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Winter Song

Chapter Text

Although the awards ceremony had already taken place Saturday night, a public practice was scheduled at the arena the following morning to allow those performing at the gala exhibition to run through their routines. The annual banquet would immediately follow, thus ushering in the conclusion of the Grand Prix Final event.

Yuuri entered the arena by himself with his skates in hand, arriving fifteen minutes later than he’d promised his coach. He was moving slow this morning, his head still bleary from last night’s celebration. Though he hadn’t consumed nearly as much alcohol as Victor, Yuuri was tired after a stressful week spent worrying about the competition and his future career path. It was nice to be able to relax for once.

As a recipient of a medal, he would be among those who would perform tonight, but his routine would not be judged. Tonight’s exhibition was about entertaining and having fun. As Yuuri sat down to put on his skates, he could sense a shift in the overall mood of those around him. Most of the competitors and their coaches looked relaxed and were standing around, talking and laughing instead of focusing on their warm ups. Some skaters hadn’t even bothered showing up. Almost no one was on the ice, practicing in earnest.

There was, however, one notable exception.

Yakov Feltsman was not a happy man this morning.

Yuuri’s eyes widened when he heard the legendary coach’s flaming rant, spoken in Russian, reverberating off the rafters high overhead. He was yelling at Victor, who was already on the ice and demonstrating some of the choreography he’d been working on for his comeback at Nationals. He had arrived to practice more than two hours ago at the insistence of Yakov.

Yuri Plisetsky was on the ice as well, one of the only people taking this morning’s practice seriously, and he scowled at Victor as he passed behind him. When he spotted his tardy student, Victor lifted a hand overhead and waved hello to Yuuri, who smiled and waved back. The smile was one-sided, however. Victor had already turned his attention back to what sounded like the rant of the century.

After Yuuri finished lacing up his right skate and moved on to the left, he found himself frowning as he watched his fiancé skate in small circles in front of Yakov. Victor was staring down at the ice as if seeing straight through it, his mind a million miles away.

What was wrong? It wasn’t like him to take criticism from Yakov so seriously, which made Yuuri wonder if something else was bothering Victor. He was no doubt still hungover after last night, but Yuuri didn’t think that was the problem either.

Phichit dropped into the seat next to Yuuri, who was so distracted by his fiancé that he hadn’t noticed his friend’s approach. “So it’s true? Victor’s really coming back?”

Phichit wasn’t dressed to join the others on the ice, which made sense because he wouldn’t be performing tonight, having placed last in the senior men’s division. He must have come to this morning’s practice just for the sake of being social—or more likely, to get fresh gossip on Victor Nikiforov’s return to competitive skating.

Yuuri double-knotted his lace and adjusted the fabric of his pants over the skate. “Don’t say anything until he announces it publicly, but he’s going to Nationals.”

“But. . .” Phichit looked absolutely bewildered. “Isn’t that like ten days away? Does Victor even have a program put together?”

“I’m pretty sure that’s why Yakov’s screaming.”

“But if Victor’s coming back, who’s going to be your coach going forward?”


“Wait . . . does that mean you’re not skating at Nationals?”

“No, I’ll be there.”

Even with his questions answered, Phichit didn’t look any less confused. “Sorry. I still don’t get it. Doesn’t that mean Victor would have to be in two places at once? The competition dates overlap, don’t they?”

“They do.” Yuuri stood and stretched his arms overhead until he felt a pleasant burn in his core. Though he was sore from all the fun he’d had with Victor last night, he couldn’t bring himself to regret a second of it. “Honestly, I’m not sure if Victor gets it yet either, but he looked so happy about everything that I didn’t want to point out that his Nationals and mine take place on the same days.”

“In different countries,” Phichit added, his dark eyes huge. “Are you okay with that?”

“I am.” Lowering his arms, Yuuri smiled and again found his gaze drawn to the living legend on the ice. “Just look at him out there.”

It was impossible to look at anything else, really. Even after eight solid months of seeing Victor skate on a daily basis, Yuuri was still entranced by the way his idol moved. There wasn’t another person on the planet that could match him. Powerful and graceful at the same time—and so unspeakably beautiful that he hardly seemed real. He looked striking this morning in his fitted, cranberry-colored t-shirt, black pants, and gloves. Yuuri felt a pulse of longing just from seeing him glide along on those famous golden-blade skates. He would never get tired of seeing Victor perform.

Yakov had finally stopped yelling and allowed Victor to again show him what he’d been working on. There was no music, but he didn’t seem to need it. Yuuri could feel the beat in Victor’s movements. In the flick of his wrists and the rise and fall of his feet on the ice. What music was he planning to perform to? What would his theme be? Curiosity had Yuuri’s heart thumping with excitement. He felt like a teenager again, desperate for news about his idol’s next season.

After Victor launched and landed a perfect quadruple loop, just about everyone in the arena was staring at him. Even Yurio had stopped what he was doing to watch, and he somehow managed to look pissed off and impressed at the same time.

“Wow,” Phichit said. “I’ve never seen him skate in person before. What is Yakov even complaining about? That was incredible.”

“He’s probably angry that Victor’s hungover,” Yuuri said. “We had a little too much fun last night, which is why I’m so late to practice. I should probably get out there.”

“Are you flying home tomorrow? Let’s make sure we hang out before we leave.”

They agreed to have breakfast together the next morning before Yuuri’s early afternoon flight to Japan. After a few more stretches, Yuuri left Phichit behind and walked to the entrance of the rink. But before he could remove his skate guards and step onto the ice, he spotted Victor heading his way. The troubled look on his face made Yuuri stop what he was doing and wait for him. In the background, he could now hear Yakov fussing at Yurio.

When he was close enough to be heard, Victor said, “Can we talk?” He grabbed his guards from the barrier and leaned down to slide them onto the blades of his skates.

The question made Yuuri’s stomach twist with anxiousness. While Victor didn’t sound angry, there was a distinct note of stress in his voice. It wasn’t like him to waste a practice session, particularly this one. He and Victor would be performing a routine together tonight, and while they wouldn’t be scored by judges, pair skating was still something outside both their comfort zones. They could use a little practice time to run through the choreography and lifts, and as fun as it was, playing around together on the beach last night didn’t count.

“Everything okay?” Yuuri said. “Sorry I’m so late.”

When Victor didn’t respond, it became apparent that the answer was: No. Everything wasn’t okay. But his touch was gentle as he took Yuuri’s hand into his own and guided him over to the stands. There, they pulled back the heavy curtains that separated the main hall from the backstage area where the skaters waited before they performed. It was the same place they’d stood together last night before Yuuri’s Free Skate. Victor wanted privacy for this conversation.

