a dark expression washed over Yuuri’s face, contorting his features into something twisted, and he would only say that he had personal business to attend to. His mouth pressed tight into a thin line, and he would say no more.

Victor knew that Yuuri would never slack off on his training or ask for time off unless it was serious, so he agreed to it in exchange for promises of extra early-morning practice in the following week. Victor was only human, though, so he couldn’t stop his curiosity. He was dying to know what was going on, and he decided to follow Yuuri on the first night he’d requested off--not to snoop, of course, only out of concern for Yuuri as his coach. To make sure he wasn’t getting himself into trouble. Right.

The plan didn’t quite work out, though, because Victor ended up stuck running errands for the first night.

“Oh, Vicchan? You’re free?” Hiroko asked when she saw him. She made a dismissive waving gesture at him, and Victor was glad he’d learned that the gesture meant “come here” to Japanese people. When Victor came over, Hiroko immediately sent him out with shopping lists of items to pick up, telling him it would be good Japanese practice and that the shopkeepers could help him if he didn’t understand.

Once he came back, Mari was next, grabbing Victor in what felt like only seconds after he’d set down the shopping bags. He soon found himself on folding duty as seemingly endless loads of clean linens were dumped in front of him, and Mari showed no signs of letting him escape until he was finished.

Victor grabbed dinner in the main room after that, looking around for Yuuri but not spotting him anywhere. He wondered if he’d already missed Yuuri sneaking out to do… whatever it was he was going to do, but before he had too much time to think about it, Toshiya had found him, and he got sent on another round of errands to pick up crates of sake for Yutopia.

By the time Victor finished this marathon of errands, it was already late, especially for someone whose daily routine started at the crack of dawn and involved a lot of physical activity all day. Victor felt like an old man for giving up, but he decided to wash off and hop in the onsen for a soak. Maybe if he was lucky, he’d see Yuuri there and have a chance to ask him about where he was off to.

Victor wasn’t that lucky, though, so he didn’t spend too much time in the onsen--somehow it just wasn’t as fun or relaxing without having Yuuri there with him. Victor padded upstairs to his room to read a book for a while, and he noticed that the door to Yuuri’s room was shut. No light peeked out from underneath the door, and Victor couldn’t hear anything from within. It seemed like chances were good Yuuri wasn’t even home yet.

“Did you see Yuuri tonight, Makka?” Victor asked his dog as he entered his room, but she only rolled over on the bed with a huff, not even opening her eyes. Victor decided to take it as “no” for lack of a better possible interpretation, and he called it an early night after reading in bed for a while.

Something about Yuuri seemed off the next day, and Victor was determined to find out what it was. Yuuri was making mistakes on jumps that he normally nailed when he was barely conscious in the morning, and he seemed impatient and distracted. Victor knew that it had to be related to his bizarre, sudden request for time off, but with Yuuri’s strong aura of calculated distance, a nonverbal don’t talk to me oozing out of every pore, Victor found it hard to approach him or interrupt practice for the day to ask about it.

By the end of the day’s practice, Victor was feeling torn. He was still desperately curious to know what Yuuri was up to out of personal interest, but now he also wanted to know what was going on because his student was clearly upset about something. He knew that Yuuri didn’t like people invading his space or violating his privacy, though, and reaching too far too quickly had the tendency to make Yuuri take a step back. Would it be stepping beyond his boundaries as Yuuri’s coach to follow him or stop him? What about as Yuuri’s sort-of boyfriend?

Yuuri rushed home ahead of Victor, reminding him he had personal business to attend to, and Victor took his time on the bike ride back home, wondering what had gotten into Yuuri. It had been a while since he’d seen Yuuri so closed-off, and Victor wondered if he’d end up having to drag Yuuri out for another impromptu talk on the beach. At least maybe Yuuri would agree to be his lover this time.

When Victor locked up his bike and headed inside, he felt determined to follow up on Yuuri’s whereabouts. When he asked Hiroko where Yuuri was, though, she shook her head, frowned, and said, “No, Vicchan...” Asking Toshiya didn’t go much better, and by the time he hunted down Mari having a smoke outside, his frustration started to whittle away at his patience.

“Mari, did Yuuri come back home? Do you know where he is?”

Mari took a long drag out of her cigarette before giving Victor a slow, assessing look. “Yuuri came home,” was all she said.

“Oh, is he still home now? I’d better go find him.” Victor turned to slide open the door and head back inside, but Mari snatched at his sleeve and yanked him back.

“Yuuri’s home. But you shouldn’t bother him.”

Victor frowned, feeling the irritation that had been bubbling up start to spill over. “Why not? What’s going on?”

“It’s Obon,” Mari replied, like that explained everything.

“OK?” Victor asked.

“It’s Vicchan’s hatsubon,” Mari added succinctly, which clarified absolutely nothing for Victor.

“I don’t know what that means,” Victor said with a sigh.

“Look, it ends on the 16th. Yuuri will be finished after that.” The 16th? That matched up with the range of dates Yuuri had requested to have free in the evening, so clearly Mari knew about whatever was going on with Yuuri.

“Can’t I just talk to him about whatever’s going on?”

Mari gave him a wry smile that was more like a grimace. “He doesn’t want to talk right now. Just wait for obon to end. I’m too tired for English,” she said with a sigh and waved him off.

As Victor headed back inside, she called out after him. “If you really need Yuuri, he’s at the butsuma. But don’t interrupt him unless you really need to.”

Victor went up to his room, feeling annoyed and out of place. Sometimes the cultural gap in Japan felt like an impassable chasm. Even now, those few words of Japanese from Mari would have probably explained everything to a Japanese person, but they all meant nothing to him. Victor didn’t even know what a butsuma was, so he still had no idea where Yuuri was, although he was clearly at home or somewhere nearby. And since Mari had just warned him not to interrupt, Victor couldn’t go snooping around and accidentally disturb Yuuri by stumbling across him unexpectedly.

Victor knew that he couldn’t hope to understand everything about Japan, but what was so secretive or complicated about this obon that Yuuri couldn’t just explain it to him? Didn’t Yuuri trust Victor? Victor felt restless and uneasy, but he didn’t want to take Mari’s advice and wait it out without doing anything, and he didn’t want to just look up obon and hatsubon and butsuma. If Yuuri had wanted him to know what it was, wouldn’t Yuuri himself have explained it to Victor? Would it be going against Yuuri’s wishes to look up the words that would solve the puzzle of Yuuri’s strange mood and absence?

In the end, Victor decided to go with his original gut instinct, which was to follow Yuuri and see for himself what Yuuri was doing. It was too late today since Yuuri was already at this butsuma, but there were still two more days left until this obon was over. Victor would find some way to see what was going on by the time it ended.

Fortune smiled upon Victor, and he lucked out the next evening.

Yuuri was closed-off and quiet and irritable during the following day just like in the past two days, and again he excused himself early to head home before Victor. This time, though, Victor went home right away, too, taking a different route to avoid running into Yuuri but pedalling as fast as he could on his bike, not even changing out of his training gear before making a dash for the front door.

When he got back home, Victor slipped upstairs and went to his room before anyone could notice his early arrival. Not even Makkachin noticed him come in, and she kept on sleeping where she lay on the floor in the lobby. Once upstairs, Victor cracked his door open a few centimeters and lay on his floor with an ear pressed to the door, knowing he probably looked crazy but unable to bring himself to care. He wanted to hear when Yuuri got home and see if he could pick up any words that might give him a hint of where Yuuri would go.

Before too long, he heard Yuuri’s quiet “tadaima” and the sound of Yutopia’s front door sliding shut, followed by the quiet thumps of Yuuri’s feet upon the stairs. Yuuri went into his own room for a minute before quickly emerging again and heading back down the stairs, and Victor decided to channel his best ninja skills once more and follow him. Victor peeked down the stairs and was surprised to see that Yuuri didn’t leave Yutopia at all and instead headed into the section of the building downstairs reserved for the Katsukis’ personal housing. Victor had never been inside it, but Yuuri had told him it’s where his parents’ and sister’s room were, along with a living area and a few more personal spaces.

Victor felt bad about intruding as he quietly followed Yuuri through after waiting a minute, but he forgot about his worries when he saw Yuuri inside.

Yuuri.

A sliding door was half-open off to the left of the living room Victor found himself in, and Yuuri

faced away from him, sitting on a floor cushion on the far side of the other room. Victor watched as Yuuri lit a stick of incense in front of some kind of altar and sat down formally with his legs folded under him, his socked feet sticking out behind him stiffly.

“Vicchan,” Yuuri said, and Victor froze for a moment, heart thudding in his chest, before he realized Yuuri wasn’t talking to him.

Yuuri continued speaking softly, a stream of Japanese falling from his lips, and Victor struggled to listen and grasp the words even as he knew he couldn’t hope to make sense of whatever Yuuri was saying.

Was Yuuri talking to himself? Victor tried to peer around Yuuri to get a better look at the display Yuuri sat in front of, and then he noticed the framed photo sitting there. Vicchan, Victor thought, and he remembered that he wasn’t the only Vicchan in Hasetsu. Yuuri was talking to his dog.

Victor knew he shouldn’t intrude on what was clearly a private moment, but there was something about Yuuri’s figure that kept Victor glued to the spot. Yuuri’s socked feet looked a little silly sticking out behind him, but Yuuri’s stiff, hunched posture made him look small and lonely, and Victor felt drawn to him like a magnet. He tried his best to stamp out the urge to go over and embrace Yuuri and instead stayed silent and still and waited.

Yuuri talked and sat in silence in intervals, and Victor watched as Yuuri’s shoulders slowly began to tremble, escalating to a shivering shudder as Yuuri sniffed and started crying. Yuuri’s breaths soon turning into heaving sobs, and Victor felt guilt stabbing him in the gut like a twisting knife.

Mari was right. He shouldn’t have come.

Victor inched back the way he came, staying as quiet as possible as he eased open the door back into the main area of Yutopia. He took one last look back at Yuuri, who looked so small and sad in the empty, open space of the room, and he slid the door closed again.

Victor turned to find Mari watching him with a baleful gaze.

“What are you doing?” she asked flatly, although it was pretty clear what Victor had just been doing.

“I… I didn’t know,” said Victor.

“I told you,” Mari said, and Victor saw a familiar flash of determination and strength, one he was used to seeing on Yuuri’s face. “I told you to leave him alone. Don’t hurt my brother,” she hissed, and she stomped out of the room with a shake of her head.

Victor went back to his room, feeling awful, and he stayed there for the rest of the evening, only emerging to go to the bathroom and get ready for bed. He didn’t feel like facing the Katsukis right now after barging in on their personal space to stand around watching their son cry, and his guilt was mixed with a feeling of irritation that no one had just taken the time to explain to him whatever this obon was about so he wouldn’t do the wrong thing.

At least for the last day, he would do what Mari had originally told him to: leave Yuuri to himself and wait.

Victor wanted to go easy on Yuuri at practice the next day, but he knew that Yuuri would be suspicious if he did, so he tried to be just as tough and critical as usual. He did his best not to look too closely at Yuuri’s face and wonder how long Yuuri had been crying these past few nights, tried not to apologize for something he didn’t want to admit doing, tried to be Coach Victor and set everything else aside.

And when Yuuri made another early retreat at the end of the day, this time Victor tried to stay out as late as possible before going back to Yutopia, not wanting to return knowing that Yuuri was sitting all alone in a dark room crying over his dead dog. At the least, Victor wished Yuuri would’ve taken Makkachin with him, knowing she was always a good source of comfort. Maybe looking at another dog was the last thing Yuuri wanted right now, though.

Victor normally liked going out at night in Hasetsu when he got the opportunity, finding the odd lively bar or ramen shop where he could have a few drinks and chat with some locals, but today he didn’t feel up to it. He found himself walking around aimlessly to kill time after a quick dinner at a fast food restaurant, wandering until his feet finally took him back to Yutopia after the sun had gone down.

As he lay in bed that night with Makkachin curled up next to him, Victor couldn’t stop thinking about the past few days and wondering if he should’ve done something differently, but it felt like a lose-lose situation. He wondered if things would be back to normal the next day, but how could Yuuri suddenly be back to normal after spending nights sitting alone in front of an altar for his deceased pet? Maybe Victor should’ve pried a little more, after all.

Victor’s thinking was interrupted when Makkachin jerked her head up as the door to his room slid open, light from the hallway spilling into his room. Yuuri’s familiar silhouette stood hesitantly in the doorway.

“Victor.” Yuuri’s voice was quiet and hoarse. “Can I… Can I sleep with you tonight?”

They’d shared a bed a few times now, but it was always out of chance or circumstance--they’d be up late in one of their rooms working on Yuuri’s routines, and they’d just kind of collapse in bed together, or they’d be sitting in one of their rooms watching cute animal videos that Phichit sent Yuuri, and one of them would nod off, the other soon following.

It hadn’t been like this.

“Of course,” Victor rushed to answer, noticing Yuuri waiting awkwardly in the hall. He lifted up the covers on the side of his bed not taken up by a snoozing dog, and he thanked past-Victor for at least deciding to wear underwear to bed tonight.

Yuuri slipped in under the covers, drawing them up to his nose with a quiet rustle, and he slid next to Victor, close but not touching.

“Victor, this week was obon,” Yuuri said in the darkness.

Victor waited for Yuuri to continue, not wanting to interrupt.

