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Call Everything on the Ice...

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Victor Nikiforov is not a naturally deceptive person.

He’s not perfect, of course. He’ll admit he has a tendency toward something like arrogance. (Although is it really arrogance when he’s literally been the best for five years running?) He has no sense of direction, he forgets everything that’s not about skating, and deep down, he’s aware that there’s something indefinably wrong with him, something essential he’s missing.

But he has never been a liar. If anything, his typical fault is being straightforward when he should back down.

Which is why it comes as a shock to him when he realizes that he is perpetrating the biggest deception of his life on the man he loves…

#

It starts a few days after Victor arrives in Hasetsu, and it’s all because of ninjas.

He and Yuuri have just taken a tour of Hasetsu Castle, and Victor has posted his selfies with Makkachin. The view from the top of the castle is breathtaking. The blue waters of the bay lie to one side of him; the buildings of Hasetsu are spread in a half-circle to the other. A slow-moving river bisects the town. The lines of the houses are soft and indistinct in the lifting haze. Victor can make out a series of roads crisscrossing the perimeter, and that gives him an idea…

“Yuuri.” Victor puts on his best coach face, one that he hopes comes off as stern and yet supportive.

“Mmmm?”

“I noticed you weren’t running very fast on our way to the gym.”

“Ahhh!” Yuuri blushes. “I know. I’m—I’m not in the best of shape, but I’m improving already, I promise!”

Victor has been in Hasetsu for a handful of days, and he still hasn’t figured out exactly what Yuuri wants of him. Every day the man poses more of a puzzle. He runs away when Victor makes it clear he’s interested in anything and everything; he blushes and avoids eye contact at the first sign of flirtation. He talks like he’s a hopeless dime-a-dozen skater instead of one of the few people who could—in top form—challenge Victor for the apex of the podium.

Victor strokes his chin, looks at Yuuri, and tries to imagine what Yakov would do in a situation like this.

(He feels a twinge: Yakov isn’t here, and everything is wrong between them. But never mind that; Victor’s coaching right now. He can’t think of Yakov.)

“From here, it looks like it wouldn’t be that hard to go all the way round Hasetsu,” Victor says with all the cheer he can muster, refusing to think of how Yakov would say exactly the same thing in this situation. If his Russian rinkmates were here, they would already be groaning at these words.

“See?” He points out a loose route around the perimeter. “That road there, there, and then there, and back across the bridge.”

Yuuri gives him a suspicious look, as if he knows where this is going.

Victor’s smile broadens. “How far is that, do you think?”

“Four, maybe five K?”

“Hmm.” Victor does a little math in his head. “I think I’ll stroll down to that little beach and take a look around. Is there a place near there where we could meet?”

“Uh…” Yuuri squints toward the shore. “In front of the Nintei Kodomo En Showa Kindergarten is probably easiest.” His frown deepens. “But Victor, why do we have to meet somewhere, when we’re already together?”

Victor smiles beatifically. “Because you’re going to run around Hasetsu, Yuuri. I’ll meet you in front of the kindergarten. If I get there before you, you’ll have to do a hundred jumping jacks.”

Yuuri sighs. “It’s not even half a kilometer to the kindergarten. Obviously you’ll get there before me. Just tell me to run around Hasetsu and do the jumping jacks, if that’s what you intend.”

“I’m a tourist,” Victor tells him. “I’ll meander. A little.” He gives Yuuri a wink.

Yuuri blushes and takes a quick step back, as if Victor’s winks are toxic. “Right. I see. Yes.” A deep breath, before he looks back at Victor. “So… What if I’m there before you?”

“Then we’ll do a hundred jumping jacks together.” Victor bestows a magnanimous smile on Yuuri.

Georgi would have thrown something at him. Yuuri just shakes his head.

Victor sets his hands on Yuuri’s shoulders, swivels him so that he’s facing downhill, and gives him a gentle push. “What are you waiting for? Don’t waste time. Go!”

