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Winter Song

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Ever since Yuuri had woken up and realized the day of his final competition had dawned, he kept expecting his anxiety to wake up alongside him and ruin everything. He felt unusually centered. It was strange to step foot inside the arena where he was soon to perform and have only a manageable amount of nervousness churning in his stomach.

Nostalgia caused him to take in details he so often failed to notice, like his name listed on the Grand Prix banners and the familiar smell of ice in the air. Yuuri was going to miss this. Eight long months of preparation had led up to this moment, and more than a decade of competitions and practices had preceded that. It was hard to believe it was all going to be over in a matter of hours.

“Katsuki-kun,” called a reporter. “Do you have a moment for a . . . ?”

Pretending he hadn’t heard, Yuuri ducked his head down and kept walking. Different levels of competitions had been going on since the afternoon, and the place was already packed with fans and reporters. He could hear the din of voices already in the arena, where the Ladies’ Free Skate was underway. The noise made it easier to slip away from the press without seeming too rude, but soon it became apparent that his coach had not been as lucky.

As Yuuri slowed and glanced over his shoulder, a tiny ache took up residence inside his heart.

Victor had been lagging behind since they’d left the hotel, each footstep seeming heavier than the last, but this time, he’d stopped entirely. A reporter had managed to capture his attention, and Victor was too nice of a person to refuse. He struggled to smile for the camera, but after a wave and a quick statement, he managed to slip away. The manufactured smile dissipated within seconds.

The ache in Yuuri’s heart burrowed deeper. It hurt to see Victor looking so dejected, but there was nothing that could be done about it now. He had asked Yuuri to allow him to process the emotions of this on his own. Yuuri understood all too well how he felt. He was sad, too, this being their last competition together. But like Victor told him earlier—Yuuri had a job to do, and he needed to concentrate on that alone. At least, for now. After tonight, they could start to heal and move on.

Eventually, Victor caught up with Yuuri, but neither of them acknowledged the other as they fell into step. After they showed their credentials and got Yuuri officially checked in, they found an empty stretch of hallway where he could start going through his warm ups. Victor leaned against a nearby wall and watched over Yuuri like a hawk, making sure no one disturbed him. More than once, a daring reporter appeared at the end of the hallway, and Victor left immediately to deal with them.

Yuuri tried not to pay attention to any of it and instead focused on breathing through his nose while he stretched. All the same, Victor’s mood wasn’t easy to ignore. But if the last forty-eight hours had taught Yuuri anything, it was that there wasn’t any reason to feel insecure about something so fleeting.

A mood was temporary. Victor’s love for him was not.

Yuuri could feel it all over, inside and out. The ghosts of Victor’s hands on his body. The whispered confessions of love. That final kiss bestowed upon Yuuri’s forehead, which had left him feeling grounded and secure. Despite Victor’s current silence, he had made sure Yuuri understood their relationship would not be affected by anything that happened in this arena tonight.

And it wasn’t just Victor’s love that Yuuri sensed all around him. Back in Hasetsu, his family and friends were gathering to watch the Final live on television. His sister and sensei were probably already in the arena audience, ready to cheer him on. Phichit and the Nishigori family had been texting him encouraging messages all day.

Though Yuuri felt he had done absolutely nothing to deserve such love from the people in his life, he knew he was stronger for it. Maybe it was because he understood now that even if he failed, the only person he’d be letting down was himself. That just made him want to win gold even more. The pressure was still there—but unlike past performances, it was driven by something else.

An hour came and went in the blink of an eye. Yuuri finished his warm ups and was running through his choreography when he heard the opening announcement for the Men’s Free Skate come over the loud speakers. It was almost time to lace up his skates. JJ would be taking the ice soon. Yuuri would perform third tonight, right after Phichit.

The roar of applause from the arena was so loud that Yuuri could feel it vibrate the ground beneath his feet. He stopped breathing and froze in place until the feeling subsided. It wasn’t a moment of panic exactly but more a realization that this was It. This was really about to happen.

Victor stepped forward and extended his hand to Yuuri, who blinked down at the pair of earplugs resting in his coach’s palm. Of course. Victor didn’t want the cheering for the other performers to rattle Yuuri’s nerves. He’d worn them before every competition since his panic attack in China.

