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Through Fearful Dark, We Hope

Chapter Text

The city looks beautiful tonight, Viktor thinks as he makes his way along the edge of the river, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his coat. He looks up at the overcast sky, flakes of snow falling silent and gentle overhead, blanketing the streets in white.

It's the quiet he loves the most. The way the normally busy sounds of so much life become suddenly so muted and soft. As if the entire world has gone to sleep.

Compared to the hectic bustle of his and Yuuri's day to day life, especially these last couple of weeks, it was really nice, just to experience some true peace and quiet.

Viktor smiles to himself.

They'd been apart the last two weeks, each assigned different competitions on opposite sides of the world. Each of them had brought home gold.

Viktor had told Yuuri before leaving for the Cup of China that he wasn't going to go easy on him, despite being his coach and wishing him the best of luck, and he'd driven that message home by not only besting Yurio, but smashing the world record both him and his Yuuri had set in the short and free programs last season, improving his own, overall combined record by almost three points.

Yuuri had been over the moon, but had promptly threatened that he was coming for those same records during the next competition. One in which he and Viktor would be facing off against each other in. Viktor had gladly accepted the challenge.

The truth was, Viktor was beyond proud of Yuuri. Truly. He'd been sweeping all his competitions this season, and performing with incredibly confidence. If anyone was going to take back the records he'd most recently set, Viktor thinks, it was going to be his boyfriend.

He'd always known Yuuri had it in him to be this great. It had only been a matter of getting the boy to believe it himself.

They'd finally arrived back home in St. Petersburg just a couple of hours ago, and of course Viktor had wanted to celebrate. There hadn't been much in the way of food at their apartment though, and so they'd made a plan. Both had felt too exhausted to really go out to eat, and so Yuuri would order in from a restaurant of his choosing, and Viktor would venture out to pick up a bottle of white wine.

It was late, but this was Russia. There were plenty of liquor stores still open.

Yuuri, as was typical, had protested Viktor going out so late by himself. He always worried so much, but Viktor had assured him there was nothing to worry about. There was a liquor store less than 20 minutes walk from their place. They lived in a safe area. He would be back before the food had even arrived, probably.

//

He's the only one in the shop, other than the attendant, and when he finally exits back out onto the street, bottle of wine in hand, he notices how similarly empty it is. Glancing down at his watch, he sees it's just past midnight. So no surprise. Everyone's gone home.

Viktor realizes he's meandered a bit, taking longer than he should have in the liquor store, and so he pulls out his phone, sending a quick text to Yuuri to let him know he was on his way back. Yurri responds immediately, telling him the food had just arrived a moment ago, so he should hurry before it gets cold.

Viktor tells him okay, slipping the phone back into his pocket before beginning to walk.

It had gotten colder in the time he'd been in the shop, and he pulls his coat tighter around himself, picking up his pace, wanting suddenly to just be home with Yuuri and have a nice, relaxed evening with him.

He's about halfway back when he looks up from the snow covered ground to see a man walking towards him.

Even from about 20 meters away, Viktor can see he's a big man. Tall and broad shouldered, with a shambling kind of gate. Though he supposes it could be the man's clothes that make him appear so bulky, given their loose, worn appearance.

A vague knot of apprehension worms its way into Viktor's gut as he and the man draw nearer to each other, and Viktor scolds himself internally for his sudden paranoia.

It wasn't without reason, though. He's reminded of that fact courtesy his own memories. Mocking laughter, ugly words and grabbing, clubbing hands meant to hurt.

It was something he still hadn't told Yuuri about. Something he wasn't sure he ever wanted to.

This was Russia, and it wasn't any sort of secret, nor had it been in a long time, what Viktor was. Everyone knew. There were those that took exception to it. Those who had, during Viktor's youth and early 20s, let him know of their disapproval of his lifestyle in varying, sometimes violent ways.

Viktor had been beaten up more times than he really wished to recall.

He'd tried, still, not to let that reality sour his interactions with people. Most people were kind and friendly. He knows that. He didn't want to tense up like this every time he was alone and came across someone who looked to him odd.

The man isn't even looking at him though, and Viktor doesn't realize he's holding his breath until he and the man move past one another without incident.

The man really had been big. Taller even than himself, and Viktor hadn't failed to notice his thick, strong looking hands. Like a laborers hands.

It was silly. And unkind, besides, for Viktor to feel fearful simply due to the man's appearance, a touch of guilt building up at the realization.

He puts his head down, quickening his stride, wanting more urgently still to get home.

“Viktor Nikiforov?”

Viktor stops at the sound of his name being called, not far behind him, and he turns, seeing the man from before standing there, staring back at him.

Viktor can feel his heart beat hard for a moment, the same feeling of apprehension returning, before he forces it back down, turning fully to face the man.

“Yes?” He makes himself answer.

He was well known in Russia, after all. All over the world, really. It wasn't unusual for anyone to know who he was.

The man smiles at him, seeming genuinely pleased, and Viktor can feel some of the anxiety go out of him.

“Man, I thought it was you!” The man starts, taking a step closer. “I can't believe it! You've been a hero of mine since forever!”

And with that, the anxiety vanishes completely. A fan.

Viktor smiles back, stepping toward the man and holding a hand out.

“A pleasure to meet you, Sir.” He greets.

The man reaches out, taking his hand, and his grip is painful as he squeezes back, keeping his eyes on Viktor.

“Wow, I can't believe I'm actually getting to meet the Viktor Nikiforov!” He goes on excitedly, still gripping Viktor's hand.

Viktor continues smiling back, even as he wishes the man would let his hand go.

He does, just as Viktor is beginning to feel uneasy again.

The man continues to stare at him, his eyes, Viktor notices, almost unsettling in their scrutiny, and it's a struggle not to look away.

“Hey, uh, I hate to ask, but... do you think I could get an autograph? So people know I met you?”

Again Viktor smiles.

“Of course.” He nods. “But, I'm afraid I don't have anything to sign with.”

“It's fine. I've got a pen. Here, you can sign the cover of this.”

The man produces a ballpoint pen and a magazine from out his coat's inside pocket, and Viktor notices immediately the picture of him and Yuuri on the magazine's cover. A shot taken of them from a couple of months ago at one of the circuit competitions. Yuuri has his arm around Viktor's waist, both their heads leaned together as they smile for the camera.

It strikes Viktor as odd that the man would just happen to be carrying around a magazine with a picture of the two of them on the cover, given his seeming surprise at meeting Viktor just now.

Though he did say he was a long time fan, so... and he and Yurri were in the media a lot now, given the season start. Maybe it wasn't so strange.

He takes the pen and magazine from the man. He can feel his smile growing tight, thinking about wanting to get back to the apartment already. Get back to Yurri.

“Of course.” He tells the man. “Who should I make it out to?”

“Hmmm...” the man hums, seeming to think for a moment. Viktor uncaps the pen, poised over the magazine to write whatever the man requests. “How about... 'To my favorite little faggot, Viktor Nikiforov?'.”

Viktor feels his stomach lurch.

He looks up at the man, and sees the smile vanished from his face, replaced by a look of naked disdain.

He blinks, and for a moment, it's as if his tongue won't work, shock keeping his voice down.

“... What?” He finally manages.

“You heard me, faggot.” The man says.

He motions forward, and Viktor instantly steps back, his heart hammering viciously now in his chest.

He feels his throat close up with fear. This man means to hurt him. Of course. He'd seen that look, heard those words enough times to know. It did nothing to lessen the pain of it, sharp and stunning still.

For a moment, he can't think what to do.

“... I'm sorry.” He at last stammers out, shaking his head. He begins handing the pen and magazine back to the man, his hands, he realizes, shaking. “I need to be going.”

The man doesn't take his eyes off of him, and twisted smirk pulling at his lips.

“Where do you think you're going to go?” He asks. “I ain't done with you.”

Viktor drops the magazine and pen to the ground.

He needs to run.

The man was strong, but Viktor was in immense condition, and he doesn't think there was any way the man would be able to catch him. Not at the pace he could run. His and Yuuri's apartment was only a few blocks away. He could make it there easily.

He thinks to turn and simply bolt, when there comes the sound of snow being crushed underfoot behind him.

Immediately Viktor turns, and he sees approaching, only feet away, three more men, all similarly built to the first, all with their eyes fixed on him, their expressions hateful. Two of them are carrying weapons; a baseball bat and what looks like a long chain.

For a moment, panic blinds him, his vision whiting out as it dawns on him what's really happening.

“What's the matter, twinkle toes?” The first man asks behind him, and Viktor turns back, seeing he's come closer, standing within reach of him now. “Where's all that arrogant attitude I always see you got on TV?”

“Where's that cock sucking boyfriend of yours, Viktor?” One of the others starts, and Viktor feels dizzy a moment with fear. “You two are fuckin' disgusting, you know that? Gettin' all kissy with each other on TV.”

Yuuri... Yuuri would be safe, Viktor tries to tell himself. Their apartment was in a secured building. You needed a code to get in. These men wouldn't be able to. Their address wasn't public anyway, so they wouldn't even know where to find it. Yuuri would be okay.

He feels his grip tighten over the bottle of wine, throat tight.

The bottle of wine, Viktor thinks.

If he could somehow hit the first man over the head with it, he could make a run for it then. If he could just get a few steps on them, he could outrun them. He knows that.

He's thinking of doing it. He just needs to make the blow count, he just needs...

“What's that you got in your hand, pretty boy?”

He feels one of the three men behind grab at the bottle he's holding, and without thinking, he yanks his arm away, turning his back on the first man. It's a mistake.

He feels powerful arms wrap around him from behind, hooking under his arms and pulling him back against a broad chest.

The three men in front of him grin, starting to laugh, and Viktor's panic doubles. He doesn't think as he tries desperately to break free of the hold he's in, kicking his legs out, trying to rip forward.

He doesn't get anywhere, the man's hold tightening somehow more, and he sees one of the other three step closer, reaching again for the wine bottle.

Viktor tries to pull away, but he can't. He can't move at all, and he feels his wrist taken hold of in another, crushing grip.

“Lets have it candy ass.” The man snarls, his grip tightening viciously over his wrist, threatening to break it, and Viktor's fingers spasm, loosening as the man rips the bottle from his hand.

“Wine? What, were you going to celebrate with that chink boyfriend of yours?” The man spits, and Viktor feels a hot swell of rage burst in his chest.

“Don't call him that.” He says back, only realizing it after the words have left his mouth.

The men laugh.

“Let me have it.” One of them says, grabbing the wine bottle. He looks at the label, face twisting in disgust. “Expensive shit.” He mutters. “Guess they pay you queers good money to do all that gay twirling around the ice, huh?”

Viktor glares, trying again, unsuccessfully, to pull free.

“I think you might wanna cool it, sweetheart.” The man holding him breathes against his ear. “Your ours now, so you might wanna cool it.”

The man holding the wine scoffs, before without warning he smashes it against the ground, the glass shattering, the smell of alcohol filling the air a moment later.

Again the men laugh, and Viktor feels his eyes begin to sting, an awful sense of dread building up from the pit of his stomach, all too familiar. This was all too familiar.

“... What do you want?” He forces himself to ask. It's a useless question, likely. He knows what they want. But he has a lot of cash on him, and maybe if he can convince them to just take it, they'll leave him alone.

“Want?” One of them asks. “What kinda' stupid question is that?”

“If you want money, you can have my wallet. It's in the left pocket of my...”

He doesn't get to finish the sentence.

The world explodes in pain and blinding light, the immediate taste of copper washing over his tongue and the world spinning in dizzying circles as his vision comes slowly back.

One of them had hit him, he thinks dazedly. One of them had...

“Shut up faggot!”

The man hits him again. Viktor sees it coming this time. It still sends him reeling, and he feels his knees give way under him. He would hit the ground if the man behind him weren't holding him up.

“We're gonna take your money anyway, you stupid cunt. Ain't got nothin' to do with what you say.”

The words are words he's heard countless times before. They still hurt. Would never stop hurting, he thinks. Like suddenly he can't breathe, and his eyes sting, even as he forces his face still, jaw clenched and mouth in a hard line.

Suddenly his phone dings, and Viktor feels a sickening drop down through his stomach.

The men hear it too, their faces twisting into almost lecherous expressions.

“Don't...” Viktor snaps without thinking as one of them begins reaching into his coat pocket.

It's Yuuri. He knows it is. Probably asking where he is. He doesn't want... he doesn't want them to see it. The men. He doesn't want them to do anything...

“What'd I just tell you, bitch?!” The man reaching for his phone suddenly has him by the face, meaty fingers digging into his cheeks, nails cutting. Viktor's eyes squeeze shut at the pain as his head is shoved backward, and he can do nothing as the man reaches again into his coat pocket, pulling his phone free.

He watches as the man's eyes scan over the message, his mouth twisting into a smirk.

“Your chink boyfriend wants to know where you are, Viktor.” He says, looking up and grinning. “Want me to tell him you're alright?” The man's voice is mocking.

Viktor doesn't say anything. His phone is locked. They won't be able to get in to send any kind of message to Yuuri. They won't be able to hurt him.

It's something the man with his phone realizes a moment later, and Viktor can see his face twist in frustration before he looks up at him, eyes burning with disdain.

“What's the pass code?” He asks.

Viktor's heart is beating so hard in his chest, he barely hears the words for the pounding of blood in his ears. He swallows hard, keeping his mouth shut.

“I asked what the fuckin' pass code is!” The man's face hardens with rage as he lunges forward, grabbing Viktor by the lapels of his coat, jerking him violently up. “Give it to me cunt!”

Viktor shakes his head, determination shoving down his fear.

“No.” He answers flatly. He won't let these men talk to Yuuri. It doesn't matter what they do to him. He won't let them speak one word of their filth to Yuuri.

He barely registers the movement then. Only sees the baseball bat come up, and the next instant he can't breathe.

There's a sharp, shocked gasp which, vague in the back of his mind, he knows belongs to him, and his knees buckle, hitting the ground hard as the man holding him up lets him go.

Nausea comes crashing down on him, and the surge of bile from the pit of his stomach comes too fast to stop, rushing up his throat. He throws up, and he stares, bemused and lost at the acrid vomit covering the snow, the stench of it turning his stomach again.

Distantly he registers the sound of laughter above him.

He isn't given time to think on it.

Something cold and hard is abruptly against his throat, tightening fast as he's jerked backward.

Alarmed panic erupts in Viktor's brain as he realizes it's the chain. They've wrapped the chain around his throat.

His hands lift, fingers scrambling desperately to find the metal links, to push under them and away from his throat. Only the links tighten more and more, cutting, raw pain, and he can't breathe at all now. He can't breathe!

He was going to be choked to death, he thinks frantically. He was going to...

The pressure against his throat is suddenly gone, and a desperate, ragged gasp escapes him, frenzied, desperate coughing wracking through his frame as he sucks madly for air, falling forward onto his hands.

And the world explodes into pain.

The blow against his back is paralyzing. He feels his body collapse beneath him, the cold of the snow against his face as it hits the ground.

The pain is too much. His brain screaming. Too much, too much. His nerves erupting, overcome.

Distantly he thinks, the baseball bat. They've hit him with the baseball bat.

And then he thinks...

I'm going to die...

His last thought, horror crashing down on him, vision tunneling, going black at the edges. Somewhere above, he hears more laughter. Vicious, hissed words. He can't make them out anymore. Doesn't know what they're saying.

The blows come down on him in waves, loud cracking in his ears and body burning in flames. Can't think anymore. Something horrible, he knows. But can't think. Just noise and pain and horror. The world dissolves in terror and his skull is cracked open then, eyes washing out in white, consuming light, rushing, screaming in his ears, and all at once he's deaf and blind.

The world fades from him.

He falls and falls and falls.

Falls away to oblivion.

Chapter Text

Yuuri is starting to panic.

It's a feeling too familiar to him. An awful, unwanted, lifelong companion. The sense of overwhelming panic and fear, curling up from the pit of his stomach, reaching up into his throat and closing it off with suffocation, head spinning in dizzying, frantic circles.

He needs to breathe. He needs to remember to breathe. To stay calm. He needs to stay calm. He tries to remember the breathing exercises Viktor had been working with him on. He needs to...

Viktor...

Viktor's been gone over an hour now. Okay. It's not that big of a deal, Yuuri tries to tell himself. It was a twenty minute walk to the store each way. So that would take 40 minutes. Add to that the time it must have taken him to find what he wanted at the liquor store, and it wasn't that strange. It wasn't.

… But Viktor isn't answering Yuuri's texts, and that was.

He hasn't answered any of Yuuri's texts for the last half hour, the last response from him saying he was on his way back, that he would be home soon, and Yuuri is starting to panic.

He's tried calling Viktor. He's tried calling him half a dozen times in half as many minutes. The phone keeps ringing out, going straight to voice mail, his fiance's cheerful voice driving a spike of fear through Yuuri's heart each time it sounds.

“Hi! You've reached Viktor Nikiforov! I can't come to the phone just now, but please leave a message and I'll...”

Yuuri hangs up, pacing back and forth. He reaches his hands up, fingers grasping his hair and pulling.

Why the hell wasn't Viktor answering his phone?! Yuuri had already left him three rambling messages. If Viktor got them, he was probably going to think Yuuri had lost his mind. If he got them and wasn't, for whatever reason, answering, Yuuri swore he was going to kill him himself. Viktor knew how anxious he could get. Why the hell would he do this to him then?! It doesn't make any sense. It wasn't like Viktor at all. Sure, Viktor could be forgetful, but he was never careless, and certainly never thoughtless. He was the sweetest, most positive person Yuuri had ever known. It was that sweetness and positivity which had largely given Yuuri the strength to believe in himself again. And so Yuuri know he would never intentionally cause distress like this to anyone.

He tries calling again. Again, it goes straight to voice mail, and Yuuri can feel the tears well up suddenly in his eyes.

He pulls his glasses free, wiping viciously at them, his teeth grinding together.

Something was wrong. He knows it.

God... God, what does he do? What does he do!?

Okay, okay, he needs to stay calm. Needs to think.

Sitting here, waiting around and worrying wasn't helping anything. He knew his way to the store Viktor had said he was going to. He could go out, retrace Viktor's steps, try and find him...

Yeah, that seemed like the best thing to do. It was better than working himself into a frenzy, calling Viktor's phone over and over and getting no response.

That decides it for him.

“Makkachin, no. Stay.” He tells Viktor's dog as she leaps up from the couch, thinking no doubt he means to take her for a walk. “I'll be back soon. Just stay.” He tells her again as he puts his coat on, slipping into his boots and grabbing his keys. “I'll be back.”

He doesn't give Makkachin another chance to get excited before practically running out the door, barely remembering to lock it behind him before making his way out of the building, onto the silent, cold streets beyond.

//

“God damn it Viktor, why can't you ever just listen to me?” Yuuri mutters angrily to himself, his arms wrapped around his torso as he moves frantically down the sidewalks.

It was bitterly cold out here. Below zero for sure, Yuuri thinks. Snow was drifting down from the dark sky, a light wind blowing it at an angle. A bad storm was coming.

And Yuuri knows he's not really angry. He's scared. He's scared to death. Why hadn't Viktor listened to him? He hadn't wanted Viktor to go out alone. He'd told him so. Why had he let him then? Why hadn't he insisted on going with him?

Question after question assault his brain as he quickens his steps, each moment past increasing the awful dread which had begun to lodge itself in his throat, twisting his stomach. Something had happened. God, he knows it.

He pulls out his phone again, eyes ghosting over the time. 1:14 AM. He presses redial, bringing the phone to his ear, listening to it ring and ring and he knows there won't be any answer.

“Please, please Viktor, pick up...” he begs.

“Hi! You've reached Vikto...”

“Damn it!” Yuri curses, jamming the phone back in his pocket. “Viktor, where are you?!” Tears sting in his eyes again, his breaths becoming erratic. He's panicking again. He can't deal with this. He can't, God...

He can feel his stress levels rocketing out of control, a kind of sickness turning his stomach. He doesn't know what to do. He doesn't know what he will do if he can't find Viktor. If he can't...

He turns the corner onto the next block, eyes looking down the road, and it's like his heart drops down to the pit of the earth.

There's something up ahead. Someone. A broken heap of a man lying in the snow, and Yuuri knows. He knows.

God no...

He's running before his mind can tell him to go, because he knows, and it's like some nightmare vision coming to life before his eyes with each step he takes nearer, and it's Viktor. It's Viktor lying there in the snow. It's him. It's him and no, no, no, God please, no...

And then he's there, right there at Viktor's side, and he's falling to his knees, and Viktor isn't moving and he's covered... covered in blood and God, oh God, God...

Yuuri begins sobbing and he can't stop it, can't control it, vicious, wracking sobs taking hold, seizing his body in convulsions.

“Viktor, Viktor, oh God, please... please, please...” he weeps helplessly, hands reaching out, shaking violently as they lay against Viktor's shoulder.

His clothes are torn and Yuuri can see the slow, seeping red through the thin material of his shirt, through his pants... Flecks of blood in his silver hair and where... where is his coat? Where is Viktor's coat? Yuuri knows he'd been... been wearing a coat when he left and now he's lying here in the snow, in this freezing cold wearing nothing but a thin dress shirt and... and his shoes are gone too, Yuuri realizes, his expensive, Italian leather gloves and oh God...

Vaguely he registers that Viktor's been robbed, or... he doesn't know. He doesn't know. And he's bleeding, he's...

Shaking hands reach out, trembling fingers lying against Viktor's cheek, and he's freezing. He's freezing to the touch, and Yuuri sobs loudly as he turns Viktor's head towards him, turns his face up off the ground.

There's something wrong. There's something wrong with his face. Like... like something's been crushed and, God... God... Yuuri can't tell through the smeared, thick mask of blood what it is, but something's wrong.

His face is barely recognizable for the hideous swelling already forming, skin is deathly pale, what Yuuri can see of it, his arms and legs limp like some horrible, broken puppet. Taking hold of his hand, and Yuuri sees the scraps and bruises all along Viktor's knuckles, covering his palms, the tips of his fingers seeming to turn blue. It's hypothermia, Yuuri thinks distantly, a wave of crushing terror ripping through him at the realization. Viktor was freezing to death out here!

“Viktor, oh God, please, please...”

He isn't dead. He can't be... please God, he can't be...

Yuuri watches his chest for long, agonizing seconds and sees the shallow rise and fall and he knows he's breathing. He isn't dead, oh God...

What was he going to do? What was he going to do?! God almighty, he had to do something! He couldn't just sit here like this. He had to...

Emergency! He... he had to call emergency services. He needed an ambulance here right away. Somebody to help.

His hands are shaking so hard, he's barely able to unlock his phone and pull up the call screen, wracking his brain to remember what the number for emergency is here in Russia.

He nearly panics in his forgetfulness, before it comes to him suddenly, and he punches in the digits, bringing the phone to his ear, trying desperately to calm his frantic breathing. He reaches down as the phone rings, taking hold of Viktor's ice cold hand, squeezing it hard. Viktor isn't conscious at all, his face slack and unmoving, and Yuuri has to look away from him, overcome with grief and fear.

The line picks up, and a woman speaking Russian is suddenly in his ear.

Yuuri feels his panic surge again. He spoke very little Russian still, and he struggles desperately now to remember what small amount he did, trying frantically to convey to the woman over the line what the situation was.

“Please...” he starts, knowing his accent and wording must sound awful and broken. “M-my boyfriend is... h-he's b-been attacked, he... he nn-needs help, please...”

The woman on the other end begins asking him questions, and it's all Yuuri can do to concentrate on what she's saying, trying to piece it together word by word. He misses half of it, he thinks, but understands enough to know she's asked what his location is, and whether or not Viktor is conscious.

He gives her the information as best as he's able, trying to speak slowly and calmly so she'll understand.

He feels himself slump down when he hears her say an ambulance was on it's way. That it would be to him and Viktor in less than five minutes.

Tearfully he thanks her over and over, unable any longer to keep his sobs back.

All he can do then is wait, and he grips Viktor's limp hand in both of his own, bringing it to his face, pressing it against his cheek.

“It's going to be okay Vitya... it's going to be okay.” He promises aloud, even as awful, crushing doubt pervades his mind.

How could this have happened? Who would do this? Who would do this to Viktor, in Russia of all places? Why? When Viktor was a national hero here. He was the greatest figure skater Russia had ever produced. The greatest figure skater in history. It made no sense why someone would...

Yuuri's eyes catch on something then. What looks like letters, written in the snow, a few feet from where Viktor lies.

It's in Cyrillic, and it takes Yuuri a moment to work out what it spells.

When he does, he feels the edges of his vision go dark, a wave of horror washing through him in the awful, dawning realization.

“God hates fags.”

Yuuri turns aside, spilling hot, burning bile to the snow beneath, a wretched sob breaking free past his teeth, splitting the silence of the night in two.

//

It was meant to be a celebration, last night.

Both him and Viktor winning their competitions, and it was meant to be a celebration. Meant to be a celebration of Viktor's new world records, especially, Yuuri thinks.

It was meant to be...

The doctor is talking at him, and Yuuri is trying to focus on the words.

They wash over him like some eerie dream, and he thinks this can't be real.

“Do you want to sit?” The doctor asks him, and Yuuri feels dizzy, throat closing up in sudden, wretched fear and his eyes burn.

He's been sitting here for hours. Sitting in this horrible place, his mind on fire, no way to direct his torturous thoughts anywhere but in. Turning over and over and over. He'd thought he was going to scream. Scream and scream and never stop. But he'd only bitten down hard into his own arm and cried bitterly until his head pounded in a migraine and his eyes were dry as sandpaper.

He's always hated emergency rooms. Hated the suffering you saw in them. The extremes of human desperation and frailty and despair.

It's daytime outside, he vaguely registers.

It had been pitch black out there when he and Viktor had arrived.

“Is he going to die?” Yuuri blurts, his voice half choked by a sob.

He watches the doctor's face tighten, expression grim and unhappy, and for a moment Yuuri feels faint with terror.

“No.” The doctor answers, and Yuuri collapses into the seat behind him. The relief is like a gust of wind knocking him sideways.

“But he would have, if you hadn't found him when you did.” The doctor continues, and Yuuri chokes out another sob, his eyes blind with tears. “Mr. Nikiforov was severely hypothermic when he was brought in, and suffering the onset of severe frostbite to his extremities.” The doctor levels him with a serious look. “You saved his life Mr. Katsuki.”

Yuuri nods, and doesn't say what he's really thinking. That this was his fault. That this never would have happened to Viktor if he just hadn't let him go out alone.

“With that said, I want to make clear to you the seriousness of the situation here, and make sure you're prepared for what's ahead.”

“Oh God...” Yuuri chokes. He knew it was bad. He knew it, just from how broken and bloody Viktor had been. How cold and unmoving. Flashes of Viktor's hair come into his mind. Viktor's beautiful, silver hair, flecks of blood frozen in the strands...

“Mr. Nikiforov has suffered a severe beating, as I'm certain you understand. There's immense evidence of blunt force trauma across his entire body, including the head, which we believe is almost certainly the result of his being attacked with a weapon of some kind. We think in likelihood a wooden baseball bat. There... was also evidence that Mr. Nikiforov was choked, we think most likely with a metal chain wrapped round his throat. We found significant bruising on his larynx.”

Oh God, God, he can't... he can't handle this. He can't bear it. Viktor, oh God, his poor, sweet Viktor...

“Thank God though, from the CT scans we've found no real signs of brain swelling. But he's suffered a massive concussion, and the x-rays are showing a substantial fracture running from the base of his skull, up along the side and to his right orbital bone, which, unfortunately, has been crushed. As a precaution, we've placed him in an induced coma...” He pauses, seeming to hesitate. “There is the possibility of some memory loss, though again we can't be sure of anything until we pull him out of the coma.”

The words are reaching Yuuri's brain. He understands them, objectively. He understands what this man is saying to him. He grasps the seriousness of this man's tone. The grim expression on his face. He knows, somewhere in his brain, that all of this adds up to something terrible.

He can't bring himself to believe that any of this is real.

He's dreaming. This is a nightmare. He's going to wake up. He's going to wake up, and Viktor is going to be lying beside him, whole and healthy and okay. Viktor is okay. He's okay.

The doctor doesn't seem to notice Yuuri's denial, and keeps talking.

“We're going to do everything we can to save the vision is his right eye. Right now we aren't sure. There's also the possibility that Mr. Nikiforov could experience partial or total deafness in his right ear, as the drum was ruptured from the impact of the blow to his head.”

The doctor pauses then, his eyes leaving Yuuri's face, fixing for a moment on the floor below, and Yuuri's head spins. He's bracing himself, Yuuri realizes detachedly. He's getting ready to say something horrible. As if all this isn't horrible enough already.

He sees the doctor swallow, his eyes lifting and fixing again on Yuuri's face.

“In terms of everything else, Mr. Nikiforov has suffered numerous broken bones, including nearly all the ribs on the right side of his rib cage, one on his left. Numerous, full breaks in his left arm, somehow only minor fractures in his right, but, unfortunately, multiple breaks in his right and left femur, which did require surgery, as well as his right tibia and a broken right patella. His collar bone has been shattered, and he's suffered a ruptured disk in his back. Beyond all that, obviously, there's severe bruising and contusions covering a large portion of his body.” He stops again. Swallows again. Eyes turning away again, and no, this isn't real. This isn't. It's a nightmare, and Yuuri is going to wake up and all of this will have been some perverse dream. “The internal damage could have been worse, given the weapon used and the severity of the beating...” The doctor starts again, and he's looking at a chart in his hands. He isn't looking at Yuuri anymore. “As it is, however, he's... Mr. Nikiforov suffered a ruptured spleen and a collapsed left lung, both of which required immediate emergency surgery. Luckily we already had his medical history on file here and he's made it through the surgeries well. It doesn't hurt anything that he's in such tremendously good shape..”.

Good shape... Viktor was in good shape. Of course he was. He'd just broken the world record in the short and free programs for mens skating. He'd broken the combined world record by almost three points. He was the greatest figure skater that had ever lived, he...

Yuuri can see the doctor's mouth moving. He even thinks, distantly, that he hears the words. Somewhere, he's hearing them. But it's like he's under water. Everything muted and off center, and the light headedness comes up on him so suddenly, he barely registers it before his vision black out.

When he next becomes aware, he's looking up at the ceiling, a bright light shining in his eyes, blinding him, before it moves away and the doctor's face is above him, looking down at him with a tight, concerned expression.

He's on the floor, Yuuri thinks after a moment of confusion. How did he get on the floor?

“Mr. Katsuki?” The doctor's voice comes into focus. “Are you alright?”