“It’s a time of year when the spirits of our ancestors supposedly come back to the world of the living to visit us. We have to give offerings and pray for their spirits to come to us during obon, and this year was the first time since… Since Vicchan died.”

Victor reached under the covers and felt for Yuuri’s hand, resting his on top of it.

“I wanted to make sure that I did things right for his first obon, especially since I wasn’t there for Vicchan before, when…” Yuuri’s voice cracked and broke off before he took a deep breath and continued. “I wanted to talk to him and apologize and tell him everything that’s been going on. It’s stupid, I know, but-”

“It’s not stupid,” Victor interrupted firmly, then more quietly. “It’s not stupid at all.”

There was silence between them for a few moments before Yuuri spoke again. “At first I was really upset, with myself, with life, with everything, but the more I talked to Vicchan, the more I realized that I could send Vicchan off with him knowing that I’m going to be OK because… I’m really happy now,” he said, his muffled voice under the covers barely audible even in the silence around them.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you anything, Victor. I just felt like I needed to get through this on my own, to make it up to Vicchan.” Yuuri squeezed his hand. “And I told Vicchan all about you, and how I’m so lucky that you’re here... Thank you.”

I love you, Victor thought.

The thought came to him unbidden, but once it was there, it refused to go away. Instead, it only seemed to multiply in intensity and consume him until it seemed impossible to think anything else. The words should’ve felt heavy and unfamiliar, but oddly enough, they didn’t seem to weigh him down--they only slotted into place and filled an emptiness inside of himself that he hadn’t even recognized before now.

Victor could feel the words on the tip of his tongue threatening to escape, but he swallowed them and reached for Yuuri instead, pulling him in close and placing gentle kisses on every part of Yuuri’s face his lips could find. And if he happened to taste the salt of tears on Yuuri’s skin, he wouldn’t say anything.

Victor placed a final kiss on the top of Yuuri’s head, cradling Yuuri’s head in his arms and pressing it to his chest.

Yuuri relaxed into his embrace, body going loose and limbs wrapping around Victor. Yuuri sniffled once and then laughed, mumbling against his skin, “Your feet are freezing.”

I love you, Victor thought again, but all he said was, “Goodnight, solnyshko.”


SEPTEMBER


The regional championships in Japan were fast approaching, and Victor couldn’t wait. He was confident in Yuuri’s programs, confident in the choreography, confident in Yuuri’s skating, confident that this would be an easy start to the season and a great chance for Yuuri to sweep the competition without having to give it a second thought. Not only that, it was going to be Victor’s debut in public as Yuuri’s coach. Victor found himself daydreaming a lot lately about how to make the best impression and what to wear, what to do at the competition to be the most coach-like he could be. He couldn’t help but feel smug at the thought of how surprised the media would be to see him in his first formal appearance as a coach, and to see Yuuri’s beautiful comeback. Victor couldn’t remember the last time he’d been looking forward to a competitive season so much.

Yuuri, however, didn’t seem to share his enthusiasm for some reason. As the competition drew near, Yuuri grew more and more withdrawn and pensive, frequently excusing himself in the evenings to go to Minako’s studio or to skate figures in the solitude of Hasetsu Castle. Victor left Yuuri alone, knowing that this was Yuuri’s way of getting time to himself to sort out his thoughts, but as Yuuri’s coach, Victor still wanted to do something to help. Victor felt like he was giving the best instruction and support he could during the day’s practice, so he didn’t think there was much more he could to do help as far as skating was concerned, but… There had to be something he could to do lift Yuuri’s spirits or boost his morale, if nothing else.

In the end, Victor decided that finding a way to take Yuuri’s mind off the upcoming competition would probably be for the best, and that was how he found himself planning a date. It couldn’t be all that over-the-top--this was Hasetsu, after all, not Paris or New York--but Victor was determined to go all out and really pamper Yuuri for an evening. A date might not have been the most coach-like of choices, but their relationship was blurring so many boundaries now that Victor decided not to sweat the small stuff.

They could go out to dinner, then catch a movie, go to an arcade, and finish the night with a romantic walk on the beach. It would be perfect.

There was one thing marring all of Victor’s visions of dates, though--even in all of his wild fantasies of a picture-perfect date, Victor always pictured Yuuri with him wearing something horribly frumpy and unflattering, like stained old sweatpants and a coat that was clearly two sizes too big for him. Even in his imagination, Victor couldn’t bring himself to imagine Yuuri dressing up or at least making an effort at being fashionable. That was usually fine, of course-- Yuuri looked adorable even when he was sitting around in a faded old T-shirt and pajama pants--but if they were going to go on a capital-d Date, Victor wanted Yuuri to feel like it was something special, too, something out of the ordinary. A change of clothes was definitely in order.

Victor didn’t want to cause Yuuri any stress while Yuuri was clearly already feeling stressed out (even if it was totally unwarranted), so he couldn’t drag Yuuri out shopping, but he had a secret weapon at the ready: measurements. They already had to take Yuuri’s measurements for Yuuri’s free skate costume, so Victor just happened to have all of Yuuri’s measurements handy. What a lucky coincidence! There was nothing stopping him from going out on his own and getting a great outfit without even having to let Yuuri know. If store employees thought he was odd for bringing a tape measure with him to poke and prod at various clothes, he’d just have to pull out the foreigner card.

Victor didn’t want to go too fancy or out-of-character for Yuuri--he wanted to plan an evening just for Yuuri, so he wanted Yuuri to be as comfortable as possible. Only a little more fashionable than usual. Victor picked up a simple short sleeve shirt, a pair of slim jeans, and a soft white cable knit sweater. With an outfit this plain, even Yuuri couldn’t complain, but the cut of everything seemed more fitted and sleek than what Yuuri usually wore.

Victor didn’t ask Yuuri for permission to randomly buy him a new outfit, but then again, Victor didn’t even tell Yuuri he was planning a date. Maybe Yuuri didn’t love surprises quite as much as Victor did, but Victor knew that surprising Yuuri at the last second made it that much harder for Yuuri to back out. Especially considering Yuuri’s tendency to overthink, it seemed like a good idea to get Yuuri dressed up and out the door before Yuuri could start contemplating and worrying away.

On D-Day (Date Day), Victor presented Yuuri with his new outfit in the most subtle way possible: he waited until practice for the day had finished and they were back at Yutopia. He kept his distance until Yuuri went to wash off and soak in the onsen for a bit, and then he simply went to Yuuri’s locker, grabbed the clothes Yuuri left in there, swapped them out for Victor’s new purchases, and made his great escape. Perfect.

As Victor walked away with Yuuri’s clothes under one arm, it occurred to him that he should probably leave a note for Yuuri so Yuuri didn’t think a stranger had accidentally swapped clothes. He grabbed a piece of scrap paper from the counter in the lobby, wrote, “Come see me after you get changed ;) -- Victor” and dashed back to the lockers to leave it on top of the carefully folded outfit he’d left for Yuuri. He scampered out and upstairs to his room, feeling awfully proud of himself.

Victor killed time rolling around with Makkachin and playing tug of war with her with one of her toys, but he stopped when he heard the familiar sound of Yuuri’s steps upon the stairs. He had a moment of doubt where he wondered if Yuuri would’ve somehow found a way to avoid wearing the outfit picked for him, but he felt triumphant when he saw Yuuri shuffle in wearing the new clothes Victor had bought for him.

That feeling of triumph, however, soon turned to stupefied horror when Victor let his eyes trail down Yuuri’s figure. Yuuri was wearing the slim jeans that Victor had bought for him, but he’d rolled up the cuffs on them. Of course he had. Even a Victor Nikiforov-produced outfit wasn’t safe from Yuuri’s ankle-exposing ways. To make matters worse, it was like Yuuri had gone into some kind of a frenzy, as he’d rolled up the legs halfway to his knees. Was this a rebellious phase? A statement about Yuuri’s preferred fashion, or a way to act out against Victor’s attempts at keeping Yuuri’s poor legs clothed properly?

Victor couldn’t take his eyes off of Yuuri’s legs, wondering where he’d gone wrong as Yuuri’s coach. He didn’t raise Yuuri to treat his pants like this. Were there no pant legs in the world strong enough to withstand Yuuri, no fabric that Yuuri’s hands wouldn’t be drawn to like magnets?

Wait, what if Yuuri was merely forced to roll them up endlessly like Sisyphus with the boulder--was this some sort of karmic retribution? Was there no saving him? Could it be that--

“Uh, Victor?” Yuuri interrupted Victor’s amazing scientific queries in progress. “Where are my clothes?”

“You’re wearing them!” Victor chirped, ignoring the extremely unimpressed look Yuuri gave him.

“Victor. You know what I mean. These aren’t the clothes I left in my locker. Can I have them back?”

“Don’t worry, you can have your other clothes back at the end of the day! I promise I didn’t burn them.”

Yuuri sighed and wiped a hand through his damp hair. “OK, I’m not going to ask why you’ve thought about burning my clothes, but what are you scheming?”

“Me?” Victor asked, the picture of innocence. “I would never scheme! Yuuri, do I look like a schemer to you? Would a schemer have a cute dog like Makka?” he asked, grabbing Makkachin’s face to squish it.

Yuuri snorted. “Absolutely, that’s how you’d get people to let their guard down.”

Victor waved him off. “Well, never mind that. We’re going out tonight! I already made reservations for dinner. Well, OK, Mari helped me make reservations for dinner, but still.”

“Dinner? You know how I struggle with my diet, and you want me to break it with the competition coming up…?” Yuuri got the familiar frown on his face that Victor had been seeing frequently as of late, and Victor knew he needed to get Yuuri on track and off-topic as soon as possible.

“Mari helped me check out restaurants and find one with some choices that will still fit in with your diet! You can have a salad and a fish entree, minus the rice. It’ll be nice to get out, and besides… I want to have you all to myself for a bit,” Victor said, sidling over to Yuuri to drape himself over him and rest his head on Yuuri’s shoulder. “It’s selfish, I know, but I have to share you with everyone else when we’re at home! If I steal you away, there will be nobody to fight for your attention. I’m a pathetic man, Yuuri.” Victor sighed in exaggerated woe, nuzzling against Yuuri’s neck.

“...You didn’t have to go to the trouble of buying me clothes just to go out to dinner,” Yuuri said, shuddering slightly as Victor kissed the underside of his jaw, and Victor knew that he was in the clear. Yuuri was compliant after that, which was suspicious in its own way, but Victor was just happy to get him out and about.

The restaurant they went to was a local hole-in-the-wall, packed with salarymen out for drinks and after-work get-togethers. The tables had some grime on them, the clanging sounds of the open kitchen were hard to ignore, and the ambiance left something to be desired, but it was reward enough to see Yuuri looking soft and happy as he shoved food in his face like a hamster. Victor wasn’t making much progress on his own entree because watching Yuuri eat was much more appealing.

Yuuri stuck with water and hot tea, but Victor had a few drinks, and the warm buzz of alcohol left everything feeling pleasantly fuzzy--fuzzy enough that the first time Yuuri’s foot brushed against his under the table, Victor didn’t notice it. Victor continued telling the story he was in the middle of, retelling one of Georgi’s dramatic breakups and not even having to exaggerate to make it ridiculous. Yuuri continued to smile at him between mouthfuls of food.

The second time it happened, Victor noticed, but he didn’t think it meant anything. The tables here were cramped, so if their legs happened to bump into each other, it wasn’t that odd. Yuuri didn’t seem to notice he’d done it, either, as he didn’t say anything or show any reaction.

The third time it happened and Yuuri’s bare foot slid along Victor’s ankle and up and under the cuff of his pants, Victor froze mid-sentence, chopsticks dangling in the air helplessly.

“What’s wrong?” Yuuri asked, face all naive innocence, and that’s when Victor realized Yuuri had to know. Yuuri didn’t miss a beat as he took a sip of his tea, looking for all the world like he wasn’t doing a thing even as his foot rubbed teasingly up and down Victor’s calf.

Victor knew he was screwed, but he put on his scientist hat and tried to reassure himself. A little footsie under the table didn’t mean anything. It didn’t mean that Yuuri knew anything, right? Tons of people flirt. It was just flirting. But in combination with the pants rolled up to their highest point yet tonight… There were too many factors, and Victor acutely regretted the harm he’d done himself in not preparing charts and graphs of data about Yuuri’s ankles and rolled-up pants. Maybe if he had those he could try to read them like the stars, like zodiac charts, and guess his fate for the night.

“Did you forget the rest of the story?” Yuuri asked, and only the mischievous glint in his eyes betrayed anything. “You’ve barely touched your food, too. Don’t let me be the only one eating.” He gestured at Victor’s mostly untouched pile of tempura.

Victor stared dumbly at his plate like it somehow held all the answers, remembered he was holding chopsticks, and made a valiant attempt to pick up a piece of food and bring it to his mouth. Only the mechanical nature of the action made it a success when he was so distracted by the feel of Yuuri’s toes tapping playfully against his calf.

“So…” Victor cleared his throat. “So after that, Georgi decided he was going to become a swan prince, and he tried to get a costume that had a swan head sticking out of the front of it. Yakov got into a shouting match with him over it, and somehow Georgi ended up with the sad remains of a fake swan in his locker.” This was fine. Just ignore Yuuri. Ignore Yuuri’s other foot coming to join the first one. He was a professional. Coach Victor. Coach Victor didn’t get turned on by his student’s feet.

