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At a Time Like This

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            They had lunch together the next day in a quiet café, murmuring together. Victor talked about sightseeing. Notifications popped up on his phone relentlessly even though he wasn’t paying attention. It wasn’t like Victor to ignore his phone – if nothing else, he was always chatting with Chris or arguing mildly with an infuriated Yurio – but Yuuri wasn’t complaining.

            “You’ll have surgery on Thursday?” Yuuri asked.

            “Probably. Maybe Friday.”

            “You don’t know?”

            Victor smiled. “Why are you more nervous than me?”

            “I’m worried about you.”

            Victor’s smile softened into an unbearably sweet, unbearably attractive expression. He'd never seen this one on TV. “Yuuri. You don’t have to be. It’s fine. I’ve already done it once, I told you.”

            “I know. I just wish…” He wished he could be with Victor in Saint Petersburg. He could help, or cook for him, or run errands… Anything to be there, to be sure he was okay. They were both flying out today, Yuuri in a couple of hours and Victor in the evening. Flying apart, in different directions. They had flown away from each other from other cities throughout the season, but this felt different. It felt worse. A little flurry of panic fluttered in Yuuri's chest.

            “Your winter break from university is short, Yuuri. And you’re spending time with your family for the first time in years. What kind of monster would I be to ask you to miss that? What kind of monster would they take me for?”

            “They wouldn’t think badly of you.”

            “No? Your sister has already accused me of being ‘trivially materialistic’ and ‘flighty’.”

            “That doesn’t mean she doesn’t like you.”

            “What does she say about people she doesn’t like?”

            Yuuri grimaced. “I can’t say.”

            “Too obscene?”

            “Too…menacing. It’s not even what she says. It’s the tone she uses.”

            Victor laughed.

            A couple of fans who had been hovering nearby politely approached the table, congratulating him and asked for a photo, which Victor took for them with their phone. Then they asked for one with all four of them which the waitress took for them. After they’d gone, Yuuri shoved his glasses back on. He tried to remember to take them off for fan photos. Otherwise they complained about not recognizing him later on social media. They sat again. Victor reached out and plucked Yuuri’s glasses off his nose and over his ears.

            “Hey!”

            “A moment.” He cleaned the lenses on the tail of his shirt, then leaned across the table and slid them back on.

            “There.”

            “Thank you. Victor…”

            Yuuri stared through his freshly cleaned lenses at Victor until Victor reached forward and grabbed his hand.

            “I will miss you too, Yuuri.”

*

            Victor sat at the bar in the airport restaurant, chewing on a red drink straw and idly scrolling his phone. Or, scrolling through pictures of Yuuri on his phone. Yuuri covering his face that morning as Victor tried to take a selfie of them both, his hair mussed against the pillow. Yuuri last night after dinner and several drinks, his winter coat sliding off one slim shoulder as he tugged Victor forward to show him something down the dark street lined with delicious-smelling food stalls. Yuuri on the podium, smiling that rare, uninhibited smile that lit up his entire face. Yuuri with the women’s champion, Yukiko Mori, both of them holding up their gold medals for the cameras, Yuuri’s entire body deferential toward her despite being several inches taller and a gold medalist himself. Honestly! Someone needed to teach him to be more confident in himself.

            A familiar name came to him through the din of clinking dishware and overhead announcements out in the boarding area. Yuuri’s name, which he had heard over speakers and from fans all week. The highlights of his free skate were replaying on the TV over the bar. He arched back into his Biellmann, and Victor’s breath caught. He jumped his quad toe and Victor nearly came out of his seat, his entire body poised to follow the same trajectory. He was breathtaking, powerful, elegant. There was a tiny glitch during the transition of his combination spin. He was slightly off angle as he lined up for a quad toe. The camera cut to a sideline reporter and Victor twisted his straw across his napkin, spinning it between his fingers. If Celestino were a better coach, or if Yuuri believed in himself, he could be exceptional.

            Another name caught Victor’s attention, and this time he raised his head in confusion. It was his name. Spoken by a voice behind the camera that was focused on Yuuri, who sat on a high stool, looking tired. But as the reporter’s question came to an end, Yuuri’s head came up, his jaw tightening, his eyes darkening. Victor gaped, and then he scrambled.

            “What? Sorry.” He got the bartender’s attention. “What’s he saying? There, on the TV?”

            “That’s Katsuki Yuuri.”

            “I know. Yes, I know. Thank you. What is he saying?”

            Yuuri spoke emphatically, his words coming out crisply though not loudly. The bartender leaned back to gaze up at the screen, his face emotionless as he listened, nodding along every few words.

            “He is talking about a man named Victor. He is saying that this man – this Victor – is a lover.”

            Victor emitted an involuntary sound, his body the human equivalent of an exclamation point.

            “A lover of the sport. Katsuki-san is an ice skater, a figure skater. This Victor may also be an ice skater.”

            Oh. His self-punctuation vanished. “Ah, yes. I have heard of him.”

            “This Victor is in love with the sport. He takes care of fans. He takes care of ice skaters. He is…err…he gives his love. To all. He gives himself, to all. Katsuki-san admired him, this Victor. But from far away? He admired him from far away. But is not far away now. And he…he…”

            “He what?”

            “Now that he knows him, he loves him. Yuuri loves him, with all the love this Victor has given. And…I think he talks to the reporter now. The reporter must not disrespect him. He must not criticize him. But…if he does criticize him, that will not take from his reputation. This Victor’s reputation.” The TV cut to a commercial and the bartender turned back to Victor. “He must be very important to Katsuki-san. Katsuki-san does not get mad. That is not how he is.”

            “No. No, he is not.”

            “This Victor must be very important to him.”

            “I…do you think so?”

            The bartender nodded sagely. “Can I get you another drink?”

            “No. No, thank you. I need to catch a flight.”

*

            Victor stood at his gate, reading the screen for the fourth time. Boarding would begin in five minutes. He looked at the various airline logos at other gates. He looked at the departure schedule he’d pulled up on his phone, for a flight leaving early the next morning.

            Yuuri needed confidence. Yuuri needed that last small push that would make him believe he could be brilliant. It could come from anyone, from anywhere.

            This Victor was important to him. This Victor gave himself to everyone, to the sport and to fans. To his country and his Federation. To his coaches and teammates. And they all gave him something in return. Admiration, attention, competition, jealousy, expectation, inspiration, criticism, encouragement. Yuuri gave him something else. Victor set a smile and approached the gate agents. Yuuri was not going to get what he needed from someone else. He was going to get it from this Victor.