The curtain fell back into place, enclosing them in shadow. Yuuri gazed warily up at Victor and said, “Did something happen? You look upset.”

“No, I’m fine. I just. . .” Victor sighed and looked away. He hadn’t let go of Yuuri’s hand yet and gave it a squeeze before he continued. “I didn’t realize that our National competitions overlap each other.”

Once Yuuri’s brain processed that information, the tension immediately leaked out of his shoulders. Was that all that was wrong? Victor had scared him.

“Yakov gave me an earful about it this morning,” Victor continued. “Russia competes on almost the exact same days as Japan. There’s no way I can be in both places at once.”

“I know.”

Victor finally focused his attention on Yuuri, and he stared at him in confusion for a few seconds before stammering out a response. “You . . . know?”

“I looked at the competition schedules last night after Yakov brought it up at dinner. You’re right. The dates completely overlap each other.”

Victor continued to stare at him, his expression revealing he couldn’t figure out why Yuuri wasn’t more upset by this news. “But that means I won’t be there with you in Japan.”

“I know. It’s okay. We’ll make it work.”

“No, Yuuri—it’s not okay. I made a commitment to be your coach, and I need to be with you at competitions. I’ll have to make my comeback next season. Or . . . I don’t know.” Victor pinched the bridge of his nose, eyes squeezing shut. “Rethink things altogether.”

If nothing else, that upset Yuuri—especially today of all days, when he had just seen Victor skating on an arena rink for the first time in almost a year. “No,” Yuuri said, his tone leaving no room for argument. “We already decided last night. You’re going back to Russia, and after Nationals, I’m going to come join you. We’ll continue training in Saint Petersburg.”

“But. . .” Victor trailed off and gaped at him, his pupils round and huge in the darkness. “That is not how I thought the next few weeks would work. I thought we’d be together when we moved to Russia. I was planning to fly home with you tomorrow and help pack up our things. And we need to start training for your Nationals.”

“Where does that leave room for you to train with Yakov?” Yuuri said, gentler this time. “If you come to Japan with me, you’ll barely have any time with your coach. It makes the most sense for you to go straight to Russia.”

He felt bad for Victor, who had spent last night drunk, woke up with a hangover, and jumped straight into an early morning practice with Yakov, who had probably shoved the conflicting competition schedules right in his face. Victor clearly hadn’t been able to stop and devote any time to thinking through the logistics like Yuuri had.

“You sound just like Yakov,” Victor said. “He already booked me a flight back to Russia tomorrow morning. I don’t know if I can do this, Yuuri. It’s all moving too fast.”

It wasn’t often that Victor voiced his insecurities. Stepping closer, Yuuri squeezed his fiancé’s hand and looked up at his handsome face. Victor’s brow was pinched in the middle, and his lips were held tense, as if to keep them from trembling. Yuuri understood all too well why Victor was upset. He didn’t want to skate at Nationals by himself either, and it wasn’t just the absence of a coach that bothered him. Victor was his best friend and partner—the person he loved most in the entire world—and they hadn’t spent more than a few hours apart since the Rostelecom Cup. The idea that he’d be on a flight to Russia in the next 24 hours without Yuuri made it a little difficult to breathe.

But while Yuuri was going to miss him like crazy, he also knew if he didn’t step up and face this separation with confidence instead of fear, then Victor was not going to feel free to resume his own career. That wasn’t fair to him, especially knowing how excited he’d been about it last night.

Yuuri was going to have to be the strong one here.

“If you’re worried about me, don’t be,” he said, smiling even though it hurt a little. “I’ve already asked Minako-sensei and Nishigori to come support me at Nationals, and they’re both really excited about it. I won’t be there by myself. And don’t worry about my practices either. Nishigori said the triplets volunteered to send you daily videos. You can give me notes back, and I’ll follow whatever training schedule you set for me.”

Victor didn’t offer a response right away. While he still looked dissatisfied with the proposal, he seemed to be thinking it through now instead of closing his mind off to the possibilities. “But you struggled at Nationals last year, even more than at the Sochi Grand Prix. You need your—”

“What I need is for you to trust me,” Yuuri said, keeping his tone gentle, even as he cut Victor off. “This isn’t last year. I’m currently the number two figure skater in the world, and you’re worried about a domestic competition?”

The words hung in the air between them.

It wasn’t until Yuuri cracked a smile that Victor’s resolve truly began to crumble. His eyes sparkled with equal parts amazement and adoration, and he reached out to caress Yuuri’s cheek with his gloved hand. “Do you have any idea how sexy you are when you talk like that? I think I’m in love.”

Yuuri’s smile widened. “Just so you know, I loved seeing you skate out there. It made me so happy. I don’t even know how to explain how happy it made me. Victor, please let me do this for you. For us.”

Though Victor still didn’t look pleased with the choices before him, he was wavering now. “You’ll come to me after Nationals? You’ll bring Makkachin?”

“Of course, I will. I planned to look into flights to Saint Petersburg after practice today. And yes, Makkachin’s coming with me. I can start packing up our stuff when I get to Japan and ship it over to you.”

“We’re going to be apart on my birthday, aren’t we?” Victor’s voice was so soft, it was barely audible.

The question made Yuuri’s smile waver, and he had to fight to maintain it. He covered Victor’s hand with his own and held it to his face. It was true. Victor’s birthday would take place right in the middle of Nationals. It hurt to see him mentally struggling to get past all the roadblocks that had kept Yuuri from sleeping last night.

“I’ve been thinking about that, too,” Yuuri said, “but don’t worry. I’ve already got something special planned. I’ll have a present for you on the 25th, and I’ll be in Saint Petersburg just a few days after that. If you don’t mind, we can celebrate in person then.” Victor was silent for so long that Yuuri felt compelled to wrap his arms around his neck and comfort him with a hug. “I promise I’ll make it up to you.”

“I don’t care about my birthday,” Victor said, his face pressed into the side of Yuuri’s neck. “I care about not having you. Why aren’t you more upset about this?”

Because I’m trying to be strong for you, Yuuri thought. “Because I’m thinking about everything positive we have to gain. It’s going to be hard, but being apart for two weeks is easier than one of us giving up our career, right?”

“Two weeks?” Victor squeezed Yuuri so tight that it was difficult to draw in breath. “God, I hate this.”

They would actually be apart a little longer than two weeks before they saw each other again after the end of Nationals, but now didn’t seem like the right time to point that out. Yuuri closed his eyes and let himself enjoy his fiancé’s embrace. He wanted to savor every moment with Victor while he still had the chance. “I know. I hate it, too. But we can do this. A few weeks apart is nothing compared to all the years we have ahead of us. I’m yours forever.”