#

Victor plans to meander a bit. Based on Yuuri’s earlier pace, he figures that taking a little less than half an hour will be perfect—just long enough for Yuuri to arrive first, if he pushes himself, but not enough that he’ll have a chance to slack off. The goal is to convince him to do his best.

But there’s a problem with Victor’s plan, one that he really should have realized before he waved Yuuri off. The photos he’s been taking have eaten up the battery on his phone. It dies just as he’s taking a selfie in a park along the river. It’s his first time alone in Hasetsu. Normally maps and street signs would help (a little), but Victor can’t read Japanese.

Time for Plan B.

A second twinge: Victor’s usual Plan B is to wait for Yakov to find him.

Oh, God. He can’t think about Yakov.

Yakov, who knows Victor’s sense of direction is so utterly abysmal that he sighs and sends someone to rescue him every time he’s late. Yakov, who threatened to put a leash on Victor the fifth time he got lost going to the bathroom at an unfamiliar skating rink. Yakov, who would wait for Victor after every one of his interviews, because if he didn’t, there was a fifty-percent chance Victor would be unable to find his own hotel room. Yakov, who begged Victor not to leave, heard him say good-bye, waited ten seconds as he watched Victor walk away from him, before sighing and reminding him that the airport was in the other direction; if he was going to be an idiot, he should at least manage to arrive in the proper country first, and did he need a ride?

Yakov is not here.

Homesickness washes over Victor in a wave of breath-stealing loss. Yakov is back in St. Petersburg, and every time Victor calls, Yakov yells. Which he rather expects; Yakov yells when he’s happy, too.

Nothing in Japan has turned out as Victor expected. The Yuuri he remembers from the Grand Prix final, the one he came here to find, is refusing to talk to him about even the most basic things.

Victor’s lost in a strange place, and he’s the only one who can fix it.

He looks around in desperation, and finds…Makkachin. Thank God; he’s not really alone.

“Find Yuuri,” he tells Makkachin. “Find him! Good girl!”

Makkachin gives him an understanding look and sets off at a determined pace.

It’s as good an idea as any. She’s a surprisingly smart dog. She likes Yuuri. Her sense of direction is better than Victor’s.

(Everyone’s sense of direction is better than Victor’s. He suspects that acorns come equipped with better navigational systems.)

Victor follows her.

Of course, Makkachin has never been trained in anything like owner search-and-rescue, so they end up in a park he’s never seen before.

“Find Yuuri!” Victor says again. “Is Yuuri here?”

Her tail beats the air insistently. She darts across the lawn, her body language communicating delight and excitement, exactly the way she does when she sees someone she knows. Oh my God, Victor can’t believe this worked!

She stops in front of a tree. Sniffs. Then she comes bounding back, galumphing up to Victor…

Oh. That would be a moldy ball that she just dropped at his feet. She looks up expectantly, her tail waving madly.

You asked me for a thing! Was I a good dog? Did I do the thing?

“Um. Makka. That’s…”

Victor looks down into Makkachin’s delighted dark brown eyes, and… And what the hell. Victor’s not going to make his dog sad.

“Good girl!” he says. “You did great!” He throws the ball.

He has no idea where he is now. He is completely fucked.

Plan C: Find someone who speaks English, French, or Russian and ask for directions.

English is easy enough, but the directions themselves? Now that he’s completely off track, they’re almost impossible to follow. He can’t remember the actual name of the kindergarten he’s looking for, and even once he’s able to make himself understood, the directions he gets—“turn left on such-and-such a street” are useless because he has no idea where such-and-such a street is, how to identify it, or which way left is. Besides, he forgets the street name after he’s gone a hundred yards anyway, the unfamiliar syllables refusing to stick in his brain.

It starts to rain.

Victor is aware that he should be upset. But for some reason, this final touch—the cold droplets of rain soaking through his clothing—strikes him as so on the nose that he finds it hilarious. At least Makkachin enjoys the game of wandering down streets and swearing.

Victor eventually makes his bedraggled way to the kindergarten two and a half hours later. Yuuri is standing on a bench, scanning the street with a worried expression.