“I’m okay,” Yuuri said. “I’ll put them in if I start to get too nervous.”

Victor lifted a skeptical eyebrow—which, to be fair, was warranted because Yuuri was nervous. Apparently, Victor could tell.

“I just want to remember tonight,” Yuuri explained. “Not shut it out.”

Pressing his lips together, Victor slipped the earplugs into his pocket without further commentary. He crossed his arms over his chest and stayed close while Yuuri sat down to lace up his skates.

JJ’s music was playing now, and Yuuri looked up with a smile when he heard the audience’s reaction to him. For once, the sound of the crowd cheering for another competitor didn’t make him feel insecure. He wanted them all to do their best tonight. For JJ to redeem himself and for fifteen-year-old Yurio to blow everyone’s mind with his startling talent. He wanted Phichit to step off that ice having fulfilled a lifelong dream, for Otabek’s quiet power to speak for itself, and for Christophe to find his inspiration again. Yuuri knew their journeys would continue for years after he retired . . . and hopefully Victor’s would as well.

Two days ago, Victor had watched the other competitors with rapt attention. He’d been charmed and inspired by what he’d seen in their Short Programs. Would tonight give him the motivation he needed to join them next year?

Yuuri’s gaze shifted in Victor’s direction, curious what he was thinking, and his smile soon faded away.

His coach wasn’t exactly glaring at him, but it wasn’t a look of warmth either. If he had to guess, he’d say Victor was displeased that Yuuri looked so happy. After all, this was their last competition together before they ended their professional relationship. Victor probably expected Yuuri to be just as sad about that as he was. Add to that Victor’s belief that Yuuri hadn’t heard anything he’d said for the last two days, and it made sense that seeing him smile had rubbed Victor the wrong way.

Only he had it all wrong. Yuuri had listened to what Victor had said about reconsidering his retirement. He was just choosing not to think about it until after his performance. One thing at a time.

If he was honest with himself, he didn’t want to retire. He wanted to do this forever with Victor as his coach, but it just wasn’t worth it to sacrifice Victor’s competitive career for his own. If Yuuri wanted to keep skating, he was going to have to find a new coach and possibly live apart from Victor for a time. Either that, or Yuuri would have to get down on his hands and knees and beg Yakov to consider taking him on. The problem was that Yuuri didn’t want anyone except Victor.

It was far simpler to just retire—but did that mean it was the right thing to do? Yuuri wasn’t prepared to decide one way or another, especially when he didn’t know what Victor was going to decide for himself. After the Final was over, then Yuuri would see how he felt.

“Ready?” Victor turned to leave without waiting for a response.

Yuuri blew out a breath, finished double-knotting the lace of his skate, and followed after him.

He caught up with Victor beneath the arena stands, near the heavy curtains that led out to the main hall. It was dark there—dark enough that they didn’t have to look at each other—but Yuuri could feel Victor’s presence nearby. Having him so close calmed Yuuri at the same time that it made his throat ache.

This was really it. Their last moments together as student and coach. Sure, there was the gala exhibition tomorrow night, but Victor would be wearing a pair of skates then. Not a suit.

As JJ’s score was announced to deafening applause, Yuuri forced himself to focus and work through his choreography again. He hadn’t heard the exact score, but judging from the sound of the cheering, JJ had indeed redeemed himself and done quite well. Yuuri’s performance was going to have to be flawless if he wanted to be at the top of that podium.

Soon Phichit’s music came over the speakers, and whatever he was doing on the ice, the crowd was loving it. Yuuri couldn’t help but smile again, even as the applause made his heart lurch with nervousness. He couldn’t wait to watch his friend’s performance later online.

As the minutes ticked by and Phichit’s music thundered to its conclusion, things began to feel surreal—like time was moving faster in the world around him than it was in his own head.

It was time to go.

Yuuri stepped forward first, followed by his coach, and together they drew back the heavy curtain leading out to the brightly lit main hall. Nostalgia hit him hard again. The familiar chill in the air. The energy of a pumped-up crowd. The nervousness creeping up his throat.

There was an attendant standing by to direct Yuuri to the entrance of the rink, which was still being cleaned from all the bouquets of flowers and stuffed hamsters that had been thrown by the audience after Phichit’s performance. Yuuri took off his jacket and skate guards, handed everything to his coach, and stepped out onto the ice without looking back.