“I wish I could’ve seen that,” Yuuri said with a sigh. “I don’t suppose you got a picture of it, did you?”

“I wish! Georgi is a… delicate man, and nobody wanted to break his spirits any further,” Victor answered with a smirk. Yes, he was fine. Everything was fine. “And something like this happens all of the time, honestly. If it were a rare occurrence, that’d be one thing, but when Georgi always has something like this going on, it’s hard to remember that it’s bizarre enough to deserve a picture.”

They continued their conversation like this for a while, and Victor felt reassured that nothing was showing on his face, at the least. If he pretended nothing was happening, everything would be fine.

When Victor finally thought he’d gotten the situation under control, though, Yuuri gave Victor a deceivingly shy little smile and slid one of his feet up to Victor’s inner thigh. Victor jumped out of his chair, the clattering screech of the chair thankfully swallowed up by the background noise of the restaurant.

Yuuri’s eyes slid down Victor’s body, and a wolfish smile spread across his face. Victor immediately slammed himself back down into his chair, and he felt his face burning as he wondered if he had only himself to blame for the monster before him. Maybe Victor hadn’t been as subtle as he thought. Or maybe Yuuri had been a horrifying temptation from the very start. Maybe Victor should’ve known better the instant he saw Yuuri pole dancing at last year’s banquet and thought, after taking in that butt, those thighs, that it was cute that Yuuri kept his socks on.

“If you’re not going to eat any more, are you ready to go?” Yuuri suddenly asked coyly, already standing up from his chair. Yuuri looked down at Victor with an impish smile on his face. Come on, stand up, his face seemed to be saying, when Yuuri knew full well that Victor clearly needed a couple of minutes to… get ready to leave.

“Let me just finish my drink,” Victor said, grateful his glass of beer was still a good third full.

“Of course, no problem,” Yuuri agreed easily before sitting down again, leaning back in his chair casually to observe Victor. Yuuri was quiet and well-behaved after that as he waited for Victor, but his silent, knowing smile as Victor tried to draw out the last few sips of beer was oppressive in its own way.

When they finally made their way out of the restaurant to the darkness outside, Yuuri was silent until they’d made it a block or two away and the streets around them were empty.

“Victor?” Yuuri asked, and when Victor looked his way, Yuuri leaned in close. “That’s payback for stealing my clothes,” Yuuri hissed into his ear.

Once he said the words, Yuuri seemed to lose whatever strange burst of wicked confidence had hit him that night, and his face flushed red all the way to the tips of his ears. Yuuri looked shocked at his own behavior, all previous smirking temptation on his face melting away into adorably flustered embarrassment, but he turned away and rushed ahead of Victor before Victor could get a better glimpse.

Yuuri didn’t get up to any more mischief for the rest of the night, and their date passed by in a blur. Victor’s mission to make Yuuri forget about the upcoming competition appeared to have been a success as well, which was great. After that evening, Yuuri seemed more relaxed and more open, maybe because Victor’s embarrassment helped make himself seem a little more human. Or maybe Yuuri just had a sadistic streak and wanted to see Victor at his mercy. (If it would help Yuuri, Victor was fine with that, too, but he definitely would’ve appreciated more of a heads up.) Whatever it was, it put Victor at ease to see Yuuri freed from the burden of overthinking things, at least for a while.

It had come at a price, though, because Victor had also forgotten about everything but Yuuri.

Chapter Text

OCTOBER


Yuuri was gone, and Victor was all alone.

OK, it wasn’t exactly true. Yuuri was only gone for a day to do a press conference after his victory in the regional championships. He’d be back as soon as possible to return to training, and Victor wasn’t technically alone at all, either, with Makkachin and Yuuri’s family and friends all around at Yutopia. Still, something felt off without Yuuri there, and Victor felt strangely alone despite all the people around him. The more time passed, the worse that feeling got.

Victor had honestly thought nothing of it at first when Yuuri told Victor to go back to Hasetsu before him, reassuring Victor that he’d be back in town the next day. It was no big deal, and it wasn’t like Victor had anything he could do to help when it came to Japanese press conferences. Yuuri would be back in a day, they’d get right back to training, and it wouldn’t mean a thing.

Victor soon realized how naive he’d been, however, when he got back to Yutopia. Makkachin came running out to greet him, but once they went back inside, Makkachin returned to the front door, sitting there patiently no matter how many times Victor called out to her or dragged her away. After a few attempts, he realized Makkachin was waiting for Yuuri to come inside, expecting them to be together. It made Victor think about just how often they left and came back together or at almost the same time, how strange it was to have left together but for Victor to be the only one coming back. Victor had a fleeting moment where he was half-tempted to sit with Makkachin by the door, too, even though he knew it wouldn’t make Yuuri come back home any faster.

Victor took Makkachin for a long walk and told her all about Yuuri’s performance, how he hadn’t listened to a word Victor said and smashed his face open during his free skate but had still been beautiful in his own stubborn way. This kept Victor distracted for some time, and the exercise helped him get some of the restless energy out of his system. When he got back to Yutopia and Yuuri still wasn’t there, however, reality sunk in. A strange, hollow feeling started to take root in the pit of his stomach: a vague, implacable sensation that something was missing, something was off, something was wrong.

It wasn’t like he and Yuuri were inseparable, incapable of doing anything apart from each other, but Victor always had the reassurance that almost every day would start and end with Yuuri. On days he was lucky, he’d wake up to his alarm and Yuuri would be lying next to him in bed, grumbling grumpily and trying to shove the covers back over his head. They’d often go to practice together, go back home together, have dinner together… And while they had time to themselves throughout the day and after practice for the day was done, Victor would end most nights saying goodnight to Yuuri. When the stars aligned, he was able to say it to Yuuri in his own bed and give him a goodnight kiss, tasting the mint of his toothpaste.

They’d only slept together in the most literal sense of the word so far, but Yuuri’s presence and warmth were a comfort at night, and when he and Yuuri and Makka were all sprawled out together in Victor’s bed, Victor had never felt more peaceful as he drifted off to sleep. Lately, Yuuri had been sleeping in Victor’s room more often than not, although sometimes he would wait until Victor was already asleep to slip in and join him.

Yuuri wouldn’t be around tonight.

Ironically, Yuuri’s absence seemed to make Victor think of him more and more. Victor thought he’d pass the day quickly without Yuuri, but it felt like time dragged on, and all he could think about was how he couldn’t wait for Yuuri to come back. By the time dinner rolled around, it seemed like there was a gaping hole in his life where Yuuri was supposed to be.

Victor felt guilty to be eating dinner at Yuuri’s house with Yuuri’s family after Yuuri’s victory without Yuuri himself there, and it was odd to be the one trying to tell Yuuri’s family how the competition went. At least feeding scraps to Makkachin under the table cheered Victor up a bit, and at least Victor knew that they could have Yuuri’s celebratory katsudon the next day.

After dinner, Yuuri’s family and friends gathered around the TV in the main room to watch Yuuri’s press conference. Victor and Yuuri had talked about it a bit--Victor knew the gist of it, that it was a conference to announce his theme for the season, and that Yuuri had picked love and would be explaining his choice and goals for the season to the media. Victor hoped that this information and what little Japanese he knew would be enough to help him get the idea of what Yuuri was saying, but Mari and Minako were around to bother for translations in a worst-case scenario.

Even seeing Yuuri on a screen made Victor’s heart feel refilled and rejuvenated, as silly as it was. Everyone grew quiet as Yuuri spoke on screen, and Victor only picked up bits and pieces--my theme, love, support, family, friends, coach Victor, first, Grand Prix Final… The words he understood didn’t turn into cohesive sentences by themselves, so Victor decided to focus on Yuuri’s appearance instead.

Yuuri’s glasses were off, and his eyes were slightly scrunched up adorably, like he couldn’t see very well. His face was flushed, but his gaze was firm and determined. He looked soft and strong at the same time, and the only thing ruining his appearance was that stupid tie Victor had been trying to find excuses to throw out for months now.

When Yuuri finished speaking and Victor made a comment about Yuuri’s tie, he turned to find everyone frowning at him. Did everyone in Hasetsu have such poor taste in fashion?

“What’s wrong? Something I said?” Victor asked, but Mari only muttered, “Something Yuuri said.”

Minako was much more forward, and she threw an arm around Victor in what looked like a friendly gesture but felt more like a chokehold. “Yuuri basically said he’s not sure about his feelings for us,” she gestured to everyone around them, “but that he loves you and he’s going to prove his love by winning the Grand Prix Final. Would you believe the nerve of him? What are we to him?”

Mari grumbled in assent.

“He said what?” Victor asked, trying to look suitably neutral but failing miserably as a huge smile spread across his face against his will.

“He didn’t even tell you?” Mari said, looking nonplussed.

“That’s so romantic!” Yuuko gushed.

“That’s Yuuri for you,” Minako sighed.

Yokatta ne!” Hiroko chimed in.

Victor wasn’t sure what to say in response to this, and he felt shell-shocked. Did Yuuri plan on telling him about this, or would he be bold enough to say it on a televised press conference but too shy to mention it to Victor in person later? Victor’s mind was reeling, and all he wanted was to see Yuuri in person and tell him how surprised and happy he was. Yuuri had just announced to Japan that he loved Victor. At a press conference. Victor felt his heart warm at the thought of the confidence and determination Yuuri had exuded during his speech and how it had been for Victor’s sake.

Victor put up with some teasing and joking from everyone for a while, but he kept glancing at the clock the whole time, trying to judge when Yuuri might have finished for the day and gone back to his hotel for the evening. This, unfortunately, led to more teasing, as Victor’s fidgety impatience was painfully obvious. Finally he got shoved upstairs with Makkachin, with Minako announcing to everyone that “lover boy needs time alone.”

Victor reached the top of the stairs and paused in front of the door to his room. He put his hand on the door to open it, but for some reason, he couldn’t stand the thought of being alone in his room right now. After a brief pause, his feet seemed to shuffle down the hallway of their own accord, right to Yuuri’s room. Victor gently opened the door to Yuuri’s room, whispered an “ojama shimasu,” and walked into the dim room with Makkachin padding in behind him.

After carefully closing the door behind him, Victor contemplated turning on the lights, but he thought about the possibility of Yuuri’s family taking a peek upstairs and instantly knowing that Victor was in Yuuri’s room from the light under the door. It wasn’t like Victor minded if Yuuri’s family knew anything about them being together, but there was something about tonight that left him wanting privacy in Yuuri’s room, where he could breathe in Yuuri’s scent and look at Yuuri’s belongings and feel like he was just a little bit closer to him while they were apart.

Victor lay down on Yuuri’s cramped bed, Makkachin hopping up to lie down on his stomach, and he closed his eyes in the quiet dark of the bedroom to be alone with his thoughts.

When had it happened? When had Victor become someone who couldn’t be apart from Yuuri for even a day without feeling like he was a flower suddenly losing the warmth of the sun? He felt like he might wither if he didn’t get to touch Yuuri again soon and see his smile, see him glide across the ice, see him drool on Victor’s pillow as he slept, see his ankles taunting Victor. Yuuri had wormed his way into Victor’s heart more and more with every passing day, but to feel this lonely after less than a day apart… Victor felt a twinge of embarrassment at the thought of how needy he might come across if he ever admitted it out loud, but there was another part of him that wondered excitedly: what if Yuuri feels the same?

Victor didn’t feel like browsing social media right now, but he reached around Makkachin to pull out his phone and find videos of Yuuri’s press conference and a translation courtesy of Yuuri’s fervent worldwide fan base. He found himself watching the video again and again, trying to catalogue all of the expressions on Yuuri’s face and hoping to draw some extra meaning from his words. He froze the video where Yuuri showed the character for “love” as his theme of the year, and he traced the symbol in the air with his finger until he could remember it.

Yuuri told Japan he loved Victor, but he still hadn’t told Victor that.

Victor wasn’t sure if he should feel flattered or offended or elated or shocked, so he settled for leaving himself drifting aimlessly in a maelstrom of emotions. Maybe when Yuuri came back, Victor would look into his eyes and know. Maybe when Yuuri came back, Yuuri would bring it up first. Maybe when Yuuri came back, things would be different somehow.

Victor let his hands rest on his chest and thought to himself, I won’t say anything about it. Yuuri’s mind worked in strange ways, and pressing only seemed to make him back off, so Victor would wait, just like he was waiting now for Yuuri to get back.

After rolling around in Yuuri’s bed restlessly with Makkachin for a while, Victor checked the time for the millionth time that day and decided to call Yuuri. Surely he’d waited long enough, right? It wouldn’t seem desperate, right? Anyway, he was Yuuri’s coach. It was fine to check in with him.

He felt the flutter of anxious anticipation in his stomach as he pulled up Yuuri’s number and dialed. The phone rang a few times, and he wondered for a moment if Yuuri might be too busy to pick up, but there he was, with a quiet, “Victor?”

“Yuuri!” Victor tried not to sound overeager. “Is now a good time?”

“Yeah, it’s fine. I’m heading to my hotel now. I just stopped by a conbini to grab something to eat back in my room. All Coach Victor-approved foods, don’t worry,” Yuuri joked.

“Oh, I can wait until you’re settled in. It’s no big deal. Did you want me to call back later?” “No,” Yuuri replied in a rush. “No, I’m almost back, and… it’s nice to hear your voice.”