Sometime later, when they finally emerged from behind the curtain, Victor’s face was blotchy with emotion, and Yuuri could feel his pulse beating in his lips from the many kisses they’d shared in the dark. The intimacy had gotten his pulse racing. They walked back to the rink together and took turns steadying the other person while they removed their skate guards.

Yuuri hadn’t warmed up yet, but they were running short on time. He stepped onto the ice first and extended his hand to his fiancé. “May I have this dance?” he said, trying his best to cheer Victor up.

It worked. The thin line of his mouth spread into the sweetest of smiles, and after he set his guards on the barrier, he accepted Yuuri’s hand and let himself be escorted onto the ice. “You’re going to sprain something if you don’t take more time to warm up,” Victor warned, though he didn’t look too concerned as he eyed Yuuri up and down rather flirtatiously.

“There you go, trying to sound like a coach again,” Yuuri teased. “Come on. Skate with me.”

After a quick glance to make sure he wouldn’t get in the way of anyone else currently on the ice, Yuuri pushed ahead, lifted his arms, and performed some of the movements from tonight’s exhibition routine. It was a familiar dance to them both, the choreography a mirror of Victor’s Free Skate from last season. It seemed fitting that they should skate this together now. Eight months ago, seeing Yuuri perform his routine was in part what drew Victor to Japan in the first place. It was as if this had always been their dance, even when they were skating it alone.

Only now, it was a duet.

Victor stayed back at first and watched with openly adoring eyes, but when Yuuri stopped and turned to offer his hand, his fiancé skated over to join him. Lost in music that only they could hear, Victor and Yuuri began to skate in time with one another, their blades lifting and touching down on the ice in near perfect synchronicity. Both had eyes only for each other and remained unaware that they’d captured the attention of almost everyone in the vicinity.

It was a dance they’d worked on in secret, devoting hours of practice to the surprise. Minako was the only person who knew any concrete details about it, though the Nishigori family might also suspect, having walked in on some of the rehearsals. While Victor had some limited experience with lifts, Yuuri did not. Minako had worked with them in her studio, teaching Yuuri how to position his body to help Victor instead of hindering him, before they moved their pair skating practices to the Ice Castle.

All their preparation had paid off. From behind, Victor placed both hands on Yuuri’s waist, and after a carefully timed push off, lifted him into the air. He closed his eyes for a second, the cool breeze on his skin giving him the feeling that he was flying, before Victor set him back down again. Aided by his partner, Yuuri had performed a half rotation in air, taking off facing forward and landing with his chest to Victor’s. Safe within the circle of his arms, Yuuri gripped Victor’s shoulder and allowed his upper body to be lowered into a romantic dip.

The movements were deceptively tricky and required a considerable amount of trust to be established between the two of them. Good thing they now had trust built up in spades. Mind, body, and heart. That and their knowledge of each other’s bodies made the dance look effortless.

“What the hell are you two doing?” Yurio called out when he skated past the pair. “Stop messing around. It’s embarrassing.”

“Did you hear something, my love?” Victor asked. Together they soared and spun across the ice—ducking beneath each other’s arms, switching places, both taking turns and leading their partner.

Yuuri stretched out a hand to stroke Victor’s smiling face, unable to resist touching something so lovely. “Not a thing.”

After practice, they weren’t able to spend much time together.

Yakov was serious when he’d told Victor that they were going to devote every available moment they had to preparing for Nationals. With the days they’d lose to traveling back to Saint Petersburg and then to the competition itself, Victor’s coach was understandably adamant about taking advantage of what little time they had. That meant when Yuuri returned to the hotel room, Victor did not join him.

Since the arena was unavailable for most of the day, Yakov had reserved Victor a local rink to practice at, the same one Minako had found for Yuuri the other night when he wanted to adjust the jump composition of his Free Skate. To convince the rink employee to let him skate after hours, Minako had promised him a Meet and Greet with Victor Nikiforov, who had never agreed to such a thing but had willingly met with the guy last night after Yuuri’s performance. Once Yakov caught wind of this, he’d demanded the rink employee’s phone number and had called up his manager so that he could work something out for the next day.

Yuuri was disappointed that he couldn’t spend his last day in Barcelona with Victor, but he kept himself busy so that he didn’t have time to feel sad. There were competition schedules to review and a flight to Saint Petersburg to book. He researched the rules for bringing a dog of Makkachin’s size and weight on an international flight and then called his mother to see if she’d request the most recent vaccination records from the veterinarian that had treated Makkachin after his accident. He also contacted the airline to move Victor’s return flight to Japan to a date in the future. He wouldn’t need it for some time, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t use that ticket later when they wanted to visit Yuuri’s family.

Somewhere in the middle of all this planning, Yuuri began to feel very much like Victor’s husband. It was nice to be able to take care of personal business for his partner like this.

After that was done, Yuuri spent some time purchasing items on the internet for Victor’s birthday surprise and then met his sister downstairs for lunch at the hotel restaurant. When he told her about his plans to move into Victor’s apartment in Saint Petersburg, Mari didn’t appear the least bit surprised.

“Just don’t forget about all of us in Hatsetsu,” she said, speaking to him in their native tongue. “Last time, I didn’t see you for five years.”

That made Yuuri feel rather guilty as he poked at his lunch with a fork. Though he and Mari had been very close during their childhood, he’d lost touch with his older sister during his college years. And it wasn’t just her. Yuuri had shut out everyone at home, too embarrassed to face them until he felt he had made something of himself that matched their hopes for his future. “I won’t let that happen, and neither would Victor. You, mom, and dad have become his family, too. He was really upset about not being able to come home with us and say goodbye to everyone.”

“Hmm. I suppose I approve of your fiancé,” Mari said with a twinkle in her eye. “He really loves you, Yuuri. I’ve seen it for myself, and that’s the only reason I’m willing to let him steal you away from us again. Because I know he makes you happy and that he’ll take good care of you—but also because I think Victor needs someone to take care of him, too.” She laughed a little. “I still can’t believe my sweet baby brother snagged Victor fucking Nikiforov. You better invite me to the wedding, you little turd, or so help me. No eloping allowed.”

The rest of the afternoon passed by quickly, each minute spent chipping away at Yuuri’s “To Do” list. Though he felt Victor’s absence like a hole cut into his heart, he distracted himself by laying out their costumes for the exhibition, as well as their suits for the banquet. Victor’s dress shirt needed a bit of ironing, which Yuuri took care of for him. They would have to vacate their hotel room tomorrow morning, so he also began to gather together their things so that they would be easy to pack.

Soon it was time to leave for the arena, and Victor still hadn’t returned to their room. However, he had texted Yuuri quite a bit during the day to keep him up to speed with what he was doing. Yakov had apparently ripped Victor’s Short Program choreography to shreds, and they had spent several hours rebuilding it to make it much stronger than before. Victor sounded dazed but excited in his texts, and that made it much easier for Yuuri to fight off any loneliness that threatened to creep into his thoughts.