His eyes land on Victor, and for the first time since Victor has arrived, he looks happy to see him. A brilliant smile lights his face, a combination of relief and delight, and, oh, god, it’s so nice to see. Victor has been secretly worrying that Yuuri doesn’t even want him around, that Yuuri knows that undefinable lack that Victor has mostly hidden. That possibility has kept him up every night thus far.

“Victor, there you are!” Yuuri jumps off the bench and runs to him. “I’m so sorry, I know I have much to improve on—”

Victor wipes the rain from his eyes and wrinkles his nose in confusion. “You’re sorry?”

Yuuri nods vigorously. “I am a little slow. I could have pushed harder. I know you got tired of waiting and left, and I didn’t know if I should go back to the onsen to see if you were there, or if you’d just gone back to Russia…” He trails off miserably.

Gone back to Russia? Does Yuuri think Victor uprooted his life on a whim? Does he think Victor’s the kind of person who would leave someone he cared about without a word? Did the banquet mean nothing to him, that he can dismiss it so easily?

While he’s staring at Yuuri in affronted bafflement, the other man comes to almost military attention. “I’m sorry. I will do better. I promise! I won’t let you down again, coach.”

Victor is not sure how any man can be both so adorable and so utterly wrong at the same time. Yuuri looks as disheveled as Victor feels, his hair lying in strings along the side of his head, his rain-dampened workout clothing clinging…

Unf. No. Now is not the time to get distracted.

“Yuuri.” He takes a step forward. Yuuri freezes in place, a flush spreading across his cheeks.

“Victor?”

Victor hates admitting any vulnerability, even about something as small as this. But if they spend any length of time together, Yuuri will figure out that Victor’s sense of direction is utter shit. It’s not like he can hide this one. “I got lost.”

“You got lost.” Yuuri stares at him in confusion. “You got lost, going in a straight line from there”—he points up at the castle—“down to here.”

Victor smiles helplessly. “Yes?”

Yuuri has not yet known Victor long enough to realize that his getting lost is not just a mere possibility, it’s an inevitability. His eyes narrow in disbelief. “I ran around the entirety of Hasetsu in the time it took you to travel three blocks.”

“I…got more than three blocks lost.”

“How?” Yuuri’s head tilts. “The kindergarten is right next to the castle. You can see the castle from just about anywhere.”

“Yes, but which side of the castle?” Victor says. “And if you go far enough, there are trees, and you can’t really see it, and I crossed the river without realizing, and nothing looked right…”

Yuuri is staring at him in confusion. “Are you one of those people who can’t ask for directions?”

“Oh, no,” Victor says with a wry grin. “I’d never find my way anywhere if I couldn’t ask. I talked to five, maybe six people? It depends whether you count the last one as a separate person, since I also talked to him second. He took pity on me when he realized I was going in circles and brought me most of the way here. I’m usually pretty bad, but it’s even worse here because I can’t read street signs.”

The blush on Yuuri’s face spreads. “Oh, no. I didn’t think about that at all!”

Yuuri’s hair is a damp, unkempt mess, and little strands are drifting into his eyes. Victor wants to run his hands through it and make it even messier. The other man is even cuter than Victor’s memory painted him, and Victor spent months after the Grand Prix Final desperately trying to convince himself that he must have exaggerated Yuuri’s adorableness. Surely no one man could be that delicious.

This one man is.

He’s also a surprise.

When Victor first arrived, he expected… Oh, he wasn’t sure, exactly. Someone with a little more presence, someone with an arrogance that matched his own. (He had also expected someone who was attracted to him and wanted to act on it immediately, dammit.)

Instead, Yuuri is an adorably brilliant skater who can out-shimmy Chris Giacometti on a pole wearing nothing but boxer briefs, and yet blushes at a simple touch.

The only thing Victor likes better than a mystery is a surprise, and Yuuri is both.

“I’m sorry, Victor,” Yuuri says contritely.

Victor frowns, going over their conversation up to this point… “Yuuri, are you apologizing to me because the street signs are all in Japanese?”

“Uh…yes?”