No, he thinks. No, I'm not...

“W-what happened?” He asks instead, his voice trembling.

“You fainted.” The doctor tells him, and he's helping Yuuri to sit back up, his hand on the nape of his neck. “I caught you before you could hit your head.”

Yuuri looks away.

Before he hit his head. And the doctors words come flooding back to him. Viktor had been beaten half to death with a baseball bat. They'd hit his head. They'd cracked his skull, they'd...

“... Is he going to be able to skate again?”

The question comes unbidden. He hadn't meant to ask it. Doesn't even know why he did. Why that, of all things, came suddenly to the forefront of his mind.

Skating was Viktor's life. It was his too. It was all either of them had ever really known, before meeting each other... before...

Yuuri doesn't know what it would do to Viktor, if he could never, and right when he was seemingly still in his prime, when...

The doctor looks at him with pity and Yuuri hates it.

“I don't know.” He answers honestly. “I think, Mr. Katsuki, that's probably a question best left to later down the line. Right now we need to be focusing on just making sure Mr. Nikiforov lives.”

The tears Yuuri had been struggling to hold back come rushing forth, blinding his eyes, pouring hot and awful down his cheeks. He lifts a hand, biting down on the knuckles of his fist, trying uselessly to stifle the sob which breaks past his teeth.

The doctor puts a hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently.

“Listen, I know this has been really rough. We're prepping Mr. Nikiforov for surgery on his orbital bone now. He's going to be here in the ER for many hours yet, and I know you've been here all night. I would suggest you go back home and try to get some sleep...”

Yuuri shakes his head.

“No...” he wipes at his eyes. “No, I can't. I can't just leave him here.”

The doctors sighs.

“Alright. I understand. If you really don't want to go home, I can have one of our nurses set a room with a bed up for you, here at the hospital. But... you really should try to get some sleep. Wearing yourself down isn't going to do you or Viktor any good, and... I assume there's people you're going to have to call. Family and friends...”

He was Viktor's family, Yuuri doesn't say. Doesn't say that Viktor's parents had abandoned him when they'd discovered he was gay. Doesn't say how they'd kicked him out of his own home when he'd been fourteen years old. Doesn't say... doesn't say anything.

Only nods, and the doctor nods back, before standing and leaving, and Yuuri watches him go.

There's a woman at his side a moment later, taking him by the arm and picking him up to his feet. One of the nurses, he thinks distantly.

He lets himself be led by her to some sterile, cold room. Watches, detached and numb as she makes up a bed with sheets and a blanket and a pillow.

The doctor had been right. He needed to call people.

Needed to call Yakov, and Yuri, and his own mother back home. He needed to. Oh God, he doesn't want to. He doesn't want them to feel what he's feeling.

The weight of his exhaustion is finally starting to pull him down, the lids of his eyes like leaden weights, his limbs stiff and aching. The inside of his mouth feels like sandpaper, his eyes red and itching from so much crying.

He needed to sleep. But he had to call first. He had to call everyone. Tell them what had happened, before they found out some other way.

Chapter Text

“And now, some tragic news coming to us from the sporting world. We're receiving reports that three time Olympic gold medalist Viktor Nikiforov has been hospitalized following what authorities are describing as a brutal physical assault on the streets of his hometown of St. Petersburg, Russia, early this morning.

Nikiforov, a three time Olympic gold medalist, six time world champion and six time Grand Prix champion, is widely considered to be the greatest figure skater of all time, winning his first Olympic gold at the astonishingly young age of 17 and known, not only for his incredible consistency on the ice, but for the unmatched skill, artistry and beauty of his skating. Now at 29, generally considered an advanced age for a skater, Nikiforov, in just the past two days, won gold in the international Cup of China skating competition, breaking three world records in the process.

Anticipation for this year's coming Olympic Games had been high, with many expecting Nikiforov to take home an unheard of fourth gold medal, adding to his already unprecedented three Olympic titles.

Beside his athletic accomplishments, Nikiforov is largely known for being an openly gay man, most notably for his relationship with and engagement to fellow competitive skater Yuuri Katsuki, a Japanese figure skater for whom Nikfiorov also serves as coach, and who under Nikiforov's guidance has seen a resurgence in his own competitive career, taking home gold in his own, separate international competition at the Internationaux de France, as well as numerous other first place finishes since the start of the current season. Katsuki broke the world record for the men's free skate program in this years Grand Prix Skate America competition, where he took home gold, as well as two years previous, in the Grand Prix Final, where he ended up taking home silver. Two scores which Nikiforov broke himself over this past weekend.

Nikiforov's and Kasuki's open relationship is of particular note, given the known policies of Russia regarding homosexuality. Same sex unions, indeed homosexual proclivity in general in Russia is treated as a violation of the law, and national polling there has found a large majority of the population to in some degree oppose the particular lifestyle.

Details of the attack are, at the moment, scarce, but we've been told by police that the attack is being treated as a hate crime, presumably in relation to Nikiforov's homosexuality, and that authorities are now searching for whoever might have perpetrated this horrible cri...”

“Turn that off!”

Yakov sees the group of skaters jump at his raised voice, turning, their eyes wide as they stare at him.

One of them grabs the remote and shuts the television off.

They look like children who've been caught doing something they're not supposed to. Many of them were children, Yakov reminds himself. 13, 14 years old.

To all of them, Viktor was a hero.

Yakov knows why.

He'd always been so good with kids, Viktor. Always knew how to talk to them in a way Yakov never knew.

… More than that, Viktor was kind. The kindest person Yakov had ever known, he was ... is... he is. He wasn't dead, Yakov tells himself viciously.

God, he doesn't know if he can do this...

“I don't want you watching the news on this. National or international.” He tells the students. “You'll only upset yourselves.”

One of the boys stands up from where the group is gathered, sitting on the floor. Yakov watches his face twist, tears welling in his eyes.

“W-what did they do to Viktor?” He sobs, not even trying to control it. “What happened to him?!”

It's like it sets off a wave through the group, all of them at once beginning to cry.

God, he can't...

“Listen to him!” Yuri comes up behind Yakov, snapping at the group. “Don't watch the fucking news! Viktor's going to be okay!”

Yakov turns, staring at Yuri, bemused. Taken aback.

Not ten minutes ago, Yuri had had a full blown meltdown in Yakov's office.

The old coach had seen Yuri get angry more times than he could remember. The boy had a temper on him like a hurricane, explosive and violent, and he would lose it, it seemed, at the drop of a hat, going from calm to raging mad in a matter of seconds, usually over nothing at all.

Yakov had even seen him cry, on occasion. Something Yuri had sworn him to secrecy to each time.

He'd never seen Yuri lose it like he had today.

Yuuri had called Yakov on the phone. It had been just past six in the morning. Not unusual, except Yakov had assumed he wouldn't hear either from Viktor or Yuuri for the next few days, given the intensity of both their schedules over the past two weeks.

The last he'd spoken to Vitya had been at the airport, after touching down in St. Petersburg, and he'd told Yakov he just wanted to spend some time with Yuuri at their apartment, which meant he would probably be out of communication for the next three or four days before getting back to practice.

Still, it hadn't been enough to alarm Yakov. He hadn't thought twice about putting the phone on speaker. Not until he'd heard Yuuri's voice. Heard the shaking sobs barely repressed.

Yuri had rolled his eyes at first, probably thinking Yuuri was having another of his anxiety attacks. But Yakvo had immediately felt on edge. He wasn't Yuuri's coach. There wouldn't have been any reason for the boy to call him, unless...

“Yakov... V-Viktor's in... he's in the hospital. He... h-he's been... been attacked...”

Yuri sits up from where he'd been lounging lazily in the chair across from Yakov, ramrod straight, eyes wide and vibrating. Yakov sees the color drain from his face immediately. Feels his own heart crash to the pit of his stomach.

“What?” Yuri says. And he's shaking his head. “No, he...”

Yakov feels his hands ball to fists on the table, his teeth grind together.

No, it... this hasn't happened in years, he thinks. Viktor hadn't... there hadn't been an incident in a long time. He'd thought... he'd thought, because Viktor had only gained greater recognition, because he'd made his country so proud, he'd thought...

This couldn't happen anymore.

Yuuri's words take too long to really register.

The hospital?

Why would he...?

Why would he need...?

“What do you mean, he's in the hospital?” Yakov asks. “How bad is he?”

The pause on the other end is too long. Too long.

Yuri stands from his seat, leaning on the table, staring at the phone.

“Answer!” He snaps, and Yakov hears the terrible wavering in the boys voice. The loss of control already, and he thinks this can't be happening. “What happened to Viktor? What did they do!?”

Yuuri had told them. He'd told them through wretched weeping, and Yakov had felt a terrible cold inside. A dreadful cold.

Yuri had begun to sob, violent and open in a way Yakov had never seen from him, tearing at the strands of his hair. And he'd known what Viktor meant to Yuri. He'd known, despite Yuri always snapping at Vitya, calling him old, hurling lazy, harmless insults at him, threatening to destroy him in competition... Yakov had known how much Yuri cared for Viktor, in some abstract way. But he hadn't understood. Not really. Not until that moment.

“He isn't dead Katsuki!” Yuri had cried, screaming at the phone at nearly the top of his lungs. “Tell me he isn't dead!”

And through his own tears, Katsuki had told them no. Viktor was alive, but it was bad. It was really, really bad.

“We're on our way. Which hospital is he at?” Yakov had somehow found his voice to ask, and he couldn't understand the numbness he was feeling. The surreal detachment. Like he was removed from all this. Like it couldn't really be happening.

Yuuri had told them where. But Viktor was in surgery right now, he'd said. That it would be hours before he was moved from emergency to the ICU. Yakov had told him it didn't matter. That they would be there soon, and Yuuri had blubbered out desperate thank you's through his tears.

Yuri storms past Yakov now, towards the exit, and Yakov repeats his warning to the other skaters not to watch the news, to wait to hear from him, before following after the boy.

It's not yet seven AM by the time they reach the hospital, one of the nurses directing them to a room which Yuuri is apparently using to sleep.

He isn't sleeping though, when Yakov and Yuri walk in. He's sitting up on a makeshift mattress, his head held in his hands. Yakov knocks on the door, and Yuuri's head lifts, his face a blotched, teary mess.

Yakov watches him stumble from the bed, across the space.

He throws his arms around Yuri first, hugging him tightly, fresh tears forming in his eyes and slipping down his face.

Yuri hugs him back, and Yakov looks away.

He doesn't refuse when Yuuri goes to hug him, holding the Japanese boy back, though he stands stiff and awkward.

He's never really gotten used to hugging Yuuri. Hasn't, he feels, really gotten to know him, the way he probably should.

Yuuri made Vitya happy. That's all Yakov ever felt he needed to know of the boy.

“Any news?” Yakov asks when Yuuri at last lets him go.

Yuuri wipes at his face, shaking his head.

“No, it's... he's still in surgery. It's going to be several hours before he's out and...”

He stops, and Yakov watches him lift a hand, pressing it over his mouth as he turns away.

“... Oh God...” he chokes, shaking his head. “I... I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I can't... it's... it's my fault this happened. It's my fault. I shouldn't have...”

Yuri reaches out without warning, grabbing Yuuri by the wrist and jerking him towards himself.

“What are you talking about Katsuki?!” He snarls. “What do you mean it's your fault?”

“Yura...” Yakov warns, but the boy ignores him, shaking Yuuri's arm.

“What happened?!” He demands.

“We... we were going to celebrate. Mine and Viktor's wins, we... he wanted some wine and w-we didn't have any, so he said he was... he went to the store to get some. I didn't want him to go. I said I didn't want him to go. It was late, and I had a bad feeling, but he...” Yuuri stops again, more tears slipping down his face. “He said he would be alright. That he would be back soon, but... I should have insisted... I shouldn't have let him go. He wouldn't have gone if I'd just...”

Yakov reaches out, placing a heavy hand on Yuuri's shoulder, stilling him.

“... It isn't your fault. Katsuki. It isn't.”

Yuuri looks up at him, his eyes naked with pain.

“... I found him. It.... I found Vitya, on the street. I knew s-something was wrong because he wasn't... he wasn't calling me. You know... you know how much Vitya loves to talk and he wouldn't... he never wants to worry anyone. So I knew, and I went looking for him... I found him. He w-was just... just lying there in the snow and they'd... they'd taken his j-jacket and he was so c-cold and... God... He was ss-so... so broken. He was just so broken, oh God...”

Yuri turns away, striding to the opposite end of the room. He presses his hands against the wall, his head down, and Yakov can see him breathing, too fast and heavy.

And still Yakov feels nothing but this horrible numbness. Distant, detached nothing.

Like none of this is real.

Only some horrible dream from which he would soon wake.

//

He doesn't know why it's this that does it.

That finally breaks whatever fog had settled over his mind, keeping him, until now, at some sort of remove. That had kept him from really feeling.

He doesn't know why it's this.

Viktor is lying there.

Yakov looks at his face. He thinks, absurdly, that it looks like a bushel of blueberries, and then the tears well up so fast in his eyes, his throat closed off and choking, he doesn't even realize it before suddenly he's sobbing. Broken and loud and he turns away, shoving his knuckles past his teeth to muffle the noise.

Vitya... oh, Vitya, he thinks. Vitya, who was as a son to him, and it's too much.

He's lying there, arms and legs lifted and encased in white casts, hooked up to beeping, whirring machines, wires running from his arms and chest and his beautiful face swollen and bruised beyond recognition, half covered by a plastic mask, just so he can breathe, and white gauze wrapped round over is eye, and red seeping through. So much red seeping through everywhere, blooming bright and hideous through the gauze covering his arms and chest and everywhere, and it's too much.

It's been eleven hours since he and Yuri had arrived here to the hospital. They'd had bed's set up for them in Yuuri's room. Yakov isn't sure if he'd slept at all. There'd been moments where he'd lapsed into something resembling unconsciousness. But each time he'd woken with a violent start, his mind lost and scrambling to remember where he was... what had happened... the wretched reality taking too long to settle in and remind him...

He doesn't know if either of the boys had either. Eleven hours, and finally, Viktor had been moved from emergency to the ICU. Finally they'd allowed the three of them in to see him.

Yakov nearly wishes they hadn't.

He doesn't know what he'd been expecting.

Maybe, in the back of his mind, he'd half expected Vitya to be sitting up, smiling bright and brilliant at them. He'd be sitting there, bright and brilliant, and wave excitedly like a small child. Like he always did.

“Yuur! Yakov! Yurio!” He would beam. “Hello!”

Vitya, who was the bravest person Yakov had ever known. Who saw so much good and beauty, even when, by so many, he'd been treated with so much ugliness. By the very people meant to love him without condition. Who smiled so much at everything, at everyone, and laughed and believed and no matter what, no matter what, would never stop believing. In better things, in a better world, a better life. Never stopped believing in joy.

He half expected, maybe... maybe hadn't really believed it possible, to see Vitya like this.

To see him lying there, silent and frail and wrecked.

He isn't awake. He doesn't wave to them, or call their names, or say hello.

He says nothing at all. Nothing. Just lies there, still and small. God, he looks so small.

The room is quiet as death but for the horrible beeping of the machines. Sterile and cold.

Not like Vitya. Not like Yakov's boy.

Yuuri stands beside Viktor's bed, saying nothing, his hands balled to white knuckled fists at his sides.

Yura stands just inside the doorway to the room, frozen there like he can't move, his eyes fixed and wide on Viktor's unmoving form.

The doctor comes in. He starts talking. Yakov barely understands a word he's saying.

“We have him in an induced coma.” He says. “The surgeries went well, though we won't know for some time the lasting impact of the injuries sustained. There was significant damage caused to the retina of his right eye due to loosened fragments of his crushed orbital bone rattling around, and we can't be sure of how that's going to effect the vision in that eye until later testing. The same goes for the hearing in his right ear. A ruptured ear drum can often result in permanent hearing loss, though to what extent, it's hard to say. It's just a matter of having to wait. If his condition holds stable, we think we'll be able to bring him out of the coma in the next few days. After that, we can focus on the process of recovery. I'm not going to lie to you. It's going to be difficult. Mr. Nikiforov has sustained several, very serious injuries, including multiple fractures and breaks to many of his bones, which will in itself require months of physical therapy before he's able to walk normally. It's not... really garaunteed Mr. Nikforov will be able to regain a full range of motion at this point. There's a strong possibility that he'll end up with a permanant limp, given the damage to the bones in his legs...”

The doctor pauses, and Yakov feels sick.

How was Viktor supposed to skate again if he couldn't even walk? Skating had been that boy's entire life, and now... now it sounded like it would be robbed from him. Oh God...

“In terms of the emotional toll of... this sort of thing...” the doctor pauses again, hesitating on his next words.

“You mean him getting beat almost to death by a bunch of homophobic pieces of shit!?” Yuri suddenly shouts, and he's got tears streaming down his cheeks, his face twisted in rage and horror. “Why won't you just say it!? Fuck all this! Fuck this God damned country! Fuck all of them!”

He doesn't wait for any kind of response, turning and storming out of the room.

Yakov thinks, for a moment, he should follow him out. Go check on him. See if he was okay. It's an absurd thought.

Of course he wasn't okay.

“... I'm sorry.” He hears the doctor say.

“... I need to go check on Makka.” Yuuri says suddenly.

Yakov looks at him. He's still standing by Viktor's bedside. Still looking down at him. Even from where he stands, Yakov can see him trembling.

“She's... she's been alone for almost a whole day, I can't... can't leave her alone any longer. She needs a walk and... and food...” Yuuri goes on, and he sounds distant. Like he's talking to himself. “Oh God, Viktor... I don't...” His voice is nearly soundless, shaking.

“I'll go.” Yakov says.

At last Yuuri looks up, turning. Tears stand out clear in his eyes.

“I need to take Yura out of here for a while anyway.” Yakov says. “I'll get Makkachin and take her to my place. Give her a walk and food. You should stay here with Vitya Yuuri.”

For a moment, Yuuri looks like he's almost going to protest, a look of uncertainty washing over his features.

But then his shoulders drop in relief. The tears in his eyes slip free, and he lifts a hand, wiping them away.

“Do you... you know the code into the building?” He asks.

Yakov nods.

“Of course.”

“And you have a key to get into the apartment?”

“Of course.” Yakov repeats. “Vitya's always made sure I can get in if I need to.”

For an instant, Yuuri's face twists in such naked grief, and Yakov feels his own eyes burn viciously, barely able to school his own features into flat expressionlessness.

“... Thank you.” Yuuri says after a moment.

Yakov only nods.

“We'll be back later. Call me if anything happens before then.”

“... Yeah.”

Yakov turns then.

He makes sure not to look at Viktor. His broken body lying there, still and silent as death.

He makes his way from the room, and tries not to think of anything at all.

Chapter Text

Three days later, they begin slowly to take Viktor out of his coma.

The doctor had explained to them what to expect.

It still does nothing to prepare Yuuri for what he's seeing.

In the days leading up, they'd had, several times a day, to draw the fluid off of Viktor's lungs. A horrible procedure of them having to insert what looked to Yuuri like a massive needle into what they told him was the pleural space between his lungs and chest wall, drawing the fluid up in a slow, agonizing process.

Yuuri had never been exposed to any kind of medical procedure more serious than a broken left wrist, when he'd been a kid. His career as a skater had been, luckily, mostly injury free.

He realizes, as he thinks it, he doesn't really know much about Viktor's medical history. He doesn't really know what injuries he's suffered.

There were some scars on Viktor's body. Not many. Typical of what you might see from sports related injuries. Some scarring on his knees from surgeries, some scarring which Yuuri recognized as a torn rotator cuff. That was about it.

He realizes he's never asked if there had been a time in Viktor's life when he'd been really sick, or had needed to be hospitalized, mainly because Viktor himself had never mentioned anything like that, and so Yuuri had just assumed...

But there was the way Yurio had been acting these past two days. Beyond his obvious distress. Some of the things he had said. Which Yuuri had caught him muttering to himself.

Yuuri had been left with the unsettling impression that something like this had happened before to Viktor.

It couldn't have been like this though, Yuuri tells himself. Because it would have been reported on the news. Like it was now. All over the fucking news. A mob of media parked outside the hospital.

It doesn't mean something like this hadn't happened though. Some sort of... bullying.

Viktor was gay. He was openly gay. In Russia. Had been openly gay since he was sixteen, seventeen years old.

It wasn't that something like this had possibly happened before. It was more that it was probable. Yuuri doesn't know why that hadn't occurred to him until now.

Maybe, he thinks, because Viktor was so impossibly upbeat. The way he was... it made you think he couldn't possibly have ever experienced a single moment of pain or sadness in his life. Even though Yuuri knew that wasn't true at all.

His own parents had rejected him when they'd found out he was gay. That was a kind of pain Yuuri couldn't even begin to imagine.

Viktor had told him about it with his usual, cheerful demeanor. Like it wasn't a big deal. Yuuri had known better than to believe that. Viktor would sometimes smile to cover up what he really felt. But you could always see it in his eyes. And there had been grief so deep in Viktor's eyes that day, when he'd told Yuuri that, Yuuri had found himself later, locked in the bathroom, crying for the pain he knew Viktor was in.

And yet Viktor was the most positive person Yuuri had ever met. A genuine positivity which was infectious. Which rubbed off on you, whether you wanted it to or not.

Viktor smiled constantly. When he did, it ended up making you smile. You couldn't help it. You didn't even want to.

Yuuri sometimes wondered how anyone could have that much true kindness in them. But Viktor did.

He had in him the warmest, brightest light.

He treated everyone as if they had that same bright light in them too.

Believed in you, even when you didn't believe in yourself.

Yuuri had experienced that first hand. It was because of it that Yuuri had found the confidence to win.

God, why had this happened to Viktor? Why, why!? He didn't deserve it. God, he didn't....

It seems to take too long, too long as they bring Viktor up from his coma.

Yuuri watches, Yakov and Yurio by his side.

He can feel the tension in him spiking, his body trembling with barely suppressed anxiety. He clenches his jaw, fingers digging into his arms as he folds them tight over his chest.

Viktor's face is slack and unmoving, the oxygen mask still covering his nose and mouth, the hard plastic fogging and unfogging with each inhale and exhale of breath.

Yuuri barely manages to quiet the gasp which catches in his throat when he sees Viktor's one visible eye begin to flutter. When he sees Viktor's fingers spasm almost violently.

He isn't prepared for the crease between brows as they draw together.

Isn't prepared for the sudden, deep lines which etch into Viktor's previously expressionless face.

For the sharp, ragged gasp which fills the room as Viktor sucks in a breath.

He isn't prepared for the thick tears which well up in the corner of Viktor's eye, blood red as they slip free, rolling down over his temple, catching in the silver strands of his hair.

Or the weak sound pushing past Viktor's teeth. A nearly soundless, trembling sob.

His fingers continue to spasm, curling weakly against the sheets of his bed.

He's in pain, Yuuri thinks desperately. Oh, he's in pain.

He's woken up to nothing but pain...

“Why is he crying blood!?” Yurio snaps, fear naked in his voice. He's staring at Viktor with those same, wide eyes from before. He looks sick with shock and horror.

“It's nothing to be alarmed by.” The doctor reassures them. “Just broken capillaries in the retina. It should clear up after about a week or so.”

Even with Viktor's eyes barely opening, half lidded still, Yuuri can see the deep red which has replaced the whites of his eyes, the vibrant blue of his iris all the more stark against it. It looks terrifying.

“He's in pain!” Yuuri snaps, his heart beating painfully hard inside his chest, blood rushing in his ears.

The doctor nods.

He looks calm and Yuuri doesn't understand how he can be so calm when Viktor is in so much pain! When he's crying because he hurts so much.

“We've got him hooked to the morphine drip.” He says, like that's supposed to make everything alright.

“But he's still in pain!” Yuuri nearly shouts. “Look at him! He's in pain!”

“I know.” The doctor answers, still in that horrible, calm tone. “I don't want to give him too much of a dose right now when we're bringing him up. I need to get him level and clear headed for a while longer. Once we're sure everything's okay, we'll give him a higher dose.”

Yuuri's mouth comes open to protest more, because he can't bear this. He can't bear to see Viktor hurting like this. Only suddenly there's a heavy hand on his shoulder, and he turns, seeing Yakov looking at him. The old coach's face is tight with stress, but he shakes his head quietly.

“Vitya is strong.” He says softly. “He'll be okay.”

Yuuri's eyes burn viciously.

He wants to yell that Viktor shouldn't have to be strong. That he shouldn't have to be going through any of this.

But he doesn't. He resigns himself, his teeth coming together hard as he struggles to control himself.

If Viktor was strong, then he needed to be too. He needed to be that for Viktor, who had always been strong for Yuuri.

He feels torn in two directions as, with the passing minutes, Viktor gains greater cognizance. Both relieved to see Viktor conscious and awake and alive, devastated to see him suffering so openly, helpless to stop it. To even offer his fiance any semblance of comfort.

Viktor sobs softly, bloody tears continuing to form and fall from his eyes.

Yuuri doesn't think he knows what's going on. Where he is. He doesn't think Viktor knows that he, or Yakov or Yurio are even here.

All he knows, Yuuri thinks, is pain and probably fear, and God, God, he's never wanted so badly to go to Viktor and just hold him.

And it's surreal, Yuuri thinks.

Viktor rarely cried. He rarely showed any outward expression of sadness, or fear, or anger.

Seeing him this vulnerable, this out of control, was bizarre, and off-putting in the worst kind of way.

It's when Viktor tries to reach up to his own face, like he wants to tear the mask away, that the doctor finally reaches out, taking gentle hold of his wrist, bringing his arm back down and beginning to speak.

“Hi there, Mr. Nikiforov...” he starts, his voice low.

Viktor blinks rapidly, his eyes shifting towards the sound of the doctor's voice.

He stares up at the man, uncomprehending, and Yuuri can see the naked fear in his gaze.

He sees Viktor swallow, his face lining in more pain.

“... Where...? W-where am I?” He asks, and his voice comes out as hardly a whisper, the normally smooth timbre reduced to cracked dust, trembling and weak. He asks in Russian, and Yuuri knows Viktor would speak in Russian when he felt overwhelmed by something. When he would lose hold of English or French, because his brain was overloaded, and he couldn't calm himself enough to find the words in any other language but his own, to remember what they were.

He sees, in the periphery of his vision, Yuri turn his face away from the scene.

The doctor smiles tightly at Viktor.

“Mr. Nikiforov, you're in the Regional Clinical Hospital, in St. Petersburg. I don't know how much you remember.”

Viktor is looking up at the doctor with lost eyes.

“... Regional Clinical...?” he breathes, and he sounds so uncertain. Confused.

The doctor nods, still smiling tightly.

“That's right Mr. Nikiforov. You were brought in by... I believe your fiance, Mr. Katsuki. You were unconscious when you were brought in. Do you... recall what happened? Before?”

Viktor blinks, more tears slipping down his temples. His face is rigid with pain.

“... Yuuri?”

Yuuri can't stand it anymore.

“I'm right here Vitya! Honey, I'm right here!”

Viktor's head turns, and at first, Yuuri doesn't think he sees him.

“God, Viktor, I'm right here...” Yuuri can't help the sob which slips past his teeth, and he steps forward, unable to keep himself back anymore.

He can see the shock which clouds in Viktor's eye. He can see when he realizes Yuuri is really there.

And he sees Viktor's expression crumple then. The way his face just seems to... fall.

“Yuuri...” he breathes, and his voice trembles, weak and nearly soundless.

Yuuri stumbles, and he's falling forward, reaching out and taking hold of Viktor's face in his hands.

“I know... I know Vitya, oh, God, it's okay... it's okay now...” Yurri weeps, and he presses kisses to Viktor's forehead, over and over.

Nobody stops him. Nobody pulls him away, even as Yuuri thinks the doctor and nurses must want to. Probably want Viktor to calm down because this can't be good...

But he's in so much pain. So much pain, and Yuuri doesn't know what it is that happened. He doesn't know what those men did to Viktor. Not really. What they said to him, how it happened. What Viktor felt when... oh God... he must have been so scared. Oh, his love... he must have been so afraid, and he'd been alone, alone, and God Yuuri can't stand it... he can't stand to think of it...

“I'm sorry Viktor. I'm sorry, I'm sorry...” He repeats again and again, because he doesn't know what else to say. Doesn't know how to fix this. Doesn't know how to make Viktor understand how sorry he is other than to tell him over and over and over again, as if that will somehow make this better. As if it will change anything at all. Make it so they can somehow go back in time and Yuuri can make Viktor stay home with him. Make him stay. Not let him go out there on the streets all alone to get beaten half to death because... because why? Why? Because he was born gay? Because it didn't matter to some people how good and kind and sweet and generous Viktor was? Because it didn't matter to them how Viktor would do anything to help you. How he would find a way to help you, no matter what it took. Would offer all he had just to give you what you needed, if even just in that moment. How he would look for the good in everything. In everyone. And just to see you smile, just that, it was enough to make it all worth it for him. To know he'd made it even just a little better for you... that was enough for him, and he didn't want anything else in return. Nothing.

None of that mattered to these people.

Only that Viktor had been born feeling an attraction to the same sex.

For that, they'd nearly killed him. For that, they may have destroyed his entire life.

God, what kind of world was this they lived in, where things like this happened? What was wrong with it, God?

Yuuri wants to hug him. He wants to put his arms around Vitya and pull him close and never let him go.

Viktor loved hugging. He loved to give hugs and receive hugs more than any person Yuuri had ever known. The most physically affectionate person he'd ever known.

And there was always such... almost a desperation to the way Viktor would hug Yuuri. So often Yuuri could feel him trembling in his arms.

He doesn't think he'd understood how lonely Viktor had been before then. How starved for affection.

He wants to hug him now, but he can't, because of all the wires and tubes and everything helping to just keep Viktor alive and stable.

It isn't fair. None of this is fair.

Like it isn't fair when the doctor finally touches Yuuri's shoulder, telling him quietly that he needed to look Viktor over.

Yuuri nods, pressing his forehead against Viktor's a long moment, before forcing himself to pull away.

“I'm right here Viktor.” He promises. “I'm not going anywhere.”

He feels Yakov's hand on his shoulder once more as he steps back. Sees the old coach nod towards him, his expression uncharacteristically soft, almost grateful.

Yuuri can't know what he's thinking. Can't know what he's going through.

He had practically raised Viktor himself, along with his wife. Had taken him in to live with him in their home when Viktor had been only 13 years old. Because Viktor had had no where else to go then.

Yuuri knows Viktor was like a son to Yakov.