“Did everything go OK with the press today? Don’t forget to stretch properly when you’re back in your room! I’d recommend doing a hot compress on your calves too since those tend to be the tightest at the end of the day. After the competition I’m sure it’s even worse than usual, so we need to be vigilant and take good care of your legs. If you’re still sore in the morning, don’t do anything more than a light jog, and we can assess your condition once you get back.” Victor found himself going into a lecture immediately, and he was relieved to find his brain hadn’t turned to mush so badly that he’d forgotten about his duties as a coach.

“OK, OK,” Yuuri said with a laugh. “Don’t worry, I’ve got it all down, and I’ll be back as soon as I can tomorrow.”

Victor continued going through his official coach lecture for a few more minutes with Yuuri until he felt he’d done his duties and covered everything he could think of. “Makkachin misses you,” Victor said afterward, which wasn’t a lie but wasn’t quite what he meant. “She kept waiting for you to walk in the door today. It was so cute! I should’ve taken a picture.”

There was only the background noise of the streets on the other end of the line for a moment before Yuuri breathed out, “I wish you were here.”

“Really?” Victor felt his heart leap dangerously in his chest.

“I know it’s silly,” Yuuri confessed, “but I’ve been selfishly wishing I made you stay with me even though you’d be bored out of your mind.”

“I wouldn’t be bored with you,” Victor said. “I’m so bored without you!”

“How could you be bored? I’m sure things have been pretty crazy at home today. What have you been up to, anyway?”

Victor looked around the room for a moment before replying. “Sulking, mostly.”

Yuuri’s laughter on the other end washed over him, filling some of the void left by Yuuri’s absence. “You’re the one back at home, so I get to sulk more than you. You’re back at Yutopia celebrating with everyone, and here I am staying in a budget hotel room by myself.”

“I still wish I could be there with you now,” Victor said.

“One person can barely fit in the room here, let alone the bed, and trust me, it’s not up to Victor Nikiforov standards.”

“I don’t care,” Victor said. “Your bed’s pretty cramped with only one person, too.”

“My bed?” Yuuri asked after a pause. “Victor, are you in my room?”

“I miss you,” Victor said in lieu of an answer.

“... Me too,” came Yuuri’s response after a pause. “I keep thinking about you,” he said quietly.

“I thought about making myself go to bed early so tomorrow would come faster,” Victor confessed, “but I didn’t want to go to my room, and even your bed feels lonely without you in it.”

Yuuri laughed a little bit nervously. “Yeah? This will sound stupid, but when I realized I’d be going to bed without having you around to say goodnight, I started wondering if I’d be able to get to sleep at all.”

“Oh,” wheezed Victor, and he thought that whatever sickness had left him incapable of being apart from Yuuri was contagious, as Yuuri had clearly caught it too. “Do you want me to call you back when you’re going to bed? Or… I could stay on the line until then,” he suggested, testing to see how far the disease had affected Yuuri and hoping they were both equally sick.

“Stay,” Yuuri said firmly, then quieter, more hesitant. “Stay with me?”

“Of course,” Victor answered eagerly, ignoring the urge to tell Yuuri he’d do anything for him. “I’ll be here as long as you need me.”

When Victor woke up the next morning curled up in the sheets of Yuuri’s bed with a dead phone leaving an awkward imprint in his cheek, he felt a pang of disappointment to open his eyes and remember where he was and that the bed only smelled like Yuuri and felt like Yuuri because it was Yuuri’s, but Yuuri was still gone.

Yuuri’s absence and the hollow feelings that came with it made Victor realize just how much Yuuri had given him and how full his life was with Yuuri in it now. He decided magnanimously that he’d even forgive the tie.


NOVEMBER


In retrospect, maybe Victor should’ve thought before he kissed Yuuri on an internationally broadcasted sports event.

There was something of a media frenzy after Yuuri’s free skate and the public spectacle they’d made of themselves. Victor probably should’ve anticipated this, of course, but he’d been so swept up in the moment and his emotions that he didn’t have the foresight to think that Yuuri would be stuck doing interviews and impromptu press conferences afterward. His own actions ironically meant that he couldn’t have Yuuri to himself for hours when he was dying to tell him how he felt, to hold him close and never let go.

They hadn’t had time to themselves to talk about what had just happened, but Victor could see the feelings in his own heart reflected on Yuuri’s face, and he knew that they’d just taken a leap forward in their own relationship with no going back. Still, Victor felt himself practically vibrating with the desire to pull Yuuri away and kiss him senseless, so he was starting to feel like he was going mad as he stood around and waited for the press to finish their barrage of questions.

“Did Victor Nikiforov come to Japan to be your coach and support you because the two of you were already together? Were there worries about being in the competitive circuit together while the two of you were involved in a relationship?”

“How long has this been going on?”

“Do you anticipate any repercussions from the ISU? You and your coach continued... embracing on the ice for several minutes despite announcements to clear the ice and proceed to the kiss and cry.”

“How serious is the relationship between you and coach Nikiforov?”

For all of the nerves and anxiety Yuuri had shown over the past few days, he now looked calm, composed, and determined in the face of the reporters’ ceaseless questions. Victor had half-expected Yuuri to suddenly flush and turn shy under the scrutiny of the media, but it had been yet another wonderful surprise that day when Yuuri started by giving the reporters a wry smile with that determined glint in his eyes and said, “No comment.”

Yuuri dodged most of the questions and gave the most beautifully Japanese answers possible when an actual response was unavoidable. The most beautifully Japanese answers possible were vague and abstract, clarifying absolutely nothing, but so polite that nobody could possibly get offended. Yuuri’s words were an impenetrable wall, and it was almost so amusing to watch the mounting frustration of the reporters that Victor didn’t mind the onslaught of interrogation. Almost.

And while Yuuri’s answers to the press hadn’t actually answered much, Victor was certain that his hand held tightly in Yuuri’s the whole time must’ve said a lot more to everyone present. Victor had been reluctant to part with Yuuri since they’d gotten off the ice, and luckily, it seemed that Yuuri felt the same way, as he only drew closer and closer to Victor as the day went on, eventually ending up glued to Victor’s side and refusing to let go of his hand even as the press tried to drag him away or thrust a microphone in his face.

Victor’s nerves were electrified, and he felt like a string wound too tight, ready to snap at any moment, but he did his best to wait patiently and leave Yuuri to handle things in his own way. Unfortunately, when Yuuri looked his way, his eyes were filled with the heat of an unspoken promise, and how could Victor see that and not feel an impatient thrill of anticipation?

Eventually, Victor couldn’t take it anymore, and he made excuses to the press about his athlete needing rest, if they’d please excuse him, and asking if they could please send any pressing questions through more official channels later in order to give Yuuri space and time to recuperate after putting 100% into the competition… Dealing with the press was second nature to Victor, and the excuses rolled out smoothly one after another, wrapped up in a bow with a flashy smile that left the reporters dazed enough to give Victor time to get Yuuri away from them.

Once they were out of earshot, Yuuri gave him a skeptical look before leaning in and whispering into his ear, “I need rest, hm? What if… What if that’s not what I want?” and Victor was half-ready to either faint or cause another public spectacle, but he had just enough sense left in him to devote himself to getting Yuuri away from all prying eyes and ears.

They rushed back to their hotel with Yuuri still dressed in his costume under his jacket, and Victor felt his mind and spirit and body all ablaze with Yuuri, Yuuri, Yuuri, just as it seemed they had been ever since he met Yuuri at the banquet last year. Yuuri looked flushed and fidgety as they made their way back, but his eyes still had that unmistakable desire burning bright in them, too.

Once in the lobby, they made a dash for the elevators at a pace Victor was pretty sure would qualify the both of them for a spot on the podium at the Grand Prix Final equivalent for speed walking. Victor resisted the urge to punch the “up” button outside the elevator indefinitely, like that would somehow bring the elevator rushing down to them at a faster rate.

It felt like an eternity before a cheery ding finally rang out and the elevator doors opened, and Victor nearly bowled over the people inside the elevator in his hurry to get in before they even had the opportunity to make their way out. Yuuri laughed at him, eyes crinkled in mirth, but Yuuri’s hands were shaking slightly as he tapped the button for their floor and hit the button to close the door.

The elevator was silent as the doors slid shut, and the slight thud of Yuuri’s gym bag hitting the floor was the only warning Victor got before Yuuri had him pressed up hard against the elevator wall in a searing kiss.

“I can’t believe you did that today,” Yuuri muttered as their lips parted, but the press of his body molded against Victor’s and the way his eyes darted back to Victor’s lips told Victor that Yuuri was very, very pleased with the whole thing.

“Well, I couldn’t believe you did that,” Victor countered petulantly, and then one of them smiled and suddenly they were laughing and trying to kiss each other at the same time, failing at both and turning into a giant, giggling tangle of limbs squished uncomfortably into the railing on the elevator wall.

“You’re so beautiful,” Victor said with a sigh, cupping Yuuri’s smiling face, and then the elevator dinged again.

Victor turned his head to look at the number displayed, which was definitely not for their floor, and watched as the door opened and a woman in a suit walked into the elevator with them. She jerked back when she first saw them and then glanced back again to give them the exact look Victor would expect someone to give a couple of grown men hanging all over each other in a public elevator.

“He just won a silver medal,” Victor said proudly, like that explained everything, and Yuuri buried his face in Victor’s shoulder and wheezed, his body quaking with what Victor hoped was restrained laughter. Victor felt like he was floating on air, invincible and unstoppable, and he was tempted to start kissing Yuuri again regardless of present company, but he settled for wrapping Yuuri up in a crushing hug until the elevator finally reached their floor.

Feeling like he’d done his civic duty for the day by resisting the impossible temptation that was Yuuri Katsuki for an additional 30 seconds in public, Victor decided not to waste any more time once he’d dragged Yuuri out of the elevator. He let Yuuri step out ahead of him and then ran his hands inside Yuuri’s jacket to squeeze his sides and then back down to caress the curve of Yuuri’s ass. Yuuri let out a quiet yelp of surprise but made no attempt to deter Victor, only leaning back into his touch with a sigh and craning his head back to kiss Victor, and they shuffled along awkwardly at a snail-like pace as one mass of groping hands and lazy kisses.

When they reached their door, Victor wrapped his arms around Yuuri and nuzzled into his neck while Yuuri fumbled around in his bag for his keycard. This clearly wasn’t helping Yuuri, as it took him several awkward attempts to maneuver within Victor’s grasp before the door unlocked to let them in, but he didn’t ask Victor to stop. And as soon as the door clicked shut behind them, he had Victor pushed into the back of it, nipping at Victor’s bottom lip before soothing the sting of it away with the wet swipe of his tongue. Yuuri’s hands clenched in Victor’s hair, his grip almost painful as he took the opportunity to slide his tongue into Victor’s mouth when Victor gasped. Victor was breathless for a moment before his competitive spirit kicked in. If Yuuri was going to be this aggressive, well, Victor would just have to give as good as he got.

Victor grabbed Yuuri’s ass and pulled him in against his body as tightly as he could, rubbing one of his thighs between Yuuri’s and feeling Yuuri’s cock starting to grow hard against him. He groaned and kneaded the meat of Yuuri’s ass, letting his hands clench in the plush flesh. He felt a spike of arousal at Yuuri’s responsive moan, his whole body seeming to throb with it, and he kissed back hungrily into the waiting heat of Yuuri’s mouth. He wanted to feel more, hear more, wanted more more more.

This was already farther than they’d ever gone--touching below the belt hadn’t exactly been forbidden before now, but there had been some unspoken line that never got crossed. Sure, their makeout sessions had gotten a little hot and heavy now and then, but Victor had been waiting for Yuuri to make it clear that it was OK to take things further.

It seemed like it was OK now.

Victor’s hands darted between their bodies to unzip Yuuri’s jacket, and he started walking Yuuri back towards the bed, their bodies still crushed together. Yuuri’s head rolled back as Victor ground his hips against Yuuri’s, and he took a moment to kiss down the line of Yuuri’s exposed throat, sinking his teeth lightly into the juncture of Yuuri’s shoulder. Yuuri let out a hissing breath, but his hips bucked back into Victor’s and his hands pressed in hard against the small of Victor’s back. Victor let their hips rock together lazily as he sucked a bruise into Yuuri’s neck until Yuuri’s breaths turned to a quiet moan.

“Fuck,” Victor exhaled, and then they were falling halfway onto the bed next to each other, legs splayed out on the ground beneath them but their lips inseparable. Yuuri’s lips were soft, but the press of Yuuri’s mouth against his was anything but, his tongue teasing Victor’s mouth open before thrusting in abruptly. Victor reached for Yuuri’s jacket, trying to ease it off his shoulders, but Yuuri suddenly pulled away, his chest heaving and his hair in delicious disarray as a thin line of saliva ran down the corner of his mouth. “Wait,” he said, wiping his lips off with the back of his hand. “Wait.”

“Yuuri?” Victor asked and ran his hands down Yuuri’s sides in a soothing caress.

“I… I need to take a shower,” Yuuri said, and then he bolted up and away into the bathroom, the door shutting behind him in what was not exactly a slam but hard enough to make Victor jump.

Victor stayed right where he was in a daze, looking blankly at the closed bathroom door. He did like surprises, but he wasn’t quite sure what to make of this one. He hadn’t misread the situation, had he? He’d felt Yuuri’s cock straining hard against him, and Yuuri had seemed like he was so into it, everything about his open kisses and body language saying yes, more. Was this another time when it seemed like they just weren’t speaking the same language? Victor had thought that Yuuri’s skating and the look in his eyes afterward had said everything, but maybe Yuuri wasn’t ready to take things to the next level physically.