His heart beat a strong, accelerating rhythm as he skated over to the place where Victor normally stood beside the barrier—always in the direct center where Yuuri would know to look for him. There was still a minute or two for him to catch his breath while the judges tabulated Phichit’s score. Yuuri put his hands on the barrier, bowed his head, and willed his pulse to slow down.

Soon Victor came to stand in front of him with his arms folded over his chest, and there was an awkward moment of silence that Yuuri knew wouldn’t last. No matter what Victor might be feeling, there was no way he was going to let Yuuri go out there without a word of encouragement.

True to form, Victor got a handle on whatever emotions he was dealing with and leaned closer with a smile that might have convinced someone who didn’t know him very well. “Don’t worry,” he said, his voice gentler than before. He placed his hand on top of Yuuri’s where it rested on the barrier. “You can win gold. Believe in yourself.”

Yuuri didn’t bother looking up. It wasn’t the worst thing a coach could have said, but the words didn’t make any impact on him. They felt empty. Lacking something. Lacking Victor.

He sounded like a greeting card. Not like himself at all.

His Victor didn’t always say the right things or waste time with niceties when a blunt truth would suffice. He was too young. Too inexperienced. Endearingly clueless one moment and shockingly intuitive the next. He sulked when he didn’t get his way, and sometimes he was so rude that Yuuri was left wondering if he should laugh or be offended.

His Victor was also the kindest, most giving person he’d ever met. Unexpectedly complex and imperfect beneath the charming exterior. And Yuuri loved him for it. There was no one else he wanted to share this moment with but him.

“Hey, Victor,” Yuuri said, turning his hand around to hold his fiancé’s in return. “I told you before that I wanted you to stay who you were, right? Don’t suddenly start trying to sound like a coach now. I want to smile for my last time on the ice.”

Victor drew back, obviously surprised by the dismissal of his speech, but Yuuri paid him no mind. Instead, he kept his head bowed in concentration. All around them, the audience began to cheer because Phichit’s scores had just come in. Yuuri squeezed Victor’s hand and tried to stay calm.

“Yuuri, listen to me,” Victor said, drawing much closer this time.

Yuuri opened his eyes and waited. They had only seconds left, so if Victor wanted to say something, he had better hurry.

“I debated whether I should tell you this now,” Victor said, “but I took a break after becoming the five-time world champion to coach you. So how is it possible you still haven’t won a gold medal?”

Yuuri looked up and was absolutely bewildered to find Victor glaring at him.

Why would he . . . say something like that? And now of all times, when Yuuri was seconds away from the last performance of his career.

But Victor’s stern expression slowly melted into a smile. A real smile, adoring and sweet with just a hint of classic Nikiforov mischief. His expression didn’t match his words at all. “How much longer are you going to stay in warm up mode?” He wrapped his arms around Yuuri and added in a petulant voice, “I really want to kiss that gold medal.”

Yuuri wanted to burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of it.

What an awful thing to say. But at the same time, somehow it was exactly what he needed to hear.

It was just like back at the hotel, when Victor had voiced Yuuri’s raw fears about their relationship because of how ridiculous they sounded when spoken out loud. Victor hadn’t meant what he was saying then, nor did he mean it now. This time, he was exposing Yuuri’s fears about what he thought his coach expected from him tonight, and in doing so, prompting Yuuri to realize that wasn’t what Victor was expecting at all. It was so far from the truth that it was almost comical—because he was proud of Yuuri no matter what was about to happen during this performance. Victor loved being his coach, and win or lose, no medal was going to change that.

It was his backwards way taking some of the pressure off—and it was such a Victor thing to do that it worked. Any remaining tension between them fizzled away into nothing.

Yuuri’s expression melted from confusion into a genuine smile, and he leaned forward into Victor’s embrace at once. But when Yuuri pressed his face into the familiar comfort of Victor’s shoulder—so solid and warm and his—the emotion overcame them both at the same time. As Yuuri’s body shook with silent tears, he felt Victor’s doing the same. They clung to each other until the very last second when his name was announced over the speakers.

“Don’t take your eyes off me,” Yuuri said, his lips close to Victor’s ear. “This performance is for you.”