Yurio has turned fully away by now, his back to Viktor, and Yuuri knows how hard this is on him too.

Yurio put on an act of dismissivness all the time. Especially toward Viktor. He would act put upon and annoyed and embarrassed by Viktor's displays of affection toward him, and insult Viktor constantly, calling him old and washed up and overrated. Viktor would just smile at him fondly, because he knew, like everyone knew, Yurio didn't mean any of it at all.

He loved Viktor. Cared about Viktor in a way that was beyond words. Yuuri saw it in the way Yurio would look at Viktor with pure admiration in his eyes when he thought no one was looking. In the way Yurio would ask after Viktor constantly, trying to couch it in an offhanded tone of mild interest. But Yuuri could always hear the genuine concern underneath. He worried about Viktor, and Yuuri had never completely understood why. Viktor was so capable at... it seemed everything. But Yurio saw something in him, or... or knew something about him that made him worry.

Maybe it was this? Maybe something had happened before that Yuuri never knew about.

The thought of Viktor being bullied seemed impossible in so many ways to him.

Viktor was all confidence and charisma. Ridiculously good looking. Men and women both seemed to throw themselves at his feet wherever he went. He spoke and carried himself with so much sophistication and sureness...

But in some ways, as Yuuri had begun to learn the longer he was with Viktor, that confidence and charm was for display. A persona Viktor put on for the public, and for his fellow competitors.

When he was alone with Yuuri, there was a softness to Viktor... even, in some ways, an insecurity.

Viktor said things sometimes which made Yuuri think he was afraid of being left behind. Like he actually believed Yuuri would leave him someday. Like, deep down, he didn't really believe he was good enough for Yuuri.

The notion was absurd. Impossible to wrap his mind around.

Viktor was the literal definition of a winner. The ultimate winner. It made no sense that he would think of himself as not good enough for anyone.

And yet, his own parents had rejected him. Hadn't they?

And, Yuuri recalls then, of Viktor's past relationships, he'd only ever spoken of them as flings. He'd never told Yuuri of any relationship which had been really, truly serious. Of any relationship that had been anything more than purely physical.

Maybe it wasn't so strange then...

Viktor had been so lonely, before he'd met Yuuri. Hadn't he?

The doctor is bent in front of Viktor. He's checking Viktor's eyes, shining a pen light into the one not obscured by bandages. He asks Viktor to follow his finger as he holds it up, moving it, left, right, up, down.

Viktor seems disoriented still, bloody tears continuing to slip free each time he blinks, though he's stopped sobbing. He tries to follow the doctor's instructions, but even Yuuri can see his focus failing, his eye floating and distracted. A shot of worry works it's way up from Yuuri's gut.

The doctor's own expression seems calm though. He doesn't look overly concerned, and Yuuri tries to hold to that.

“Alright...” the doctor switches the pen light off, placing it in his breast pocket. “I'm going to ask you a series of questions Viktor. I want you to answer as best you can. It's not a test, so don't worry. Just tell me what you think.”

Viktor blinks.

“... Okay.” He says, and Yuuri's heart feels like it's shattering.

“What's your full name?” The doctor questions.

There's a brief pause, and for a horrible instant, Yuuri thinks Viktor might not remember.

“... Viktor Andreievitch Nikforov.”

The doctor smiles, and Yuuri can feel his shoulders slump in relief. He thinks he sees from the corner of his vision both Yakov and Yurio do the same.

“Good. And how old are you Viktor?”

Viktor swallows. It looks painful.

“... Twenty nine.” He answers. “I... I'm sorry, can I... Can I have some water, please?”

“Oh, of course.” The doctor replies, looking to one of the nurses.

The woman nods, heading off out of the room. She's back a moment later, a sippy cup with a straw held in her hand.

She holds it up to Viktor, guiding the straw to his mouth.

His lips are dried and cracking, and he pulls at the straw greedily as he drinks.

“... Th-thank you.” He says after he's had enough, and Yuuri doesn't know how he's doing this. He doesn't know how Viktor can still hold to his incredible politeness, even now.

The nurse smiles at him, her expression pained.

“If you need anymore, just say.” She tells him, before stepping back.

“Are you okay to continue?” The doctor asks, and Viktor nods weakly.

“Alright. What city are you in?”

“... St. Petersburg, R-Russia.”

“What's the date of your birthday?”

“T-twenty-fifth, December.”

“Good. Good. Okay. I'm going to ask you some more difficult questions now. Alright?”

Again Viktor nods. Yuuri can see the pain in his face. Can see him struggling. He wants to say something, but he forces himself not to interrupt. The sooner they can get this over with, he tells himself, the sooner they can give Viktor more pain killers.

“Alright. What do you do for a profession, Viktor?”

Viktor swallows again.

“I... I'm a c-competitive figure skater.”

“Good. And where is it that you last competed?”

There's a moment of hesitation from Viktor, and Yuuri feels his gut clench.

“... The... the Cup of China,” he answers. “I think?”

Yuuri can feel his shoulders slump in relief. He thinks he sees from the corner of his vision Yakov and Yurio do the same.

The doctor nods.

“And where did you place in that competition?”

“... First.” Viktor answers after a beat. He's having a little more difficulty remembering this, Yuuri thinks. He's remembering, but it's coming back to him more slowly.

“That's right.” The doctor smiles. “And you did more than just place first Viktor. Do you remember what you did at that competition?”

Another tear slides down Viktor's temple.

“... I... I broke the world record.” He says after a moment.

“That's right! It was an amazing performance Viktor. All of us here at the hospital were watching, cheering you on.”

Viktor doesn't say anything. He doesn't smile, like he usually would. He just stares. He still looks so lost.

“Do you remember what your score was Viktor?” The doctor asks.

Viktor's brow lines, like he's trying to remember, and after a short span, he shakes his head.

“... I can't.” He admits.

“That's okay.” The doctor reassures him. “You scored 337.82. Almost three points above your previous record.”

“... Okay.” Viktor says, and Yurri finally looks away from him. His tone is flat. Almost uncomprehending. There's none of the excitement that Viktor had had when he'd broken the record. None of the joy.

“You're fiance also competed, in a different competition.” The doctor tries. “Do you remember where he placed?”

Viktor looks up at that, and Yuuri looks back at him.

“... First.” Viktor answers, and there's a faint smile which pulls up at the corners of his mouth when he says it. A plain pride in his tone, even now.

Yuuri nearly bursts into tears.

The doctor smiles again, nodding.

“That's right. You must have felt proud of him.”

And Viktor nods.

“... Yes.” He says. “My Yuuri...”

Yuuri does start to cry then, bringing his hand to his mouth, biting down on his knuckles to keep quiet.

“Alright, Viktor... I want to ask you... and you don't have to answer right away if you don't want... Do you remember what happened before you were brought here?”

There's a pause, and Viktor's gaze shifts away, fixing on the far wall. For an instant, Yuuri sees his face etch deep with horrible, naked pain. And then he nods, swallowing thickly.

“C-can I have some more water, please?” He asks, and the doctor nods, the nurse stepping forward again to let Viktor drink.

The atmosphere in the room is suddenly oppressive.

Suddenly, Yuuri doesn't want to hear this. He doesn't want to hear Viktor say this.

But Viktor does. He says it with so much calm, and Yuuri doesn't understand how. He doesn't understand how Viktor can be this strong.

“... I was attacked.” He says, his voice somehow steady, but quiet. So quiet.

The doctor nods. He isn't smiling anymore. Instead his face grim, matching the expressions of pain on the nurses faces. On Yakov's, and Yurio's, and, Yuuri knows, his own.

“Alright. Not now Viktor, but later today, do you think you can give a statement to the police on that? They're searching for the men who did this to you.”

“... Yes.” Viktor says, and still his voice is soft. So soft, it's hard to hear now.

“Alright.” The doctor says. “I think that's enough for now. I'm guessing you're in a lot of pain?”

“He is.” Yuuri blurts without really meaning to. But he knows his fiance. He knows how Viktor would always try to hide when he was hurting. He didn't trust that Vitya would be able to ask for help here.

Viktor looks up at him, his gaze fixing on Yuuri, and Yuuri looks back. He tries smiling, but it's hard. It's so hard when Viktor looks so ruined.

“Okay. I'm going to up the dosage then. If you're okay with that? Right now it's at 5 CC's. I'm going to increase that to 10. It should take effect fairly immediately. I just want you to rest for now Viktor. We'll go over everything later, after you feel a little bit better. Alright?”

Viktor only nods.

“Do you want to be alone for now, or...?

Viktor shakes his head immediately.

“No, I...” and his eyes go to Yuuri, and Yakov and Yurio. “Please, I want...”

“We're not going anywhere Vitya.” Yurio finally speaks. “Okay? We're staying here with you.”

Fresh tears well in Viktor's eyes.

“... Okay.” He says. “Okay... please... thank you...”

“There's nothing to thank us for Vitya.” Yakov says, his voice wavering, fighting back his own tears.

“... Okay... Thank you.” Viktor says again anyway, and he lifts a hand to his face, and he begins to weep.

Chapter Text

Yuri thinks he's going to be sick.

There's policemen in the room now, gathered round Viktor's bed.

They keep talking at him, barking question after question, and can't they see Vitya's in pain?! Can't they see he's barely holding on? His voice trembles as he struggles to tell them what they want to know, hardly a cracked whisper, rough sounding like he'd been yelling at the tops of his lungs for hours.

Yuri's eyes keep drifting down to the vicious red bruising which runs all across Vitya's throat. A deep impression of what plainly looks like the metal links of a chain, and Yuri thinks he's going to be sick.

He wants to tell the policemen to shut the fuck up! To leave Viktor the fuck alone already!

“Can you tell us any details about what these men looked like?” One of the officers asks.

Viktor's hands shake badly, Yuuri sitting at his side, holding tight to him. Fresh tears keep forming in Viktor's eyes, slipping down his face, bloody.

His voice is strained and weak, giving stilted, vague answers. He says it was dark, and he couldn't see them very well. There were four of them, he thinks. He isn't sure. He isn't sure about anything, it seems. The doctor had said there might be problems with Vitya's memory, because they'd bashed his skull in.

Fucking cowards, Yuri thinks viciously, the nails of his fingers biting into his palms as he curls his hands to fists.

They were big, Viktor tells them. Taller than him by a lot. He thinks over six feet each.

Viktor wasn't big.

He was tall. Taller than him and Yuuri, sure. But he wasn't big. Wasn't a mass of muscle. He'd always been incredibly thin.

Four men over six feet tall had attacked him. Yuri had seen bastards like that on the street. Big, burly fuckers that were well over 200 lbs. Four of them had gone after Viktor. Four of them. Fucking disgusting god damned cowards!

Viktor stops talking suddenly, and Yuri sees him suck in a breath, a sharp gasp slipping from his throat as he looks down at the blanket covering his broken body. Yuuri squeezes his hand gently, and Yuri nearly loses control of himself, the words on the tip of his tongue, ready to tell the cops their little interview was over. But then Viktor keeps talking, and somehow it's worse. It's worse because Yuri doesn't want to hear this. Oh God, he doesn't want to hear this.

“They were too strong for me. I couldn't... I thought, maybe, but... I was stupid... I was stupid.”

Viktor keeps repeating it, over and over.

Yuuri tells him to stop. He tells Viktor he isn't stupid, and Viktor starts to cry again and Yuri leaves.

He can't look at this anymore. He can't stand it.

He hated seeing Viktor like this.

He hated seeing Viktor cry. Hated seeing him look so scared and fragile and lost.

Hated seeing him blame himself for what those fucking bastards had done to him.

He shoves the door to the bathroom open, storming inside. The lights flicker on, and he begins to pace back and forth, feeling his anger choke him.

“He doesn't deserve this.” Yuri mutters. “Viktor doesn't fucking deserve this! Why do you keep letting these things happen to him God!?”

There's no response. There's no response because God doesn't fucking exist.

He wouldn't let these things happen if he did. He wouldn't let Viktor keep getting hurt like this...

Only nothing like this had ever happened to Viktor before. Nothing this bad...

Oh, God...

Viktor had been beat up for being gay before. Yuri knew that. Everyone at the rink knew it.

He'd heard enough stories. Overheard enough conversations from the other skaters and coaches. Seen the looks of sympathy and pity they would send Viktor's way when he would show up to the rink with a black eye, or a busted lip, his own face etched with so much horrible despair and resignation, replacing his brilliant, generous smile and life-filled eyes.

He had seen Viktor cry exactly once. He wasn't meant to see, Yuri knows. Nobody was.

It was in a hotel the team had been staying in, one time five years ago. He and Viktor's rooms had been placed next to each other, and, Yuri remembers, he'd been walking down the hallway, heading towards the hotel lobby. He can't remember what for. He remembers the sound which had drawn his attention, though, clear as day, making him freeze.

Up ahead of him a few feet, there had been an alcove in the hallway wall, and Yuri remembers he'd heard, unmistakably, a harsh sobbing noise. He'd stood there for a long moment, his heart kicking hard in his chest.

He'd thought in that instant he should just pretend he'd heard nothing and keep moving. Had even decided on that course, forcing himself to step forward after a few seconds more of standing paralyzed. But he hadn't been able to keep himself from glancing aside as he'd walked past the alcove, and he'd frozen again as he'd seen Viktor standing there, his arms pressed to the wall, hiding his face against them. His thin frame had been trembling, Yuri remembers, because he'd been crying, unaware he was being watched.

Yuri stands for a moment, frozen, uncertain he's really seeing what he is.

It was Viktor, his brain supplied him. It was Viktor Nikiforov, standing there, crying.

Yuri can only stare at him for what seems eternity.

Viktor was a god. Or... that was how Yuri had used to think of him, anyway, before he'd started to really get to know him.

Viktor was... pretty cool, actually. He was really nice. Yuri had been surprised at that, when they'd first met, and he isn't sure why. Maybe because Viktor was the greatest figure skater of all time, and Yuri had just imagined, because of that, he must have to be this untouchable, perfect person.

And in some ways, Viktor did still seem that way to him.

He was incredibly handsome, and Yuri had never seen him look anything less than absurdly stylish and put together. He dressed better than anyone Yuri had ever seen, in the most expensive, perfectly fitting clothes he had ever seen. He spoke with incredible articulation, spoke something like three or four languages fluently, Yuri knew, and held himself as gracefully off the ice as on. And he was almost stupidly charming. People seemed to fall all over themselves wherever he went, just to get a little closer to him.

But the thing Yuri had noticed about Viktor was that he always said hello to everybody, and he would spend however long it took to sign every single autograph requested of him. Sometimes he would be standing there on his feet for two, even three hours after a whole day of practice. Yuri knew for a fact Viktor was exhausted, yet he never said a single word of complaint, or told anyone he didn't have time. He looked everyone in the eye, and smiled, and even talked to them a bit, and signed whatever they wanted.

The first time he'd witnessed it, Yuri had half expected Viktor to talk trash about the whole process afterward. To complain about how greedy or thoughtless or annoying his fans were.

But he never did.

He never said a single bad word about anybody. Not then, and not a single time since.

More than that, Viktor talked to him. He hung out with him. Would sit with him during breaks in practice and eat lunch with him. Would ask him about his day and about skating and give him advice.

Whenever Yuri had a question about it, or about anything really, Viktor would spend a long time answering him, going into way more detail than Yuri even wanted. He would even play video games with him, which he was absolutely horrible at. Yuri had thought, because Viktor was such an incredible competitor, that he would have been pissed the first time Yuri had kicked his ass at Mortal Kombat. But Viktor had just beamed at him with that huge smile he had and told him how much fun it was, and had asked if they could play again.

Yuri had almost felt bad for him then, he remembers. Viktor had seemed so earnest, even eager to play, and Yuri had thought to himself, surely Viktor Nikiforov had something better to do than to spend time playing video games with some little kid.

But if he had, he said nothing about it, and they'd ended up playing for a couple hours that day, Viktor losing every single match in spectacular fashion and not seeming to mind at all. Yuri had started to feel so bad about it, that, more than a few times, he's purposefully tried losing. Even then, Viktor had lost, and still, hadn't seemed to mind in the least.

Later on, Yuri had even tried teaching Viktor how to play better, but he'd been hopeless at it, his fingers painfully clumsy and slow on the controller.

It was weird, Yuri had thought at the time. Viktor wasn't that old. Video games had been around when he'd been a kid too. Hadn't he ever played any growing up?

From how bad he was at them, Yuri didn't think so.

The truth was... Viktor was unbeatable on the ice. That's what it seemed like. He was perfect on the ice.

Off it... he was... kind of a dork? He was embarrassing in some ways, Yuri had begun to learn. He liked stupid things, like classical music, and old, boring paintings, and old books and poetry. God. He got overly excited about ridiculous things and would do this cringe worthy jumping up and down while clapping his hands.

Yuri had thought, the first time he'd seen that, how gay Viktor looked.

He'd felt bad afterward.

He'd felt even worse when, at school, some of his former friends had learned he knew Viktor, and they'd laughed and said things Yuri never wanted to hear again.

“Man, I heard Nikiforov's a total fuckin' queer.”

“... What's that mean?” He'd asked.

“It means he likes to suck cock.” The boy had sneered.

“That's disgusting man. People like that should be fuckin' shot.” Another had spit.

“Yeah, or strung up from a tree. You better watch yourself around that fag Yuri. Most of them queers are into little boys, I hear. If he ever came up to me and tried anything, I'd beat the fucker to death.”

Yuri had felt a shot of rage so intense then, he swears he'd gone blind for a moment.

Only he hadn't said anything. He hadn't told them to shut up, even though he'd wanted to. Hadn't told them they didn't know what the fuck they were talking about, even though he knew they didn't. Because he'd been scared. Because he'd felt, suddenly, almost ashamed. Because he'd remembered thinking how Viktor looked gay when he got really excited, and how he'd felt embarrassed by it. By how girly Viktor could sometimes be.

And then the shame had gotten worse, because he'd avoided Viktor after that. For a few weeks. Because he hated that he hadn't stood up for him, and didn't want to have to face him then, knowing he hadn't.

Viktor had come up to Yuri plenty of times during those weeks, asking if he wanted to hang out. Asking if they could play Mortal Kombat, or eat lunch together, or if Yuri had any questions about his skating he wanted answered.

Yuri had, each time, rambled out some hasty excuse for why they couldn't do any of those things, before dashing quickly away.

Only once or twice had he allowed himself to look at Viktor when he'd turned him down. He'd thought, maybe, he'd seen something like hurt in Viktor's eyes those few times.

But he doesn't know. Because Viktor would then smile his blinding smile, and tell him “That's okay!”. Would say “I'll see you later Yuri!”. And he was so fucking nice, and Yuri hated himself more and more, until finally he couldn't take it, and he'd stopped talking to those kids at school, and stopped telling Viktor he couldn't hang out.

And Viktor had acted like there'd never been any tension at all, and everything was okay.

Maybe that's why he's so shocked now, seeing Viktor like this. Seeing him cry.

Viktor always made it seem like everything was fine. He was always fine.

He doesn't know what to do, he realizes. For an instant, he thinks he should just leave. It's uncomfortable, and awkward. He doesn't really want to know, he thinks, why Viktor's hiding in an alcove, crying against a wall.

“... What's wrong?” His stupid mouth blurts anyway.

He watches as Viktor flinches, straightening almost immediately, his long, thin frame going stiff.

He doesn't turn right away, standing still with his face turned away, and Yuri sees him reach up, wiping at his eyes.

“... Yuri.” He starts after a moment, his voice just barely wavering.

And then he turns, and he's smiling his dazzling smile. Only Yuri can see his eyes are red, and it strikes him how forced the smile is. How it doesn't at all reach Viktor's eyes.

“What are you doing here?” He asks, bright and cheerful.

Yuri isn't fooled by it.

“Why are you crying?” He asks bluntly.

For a moment, Viktor looks actually startled, his eyes widening, mouth falling open like he's trying to think of something to say.

Finally his eyes fix down, and he laughs, and it's an awful sound, Yuri thinks. Not like Viktor's usual laugh. This one is filled with pain.

“You know Yuri...” and he looks up at Yuri now, and his eyes are wet, and he's still smiling. “Boy trouble.”

Yuri feels himself stiffen.

… He knows Viktor is gay. And he knows what that means. Everyone on the team knows.

Only no one's ever really just... said it. No one's ever really acknowledged it out loud. It was just one of those things that was understood about Viktor. One of those things no one really wanted to address.

Yuri never expected Viktor to just... come out and say it like that.

Viktor must see the discomfort on Yuri's face, because he immediately stops smiling.

“I'm sorry.” He looks away, and Yuri notices the way Viktor's fingers begin to twist in the material of his jacket, like he's actually nervous. “I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry.”

“No...” Yuri says quickly, feeling suddenly terrible. “It's... okay. I mean... I don't care.”

Viktor looks back to him, and he smiles weakly.

“... Worst kept secret, huh?”

Yuri frowns, shoving his hands in his pockets and shrugging.

“Who fucking cares anyway?” He asks, and he realizes he means it. So fucking what if Viktor liked guys? He doesn't understand why everyone seemed so freaked out by it. It didn't change who he was. It didn't change anything. “So... what happened?”

Yuri knows what happened, he thinks.

He'd seen it enough times.

Yakov being woken in the middle of the night by his phone ringing. Those times when he had had to share a room with Yuri while overseas for a competition, and Yuri could hear Viktor's voice from the other line.

It was almost a regular thing, and Yakov would mutter curses under his breath while he hastily dressed, thinking Yuri was asleep.

He would leave the hotel room, and come back sometimes half an hour later, sometimes more like two hours later.

Viktor would be slumped against him, Yakov's arm around his waist, holding him up. Yuri knew enough to know Viktor was drunk off his ass, those times.

If he didn't, Viktor's slurring, too loud voice would have told him anyway. And Yakov's hissed demands that he “shut up”.

Viktor would whine, sounding pitiful.

“He was coming back for me Yakov! He said he was!”

“Enough Vitya. How many times are you going to do this to yourself?”

“... But he said...” Viktor had trailed off, his voice suddenly weak. “... They always go away...”

Yakov had sighed loudly, Yuri remembers. He'd sounded exhausted.

“... Come on Vitya. Lets get you to bed.”

Another understood, unspoken thing about Viktor. He went to all night bars, sometimes when they were on the road for competitions, sometimes at home in St. Petersburg. He would go there to pick up other men. Or... that's what Yuri had heard anyway. Like he'd heard sometimes those men would take Viktor back to wherever they lived.

Most times, he'd also heard, Viktor would end up alone and completely shit faced.

Viktor was famous. People knew who he was. They knew what he was. And people could be mean.

There were plenty of them who would think it was the most hilarious thing in the world, to pretend to like the famous, gay figure skater, to make him think they were interested, and just when he thought he'd found someone, to abandon him, too drunk to get home on his own, in some dive bar in some shitty part of town.

So, yeah, Yuri thinks he knows.

It makes him feel shitty, looking up at Viktor, and thinking he looked, in that moment, almost pathetic.

Viktor, who was like a god to him on the ice. Viktor, who seemed so outwardly perfect the rest of the time.

Yuri doesn't get why he let other men treat him this way. Couldn't he have any guy he wanted? He was Viktor fucking Nikiforov. Didn't he know he could do better than whatever shit bags he was wasting his time on?

Viktor's eyes fill with tears, and he reaches up, wiping them away before they can fall, and he's still smiling that awful, fake smile when he says...

“It's nothing Yuri. I'm alright.”

“... You don't look alright.” Yuri mutters, frustrated.

“I'm alright.” Viktor repeats, and he straightens, and suddenly he doesn't look pathetic anymore. Suddenly, he looks like what's he's always been to Yuri. A winner. “You want to get something to eat?” He asks. “There's this neat looking cafeteria downstairs. You can order anything you want. I promise I won't tell Yakov. My treat?”

Viktor smiles at him, and this one is different. This one is bright and genuine and reaches Viktor's eyes, and Yuri thinks no one has a smile like Viktor.

“Yeah... okay.”

Halfway through the meal, Viktor excitedly telling him hilarious stories about how Yakov used to have to chase him around his house and physically drag him into his room to get him to go to bed, and Yuri nearly forgets he'd ever seen Viktor crying at all.

That was what Viktor did, Yuri thinks.

He made you forget to stop worrying about him.

Stupid... stupid old man! Yuri doesn't understand it. He doesn't understand why Vitya was so determined to seem alright when he fucking wasn't.

Yuri doesn't think he ever had been. He'd had a fucking shit life. His own fucking parents had kicked him out of his own home when he'd been thirteen years old, three years younger than Yuri was now, for being gay. He'd gotten beaten up and spit on and made fun of for the same fucking thing, over and over.

But he was always so cheerful, so fucking upbeat and positive and never said bad shit about anybody and Yuri doesn't fucking understand why.

He doesn't understand why Viktor had gone out alone after midnight. He should have fucking known better.

He doesn't understand why fucking Katsudon had let him. The fucking pig should have known better too.

But that was it again, wasn't it? Vitya made you forget that you should be worried about him. He'd probably done the same to Katsuki. Stupid old man with his stupid confidence and certainty about everything. And look what it had fucking gotten him!

He'll never be able to skate again, probably, Yuri thinks.

The thought comes like an anvil to his chest, and it's the worst thing, and he just starts sobbing. Ugly, broken, loud sobs, and he presses his hands to his mouth, horrified and grief stricken.

Viktor's skating this season had been the best of his career. He was landing every kind of quad like it was fucking nothing. Coming up with entries which were impossibly creative and difficult, and yet executing them with what looked like no effort at all. Combination jumps and spins like they were as easy as breathing. The height he was getting on his jumps was unreal. Seemingly impossible for someone his age.

More than that, his form, his grace, it was all fucking perfect. His programs, all choreographed by himself, they were fucking flawless, and beautiful, and so fucking expressive. Yuri didn't usually succumb to sappy, romantic notions. But if he could find any word to describe how Viktor had looked out there on the ice this season, it would be poetry. Viktor looked like a living, breathing poem come to life.

More than a few times this year, watching Viktor skate his programs, Yuri had felt his throat close up with emotion. He would die before telling anyone. But he could admit to himself.

Because Viktor was special.

He'd always been special. He always would be.

He was a fucking genius.

And he was in his fucking prime, somehow.

At age 29. He was in his prime, and nobody was going to beat him.

Not Katsuki.

Not him.

Maybe he told everyone he was coming for Viktor at this years Olympics, but he knew that was bullshit. They all did. Nobody was coming for Viktor this year. He was too good. He was too fucking good. He was going to win gold. Four fucking Olympic gold medals. Who did that? Viktor fucking Nikiforov, that's who. He was going to win his 7th World Title too, if he chose to compete at World's this season.

It was amazing. It was history in the making. A feat that would probably go forever unmatched. It was... It was...

And they'd taken that away from him. All of it. Those... those sons of fucking bastards, they'd...

It wasn't fair...

It wasn't fucking fair!

The sound of the bathroom door swinging open reaches his ears, but he can't stop crying and he doesn't care anyway. Whoever the hell it was, it doesn't matter.

“Fuck off!” He curses, keeping his back turned.

“Yuri...”

Fuck.

“... Are you alright?” Katsuki asks in that gentle, sincere tone he always has.

Yuri would laugh at him. Would tell him to go jump off a fucking cliff. Except he can't stop fucking sobbing.

Can only shake his head, no, no, no...

He feels Katsuki come closer. Can feel him standing beside him.

“Hey...” he says.

Yuri explodes.

“FUCK YOU KATSUKI! J-JUST FUCK OFF! FUCK OFF!”

Katsuki doesn't fuck off.

God damn him and his fucking nice bullshit. No wonder him and Viktor loved each other so much. They were both so disgustingly nice.

His arms wrap around Yuri, and the bastard is stronger than he looks, and he's pulling Yuri against his chest, and Yuri doesn't even struggle to break free.

He reaches up, hands clinging and twisting pathetically in the material of Katsuki's shirt, and he cries into his chest, and fuck, he knows he looks and sounds pathetic, but he can't help it. He can't stop it.

“... H-he was supposed to...” he sobs, and there wasn't any point in trying to push it down now. Fucking fucked up emotions strangling his throat, making his chest hurt. He doesn't even know what all of them are. Just knows they make him feel like he's gonna puke if he doesn't let them out.

“I know...” Katsuki says quietly, his hand resting against the back of Yuri's head. He sounds like he's crying too.

“H-he was ss-supposed to be at the Olympics t-this year ss-so I could kk-kick his ass. He was...”

“I know.” Katsuki repeats, his voice cracking and breaking. “I know.”

“F-fucking coward p-probably knew I was gonna... kick his ass... a-and now he doesn't... doesn't have to... g-get embarrassed by me...”

“It's okay Yuri.”

He shakes his head.

“H-he's never gonna skate again, is he?!” He wails, and he can feel Katsuki go stiff around him.

“... I don't know.” He answers honestly, and it just makes it worse. God, it makes it worse.

“S-stupid... stupid old man...” Yuri mutters, because he doesn't know what else to say. He's starting to calm down now, the realization of the past few minutes burning his face with shame.

Finally he shoves away from Katsuki, wiping at his eyes.

“W-why aren't you with him?” He asks, trying to divert attention from what had just happened.

“... He's sleeping now.” Katsuki tells him quietly. “I think... talking to the police really wore him out.”

“Fucking cops. They should've left him alone.”

“... Yeah. They should have.”

“He couldn't tell 'em anything anyway. Why can't they just fucking leave him alone?”

“... I guess because they want to catch whoever did this.” Katsuki offers lamely, sounding like he doesn't really believe it.

Yuri laughs, the sound bitter and hateful.

“Yeah, right. Like they tried to find out all the other times...”

He freezes...

Shit, he wasn't supposed to say that. Viktor had asked him not to.

He expects Katsuki to say something. To ask him what. But there's nothing, and when Yuri turns to look at him finally, he sees him standing there, his face unusually blank and unreadable.

“... So it's happened before.” He finally breathes, and it sounds more like a statement than a question. Like he somehow already knew.

“No.” Yuri answers. “I mean... not like this. Nothing this bad, but...”

“But...” Katsuki looks at him pleadingly.

“... This is Russia.” Yuri says. “And Viktor's openly gay. It hasn't happened in years though. Probably since he was 24 or 25. No one's touched him in years.”

Suddenly Katsuki's eyes are filled with tears, and he turns away, bringing a fist to his mouth, biting down on it.

“Oh God...” he whimpers. “I knew something was going on. I knew he wasn't telling me something...”

Yuri stands there feeling awkward, not knowing what to do.