Suddenly the door swung back open and Yuuri stood there looking disheveled and breathless. “Sorry, I meant I… I don’t want to get anything on my costume,” he blurted out, his face turning red. “I’m taking a shower so I can change, but… Wait there,” he said, averting his eyes quickly before shutting the door behind him again.

Victor fell back onto the bed with a sigh, letting his arms flop out to the side gracelessly. Whatever happened to setting the mood? He felt a bit annoyed but found a fond smile on his face just the same as he thought about Yuuri’s flustered retreat. This wasn’t exactly how Victor had pictured the evening would go, but… This was so very Yuuri, wasn’t it?

Victor listened to the creak of the shower handle turning and water cascading down in the bathroom, and he wondered how the evening would go, if it wasn’t going where he thought it would. He realized that it was pointless to try to guess what Yuuri would do, though, since Yuuri was always doing the unexpected, and instead he decided to let himself really daydream about the wildest scenarios possible.

Yuuri would emerge from the shower in nothing but a robe and slowly discard it to reveal a chastity belt. “I’m saving myself for marriage, Victor,” he’d say, but Victor would fall at his feet nonetheless.

Yuuri would come out of the bathroom in lingerie and heels and purr that Victor had been a bad boy who needed to be punished. He’d be holding that awful tie Victor still hadn’t managed to throw away, but he’d use it to tie Victor’s hands up and they’d have no choice but to discard it later.

The shower would turn off, the bathroom door would creak open, and Yuuri would somehow have disappeared completely from the hotel room, never to be seen again.

Yuuri would thrust open the bathroom door dramatically, with the steam from inside swirling all around him, and he’d be completely naked. He’d reach out to Victor from across the room, wink, and say, “Victor, starting today, I’m your lover!

Yuuri would leave the shower running, open the door, smile coquettishly with his hair slicked back, and invite Victor to join him.

Yuuri would step out of the bathroom shirtless but wearing pants, and the bottom of his pants would be rolled up all the way to his knees.

Once Victor had thought of this last possibility, he couldn’t let go of it, and his thoughts turned from bizarre fantasies and nightmares to memories of Yuuri’s cursed pants and the months of suffering they’d put him through. Even on this wonderful day, they hovered in the back of Victor’s mind haunting his thoughts and threatening to appear.

Fuck Yuuri’s pants and everything they stood for.

Victor lifted his head at the sound of the water shutting off in the bathroom, and he listened to the quiet rustling of Yuuri moving around. He could feel the strain in his neck as he struggled to keep an eye on the bathroom without getting up, but he refused to get up from where he lay prone on the bed, a pathetic act of sulking that he was too proud to give up on.

After a couple of minutes, the bathroom door opened, and Yuuri emerged looking warm and slightly wet with his hair down and his usual set of clothes for sleeping, a T-shirt and sweatpants.

“You’re wearing pants,” Victor said blankly, unable to hide his distaste for the offending item.

“What?” Yuuri asked, looking down at his legs and back at Victor. “Wait, why are you still wearing your suit?” he responded.

“You told me to wait here,” Victor said petulantly. “Why are you wearing pants?”

Yuuri looked away for a moment and took a breath before meeting Victor’s eyes and saying, “I thought you’d want to be the one to take them off.”

Never mind. Yuuri was a genius.

Victor perked up instantly and sat up in a hurry, feeling the blood rush to his head at the sudden movement. “Well, I waited. Yuuri, are you going to keep me waiting?” he teased.

“You’re ridiculous,” Yuuri said with a smile, and this time Yuuri really did kiss him, soft and sweet, just like Victor had hoped he would so many months ago when he’d said the same thing.

Yuuri’s skin was still a little bit damp and warm from his shower, and Victor couldn’t wait to get his hands all over it. He snaked his hands up Yuuri’s shirt and ran them over his chest in a light caress before ghosting his fingers over Yuuri’s nipples. Yuuri’s whole body jerked at the fleeting touch, and Victor captured Yuuri’s mouth with his own to stifle Yuuri’s moans as he let his thumbs rub circles over Yuuri’s nipples until they grew hard beneath his touch, finishing with a teasing pinch to each one.

“Wait,” Yuuri gasped out, “you’re wearing too many layers.” He pulled away to fumble at the buttons on Victor’s vest while Victor continued to explore his body, hands now dipping under Yuuri’s waistband to squeeze his ass. “I want you naked first,” Yuuri said huskily as he swatted Victor;s hands away, and Victor felt his cock twitch in his pants at the words.

Victor tried to help Yuuri in his attempts to get Victor’s vest and shirt unbuttoned and off, but it was hard to concentrate with Yuuri’s tongue thrusting into his mouth hot and wet and Yuuri’s body flush against him where Yuuri practically straddled him on the bed. Everything about Yuuri was distracting, and Victor felt like a man lost at sea with a towering wave of arousal ready to crash over him and knock the wind out of him.

When they finally succeeded in getting Victor’s shirt off, Victor fell back onto the bed, running his hands along Yuuri’s thighs and squeezing the firm muscle. “You’re perfect,” he said, looking up at the vision of temptation before him. Yuuri’s face was flushed and his kiss-swollen lips begged for more as Yuuri looked down at him from under his lashes, but Victor wanted to savor the moment and take in the whole sight. Yuuri sat on his lap looking down at him with a heated gaze, his hair mussed and eyes half-closed as he bit his lip, and Victor could feel the press of Yuuri’s cock through their clothes as Yuuri slowly rocked against him unconsciously. Yuuri’s hands reached down to stroke the length of the bulge in Victor’s trousers, and Victor couldn’t help but arch into the touch with a groan.

“OK?” Yuuri asked, eyes flitting down to Victor’s waist, and when Victor nodded, he reached down to undo Victor’s belt. Yuuri’s hands paused above Victor’s waistband again, and Victor noticed a slight tremble in them and a hesitant look on Yuuri’s face.

“Yuuri,” he said, his throat thick with feeling, and he grabbed Yuuri’s hands and sat back up to press a kiss to the back of each hand. “We don’t have to…” He swallowed. “Whatever you want, I’ll be happy with, as long as I get to be close to you.” Victor felt confident that Yuuri returned his feelings, and even if it took time for them to make the relationship more physical, Yuuri was worth waiting for.

“No,” Yuuri said with a shake of his head. He reached out to cup Victor’s face in his hands, fingers gently tracing his jawline. “It’s just that I’ve… I’ve had so many fantasies,” he admitted quietly with a nervous laugh. “You’d probably be horrified to hear half of them, honestly, but I’ve wanted you so badly and for so long. And now I have you here, and... I can’t even believe it,” he said, looking down.

Victor felt his spirit threaten to escape his body entirely and ascend to the heavens. “I’ll make you believe it,” he promised, and he turned his head to gently kiss Yuuri’s palm before pushing him down onto the bed. “Just tell me if you want me to slow down.”

Yuuri went loose and limp under him, his body open and inviting like the warm look in his eyes. Victor bent over to briefly kiss each flushed cheek on Yuuri’s face and the tip of his nose before moving down to his lips, letting his lips linger as he flicked his tongue out to taste the heat of Yuuri’s mouth. He drew back to kiss the underside of Yuuri’s jaw and move down to his collarbone, nipping lightly at his throat as he went. Victor glanced up to see Yuuri’s eyes scrunched tight, but his body still looked relaxed through his panting breaths.

He slowly drew up Yuuri’s T-shirt, pulling it over his head and reaching out to smooth down Yuuri’s tousled hair before returning to his body to leave a line of kisses down his torso, stopping at his chest to suck briefly on the hardened nubs there until Yuuri shuddered and pulled him away with a gasp, his hands clenched in Victor’s hair.

Victor rested his cheek for a moment against the soft warmth of Yuuri’s stomach. “I hate your pants,” Victor mumbled against his belly button, and Yuuri opened his eyes slightly to look down at Victor in bemusement. “Not just these ones,” Victor clarified, “all of them. You should never wear pants. Do you know what these do to me?” Victor griped, giving Yuuri’s pants a baleful glare. Yuuri let out a quiet laugh at that, ruffling Victor’s hair playfully.

“Lift up your hips?” Victor asked with a kiss and a pat to Yuuri’s side, and he complied, back arching up gracefully. Victor hooked his thumbs under Yuuri’s waistband and paused to look up at Yuuri, who bit his lip but gave him a slight nod. Victor pulled down Yuuri’s pants and underwear together, shuffling down the bed to lift each of Yuuri’s feet in turn to remove each pant leg. He couldn’t resist the urge to kiss his way down Yuuri’s leg, pressing his lips briefly to the arch of Yuuri’s foot and letting his hands run absently down the length of Yuuri’s slim calves.

“No feet,” Yuuri admonished, and Victor’s mind immediately shoved the words away to examine at a later time when it wouldn’t cause him to implode. He kissed his way back up Yuuri’s other leg, leaving a final kiss on the soft skin on Yuuri’s hips, and Yuuri’s chest heaved as he let out a shuddering breath.

“You’re so beautiful,” Victor said as he sat up to look at Yuuri. Yuuri was a feast for the eyes with his body stretched out long and languid and his arms splayed out above his head. His legs were spread wide, the muscles in his thighs taut and the lines of tendons along them like beacons leading up to Yuuri’s half-hard cock nestled in dark curls of hair. Victor had seen Yuuri naked in the onsen, of course, but this was the first time seeing him like this, eager and aroused and flushed all the way down to his chest. Victor’s own cock was already painfully hard and straining against his trousers, and Victor bit back a moan as Yuuri’s eyes locked onto the tent in Victor’s pants and went wide.

“Take them off,” Yuuri said, and Victor had never gotten naked faster. He wanted to give Yuuri a show and take it slow, but there’d be other times for that. Right now he could only think about how desperate he was to feel the slide of Yuuri’s skin against his own, to feel like they were one and would never be apart, to know what Yuuri’s face would look like as he reached the peak of ecstasy and came.

When Victor hovered over Yuuri, Yuuri hooked a leg behind Victor’s back to draw him in, rolling over so they were face-to-face on the bed. “Please,” he whispered against Victor’s mouth before kissing him, his heel nudging into the small of Victor’s back to urge him closer. When their bodies came together, Victor let out a hiss of air as his cock pressed against Yuuri’s hip and Yuuri started to roll his hips against him in a slow undulation.

“Can I touch you?” Victor asked, drawing back and resting his hands lightly on Yuuri’s hips. In response, Yuuri took Victor’s hand in his own and brought it down between them, his gaze shy but his hand firm as it guided Victor to the head of Yuuri’s cock. As Victor wrapped his fingers around Yuuri’s length to stroke him to fullness, Yuuri’s eyelashes fluttered and his hips bucked forward against Victor in a broken jerk.

“Yes, yes,” Yuuri whispered and pressed his lips sloppily to the corner of Victor’s mouth before nuzzling his head into Victor’s chest and mouthing at one of his nipples between panting breaths.

“You were so amazing today,” Victor said as he watched Yuuri’s lithe body writhe against him. “I’m so proud of you, so proud to be yours.” The friction of Yuuri’s body rubbing intermittently against Victor’s cock was nothing more than a teasing touch when he desperately wanted more, but Yuuri was a sight for sore eyes, and Victor was happy just to be able to watch him and the desperate way he pumped his hips forward chasing after Victor’s fist.

“Everyone knows you’re mine now,” Yuuri gasped out, his breath hot against Victor’s chest, and Victor felt a thrill course through his body in a shudder, heat pooling in his gut. Victor was glad that Yuuri wasn’t touching his cock because he had the feeling that if Yuuri reached down to take him in hand, he’d be coming embarrassingly in seconds, no living legend but a mere man in bed with the love of his life for the first time.

Even without the touch of Yuuri’s hand, though, Victor still felt the hot, sweaty slide of Yuuri’s skin against his cock like a jolt of electricity. Victor ground his erection against Yuuri’s hipbone as he pumped Yuuri’s cock in his hand, watching as his own precome left a sticky trail along Yuuri’s side. Yuuri’s tongue lavished one nipple while his fingers ran over Victor’s abs absentmindedly, and Yuuri’s beautiful legs were wrapped around him like a vice urging him on. Yuuri mumbled against his skin unintelligibly, but the words soon descended into quiet, restrained moans that rose in pitch with every slick stroke of Victor’s hands around his cock. Victor thought that he’d never heard a sweeter sound.

Victor wanted to prolong it, wanted to take it further, but both of them were too keyed up and turned on and filled with adrenaline after the events of the day. Yuuri wrapped his arms around Victor, his fingers digging into Victor’s shoulder blades in a clenching grip, and Victor adjusted his hand and their position to take both of them in his hand, their cocks sliding together in the circle of Victor’s fist. Victor looked down between them to watch as he pumped their cocks, their hips rocking forward together in an irregular rhythm. There was something about the sight and feel of Yuuri’s cock sliding up along his own length that had his mind going to further fantasies. He couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to slide against Yuuri in a different way, to thrust into Yuuri instead of into his own fist, or what it might be like to have Yuuri’s hard cock splitting him open instead. He couldn’t take his eyes off them, imagining the possibilities, and the sound of Yuuri’s soft gasps only made it all the more enticing to fantasize.