“Don’t.” Victor taps Yuuri’s nose, leans in, and gives him a mock scowl. “Those of us from countries that eschew romanized alphabets need to stick together, do you hear? Never apologize.” He hopes Yuuri realizes that he’s joking.

But…

“Oh,” Yuuri says. He’s close, so close. His eyelashes are dark and thick; his glasses are spattered with little droplets of rain. Victor can see a pink flush spread over his face again, across his nose. “You’re right. I shouldn’t have apologized. I’m sorry.”

“You’re what?”

“Ah, I just did it again! I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry!” Yuuri blanches. “I mean—I—”

Victor gives up.

He thinks of Yuuri worrying that he would go back to Russia. It’s the most ridiculous thing he’s heard, and he doesn’t know how to reassure him. No, I need to be here. You made me feel things I didn’t even know existed. You made me think that maybe…

He doesn’t know to express this in Russian, let alone English.

So he tries another tactic entirely. He takes Yuuri’s glasses off his face.

Yuuri instinctively grabs for them. When he misses, his eyes narrow in Victor’s general direction in a squint. “Victor. I can’t see anything without my glasses.”

“Hush.” Victor brushes Yuuri’s wet hair back from his eyes. “I’m just cleaning them. I don’t know how you can see anything with them, given how wet they are.”

“You don’t have to. I can do that.”

“Hmph,” Victor says. “I’m your coach now. It’s my job to make sure you’re comfortable. Let me do this for you.”

Yuuri stills. For a second, Victor thinks he’s going to object. He’s pushed Victor away every time Victor’s come close. If he won’t allow Victor even this tiny thing, Victor thinks it will kill something in his heart. He can’t have been this wrong about the attraction between them that night.

Yes, something inside him whispers. You can be. You have been, and you will be again.

But Yuuri just tilts his face up, waiting. When Victor slides his glasses—clean now—on his face, Yuuri turns pink and smiles shyly.

Something takes root in Victor’s chest, something warm and lovely. Something that feels like it might eventually take the place of the aching homesickness he’s barely managing to suppress.

Go back to Russia.

Ha.

#

Maybe that day is when Victor’s deception starts—the day he gets lost going in a straight line for three blocks because his sense of direction is shit and he can’t read Japanese.

The deception isn’t intentional, not for a while. There are only so many Instagram photos that Victor can upload while Yuuri is running drills up and down the staircase of Hasetsu Castle, after all.

Victor had his wake-up call. He is functionally illiterate here. He’s going to be here for months and months—so many months. (Possibly, part of him argues, the rest of his life—but even though he secretly hopes that’s the case, he’s aware that it sounds utterly foolish.)

Anyway, the kana quiz app is easy to install. All Victor wants is to be able to read street signs. He’ll stop when he’s learned Hiragana.

#

He does not stop when he’s learned Hiragana.

#

A few days after he’s blown through Katakana, he realizes that he’s going to have to practice his nascent reading ability on something, and that means he needs vocabulary. Maybe he can learn a few of the most common Kanji. Victor loads up his phone with beginning Japanese podcasts, and when he runs in the morning (while Yuuri is asleep, because adorably enough, the man would not be able to wake up before ten in the morning if his bed were on fire) he introduces himself to seagulls along the way with a jaunty “Nikiforov Victor desu!”

The seagulls do not respond, but Makkachin manages to dredge up a piece of driftwood festooned in seaweed.

Victor doesn’t mention his podcasts to Yuuri. It’s not that he intends to keep his language lessons from his student; it’s that their conversations are about other things—things like skating, skaters, the Instagram accounts of other skaters, Victor’s own Instagram account, the best socks to wear while skating, and Yuuri’s prior sex life. (Fine. There’s very little discussion of the latter, but it’s not for lack of trying on Victor’s part).

Besides, at first Victor thinks it’s obvious that he is learning Japanese. Surely Yuuri has to notice that Victor’s picking up a few Japanese phrases? Yuuri must notice that Victor is now pronouncing his name correctly, with the lengthened u and the Japanese r that he needed three YouTube videos and several hours training muscle memory to pronounce properly.