He'd never agreed with Viktor that he should keep his past from Katsuki. Maybe this was why. Maybe if Katsuki had known, he wouldn't have let Viktor leave that night...

“... H-how often?” Katsuki finally asks. “How often has it happened before?”

Yuri looks down, his teeth gritting together. There was no point in lying about it. It was already out in the open now.

“... Once in a while, I mean... When he was younger...” Yuri starts, unsure. “I never saw it happen, but... he used to come to the rink sometimes all... all busted up, and everyone knew what was going on. That he was getting slapped around by some of the local tough guys. It wasn't a secret what Vitya was, and... there's a lot of people in Russia who don't like it.”

He glances up at Katsuki, seeing his face pale. He looks like he's going to be sick.

“... Yakov used to try and get him to tell him who was doing it, but...” he shakes his head. “Viktor would never say. He'd just say it was fine. Would act like he was fine...”

Tears slip down Katsuki's face, his expression agonized.

“Why... why didn't he tell me?” He pleads. Yuri doesn't know if he's asking him directly or just wondering the question aloud.

“... I guess... he was probably ashamed or something stupid like that.” He answers anyway. “You know how he always acts like he's totally fine, even when he's fucking not.”

The look on Katsuki's face tells him he knows exactly what Yuri's talking about.

“... This is my fault.” He hears Katsuki whisper to himself, and suddenly all of Yuri's earlier feelings of anger and frustration, towards Viktor and Katsuki both, it drains away to nothing, replaced by bitter regret.

“It's not.” He snaps. “It's... it's not your fault. Or Vitya's. It's those fucking bastards that did this to him. They're the ones that did this for no fucking reason! Okay? Because he loves you, and they thought that was a good enough reason to beat a good person half to fucking death! To take his whole life away from him!”

And fuck, he's crying again, the reality of it all roaring back to the front of his mind.

He doesn't know when Katsuki pulls him into another hug. Only becomes aware after the fact that he's being held, and he doesn't care anymore. His arms come up, wrapping around the other skater, burying his face against Katsuki's shoulder.

He lets himself cry. Let's Katsuki cry with him.

It doesn't fucking matter.

It's all so fucked anyway.

Chapter Text

When Viktor had been a boy, in school, he remembers being bullied mercilessly by the other children. In a general way, he'd often been laughed at and called names for his long hair and what they called "girly behavior", always excluded from joining in on their games. Left to stand on the sidelines and watch. Often he was the last picked during games of sport. The irony of that was hardly lost on him, even then.

More specifically, he remembers two boys. Pyotr and Dmitry. They'd been his same age. Had remained in the same schools as him through graduation. He remembers their names. Their faces. They, most specifically, had made those days for him nightmarish.

Their harassment of him grew so bad, he remembers, that he had begun to dread going to school at all. Remembers begging his mother and father many times to take him out of public school. To let him have home tutoring. Many of the other skaters in his division were schooled at home, he would argue.

His father would sneer at him and ask him if he thought he was so special that he could demand such a frivolous expense from them.

“We're already spending more money than you deserve on your ridiculous skating.” He would say.

Eventually, Viktor stopped asking.

Pyotr and Dmitry didn't stop their bullying though.

They would corner Viktor in the restrooms, mainly.

They would call him Viktoria Nicuntirov, and say it like it was the most clever insult in the world.

Maybe it was, because Viktor still remembers it too, like he remembers their names and faces.

It was worse, when he'd gotten older, and his name had become known in the figure skating world. And by the time they'd reached sixteen, seventeen years of age, Pyotr and Dmitry had grown to big, strong young men, and it gave them endless pleasure, to exert their physical dominance over a professional athlete like him.

“What's the matter, Nicuntirof? I thought you fags liked it from behind?”

Dmitry's hands squeeze threateningly tight over Viktor's wrists where he has them trapped behind his back, his grip crushingly painful. He presses his body forward, crowding Viktor up against the bathroom wall, until his face is pressed against the cold tile, and Viktor squeezes his eyes shut, his breath constricting in his lungs.

It's an awful feeling, being physically overpowered. He'd tried pulling free of Dmitry's hold. It had been like his arms were trapped by manacles of iron, and Viktor's mouth had gone dry with fear as he'd realized the fruitlessness of it.

The same as how he'd tried breaking for the bathroom door, when Dmitry and Pyotr had motioned for him. All he'd gotten for his effort was a hard slap in the face, and too quickly for him to react, Dmitry had grabbed hold of him and shoved him face first against the wall, yanking his arms behind him as easily as he would any child.

Viktor's face burns, his stomach roiling with familiar humiliation.

“... Please.” He begs, and he just wants them to let him go. To leave him alone.

“You want it that bad, Nicuntirof?” Dmitry laughs, his breath hot against Viktor's ear.

Viktor feels him press closer, his hips pushing Viktor more flush to the wall. And suddenly he's lost what little balance he has, a violent jolt going through him as his legs are kicked wide apart at the ankles, and he feels a hard knee come up between his legs, pressing into his groin.

“I'm surprised you even got a dick, Nicuntirov, seeing how you're just so pretty. Pretty as a girl, huh? You sure as shit more slender than any girl at this school, ain't ya? With your pretty girl face and your fuckin' long hair. Just like a girl.”

Dmitry's fingers tangle in Viktor's hair, tugging painfully against his scalp, and Viktor tries to swallow down the sharp gasp from the pain. He doesn't quite manage.

“... Please let me go.” Viktor begs again, and he can feel his eyes burning. He won't cry though. He won't do that.

“Maybe it ain't a dick. I bet he's got a sock stuffed down there or somethin'.” Pyotr says from behind.

“Huh. That right Nicuntirov? Maybe you really do got a cunt, 'stead of cock. Maybe we should check and see?”

Dmitri's hand lets go his hair, and snakes down, quick as lightening, between Viktor's legs, groping at his crotch.

Panic swells in Viktor's chest, and he tries again desperately to break free.

It feels like a thousand pound weight is pressing him against the wall though, and he can't move at all, his breath coming sharp and erratic as he strains and grunts and gets absolutely nowhere.

“Don't...” he pleads. “Please...”

And the burning in his eyes turns to tears then, and he squeezes his lids shut.

“Please...”

Dmitry either doesn't hear him, or doesn't care.

His hand continues to grope and cup at him a few moments more, before abruptly he pulls Viktor from the wall, spinning him around and slamming him back against it.

Viktor's head snaps back against the tiles, hard, a wave of dizziness crashing down on him, even as he feels the rough, suffocating press of Dmitry's hand over his mouth, pressing his face aside, crushing it against the wall.

“Yeah, lets see.” He hears one of them say. He doesn't know which one.

It's all the warning he gets before he feels thick, fumbling fingers at the clasp of his pants.

He barely has time to register what it means before, all at once, he feels the material yanked roughly down.

He only realizes his underway has been stripped down too when he feels the shock of cool air between his legs.

The shame chokes him, and he can't keep the tears from slipping free, down his face.

Dmitry has let him go, and he scrambles, bending down with shaking hands to pull his underway and pants back up.

But Dmitry and Pyotr have already seen anyway, and they're laughing. Laughing and laughing.

“Jesus, I thought it was a dye job.” Pyotr howls. “I can't believe your hair's actually that color! What a fuckin' freak!”

Viktor says nothing, his hands shaking as he struggles to redo the clasp on his pants. He doesn't look at them. He can't.

And then he just stands there, his eyes locked on the floor, and he doesn't know what to do. They're still blocking the exit, and he can't get past them. Not unless they let him.

They laugh and laugh for what seems forever, until finally their laughter dies away.

“Fuckin' queer.” One of them mutters, and the sound of rusting hinges fills Viktor's ears. And then nothing.

He stands there for a long time. He doesn't know how long. And he can't look up. He can't bear to look up and see them, looking back at him. There's a feeling in the pit of his stomach like falling, his face still hot with shame.

It's only when he hears the door swing open again, another student appearing, that he seems to break out of his frozen daze.

Dmitry and Pyotr are gone.

The other boy looks startled as Viktor snaps to. He doesn't give him a chance to say a word, hurrying out of the bathroom.

He doesn't want to stay here, he thinks.

And so he leaves the school, arms wrapped tight around himself to shield against the coming cold.

He wanders the streets of St. Petersburg, not knowing where to go. Not having any place, really.

He doesn't want Yakov to know. Doesn't want Lilia to know either. That this was still happening. That he was still such a helpless fool. Sixteen years old and he was still so helpless.

Tears burn in his eyes, and he lifts a hand, wiping viciously at his face.

He can't go home. Can't go to the rink. Not now.

And so he wanders until the sun sinks down beneath the horizon, blanketing everything in dark. Wanders until his feet ache and blister, and his fingers, and the tips of his ears are numb from the cold, and he shakes and shakes and he can't stop shaking. Wanders until, hours later, Yakov finds him, huddled on a bench in a park, a few blocks from the rink.

He hates the look of pity in Yakov's eyes. Hates the way Yakov looks at him and says “Oh, Vitya...” and he sounds so sad. So, so sad.

He doesn't try to pull away when Yakov puts an arm around his shoulders and helps him stand from the bench. Let's himself curl against the man, and buries his face against his chest.

He cries, and he feels grateful when Yakov says nothing at all.

Viktor had thought... hoped... foolishly... foolishly... when he'd finally left school... when he'd become an adult... a man...

Adults weren't supposed to get bullied. Wasn't that right? They weren't.

Maybe because he was weak, and stupid, though.

Long after Dmitry and Pyotr and all the other student's had gone absent from his life, long after that... he still found himself shoved to the ground. Pushed and held down and hit and kicked and...

He wasn't strong enough... to stop it... he wasn't...

He used to fantasize, sometimes... would imagine himself being confronted, a group of faceless bullies... He imagined himself standing up to them... imagined having some witty, sharp comeback to their childish name calling... laughing off their words and insults and feeling nothing at them... no hurt... no shame... Instead it would be them who's faces grew red with embarrassment...

Them who would feel small...

He imagined being able to fight back.

Imagined himself like some sort of martial arts expert. He would dodge their attacks with effortless grace. He would block and parry their blows. One of them would grab hold of him, and he would break free like it was nothing, because he would be so strong and powerful, and they couldn't hold him down. They couldn't hold him still. Because he was so strong...

A harsh laugh huffs from Viktor's chest, choking off with the lance of sharp pain which follows.

Stupid... He was stupid...

Hot moisture runs down his temple, and he reaches up, wiping away at it.

His fingers come away wet and red.

He's seen his face.

He'd asked Yuuri to let him see himself. Yuuri hadn't wanted him to.

His Yuuri...

He was so kind. God, he was...

A sob threatens in Viktor's throat, and he bites down on his knuckles to keep it down.

Yuuri slept beside him, his head resting on the bed.

Viktor can't wake him.

He wonders how he'll look, once the bandages are removed.

His face looks hideous now, grotesquely swollen and bruised. His one, visible eye is blood red through where the white of it should be.

Eventually, he guesses, all that will fade.

But his left orbital bone had been crushed, the doctor had said. They'd had to do reconstructive surgery. He might be blind in his left eye. They don't know yet.

He hopes he isn't too ugly. He doesn't want to embarrass Yuuri.

He wonders what else there is, if he ends up ugly. He wonders what else there is that would keep Yuuri with him.

Oh God, he... he doesn't want...

And he knows...

His body is broken. The doctor's have explained everything, and...

Viktor has never been one to delude himself.

He's old. Almost 30. The damage from the beating is catastrophic.

He won't be able to heal, probably. Not properly, anyway. Maybe if he was 18 years old again.

He'll be lucky if he ends up being able to walk without a limp.

He doesn't know if he'll ever be able to skate again.

He thinks, competitively, assuredly not.

He's finished.

He thinks about Yuuri, and how he's coached him these last two years. How he's always been out there on the ice with him, to show him what he wants, what he means...

He doesn't know how... how he's going to do that now.

He doesn't know.

Yuuri's career is just beginning to take off. He's on the precipice of realizing his true potential. And now...

Yuuri had a competition coming up in less than two weeks. The Rostelecom Cup. They had both been meant to compete at it...

Oh, God...

Yuuri couldn't afford to miss it. If he skipped out on the event, he wouldn't qualify for the Final. He wouldn't...

The sob lodges in Viktor's throat again, and he isn't able to bite down hard enough to keep it quiet now, a low whine spilling past his teeth.

He can't... he can't let Yuuri suffer because of his own stupidity. Because he wasn't smart enough to... to run away when every instinct in his brain was telling him to. Because he wasn't smart enough to listen to Yuuri in the first place.

… Yakov... he needed to ask Yakov if he would be Yuuri's coach now.

Yakov could take Yuuri through the rest of the seasons competitions, better than he could.

God, he can't...

He should be there for Yuuri. He should be there, supporting his fiance out on the ice, instead of... instead of stuck here in this hospital. Instead of...

Oh, Yuuri had already missed so many days of practice because of him. Because he was being forced to stay here in this horrible place. Because...

A flash goes off in Viktor's eyes, and suddenly he's standing out on the street.

It's dark, and cold, and there's a man standing in front of him. He's grinning at Viktor. Leering. His eyes shine with hate.

No, Viktor thinks. And he tries to speak. But his mouth is dry as dust, words caught and trapped in his closing throat, and no, no, no, not again, not again...

The certainty that he's going to die grips him and swallows his heart, and he can do nothing, everything slowed to some obscene clarity as he watches the man lift the baseball bat in his hands. It's dirty. Smeared dark with blood, and it's his blood, Viktor knows. It's his own blood.

Something cold and hard wraps round his throat, the cutting bite of metal links, vicious in the freezing dark, and he begins to choke.

The bat swings up, and Viktor's vision goes black as it impacts against his face.

“NO!”

He screams, his heart exploding in his chest and he can't... he can't... oh God... Oh God...

Yuuri snaps awake, eyes wide and horrified.

“Viktor!?”

There's a pounding in his head, deafeningly loud, rushing, cracking in his ears. Somewhere far outside, something like gasping, desperate breaths punctuate through. Pitched high and frantic. He doesn't know what it is.

… He can't breathe. Oh, Jesus, he can't...

“Viktor, oh God... baby!” Yuuri is there. His hands are there. They're reaching out. Soft, warm palms press against his face, and Viktor feels his eyes shoot wide, and he can't... he can't...

“Viktor, baby...” Yuuri says again, and his voice is suddenly steady... determined... like when he was about to go out on the ice, and he would tell him “Don't ever take your eyes off me.”

Viktor looks at him, and it's like the world is spinning. Everything falls in and out of focus, moving, lurching unnaturally. The frenzied, high pitched gasping grows louder.

“Viktor...”

“I can't breathe!” Viktor cries, and oh... oh, the gasping breaths are coming from him, aren't they? “I can't breathe!” he chokes, and he's never been more frightened. He feels like he's going to die. His skin burns, heart beating so hard it hurts... it hurts... lungs won't work. They ache and burn and won't fill with air. He doesn't know what's happening. Oh God, oh Jesus, was he dying? Was... was he going to die?

“Okay, baby, Viktor, yes you can. Baby, you're having a panic attack.” Yuuri says, and he sounds so certain. He looks Viktor right in the eye and he says it and he sounds certain. “You need to take a big breath. Can you do that for me?”

Viktor shakes his head, and his vision blurs with tears. He can't. He can't take a big breath. Everything hurts. It burns like fire and he's dying. Oh, he knows he's dying.

“Okay, Viktor, yes you can. Just... just keep looking at me. Follow me. Alright? I'm going to breathe, and I want you to breathe with me and hold it.”

“I'm going to die!” Viktor gasps.

Yuuri shakes his head.

“No you're not. Viktor, I know it feels like you are. Okay? I've been through what's happening to you right now more times than I can count. You know how I have panic attacks? That's what you're having right now. It feels horrible, I know. But you're not dying. You're just really scared. Now, I'm going to count to three and take a really big breath. And I want you to take a big breath with me. Okay?”

“I-I can't... I can't...” Viktor cries.

“Yes you can. Okay... here we go. One... two... three...”

Yuuri inhales deeply. Viktor tries to follow him. A horrible, gasping wheeze fills his ears, and he watches as Yuuri holds the breath, then lets it go, and Viktor tries to follow that too. He's failing, he thinks miserably. He's scared.

“Good. That was good baby. Okay, again on three. One... two... three...”

Again Yuuri takes a deep breath. Again, Viktor tries to follow.

“You're doing so good baby. You're doing great. Again...”

Over and over, Yuuri counts to three and breathes in, holds it... lets it go slowly. His hands don't leave Viktor's face. His eyes never shift away.

Viktor still feels like he isn't getting enough air. He keeps following Yuuri though, and finally, finally, the frantic beating of his heart begins to slow, the rushing, screaming in his ears growing softer, and softer, and he can hear Yuuri talking to him more clearly. Can hear his own breaths coming slower and more even, the gasping wheeze gradually slipping away.

“Okay... okay baby? You're doing so good.” Yuuri smiles at him, and his eyes are wet. Viktor feels his thumb drag across his cheek, wiping away his own tears.

“... I'm sorry.” Viktor sobs, the terror ebbing away, only to be replaced by wretched guilt. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry.”

“No,” Yuuri leans forward, pressing his forehead to Viktor's. “No. Don't say that. Vitya, don't. You didn't do anything.”

“... I did...” he sobs again, and he can't stop himself. He can't. Broken, desperate gasps slipping again past his teeth, his body betraying him, trembling viciously. It hurts, his bones rattling and aching with the convulsions, and it only makes him cry harder.

“No, Vitya. Oh, my darling, please don't... d-don't do this to yourself. Remember how many times you've talked me down off the ledge? You've always been there for me.”

Viktor shakes his head.

“No...”

“Yes, Vitya...”

“No, Yuuri... you... you need... practice... already you... do you”

The English slips from his mind in his frenzied need to explain to Yuuri. To make himself understood. He can't think of the right words, suddenly.

“Viktor, calm down.” Yuuri tells him. “Just breathe. Breathe, okay?”

“... I try.” Viktor weeps pathetically. “I try, Yuuri... I try... you need practice... to... to go to the rink... practice with Yakov... Please...”

“Oh, Vitya, no.” Yuuri finally seems to understand what he means. “No, don't worry about that.”

“But you have... you have Rostelecom... you need...”

“Vitya... I already pulled out.”

Viktor stops, and a wave of something terrible makes him feel suddenly like he's falling.

He blinks at Yuuri, not fully understanding.

He shakes his head.

“No... Yuuri...”

“Viktor, I pulled out. I pulled out for the rest of the season. So did Yura.”

Viktor's eyes burn, fresh tears pushing past, down his cheeks. The sense of falling worsens, his head dizzy and no... no, no, no, they couldn't... because of him... they'd couldn't...

“No Yuuri...” he begs. “No...”

“It's alright Viktor. None of that matters. Don't you understand? It doesn't matter. You matter. We aren't going to leave you.”

Viktor can't help himself. He begins to weep bitterly again, broken sobs slipping free.

“No Yuuri,” he cries helplessly. “No, no...”

“Viktor... Vitya... stop. Oh, please, listen to me. I don't care. Neither does Yura. This was... this was our decision. We're both okay with it.”

“... But you... you're going to win... the Grand Prix and... and Olympics, Yuuri. You and Yura can...”

Yuuri shakes his head.

“No, Viktor. We don't... it wouldn't mean anything without you there. Okay? We don't want to skate without you.”

The falling sensation turns to fear, his stomach sinking, panic crushing again at his heart.

“Yuuri, no, please... please... you have to skate without me. You have to. You won't... you won't ever skate again, if... if you...”

He watches the tears form in Yuuri's eyes. Watches them fall, and Yuuri does nothing to hide them, and Viktor thinks how brave his Yuuri is. He's so brave.

“Viktor, I'm going to skate again. I know I am. And I know, because so are you.”

He says it like it's true. Like he knows it's true.

Like he knows as well as Viktor knows he won't.

He shakes his head, desperate and afraid.

“Yuuri, please, no... no... don't... don't sacrifice yourself for me. Do not sacrifice your talent...”

“I'm not sacrificing anything Viktor. You're going to skate again. We're going to compete on the same ice again, together. You have to believe that. I believe it. I know it.”

Again Viktor shakes his head.

“I can't...” he weeps. “I can't Yuuri.”

“Yes you can. Viktor, yes you can.”

He looks away from Yuuri. He can't... Yuuri looks so certain. His eyes determined again, and Viktor can't. I can't stand to see it. To know he's going to fail. He's going to.

“Viktor...”

“How do you know?” Viktor asks weakly.

There's no answer for long seconds, and Viktor keeps his eyes away. He can't bear it anymore.

“... Because I know you Vitya.” Yuuri finally says. “I know how strong you are.”

A bitter laugh escapes Viktor's throat. He doesn't mean for it to. It just does.

He isn't strong. He's weak. Weak, weak, weak. He's always been weak.

Because this kept happening to him. Because it had always happened to him, and he'd never been able to fight back. He'd never...

Could only stand there and do nothing. Say nothing. Just stand there and be afraid. He was always so afraid.

That would only happen to someone who was weak...

“Viktor, listen. Listen. Do you trust me?” Yuuri asks, and his hands are on Viktor's face again.

Viktor blinks at him.

More than anyone, he thinks. Anyone. He trusts Yuuri. His Yuuri.

“Yes... yes...” he answers.

Yuuri smiles at him.

“Then trust me on this. Trust me Vitya. You're going to skate again. We're going to skate again together, on the same ice. I know it. And I know it because I know you Vitya. I know how brave you are, and how strong,” Yuuri's voice begins to waver, strained with held back tears. “I know nothing can stop you when you put your mind to it. I know you're the most... the most amazing person I've ever met. Okay? You're the most incredible human being, and you're so good, and so kind, and so sweet and I don't... I don't care what the doctors say, or what... what those monsters did to you... it doesn't matter. They don't matter. You matter. None of them can take your skating from you. None of them can do that. Not unless you let them.”

Viktor wishes that were true. God, he wishes...

It seems so impossible.

But Yuuri is looking at him with so much confidence. So much belief. And he can't do that to Yuuri too. He can't take that belief away from him. Not when he's already taken away so much.

“Okay?” Yuuri asks him, desperate.

“... Okay.” Viktor tells him.

He crushes down the words of doubt which coat his tongue.

Swallows them down, like bitter poison.

Chapter Text

Yuuri remembers with absolute, striking clarity, the moment he realized he was in love with Viktor.

Of course he'd loved Viktor for most of his life, in the way you love someone whom you idolize.

As a child, he'd seen Viktor as this perfect, ethereal being. Like a magical creature, too pure to ever really reach, or touch.

It was the brilliance of Viktor's skating which had reinforced that notion, of course. The way he moved on the ice. He had such unbelievable grace and beauty and speed. Yuuri had never seen anything like him. Still hadn't, in truth. How could you not love Viktor, after watching him skate?

But the moment he'd fallen in love with Viktor... that had been different.

The moment he'd realized how extraordinary Viktor really was. More than just the greatest figure skater of all time. So much more than just that.

Viktor was a special person.

Yuuri had been struck by that thought like a hammer blow to the head, he remembers, one day at the beach in Hasetsu. A break day.

Viktor had always insisted on break days. Three days a week. Yuuri had been completely unsure of that, thinking it was too much, not understanding how he was ever going to get into good enough condition, how he was ever going to get sharp enough with that much time a week off. But Viktor had insisted. He would smile at Yuuri and say “It does no good to over work yourself. You need breaks, yes? As much for you mind as your body. Okay?”

Viktor, of course, had been right. Yuuri had, after a couple months, found the break days relaxing, soothing even, allowing him time to recharge his batteries, and assess his progress. He'd performed better because of it. He'd performed better because of a lot of things Viktor had suggested.

It was that day at the beach in Hasetsu, a few months after Viktor had shown up at Yu-Topia, offering to be his coach. He and Viktor had been walking side by side along the sand. It had been very early, so they had been the only two there, along with Makkachin, a comfortable silence between them.

Yuuri had been so relaxed and content, watching the sand beneath his bare feet, listening to the water and the gulls, that he'd nearly jumped out of his skin when Viktor had let loose a sharp gasp.

“What!? What is it?!” Yuuri looks up at Viktor, a feeling of panic seizing his chest, thinking something was wrong.

Viktor is standing there frozen, his hands clamped over his mouth, staring ahead of himself with wide eyes.

“Viktor, what's wrong?!” Yuuri asks, the panic worsening as Viktor fails for several, long seconds to respond.

Finally his hands drop from his mouth, and he points down the beach, his eyes luminous, lips pulling into a his wide, heart shaped smile.

“Yuuri! Look!” He says, a tinkling, childlike laugh bubbling up from his throat.

Yuuri casts his gaze down the beach, where Viktor is pointing, and up ahead, maybe 50 meters away, is what Yuuri can tell is a sea turtle, lying in the sand.

Yuuri smiles.

“Yeah, I forgot it's mating season for them. You see a lot of them this time of year. She's probably laying her eggs.”

Viktor turns to him, his eyes still wide and bright with wonder.

“Really!?” He asks, and he sounds so amazed, like he's never seen or heard of anything like it.

“Yeah.” Yuuri looks up at him, his own smile growing at the excitement in sees in his new coach.

Viktor is adorable, he thinks, the way he gets so excited about things. He's unabashed in his excitement, Yuuri had begun to realize. He wasn't afraid of embarrassing himself.

Yuuri's wished more than once he could be like that.

“Can... can we get closer to look?” Viktor asks, and his voice matches his eyes for wonder.

Yuuri shrugs.

“Sure, I don't see why not.” He answers, slightly bemused by Viktor's enthusiasm. Maybe he's never seen a turtle before? Well, probably not, coming from St. Petersburg.

Viktor jumps, twirling in the air and clapping his hands together, and Yuuri's heart flip flops in his chest at the sight.

God, Viktor really is the sweetest thing.

Suddenly Viktor is taking hold of his hand, and he's running with him down the beach, towards the turtle, Makkachin barking excitedly and following after them.

About ten meters away, Viktor slows to a walk, still holding Yuuri's hand and beginning to approach more cautiously.

Makkachin starts to bark again as they draw nearer, and Viktor finally lets go of Yuuri's hand to bend down, looping an arm around Makka's shoulders and holding her gently.

“Shh sweetie.” He coos at her. “Let's not frighten her.”

Makkachin calms down in Viktor's hold, and Viktor remains kneeling, his eyes fixed on the turtle in the same, naked wonder of before.

“Oh, she's beautiful!” Viktor breathes, voice filled with awe. He shuffles closer on his knees, until he's only a few feet from the turtle.

She's laying her eggs, like Yuuri predicted, and Yuuri steps closer, kneeling down beside Viktor, watching him.

Viktor's smiling still, the expression small, almost reverent.

“You're a beautiful girl.” He says to the turtle, voice hushed now. “Look at how beautiful you are!”

You're beautiful, Yuuri thinks, still looking at Viktor. And he really is.

Not just physical beauty, though Viktor had that in spades.

But Yuuri's thinking instead of Viktor's heart.

Getting to know him these last, few months, really know him, the thing he's been struck most by is Viktor's kindness.

Yuuri doesn't think he's ever met a kinder, gentler person.

He treated Yuuri like he was an equal, which was absurd, Yuuri had thought, given who Viktor was, given what he had accomplished. Yuuri wasn't anywhere near his equal, and yet...

Viktor spoke to him with so much respect. Constantly reiterated to Yuuri that he was “gifted”, that he was “incredibly talented”, that he was “gorgeous” and “beautiful” and on and on. He was patient too, working with Yuuri on his jumps and choreography with so much understanding and calm. He would spend hours just helping him to get down the basic mechanics which he had been lacking, in his jumps especially, demonstrating to Yuuri how to take off and land on the proper edges, working to help Yuuri tighten his form in the air, breaking everything down piece by piece. Viktor had worn himself ragged more than once doing this, which Yuuri had always felt horribly guilty over, because he often got so caught up and excited himself about all he was learning from this amazing man, that he hadn't even noticed how tired Viktor was. Viktor never really complained. He would ask for breaks sometimes, collapsing onto the rink side bench, breathing heavily, and Yuuri would realize with terrible clarity that Viktor was worn out and exhausted. Would be reminded that Viktor wasn't training like he was, wasn't going for long runs every morning like he was. Hadn't, in truth, been in any kind of serious training for a few months, and so of course his stamina was down, and yet Yuuri had been so selfish to learn and learn and learn, to get better and better, that he hadn't stopped to think that Viktor wasn't in the right condition to maintain that kind of pace. Would realize he'd been demanding Viktor's attention and energy like some sort of parasite.

And yet Viktor would only ever smile at him, and marvel at Yuuri's “amazing stamina”, and tell Yuuri that he'd never had stamina that good, and sure, sure, Yuuri had thought, that's why you can do four quads in your free program like it's no big deal. Why you can save the quad flip for the very end. Okay. But the thing was, Viktor meant it. He meant it when he said Yuuri was amazing, that he was gifted. When he said Yuuri had better stamina than him. He believed every word. He believed it so much, and because of that, Yuuri had begun to believe it too. Had begun to believe in himself.

The realization of Viktor's kindness hadn't been entirely surprising.

Yuuri had watched probably hundreds of interviews with Viktor over the years, and that good natured sweetness had always come through in every one.

Maybe what was surprising was finding out just how real that had been. How much, in fact, that kindness had been all the more apparent for getting to know Viktor in person.

Though there was something else in Viktor which didn't make itself obvious in interviews. Something which Yuuri had also come to realize Viktor actively covered when speaking publicly.

Viktor sometimes seemed... sad. There was a definite melancholy in him which had never shown in any of the press interviews, covered up by his blinding bright smile, and positive attitude. But Yuuri can see that melancholy now, as he watches Viktor looking at the turtle. There's a sadness to his eyes, to his smile.

Yuuri doesn't know where it comes from. What Viktor's really thinking. He's still too shy to ask, he thinks. Doesn't know if doing so would somehow upset Viktor.

Viktor doesn't... really talk about himself all that much, Yuuri has noticed. He always wants to talk about Yuuri. Wants to know about Yuuri, know about his life, his passions, his interests. He gives vague half answers whenever Yuuri asks him about his own life.

So Yuuri keeps quiet, and keeps watching his new coach.

Viktor lifts a hand, holding it suspended in the air. He swallows visibly a few times, before he asks, voice nearly a whisper it's so soft.

“Do you think I could touch her?”

He asks Yuuri as if Yuuri is the one that should give him permission.

Yuuri nods.

“Sure. I've touched them before. They don't really seem to mind.”