“Ah, Victor,” Yuuri whimpered, “feels so good,” and that was all it took for Victor to come with a low moan, spilling hot against Yuuri. Victor slowed his stroking as his hips stuttered and stilled in aborted thrusts, and the sight of his come pulsing out in waves to paint Yuuri’s cock in strands of white made him feel a heady burst of possessive pride. When he started to feel too sensitive to take any more, Victor let go and wrapped his fist back around Yuuri alone, using the extra wetness in his hand to jerk him off hard and fast.

“Victor, Victor,” Yuuri repeated, and Victor’s name upon Yuuri’s lips sounded to him like a pleading prayer. Suddenly Yuuri’s whole body quivered and went stiff with tension. Yuuri let out a quiet groan, and Victor felt as come spurted out to seep between his fingers and spill against their stomachs, sticky and wet. Victor stroked Yuuri through the rest of his orgasm, milking him with a firm grip until the last spurt of come dribbled out over his fist, and then he let go to hold Yuuri close, kissing the top of his head and murmuring endearments into his hair as Yuuri’s breathing began to even out.

Victor knew he’d have to get up eventually to find something to wipe them both off with, but he decided to enjoy the moment for a little longer. He felt sated and languid, heavy with drowsy satisfaction but floating on air at the same time. Yuuri’s legs were tangled with his, Yuuri’s hands were running up and down his back to soothe the spot where they’d been digging in before, Yuuri’s mouth was pressing a sweet kiss behind his ear, Yuuri’s body was pressed close to his. Yuuri, Yuuri, Yuuri.

“I love you,” Victor whispered into his hair. “You should never wear pants again.”

Chapter Text

DECEMBER


It seemed like all eyes were on Yuuri, just like they had been at the banquet in Sochi last year. Last year it was because Yuuri had been a drunken, wild, off-the-rails mess (albeit a captivating one), but this year? Yuuri was a silver medalist in the Grand Prix Final, and he was glowing. Everyone wanted a piece of him. Sure, he wasn’t the gold medalist, but the gold medalist happened to be a prickly, bored teenager with little patience for social niceties and pointless small talk. (Victor also thought that Yuri was probably even more irritable than usual because he wanted to drink like all of the adults, but he suspected Yuri wouldn’t exactly be a cheery drunk, either.)

Yuuri clearly wasn’t in his element with all of the hustle and bustle and people around him, but even so, there was something about his open smile and unmistakable joy that made him irresistible. Whether it was the medal or Yuuri’s decision to keep skating or Victor’s decision to keep skating or the rush of the emotions from the past few days, Victor wasn’t sure what had Yuuri looking so full of joy. Maybe it was all of the above. Whatever the reason, Victor wanted to see Yuuri look this happy all the time.

That was why Victor made it his personal mission to intercept nuisances before they could get to Yuuri and steal some of his spark, as much as Victor wanted to glue himself to Yuuri’s side for the rest of the night. Sponsors wanting to talk business? Advertising opportunities? Well, as Yuuri’s coach, surely Victor could handle these things. He’d been appalled when he learned what Yuuri had accepted for payment in the past, and it was high time to fix that. Even if Yuuri undervalued himself, he was worth so much more, and Victor would see to it that all of these sharks knew it and were ready to pay up.

Skating officials that required schmoozing? Well, there was no stopping them from talking to Yuuri at some point, but at least Victor could get to them first and chat chat chat away until their desire for conversation had been seriously deflated. Victor was no stranger to dealing with them, either, and they were eager enough to hear about his own plans for his return to skating, which kept them preoccupied and away from Yuuri for quite a while.

And that one Canadian skater--Jojo? Jimmy John? Well, Victor didn’t much care for him and the way he’d dismissed Yuuri during the competition, and he may have given the boy a cheery threat about what would happen should he ruin Yuuri’s night in any way.

It was strange to think that a year ago, Victor had been having conversations with the same kinds of people and felt nothing at all but apathy. Now that he was doing it for Yuuri, though, everything was different, and Victor was proud beyond measurement. “Look at my beautiful Yuuri!” he wanted to shout at anyone who might listen, but he pictured the glare he’d inevitably get from Yuuri if he did, and he managed to restrain himself.

So much had changed in a single year, and where Victor had only felt bored disinterest before, now he was full of hope and excitement and overwhelming love for the gorgeous man in the terrible tie being dragged into taking awkward, stiff selfies with other banquet attendees.

Seeing all the skaters chatting with Yuuri made Victor realize that most of them were quite friendly with Yuuri, and all of Yuuri’s prior assurances that nobody really thought much of him were completely unfounded. It was good to see Yuuri relaxing with his friend Phichit, too, and Victor only had a momentary pang of jealousy at the thought of how much longer Phichit had known Yuuri than Victor had. It was fine, though--Victor had the rest of their lives to get to know Yuuri.

Victor put up with some good-natured ribbing from Chris, who whispered that he could get a stripper pole in the room “should the need arise,” and when Victor rolled his eyes and said that he had no intention of letting Yuuri stay long enough for anything nefarious to happen, Chris only smiled enigmatically and said, “That eager to get back to your hotel room and get your own private party started?”

Victor managed to distract Chris with talk of upcoming competitions and a friendly warning that he and Yuuri would be the top two on the podium from now on. After some competitive banter, Chris went to say hi to Yuuri, giving Yuuri a hearty slap on the ass as a greeting and looking back over his shoulder at Victor with a smirk.

Maybe Victor did need to glue himself to Yuuri’s side, after all.

Victor let himself drift over with a drink in each hand, only intending to stay for a bit, but Yuuri’s magnetic smile at his arrival drew him in inexplicably and left him trapped within Yuuri’s gravitational pull for the rest of the evening. At least if he stayed near Yuuri, he could make sure Yuuri had enough to drink to have a good time, but not enough to repeat the events of last year.

By the time they headed back to their hotel room, Victor was feeling pleasantly buzzed, and Yuuri’s whole face was flushed red from alcohol.

“I don’t think I’ve had any alcohol since you came to Hasetsu,” Yuuri confessed, his words slurring slightly at the edges. “I might have overdone it,” he followed with a giggle. He stumbled slightly as he kicked off his dress shoes in their room. “It felt nice to let loose, though.”

“Yeah?” Victor smiled as he hung up his jacket in the closet. “I’m glad. You know, not counting last year’s banquet, there were so many years they felt like a chore to me instead of a celebration. Tonight, though… I was happy just to watch.”

“Well, I’m sure I had fun at last year’s banquet, too, but for this being my first banquet I actually remember and didn’t embarrass myself at… all in all, pretty good,” Yuuri said with a laugh.

“We’ll have to make sure the next one is even better for you, then. Maybe I’ll be the one at the top of the podium this time next year, though.”

“Hm… We’ll see about that,” Yuuri replied, and Victor was happy to hear the teasing confidence in his tone.

“I can’t wait to get out of this suit,” Yuuri admitted, already down to just his undershirt and trousers. “I don’t know how you can stand wearing these all the time; I feel like I’m being suffocated.”

“Well, appearances are important. They say the outfit makes the man.”

“You’d look good in anything, though,” Yuuri said with a glance his way. “You could be wearing a burlap sack and you’d look like you just came off the runway.” Yuuri headed to the bathroom, pausing at the door.

“Oh, it’s fine if you want to shower first. I can wait,” Victor said after watching him fidget there for a moment.

“No, that’s not it, I mean…” Yuuri swallowed. “Did you want to join me?” The words were soft, and they ironically reminded Victor of all the times he’d shouted at Yuuri to join him in the onsen or in bed. Victor had fantasized about Yuuri asking these exact words in this scenario, too, but those had been fantasies where Yuuri was sexual and sinful and insatiable.This was different, but not necessarily worse--this was something quiet and intimate.

“Yes?” Victor wondered how Yuuri could think he even needed to ask.

“I wanna take care of you tonight,” Yuuri said, tone firm despite the drunken way he swayed in place. He spoke like this was something obvious, some foregone conclusion to a greatly thought-out idea.

Knowing Yuuri, it probably was. In the past few days, Victor had come to understand that Yuuri’s sudden decisions weren’t that sudden at all. The words that Yuuri actually said were only the tip of an iceberg, with all of the paths leading to that conclusion and the thoughts and feelings behind them hiding far below the surface.

It was fine. Victor would wait for Yuuri to step forward and show him what he meant, and Victor would meet him wherever that was. Yuuri had promised Victor that he would try to communicate better and be more open, so Victor wouldn’t press and would trust in him.

Victor started to unbutton his shirt as he followed Yuuri into the bathroom, but Yuuri interrupted, “No, let me,” and gently brushed his hands aside. They both stayed quiet as Yuuri slowly undid Victor’s shirt with fumbling fingers and pulled the sleeves away. There was something reverent in the way Yuuri’s hands skated down Victor’s stomach to his belt, his face serious and contemplative. Yuuri’s touch was still light as he took off Victor’s pants and underwear, urging Victor to lift his feet up to draw off each leg with a light tap to his side. Victor felt exposed standing there naked, but Yuuri paid it no heed and only stood up on his tiptoes and tilted his head to kiss Victor chastely, though his lips lingered as they parted.

Yuuri pulled him into the bathroom, and as they stepped under the hot spray of water in the shower, he hugged Victor from behind, wrapping his arms around him and resting his head between Victor’s shoulder blades.“‘m sorry,” he mumbled, his voice almost drowned out by the sound of water falling around them.

“Yuuri? What’s wrong?” Victor tried to turn to face him, but Yuuri only squeezed him tighter, keeping him in place.

“I fucked up. I know we talked about it, but I still feel like… I need to do something. Not like something to make up for it or anything like that, but I just… I just want you to know, and... You’re always taking care of me, so tonight I want to take care of you.” It wasn’t exactly the most coherent of explanations, clearly coming from someone not entirely sober, but Yuuri’s earnest intent still made Victor’s throat tighten.

“Yuuri, it’s fine. You don’t have to do anything. We’re fine now.” He reached up to place his hands over Yuuri’s where they rested against his chest, intertwining their fingers.

Yuuri’s lips brushed against his spine. “I just want to. That’s OK, right? I can be that selfish tonight, right?”

“OK,” Victor replied with a sigh, bringing Yuuri’s hands up to kiss his knuckles. “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu,” he said playfully. It was one of the first phrases he’d picked up in Japan. “It’s like ‘please take care of me, I leave myself in your care,’” Yuuri had told him. Victor wanted to leave himself in Yuuri’s care, to be wrapped up in his arms and love like this.

Victor felt Yuuri smile against him before the arms around him finally loosened. Yuuri started to wash Victor’s hair in the silence, and Victor let his eyes close, leaving himself to enjoy the soothing feel of Yuuri’s fingers running through his hair. Yuuri kissed the back of Victor’s neck after he finished before lathering up a sponge to stroke in gentle circles down Victor’s back. After rinsing his back, he pressed a soft kiss to each shoulder blade and one into the divot at the base of Victor’s spine. Yuuri stood and turned Victor around to face him.

“I don’t always do the right thing,” Yuuri started, “but I don’t have the experience you do. I’ll be… I’ll be better from now on,” he said, face set in determination, and Victor cupped Yuuri’s face and kissed him until his expression went soft, their lips slick with droplets of water.

“OK,” Victor said, stroking his thumb along Yuuri’s cheek. “I’ll try to be more open, too.”

Yuuri resumed washing Victor’s body, working his way down from the top and pressing a feather-light kiss to each expanse of freshly cleaned skin as he went. When Yuuri finished making his way down, he kneeled before Victor to reach his calves and feet. There was something about the sight of Yuuri before him, face scrunched up in drunken concentration, and the touch of his hands full of devotion, that made Victor’s heart ache.

Yuuri finally stood back up and brushed Victor’s hair out of his face, wrapping his arms around Victor again.

“What about you?” Victor asked.

“Tonight’s for you,” Yuuri replied stubbornly before stopping any further protests by sealing Victor’s lips with his own. They kissed lazily, slowly, like they had all the time in the world to savor it--maybe because after all that had happened, they finally felt that they did have all the time in the world, that this was for life. Victor let his hands wander, but only to caress and trace the lines of Yuuri’s body, like doing so would let his hands memorize a map of it.

Victor was only human, so he couldn’t help the heat pooling in his gut as they kissed, his cock filling and rising between the press of their bodies, but soon enough he felt the returning pressure of Yuuri hard against his hip. “I would say we should stay here until the hot water runs out, but this is a hotel, so…” Yuuri giggled, and the sound of it was so charming that Victor had to kiss him again before they finally turned off the water.

Yuuri toweled Victor off with the same gentle care he’d used to wash him, and he guided Victor over to the bed before climbing up to sit across from him. “Tell me what you want,” Yuuri said, eyes set firmly on Victor’s. “I’m the medalist tonight, so I get to celebrate, and I want whatever you want.”

“You,” Victor breathed, “only you.”

Yuuri’s smile was small but satisfied. “OK.” Yuuri looked down at Victor’s lap for a moment, frowning slightly and looking hesitant. “OK,” he said again with a deep breath, as if to reassure himself, before reaching out.

With his foot.

Victor gaped as Yuuri’s leg gracefully extended towards him and Yuuri’s foot came to rest against his inner thigh, toes flexing against his leg.

“Yuuri,” Victor started, straightening up, but Yuuri gave him a look and interrupted,”No, just… Just don’t move.”