“I couldn’t look away if I tried,” Victor said.

How in the world could so much have changed in a year?

When Yuuri left Victor behind and skated out to his starting position on the ice, he felt like they were still hand in hand. Victor was still there with him—not only in Yuuri’s mind and heart but in every movement he made. He could only hope that Victor could see himself in Yuuri’s skating because he was the reason he was standing there in front of those judges. Victor had ignited the spark of inspiration in Yuuri when he was just a boy and had fought to keep that flame burning bright until this very moment.

Yuuri knew he sometimes had a flawed way of thinking. He wasn’t a genius, and more often than not, his insecurity got the best of him. He was nothing special. A run-of-the-mill talent whose greatest weakness was his own mind. But he knew he was loved. Maybe it was time he learned to love himself as well and make peace with the rest of it.

When the music started, Yuuri opened his eyes and lifted his hands to his heart, ready to show the world everything Victor Nikiforov had taught him.

“Salud!” Victor said for the fifth time that evening as he lifted his fifth glass of champagne. Moments before, he had drained the last few drops from the bottle and topped off Yuuri’s glass as well. “Yuuri, toast with me. You’ve barely drank anything!”

Yuuri lifted his own glass of champagne, with its golden bubbles dancing their way to the surface, but took only a tiny sip before setting it right back down again on the table. His cheeks felt hot, not from the small amount of alcohol he’d indulged in but because Victor was making a scene in the middle of a nice restaurant. There was a white tablecloth, fancy silverware, candles, and everything.

Across the table, Yakov Feltsman sat glaring at both of them, so pissed off that his face had turned a remarkable shade of purple. There was a little vein pulsing near his right temple that made Yuuri legitimately worried about the older man’s health. Also seated at the table was the rest of the Russian team, Yuri Plisetsky and Mila Babicheva, both of whom had stood on the Grand Prix Final podium earlier tonight during the awards ceremony.

“Do you want me to cut up your chicken for you?” Mila cooed at Yurio, batting her eyelashes rather sarcastically. “Or do you think you’re old enough now to hold a knife by yourself?”

“Shut up, hag,” Yurio said and continued biting pieces off the whole breast of chicken he had stabbed with his fork. His knife sat on the crisp white tablecloth, untouched. “I can do it myself.”

Mila sniggered into her wine glass, her cheeks rosy from a combination of good food and laughter. Her plate of seafood paella sat half-eaten in front of her. Though Yuuri didn’t know her very well, he’d observed that her relationship with Yurio was very much like that of a teasing older sister. Yuuri felt like he’d unintentionally landed in the middle of a family dinner, with Yakov yelling at his three kids. The only person missing was Georgi.

“All of you shut up,” Yakov barked. “Vitya. Are you even listening to me?”

Yuuri’s eyes widened at the volume, and he took a hasty sip of champagne to make himself look less conspicuous. Yakov wasn’t shouting exactly, but his voice could certainly fill a room. Especially a nice room filled with nice people speaking at what was a nice, socially acceptable level. Every time Yakov spoke, it was like his jaw came unhinged to allow for maximum amplification.

“Hi!” Victor called to their waitress, who had passed by on the way to another table. “Could we get another bottle of champagne, please?”

Vitya!” Yakov roared.

“We’re celebrating tonight,” Victor explained to the waitress, completely ignoring the man who was about to lunge across the table and strangle him. “My Yuuri here won a medal at the Grand Prix Final! See?”

“Please don’t,” Yuuri begged. “Please, please. . .” But it was too late. Victor was already tugging the silver medal out of Yuuri’s jacket where it had been carefully hidden away when his coach wasn’t looking. “Victor.”

“Isn’t it shiny?” Victor proclaimed, his smile never faltering even as Yuuri smacked his hands away. “He broke a world record tonight!”

“Yes, you told me,” the waitress said, her smile slightly strained. “Three times now.”

“Oy, katsudon,” Yurio muttered around a mouthful of chicken. “Can’t you control him?”

“I think it’s sweet,” Mila said with a wistful smile. “Why shouldn’t Victor be proud?”