Even with that information, Viktor seems to hesitate, his hand inching slowly nearer the turtle, his long, elegant fingers hovering over her shell for several long seconds, twitching slightly, before, with almost frightened caution, he touches the tips of his fingers to her shell, holding them there for a moment, before finally splaying his palm flat, just resting it there.

He doesn't move for what must be nearly a minute, and Yuuri's about to ask what he's thinking, when Viktor finally tears his gaze from the turtle, looking at Yuuri with eyes so bright and filled with happiness, it nearly breaks Yuuri's heart. Viktor is smiling at him, broad and real, and he laughs again, that tinkling laugh.

“Oh Yuuri, isn't she beautiful!?” He asks like a little boy, and Yuuri's eyes sting, nodding back weakly, trying to smile too.

Viktor laughs again, before turning back to the turtle, leaning closer and beginning to speak to her in Russian. Yuuri has no idea what he's saying, but the sound of his voice is filled with love, soft and lilting. The turtle pushes her big fins through the sand, and if Yuuri was more romantic, he might think she was responding to Viktor's attention.

Viktor is a romantic, and he apparently thinks this to be what's happening. He laughs again, delighted, and says more words to her in Russian, and God, Yuuri thinks, he loves this man.

He's in love with him.

The realization comes so suddenly, it's like a bolt of lightening has just struck him dead. He can feel the color drain out of his face, his heart kick sickeningly hard in his chest. The familiar beginnings of anxiety.

He's in love with Viktor Nikiforov.

Shit.

He isn't given much time to think over the revelation in his mind, and his sudden anxiety ebbs to the back of it as Viktor keeps talking to the turtle, oblivious to Yuuri's internal meltdown.

“You be safe now, sweet girl.” He tells the turtle, stroking his hand over her shell one last time before finally pulling away, getting to his feet.

Yuuri stands up with him, and they both begin to dust the sand from their pants.

Viktor straightens suddenly, eyes big with that childlike excitement again.

“Let's build sand castles!” He declares happily.

Yuuri blinks, and he can't quite keep the amused scoff from escaping past his lips.

“Sand castles?” He asks, and Viktor nods.

“Yes! Yuuri, it will be fun!”

Before Yuuri can protest, or express any further doubt, Viktor has hold of his hand again, and is dragging him away from the turtle, Makkachin following again with enthusiasm to match her owner's.

Yuuri begins to wonder, after Viktor has sat them down in the sand and begun to build a sand castle, encouraging Yuuri to follow suit every few minutes, how this is even his real life.

Viktor is sitting cross legged, his tongue sticking out between his teeth in hilariously focused concentration as he tries making a castle. He's hopeless at it, Yuuri observes with amusement. Every time he tries building a tower, or a spire, or whatever, another part collapses. If Viktor is frustrated by his lack of success, he doesn't show it. He never seems to get angry, or discouraged.

Viktor isn't afraid to try things, even when he's no good at them. Even when he knows he'll most likely fail. It's one of the things Yuuri had found he admires most about his new coach. About his friend. There's so much courage in Viktor.

It's another reminder to Yuuri that Viktor is, in fact, human. That he isn't perfect at everything.

Somehow, that only makes Yuuri love him even more.

Yuuri is actually pretty good at making sand castles. He used to come down here to the beach all the time with his sister when they were children and do just that.

Viktor, of course, notices, and his awe at Yuuri's abilities is, predictably, outsized.

“Yuuri! You're amazing! Your sand castle is so cool!”

Well, it isn't that good, Yuuri thinks, looking down at the structure he's built. He shrugs, slightly embarrassed by Viktor's over the top enthusiasm.

“How did you get so many details?!” Viktor goes on, leaning closer to inspect Yuuri's castle. “Wow!”

“I just... use a stick to etch them in. I mean... it's nothing special.”

“How can you say that?! Yuuri, it's so cool!”

Yuuri laughs. Viktor really is like a child in so many ways.

“I used to come down here with Mari and build sand castles with her. I guess I just got good at it over time.” He offers.

Viktor is still looking at Yuuri's castle, and Yuuri sees a distant look come into his eyes. That strange sadness again. His smile fades a little, but still sits there on his lips as he nods.

“That must have been fun.” He says softly.

Yuuri nods.

“Yeah.” He agrees, thinking back on those days. It had been fun. It had been so long since he'd really thought about it that he hadn't remembered until just now, but... having an older sister to hang out with had been really great.

Yuuri hadn't had a lot of friends growing up... well, that was being generous in itself. He hadn't had any friends growing up, really. But Mari had always been there. He'd always had her, and Maniko.

So, okay, he'd had two friends. And a loving mother and father.

Truthfully, when he allows himself to remember his childhood, Yuuri thinks it had actually been a good one. He'd never been unhappy then. Only later... when he'd started to feel so unsure of everything... when he'd started to feel unsure of himself...

Viktor's eyes are still on the castle, still with that sad sort of smile curving at the corners of his lips.

And Yuuri can't help himself, his curiosity getting the better of him, his wish to know what Viktor is thinking. He hates that he doesn't really know. Hates that he can see that sadness, and doesn't know where it's coming from.

“You didn't have any siblings growing up, did you?” He asks.

He already knows Viktor didn't. All it took was a quick look at his Wiki page to know that. Of course, information on Viktor's personal life had always been glaringly scarce. There were surface facts known to the general public. Like how Viktor had, almost unbelievably, come from humble beginnings, his mother a school teacher and his father a supervisor at a construction company of some sort. That he'd been born in St. Petersburg, and had lived there all his life. Simple, trivia kind of facts which really didn't tell you anything about Viktor at all.

And Viktor spoke so rarely about himself...

He watches as Viktor shakes his head, finally looking up at him.

“No.” He answers. “It was just me.” He smiles, and it doesn't reach his eyes. That's something else Yuuri had begun to notice. Viktor has so many different smiles. Only a very few ever look truly happy.

“Was that... I mean... was it lonely, growing up without any siblings?” Yuuri dares.

“... Sometimes, a little.” Viktor answers after a moment. “But I had Yakov, and Lilia, and of course all my friends at the rink!”

Viktor's voice is so cheery when he says it, and it strikes Yuuri as blatantly false, in a way he rarely picks up on from Viktor.

“What was it like having an older sister?” Viktor changes the subject so seamlessly, Yuuri almost doesn't notice.

“It was cool. I mean...” Yuuri starts before he even realizes what's happened. “Having an older sibling usually means having to put up with obnoxious older sibling behavior.” He laughs, and Viktor's smile is genuine this time as he laughs with him. “I think Mari thought it was her obligation to make my life a living hell for a while.” He goes on, smiling. “But I got her back when she started to go through puberty. If you could have seen how boy crazy she was. I think she must have been in love with a different guy every week, and of course she'd end up in tears every time things inevitably didn't work out, only for her to have someone new the very next day.”

Viktor laughs heartily this time, slapping at his knee, and it makes Yuuri laugh the same.

//

They leave the beach in the early afternoon, and on the way back to Yu-Topia, Viktor stops to say hello to every person they pass by, to ask them how they are, waiting and actually listening to what they say back, good or bad. He's not asking just to be polite. There's always at least one person who's honest and will say “not so great”, and Viktor will ask them what's wrong, and try to give them words of encouragement once they get over their shock at someone actually wanting to know. He does this every day when they go out, without fail. It often makes them late in getting to the rink, and Yuuri still doesn't know how he does it. How he finds the energy to care about other people so much.

When they get back to the inn, Yuuri's mother greets them at the door, and Viktor runs up to her, sweeps her up into a hug, lifting her off the ground and spinning her in the air. Yuuri's mother laughs, slapping playfully at Viktor's chest when he finally puts her down, her cheeks actually flushing red in a blush.

“Vicchan!” She giggles, like a little school girl, and Viktor smiles down at her, broad and happy.

Yuuri's in love with Viktor. He's so, so in love, and his heart is in pieces, because he knows Viktor doesn't love him back the same way.

Except... Viktor did love him back the same way. He always had.

Yuuri had just been too damn dense, and too insecure, to realize it. Until that night in Barcelona, when he'd been so sure that he was holding Viktor back, that he was ruining his life by taking him away from the ice. When he'd convinced himself, despite every immense act of affection and fondness and love that Viktor had shown to him over those first eight months, that Viktor could never possibly want to be with someone like him, and that if he truly loved Viktor, he would let him go.

That had been the first time Yuuri had ever seen Viktor cry.

He remembers how, when he'd seen the tears gathered thick in Viktor's eyes, and he'd watched them slip slowly down his pale cheeks, it had felt like someone had punched him straight in the gut.

He hadn't known before then, he hadn't realized, how much he meant to Viktor.

… How much Viktor needed him.

He knows it now.

Viktor was fragile. That was the thing.

If someone had told Yuuri that two years ago, before he'd met Viktor, he would have laughed in their face.

Sometimes, Yuuri thinks, his fiance resembled nothing so much as he did a beautiful flower, delicate and rare. Frail enough, then, a strong gust of wind would surely shatter it to pieces.

He holds Viktor's hand now, carding his fingers gently through his fiance's hair, the usually feather soft strands matted and rough with sweat. Viktor is nodding off slowly, his head lolling to the side against his pillow. His skin is ashy pale and covered in a light sheen.

The nurse had just been in to change out his morphine drip.

Viktor struggles against it to stay awake, and Yuuri wishes he wouldn't. If he wanted to sleep, that was alright.

“You can sleep Vitya.” He tells him softly.

Viktor's eyes keep drifting closed and popping open, and he turns his face to look up at Yuuri, and he smiles his sad smile, and Yuuri feels his heart fall apart like shattered glass.

“... My Yuuri.” He says, his voice still barely able to go above a whisper. Still rough and strained from his larynx being almost crushed. “Oh, will you go home soon to rest?”

Viktor is asking after him. He's worried about Yuuri and how much time he's spending here in the hospital. Like he isn't the one who's bed ridden with countless broken bones. Like he isn't the one who'd nearly died...

Yuuri shakes his head.

“No. I'm going to stay the night tonight. Okay? I want to be near you.”

“... Is Makkachin with...?”

“She's with Yakov.” Yuuri tells him, smiling weakly as he again cards his fingers through Viktor's hair, watching his eyes droop closed.

“... Okay.” Viktor murmurs.

“Try to sleep, alright?”

“... Okay.” Viktor breathes so softly, Yuuri can barely hear him at all.

He lets his eyes stay closed this time, and Yuuri leans down to kiss his lips, dry and chapped against his mouth, the taste of dried blood against his tongue.

Chapter Text

Yuuri doesn't know much about Viktor's childhood.

It's something he's always been aware of, in a detached, uncomprehending sort of way.

Viktor didn't talk about his childhood.

He didn't talk about his parents.

The one thing Yuuri does know about them, is that they'd forced Viktor out of his only home when he'd been thirteen years old, because they'd found out he was gay, and that Viktor hadn't spoken to them since.

They'd seen him, Viktor had said, kissing another boy. Viktor said he'd tried to keep it a secret, because of course he knew. He knew his mother and father wouldn't “approve”. That was the word Viktor had used.

He'd related this story to Yuuri, only because, early on in their relationship, Yuuri had asked, completely innocent and ignorant, when he was going to get to meet Viktor's parents.

And he'd related it in a way that was so unlike Viktor, that it had immediately set Yuuri on edge. Viktor's voice had been flat. Almost monotone. He hadn't seemed upset. He hadn't seemed happy, or sad, or angry. Hadn't seemed like he felt anything about it at all. He'd had the fakest smile plastered on his face that Yuuri had ever seen though. He remembers that, because it had been so bizarre. The contrast of that with Viktor's emotionless, nonchalant tone.

Viktor was a high energy person. He was excitable to the point of silliness. He woke up early, really early, every morning because, he said, he wanted to experience as much as he could before the day was through. He expressed his interest and joy in things by jumping up and down and twirling in the air and clapping his hands in absolutely infectious enthusiasm. He could talk and talk endlessly, for hours, about those same interests, the passion in his voice never hidden. Open and raw for the world to hear. His eyes sparkled, vivid with life and emotion.

Some people, Yuuri knew, would think Viktor was positive to the point of near unbelievability. Except that, it wasn't unbelievable. Viktor was really just like that. He laughed and smiled more freely and genuinely than anyone Yuuri had ever met.

That kind of feeling for life, though, meant deep feeling for everything.

Viktor rarely grew angry. But when he did, you knew it. Just like you knew it when he was feeling sad. His emotions were always etched, naked and stark on his face.

For him to show no emotion at all then, for him to then try to cover that over with such a blatantly forced expression... It was troubling.

Yuuri guesses maybe he'd just never had the courage to press Viktor then. To ask him to tell him more. Maybe, Yuuri thinks, because he'd himself been afraid to know.

Yakov is looking back at him now with tired and stern eyes, his face lined deep with his frown. He looks unhappy. More than usual, anyway. Of course he did. What else could Yuuri expect?

“Why do you want to know about Vitya's parents?” He asks, and the suspicion is plain in his voice.

Yuuri fidgets, nervousness gripping his insides, and he looks away.

“... I don't know. I just... they must know... what happened. It's all over the news...”

“Maybe. Maybe not.” Yakov answers, voice clipped. “What does it matter?”

“... Because, I mean... wouldn't... wouldn't they care? Wouldn't they be worried?”

“No.”

Yuri blinks.

“... What?”

Yakov looks, impossibly, somehow more unhappy, his eyes narrowing at Yuuri.

“No, they wouldn't care. They wouldn't be worried.” He answers again.

Yuuri stares back at him, feeling lost and uneasy.

“But...” he tries, not understanding.

“Vitya's parents are not good people Yuuri. Not good. Not kind.” Yakov cuts him off sharply. “They were not kind to Vitya.”

Yuuri feels his stomach lurch at the words, a sick dread settling into his pit.

He knew that was probably the case. He knew. He'd just never... really heard it put into words like that.

“... What does that mean?” He asks, and his voice is barely more than a whisper.

“It means what it means.” Yakov answers.

He sounds angry, and Yuuri thinks maybe he should drop the whole thing.

But then Yakov's face seems somehow to soften, and he sighs, looking away.

He says nothing else for a moment, and Yuuri isn't stupid enough to try and fill the silence. There was something delicate here. Something he really knows nothing about. And so he waits.

“... They would say things to Vitya, Yuuri. Unkind things. Cruel things. Vitya is strong. You know this. But he was only a child then. It left him... how do you say in English... it left him unwell, in some ways. I think... sad...”

Yakov's expression has shifted. Etched still with deep lines, but no longer frustrated or angry. He looks tired now. Almost grieving.

Yuuri's heart drops at the words, his eyes suddenly burning.

Oh, Vitya...

“... Did they... I mean...” he doesn't even know what he's trying to ask. Doesn't know if he wants to know, whatever it is.

Yakov frowns.

“... Vitya never said anything about being struck. Nothing about physical punishment, if that's what you mean to ask. What they did to him was, I think, in some ways worse. They were unkind.” He repeats, his frown deepening, as if he's trying to come up with the right words to say. “You know how Vitya is. He... feels things very much. Everything comes to him, right here.” Yakov pounds his fist against his own chest, indicating his heart.

Yuuri nods, the burning in his eyes worsening.

Yakov nods in return.

“... He never wanted to go back home. When he was very young. Eleven, twelve, thirteen... after practice... Vitya never wanted to go back home because... it was very hard for him. Sometimes, you know, he would cry. He would cry and ask me 'Can I come home with you instead?'. I wanted to let him, but without the consent of his parents...” Yakov shrugs. “You understand? There was nothing I could do.”

Yuuri nods, and he thinks his heart might shrivel to nothing as he imagines it.

He'd never been able to tell, all those years ago, back in Japan, watching Viktor competing on the television. Viktor had seemed like an angel to him then. Beautiful and perfect. Always smiling, his eyes gleaming with so much life and joy. He'd never been able to see even a hint of the pain Yakov was now relating to him. None of the sadness. How Viktor could have smiled through that kind of hurt, how he could have hidden it from the prying eyes of the world...

God, he must have felt so alone then. To feel so unloved by your own parents, you didn't even want to go home.

Yuuri can scarcely imagine it. His own parents had been so loving and warm towards him. Completely accepting, despite the fact that Japan itself had a less than accepting attitude towards homosexuality. His own mother and father had never cared that Yuuri was gay. Neither had his sister. Their love for him had never wavered. Had never been conditional.

Yuuri doesn't understand anything sometimes. He doesn't understand why a person as good and as kind and as sweet as Viktor had to suffer in the ways that he had.

“... What... what did they say to him, that made him afraid to go home?” He forces himself to ask.

Yakov looks back to him, seeming again to study him, eyes scrutinizing.

“... Vitya's told you none of this?” He asks, and Yuuri shakes his head.

“No.” He answers. “And I didn't want to push him.”

“There's a reason Vitya doesn't talk about it.” Yakov says, and Yuuri nods.

Yakov sighs.

“But, you're going to marry him. Yes? So I suppose you have a right to know some things. Vitya would tell you, if you asked him.”

“... I don't want to upset him now though.” Yuuri admits.

Yakov nods in understanding.

“I can tell you what little I know. But Vitya never spoke at length about it, even to me. Even as a child. I know the worst of it, he's never told to anyone.”

The room falls silent then, and Yuuri can feel himself holding his own breath. He's frightened, he thinks, to hear this. Frightened by what it means for Viktor. By how it will shape Yuuri's understanding of Viktor. It won't make him love Viktor any less. Yuuri knows that with absolute certainty. Nothing could. But he worries that it will effect the way he handles Viktor. He doesn't want Viktor to ever feel like he's being pitied.

“I know they never supported him in his skating.” Yakov says. “Of course, they understood Vitya had talent, in the way people who know nothing about this sport understand it, and only because I explained to them how Vitya was a gifted child.” The old coach shrugs, a look of disgust passing over his features a moment. “They only cared because they understood too it could one day make them money. They would ask me, all the time, how does sponsorship work, what about prize money, things like that. They wanted to know how much Vitya could make by winning. They always wanted to know that.”

Already Yuuri feels sick, a swell of anger building in his chest at Yakov's words.

“When I first met Vitya, he was a six year old boy. Very young, but already his talent was obvious. He could do things I'd never seen a child so young able to do. Things many older children could not. Very gifted. The most gifted child I had ever seen.

I tried to convince his mother first, since she had been the one to bring him to the rink that day. I said to her, 'Mrs. Nikiforov, I want to train your son. I want him to join my skate club.'. I had been watching this boy for maybe an hour, skating on the ice. He was incredible. You know? I could see immediately. Extraordinary coordination. Incredible speed and lightness. It was maybe his second or third time on ice. He already showed such perfect balance. Could already do advanced spins, and even some jumps. Singles of course, but still. He had no experience, and he could do these things. It was unbelievable.”

Yuuri nods, not at all surprised to hear it. Of course Viktor's talent had been clear from the beginning.

“Vitya was very young, and very shy.” Yakov's lips pull up for a moment into a rare smile, his eyes distant and fond. “He was that way for a long time, if you can believe it. Until maybe fifteen, sixteen years old, and he started to become a more outward person. I remember. I spoke to him that first day, and he wouldn't even look at me. He spoke so softly, I could hardly hear him at all. I asked him his name, and asked him then where had he learned to skate so well. Surely, I thought, he had taken lessons of some kind. He must have, to be able to know how to do spins and jumps as he was doing. But he shook his head and told me he had learned by watching the skaters on the television. I could hardly believe it. It seemed impossible. And I thought, such a small boy, such a shy boy, you know? He barely reached my knee. But such incredible talent. And I wanted more than anything to help him. Because I knew. I could see even then, he had what it would take to become a great skater. More than that, even, I could see the joy it brought him. Out there on the ice, he smiled and his eyes were bright. I wanted him to have that happiness.”

The tears finally push past in Yuuri's eyes, and he wipes them away as they begin to slide down his face. He nods, and Yakov goes on.

“His mother had hold of his arm, I remember. She tugged him too hard, I remember thinking. Vitya was a tiny thing then. You know? It was a shock when he hit his growth spurt and grew so tall! But I remember, and she looked at me with hard eyes, and said she wasn't interested in Viktor skating. She'd only brought him there because he'd begged her to. She said, I remember exactly her words, she said 'He wouldn't stop whining, so I brought him to shut him up'. I told her 'Your son has a gift, and I would like to train him.', and she asked me how much it would cost. I told her for the first six months, I would wave my fee, because I could see how talented this boy was. It would be a privilege to work with him. After that, we could discuss fees. She asked me then, and again, I remember her words exactly, she asked, 'Does it make money?'. I told her it could, if her son began to win real competitions. And she told me she would discuss is with her husband. I heard nothing from them for another month afterward. I didn't see Vitya again for a month. And then one day, they came back to the rink, the father with them this time. And they agreed to let me coach Vitya.

For maybe the first two months, the mother would bring him to practice. The progress Vitya made then was not to be believed. He advanced more quickly than any child I'd ever seen. Of course, I wasn't surprised. He had the most natural talent. I was wrapped up in his ability, and I didn't notice at first, really, when Vitya would show up without his mother. I thought, well, she's dropping him off and leaving. There was no real reason for her to stay beyond that. So I thought, okay, it makes sense. The winters here are bitter. You know this. I realized Vitya was walking to the rink by himself when he came in one day violently shaking from the cold. He'd walked all the way by himself, five miles. A little, six year old boy. I had to take him to the hospital to make sure he wasn't hypothermic.”

“My God...” Yuuri breathes. He can't believe what he's hearing. Viktor had never said a word of this to him.

Yakov nods, his expression matching Yuuri's horrified astonishment.

“I had one of my assistant coaches go around his house to pick him up every day after that. His mother and father didn't care. They neglected him. They didn't want to spend any money on his skating. You understand? I explained to them once, over the phone, that Vitya would need his own pair of figure skates. That he couldn't keep using the rentals at the rink. They didn't want to spend the money. They bought him this used pair of skates. Very cheap, bad skates. Of course, they fell apart very quickly, and they refused to buy him another pair. So I bought him a pair myself. I took that responsibility too. And when the parents somehow forgot to pay my coaching fee, which very often they did, I let it go. Vitya had nothing outside of his skating then. You understand?”

Yuuri nods, wiping again at his eyes. He doesn't know how much more of this he can stand to hear. His heart was in pieces.

“Of course, Vitya has paid me back a thousand fold for the money his parents stole from me then. I didn't want it. But you know how Vitya is. He insisted until I took it. He's a good boy. He's always been a good boy.”

“I know. God, I know.” Yuuri says.

Yakov pauses again, and he looks away from Yuuri now, his brow creasing.

“You know... he wouldn't say much, when I would ask him how things were at home. Usually he would just go quiet and say nothing. Sometimes though... he would come to the rink, and he would be upset. You know, sometimes he would start crying, and I would ask him what's wrong, and he would tell me things his parents had said to him. One day, I remember, Vitya was crying, and he said his mother had been screaming at him that morning, before he'd been picked up for practice. She'd told him she wished he'd never been born. She'd told him he was nothing but a curse. That he'd ruined her and her husbands lives by being born. That all of their own problems were his fault. Their bad marriage was his fault. Those were the kinds of things they said to him. A little boy. Of course he believed all of it. I know there were worse things even. Vitya would so often have this... confused look in his eyes. How do you say? Blank look? He wouldn't speak more than two words all day. There were things going on he wouldn't speak of. He never did. But I knew it was happening.

The worst maybe I saw was one day, his father had shown up to the rink. Half way through a typical day of practice. Vitya was maybe 8, 9 years old then. His father had shown up to take him somewhere. Vitya said nothing, but I could see, in his eyes. He didn't want to go with his father. He looked at me, I remember. He had fear in his eyes. I'll never forget that face. He wanted me to save him, I think. And I tried. I told his father, Vitya has a very important competition coming up in a few days. He couldn't afford to miss practice. I tried everything. It didn't matter to the man. And I watched him take Vitya away. I saw Vitya try to hold his hand, and his father shook him off, and put a hand on the boys back and shoved him forward, hard enough to make Vitya stumble and fall. It was such an unkind touch, I remember. So mean. And I knew, it was only a surface, that I was seeing. Only a surface of how they treated Vitya. It was abuse. You understand?”

Yuuri nods. Yes, he understood. He understood with awful clarity now. Understood why Viktor never spoke about his parents. Why he told Yuuri about his parent's rejecting him at 13 with no real emotion at all. It makes him feel sick to his stomach. It makes him want to weep bitterly.

“So not so shocking, really, when they told him to leave when he was 13. In a way, and I know it is an awful thing to say, but, in a way, it was the best thing for Vitya. To be out of that house. They didn't love him. They didn't treat him with love. The way any parent should treat their child. They made him feel worthless. Our Vitya. You know him Yuuri. He is a bright star.”

Yuuri half gasps, a sob lodging in his throat as he nods.

“The brightest star.” He says, voice wavering badly as he wipes at his eyes. He can see Yakov's eyes now too. Can see the tears standing in them.

“So you understand, Yuuri? About Vitya's parents? That they won't care, whether they know or not?”

Yuuri nods.

“Then you won't try to contact them about Vitya?” Yakov presses, and Yuuri thinks he really shouldn't be surprised, that the old coach had gleaned his intention without him even stating it.

He'd been thinking of reaching out to Viktor's parents. Had thought, somehow, that maybe they didn't know. Had half talked himself into believing that was the reason they hadn't tried to get in touch. Hadn't tried to find out if Viktor was alright or not.

He knows better now.

And with the awful pain of Yakov's revelations, comes bitter anger and resentment.

He doesn't understand how any parent could treat their child that way. Let alone one like Viktor. The hideous cruelty and unfairness of it churns Yuuri's stomach then.

He shakes his head.

“No.” He promises, looking Yakov in the eye. “I won't contact them about Vitya. About anything. They don't... they don't deserve to be near him even.”

Yakov nods, the tension in his shoulders seeming to relax some.

“Good.” He says. “That's good.”

Chapter Text

Yuri sighs, glancing round the room.

It's filled with flowers now, 'get well soon' cards, and all that crap. He guesses it at least offsets the sterile whiteness of the place. The blank walls and stark scent of antiseptics had been driving him crazy these last two weeks. The fragrant plants were an improvement, he could admit.

Of course, Viktor had reacted to all of the gifts like they were the greatest things in the world. He'd taken the time to read every card, to look over and smell every pot and bouquet of flowers.

He'd spent just as much time singing the praises of all the people who had sent the junk, talking about them like they were literal angels or something, going on and on about their generosity and kindness.

The worst part about all of it, Yuri thinks, is that Viktor had meant every word.

He was too fucking nice.

All of it had only left Yuri feeling angry.

He'd been trying to work on his temper lately. He knew it was often out of hand. That he had a tendency to overreact to things. He'd tried telling himself that people were just trying to be nice, sending flowers and cards and candies to Viktor's room.

But then he'd realized, if these same people thought that hollow, empty shit like that was somehow supposed to make any of this better, that it was supposed to somehow help Viktor, then they had no fucking clue what he, or any of them, were actually going through. And that pissed him off. It really fucking pissed him off.

The only one who had actually shown up in person had been Christophe. He was the only one who'd actually flown in and come to the fucking hospital to visit Viktor. Well, him and Yuuri's family.

And of course his own Grandpa had come, and Lilia, and their rink mates. But that was it. Nobody else could be fucking bothered.

It wasn't important enough, Yuri thinks bitterly. Viktor getting beaten near to death wasn't a big enough deal for them to interrupt their precious lives.

Yuri scowls, trying to shove the thoughts away.

He doesn't want to think about this now. He doesn't want to waste the energy on getting mad. He was already so exhausted, already wiped out from all the rest of what he'd been feeling.

He glances down at his phone, seeing the time.

It was just past twelve.

Yuuri and Yakov had gone home for the afternoon to get some sleep, and would be back, they said, before evening, leaving Yuri here to keep Viktor company. They'd been taking shifts like this the last week, trying to give each other some relief.

Yuri looks up, glancing at Viktor.

He's sleeping now. Had been, since Yuri had arrived.

The doctors said he was going to be here a long time. At least a month more, they said. After that, at least another six months for all of his bones to heal. And after that... physical therapy.

Spending that long a time regulated to a bed and, eventually, they said, a wheelchair, Viktor was going to have to relearn how to walk. That was the main goal. It didn't account for everything else that could go wrong. There might be permanent nerve damage, they said. Already they'd found signs of it in Viktor's hands.

Apparently Viktor had, in an attempt to shield himself from the beating, curled his arms over his head, something he couldn't even remember doing. But because of it, his hands had been assaulted by the blows of the baseball bat, and now he was experiencing a burning, tingling sensation down through his fingers, to their tips. It was numbness, the doctors said. He might never regain full sensation in them. If he didn't, performing tasks as simple as writing, or holding utensils, was going to prove to be extremely difficult for him.

In a few days, they were going to remove the bandages from Viktor's head and face, and try to perform tests for the vision in his right eye and ear to see if he'd suffered any kind of blindness or deafness.

God...

Yuri feels his eyes burn as he looks over Viktor now, lying there, his chest rising and falling in a shallow, weak pattern. His head lolls to the side on his pillow, his hair mussed and greasy looking, and Yuri's gaze catches on the line of saliva escaping the corner of Viktor's slightly parted lips, pooling in a dark puddle of drool beneath his cheek. His skin is sallow. Sickly pale and sweaty.

Because Viktor can't make it to the bathroom now, they've got a catheter in him, so he doesn't fucking piss all over himself. Knows that's what the bedpan beneath the bed is for too.

Yuri looks away a moment, feeling his throat constrict, his stomach clenching in painful dismay.

He hates seeing Viktor like this. God he fucking hates it.

It felt so fucking wrong.

Viktor was always so well put together. Always dressed in the best clothes, always so clean cut and neat in everything, his presentation always so perfect.

He must have hated looking like this. Being seen like this.

Yuri forces himself to look back at him, and impulsively he stands, grabbing a tissue out of the box on the table by the bed, beside the sippy cup that Viktor needs to drink. He bends closer then, balling the tissue up, dabbing up the trail of saliva from the corner of Viktor's mouth.

He freezes when Viktor suddenly begins to stir, pulling his hand away and straightening.

He sees Viktor's face contort before he hears it. A soft, high pitched whimper slipping past Viktor's lips. A sound so naked with agony that Yuri feels his stomach drop out from under him, a shot of panic tightening in his chest.

Viktor's fingers spasm, curling into the sheets of his bed, and as his eyes come open, they're instantly filled with tears. A choked gasp catches in his throat, giving way to more, awful whimpering.

He's in pain, Yuri's brain finally kicks into gear, the realization taking hard hold. Viktor's in horrible pain.