A moment later Yuuri’s foot slowly rotated inward, this time stopping to press against the underside of Victor’s cock before tentatively rubbing up and down the length of it once. Victor groaned, more at the sight of Yuuri’s foot arched against his cock than the teasing touch.

“You… You like it,” Yuuri said, not quite a question but not quite a statement. His eyes flitted between Victor’s face and his cock, which was already dripping precome from the tip. Yuuri experimentally pressed a little harder with the ball of his foot, then harder yet stroking up Victor’s length, his eyes going wide at the way Victor’s hips suddenly spasmed and jerked forward.

“Fuck,” Victor gasped out.

Yuuri’s smile was a little wobbly, a little plastered-on, disbelieving. “I thought you liked my feet, but… I didn’t know it was this much.” He continued to stare at Victor’s cock as it bobbed up and down with every slide of Yuuri’s foot against it. He stopped at the frenulum, toes curling over the sticky head of his cock and pressing it up against Victor’s stomach. Yuuri started to rub circles around the sensitive head, toes growing slick as they slid over it, and Victor moaned as he watched.

“I love your feet,” he admitted. He couldn’t take his eyes off Yuuri’s long toes curling around his cock, sending a jolt of sensation to his very core as they wrapped around him.

Yuuri bit his lip. “That’s… OK. Yeah.” He kept his foot against the side of Victor’s shaft and slowly stretched out his other leg to join it on the other side. “I’m not pressing too hard?”

“Harder,” Victor replied with a shudder. Yuuri’s feet pressed in from both sides, and Victor’s hands moved of their own accord to reach down and grab, to squeeze together harder, leaving his cock trapped deliciously in the crushing press between the arches of Yuuri’s feet.

The rough calluses on Yuuri’s feet created friction that Victor couldn’t help but rock into in slight gyrations, his mind lost in fantasies of what it would be like to see Yuuri’s toes covered in his come and dripping all the way down to his ankles.

“It doesn’t hurt?” Yuuri asked, sounding a little concerned.

“God, no,” Victor replied, “this is--fuck,” he gasped as one of Yuuri’s feet suddenly slid lower to press against his balls.

“Is this what you want?” Yuuri asked quietly, and Victor could barely bring himself to look up. When he did, though, he saw Yuuri blushing and covering his face with one hand.

Victor struggled to clear his mind. “Yuuri?”

“Is this what you want?” Yuuri asked again, and Victor was shocked to hear the telltale wavering of tears in his voice.

“Babe, what’s wrong?” Victor reluctantly pushed Yuuri’s feet aside and sat back up, reaching for Yuuri’s hand to gently pry it away from his face.

“Is this what you want? … Feet?” Yuuri’s lip quivered..

Victor froze with his arm extended and felt his heart sink at Yuuri’s words. “I mean, yes, I want this, but… I love your feet, but it’s because they’re your feet. It’s because I want you. Because I love you.”

“Really?” Yuuri peeked out between his fingers.

“Of course, Yuuri--wait, you didn’t think I only liked your feet, did you?” Victor asked, horrified suspicion sinking in.

“Not entirely, but… I thought maybe that was the reason we haven’t gone all the way yet. Because you’re mostly interested in feet and not, you know…” Yuuri trailed off, setting his hand down to rest in his lap.

“Oh my god,” Victor moaned, resting his head in his hands. “OK, this is why we need better communication. Yuuri, I didn’t want to pressure you into anything, and that’s why I’ve been waiting. I was waiting for you to tell me you were ready, and especially in the middle of the season, I wanted you to be able to focus on your training. And if… If you wanted to bottom, I wouldn’t want to have sex and have it affect your performance the next day. I wanted to be sure you were ready. It wasn’t because of anything else, I swear it.” Victor felt his cheeks burning, but he wanted to make sure that Yuuri knew Victor was waiting for his sake, not because he wasn’t interested.

“Ready?” Yuuri scoffed and drew back. “Victor, I thought you knew, but...it’s always been you. Even before I really knew you. It’s always been you that I wanted, you that I dreamed about, you that I had in mind when I thought about what my first time would be like. I’ve never wanted anyone else, and I’ve been wanting and waiting for longer than I’ve even known you. I have years of fantasies about you, dreaming about being with you, and you were waiting for me to be ready? I’ve been ready for a long time. More than ready.” Yuuri’s gaze was burning, and despite the slight, unfocused haze in his eyes from the alcohol, he still looked like he often did right before he stepped out onto the ice: determined and sure of himself.

“Oh.” Victor’s mind was racing. “So you mean…”

“Do you want me?” Yuuri interjected.

“More than I’ve ever wanted anyone in my entire life,” Victor said frankly.

“If you want me, then show me,” Yuuri whispered, voice low. He dropped back onto the bed, arms out beside him in open invitation. “Show all of me,” he repeated, his eyes dark and full of promise.

Victor was captivated by Yuuri’s spell, and he could only clamber forward, stumbling, to prove himself and worship at the altar of his body.


JANUARY


When Victor stepped out of the doors at the arrivals section of the Fukuoka airport, Yuuri leaped into his arms to hug him so tight he could hardly breathe. Yuuri even picked him up off the ground a few inches and spun him around, smiling and laughing, before setting Victor down to kiss him breathless in front of everyone there and say a sweet, “Okaeri.” When Victor looked into Yuuri’s eyes, he knew that Yuuri was all he needed, and where they went didn’t matter much as long as they were together. He felt ready to face anything--maybe even Yuuri’s family.

Victor started feeling bashful the closer they got to Yutopia, though. What would Yuuri’s parents say? Were they angry at him for barging into their lives to take their son away again less than a year after he’d finally come back home? Would Victor have a look on his face that said when I last saw your son I fucked him for the first time, and I can’t wait to take him away to Russia so we can do it again, and they’d be able to see it? What if there was some kind of bizarre Japanese tradition where he had to ask Yuuri’s parents for Yuuri’s hand in marriage?

When Victor told Yuuri about his worries on the train ride back, Yuuri rubbed his back and said, “I can see I’m a bad influence on you. Relax, they’re clueless but excited.”

True to form, upon their arrival, Victor and Yuuri found themselves the center of a combination welcoming/farewell party for the both of them thrown by the Katsukis. After a few drinks and plates of Hiroko’s delicious home cooking, Victor stopped worrying and let himself bask in the welcoming warmth of Yutopia.

Hiroko pulled Victor aside and said she was happy to have another son in her family.

Toshiya started telling Victor what a great name Katsuki was, explaining the meaning and history behind the family name, and repeatedly mentioning how any man would be proud to be a Katsuki. Victor only understood about 25% of it, but he listened and nodded as eagerly as he could. (“He’s mostly worried that we’ll get married and I’ll abandon my family name,” Yuuri later explained to him.)

Mari gave Victor a rare smile and ruffled his hair, saying, “Make sure you bring Yuuri back to visit soon or who knows how many years it’ll be before he shows up again this time.”

Minako sneakily showed Victor a few unbelievably adorable pictures of Yuuri when he was younger and then said she was sure they could make an arrangement of some kind to get Victor access to the rest.

The Nishigoris took a bunch of pictures with Victor and promised him that he and Yuuri were both welcome at the Ice Castle any time they were back in town and wanted to skate.

And Yuuri, sweet Yuuri, who claimed he was nothing special and didn’t mean that much to anyone, was at the center of attention of friends and family and neighbors who all clamored for his attention. Victor was happy to watch and know how much love and support Yuuri had. How much love and support he had, too, just by proxy.

After a long, late night of celebrating, Yuuri and Victor collapsed into Yuuri’s cramped bed together, and Yuuri drunkenly brushed his hands through Victor’s hair and sang him to sleep. Yuuri was a little too tipsy to be much of a good singer, and his touch was a little too rough, snagging on Victor’s hair at times, but as Victor drifted off to Yuuri’s quiet, slurred warbling, he smiled and felt like he was right where he belonged.

When Victor woke up the next morning, he realized that while he had only been away in Russia for less than a month, it felt bizarre to be back in Hasetsu, like it had been a lifetime ago. It wasn’t that much had changed in the sleepy seaside town during the time that he was gone, but so many things had changed between Victor and Yuuri since Victor had last set foot in Hasetsu. The last time Victor was in Hasetsu, it was before he discovered Yuuri had no memory of one of the greatest nights of Victor’s life. It was before Victor had his hopes dashed by Yuuri, a bright star trying to burn itself out before its time had come, only to then feel the incomparable joy of Yuuri announcing he’d continue to skate competitively. It was before Victor had decided to turn his own life upside down by returning to competitive skating and coaching Yuuri simultaneously. It was before he and Yuuri had decided to move in together in Russia. It was before he and Yuuri had slept together. It was before Victor and Yuuri had gotten engaged. (Victor wasn’t entirely certain on this last one, but his internet searches for “how to tell if you were proposed to” proved less helpful than he’d hoped) With so many changes in their relationship, it felt odd to be back in Hasetsu where everything else still seemed the same.

Well, almost everything.

The upstairs hallway between Yuuri’s room and Victor’s was filled with haphazardly stacked boxes, some labeled in English, others in scratchy kanji. Victor’s room was a disaster zone of half-packed boxes and furniture and clothes and miscellaneous belongings strewn everywhere, and while Yuuri’s room looked much as it always had, some of the chaotic mess had spread there as well.

Victor felt a strange sense of calm, though, like being in the eye of a storm. Looking behind him, there were tumultuous periods of ups and downs since he’d first arrived in Hasetsu last April, with some of the best and worst moments of his life mixed together. Ahead of him was the unknown future, where he was certain he’d face more challenges than ever trying to coach and compete at the same time, along with getting Yuuri acclimated to life in Russia. Now Victor stood in a sea of boxes feeling like this was the last opportunity for a few days of comfort in the familiarity of Yutopia before stepping back out into the storm. He was ready to embrace whatever may come, though, with Yuuri by his side.

Yuuri had gotten a head start on packing Victor’s belongings, but there was still plenty left to sort through. As Victor started to go through everything in his room, he was surprised to realize how many things he’d acquired in less than a year, and how much they all meant to him.

There was an Anpanman figure the skating triplets had given him. An omamori from the owner of his favorite ramen shop. A giant, beautiful seashell he found while running on the beach with Makkachin one day. An uchiwa from the summer festival he went to with Yuuri… Every item seemed to have its own story, and when Victor thought of his sparse apartment back in Russia, it warmed him to think he’d be able to bring these things with him and add some color to it, as if Yuuri’s presence there wouldn’t be enough to completely light up his life already.

Maybe it had been the time apart, or the change in their relationship, or their better communication, or maybe Victor was just a hopelessly smitten man, but Yuuri seemed to be shining brighter than ever. They’d made good on their promise to be more open and communicative with each other in all of their calls and texts since the Grand Prix Final, and Yuuri had a kind of open vulnerability to him now that Victor hadn’t seen before. The beauty and fragility of it with the strength and determination he already possessed combined until now he was glowing, and Victor was ready to fall at his feet.

His feet… This reminded Victor guiltily of his own promise to be more open and the one thing he’d failed at being open about. Clearly Yuuri had already gotten the picture as far as Victor’s foot fetish went (Victor had finally reached the point of acceptance in his life where he could admit that’s what it was), but did Yuuri really understand that this Yuuri-specific? And Yuuri probably had no idea that he himself was the cause of this terrible affliction--well, maybe not Yuuri himself, but at the very least, his ankles were definitely guilty as charged.

Victor was determined to tell Yuuri about it, but what was he going to say? “Yuuri, I totally have a thing for feet, but it’s only because you’ve been taunting me with your ankles for months.” “Yuuri, I think the way you wear pants is weird, and I accidentally ended up with a foot fetish trying to figure it out.” “Yuuri, has anyone ever told you that ankles are the gateway drug to feet?”

There was no way to say it and maintain even a shred of dignity, so Victor was procrastinating by packing. He wanted to talk to Yuuri about it today, so Yuuri would have time to process it for a few days before they’d be stuck on a potentially awkward series of flights together, but… He was still waiting for inspiration to strike him. Victor was sure Yuuri would understand and accept, just as he’d accepted the rest of Victor, but that didn’t mean Victor would give up on trying to find a way to save some of his pride.

After making good progress on packing throughout the morning, Victor took a break for lunch and headed downstairs to find something to eat. Mari was folding towels in front of the TV, and she looked up when he walked in the room.

“Oh, Victor!” Mari waved him over. “I was just thinking,” she started and waited for him to come over. “We should switch the beds.”

“Switch the beds?” Victor wasn’t sure if this was some expression he wasn’t familiar with.

“Yeah. Your bed and Yuuri’s. You’re not taking your bed, right?”

“I hadn’t thought about it,” Victor admitted. “I don’t need it in Russia, though, so I was just thinking of leaving it.”

Mari gave him a pointed look. “Well, I know it’s hard to believe, but before you were here, we actually used that room,” she drawled. “And it’d be nice if we could use it again.”

“Oh, sorry! Did you want me to see if I can get it taken away with the garbage?”

Mari gave him a blank look and sighed. “Like I said, let’s just swap them. Put your bed in Yuuri’s room and we can get rid of his instead. You guys aren’t seriously planning on trying to sleep in his old bed the whole time the next time you both come to visit, right?”

Victor felt warmed with an odd mixture of embarrassment and happiness at Mari’s blunt acceptance of them and the assumption they’d be back. Together. In one bed. “I hadn’t thought about that either,” he admitted again, and Mari gave him a look that made it clear she’d expected as much. “That’s a great idea, though! I’ll get Yuuri to help me move them this afternoon, and I’ll try to make sure I get the room cleaned up once everything’s packed.”