He left for the arena by himself, carrying both of their costumes, ISU credentials, and other personal belongings they’d need before their performance. In the dressing rooms, he kept mostly to himself since there were few familiar faces around, although several people he wasn’t well acquainted with asked him if Victor was going to perform tonight. Rumors had already started to circulate.

Yuuri did his best to evade these questions until the Russian team finally arrived more than an hour behind schedule. A sour-faced Lilia led the way, followed by Mila and Yurio, who both looked annoyed that they were running late. They went immediately to get into their costumes.

Yakov swept into the room next and fixed Yuuri with a glower as he passed. This might have unsettled him more had Victor not appeared a moment later, looking a bit tired but just as gorgeous as he ever did. He met Yuuri’s eyes and smiled, his face lighting up at once. Victor must have been able to get into the arena without his credentials, which Yuuri was wearing around his neck along with his own, but with a face as famous as that, it wasn’t surprising.

After a shy greeting—because everyone in the entire room seemed to be watching them—Yuuri handed Victor his credentials, the garment bag that contained his exhibition costume, as well as a toiletry bag he’d requested so that he could make himself look presentable before their performance. (As if he didn’t already look perfect.) The exhibition would start in less than ten minutes, so there was little time for Victor to stop and chat. Thankfully, he was already warmed up, having spent much of the day at practice.

“What’s in the garment bag, Victor?” someone called, a voice Yuuri didn’t recognize. “That doesn’t look like a three-piece suit in there.”

Victor just laughed and waved before excusing himself to get dressed.

Yet again, Yuuri had been left on his own. Seeing Victor so briefly was like catching a glimpse of radiant sunshine before losing it behind rainclouds. It was bittersweet, but Yuuri knew that in order to get what he wanted, he had to first give some things up. If that meant sacrificing time with Victor over the next few weeks, then Yuuri was just going to have to make up his mind to smile through it.

He went by himself to watch the start of the gala. The arena was much darker than it was the night before, the lighting set for a show rather than a competition. The energy of the crowd and performers soon had his pulse quickening, and yet again, he was left with the feeling that he’d made the right choice about not retiring. Why should he give this up yet? He loved it—and loved that Victor would continue to be a part of it even more.

Victor found him eventually, joining Yuuri in the shadows where no one could see them. Alone at last.

Yuuri sensed his fiancé’s presence before he saw him and wasn’t startled when two arms encircled his waist. Letting out a sigh of relief, he leaned back against Victor and let himself be enveloped in his warmth. On the ice, JJ was in the midst of a raucous performance set to his own music, but Yuuri barely noticed, too distracted by the soft brush of Victor’s lips on his neck. He dragged the zipper of Yuuri’s team jacket south, slowly revealing the costume beneath.

It was patterned after Victor’s Free Skate costume from last year, only Yuuri’s was a deep, vivid blue instead of pink. They both wore black shirts underneath instead of the white one Victor favored last year, and the hardware on both costumes was silver instead of gold. Even with the subtle alterations, Victor’s fans would immediately recognize what they were wearing.

There in the dark, warm fingers slipped inside the opening of Yuuri’s shirt to explore the bare skin of his chest. “You look like a prince,” Victor murmured in his ear.

He certainly made Yuuri feel like one. Special. Set apart from everyone else.

“What does that make you?” Yuuri asked.

“Damn lucky,” Victor said. “That’s what.”

The audience’s cheering had reached its zenith. JJ’s performance was in its final moments, and soon it would be the senior male silver medalist’s turn to perform. When Yuuri turned around in his fiancé’s arms, he saw that Victor was dressed in his Russian team jacket to hide his costume until the last possible second. He must have had it with him at practice today.

Immediately, Yuuri’s heart skipped a beat. God, Victor looked gorgeous in that jacket. How was it possible to crush on someone this hard after all this time?

“Are you ready to scandalize the entire figure skating world, my love?” Victor said, his smile flashing in the dark. “We’re about to make history.”

“Just another day at the office,” Yuuri said with a shrug.

Victor chuckled at first but then quieted, his smile gradually cooling until it melted away. There was something hesitant about the way he held Yuuri’s waist between the spread of his hands.

“Yuuri,” Victor said, soft with vulnerability. “I think I’m a little nervous. It’s been a long time since I’ve performed in front of an audience. Not since Worlds. . .”

Yuuri’s eyes widened a degree.

Was he serious? Out of everything Victor could have said at that moment, this was perhaps the least expected. But Yuuri supposed at the end of the day, even living legends were only human.

“Just find me on the ice, and let me lead you,” Yuuri said, sliding his hand inside Victor’s jacket to place it flat over his racing heart. “You’re not fighting alone anymore, okay?”

After a somewhat bashful smile returned to warm his expression, Victor nodded and said, “Thank you, Yuuri. And thank you for supporting me through this transition. I wouldn’t be able to do it without you. But I want you to remember that even when we’re miles apart, you’re not alone either. I am always fighting with you.”

Yuuri slid his hand up Victor’s chest and then hooked an arm around his neck. Balancing on their skates, they folded each other up in a crushing embrace and did not let go, oblivious to the world around them. They stood, breathing in each other’s scent, swaying ever so slightly to music no one else could hear, until it was time to go make history.

With the final Grand Prix performance of the season now behind him, Yuuri soon found himself faced with a new kind of horror.

If there was anything he was dreading more about this trip than the competition itself, it was without a doubt the annual ISU banquet. Yet here he was. In a stuffy room filled with stuffy people with nothing to do but gossip, drink, and make Yuuri feel self-conscious. No wonder he’d sought refuge in a bottle of champagne last year.

The gathering was held in one of the banquet halls on the first floor of their hotel, and the décor was quite different than last year. Warmer and more inviting, with wood paneled walls and a softly lit chandelier overhead that glittered with hundreds of crystals. Though the room was reasonably comfortable in size, it was an intimate space to share with so many guests.

Yuuri’s memories of the banquet in Sochi were still fuzzy, but he was certain he had embarrassed himself thoroughly enough that he didn’t want to see any of these people ever again. He’d begged Victor not to make him go, only to be answered with a tearful response of: “But the banquet is where our love story began.”

Victor could be unbearably dramatic at times.

And so it was that Yuuri found himself lost in a crowd of strangers that all seemed to know who he was even though he had no recollection of meeting them. Everyone had something to say to him—about his medal, Victor’s comeback, the pair skating at the exhibition, the broken world record, and he lost count of how many times the subject of pole-dancing came up.

His face hurt from smiling, and his palms were sweaty. He was, however, still wearing his pants, so all in all, it was a vast improvement over last year.