Yuri's eyes flit to the morphine drip they've got him hooked up to, sees the reading almost at empty.

“Fuck...” he mutters angrily, shoving the panic blooming in his chest down. How in the fuck had those stupid hag nurses forgotten to refill it?

“Oh, God...” Viktor's voice comes out trembling and weak and laced with pain. “God...”

“Viktor...” Yuri calls his name, looking intently at him.

Viktor doesn't seem to hear him at first, his face lining deeper, and his whimpering slides into a broken sob, and then another as he begins to really cry.

“Viktor, shit, h-hold on... I'm going to call the nurse. Your morphine's out.”

Finally Viktor seems to realize he's being spoken to, his gaze shifting up, catching on Yuri's face.

Yuri almost loses it. Viktor's looking at him with awful desperation. Like he's begging Yuri to help him.

Yuri doesn't even think as he reaches out suddenly, grasping hold of Viktor's hand. He squeezes down, looking Viktor in the eye.

“It's going to be okay Vitya.” He promises. “Alright? Just hold on a few minutes. I'm going to go get the nurse. Okay?”

Viktor blinks up at him, the tears in his eyes slipping free, rolling slow over his temple, into his sweaty hair.

He chokes out a sound, like he's trying to say something, but his voice comes out only a thin wheeze.

“I'll be right back. Just a minute. I'll be right back.”

Reluctantly, Yuri lets go of Viktor's hand, and he doesn't give himself a chance to hesitate after that, running out of the room and yelling down the hall.

“Hey, somebody! SOMEBODY, FOR FUCK'S SAKE!”

He startles a nurse that's walking a little ways ahead of him.

“HEY!”

She turns, wide eyed at she takes him in.

“My friend's in pain!” Yuri spits at her angrily. “He needs his morphine refilled!”

The woman blinks at him, and Yuri nearly snaps at the lack of urgency he sees in her face.

“Did you fucking hear me!?” He growls. “He's in pain! He's in FUCKING PAIN! Somebody needs to fucking HELP HIM!”

“Oh!” The woman's brain finally seems to catch up with what he's saying. “Nikiforov?”

“Yes!” Yuri hisses. “Fucking hurry!”

The woman nods, and Yuri watches as she scurries off in the opposite direction, he guesses to get a fresh bag of morphine. That better be what she's doing, he thinks viciously, or he swears...

She appears again after less than a minute, bag in hand, and Yuri turns, heading back towards Viktor's room, expecting her to follow.

Bursting back into Viktor's room, and Yuri sees him lying still on the bed. Only he's in some kind of frantic state, trying with his right arm to push himself to a sitting position. His chest heaves with wracking sobs.

“Vitya, no!” Yuri nearly shouts, lunging forward to stop him before he hurts himself.

“It hurts!” Viktor weeps brokenly, his voice shaking so hard, it's hard to understand what he's saying. “I-it hurts!”

“I know! Vitya, I know. Ju-just hang on, the nurse is here. She's going to help you.”

“P-please...” Viktor cries. “Please...”

Yuri grasps hold of Viktor's hand again, laying another on Viktor's shoulder and holding him down.

“It's okay. It'll be okay.” He promises.

Viktor is shaking, the tremors working from his hand, up into Yuri's arm.

Yuri shoots his glare at the nurse, who's fumbling to remove the empty bag of morphine from the drip and replace it.

“Come on, hurry up!” He snaps at her.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knows he's being unfair to the woman. But he's in too much of a state of panic to really care.

Finally she succeeds in replacing the bag, and she opens the valve to begin administering the pain killer.

Yuri watches the golden liquid as it makes it way through the clear plastic tubing, into Viktor's arm.

“How long before it works?!” He demands of the nurse.

“It should only be a moment before it takes effect.” She reassures. “I'm so sorry. I don't know who was in charge of keeping watch on this, but I'm going to find out.”

Yuri scowls at her.

“Don't apologize to me! Apologize to him! He's the one who's in pain!”

Yuri looks back down at Viktor, and already he can see his lids half falling, his eyes growing glassy, the lines etching his face relaxing as the pain begins to ease.

“I'm sorry, Mr. Nikiforov. Are you alright now?” The nurse asks him, seeming unruffled by Yuri's bad attitude. “Do you need anything else? The pain should, hopefully, be mostly gone in just a few minutes.”

Viktor takes a long moment to seemingly register her question, and he shakes his head weakly, staring listlessly ahead at nothing.

“... 'm alright.” He slurs slightly. “Th-thank... thank you.”

The nurse nods.

“Of course. Again, I'm so sorry.” She looks up at Yuri. “Do you need anything?”

Yuri blinks at her, surprised she even asked.

He shakes his head.

“Alright then, I'll leave you two be for now.” She says, and turns to leave.

“... Thank you!” Yuri blurts behind her, realizing abruptly that he should show her some gratitude.

She turns, smiling tightly over her shoulder at him and nodding, before disappearing through the door, closing it softly behind her, giving them privacy.

Yuri looks back at Viktor. He's still holding his hand, and he notices now that Viktor is squeezing his hand back, his grip weak but obvious.

“You okay now?” Yuri asks hesitantly.

Viktor nods slowly.

He looks so fragile. Like too strong a breeze might break him all apart.

Yuri looks away again. He hates it. He hates all of it.

“... Thank you Yura.” He hears Viktor say, his voice as frail sounding as the rest of him, trembling and almost too soft to hear. He sounds completely spent. Exhausted.

There's none of the energy or brightness Viktor has always had in his voice.

“It's fine.” Yuri says dismissively, feeling suddenly awkward.

Viktor shakes his head, and there's still tears sliding slow down his face.

“No, I... you helped me. I don't know what I could have done w-without you Yura. I don't know...” his voice trails off, and he looks so openly stricken for a moment, that Yuri feels his own eyes start to burn again.

“It's alright.” He forces out. “Hey, give me my hand back so I can pull a chair over.”

“O-oh!” Viktor starts, his hand loosening around Yuri's. “S-sorry.”

Yuri shakes his head, turning and dragging the chair closer to Viktor's bed, falling down into it.

“Here.” He reaches his hand back out.

Viktor looks at him with wide eyes. The whites of them had finally started to clear up. At least his left eye had. Thank God. The blood had been starting to freak Yuri out. Still, Yuri has no idea what's going on underneath the bandages covering Viktor's right eye. He isn't sure he wants to know.

He scowls.

“What?!” He snaps. “Come on!” He gestures for Viktor to give him his hand. “... You seemed like you wanted something to hold on to, so...”

His face feels hot, but he refuses to let his embarrassment fuck this up. Viktor needed help.

Finally Viktor reaches back out, and Yuri feels the damp palm of his hand slide into his own. Yuri squeezes.

“See?!” He snaps again. “Easy!”

God, his face must be bright red. Fucking shit.

Viktor smiles at him. Another pale imitation of what it usually was.

“Easy.” He agrees, eyes over bright.

Yuri huffs, suddenly not knowing what else to say.

He'd begun to realize, over these past couple of weeks, that the way he'd always talked to Viktor had been... mildly aggressive.

Alright, if he was being honest with himself, sometimes more than mildly.

More than half the words out of his mouth, directed at the older skater, had been insults, he thinks.

He'd never meant any of them.

It was just the way he felt comfortable talking to Viktor.

Maybe because Viktor was always so cool about it. It didn't matter what Yuri said to him. What names he called him. Whether he called him old, or stupid, or gross, or washed up. Viktor always just smiled at him. Half the time, to Yuri's frustrated confusion, he would agree with his insults.

… There's been too much time to think, lately. With his season called off.

Self-reflection wasn't something Yuri enjoyed. But sitting here in the hospital for hours on end, most of the time with Viktor passed out from his pain meds, all Yuri had was time to think.

He'd begun to realize he only felt comfortable talking the way he did to Viktor because he fucking admired him, and he didn't know how to handle those feelings.

He used to sometimes think he really hated Viktor. Used to convince himself Viktor was an actual airhead idiot. He had to be, with how fucking ridiculous and silly and happy he seemed to be all the time. Nobody with any brains in their head could possibly be that positive.

But Viktor wasn't an idiot.

He was anything but.

He picked up new languages like it was as easy as breathing, for one thing. The bastard was already almost fucking fluent in Japanese, on top of the three other languages he was fluent in.

He knew all kinds of shit about a million different things too. It seemed like he'd read every piece of classic literature that had ever been written. Knew all kinds of history. Like, not just facts. He could tell you in the most fucking boring, brain numbing detail the reasons behind why certain historical events had happened, what had led to them. The social or political or cultural foundations for all that shit.

He knew about all these different philosophies. Could talk about them like he actually fucking got them.

Yuri's brain felt like it was going to explode every time he tried reading something written by Nietzsche or whoever the fuck.

Not to mention he was a fucking genius on the ice.

The one consolation, Yuri thinks, is that Viktor was fucking awful at math. Like really bad. He couldn't even do the most basic multiplication or division. He had to count using his fingers. That, at least, was something both he and Katsuki had over Vitya.

But Viktor was no idiot.

And Yuri had never hated Viktor at all. He'd never even really been mad at him.

No. Instead it was more that he wanted to be like Viktor. Wished he could have Viktor's positivity. Wished he could see things in that same way.

That had made him mad.

So he'd lash out.

He guesses Viktor always took it so well because he probably knew.

That in turn had used to piss Yuri off. Because it was Viktor's positivity again. His ability to seemingly take everything in such easy stride.

But... he couldn't find it in himself anymore, to get angry about it.

When he let himself think about it, Viktor's patience and kindness towards him all these years, despite Yuri's at times almost merciless berratment and constant insults, was the very thing in Viktor that Yuri wished to be more like. The thing in Viktor he most admired. Besides of course his brilliance as a figure skater. It was hard always being so angry. It was exhausting. More, it was stupid, to be pissed at someone just for being too fucking nice.

Maybe the anger came from the fact that Yuri wished, just once, Viktor would show some kind of anger himself, for the way life and other people had often treated him.

But even now, after what had happened, Yuri got no sense of anger from Viktor. Only a deep sadness. He hadn't even said anything negative about the piles of shit that had attacked him. He didn't talk about them.

That's something Yuri can't understand at all.

Yuri thinks, if this had happened to him, he would be filled with uncontrollable rage.

“Yuuri told me how the both of you have pulled out of the rest of the season.” Viktor's voice carries softly to his ears, and Yuri looks up at him, not realizing how he'd been letting his mind drift. Viktor's looking back, his eyes bright and so openly pained, it's hard to hold his gaze. “... I wish you hadn't.”

Yuri scowls, shaking his head.

“We had to. We couldn't just fly off to competitions while you were in here.”

Viktor looks away from him, his eyes casting down.

“... But it's so unfair to you.” He whispers, and Yuri feels his scowl deepen, anger flaring in his chest.

“Unfair?! You want to talk about unfair? What about what happened to you!?”

Viktor doesn't say anything, keeping his eyes away, even as his face lines in some unspoken agony, and Yuri can feel his own temper ratcheting up.

He feels frustrated at Viktor suddenly. Angry at the resignation in him.

“Don't you fucking care!?” He snaps, his voice rising. “Don't you... don't you want to fucking get the mother fuckers that did this to you!? Don't you want to see them pay!?”

“... Yura...”

“You were gonna win another Olympic gold Viktor!” Yuri talks over him. “Another world title too! Who fucking knows how many times you would have broken your own fucking world records over the rest of the season! And those fucking pigs stole that from you! All of that! Why aren't you more fucking pissed!? Huh? You should be fucking angry!”

“... Please, Yura.” Viktor says, his voice trembling, desperate sounding. Like he's on the verge of tears again.

Yuri stops, realizing with horror he's been yelling at Viktor, guilt crushing down on his heart.

“... I... sorry... I'm sorry Vitya, I didn't... fuck, I didn't mean to...”

“... It's alright.” Viktor says, almost too softly to hear.

A heavy silence falls between them, Yuri struggling with how to fill it, embarrassed at his outburst, ashamed of how insensitive it had been.

It wasn't like Viktor wasn't aware of what he'd been robbed of. He knew it better than any of them, probably. Felt the weight of it more than any of them.

“... I am angry.”

Yuri looks up.

Viktor is staring down at his lap, his eyes distant.

He smiles suddenly, looking up at Yuri, a grief in his eyes and in the twisted pain of his lips.

“I know I should be angry at those men. I am, maybe somewhere. But, more, it's anger with myself.”

“With yourself?” Yuri starts, indignant.

Viktor still has that awful, pained smile on his face as he nods.

“I know, for you perhaps, it is difficult to understand. Only... you see, I think I should know better, by now, then to so easily trust, when my instincts tell me not to. And yet still I do, and this happens. And I ruin so many things for so many people, because I'm not so smart. Yes? I'm stupid.”

“You're not stupid Viktor!” Yuri snaps, not believing what he's hearing. His heart beats suddenly too hard in his chest, a sick feeling in his stomach, listening to Viktor talk about himself this way.

Viktor only keeps smiling at him, that sad, awful smile.

“You're very kind Yura.” He says. “You always have been, of course. Remember you would spend time with me when you were younger?” Viktor laughs weakly. “I know I was embarrassing to you, but you spent time with me anyway. You've always been very kind like that.”

“Fuck... shut the fuck up Viktor.” Yuri says, feeling his eyes burn. He wasn't going to fucking cry because of this fucking asshole. He wasn't. God damn it!

“And you're spending time with me now, when you should be off, winning your competitions, along with Yuuri. I've ruined that for you, too. For both of you. That hurts me very much Yura. It makes me wish I wasn't so stupid, such an idiot, when it has an impact of other people. It matters not so much for me. You understand? But when it hurts other people...”

Viktor's voice is shaking again, and the tears stand out, obvious in his eyes, and Yuri can't handle this. He can't, damn it, God damn it!

“This isn't your fucking fault Viktor! None of this shit is your fucking fault! Don't you get that?!” He spits, and he can't stop the tears which well in his own eyes, not even trying to stop them as they slip free, down his face. He's too upset. Too fucking angry. “Those fucks that beat you up are the only one's to blame! It's their fucking fault, not yours! But you really are an idiot if you think I didn't want to hang out with you Viktor! If you thought I was just doing it to be nice or whatever the fuck you think!” He hisses. “What the fuck is wrong with you!? You were the most famous figure skater on the fucking planet, and you fucking wanted to talk to me! Just some arrogant, snot nosed little brat who hadn't accomplished fucking anything! You wanted to spend time with me, when I was new to the rink and didn't fucking know fucking anyone! I didn't have any fucking friends, and Viktor fucking Nikiforov still thought I was important enough to give his attention to! Do you have any idea what that even meant to me, you fucking jerk!?”

Viktor blinks at him, a kind of shocked astonishment in his gaze.

“... Yuri, I...”

“And another thing!” Yuri cuts him off before he can start. “You really think Yuuri would be able to focus on his performances out there, knowing you're in here, fighting for your fucking life?! With his fucked up anxiety!?” Yuri scoffs. “He wants to be here to take care of you, you stupid idiot! So let him! And I don't want to compete against the rest of those losers without you there! You're the one to beat. A win against anyone else would be meaningless, because I'd know in the back of my mind I didn't beat the best! So stop worrying about us, and focus on yourself!”

Viktor continues looking back at him a moment, before his eyes slide away.

“... You need more reason than me to motivate yourself Yura.” He says quietly after a long, few seconds. “My ability to continue competing wasn't going to last forever.”

Yuri frowns, a sick drop down through his stomach.

Wasn't, Viktor said. Like it was already over. Like he thought...

“You're going to compete again, asshole.” He snaps without really meaning to.

Viktor smiles. Again that same, sad smile, and Yuri can barely stand to look at it.

“Yuuri says the same thing.” He says in a whisper, his voice matching the smile.

“Yeah, well, for once Katsuki's right.” Yuri grumbles.

“... I'm old Yura.” Viktor says, looking away.

“Yeah, and?” Yuri snaps. “That didn't matter for shit this season! You were still kicking all our asses. So you... you better get your ass back to the ice so I can beat you fair and square! Alright!?”

Viktor doesn't say anything, turning his face farther aside, so that Yuri can only see his profile now.

Yuri watches as a pronounced tremor works suddenly through his frame. His hand spasms and squeezes tighter where Yuri still holds it.

“... I'm sorry Yura.” He finally speaks, and Yuri can tell he's crying again. “... I'll try. I'll try to... I'll try not to fail... To be what you need me to be.”

That... wasn't what Yuri had wanted to hear. He hadn't wanted to make Viktor feel like he was being pressured to get better. He'd only been trying to... to be encouraging, or whatever the fuck. Damn it. Had been trying with his words to quash his own, awful doubts.

“Vitya, I didn't mean...” he starts, but Viktor keeps talking.

“... I'm scared Yuri.” He says, and Yuri suddenly feels like all the air's been sucked out of his lungs. Viktor laughs, the sound more like a half choked sob. “I don't want my career to be over. I don't want to have to stop competing. Maybe... maybe that's selfish of me. I know most skaters my age make the choice on their own to stop. And I've done all I can in this sport. I know I have nothing else to prove. I think, maybe, I should be gracious. Step aside for the future, for skaters like you Yura. But...”

Viktor pauses, his breaths seeming to come too quick and too shallow.

“... Skating is all I've ever known. It's been my life, since I was a little boy. Six years old. I try to imagine a life without that and... I can't. I feel, when I do, like I can't breathe. It feels like some horrible weight, crushing my chest... I thought at first, maybe, you know, this would be my final year competing. But more recently, I thought... I've never felt better, physically, or mentally. Because of Yuuri... because of you too Yura. Both of you, you gave me the desire to win again. I felt excited, performing well, winning my competitions this season, like I haven't felt in many years. Proud, even. And I thought, maybe I could keep competing, another two, maybe even three years, if my body continues to hold up. But now...”

Another pause, and Yuri can see Viktor bite down hard on his lip, another, harsh tremor working through his frame.

“... I don't know if I'll ever be able to skate again. If I can't... if I can't even work with Yuuri as his coach, or help you with your programs, I don't know what I'll do. I have no real abilities outside this.”

Yuri grits his teeth. He wasn't good with this sort of thing. He especially wasn't good with it coming from Viktor, who'd always seemed so strong. To hear him admit so plainly that he was scared, that he didn't know what to do, or if he had what it would take to recover fully, left Yuri feeling lost and confused himself.

“... You have plenty of money.” He tries lamely, even as he knows it isn't about that at all. He understands when Viktor says skating was his whole life. It was Yuri's too. He wouldn't know what he would do, if he couldn't skate anymore.

He also understands Viktor's pride in his abilities. His desire to keep going, knowing he could. Knowing he was somehow hitting his peak as a competitive ice skater. Why would anyone want to give that up? Especially someone as gifted as Viktor was? You would have to be crazy.

“I don't want to be useless though.” Viktor says.

Yuri doesn't understand why Viktor's talking about himself this way. He doesn't understand how someone that accomplished could think of himself as ever being useless. He tells Viktor as much.

“You won't ever be useless Vitya.” His voice comes out quiet. “And anyway, it's useless to worry about it, because you are going to skate again. If anyone can do it, it's you. You're too much of a stubborn jerk not to!”

Viktor laughs. An actual, genuine laugh this time, frail and short lived as it is.

“... Maybe you're too stubborn to let me do anything less.” He says, and Yuri smirks at him.

“You're damn right, old man.”

Viktor's smile is enough, Yuri thinks, to let him know he hasn't completely fucked this conversation up.

It's enough, he thinks, for now, to know Viktor can smile at all.

Chapter Text

“Come Vitya, are you ready?”

Yakov looks at Viktor, frowning as he takes in the boy's withering appearance, watching his delicate hands tighten over the strap of his backpack, his face turned to the floor and his narrow shoulders hunched.

Never, Yakov thinks, has he ever seen Vitya look so much like the 13 year old boy he is.

It's difficult. He wants to turn away and stamp the memories of the last few hours from his mind. He hates the way they make his own chest tight with pain. The way they make his eyes sting.

Vitya nods, silent, his face gaunt and pale, and oh, he's just a little thing, Yakov thinks. A wisp of a child, and how, he wonders, how could anyone do this to him? Never mind the two people meant to love him without condition.

Just a little more than two hours previous, Yakov had come to the rink, needing to pick up some papers from his office. It had been early. A little before eight in the morning, the sun just barely over the horizon.

The offseason had just started a few days before, and all of his skaters had been given three weeks vacation to just relax, spend time with their families and so on.

Yakov had nearly fallen over in his shock, then, when he'd been walking from his car to the main building, his face turned to the ground, lost in thoughts of all the seemingly endless tasks he had to take care of before his students came back to practice in a few weeks time, and he'd at last glanced up as he'd reached the rink's entrance.

Sitting there, on the ground and huddled against the door, his face buried against his knees, had been Viktor.

Of course, it would be impossible to mistake the boy. His waist length silver hair had given him away, even as it had curtained whatever might have been visible of his face.

At his side had been a worn looking backpack and his skates, and even from a distance of several yards, Yakov had been able to see the boy shivering violently against the still freezing chill of early morning in St. Petersburg, wearing nothing but an old looking, light winter coat, stupidly inadequate for the weather, thread bear jeans torn at the knees, and a pair of Vans sneakers that looked like they were ready to fall apart. No socks.

Yakov had stared for a long moment in shocked disbelief, his mind struggling to provide him with a reason for why his most gifted student, a boy who had just turned 13 years of age less than three months previous, who, just weeks ago, had won silver at the World Junior Championships, losing by less than three points to a boy aged 17, was sitting out here by himself, at 7:53 AM, in the freezing cold, wearing practically nothing and looking completely miserable.

“Vitya?” Yakov calls, his voice low and careful, and he watches at the boy lifts his face suddenly, nakedly surprised.

His vivid blue eyes blink up at him, round and frightened, and Yakov can see them rimmed red, plain signs of him having been crying.

Yakov frowns, a deep sense of unease taking hold of his insides.

“Vitya?” He says again, and he steps closer, until he's standing just in front of his student. “What the hell are you doing out here like this?”

He can see the open scramble in Viktor's expression, struggling for the words as he continues staring up at Yakov, his mouth opening and closing several times, swallowing visibly.

“... I... I...” he stammers.

Yakov reaches down, offering his hand.

“Here.” He says, and after a brief hesitation, Viktor reaches back. Yakov doesn't miss the way his hands tremble like the rest of him, and when his palm rests against Yakov's own, Yakov can feel his eyes go wide at how cold the boy's skin is.

He hauls Viktor up to his feet, and Viktor continues looking up at him with those same, scared eyes, before abruptly he looks away, and his arms come up around himself, an obvious and pitiful attempt to shield his thin frame from the cold.

“How long have you been sitting out here?” Yakov asks, the well of unease in the pit of his stomach growing to something like dread as Viktor hesitates to answer.

“... A... a couple hours, maybe.” He finally admits, his voice so hushed, Yakov almost doesn't hear him.

A couple hours.

That means he'd been out here since dark.

He didn't have a key to the rink, of course, so he'd been stuck out here. Doing what? Waiting for someone to show up and let him in?

Yakov can't understand why. Had he forgotten something at the rink? He could have simply called Yakov and asked him to pick it up for him, in that case.

“How did you get here?” He asks.

“... I walked.” Viktor whispers, and Yakov barely suppresses the curse which jumps to the tip of his tongue.

“You walked?!” He snaps, disbelief and horror warring with each other. “In the dark!?”

Vitya nods, not looking at him, looking almost ashamed.

It wasn't as if Vitya's home was close to the rink either. A good five miles. And at night, the streets weren't exactly safe. Why in the hell would he have... How had he even...?

“... Do your parent's know you're here?” He asks, already dreading the answer.

Viktor shakes his head.

“... They know I left.” He says, voice still a whisper, trembling.

Yakov frowns, hating that he feels no surprise.

“And they let you leave?” He asks, already knowing the answer.

Vitya doesn't reply, but Yakov sees the suddenly devastated expression which flits over the boy's face, and a horrible realization takes hold Yakov's mind.

He shoves it away. Now wasn't the moment to be worrying over the implications of what Yakov was sure was going on. He needed to concentrate on helping Vitya first. He could worry about the rest of it after that.

“Come on.” He starts, reaching into his coat pocket and pulling out his set of keys. “Let's get inside. You need to warm up.”

He can see Vitya visibly relax at that.

He starts to reach for his pack and skates, but Yakov intercepts him, grabbing hold of the belongings himself.

He puts a hand on Vitya's shoulder as he unlocks the door, guiding him inside, and it's a relief as the heated hair hits them. More so for Viktor, Yakov knows, with the way the boy's entire frame seems to slump.

Yakov says nothing as he continues to guide Viktor through the halls, Viktor saying nothing in return, letting himself be led without protest, until they reach the locker rooms.

Yakov leaves the boy standing by the entrance as he moves across the space to the row of lockers lining the back wall, opening the one which he knows contains stacks of fresh, unused competition uniforms.

He takes a moment searching through them, trying to find one which will fit Viktor, finally settling on one that's probably slightly too big, but will have to do for now.

“Here.” He says, going back to the boy. “I want you to go and take a hot shower, and change out of those clothes you've got on and into these ones.”

He holds the sets of clothes out to Vitya, and Vitya takes them wordlessly. He won't look at Yakov, his eyes fixed ahead at some indistinct spot.

“Where the long sleeved tee, once you're out of the shower. You need to warm up.”

Vitya nods, and Yakov watches as he does as he's told, heading back towards the showers.

He waits until he hears the sound of spraying water before he feels comfortable leaving to his office and picking up the papers he'd originally come for.

He takes the time alone to think.

Vitya didn't say it, but from the boy's reaction, and the bizarre circumstances of the whole thing, Yakov is guessing that Vitya's parent's had thrown him out of the house. For what reason, he can't begin to fathom. All he knows is, Viktor's parent's were absolutely capable of acting that cruelly toward their son, if past experience was anything to go by. The fact that they hadn't stopped him from leaving the house so early in the morning, when it was still dark out, told him all he needed to know on that front.

It was something he was going to have to try and find out, eventually, he supposed. The why of it all.

Right now, he needed to concentrate on what he was going to do.

Vitya had no where else to go.

It was why he'd come to the rink, Yakov knows. It was probably the only place Vitya could think to come, even knowing he had no way of getting inside.

The thought of it makes Yakov's stomach twist, a sick feeling closing up his throat.

He couldn't send Vitya home. His parent's had forced him out of the house, onto dark, dangerous streets, in the freezing cold. A 13 year old child. Even if they would accept him back, which Yakov doubted they would for every conceivable reason, Yakov would be insane to let Viktor go back there by himself.

The boy's parents were abusive. There was no other way to put it. They'd been neglecting Viktor for years. Hadn't taken Viktor to a single practice session since he'd been six years old, rarely paid a single ruble for his training or equipment. Never paid for plane tickets to competitions, and certainly never showed up themselves to support their son during those competitions.

They were only too happy, though, to take every ounce of prize money Viktor had won and seal it away in their own, personal bank accounts.

It makes Yakov sick to think of it all.

Vitya was an extraordinary boy. Gifted beyond description, he possessed a breathtakingly innate understanding of the technical aspects of his sport, a deep knowledge and instinct for what was right, impossibly beyond what a child of his age and experience should have. Already the boy had begun to create choreography for his own programs. Truly exceptional, extraordinary choreography. What sort of child could do such a thing? Yakov had wondered many times, and still could hardly fathom the ability he saw, growing daily in Vitya.

Beyond that, Vitya too was an incredibly kind and generous child. Never anything less than gracious, both in victory and defeat. He treated his fellow skaters with the utmost respect and regard, and was unfailingly polite to everyone. Encouraging, helpful, and curious. Yakov swore, Vitya spent as much time asking his fellow rink mates about their routines and training as he did focusing on his own, offering them advice and tips whenever he could. He showed such a genuine interest in other people. On top of all of it, the boy was highly intelligent, and deeply sensitive.

Yakov knew it was that which, beyond his technical brilliance on the ice, had always given Viktor's skating such an otherworldly, extraordinarily emotional power. His ability to so accurately interpret whatever piece of music he was skating to, to find the absolute essence of what his program's themes were about, it was unlike anything Yakov had ever seen, in any skater. Child or adult. The boy was a genius. It wasn't a word he used freely, or lightly. Not a word he'd ever applied to any other of his skaters. But to Vitya, it was the only word to do the boy justice. A true genius. He was going to be the greatest figure skater of all time, Yakov was sure. Completely sure.

Where the boy had gotten those qualities, Yakov has no clue, because it certainly hadn't been from his horrible mother and father.

The unfairness of it all doesn't fail to make itself known to Yakov. That such a brilliant and wonderful child would be fated to such awful circumstances.

So Vitya had no where else to go. No other home. No other family. He knew that from talking to the boy. Any grandparents he might have had, had either never made any attempt at contact with him, or had died.

Viktor was alone then.

There really was only one course of action at this point, Yakov thinks, as he closes the door to his office, locking it up before making his way back to the locker rooms.

The boy would have to live with him and Lilia.

It was fine. Lilia would understand, and there was more than enough room for a third person in their house.

If it came down to any sort of legal battle, well, Yakov had more than enough proof of abuse and neglect on the parent's part to win custody, he thinks.

If he was being honest with himself, though, he doubted the mother and father would even fight for that. They'd never shown themselves to actually care about Viktor at all. The only thing they might do, he thinks, if it came down to it, was that they may try to stake a claim on Viktor's prize money. If they did that, well...

This was all something Yakov could worry about later. Right now, he just had to worry about talking to Vitya, explaining his plan and hopefully getting the boy to agree to it. Getting the boy situated after that.

By the time he gets back to the locker rooms, Vitya is done with his shower, and Yakov finds him sitting on one of the benches, wearing the soft sweat pants and long sleeved t-shirt that's a part of the team uniform, and just pulling on a pair of fresh socks, thank God. The clothes sit a little big on him, but they'll do for now. Until Yakov can get him something that really fits.

The boy looks up when Yakov clears his throat, eyes again wide, and Yakov doesn't like the half-startled reactions he's seeing from the boy. Doesn't like the way he's almost flinching away.

Vitya stands up, self-consciously tugging at the hem of his sleeves, and Yakov studies him carefully a moment.

The boy already looks better. He's no longer trembling, anyway. But his face is still drawn and tired, his eyes still open with pain.

“... How do you feel?” Yakov asks, coming nearer.

“B-better.” Viktor answers softly. “Not as cold...”

Yakov nods.

“Good.”

He sees Viktor glance quickly at him, and then away again. He continues pulling on his sleeves, nervous and unsure.