Yuuri does not notice.

Yuuri, apparently, does not think about the fact that Victor is going to Japanese restaurants, buying things from Japanese stores, and living with a Japanese family. If Victor couldn’t say “good morning!” or “thank you for the meal” in the local language, that would be rude.

And maybe, maybe, it’s not surprising that Yuuri doesn’t notice, because those stock phrases are all the Japanese that Yuuri ever hears Victor use. The two of them can’t have interesting conversations in any language other than English. When your conversational skills range from “I have a dog” to “today is humid, isn’t it?” in one language, you’re going to stick to the language you’re fluent in.

How else will you discuss the virtues of cashmere versus merino wool socks?

#

(It is important to discuss socks. Victor is absolutely passionate about socks.

The right answer to the skate-sock question is never cotton. He and Yuuri agree on that much—never wear cotton socks when you skate.

Not unless you want to get trench foot. As a coach, it’s Victor’s duty to convey this very important, scientific fact to Yuuri, but it turns out that neither of them know how to say “trench foot” in English. They eventually have to look it up in their respective languages.

Once this dastardly communication obstacle has been surmounted, they spend half an hour arguing over whether it’s even possible to get trench foot from wet socks in skates. Yakov knew a man, Victor insists. Old coach’s tale, Yuuri says with a roll of his eyes.

Yurio—who is present at the time of this argument—comes to Yakov’s defense, because dammit, Yakov may not be speaking to either of them at the moment, but he’s their coach and this is important.

The argument ends in laughter and Victor tickling Yuuri until neither of them can breathe and Yurio slamming the door to his room.

All this is why, one month into his stay in Japan, Victor knows how to say, “My dog has trench foot” in Japanese. This is a phrase vastly outside the typical survival lexicon, and—Yakov’s lectures aside—he hopes he never has to use it.)

#

Maybe Victor’s deception doesn’t start at the ninja house. Maybe it starts later, on the beach.

After the Onsen on Ice event, Victor stupidly imagines that he and Yuuri will get together in short order. Yuuri has admitted that he has a bit of a confidence issue, but he worked through it, right? He found his Eros. At a minimum, the flirtatious look he gave Victor before he started skating is burned in Victor’s brain.

Instead, Yuuri avoids him even more assiduously. Victor doesn’t know how to fix it, but he knows how to try. Everyone wants him to be someone; he just has to figure out who Yuuri wants him to be.

But everything he tries only makes things worse, and Yuuri avoids him to the point where he’s skipping practice. Finally, in a fit of desperation, he corners Yuuri on the beach and asks him point blank what he wants.

Yuuri shakes his head at every option—not a father figure, not a brother, not a boyfriend.

“Victor,” he finally says, “I want you to be yourself.”

Victor isn’t sure what that even means at first.

How could he be anyone but himself? Confusion breeds more confusion. He’s never reacted to words this way before. His heart beats quickly; his palms feel too warm. It’s not an unpleasant sensation, but it is strange. Very strange. He doesn’t know what it means or what to do with it.

A month ago, Victor tried to tell Yuuri about his first boyfriend. He’d thought it would be like the time he told Chris. Victor made it sound sexy and glitzy, and Chris had laughed and called him a playboy.

Now he’s suddenly, oddly, glad that he never got to tell Yuuri that story. Yuuri sees far too much. He would have seen through Victor’s winks and smiles as quickly as he did that line about trench foot. Yuuri wouldn’t have heard the story of the wealthy French scion from some old family whisking Victor away in a private jet to a Mediterranean island and thought it sounded romantic.

Yuuri would have heard the truth.

Which was that Victor was at a party when he was newly in the senior division. He was introduced to a sponsor’s son—“he’s your age, Victor”—and they’d hit it off. The other boy had been wealthy and good looking, yes. But the thing that had clinched their whirlwind weekend together had been the moment the boy looked Victor in the eyes and said this: “I love you.”