God, he wished he was drunk.

But, no. Yuuri was on his absolute best behavior, taking only the rarest and most conservative sips from a glass of red wine and trying very hard not to spill a drop of it on his new suit. Victor had purchased it for him as a present a few days earlier during their Barcelona shopping spree. Yuuri had to admit that it fit him rather nicely, even though they hadn’t had time to get it tailored to Victor’s liking, but he was worried he would somehow mess it up. Or worse, lose track of it altogether if he drank too much. . .

While the banquet was relatively close to Yuuri’s personal idea of hell, he had to admit that it wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be. He actually knew a few people this year.

He took the time to congratulate JJ on his triumph at the Free Skate and even posed for a selfie with him. His fiancée, Isabella, was complimentary of Yuuri’s exhibition performance with Victor. She seemed to like how supportive Yuuri was of JJ, who did not have many friends amongst his fellow skaters. Yuuri knew all too well how that felt and couldn’t help but empathize.

After Yuuri parted ways with the happy couple, he found Yurio over by the table of hors d’oeuvres. Together, they bonded over their craving for Grandpa Plisetsky’s katsudon piroshkies, which they both would have gladly traded their medals for at that moment. Yurio introduced Yuuri to Otabek, whom he’d met before at dinner the night before their Short Program but hadn’t spoken more than a few words to.

The two of them tried to explain katsudon to Otabek, who eventually just shrugged and said, “If it’s that good, why don’t we find a Japanese restaurant after the banquet so I can try it?”’

Yurio looked a bit too delighted to provide the answer. “Because little piggy here can’t eat any unless he wins a gold medal.”

“But you won gold.” Otabek’s dark eyes fixed Yurio in place, unsmiling yet not unkind. “You could be a charitable winner, order the katsudon yourself, and share it with your friend.”

Yuuri’s eyebrows ascended as he watched Yurio’s cheeks first flush pink, then deepen into an impressive shade of red. It wasn’t often the fifteen-year-old was at a loss for words, particularly after someone had told him point-blank what to do. What was that all about?

Before Yuuri could weigh in on the conversation, Christophe approached the trio and threw an arm around his shoulders. “Yuuri,” he purred, making his name sound obscene in the process. “Have you ever given much thought to polyamory? I’d like you to meet someone dear to my heart.”

Which was Christophe’s way of introducing Yuuri to his partner, a handsome man around the same age who watched his promiscuous Swiss with patient affection. The three of them engaged in small talk while Otabek and Yurio turned in to have a quiet conversation between just the two of them.

“Where’s Victor this evening?” Christophe asked. “I expected you two to be glued at the hip, yet yours remain conspicuously unoccupied. Not that I’m complaining about the available real estate.”

“Um.” Yuuri took a hasty sip of wine. “Well. Victor is, uh. . .”

As it turned out, he didn’t have to explain any further because Victor’s boisterous laughter could be heard clear across the room.

“Drunk?” Christophe guessed with a green-eyed wink.

“Drunk,” Yuuri confirmed.

Unlike him, Victor had come to the banquet with absolutely no intention of behaving himself. Having officially announced his return to competitive skating, followed by a widely-lauded pair skating performance alongside his fiancé, Victor was on Cloud 9 and showed little sign of descending. When they had first arrived, he’d consumed glass after glass of champagne as he ushered Yuuri around the room, introducing him to acquaintances and sponsors. It wasn’t until Phichit and Victor started bonding over pictures of a scruffy-haired Yuuri during his college years that he became desperate to make an escape.

“Let him have his fun,” Christophe said. “He seems happy. I think we all are, now that he’s found his way back to the ice where he belongs.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Yuuri said and lifted his glass.

After a pleasant conversation with Christophe and his partner, who was a skater himself, Yuuri became distracted when he spotted a scowling face off to his left. His stomach twisted into a knot as he realized Yakov Feltsman was headed in his direction.

“Yuuri,” the older man said, his voice gruff but milder than expected. “A word?”

Excusing himself from the group, Yuuri followed Yakov to a quieter part of the room. From his new vantage point, he could see Victor better—red-cheeked, tie loosened, and having the time of his life as he thumbed through the images on Phichit’s phone. Ugh. Exactly how many pictures from college did he have?

Following Yuuri’s gaze, Yakov said, “I think we both know Victor’s not doing as well as he appears to be.”

Yuuri pressed his lips together and nodded. “He’s upset about going back to Russia tomorrow.” It was probably why Victor was drinking so heavily in the first place. While not the most ideal way of dealing with something upsetting, at least he was a good-tempered drunk.

“You understand my problem, then,” Yakov said.

Yuuri tensed in anticipation of whatever was coming next. He was prepared to have Yakov keep challenging Victor’s decision to coach Yuuri but had hoped he would keep these conversations between the three of them instead of cornering Yuuri alone. “P-problem?”

“Vitya needs to be packed and down at the hotel lobby by seven tomorrow morning. I need your help making sure he gets there and doesn’t try to change his mind about leaving. He doesn’t pay attention to a damn word I say, but he does seem to listen to you.”

“He . . . he does?” That was news to Yuuri.

“Last night, you told me you want him to succeed,” Yakov said. “For that to happen, he’s going to need a push in the right direction. Are you going to help me get him to the airport on time or not?”

Yuuri still had his eyes on Victor, who was now drinking straight from a bottle of champagne and squinting at the crowd like he was looking for someone. “He’ll be there. I’ll make sure of it.”

“Who will coach you at Nationals?”

“I have someone at home in mind.”

“An amateur, then.”

“Yes, but I’ll have plenty of support in my home country. I feel good about my chances.”

“Hmph.” Yakov pulled a business card out of his pocket and handed it to Yuuri. Tapping it twice, he said, “This has my e-mail address. Victor said you’ll be sending him recordings of your practices. Send them to me as well, and I’ll give you notes back. If you’re smart, you’ll pay attention to them.”

Astonished by the offer, Yuuri gaped at the business card and then up at the man himself.

“You help my Vitya,” Yakov said, “and I’ll help you. Understand?”

The words themselves made sense, but Yuuri still struggled to wrap his mind around them. Yakov Feltsman was a genius. A legend among coaches. Passing up a critique from him would be like refusing free coaching lessons from a master. But more importantly, Yakov was offering to take some of the pressure off Victor while he prepared for his own competition, and there was no way Yuuri was going to refuse that.

“I don’t know what to say. Thank you. Though . . . I hope you know I would help Victor anyway. Like I told you last night—I’m committed to making this work. I want to see him succeed just as much as you do.”

Something glinted in Yakov’s eyes that might have been approval. “When you get home, you can start by fixing that mess of a quadruple flip. What was that crap? My grandmother can skate better, and she’s dead. You’re too hungry for it, and it makes you hunch over during your take off. How can you expect to fly when you position yourself like a worthless sack of potatoes?”