“... I'm sorry.” He says suddenly, still in that near whisper.

Yakov frowns.

“About what?” He asks, genuinely confused.

Viktor still isn't looking at him, almost like he's ashamed, and Yakov doesn't understand what the boy has to be ashamed about. Doesn't understand what he's apologizing for. If anyone's owed an apology, it's Vitya, from those bastards who had the gall to call themselves his parents.

“... F-for showing up... here.” Vitya says after a long moment, voice, if possible, even quieter. “I... I know I'm not supposed to. I know I'm just causing problems.”

“Vitya...”

“And... and I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I can go. I'll just... it was just that... I... I didn't know where else to go and... I didn't know where else to go...”

“Vitya, listen to me.” Yakov says firmly, stopping the boy, even as his stomach feels like it's twisting itself in knots. Viktor sounded almost on the verge of panic, talking quickly, almost incoherently, and Yakov felt himself starting to be afraid. “You don't have to go. It's alright. Yes? I understand.”

At last Viktor looks up at him, and his eyes are glassy.

“Y-you do?” He asks, and he sounds so much like a child, and Yakov can barely stand it.

He nods.

“Yes.” He answers. “You did the right thing, by coming here.”

He looks at Vitya squarely, pulling in a deep breath.

“You're parents forced you to leave?” He asks. Only it's more of a statement. Of course they did.

Any doubts to that being the case vanish as Vitya's expression twists in pain, and the glassiness of his eyes becomes tears.

He nods weakly, and the tears slip free, down his face.

“... Th-they... they found something out... a... about me...” he stutters out. “S-something they didn't... didn't like. I didn't mean... didn't mean for them to. I didn't mean it...”

Yakov is beginning to feel vaguely alarmed as Vitya's breathes suddenly become more shallow, his voice taking on a gasping quality.

“... I don't understand.” Yakov starts. “Found out what? What could they have possibly found out about you that would make them do this?”

The very notion was absurd. Vitya was a good boy. He never did anything wrong. The worst thing anyone could say about him was that he could sometimes be forgetful. Maybe a little too excitable sometimes. Hyper. That was all.

The change happens suddenly then, Yakov watching, alarm growing, as Vitya's breathing seems to become instantly erratic, his chest rising and falling too rapidly.

He's hyperventilating, Yakov realizes, horrified.

“S-something bad... something really bad...” Vitya gasps, and he's suddenly sobbing, his hands coming up, tugging painfully at the long strands of his hair. “Th-they hate me because of it...”

For a moment, Yakov doesn't know what to do, shocked at the abrupt emotional outburst, when before Viktor had been so subdued.

“Vitya, listen, calm down. Just breathe, yes?” He tries. “Whatever it is, I know it can't be so bad as all that.”

Vitya shakes his head, still pulling at his hair.

“It is!” He cries helplessly.

Yakov steps nearer, closing the rest of the distance between them, and he kneels down in front of the boy.

“Why not let me be the judge of that then? Tell me what it is.” He says, trying to make his gruff voice as soft as possible.

Viktor's breathing is still coming too shallow and rapid, and Yakov reaches out, taking gentle hold of the boy's thin wrists, tugging his hands carefully free of his hair.

“Vitya, please. I promise you, whatever it is, it isn't that bad. I know you. I know you're a good boy.”

“... I do-don't... don't want you to hate me too.” Vitya sobs, and Yakov feels his heart sink to the pit of his stomach, his own eyes burning.

He shakes his head.

“Never Vitya. I could never hate you.”

For long, horrible seconds, the boy says nothing, continuing to gasp for breaths, and Yakov pleads with him still.

“Please Vitya. It's alright.”

And finally, in a voice nearly soundless, hard to understand for how hard it shakes, he hears Vitya speak.

“... I th-think... I think I... I like boys.”

Yakov looks at Vitya a moment, hard and level, and Vitya doesn't look back at him, his face turned to the ground, his entire body trembling. He's terrified.

And there's no surprise in him, Yakov realizes, at what the boy's said.

He had suspected, long before now even. Long before, he's sure, Viktor had realized it himself.

It was Vitya's sensitivity, he supposes. Yakov had always thought the boy simply felt things too deeply. With the same intuitive nature a woman might have. And certainly, Viktor possessed a certain amount of femininity to him. Nothing incredibly obvious. He wasn't effeminate. It was more just that the boy was delicate. Again, the same kind of delicacy one would normally associate with the female sex. Those were all the more subtle tells, Yakov thinks. The sorts of things one would notice only after getting to know Vitya.

On occasion, though, Viktor would behave in ways which made it obvious he was gay. Sometimes the way he carried himself. The way he would react to certain things.

It was those more apparent qualities in his student which had, at times, made Yakov nervous for the boy.

This was Russia.

People didn't like that sort of thing here. They didn't tolerate it, even.

He guesses, deep down, he'd been hoping it wasn't the case then, that Vitya was gay. For the boy's own sake. Even as he'd known, somewhere, that of course he was.

“Okay.” Yakov says, keeping his voice calm and steady. He hopes he sounds reassuring.

“I... I kissed the boy who lives across... across from us. I... I guess my father saw me and... and he was so angry at me...” Vitya blurts, like he hasn't heard Yakov, his voice rambling and confused, and Yakov thinks, even though he'd known Viktor was gay, even though it was alright, it didn't change how frightening this was for the boy. It didn't change how much it was going to cost him. How much it already had. “He was so angry, and I said... I tried telling him I was sorry. I said I was sorry so many times, and I begged him not to tell Mom, b-but he did, and then she was so angry too, and I didn't... d-didn't know what to do then. They both k-kept screaming at me. Th-they said... they said I was a... a d-disgrace to them, th-they said...”

Viktor is sobbing again, shaking terribly, and Yakov has never hated that man and woman more than he does in this very moment. He's never hated them so much.

“It's okay. Vitya. It's okay.”

“They... they hate me.” Vitya cries. “They hate me.”

And Yakov doesn't think of it anymore. He can't.

Viktor was in so much pain, and Yakov could no longer stand it.

He reaches out, pulling the boy towards himself, wrapping his arms around him in a tight hug.

“Vitya, no. No. You listen to me. Those things they said to you, that they told you, don't listen to a word of it. It's all lies. All of it. You hear me? There's nothing wrong with you boy. There's nothing you did wrong. And whatever their approval is, it isn't worth a damn thing. You understand? Their love? Not worth the shit on the ground. So don't you wish for it. It's nothing good. Nothing you should want. They haven't earned the right to call you their son. And they have no right to make you feel these things about yourself. So whether they hate you or love you, it doesn't matter. What they think doesn't matter. What they feel doesn't matter. Do you know why Vitya? Because they're worthless people. The both of them. They're worthless, and they don't deserve your love.”

Viktor clings back to him, his face pressed hard against his shoulder as he weeps brokenly.

“... You d-don't hate me?” Yakov hears him whimper, and it's all he can do to keep himself from bursting into tears.

“No, you silly boy.” He pulls Vitya tighter against him, bringing a hand up to cradle the back of the boy's head. “Never. Never.”

He'd held onto to Vitya for what must have been a solid ten minutes, the boy crying weakly against him, his petite frame seeming boneless, almost frail, reminding Yakov bitterly of how young Vitya was. How horribly unjust, then, that he was being made to go through this.

Eventually, Vitya had begun to calm, and Yakov had taken the opportunity to look the boy over more carefully, making sure he was otherwise alright, before asking him what belongings he had with him, other than his skates.

Vitya had looked at him with fear in his eyes as he'd explained he'd only had time to grab a few things. He'd handed Yakov his backpack then, and Yakov had looked through it, finding the boy's meager belongings to contain a few, used paperback books, a couple of worn out looking t-shirts and a couple of pairs of jeans, as equally worn as the ones the boy had been wearing when Yakov had found him sitting outside.

There were no real essentials, Yakov had realized, and it had made it painfully clear Vitya had been forced to leave the house in a hurry.

Yakov had needed to push his anger down again, instead focusing on trying to remember to go shopping, to pick Viktor up some things he would need, a toothbrush, socks and underwear. Whatever else a boy his age would need or want. He would talk to Lilia later.

He'd handed Viktor his bag back then, and proceeded to tell the boy his intention to bring him home with him, to live there with him and his wife.

Yakov doesn't think he'll ever forget the look on Vitya's face then. The way he'd looked up at Yakov with this terrible mixture of disbelieving hope. Like he wanted so badly to believe it was true, but was too afraid to let himself believe anything good could happen anymore.

“Y-you want me to live with you?” He'd asked.

“Of course.” Yakov had answered.

“... F-for how long?”

Yakov had looked at the boy with his own confusion then.

“How long? Vitya, permanently, of course. You'd be living with us permanently.” He'd answered.

Vitya had looked up at him for a long moment then, and his eyes had filled with tears as he'd thrown himself at Yakov, wrapping his thin arms around him, clinging to him desperately as he again began to weep. And Yakov had realized that Vitya hadn't thought before that moment that he would have anywhere to go. That he would be without a home entirely. And he'd held the boy back then, letting him cry for as long as he needed, struggling against his own, overwhelming emotions. His anger, and his pain, and the suffocating sadness at having to watch this child, this brilliant, wonderful child, suffer like this.

He looks at Vitya now, standing there, gripping his bag. He looks so painfully young, Yakov thinks. The impression made worse by Yakov's thick coat, which he'd forced the boy to wear. The thing was several sizes too large, hanging off Vitya's frame in an almost comical fashion. But it was better protection against the cold than the flimsy windbreaker of the team uniform, and Yakov needed to keep the boy from catching cold out there, if he hadn't already.

He has a thought then, and he hopes maybe it will do a little to cheer the boy. Yakov had never been particularly good at handling children, tending rather to frighten them than sooth. But it would be hard to go wrong with this, he thinks.

“Would you like to stop some place for a hot chocolate? On the way home?”

Viktor smiles at him, if only a little. The first smile he's seen from the boy today. And as he nods, Yakov smiles back.

He was going to make this right, he thinks. Somehow. For Vitya. He would make this right.

//

He would make this right, Yakov thinks.

That was what he had promised himself, then. What, silently, he had promised Viktor.

Looking at Viktor now, lying in the wretchedly familiar hospital bed, propped up like some sort of mannequin by too many pillows, Yakov is reminded only of his bitter failure to keep that promise.

He remembers that day clear as any day in his life. Remembers how Vitya had stood by the front door of his and Lilia house, silent and still as Yakov had talked to his wife in the kitchen, telling her everything that had happened. What Vitya's parents had done to him. Telling her that he wanted Vitya to stay with them, half fearing she might tell him no. And then what was he going to do?

He remembers watching as Lilia's always impassive, even hardened face had suddenly softened, lines of pained emotion standing out stark in her features. He remembers her hand coming to her mouth, and her voice, agonized, as she'd said, “Oh, the child.”

He remembers her moving past him, walking to Vitya and pulling the boy against her in a crushing embrace. Remembers Vitya hugging her back, his thin hands curling into the fabric of her blouse, clinging so desperately his knuckles had drained to white.

He remembers how, for the first several months of his living with them, the boy had barely spoken a word. How he'd almost fanatically performed every task asked of him without question, without complaint, as though he'd been terrified that he and Lilia would somehow change their minds if he said the wrong thing, did the wrong thing, and throw him out to the street too, like his mother and father had.

Yakov remembers once, in those first few weeks, late at night, he'd gotten up to use the bathroom, walking past the room they'd given to the boy, and through the closed door, he'd heard Vitya crying, the sound muffled and broken, as though Vitya had had his hands pressed to his mouth, or his face buried against a pillow, and Yakov had stood there for a moment, listening, heart falling, and not knowing what to do.

He hadn't gone in, he remembers. He hadn't wanted to embarrass the boy. That was the excuse he'd given himself. And so, after a few minutes, he'd moved away, and let Vitya alone.

He wishes, to this day, that he'd chosen differently.

The doctor is here now, bent down at Vitya's side, testing the vision in his right eye.

They'd at last removed the bandages from the surgery on his orbital bone. Yakov had had to look away when they'd pulled the last of the gauze free, and he'd seen the plain scarring marring Vitya's once smooth skin. A nasty snarl of raised, red lines, all twisted together around the socket of the eye, running up along Viktor's temple and disappearing beneath his hairline.

Worse, though, had been the washed out hue of the iris. The once vivid blue faded to a dull gray, bleeding into the pupil. And Yakov had known, before any testing needed to be done, that Viktor was blind in that eye.

God... God...

The grim expression lining the doctor's face only confirms it, as he waves the pen light back and forth in Viktor's eyes.

There's no pupil dilation. Yakov can see that. No response to the light.

The doctor pockets the instrument after a few more passes, and holds up his index finger.

“Follow my finger.” He instructs Vitya, beginning to move the digit, first left, then right. Up and down.

Vitya's left eye is working normally, following the movement without difficulty it seems.

His right eye floats directionless. Unseeing.

Beside him, Yakov can sense the tension in both Yuuri and Yura. They know too, he thinks.

They'd already tested the hearing in Vitya's right ear.

He'd suffered a nearly 50 percent hearing loss, the doctor had said. Yakov had watched as Vitya's hand had tightened over Yuuri's at the news, even as his face had remained stoic.

“Is there any way to get it back?” Yuuri had asked, not bothering to disguise the panic in his voice.

The doctor had told them “possibly”, whatever the hell that meant. That some percentage of the hearing in Vitya's right hear might be regained, but no guarantees could be made. And he'd gone on then to explain how there were “a number of hearing aid options out there, which would be of significant help”, and Yakov had tuned out after that.

A hearing aid, for a 29 year old young man, in the absolute prime of his life. In the prime of his athletic career...

There wouldn't be any sort of help for Vitya's eye. No way to fix it. No way to lessen the blindness.

It was too much.

Too damn much.

“The good news is the reconstructive surgery went well. The healing around the orbital bone seems to have progressed smoothly, so there won't be any kind of permanent disfigurement. Obviously, the scarring looks worse now than it will in a few months. I expect it to fade significantly with time.”

The doctor pauses, gathering the right words, Yakov thinks, for the blow that's coming.

“... Unfortunately, the damage to the retina and optical nerves was severe enough that there appears to be a permanent loss of vision in the right eye. Now this is just an initial assessment, and of course we'll do further testing a little down the road, but... I want to be clear that, with the loss of hearing and vision, both being on the same side, it's likely going to have a significant impact on Viktor's recovery, in terms of things like depth perception and balance and so on. Learning to walk again while lacking those senses, or a significant portion of those senses, is going to be difficult. Not impossible, of course. But it's going to take a lot of work.”

Viktor smiles. He smiles at all of them. At Yakov, and Yuuri, and Yura. He smiles at the doctor.

“It's okay!” He says, bright and hopeful. “We all know hard work here, I think? Yes?!”

Yakov wants to tell him to stop it. To tell him he doesn't have to do this. He doesn't have to act strong for their sakes.

But this is what Vitya does. This is who he is.

He always wanted to make sure everyone else was alright, even when he was anything but.

Yuuri smiles at Vitya, reaching out, cupping his face in his palm.

“Yeah,” he answers softly. “we do.”

Viktor beams at him, and Yakov looks away.

The doctor goes over some more things. More testing to be done, more careful warnings about the difficulty of the road ahead, as if they all didn't understand already. Yakov hardly listens.

He needs to be alone with Viktor. He wants to ask Viktor how he's really doing. He knows it isn't okay, like Viktor said. He thinks Yuuri and Yura probably know that too.

But he also knows that, with those two, there was too much... admiration, maybe. They looked up to Vitya, the both of them. It was unintentional, Yakov knows, but the weight of that admiration put pressure on Vitya.

This is how the boys was.

He would want to show his gratitude for all their support by showing them how it worked. By being strong for them.

But there were still some things, Yakov knows, that Vitya could tell him, that he couldn't tell anyone else. That he could show to Yakov that he couldn't show anyone else.

There was no need for Vitya to live up to some idealized version of himself for Yakov, because Yakov had been there before there ever existed “Viktor Nikiforov, Living Legend of Russian Ice Skating”.

And so, when the doctor is finally finished, and leaves them, Yakov asks gently for both Yura and Yuuri to leave too, so that he can be alone with Vitya for a while.

Neither young man protests, or questions Yakov's request, and Yakov is grateful for that.

He waits until the door clicks softly closed behind them before turning back to Viktor.

He finds the boy looking back at him, still smiling. Only the expression is tight, and Vitya's eyes shine with pain.

He knows why Yakov's sent the other two away.

“What do you feel?” Yakov asks. There wasn't any point in hiding his intention.

A wobbling half laugh escapes Viktor's throat, and he looks away.

“Scared.” He admits bluntly, and Yakov nods.

“It will be alright though.” Viktor goes on after a moment.

Again Yakov nods.

“Yes.” He says.

The air between them falls silent then, and Yakov watches as Vitya fidgets with the material of his bed's sheets. He wants to say something, and Yakov will give him the time he needs to do it.

“... Yuuri and Yura think I can come back, or... they did before.” He finally starts, his voice soft, shaking a little. “... I thought, for a little while, maybe I could too, but... but now...”

He looks up at Yakov again, that same, hurt smile on his face.

“Probably not, huh?” He asks, and Yakov feels his throat tighten, his mouth pulling down at the corners.

Vitya is asking him because he knows he'll be honest, Yakov thinks, and not for the first time does he think being a coach an unenviable job.

“... Probably not.” Yakov answers, and the smile on Viktor's face stays, grows tighter, and he looks away again, nodding.

“... I was doing pretty good this season though, huh?” Viktor says.

“The best you've ever been Vitya.” Yakov answers without reservation, because it was the truth.

Viktor had been miraculous this season. He'd been beautiful.

“... Man, I... I really wanted that fourth Olympic title.” Vitya laughs weakly, still looking away.

“You would have had it.” Yakov says, again, without reservation. Again because it was the truth. Viktor had been too good this season. Too great. Nobody would have beaten him. Nobody could have.

“... Oh well!” Viktor says, too much enthusiasm in his voice. “Someone else will take the title! Someone deserving!”

“Yes.” Yakov says, and he smirks at Vitya. “But whoever it is, they'll always have it in their mind... they'll always know, it should have been yours.”

Viktor looks up at him, eyes wide.

“Oh, Yakov, that's terrible! Don't say that!”

Yakov can feel his smile widen.

“It may be terrible Vitya, but it's true. And you know it.”

“... Maybe.” Viktor says softly, and Yakov knows it isn't false modesty. Viktor had never underestimated his opponents. He'd never been arrogant, despite his dominance.

“... I wish Yuuri and Yura hadn't dropped out of the season. With the Olympics...” He says suddenly, his voice subdued.

“It was their choice.” Yakov tells him. “It's what they wanted.”

“I know. I just...”

Vitya's voice trails off, and Yakov watches him. He wishes he could hug the boy.

“... If I can't skate again... what will I do?” Viktor looks up at Yakov again, and his eyes are over bright, tears standing out clearly in them. He's asking seriously. He wants Yakov to tell him, and Yakov thinks how young Vitya still is.

“... You're more than just a figure skater Vitya.”

“... I am?” Viktor asks, his voice trembling, and the tears slip free, down his cheeks. He asks like he really doesn't know, and Yakov feels his own eyes burn.

“Yes Vitya, you ridiculous boy. Don't you understand how admired you are off the ice? By so many people, how loved you are?”

Only the look on Viktor's face tells Yakov no. He doesn't understand. He doesn't know.

Because it was just who Viktor was, that left people so in love with him. Not any way he tried to be. Not any sort of affectation. Just who he was. How he was. Generous, and caring, and, at times, almost frighteningly intuitive about other people and what was going on with them.

His effect on people had never been something calculated. He made you feel noticed because he did notice you. He'd always noticed everybody. That was just how Vitya was.

Yakov shakes his head. He can't bear to see the doubt on Vitya's face anymore. And so he steps nearer, reaching out and taking hold of the boy's hands. He squeezes them gently.

“Vitya, listen to me. You remember days when nothing seemed to be right, yes? When you couldn't seem to get your jumps right, or your step sequences were coming out all wrong, or the attention of the media was too big, or they would say something ugly about you? Remember what I would tell you on those days? Remember what I would say?”

Viktor looks up at him with desperate eyes. He looks so much like he did that day, when he'd been a 13 year old child, and he'd been so alone.

“I would tell you Vitya, one day at a time. Yes? Don't think about whether you'll skate again or not. What you'll do if you can't. Think about today. And then, when it comes, tomorrow. One day at a time, yes?”

Viktor nods, looking up at him still.

“... Yes.”

Yakov smiles at him.

“That's my boy.” He reaches up, placing a gentle hand atop Viktor's head. “That's my brave boy.”

Chapter Text

Viktor thinks he should know better.

How many times had father told him he wasn't allowed in the study? More times than can be remembered, that's certain.

He isn't allowed. He isn't allowed a lot of things. But he isn't allowed in the study most especially. It's where father works. And father hates when his work is disturbed.

But mother's in there too now, and Viktor just has to show somebody. He has to.

He peeks in through the crack left open between the two sliding doors, and sees mother and father, father at his big, oak desk, bent over a bunch of papers, writing, with mother sitting in one of the big, worn chairs in the corner.

She's talking to father. They're discussing money again, it sounds like.

Viktor knows they don't have a lot. But he doesn't think they're poor either. He guesses they're what's called middle class. That's what the other children at school call it.

Viktor really does think he should know better. Mother sounds unhappy, her voice taking on that sharp, short tone it always does when her and father are fighting. They fight all the time, it seems like. But... but maybe, when they see what he can do, it will make them happy, he thinks. Maybe they'll be proud of him...

He should know better, but he doesn't, and he pushes one of the sliding doors open and steps into the study.

He stands there for what must be almost a minute, and neither mother or father seem to even know he's there. Neither of them look at him, or tell him to get out.

It gives Viktor courage, and he steps farther in, a smile tugging at his lips as he thinks of how proud they'll be, mother and father, when they see what he can do!

“Viktor, what are you doing in here?!” Mother finally notices him.

Viktor doesn't notice the sharp tone of her voice now. He's too excited. He knows they'll be proud. He knows it.

“I can do a double axle!” He announces without preamble. Yakov assures him that it's extremely impressive, for a seven year old boy to be able to do such a jump, and so well.

“Get him out of here.” Father mutters, but Viktor doesn't really hear him, because he has to show them, he has to show somebody, and they'll be so proud, when they see.

“Look!” He demands, and he pulls his body into the correct form, before leaping into the air, spinning tight, two times, and landing softly on his toes, his other leg stretching straight and arching with the momentum of the rotations, his arms out at his sides, fingers stretched and pointed. Good form, he knows. Lilia tells him he has the best form she's ever seen on any ice skater his age. As good as any ballet dancer within his age range too, even older.

Viktor's lips are pulled in a wide grin as he comes back around, facing mother and father, and they'll be so proud of him. He knows it. His heart beats and swells with anticipation for the happiness he'll see on their faces.

“How was that!?” He asks, voice raised with his own excitement.

Only, he feels it die in his throat as he sees the look in mother's and father's eyes.

They're looking at him. Both their faces are lined in severe anger, their eyes shining with it, and Viktor's excitement shrivels, replaced a sudden with sickening fear, his stomach knotting tight and horrible.

He blinks up at them, and then father is standing.

His hands come slamming down on top of his desk, the loud bang making Viktor flinch violently back, and he knows better now. He knows better then to come into the study when he isn't allowed.

He tries to apologize, but his voice is trapped in his throat. Tries to leave, but he's frozen, and his legs won't work suddenly. Nothing will.

“Get OUT!” His father screams, his voice deafeningly loud, and tears spring to Viktor's eyes. He can't move. He can't. He tries, but he can't.

And then mother is up, and she's coming at him, and she grabs his wrist hard enough to hurt, and drags him out of the room.

And she drags and drags him, down the hall, through the living room and into the kitchen, and Viktor is too frightened to do anything, struggling to keep from falling because she's walking too fast and he can't keep up.

She stops, her hand around his wrist grasping harder, and Viktor whimpers at the pain.

And then mother is crouching down in front of him, her hands grabbing his arms, squeezing tight like on his wrist, and she's shaking him. Shaking him and shaking him and screaming in his face.

“You idiot child! How many times?! How many times does your father have to tell you to stay out of the study!? You must be the stupidest boy in the world! Are you trying to ruin everything?! Are you deliberately trying to ruin our lives!?”

Viktor can't answer. She's shaking him so hard he can't even see, his head snapping back painfully with the motion. He's crying. Desperate, broken sobs which jumble and tremble out of his throat, and he wants to tell her no, no, he isn't trying to ruin anything. He doesn't want to ruin anything. He loves mother and father. He loves them so much, and he just wanted them to love him too. That's all. That's all he wanted.

Mother stops shaking him, but the world is still spinning in fast circles, and Viktor's knees give out, collapsing him to the floor.

Mother says something else. He can't understand her. But he can tell her voice is still so angry.

He keeps crying, and tries telling her no, no, he doesn't want to ruin anything, he doesn't mean to.

He doesn't realize until the world stops spinning that mother's not even there anymore.

She left, went back to father.

It takes a long time for Viktor to stop sniveling. Takes even longer for him to pick himself up off the floor and go to his room.

He doesn't see mother or father for the rest of the day. Goes to bed when the sun goes down and doesn't know if anyone else is even home.

//

“So this is what you are then.”

There's a tone in his father's voice like he's always known, and unfiltered, naked disdain. His eyes shine with disgust as they fix on him, glowing with rage, lips curled like he feels sick revulsion, just to look at his son.

Viktor has never known more that his father hates him.

He feels afraid. He thinks father may hurt him this time. Really hurt him.

He shakes in the man's hold, powerful fingers closing painfully over his wrist, threatening to bruise, and Viktor doesn't dare to try and pull away.

“A fucking queer.”

Viktor tries to blubber out an apology. Something. Anything to make father let him go. To make him stop looking at him like he is.

Whatever words he'd been trying to get out die in his throat as father jerks him forward, dragging him up the walkway, towards the front door of their house.

The boy, Alexei, had run off the moment father had appeared.

When he'd kissed Viktor, there'd been a feeling of warmth in the pit of his stomach. Fluttering butterflies, and Viktor had felt giddy with happiness.

He'd liked Alexei for a long time now. Had wanted so much to talk to him. Alexei was a little older. Maybe a year and a half. He'd moved into the building across the street about six months ago, and Viktor had been taken with him ever since. He'd thought Alexei was so handsome. Tall, with gorgeous blonde hair and green eyes, and mature, masculine features. Viktor had been fascinated with the boy's facial hair. Viktor's own face was as smooth now as when he'd been a very little boy. He couldn't grow anything close to a beard or mustache. Not that he really wanted to. He'd sit at his bedroom window sometimes, hoping to catch a glimpse of Alexei out on the street, practically pressing himself against the pane of glass when he would.

He can't recall the number of times he'd tried working up the courage to go over and introduce himself. He'd never managed to though.

And so he'd nearly fainted with shock when, just a short while ago, today, he'd been sitting out on the front stoop of his home, reading a book, enjoying the unusually warm early March weather, when he'd heard someone say hello, and he'd looked up to find Alexei standing there, smiling at him.

Viktor had gaped, too stunned to speak, voice lodging suddenly in his throat, words and thoughts scattering uselessly anyway.

“You're Viktor Nikiforov, right?” Alexei asked next, and Viktor's brain had finally decided to start working properly again.

He'd nodded weakly, his voice still trapped inside him.

Alexei's smile somehow had grown broader, even as Viktor was sure he must have looked like a complete idiot.

He'd felt overwhelmed and confused, not understanding how it was this beautiful boy who'd he'd never even spoken a word to knew who he was.

“I saw you compete at Junior Worlds, on TV. You were amazing!” Alexei had told him as if reading his thoughts.

“... Y-you did?” Viktor had managed, and then there'd been a feeling of something warm in his chest, something like giddy disbelief, that the boy who he'd nearly convinced himself he loved had seen him compete on television. Had seen him take home a silver medal then. That he'd just told Viktor that he thought he was amazing.

Alexei had nodded, still grinning at him.

“Sure! You're a beautiful skater! I'm Alexei, by the way.”

Alexei had held out his hand, and Viktor hardly remembers lifting his own to shake it.

The afternoon had bled into early evening over the course of the next few hours, Alexei having joined him on the stoop of his house. They'd talked and talked, and Viktor's heart had soared. Had felt like it was swelling, and beating hard enough to break right out of his chest.

He'd thought it would just about explode when, just as the sun was beginning to go down past the horizon, Alexei had reached out, had taken hold of Viktor's hand, squeezing it gently. He'd leaned in closer, his breath hot against Viktor's face. And then his lips had been on Viktor's, and Viktor had sat frozen for a moment, shocked and mind blank, because Alexei was kissing him. He was kissing him! And no one had ever done that before. Not like this. Not on the mouth.

It had taken too long for Viktor to realize what was happening, and Alexei had pulled away, his face, for the first time, uncertain, looking back at Viktor almost fearfully.

“... I'm sorry, was that...?” He had started.

Viktor had felt his eyes go wide, and he'd started shaking his head.

“No! No, I... I liked it.” He had said, and had hated the way his voice had shaken. How small it was.

The kids at school called him names. Viktor wasn't stupid, or naive. He knew what the names meant.

Faggot. Queer. Homo.

He hated most of all that they weren't wrong. He was all of those things they called him. He'd known it for a while, now. Had tried, for a long time, to make it different. Tried convincing himself he liked girls instead...

He'd sat in his room and cried into his pillow when he'd finally admitted to himself he couldn't change. That he felt nothing when he looked at girls like he did when he looked at boys...

He'd stared at himself in the mirror the next morning, and said to his blotchy reflection...

“You're gay.”

It had felt like the end of the world.

It still does.

And he wonders now if the feeling will ever go away. If any of this will ever be okay.

He doesn't think so.

He's so scared all the time.

He'd kissed Alexei back, because he was weak, and it had felt good. So good.

And then father had come home from work, and had seen them, and he'd taken hold of Viktor's wrist and yanked him up into the air, screaming at Alexei to leave.

Viktor had been too terrified and confused by the sudden disruption to even notice if Alexei had said anything, or what his face had been like. All he knows is that Alexei had left, and father is dragging him into the house, and he's stumbling over his words, saying he's sorry over and over and his father doesn't answer him at all.

Pulling him past the front door, his father jerks him up, putting a hand between his shoulder blades and shoving him forward, hard enough that Viktor nearly falls.

“Nadia!” Father calls out, grasping hold of Viktor again, and Viktor feels panic crush down on his heart.