Cheeks burning hotter than before, Yuuri stuffed his silver medal back down into his jacket and wished very much that he could crawl beneath the table and hide. Half the restaurant was shooting odd glances in their direction, and the other half was barely resisting. Probably the only reason they hadn’t been asked to quiet down or leave was because Victor was an international celebrity. Maybe a second bottle of champagne wasn’t a bad idea after all. Yuuri lifted his glass to his lips and tipped it back.

Still addressing the waitress, Victor pointed at Mila. “And Mila over there also won a medal, and Yurio did as well. He took first place at just fifteen years old! Isn’t that amazing?”

“Guess which skater at this table didn’t win anything?” Yakov muttered.

Yuuri sputtered and nearly choked on his champagne, but Victor just laughed Yakov’s jab off like it was the funniest thing in the world. “Oh, well! I guess I’ll just have to content myself with being the choreographer of the two current world-record-holding performances.”

While Yakov’s complexion darkened into an even more alarming shade of purple, Yurio rolled his eyes so hard that it looked painful. “You might want to escape while you have the chance,” Mila suggested to the waitress. The young woman nodded gratefully and hurried off.

As embarrassed as Yuuri was that his coach had basically forced him to wear his silver medal out in public, he couldn’t help but smile at the sound of Victor’s carefree laughter. Not only was it a joy to see him happy and full of life again, but Yuuri couldn’t remember the last time he felt so excited about the future.

The whole night had been a blur. Though he’d executed a near flawless Free Skate performance, complete with four successfully landed quads that earned him a world record score, it hadn’t been enough to prevent Yuri Plisetsky from taking gold. Yuuri had stood just beneath him on the podium in second place with JJ coming in third. It was the exact lineup that Yurio had demanded when they’d talked after the Rostelecom Cup, only he didn’t seem very pleased with his gold medal win. He’d glared during the entire awards ceremony, perhaps angry that Yuuri’s Free Skate score had beaten his own or maybe even with the rumors of his retirement.

Yuuri would be lying if he said he wasn’t disappointed that it was a silver medal hidden beneath his jacket instead of gold. It was bittersweet to have broken such a long-standing record that had previously belonged to none other than Victor Nikiforov . . . and then to still fall short of first place. But while Yuuri hated losing, that wasn’t the reason he’d changed his mind about his retirement and decided to keep skating.

After his performance was over and he could finally breathe and think with a level head, he’d done as Victor asked and taken a step back to reconsider the decisions he’d made. Many voices were in Yuuri’s thoughts as the competition continued around him. Conversations he’d had with Victor. Advice he’d received from Minako-sensei.

It was an emotional time for him, particularly after Victor confirmed that he’d made the decision to end his hiatus and return to competitive skating. Yuuri had felt absolute joy upon hearing the news. It was like sunlight pouring into his mind, filling him with hope. But then he’d lost track of Victor soon after that and couldn’t find him. It had made Yuuri feel so unexpectedly left behind that tears stung his eyes, even when he had so much to feel happy about.

He’d watched Yurio’s performance by himself, and it had intimidated him just as much as it inspired him. How was it possible for someone so young to have so much confidence and drive? When Yurio landed an unexpected fourth quad, it hit Yuuri that he’d lost the gold medal. It wasn’t sadness that washed over him at that moment but rather the realization of how hard Yurio had worked. He’d thrown his entire being at his goal, and though Yuuri had fought to achieve his own dreams, he couldn’t help but feel like he could do better next time.

Only there wasn’t going to be a next time. Not unless he gave some things up.

As Yurio’s performance ended, Yuuri had turned and found Victor standing there, watching over him from behind. It was a mirror of how Yuuri had watched Victor during Yurio’s Short Program two days earlier. Yuuri could tell his coach was looking to see if he was going to be okay. They both knew who was going to wear that gold medal, even before the judges had finished tabulating Yurio’s score.

“This doesn’t have to be the end, you know,” Victor had said before opening his arms up for a hug.

Yuuri didn’t make his final decision until he was standing on the podium with the cool weight of a silver medal resting on his chest. While he was pleased with his performance, he realized he hadn’t found the satisfaction he wanted yet. He was going to stand at the top of that podium one day and wasn’t going to stop until it happened. Why should he let his failure last year dictate his future?