“Y-yes, sir,” Yuuri stammered, feeling his temperature rise beneath the collar of his shirt. “I’ll work on that.”

“Yuuuuuri!” Out of nowhere, Victor came flying at him and nearly tackled Yuuri to the ground with a hug. It was all he could do to keep his wine from spilling everywhere. “Oh, my sweetheart,” Victor gushed as he snuggled his fiancé, a bottle of champagne still clenched in one hand. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. You were so cute in those pictures from college. I’ve never seen a sexier Freshman Fifteen on anyone.”

Yakov was still eyeing Yuuri like he wasn’t convinced yet if he was an enemy or ally. “Seven o’clock tomorrow morning. Sharp.”

Yuuri readjusted his grip on Victor to make sure he didn’t fall and said, “He’ll be there.”

After Yakov wandered off in search of a drink, Victor whispered loudly in Yuuri’s ear, “He’s so grumpy. All day long . . . nothing but grumpy, grumpy, grumpy. What was that all about anyway?”

“Nothing really.” Yuuri had set his wine down on a nearby table and was trying his best to pry the bottle of champagne out of Victor’s fingers. “He told me what time you need to leave tomorrow morning. He also offered to watch the videos of my practices for Nationals and give me feedback, which is a pretty generous offer, I think.”

“Really? Yuuri . . . that’s quite the compliment. Yakov doesn’t offer his time to just anyone. You must have impressed him.”

Yuuri felt the knot of anxiousness in his stomach release. He’d been worried Victor might not like that someone else had offered to help with his coaching duties, but he didn’t look even a little upset. Yuuri supposed Victor viewed them all as one big happy family now. “More likely, he wants to make things easier on you. He said I hunch over before my quad flips, and that’s why I have trouble on the landing.”

“Oh. . .” Victor blinked several times as he considered this bit of information. “You know, that’s good advice. He’s probably said that to me a million times, but I guess I forgot.”

Finally, Yuuri got the champagne out of Victor’s iron-clad grip, placed it on a table out of reach, and pulled his fiancé in the opposite direction. A group of ISU officials captured their attention not long after that, and Victor launched into a surprisingly coherent discussion with them about his plans for next season. While he looked more than happy to talk with the group, Yuuri knew Victor’s genuine smiles well enough by now to spot a fake one. It wasn’t surprising when he kept the conversation short and whisked Yuuri away the first chance he got.

“I’ve been looking forward to tonight the entire weekend,” Victor said when they were out of earshot, “but now I just want to be alone with you. Is that bad? I’ve missed you all day.”

Being alone with Victor sounded like heaven to Yuuri. “Want to go somewhere private?”

They ended up in an empty ballroom adjacent to the one where the banquet was being held. The room was dark, but large windows lit up the space well enough to see. Outside, the moon shone bright, painting oblong rectangular shadows of the window panes onto the floor.

There were circular tables set up all around the room for another event that had ended earlier that night but had not yet been fully cleaned up. There were spectacular vases of white flowers at the center of every table with little crystals dripping from the stems. At the far end of the room was a grand piano, and the nearby empty space and barren microphone stands revealed a full band had performed there earlier that day.

“Looks like it’s set up for a wedding reception,” Yuuri said as they stepped onto the dance floor, fingers intertwined. With the sound of the banquet next door carrying over into the ballroom, it was easy to imagine the ghosts of the wedding guests were still here, standing all around them. Laughing, drinking, celebrating the joining of two souls into one.

Victor tugged on Yuuri’s hand, prompting him to stop and turn to face him. When he saw those gorgeous blue eyes smoldering in the dark, Yuuri felt his stomach drop to the floor. Victor still possessed the power to disarm Yuuri with a single glance.

His pulse was racing as Victor pulled him close and put his arms around Yuuri’s waist. After his own arms went around Victor’s neck, they began to move together in a slow dance. “Imagine if it was for our wedding,” Victor said, his breath pleasantly scented with champagne. “This could be our first dance.”

Yuuri flushed. While he had no problems imagining himself married to Victor, Yuuri had never given much thought to an actual wedding—not even after his sister had made mention of it at lunch earlier that day. Standing there in that empty ballroom in the middle of someone’s picture perfect dream made the idea of their own wedding day seem much more tangible.

Victor took Yuuri’s hand within his own and spun him around once before pulling him back into his arms. This time, they fell into a more traditional ballroom dancing position with Victor’s hand on Yuuri’s waist and their opposite hands clasped, arms extended. Even as they smiled at each other and fell into a simple dance, Yuuri could sense that his partner was tired.

Victor’s eyes were half-lidded, his silvery eyelashes difficult to hold up. Not only was he exhausted after a long day of practice and a performance that night, but Victor was clearly struggling under the weight of his emotions as well. There was something bittersweet about the way he smiled down at Yuuri.

“Do you want a big wedding or a small one?” Yuuri asked. Wedding planning wasn’t something he was personally excited about. Yuuri just wanted to be married and wouldn’t mind skipping the ceremony entirely, but he sensed Victor did not feel the same. He would want a wedding, so perhaps imagining the event would cheer him up.

“I definitely want our friends and family there,” Victor said. “And Makkachin wearing a little tuxedo with our rings attached to his collar. But I don’t think I want it in a room like this. It’s lovely . . . but it doesn’t feel quite like ‘us,’ you know?”

Yuuri agreed. It felt like they were dancing at someone else’s wedding instead of their own. “What if we got married at the beach? That feels more like ‘us.’”

Victor brightened, charmed by the idea. “In Hasetsu?”

“We’ll have to wait until it’s warmer.”

“I want flowers. A ridiculous amount of them. So many, our guests can smell them even before they see everything. And I want rose petals for them to toss at us before we leave for our honeymoon.”

Yuuri smiled. It wasn’t so much the idea of a wedding that made him happy—but rather seeing Victor so animated as he talked about it. “Where will we go?” Yuuri asked, encouraging him to continue.

“Some secluded tropical island where we spend the entire honeymoon naked.”

“Hmm. Whatever will we do to pass the time without our clothes?”

With a grin, Victor spun him around a second time, and when they came back together, he insisted Yuuri take the lead. “I like talking about our future together,” Victor said, “but it always feels so far away. I want it all now.”

Yuuri tightened his arm around Victor’s waist, pulling their bodies closer together. He could sense what Victor wasn’t saying—that he was getting sad again about going back to Russia alone.

“I don’t suppose we could elope tonight, could we?” Victor continued. He let out a soft laugh, and the sound of it made Yuuri’s heart ache.

“One more dance?” he suggested.