“No!” Viktor cries, realizing what's happening. “Please father, d-don't! Don't tell her, please!”

“Shut up!” Father snaps at him, voice filled with disgust, and Viktor's voice dies in his throat. He goes limp in father's hold.

“What?” Mother emerges from the kitchen, standing in the threshold of the entryway. Her eyes are cold and tired as they move over father first, before dropping to Viktor, still held in his grip. “What did he do now?” She asks, sounding almost bored.

Again father shoves Viktor forward.

“You tell her.” He says.

Viktor stands there between them, and he doesn't know what to do. He feels sick, heart pounding and head dizzy with fear.

He doesn't say anything, and he hears mother sigh in annoyance.

“Just tell me Vasyl.” She says, voice flat and uninterested. “I don't want to waste any more time waiting for him to stammer it out.”

Viktor feels his arm taken hold of again, yanking him back, and he's barely able to swallow down his own, pained gasp.

“Tell her, you disgusting little pervert!” Father hisses against his ear.

Viktor bursts into sobs and he can't even help it, fear loosening his tears and gasping breaths, body trembling.

He hears his father scoff, the sound full with repulsion.

“Your son is a damned queer!” He spits.

Viktor watches the color drain right out of mother's face, her eyes widening in shock as they fall on him.

Shame chokes his throat. He begins to cry harder.

“What are you talking about?” She asks, eyes still fixed on Viktor, and he can't look back at her anymore. He sees the horror in her eyes, like she's looking at a monster.

“I found the little bastard sitting out front, kissing another boy on the mouth!” Father tells her, voice nearly breaking with his rage. “I fucking told you about him, didn't I?! I knew there was something wrong with him! With his fucking hair like a girls, and all this prissy ice dancing shit!”

For long moments, mother doesn't say anything, and Viktor can still feel her gaze on him, the weight of it making him feel small and exposed and he wishes he could just disappear then. Wishes, in that moment, that he didn't exist at all.

“... Is that true Viktor?” She finally speaks, and her voice is frighteningly calm.

He begins bumbling apologies again, trying to explain that he didn't mean to kiss Alexei, he didn't. It just happened, and he didn't think about it when it did and he was sorry. He was so, so sorry.

He keeps going, keeps stumbling and begging and his parents don't say anything at all, his mother watching him with impassive, dead eyes, father behind him, silent as a tomb.

Until Viktor collapses to his knees, energy drained with the overwhelming fear and desperate excuses.

The silence of the room is deafening in his ears, and he lifts his hands, tangling them in his hair.

“... You have until morning to get out.” Father says behind him. “You need to be gone by five. If you're still here by then, I won't be held responsible for what happens.”

More desperate begging from him. He didn't think he had any more tears, but they fill his eyes, blinding him and he begs and begs and says he's sorry, he's sorry, he's sorry.

“You're a disgrace.” Mother says, voice as dead as her eyes. She hates him too, Viktor thinks. Like father. He's never known so well that they both hate him now. “We won't have a perversion living under this roof. We'd made that clear, I thought. And yet here we are Viktor. It's unnatural. A sin against God. And we can't have someone like you here. We can't be seen with someone like you.”

Viktor doesn't move. Doesn't say a word.

What is there to say? They hate him. Mother and father, they hate him. Maybe they always have. He guesses, probably, they always have.

It hurts inside his chest. A pressure like suffocating, blood rushing, cracking in his ears, and he doesn't even know what to call this. What he's feeling. Horrible. It's horrible. Thinks, it would be easier to die, than to feel whatever this is.

“I'm sorry...” he says again, voice small and weak and he doesn't even know if they hear it.

“You have until five.” Father says. “You're disgusting Viktor. You should know that.”

“... I'm your son.” Viktor whispers.

“You're no son of mine.” Father spits, vicious. “I'm ashamed I ever called you that.”

//

“I know it's cluttered.” Yakov says. “We'll get it sorted out tomorrow, so you can have more space.”

Viktor's eyes move over the small space, filled with boxes, stacks of books and too much furniture. There's a bed pressed into the corner, already fixed with sheets and a blanket, and Viktor's never felt more grateful.

He'd thought... he'd thought today, this morning, when he'd been thrown out by mother and father, he'd thought there was no where for him to go.

The rink had been the first place to cross his mind, and so he'd walked the five miles to it, not knowing what to do. He didn't have a key, and in the back of his mind, he'd known there was no way for him to get in. Yakov and the rest of the staff would be gone for the day. Wouldn't be back until the weekend was over.

The fear which had been sitting in the pit of his stomach had begun to grow worse as the freezing cold of early March had begun to seep into his bones, and he'd realized he had no shelter from it. He'd thought, for a moment, he could call Yakov. Tell him where he was. What had happened, or... tell him something. Tell him he was in trouble. But then he'd remembered he didn't have a cell phone. Mother and father had never allowed him to get one. He didn't have any money either. He'd been forced to leave so quickly, he'd hadn't thought to bring any. So he couldn't even use a pay phone.

Halfway to the rink, and he'd begun to cry, the fear rising into a kind of awful panic which made it feel like he couldn't breathe. He'd thought, really thought for a while, that he might die, out in the blistering Russian cold.

When Yakov had shown up outside the rink, Viktor had nearly burst into sobs at the sight of him, he'd been so relieved.

Viktor doesn't know what he would do without Yakov. He doesn't know. He doesn't know.

“Thank you.” He says now, because he doesn't know what else to say. It isn't enough, he thinks. He's never been able to give Yakov enough back for the kindness he's shown.

He feels Yakov's hand land on his shoulder, and he doesn't think, just turns and throws his arms around his coach's waist, hugging him desperately.

He feels Yakov stiffen, like he always does when Viktor hugs him. But he doesn't push Viktor away. He never does. And after a moment, he feels Yakov's arms come around him, holding him back.

“It's alright.” Yakov says above him, and Viktor presses his face against Yakov's chest, and he can't say anything more.

//

Viktor has recently turned fifteen years old. Has even more recently won the World Junior Championships, and has decided to celebrate both by going to a dance club and getting plastered on Vodka.

He hadn't really planned on hooking up with anyone. Hadn't planned on what he's doing now, making out with someone in the back alley of that club, both of them drunk and kissing each other desperately.

The guy he's with is older. Said he was 28 or 29. Viktor can't remember exactly. Viktor had lied and said he was 18, though he doesn't think the guy believes him. He doesn't look 18. He doesn't even look 15, really. Most people who meet him think he's more like 13.

Viktor's made out with other boys before. Not many. But a few. He's never been drunk like this. Not even close.

The guy, Viktor's trying to remember his name, has him pressed up against the brick wall of the building, one hand tangled in his long hair, tugging at his scalp, his other gripping Viktor's hip.

Viktor can feel him kneading at the skin there, nails digging into flesh.

Viktor doesn't know what to do with his hands, so he loops his arms around the guys neck.

The few times he's made out haven't really been like this either.

He's kissed some boys. Other skaters in his division, mostly. One boy he'd met at a record shop.

He's never done more than that. Just kissing.

He's never had a guy stick his tongue in his mouth, like this guy's doing to him now.

He guesses he likes it. His heart is beating hard in his chest, and he feels a little scared, but he likes the way it feels, and he lets the guy push him more flush against the wall, the weight of his hips pinning him back.

“God, you're fucking beautiful...” the guys breathes against his mouth. The stench of liquor fills his nostrils. He doesn't give Viktor a chance to say anything back, shoving his tongue past his teeth again. His hand at Viktor's hip grips hard, the hand in his hair pulling almost painfully now.

He pushes forward, hips grinding over Viktor's front, and something unpleasant churns in Viktor's stomach.

He thinks, for a moment, through his fog addled brain, that he doesn't want to be here.

But he doesn't do anything. He's fifteen now. He should have more experience, he thinks.

He hears some of the other skaters at the rink talking sometimes. Most of them have boyfriends and girlfriends already. Most of them have already had sex.

The guy's hand in his hair is starting to really hurt now though, and Viktor's starting to feel a little dizzy. He doesn't like how pressed up against the wall he is, the feeling suffocating and trapped.

Another hard squeeze over his hip, and he feels the guy's hand move away, thick fingers suddenly at the waistband of his pants, fumbling with and slipping past the elastic, dipping down.

Viktor stiffens, the unpleasant turn in his stomach abruptly worsening to something closer to panic.

He unhooks his arms, lifting a hand and pressing it against the guy's chest.

He's bigger than Viktor. Taller, heavier, and he doesn't move back at all.

The hand in his hair lets go, moving to Viktor's neck, gripping the nape with too much pressure, and Viktor feels the fingers at his waistband work all the way past, inside his pants, and suddenly the guy's got his hand in his crotch, cupping and grabbing at him roughly, and the feeling in his stomach explodes into naked fear.

No... he doesn't want this.

The thought breaks through the fog in his mind.

He has both hands on the guys chest now, pushing at him and trying to turn his face away from the increasingly aggressive kisses.

“No...” he manages to get out.

“Oh, come on baby,” the guy says. He laughs, his breath hot and stinking against Viktor's face, his hand in his crotch groping more persistently. “let's fuck.”

“No, I said no...” Viktor tries again, fear ratcheting up as the realization of his situation dawns on him. “Get off, please...”

The man laughs again.

“You're so fucking hot. How's a guy get as beautiful as you anyway? Like a woman.”

He crowds in against Viktor, trying to pin him harder against the wall, and Viktor's panic erupts into blinding terror.

“I said NO!” He cries, and shoves with all of his strength against the man's chest.

The man stumbles back, hitting the wall behind him, his face shocked.

Viktor stands frozen a moment, surprised at his own strength, looking back at the man, watching as the initial shock twists into anger.

“Hey, what the fuck's your problem?!” He snaps. “I thought you wanted it!”

Viktor can only shake his head. He can already feel the tears threatening behind his eyes. The familiar, horrible burning.

The man's mouth screws up in unhidden hatred.

“Fuckin' stupid bitch.” He mutters. “You pretty boys are all the damn same. Think you're better than everyone. Think you can just fuck with people and get away with it.”

Viktor shakes his head again.

“... I wasn't... I'm sorry, I just... I didn't want...” he stammers, not even sure what he's trying to say.

“Fuck off.” The man cuts him off, and suddenly he's leaving, stalking away with quick strides, leaving Viktor alone in the alleyway.

Viktor watches him go, the adrenaline in his blood quickly fading, and suddenly he feels sick, his head spinning and light.

He tries turning, and his knees give out under him, dropping him to the pavement. The surge of bile happens too quickly up his throat to stop, and he throws up all over the ground, with it an ugly, wretched sob.

He's drunk, the world spinning in circles around him. He needs to get back to the hotel, he thinks vaguely, but he's not even sure he can walk straight.

His phone, he remembers then.

Yakov had given him a phone, not that long ago. Had told him to use it for emergencies.

This seemed like an emergency. He thinks. He thinks maybe it's one.

He falls back against the wall behind him, hands trembling as he reaches into his pants pocket, relief flooding him when he feels the hard casing of the cell.

It takes several attempts to fish it out, the pockets too tight. And then he has to try and remember Yakov's number. His thoughts are all jumbled together.

When he does, his fingers don't seem to want to work right, shaking over the phone's buttons, pressing the wrong ones again and again, forcing him to have to keep starting over. The little screen is blurry and hard to read.

Finally he manages it, bringing the cell to his ear.

“... Vitya?” Yakov's gruff voice comes over the line, and Viktor starts sobbing again. He can't help it.

“Vitya! What's wrong?! What's happening?!” Yakov starts, alarm clear in his voice.

“... I need help.” Viktor barely manages to blubber out, he's crying so hard.

“Alright.” Yakov says, voice steady and calm. “Vitya, tell me where you are.”

Viktor struggles to remember the address, instead telling Yakov the name of the club. Tells him he's sitting on the ground, in the alley out back.

“Alright. I'm coming to get you.”

“... I'm drunk.” Viktor sobs weakly, scared and confused. He doesn't want Yakov to hate him.

“That's alright.” Yakov says. “Just stay where you are. Don't move. Don't try to walk back to the hotel. I'll be there soon. Yes?”

Viktor nods.

“Okay.” He answers.

“I'll be there soon.” Yakov tells him one last time before the line goes dead.

Viktor isn't sure how much times passes.

He sits there, and he feels cold and sick and scared, staring at the ground in front of him. He doesn't like what had happened with that guy. He doesn't understand how he'd even gotten into that situation with him. Thinking about it makes him feel like he's going to throw up again.

Somebody puts their hand on his shoulder suddenly and Viktor starts badly, panic clamping down on his heart.

“It's me Vitya.”

He looks up, and it's Yakov standing there, and Viktor starts sobbing again because he's a stupid little kid and he's so relieved to see his coach that he can't do anything else.

Yakov doesn't say anything, simply kneeling down and wrapping Viktor in a tight hug.

“I'm sorry... I'm sorry...” Viktor cries against his shoulder desperately.
Yakov's hand comes up against the back of his head, holding him there.

“It's alright.” He says. “It's alright Vitya.”

//

Yakov thinks, as he watches Vitya’s face light up with his blinding bright smile, his eyes glowing with a happiness he hasn’t seen in the boy in a long time, that this might actually have been a good idea.

Viktor looks up at him. He’s nearly Yakov’s height now. Only maybe an inch shorter. His smile splits into a helpless grin, and his eyes look too bright suddenly, shimmering with threatening tears. He clasps his hands under his chin, and when he speaks, his voice is breathless, almost gasping.

“Do I…?” He starts, then trails off, like he isn’t sure what he means to ask. “Are we, I mean…”

Yakov nods.

“Yes, boy. We’re letting you adopt an animal. Whichever you like.”

He and Lilia had been discussing it over the last, few weeks. Letting Viktor adopt a pet.

Vitya’s birthday was tomorrow, and the boy had been having such a rough time of it the last year. Well, he’d been having a rough time of it his whole life, Yakov thinks bitterly.

Viktor was lonely. He had no real friends. There was Georgi, of course, but he and Vitya were rink mates. Outside of their interaction during training, Yakov knew the two of them never really spoke. And at school, Viktor was often bullied for what he did. For his long hair. For being gay. It was often terrible for the boy. He put on a brave face, but Yakov and Lilia both knew he was struggling. It was common now for Viktor to grow listless, sitting and staring into the distance, troublingly unaware of his surroundings and unresponsive to conversation. The contrast of that listlessness to his usual energy and excitement was concerning, and often left Yakov feeling helpless and angry. Sometimes Yakov would find Viktor crying, hold up in his room, a pillow hugged to his chest, tears sliding silent down his face.

He didn’t know how to help the boy.

It was Lilia who had suggested a pet.

“They have, what is it called… therapy dogs? They’re supposed to help with these sorts of things.” She’d said.

These sorts of things, yes. There was a word for it. But here in Russia, it was rarely spoken. Looked upon with a kind of mocking derision, or even whispered about like some kind of scandal.

Viktor lets out a squeal of delight, and before Yakov can react, the boy has his arms thrown around him, hugging him tight and desperate. Yakov lifts a hand, patting him along the back. He feels his heart constrict, an odd mixture of fondness and fear. Viktor gave himself away when he acted like this. But this is who Viktor was.

He was such a sweet, gentle boy.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Viktor cries against his shoulder. “Oh, thank you Yakov!”

“It’s nothing.” He insists, still clapping the boy along the back. “Now, let’s go and have a look, yes?”

Viktor nods, finally loosening his embrace.

He steps back, looking up at Yakov with such naked gratitude, that Yakov has to look away.

He hates when Vitya looks at him like that. Like he’s given the boy his only reason in life to live.

//

Viktor labors over which animal to adopt. He loves all of them. He says so with each dog and cat they meet. It’s a kind of torture for the boy, that he can only take one of the animal’s home. Yakov can see Vitya struggling, his eyes glassy at the thought that he can’t help all of them.

He should have anticipated this, Yakov thinks, bringing his hand to the bridge of his nose, massaging gently. Viktor was so sensitive. He felt too deeply sometimes.

“I wish I could take them all home with me.” Viktor says again, and he seems almost miserable, looking around helplessly. He stops at each cage, bending and talking to each animal, sticking his thin fingers through the mesh fencing and holes in plastic.

“I know Viktor. But you know it can only be one.” Yakov reminds him.

Viktor nods, looking downcast.

“They’re all so wonderful.” He says quietly. “They all deserve a good home.”

“I know.” Yakov repeats.

He doesn’t rush Viktor. It would only upset the boy if he did. He stands, trying to remain patient as Viktor continues to struggle with his decision.

Finally, after an hour of looking and visiting with every animal in the place, Viktor decides.

It’s a puppy. A standard poodle, the attendant tells them. Yakov isn’t really surprised by the choice. The dog had lit up bright as a star when they’d passed by her cage, leaping up onto her hind legs and pressing against the fence, yipping happily.

Viktor had stopped, kneeling down and pressing up against the other side, hooking his fingers through the fencing, matching the dog’s excitement. He’d laughed joyfully when the puppy had licked at his fingers, and had sat there for a good fifteen minutes, cooing at and talking to the dog in French.

“She’ll get a lot bigger.” The attendant warns as she opens up the cage. Viktor either doesn’t hear her or doesn’t care, his arms opening wide as the poodle comes barreling out and leaps against his chest. Viktor scoops her up, hugging her against him, pressing his cheek to the top of her head.

Yakov feels his heart twist as he watches.

Poor boy, he thinks. Poor, lonely boy.

//

Viktor names the puppy Makkachin, and goes absolutely nowhere without her; loves her with the kind of ardent devotion anyone who really knows him would absolutely expect.

He walks her three times a day. Takes her on his runs. Washes her in the bath once a week. Insists of feeding her only the best food. Brushes her every day. Spends all his free time talking to her, playing with her, throwing the ball to her in the park near the rink. Brings her with him to practice, and gives her endless hugs and kisses before having to leave her in the locker room. During his breaks from the ice, he goes and visits her. Lets her sleep up on his bed every night, and Yakov finds him with his arms wrapped around her every morning when he goes to rouse the boy.

Vitya gives Makkachin his heart, whole and open. Makkachin, to her great credit, loves Vitya back with just as much, unshakable devotion.

She is the boy’s best friend.

Yakov watches them, and thinks how Vitya has given his heart to so many people in the same way. He thinks, what a great indictment of their species then, when it is a dog who is the only one who so far has proven worthy of that love.

//

“Come on. Come on, boy.”

“No. Nooo, Y-Yakooov, I d-don't...”

Yakov sighs, pausing a moment, his arms around Viktor's waist as he holds him up from behind.

The boy is completely plastered, and in bad shape.

It had been that Christoph boy to call Yakov this time, begging him to come to some new club they were at and get Viktor. He'd sounded almost frantic over the phone, saying Viktor was acting strange and erratic, vacillating between fits of laughter and fits of crying.

It was the usual, Yakov had gathered. Some guy who'd been flirting with Viktor all night had walked out on him after making the poor boy think he was interested, and Viktor had taken it badly, as he always did.

When Yakov had arrived at the club, the Christoph boy had been waiting for him at the entrance, and Yakov had felt grateful to him for leading him through the damned place to where Viktor was. He doesn't think he would have ever found him on his own, the club too filled up with dancing, sweaty bodies and ear shattering music blaring over the speakers. Yakov couldn't figure out how anyone was supposed to even think in a place like this, let alone try and hook up with someone else.

Viktor had been slumped at the bar, his head laying against the counter, his hand loosely wrapped around an empty shot glass.

The Christoph boy had shaken him by the shoulder, seeming to rouse from a half stupor of sleep, and Yakov had been able to immediately see what rough shape Vitya was in, his eyes obviously glassy and blood shot, even in the darkened lighting of the club.

“Yaaakooovv!” He'd slurred, a big, goofy grin spreading across his face when, after a few, long seconds of staring, he'd finally recognized his coach.

He'd tried standing, probably to try and give Yakov a hug, and he'd ended up falling forward, Yakov catching him as he tumbled off the stool, a dead weight in his arms.

That's all it had taken to make the poor boy burst into sobs, crying helplessly against Yakov's chest.

“Vitya, come on,” Yakov had tried, shoving away his own frustration and hurt at seeing the boy like this again. “let's get you back to the hotel.”

Viktor had protested, like he always did when this happened.

“Nooo...” he'd whined pitifully. “N-no, he s-said... said he wanted to t-take me home w... with him. S-said he th... thought I was b-beautiful Yakooov, he s-said...”

They all said that. All the bastards who did this to Vitya.

Vitya had never understood. He couldn't understand why someone would lie like that. Couldn't understand how his fame and open homosexuality made him a target. He was too damn trusting. Too desperate for some kind of real affection. For companionship.

It made Yakov sick to his heart, just to think of it, and he'd tried shoving the feelings down as he and the Christoph boy had struggled to get Viktor out of the club and into Yakov's car.

The ride back to the hotel had been a bizarre mix of Viktor sobbing brokenly in the passenger seat and passing out against the window, and Yakov had nearly had to carry him bodily into the hotel elevator and then to his own room.

He has him in the bathroom now, trying to get him to agree to a shower. It isn't going well.

“Please Vitya, just... here, we need to get you out of these clothes. Let me help you.”

He moves Viktor towards the toilet, trying to maneuver him to sit on the lid. Viktor struggles and pulls weakly at Yakov's hold, fighting him the entire way. He's too drunk to be very effective though, thank God. Yakov knows he would never have the strength to hold Viktor still if the boy was sober.

He manages to seat Viktor down, and it only takes him pushing the boy's arms down a few times before Viktor gives in, slumping limply, his head lolling forward until his chin is nearly touching his chest, and Yakov sets about undressing him, fumbling a moment with the tiny buttons of Viktor's shirt.

It's a miracle, really, Yakov thinks, how smoothly the rest of it goes, and he's got Vitya up again, naked now, an arm around the boy's slim and powerful waist, one of Viktor's arms slung over Yakov's shoulders as he guides him to the shower stall.

Vitya continues to babble about the guy at the club, and Yakov ignores him as he struggles to keep hold of Viktor while he turns on the shower spray, testing the temperature for a few, long seconds, before directing Viktor beneath the water.

Viktor, predictably, wails in shock and tries to stumble away, but Yakov pushes him back, following him into the stall and keeping him there.

“It's f-freezing... it's fr-freezing...” Viktor complains weakly, voice trembling, and Yakov takes hold of him by the upper arms, frowning.

“You need to sober up a little.” He tells the boy sternly, refusing to yield to the sudden, awful desire to give in and let Vitya alone to wallow. “Come then, don't whine.”

Viktor sniffles pathetically, fresh tears slipping down his cheeks, washing away with the spray of water, and Yakov can feel when his knees give out.

He sinks to the floor of the stall with Viktor, keeping his hold on him tight.

Viktor begins to cry in earnest again, and Yakov reaches up, his heart like a dead weight pressing against his ribs as he pushes his hand through the boys soaked hair, up off his face.

“... I'm sorry.” Viktor weeps brokenly. “I'm sorry. I'm sorry...”

“... It's alright.” Yakov answers tightly, his throat feeling closed up, eyes stinging. “It's alright Vitya.”

“... I... I'm such an i-idiot... I'm so s-stupid...”

Yakov shakes his head.

“No.”

“... I th-thought... I thought he liked me. I really thought...”

“He doesn't deserve you Vitya. Whoever the hell he is. He isn't worth all this sadness boy. Please.”

He watches as Viktor reaches a hand up, his long fingers twisting in the long strands of his hair, tugging painfully as he face lines in naked misery.

“... Is... is there something wrong with me Yakov?”

Yakov hadn't thought this could be any worse.

The words from Vitya's mouth produce a sudden, almost blinding swell of rage in his chest, only for it to be washed over by overwhelming grief as the boy's face crumples and he falls forward, his hands grasping and curling into the material of his shirt, weeping brokenly against his chest.

“Y-you would tell me if s-something was wrong with me, wouldn't you Yakov? Y-you wouldn't lie to me. You wouldn't, would you?”

“There's nothing wrong with you Vitya.” Yakov answers back. “Damn it, don't think that. Don't ever let other people make you feel that.”

“... It's what I feel when they... like there's something wrong...”

Yakov reaches out, cupping Viktor's face in his hands, lifting his head so that the boy can look at him.

“Vitya...” he says, voice low and determined. “You're one of the greatest athletes in the world. The greatest figure skater in the world. There's nothing wrong with you. Yes? There's nothing wrong with you.”

Viktor's eyes flit away, and he nods weakly, tears gathering still and slipping down his cheeks, and Yakov can tell the boy doesn't really believe him.

And there's nothing Yakov hates worse than this, he thinks. Nothing he hates worse than his own helplessness in the face of Vitya's despair.

“It's alright Vitya.” Yakov says, and he watches as Viktor's eyes squeeze shut, his face creased in pain. Watches Viktor nod, even as his whole body trembles viciously with the effort of simply holding himself upright long enough to span the few feet from the wheel chair to the toilet, Yakov doing his best to support the majority of his weight over his shoulders, his arm around Viktor's waist.

The boy's breathing is labored and heavy in the small space of the bathroom, and again Yakov wishes he hadn't agreed to this.

It had been more than a month now, of Viktor being in this place, his progress slow and agonizing. Some days, it seemed to Yakov, practically nonexistent.

The swelling and bruising of Viktor's face and body has at last begun to fade, though the remnants of it were still there. Still visible. His bones remained horribly broken.

The greatest sign of recovery had happened today, with them at last removing Viktor's catheter.

The recommendation had been for Viktor to use a bed pan.

Viktor, prideful boy that he is, had begged to be able to use the bathroom. Had made the ridiculous request that he be able to try it alone, at first, when the nurses had offered their assistance.

That had been roundly denied him, and so Viktor had asked Yakov. Better him, he guessed, than practical strangers.

Yakov could hardly blame the boy for his embarrassment.

Whatever privacy he'd once had, precious little of it as there was, even that had been robbed him now.

That spoke nothing of the humiliation Yakov knows the boy is feeling.

Viktor was a world class athlete. The very definition.

He was used to being able to perform physical feats impossible for any regular human. In truth, feats impossible for any other world class skater. He was the best that had ever done it. Had been the best...

And now he couldn't even use the bathroom on his own.

Yakov reaches out quickly, flipping the lid of the toilet up, cursing himself for not thinking to do it before he'd lifted Viktor from his chair.

It's a struggle to get Viktor turned around and onto the seat of the bowl, and Yakov wishes too that Katsuki hadn't taken Makkachin for a fucking walk so that he could be the one doing this. He's too old for this shit. He really, really is.

His own breaths are labored and heavy as he braces himself for a moment against the bathroom sink, keeping one hand on Vitya's shoulder.

“Okay?” He asks after a moment, eying Viktor carefully.

The boy looks anything but, he thinks, his face sheened in sweat, his breathing heavier still than Yakov's, features twisted in obvious pain. Why couldn't he have just pissed in the stupid bottle, or whatever that thing had been they'd tried to get him to use?

Viktor nods, no conviction in the gesture.

“... Just... need a minute...” he stammers out.

His right arm is the only limb of his not encased entirely in plaster, and he holds it out, his long fingers grasping to the lip of the sink, knuckles white as his hands shake.

Yakov pushes away from the sink, knees protesting loudly as he squats at Viktor's side, next to the toilet, and reaches up, brushing the boy's bangs back off his face.

There are tears in his eyes, slipping silent down his cheeks, and Yakov shakes his head.

“Vitya...”

“I'm alright.” Viktor tells him, and Yakov doesn't believe him for a minute.

“What's wrong?”

“... It's just my ribs hurt.” Viktor admits after a long moment, and Yakov hears himself exhale harshly.

“Shit, I didn't...?”

Viktor shakes his head.

“No, they've been hurting all morning.

Yakov studies him a moment.

“Is the morphine not working?” He asks carefully.

He knows that stuff was addictive. He'd been worried about that since the start of all this. That Vitya would get hooked on it, and coming down off it would only add more difficulty to what was already going to be a nightmare recovery process.

Viktor shakes his head.

“No, it... it's working. It's just never been a hundred percent, b-blocking the pain.”

Yakov sucks in a breath, tight lipped, not knowing what to say.

Viktor hadn't said anything before. Hadn't complained.

Maybe Yakov needed to speak with Vitya's doctor later about upping the dosage of pain killers. He doesn't want the boy to get addicted, but if he was suffering like this in silence, something needed to be done.

Viktor's strained laughter pulls Yakov from his thoughts, and he looks up at the boy.

“I don't think I've ever peed sitting down like this.” Viktor says, somehow finding it in himself to grin at Yakov. “At least, not since I was a toddler, probably.”

“... Yes, well...” Yakov stammers, face slightly warm with embarrassment. And he realizes suddenly how much that was like Viktor, to say something most would consider humiliating so unabashedly, without shame. And with the realization, he feels his heart lift, if only a little.

Viktor's grin grows wider, and he bursts out laughing again, no doubt able to see the blush Yakov can feel warming his cheeks.

He winces a moment later.

“Ow...” he groans, laughter cutting sharply off.

“Don't laugh Vitya.” Yakov warns, reaching out and stopping just short. “Are you alright?”

Viktor nods, his face screwed up in a grimace.

“Y-yeah...” he puffs. “F-fine...”

“You're sure?” Yakov presses.

Once more Viktor nods, his eyes coming back open. He smiles again, the expression weaker, a little watery, and Yakov doesn't understand how he finds the strength to smile at all. To laugh.

This boy's courage will never cease to amaze him, he thinks.

“Can... can you help me with...” Viktor starts after a moment more, and he nods down at his own lap. “I don't want to get the gown dirty...”

“Oh... of course...” Yakov fumbles, pushing himself upright.

It's awkward, but really, it's not like Yakov hasn't seen Viktor naked countless times, or helped him in situations like this before. Times when Viktor had been so drunk, Yakov had had to strip him and get him into a cold shower. Had to get in with him and hold his head up so he wouldn't collapse and drown in a shallow puddle underneath the spray. Times when Viktor had been injured, or sick, and Yakov had had to take care of him, get him washed and fed, make sure he took whatever medications he needed.

Yakov's seen Viktor in every imaginable compromised state, he supposes.

He guesses that's why Viktor's so comfortable now, with him pulling the hospital gown out from underneath his thighs. With Yakov standing in the room with him as he urinates into the toilet, the sound of his piss hitting the water loud in the otherwise silent, small space.

Viktor trusts him. He's trusted him since he was a little boy.

It's one of the things, he thinks, which he's most proud of. Beside the fact he'd coached the greatest figure skater to have ever lived in Viktor.

That he'd earned Viktor's trust so completely.

In some ways, Yakov thinks, he's most proud of that fact above all.