“You need any extra help moving it?”

“We’ll be fine. Yuuri’s much stronger than he looks! I wonder if he could carry me in his arms if he tried,” Victor said with a sigh.

Mari looked decidedly unimpressed. “Never mind. I can see this is going places I really don’t want to know about, so I’ll let you go.”

After eating a quick lunch, Victor poked his head into Yuuri’s room. Yuuri lay on his bed with Makkachin sprawled on his lap and a game on his phone.

“Yuuuuri!” Yuuri sat up and turned at the sound of his name, and Makkachin slid off the bed to greet Victor.

“Hi, Victor.” Just the way Yuuri said Victor’s name made him feel weak in the knees, and wait, no, this wasn’t the time for that.

“Mari said we should move my bed into your room. What do you think?”

“Oh, yeah, she already talked to me about it. It’ll be kind of a tight squeeze, but I always liked your bed better than mine anyway,” Yuuri said with a smile. “Not that I mind the excuse to be close to you in mine.”

“Yuuri, are you flirting with me?” Victor asked. “How can I focus on furniture now?”

Yuuri laughed, musical and light. “You’ll manage. I guess we should figure out how to get my bed out of here and into your room first, though.” He hopped off the bed and starting tugging the sheets and blankets off.

“Right now?!” Victor asked.

“Sure. I mean, we can’t use your bed the way it is now with all those boxes in there, and the sooner we get it in here, the sooner we can use it.”

Yuuri!

“What?” Yuuri scrunched his face. “I just meant for sleeping in, come on.” He lowered his voice. “Besides, I don’t want to get up to anything where my family could hear. I’d die of embarrassment.”

“I can be very quiet!” Victor piped up loudly, and Yuuri rolled his eyes, no further response needed after Victor proved his point for him.

“Help me out?”

After shooing Makkachin back downstairs before she could trip them while they attempted to move furniture, the two of them got the blankets and sheets off and tossed into a hamper, and Victor grabbed one end of the mattress. “OK, we’d better take this over first,” he said and flipped it onto its side on the floor, too late for a protest of, “No, wait!” from Yuuri.

“What’s that?” Victor asked, staring blankly at the large, black portfolio folder sitting on the bed frame where the mattress used to be.

“Nothing,” Yuuri answered immediately, snatching it up, but Victor had an inkling.

“Yuuri, is that porn? I heard that Japanese boys like to keep porn under their beds, but this is new.” He gave the folder a thoughtful look.

“NO, Victor, it’s not porn, it’s…” There was a lengthy pause before Yuuri seemed to make a decision. “It’s you,” he said.

“What? Let me see!” Victor let the mattress rest against the side of the bed frame and walked over.

Yuuri gingerly opened the black folder on his desk and reached in to remove the contents. Yuuri hadn’t been joking. It wasn’t just posters--it was cutouts of pictures from old articles and interviews, postcards, ads he’d modeled for ripped out of magazines... Victor couldn’t imagine how much time it must’ve taken to collect all of these throughout the years.

“Just so you know, it’s too late to get rid of me now even after seeing this,” Yuuri joked, but his tone was nervous and he had that anxious furrow in his brow.

“Yuuri,” Victor stopped him. “I don’t care. I’m flattered, and I love you, and it makes me happy to see all of these and think that you knew me in some way even before we met.”

Yuuri smiled hesitantly. “It’s OK?”

“Yuuri, I’m your number one fan now, too, and I’ve started my own Katsuki Yuuri collection. You just had a head start!” Yuuri’s eyes sparkled at this, and Victor swept in to kiss him. “Anyway, was all of this under your bed the whole time?”

“Not the posters,” Yuuri muttered. “They all used to be up on the walls, but I took them down after you got here so you wouldn’t see.” Victor had already heard about this from Mari long ago, but it felt nice just the same to hear it from Yuuri.

“I know!” Victor said. “Let’s go through some of these. It’ll be fun! I’m sure I have good stories about some of these pictures, and for the ones I don’t, it’ll be an interesting trip back to the past. I bet I haven’t seen most of these pictures since they were first taken.”

This seemed to break the tension, and before long, they found themselves sitting on Yuuri’s floor with the papers spread out around them, picking out pictures of special importance or interest to comment on them.

“This is from the first photoshoot I did with Makkachin! She was an absolute terror on the set; there was a snack table off to the side, and she hopped right on it and started digging in.”

“I guess she hasn’t changed much, then,” Yuuri said with a laugh. “Oh! Look at this!” He grabbed a loose page. “I remember Minako brought back the magazine that this was in as an omiyage for me. I kept bringing the magazine with me to school so I could sneak a look at it in my bag between classes. It was basically much my only motivation for staying conscious at school, and even then it didn’t work very well because I was so exhausted.” He shook his head and gave the page a fond look before setting it back down on the pile.

“Yuuri, how did you get this one?” Victor held up a poster of himself wearing some horrible, puffy pirate shirt. “And why? This is one of the worst outfits I’ve ever been shoved into, and I’m embarrassed to look at it even now. If I’d been a teenager at the time, I might’ve had an excuse for going along with it, but I had to have been around your age at the time and I still let somebody put me into this abomination.”

“I’ll have you know that graced the walls of my dorm room with Phichit for two years,” Yuuri answered. “I liked your serious expression. It made me think of how dedicated you are and how I wanted to have that same dedication every day.”

“My face was serious because I was trying not to laugh,” Victor confessed. “I felt like if I let my face slip up even the smallest bit, I’d start laughing and wouldn’t be able to stop. I couldn’t believe how anyone was taking the shoot seriously at all. When I asked the photographer about the outfit choice, do you know what he told me? He said it was ‘fantasy realness.’ What does that even mean?” He sighed.

“Well, I still like it,” Yuuri said stubbornly. “It was a very… unique look, and that alone makes it special!”

“As long as you don’t expect me to dress like that ever again. I can’t think of an amount of money that would get me back in an outfit like that,” Victor said with a shiver. “I’m just glad you saw it and decided it was my determination you wanted to emulate instead of my fashion.”

“Oh!” Yuuri perked up. “It totally slipped my mind, but that reminds me… Funny you should say that.” He started to dig through the pile, casting paper after paper aside until he found what he was looking for. “Aha!” He held a magazine clipping out to Victor to look at. “See this picture?”

In the photo, Victor sat on some steps outside, throwing a treat down to Makkachin at the bottom of them, caught mid-laugh with his long hair flowing over his shoulders and his youthful features lit up in mirth.

“Yes?” Victor didn’t remember the photo well, but it had to be over a decade old, and there had been so many pictures over the years. He was wearing a long grey shirt, jeans, and a pair of designer sports shoes in the picture, but nothing about the outfit really stood out.

“Don’t, laugh, but… When I first saw this picture, I was so starstruck, and I wanted to be just like you. When I saw the way you wore your jeans in this photo, I started to do the same thing, like it was one small thing I could do to be more like you, and it kind of stuck… You probably haven’t noticed, but it turned into such a habit I still wear my pants like this now sometimes.” Yuuri laughed and rubbed the back of his neck, looking a little embarrassed.

Victor felt a chill run down his spine, leaving him frozen to the core. No, he thought with a sudden, horrifying premonition, NO, but while the rest of his body was frozen in place, he couldn’t stop his eyes from darting back to the glossy picture to seal his fate and confirm his greatest fear.

In the photo, Victor’s pants were rolled up at the cuffs.

Victor wasn’t sure if he wanted to scream, laugh, or cry, but his body did its best to combine the three, releasing a gurgling, hysterical wheeze that turned into a pathetic whimper once it escaped his lips. Yuuri’s expression turned concerned, but Victor couldn’t tear his eyes away from Victor, foolish young Victor, and his carelessly exposed ankles.

Victor couldn’t even remember this day, remember this photo, remember this outfit or anything about it. He couldn’t recall why on earth he would’ve done that to his pants, whether it was his choice or the photographer’s or the stylist’s or anyone else’s. There was nothing but a blank spot in his mind where this terrible moment of fate should’ve been, but here it was staring him in the face, undeniable and forever immortalized in his beloved Yuuri’s collection.

“Oh, god,” Victor whispered as he realized, “I gave myself a foot fetish.”

“What’s that?” Yuuri asked with a tilt of his head, leaning in a little.

“... I’m the cause of my own foot fetish,” Victor mumbled.

What?” Yuuri squeaked.

“Ever since I got here, I couldn’t stop noticing your ankles, and your pant cuffs, and then your feet, and all along you were doing it because of me and this stupid photo!” Victor flopped back on the floor, staring up at Yuuri’s ceiling. “I couldn’t stop wondering why you did that to your pants, and I kept looking and noticing it, and then the more I looked, the more I started thinking about your feet, and the more I started thinking about how much I like you, the more I started to like your feet, and then it all just kind of spiralled out of control,” Victor said in a rush of air. He rested an arm against his eyes, like blocking his sight would somehow hide his shame from Yuuri. “It started off just as curiosity, but… I couldn’t help it.”

“Victor.” Yuuri let out a sigh of exasperation, but his tone didn’t sound as horrified as Victor had feared it might. “You’re not making a lot of sense, but it’s not like I’m doing that all the time or even wearing pants all the time, so I’m not sure I’m following your logic. What about all the times I wear shorts? And it’s not like you haven’t seen me in my boxers, or naked, even.”

Victor latched onto this thought, desperate to keep an excuse in his grasp. “You’re right,” he said with newfound conviction. “You’re right, it’s not all the pant cuffs, so it’s not all my fault!” He sat back up to give Yuuri what he hoped was a stern look. “And if you hadn’t left your ankles out like that, I wouldn’t have been looking so much, and then I wouldn’t have been looking even when you weren’t wearing your pants like that, so you’re partly to blame.” Victor knew this was an incredibly stupid attempt at defending himself, but some childish part of him didn’t want to accept the reality that Victor himself was behind all of this.

“Victor, are you serious?” Yuuri interrupted. “What about me, then?” Yuuri sounded indignant.

“What about you?” Victor asked. Yuuri looked annoyed, but Victor had no idea why.

“From the very first day you arrived in Hasetsu, you’ve been lounging around with your chest hanging out,” Yuuri said blankly. “Almost every day I’ve had to suffer through the ties on your robe mysteriously coming undone no matter how many times I showed you how to tie them properly. At first I thought maybe you were just forgetful or lazy, but then I figured you had to be doing it on purpose to tempt me because you were lounging around just so, so I’d get an eyeful. Sometimes more than an eyeful, actually.”

“Oh, you noticed!” Victor chirped happily, but he quieted down at the glare Yuuri gave him.

“And even though you always had a towel with you when we were doing training outside, you’d still complain about how hot it was and take off your shirt to wipe off the sweat and just... rub your chest all over with it and give me this, this look! What was that about?!”

Yuuri’s face started turning redder by the moment, but he kept going, pacing around the room. “And all those deep V-neck shirts you wear, god, how does anyone even have so many of those? I’ve been wondering for months, are you intentionally buying those a size too small so they’ll just barely contain your pecs?” (Victor had many of his shirts tailored for the perfect fit, but he made the wise choice not to speak up.)

“Then once we started sleeping in bed together, you always just kind of grab me and shove my face in your chest and hold it there, even when you’re asleep!” Yuuri ran his hands through his hair before asking with a huff of exasperation, “And you’re blaming me for giving you some kind of a thing for feet? What do you think all that did to me?”

Victor blinked. “Well, at first I was trying to get you to notice me!” he whined. “I was desperate, OK? Nothing seemed to be working, so I had to try to show off all my best assets. I wasn’t doing the rest of that on purpose, though. Besides, this isn’t really a fair comparison. I mean, it’s not like you ended up with some kind of thing for my chest, right?” Victor joked.

Yuuri didn’t respond, his mouth a firm, thin line.

“...Right, Yuuri?”

Yuuri averted his eyes from Victor’s searching gaze and stood straight as a rod, fists clenched at his side.

“...Oh. Shit, I’m a moron,” Victor finally said, and Yuuri huffed and replied, “Yeah, you are.”

“But I’m your moron?” Victor asked hopefully.

Yuuri kneeled down across from Victor and hugged him loosely, resting his head on Victor’s shoulder. “Yeah, you’re all mine,” he said, breath tickling Victor’s neck. “I think we need to be more open about this kind of thing too, though. How about from now on we just talk to each other before we end up with any more weird fetishes?”

“Deal,” replied Victor, “but I also have to warn you, I’ve already had some thoughts about how I’d love to see that beautiful ass of yours in lingerie.”

Yuuri looked up at Victor, eyes flashing dark and dangerous. “Really? Well, Russia’s awfully cold, so it’s a good thing I’ll have you to keep me warm when I’m dressed to impress, isn’t it?”

“Yuuri--” Victor started, and Yuuri’s hands were already in his hair tugging him in for a kiss, his tongue teasing Victor’s mouth open.

In the end, Victor and Yuuri discovered that they didn’t actually need a bed to get themselves into trouble, as they never made it off the floor, and they were both, in fact, incapable of being quiet. Luckily for Yuuri, though, he didn’t die of embarrassment, as Victor took it upon himself to do a one-man walk of shame downstairs at 3:00 in the afternoon to face Yuuri’s family.

Anything for Yuuri’s poor ankles. Anything for Yuuri.