He had stepped down from that podium with absolute dread in his heart because he’d made the decision to find Yakov Feltsman and beg him to be his coach next season. That was the only way Yuuri could stay in the same location as Victor and keep skating. Only Victor had a different suggestion, one Yuuri hadn’t even considered as a possibility. After the award ceremony, as the arena emptied all around them, Yuuri and Victor had talked for a long time about what they wanted to do next. Together, they agreed they would move to Russia. There, Victor would train under Yakov, and Yuuri would continue his training under Victor.

It was a terrible plan, alarmingly lacking in details, but neither of them cared. They were too happy to care. They would be together, both doing what they loved, and the rest would work itself out.

Now several hours later, surrounded by his new rink-mates at a celebratory dinner, Yuuri knew he’d made the right decision. It was going to require an incredible amount of work, particularly on Victor’s part since he would be doing double-duty, and Yakov had a legitimate right to be furious about the unexpected turn of events. But when Yuuri’s mind was made up, it would take much more than someone’s opinion to dissuade him. If he had to sacrifice anything to help make this easier on Victor, Yuuri would do it without question. It was worth it.

“I don’t know what you’re so happy about,” Yakov said. “This is career suicide. For both of you. Have you even looked at the competition schedules yet? There are less than two weeks before Nationals. I hope you have something in mind and don’t embarrass us all.”

“Yakov, you worry too much!” Victor said, laughing. “I’ve had a rink practically to myself for the last eight months. I haven’t been as idle as you seem to think.”

Yuuri sat up a little straighter, hoping for more details. Even Yurio stopped chewing and listened.

Victor worked on choreography all the time. Though he’d shown Yuuri a few things every now and then just to see what he thought, Victor never said what anything was for. His head was always swimming with ideas, and he often went to the Ice Castle on his own to skate. He’d even worked with Minako a few times to get exposed to styles of dancing that were unfamiliar to him.

“You haven’t had me at a rink to coach you,” Yakov said. “Someone has to bring you back down to earth. I want you at practice immediately, starting tomorrow morning and every day after that. And what does that do for Yuuri’s preparation for his own Nationals, huh? You do realize Russian Nationals are in Russia, and Yuuri has to compete in Japan, don’t you? Have you thought about how unfair this is to him?”

Victor’s infectious smile dimmed a degree, and Yuuri promptly felt the need to speak up, even though he’d barely said a word during the entire dinner. “I’m not worried about Nationals. I’m already number one in my country, and I just broke a world record. I think I can handle myself.”

Four sets of Russian eyes turned to stare at Yuuri at the same time, which was normally the kind of thing that might have inspired him to shriek in horror and run away. Instead, he stood his ground and looked Yakov straight in the eyes. This was too important for him to be anything less than clear.

“The next step is getting Victor ready to make his comeback,” Yuuri said. “There’s nothing I want more than for him to succeed, so whatever I have to do or sacrifice to make that happen, consider it done. I’m committed to making this work.”

Yakov blinked at him, surprised by the outburst from someone he likely viewed as a weakling. Beside him, Yurio’s chicken breast fell off his fork and landed on his plate with a wet splat, sending rice, sauce, and vegetables spilling across the table. No one noticed.

“Yuuri,” Victor said, his voice soft with amazement.

Yuuri turned toward Victor, and they shared in a mutual smile, which fortified their resolve impossibly more. In full view of everyone, they clasped hands, both of them deaf to the grumbles of disapproval from Yakov. None of that mattered. Whatever challenges rose up to meet them, they were going to overcome them together.

“We can do this,” Victor said, addressing Yakov even though he was still gazing lovingly at his fiancé. “Just wait and see. It’s going to be amazing.”

“You’re all idiots,” Yurio muttered. He was leaning against the table now, crumpled begrudgingly beneath the weight of Mila, who had draped her arms around him as she beamed at the happy couple. Yurio flicked a grain of rice at Victor’s head, and it bounced off his ear. “Can I order dessert before these two make me puke?”

A cold, misty breeze swept over Yuuri, blowing his hair back and whistling past his ears. He shivered and smiled. The familiar scent of salt water made it easy to pretend he was back home in Hasetsu, standing on the beach at night. But when he opened his eyes, he instead saw the Mediterranean Sea stretched out endlessly before him—and his drunk fiancé wading in the water with his pants rolled up to his knees and fancy shoes in hand. He must be freezing.