Victor leaned down to rest his head on Yuuri’s shoulder. They quieted and closed their eyes, savoring every breath and heartbeat as they swayed together in the moonlight.

After leaving the banquet, they went out for a late dinner with Yurio and Otabek. Japanese food, like Otabek had suggested. Even though the katsudon on the menu was nowhere near the quality of what they could get at home, they had a good time and laughed and talked until the restaurant closed its doors for the night.

When they were alone again, Victor and Yuuri went in search of caffeine and finally located a coffee shop open late. Two doppio espressos later, they had a much easier time keeping their eyes open. Though they were both tired after a long day, neither was willing to waste a second of their remaining hours together with sleep. They could rest on the plane tomorrow.

They took their time walking back to the hotel. The surge of caffeine had sobered Victor right up, and Yuuri was pleased to see that his fiancé’s mood remained elevated without the alcohol in his system. Victor’s laughs and smiles came easy, as if he too understood that even though their impending split would be difficult, the future held much happiness for them both.

In the elevator, they lost themselves in a kiss.

Gentle, warm, achingly familiar yet just as thrilling as their first.

Once they reached the quiet of their room, they undressed one another—flirting with their eyes and the occasional tease of a kiss as they undid buttons and slipped their hands inside. They left a trail of discarded clothes behind on their way to the bed.

Yuuri was rather fond of this hotel room. While he hadn’t entered it a virgin by any means, his sex life with Victor had certainly matured within these four walls. Their time here had been their first true taste of living alone together, which gave them the freedom to be more physical and vocal with each other. Remembering just how vocal they’d been seared Yuuri’s cheeks with a blush.

God, the things they had done in this room. . .

They took it slow tonight, favoring romance over roughness for their last hours together. Victor moved on top of Yuuri and kissed him breathless, all the while caressing his face like he wanted to commit the feel of it to memory.

Yuuri loved feeling Victor’s hips wedged between his thighs. He loved hooking his ankles and trapping him there. He loved the long drag of Victor’s cock in and out of him and the way his tight, muscled ass pumped beneath Yuuri’s lower legs. He loved the taste of Victor’s tongue and the way his mouth spread into a beautiful smile, even while they were still kissing.

Whoever said the missionary position was boring must not have done it with someone they were madly in love with. Yuuri pitied them—because it didn’t get any better than this.

For their second round, Victor requested something a little more vigorous. Yuuri took him hard, pinning Victor face-down to the bed with his arms twisted behind his back, a necktie wrapped around his wrists.

Victor loved it. He came to pieces right there under Yuuri’s careful watch. This wasn’t about hurting or dominating his lover. There was absolute relief on Victor’s face as he gave up control to someone he trusted without question. It was a much-needed release of pressure, and all the steam trapped inside came rushing out at once, leaving him boneless and pleading for more.

Yuuri spanked Victor’s ass until it glowed pink and radiated warmth, and afterward, Victor lay on the bed in a daze, smiling like an idiot while his lover’s come trickled down the cleft of his cheeks. He looked absolutely debauched with the necktie unraveling from his wrists, leaving faint stripes of red skin behind.

Yuuri was a little jealous.

“My turn?” he asked, hoping Victor wasn’t ready to stop.

They made love for hours—taking turns and making out like teenagers between sessions. After they were wrung out, they snuggled together beneath the sheets and talked. Victor somehow convinced Yuuri to let him take a picture of him naked.

“For those lonely nights in Saint Petersburg,” he explained with a sultry wink.

Yuuri’s heart was in his throat as he allowed his fiancé to snap a photo with his phone. It felt dangerous but exciting, something he normally wouldn’t have agreed to were he not so caught up in the moment.

Victor kept it reasonably discreet. Yuuri was naked beneath the sheets with nothing important on display except for his bare chest and one long leg—but the outline of his ass was visible. There were love bites all over his neck and shoulders, and his lips were swollen and red from Victor’s kisses. Anyone who saw that picture would know exactly what Victor had done to Yuuri moments before it was taken.

Victor was quite pleased with the image. “Well, I know what I’m going to be staring at for the next two weeks. . .”

“Do I get one of you?” Yuuri asked, his fingers inching up Victor’s bare thigh.

After a rather indecent photo session that Victor was more than happy to participate in, the lateness of the hour began to catch up to him. His eyelids drooped, and his breathing eventually slowed as he drifted off to sleep.

Yuuri stroked his lover’s hair and smiled as he watched him. He didn’t think he could fall asleep yet himself, and there wasn’t much point to it anyway. It was close to four in the morning, and Victor had to be packed and downstairs in three hours. Yuuri was worried if he let himself fall asleep now that he wouldn’t wake up on time.

Besides . . . it was kind of nice to watch Victor sleep.

Yuuri pressed his face to Victor’s shoulder, closed his eyes, and mentally said his goodbyes right then and there. In just a few hours, he was going to have to turn his emotions off and be strong for Victor’s sake, but tonight, he could let himself feel it for just a little while.

“I miss you already,” Yuuri whispered, tears stinging his eyes.

Two hours later, Yuuri kissed Victor awake and handed him a cup of coffee before he could start complaining.

As Victor sipped his drink and struggled to keep his eyes open, Yuuri continued to move about the room, collecting any personal item he saw and carrying it over to their suitcases. Everything was now packed except for a pair of clothes for them both and a few items in the bathroom that they would need to get ready.

It took some convincing to coax Victor out of bed and into the shower, but he eventually complied. When he emerged twenty minutes later with a towel wrapped around his waist, he looked much more awake but wasn’t the least bit happy about it. He barely said a word and sat down on the bed to sulk instead of getting dressed.

Yuuri handed Victor his clothes but couldn’t convince him to put them on until he bribed him with a promise to call the airline and see if there were any first-class seats available.

As Yuuri brought the wet towel back to the bathroom, he had his phone held to his ear with his shoulder. “Yes, that’s right. The ticket is for my fiancé. Do you need his flight number? One second . . . let me find it.” He rushed back into the bedroom and grabbed the printout with Victor’s flight information off the nightstand. “Okay, I have it right here.”

Though Victor’s sulking continued, he did look slightly appeased when he heard Yuuri refer to him as his fiancé. The first-class ticket was secured not long after Yuuri spelled out Victor’s name, and the person on the phone recognized it. A few minutes later, Yuuri hung up with a triumphant smile. Normally, he hated dealing with people on the phone, but if a seat in first-class would cheer Victor up, then it was worth it.

“All right,” Yuuri said. “You’re all set. Did you get everything out of the bathroom, like your shampoo and soap from the shower?”

Victor hugged a pillow to his chest. “It’s like you want me to go.”

Yakov was right. It was going to be a feat to get Victor downstairs.