“You’re crazy!” Yuuri called to him across the beach.

“I’m Russian!” Victor yelled back.

Yuuri shook his head and laughed. Dinner had ended almost an hour ago, but they’d taken their time walking back to the hotel. Victor had dragged Yuuri to the beach, insisting the thing he wanted most in the world at that moment was to wade in the Mediterranean Sea.

In December. Wearing his designer suit.

Needless to say, Victor had consumed a little too much alcohol at dinner.

At the restaurant, Yuuri had pitched in to help Victor with the second bottle of champagne so that he wouldn’t go too overboard. Yuuri drank three glasses in total, which had left him feeling tipsy and prone to laughter—but definitely not drunk enough to let a crazy Russian drag him into a large body of water when it was this cold outside. Yuuri’s teeth were chattering just from watching him play around in the shallow waves.

“I can’t feel my toes anymore!” Victor said as if that was something to be proud of.

“Would you please come back? Yakov’s going to kill us both if you can’t skate in the morning.”

Victor reluctantly did as he was asked, leaving wet footprints behind him in the sand. His unbuttoned black vest and necktie flapped in the breeze, and though his hair was a wind-blown mess, he still looked like he’d just walked off the cover of a magazine. Yuuri found himself blushing as he stared, distracted by how gorgeous Victor looked with moonlight shining in his hair.

“I wish Makkachin was here,” Victor said as he approached. “He would love this place. Let’s go get him and bring him back.”

Yuuri offered Victor his overcoat and suit jacket, which he’d been holding to keep them dry. “You want us to fly to Japan, ride the train to Hasetsu, pick Makkachin up, and bring him all the way back to Spain? Tonight?”

“Mm-hmm.” Victor didn’t accept the proffered coat but instead threw his arms around Yuuri for warmth. “Don’t you miss him? I miss him.”

Yuuri grinned, even as Victor’s weight caused him to stagger back and almost fall. His fiancé was rather amorous when under the influence of alcohol, but at least he hadn’t started stripping out of his pants yet. “Why don’t you put your coat back on?”

“I’d rather put you on.” Victor hummed with pleasure as he buried his face in Yuuri’s neck. “Mmm . . . warm.”

Victor’s nose felt like ice where it rubbed against Yuuri’s neck. He was about to say something about it and again try to coax Victor back into his overcoat, but didn’t have the chance to respond. Having found his second wind, Victor unexpectedly put his hands beneath Yuuri’s arms and hoisted him into the air.

Victor,” Yuuri said, laughing. “What are you doing?”

Victor laughed as well. He swung Yuuri around once before setting him back down again, then grinned as he pulled him further down the beach. Victor’s overcoat, suit jacket, and shoes had all fallen to the ground, forgotten. “Yakov wants me to practice with him in the morning. We could go through our lifts for the exhibition now in case we don’t have time.”

“While you’re drunk?” Yuuri couldn’t stop laughing and almost crumpled to the sand when Victor tried to pick him up a second time. He’d grabbed Yuuri a little too high and had tickled him.

“What’s wrong?” Victor tried again, this time wrapping his arms beneath Yuuri’s bottom and lifting him up that way. His feet dangled beneath him, his stomach pressed to Victor’s chest. Winter blue eyes sparkled up at him, filled with equal parts mischief and adoration. “Scared I’m going to drop you?”

Unable to resist, Yuuri put his hands on Victor’s face and kissed him once before drawing back with a grin. Victor had dropped him during their pair skating practices. Many times. “I might be having some nervous flashbacks, but I guess sand is softer to land on than ice.”

“If I recall,” Victor said, lowering Yuuri to the ground and extending his hand, “you always found a way to land on top of me, and I was the one who hit the ice.”

“I’m pretty sure you kept making us fall on purpose because you liked it, so I’m not sure what you’re complaining about.” Yuuri accepted Victor’s hand and was immediately drawn in. It was a familiar movement—some of the choreography from their exhibition routine, which they’d been planning as a surprise for weeks. Yuuri played along and let Victor lead him down the beach in that familiar dance.

“True,” Victor said, breathless as they swept across the sand. “But I wasn’t the only one who liked it. Admit it.”

Yuuri purposefully knocked them over and fell down on top of Victor. They laughed at first until they realized the suggestive position they’d landed in, with Victor on his back and Yuuri straddled on top of him. Their smiles faded from their lips then, though not their eyes. Both of them were panting, lost in the moment, their lips parted and inching closer. Yuuri moved in, but when Victor’s eyes closed in anticipation of the kiss, he received nothing but a quick peck on the cold tip of his nose.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Yuuri said before he wriggled out of Victor’s arms.

Yuuri heard a growl behind him and immediately started running. Victor caught his hand, and there was a brief, playful struggle before he let Yuuri escape and took up chase. “At least put your shoes back on!” Yuuri begged, still laughing. “You’re going to hurt yourself.”

Victor looked ridiculous, still barefoot with one pant leg rolled up. The other had come unraveled during their chase. There was sand now in Yuuri’s own shoes and probably in a few other places, too. He didn’t care. This was the most fun he’d had in a long time, and seeing how the last eight months of his life were the happiest he’d ever known, that was saying something. He spun around, prepared to be tackled, but Victor instead tripped on an uneven patch of ground and staggered forward into Yuuri. They went down again, giggling like lovesick idiots as they hit the sand.

“We’re going to get arrested,” Yuuri said, even as he grabbed hold of Victor’s necktie to make sure he couldn’t get back up. There were people passing on the sidewalk nearby, and the bright moonlight would make it easy to spot a pair of lovers on the empty beach. All the same, that didn’t stop Yuuri from pulling Victor closer until their lips came together again.

They took the time to savor this kiss. Victor melted down on top of him and worked his tongue into Yuuri’s mouth. The sand was cold beneath his head and back, but the heat of Victor’s kiss soon had Yuuri flushing all over. When Victor’s hands began to wander into territory that was more appropriate to explore in the bedroom, Yuuri broke away from the kiss with a breathless laugh. “Okay,” he said, pushing against Victor’s chest. “We really are going to get arrested if we don’t stop.”

“Live a little.” Sitting up, Victor hooked a finger around the ribbon of Yuuri’s medal and tugged it out of its hiding place beneath his jacket. “You worked hard for this. You should be as proud of yourself as I am of you.”

“Even though it’s not gold?” Yuuri teased. He got to his feet and dusted the sand off his skin and clothes. After Victor did the same, Yuuri grabbed his necktie again and pulled him down the beach in the direction of his fallen coat and shoes. It was time to retrieve their belongings, go back to the hotel, and tuck his inebriated fiancé into bed before someone really did call the police.

“Hey,” Victor said as he trailed obediently behind. “Just because I don’t want to kiss your medal doesn’t mean I won’t make out with the person wearing it.”

Yuuri smirked and kept marching forward, tie in hand. “You know, I don’t see a gold medal around your neck either, or even a silver one. Why should I kiss you?”

“Out of pity, of course. My five-year winning streak was just broken by a bratty fifteen-year-old. I hope you realize I’m going to need lots of sex to take my mind off this devastating blow to my ego.”

“Fair enough. Come on.”

When they reached Victor’s discarded belongings, he didn’t bother putting anything back on. He just draped his suit jacket and coat over an arm before picking up his shoes to carry. “I’m going to win that world record back, you know,” Victor said, the words slightly slurred. “Both of them.”

Yuuri shrugged. “That’s fine. Yurio and I will just have to keep setting new ones.”

Though Victor laughed at first, his smile soon softened into something so adoring that Yuuri’s heart fluttered in response. “I can’t wait to see it. I’m really happy, Yuuri. I think we both made the right decision.”

“I’m happy, too,” Yuuri said, barely able to contain his smile. “It feels right.”

“Shall we go back and celebrate? We could order more champagne up to the room.”

“Yakov’s going to murder us tomorrow morning, isn’t he?”

“Probably. Let’s make sure we deserve it.”

Stepping forward, Victor reached out and picked up Yuuri again, this time throwing him over his shoulder like he was another one of his possessions that he needed to carry back to the hotel. Ignoring Yuuri’s laughing protests, Victor cupped a hand to his mouth and shouted at the top of his lungs at the people passing nearby. “Hey, look at my Yuuri! He won a medal tonight!”

“Victor, stop.”


To be continued