“I want you to make your flight,” Yuuri said. “Because if you don’t, you’re going to be stuck in Barcelona by yourself. Don’t forget that I’m flying out today, too.”

When Victor buried his face in the pillow instead of responding, Yuuri left a kiss on the crown of his head and went into the bathroom to check for missed belongings. Sure enough, Victor’s things were still everywhere. It was like he’d spread them out on purpose so that he could drag his feet as long as possible this morning. Yuuri packed everything up into Victor’s toiletry bag and brought it to his suitcase.

“Do you have your skates?” Yuuri asked.

“Yakov took them last night,” Victor said, his voice muffled into the pillow. “Said he didn’t trust me not to sabotage my own comeback. But I wouldn’t do that.”

Yuuri almost pointed out that Victor was engaged in a bit of self-sabotage at that very moment. If he missed his flight and had to wait hours for another one, that could result in a day or more of lost practice time for Nationals.


Victor looked up, sadness written in his eyes.

“It’s time to go downstairs,” Yuuri said gently.

They went down together, hand in hand, with Yuuri wheeling the suitcase, and Victor’s eyes hidden behind a pair of sunglasses. He wasn’t wearing them because of the sun. His mouth was pulled into a downward slope.

It was 6:59 in the morning, and Yuuri had kept his promise to Yakov with only seconds to spare. They found the Russian team already loading their luggage up into a large, eight-passenger taxi van parked at the front of the hotel. Lilia and Yakov were arguing about something, but both quieted when they spotted Victor and Yuuri’s approach. Yakov looked impressed.

A bleary-eyed Mila was already in the van, bundled in a puffy coat with a Styrofoam cup held close to her lips, letting the steam waft up to her nose. Yurio stood off to the side with his hands crammed into his jacket pockets, and he glared at the morning like he was pissed off that it had come so soon. Yuuri knew just how he felt.

The driver of the van took Victor’s suitcase from Yuuri and loaded it into the back with the others. Even with his face hidden by the sunglasses, Victor looked absolutely miserable as he watched it go.

“Hey.” Yuuri squeezed Victor’s hand. “I’m going to be in Russia with you before you know it. This is nothing. We’re going to blink, and it will be over.”

“It doesn’t feel like nothing,” Victor whispered. A lone tear streaked down his face, and he quickly wiped it away.

Yuuri’s lips parted in surprise.

It was the second time in the span of a few days that he’d seen Victor cry, and it drove an ache deep into Yuuri’s throat. He released Victor’s hand and wrapped his arms around him for a hug instead. Behind them, Lilia was getting settled in the van, and Yakov was directing Yurio to get moving as well. Yuuri met Yakov’s eyes and gave him a little nod to let him know he understood it was time to go.

“I don’t like this,” Victor said, hugging Yuuri tighter. “I can’t just leave you here in Spain by yourself.”

“But I’m not by myself. My sister and Minako-sensei are still here, and they’ll be on the same flight with me home. You don’t need to worry. I’m taken care of.”

“Fine. Then who’s going to take care of me?”

“All the people in the van behind you. They love you, Vitya.”

When Victor drew in a sharp breath and held it for a second, Yuuri couldn’t help but smile. He’d never called Victor that nickname before, and he seemed to like it. Yuuri would have to use it more often.

“Vitya,” Yakov said. “Finish your goodbyes and get in the van before we miss our flight. That goes for you, too, Yuri.”

“You both realize you’re giving the paparazzi a show, right?” Yurio muttered as he passed.

Yuuri blinked and looked around, then spotted two men with cameras standing at the opposite end of the driveway. Yurio was right. Those weren’t the usual variety of reporters often found at these types of events. Those were people who wanted to take and sell pictures of Victor Nikiforov to any magazine or gossip site that would buy them.

Victor pulled back from the embrace and blew out a breath, looking like he would rather walk over hot coals than go to the airport. “Better smile for the cameras, then,” he said—and then leaned in to give Yuuri a long goodbye kiss.

And oh, did the paparazzi take advantage of that moment.

Though Yuuri was aware that picture after picture was being taken of them, he made the decision to close his eyes and concentrate only on the sweetness of Victor’s kiss.

Who cared if the world knew about them? The more courageous part of Yuuri was glad any public doubt would be wiped away the second those photos hit the internet. Victor Nikiforov had just told the world in no uncertain terms that his heart belonged to Katsuki Yuuri. Why on earth would he complain about that?

When they parted, Yuuri tried his best to smile. “I love you. See you soon, okay?”

Victor swiped at another tear. “Love you, too.” The words were choked with emotion, and it was all he managed to say before Yakov put a hand on his shoulder and encouraged him to get into the van.

“Don’t worry, Yuuri,” Mila called from inside. “We’ll take good care of him for you.”

“Thanks,” Yuuri said, blinking away tears of his own.

Yurio was still standing outside the open door of the van, gaping at Victor like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Turning his attention to Yuuri, he said, “What did you do to him?”

“I have no idea,” Yuuri said truthfully. “Bye, Yurio. Have a good flight—and congratulations on your win.”

“Ja ne,” Yurio said. “Don’t fuck up Nationals. Someone has to help me kick this geezer’s ass at Worlds.”

On his way back upstairs, Yuuri realized he’d left his cell phone behind in the hotel room. A few minutes later, he found it on the nightstand and grinned down at the screen when he saw he had already received one missed call and six texts from Victor.

Is it too soon to call?

Am I being a stalker boyfriend?

I can’t help it. You’re my favorite and I miss you.

Why aren’t you texting me back? Did you die or get kidnapped?

BTW how do you feel about phone sex?

Call your stalker boyfriend please. He misses you and has an overactive imagination.

Yuuri laughed as his phone started ringing in his hand. It was Victor, of course. Instantly, the sadness lifted away from Yuuri’s mind—because while they were physically apart, that didn’t mean they couldn’t talk to each other.

Answering the call, he lifted the phone to his ear and said, “You’re not my stalker boyfriend anymore, remember? We got engaged. That makes you my stalker fiancé now.”

“Then be nice and text me back once in a while,” Victor said.

“You’ve been gone for five minutes!”

“Exactly! That’s like an eternity in stalker time.”

While Yuuri prepared his own bag for his flight home, he and Victor chatted about the most mundane things. About the drive to the airport and what his taxi driver was saying about the famous landmarks they passed. About the game Mila had just showed Victor on her phone and how the sound of it made Yakov’s face turn the funniest shade of purple. About Yuuri’s plans to have breakfast with Phichit and what he might order at the restaurant. About whether they preferred espresso to plain brewed coffee.

Meaningless chatter about nothing at all, really.

It was like Victor was still right there in the hotel room with Yuuri, sitting on the bed and keeping him company while he packed.

And it was wonderful not to be alone.

To be continued