Victor had been young, but he hadn’t been an idiot. He knew quite well that Jean-Philippe didn’t know him, let alone love him. But Victor hoped he at least wanted to, and it was enough for someone to want to love him.

On the last day of their three-day trip, Jean-Philippe had said, “My boyfriend will be so jealous that he missed out on this.”

Victor hadn’t let himself show an ounce of regret. He’d played along, smiling, because Jean-Philippe saw Victor as something like a painting on loan from a museum. Not a lover who could belong in his life.

It hadn’t been a bad experience. Victor had refused to get emotional about it. Victor had enjoyed having sex, didn’t have hang-ups about it, and Jean-Philippe had been good at it.

So what if Jean-Philippe hadn’t wanted him for himself? At least Victor had been wanted, hadn’t he?

Victor had grown so used to becoming the shape of someone else’s dreams that he didn’t know how to have his own.

But Yuuri looks at him on the beach and frowns at the list Victor’s recited, and he tells Victor to be Victor, not anyone else. It’s the first time someone has asked him to think about what he wants to be. It feels strange, so strange. He doesn’t understand what it really means, why his heart is beating so fast, until later that night when he burrows under his covers and stares up at the dark ceiling.

Oh, he realizes. Oh. That’s what this means. He’s happy.

It’s happiness with a bitter aftertaste, though, because now, when he thinks of Jean-Philippe and the half-dozen lovers who followed him…

Now, he doesn’t think, I want Yuuri to be one of them.

Now, he thinks… I wish Yuuri had been the first. It’s not that he regrets his past lovers. He just wishes that somewhere in those relationships, he’d been less of a piece of art and more of a person.

He doesn’t know why this revelation makes his throat ache. He can’t articulate it, not in any of the languages he knows. He does know that he wants to learn Japanese more than ever.

If this is what Yuuri can do to him with a few words in English, Victor wants to be able to communicate in Japanese.

#

That’s probably when his deception starts in earnest.

Victor goes out more than Yuuri. A lot more. Yuuri’s an introvert, and when Victor asks if he wants to come with him to restaurants or bars, Yuuri refuses more often than not, preferring to stay in with his computer, muttering something about facetiming a friend.

And Victor? He has a metabolism that Yuuri would kill for, and he loves eating. The first words he learns outside of his podcast are food words, gained at the bar in Nagahama Ramen, holding up bits of unknown delicacies with his chopsticks and asking Nagahama-san, “Kore wa nan desu ka?” in halting Japanese.

His Japanese sucks.

Victor used to think the initial milestone of language familiarity was when he first grasped something in one language that can’t be directly translated to another. But this marker doesn’t work in Japanese; there is no direct translation for “topic-marking particle,” and that makes even the simplest Japanese sentences non-literal.

Even some of the basic nouns he encounters at the raamenya lack useful translation: wakame, mozuku, hijiki. His dictionary unhelpfully describes all of these with the same word: seaweed.

Victor never knew there were so many words for seaweed.

#

At first, Victor thinks he and Yuuri touch so much because of the language barrier. They’re both fluent in English, but their English vocabulary is still limited. There are a thousand gradations of friendship and affection they can’t communicate any way except through touch.

“Hey,” Yuuri says, resting his fingers lightly on Victor’s shoulder as he passes by his chair in the evening. “I’m getting some tea. Can I get you some?”

Or: “No,” Victor says, skating up to Yuuri on the ice. “You have to push all the way from here, or you’ll never get the height you need for that axel.” He sets his hand on Yuuri’s ass, tracing the muscle group he’s referring to. “Not here.” He taps Yuuri’s thigh. He doesn’t know the words for the muscles in English, only knows how to show him.

Yes, technically he’s grabbing Yuuri’s ass, but how else is he to communicate? “Do it again.”

If Victor were the only one reaching, the only one touching… Well, that would leave an ugly taste in his mouth, reminiscent of long years he’d prefer not to think about.

But he’s not the only one. Those lingering brushes, the hugs they exchange before bed… They are both innocent and intimate at the same time, and whatever they might mean, they’re mutual. Yuuri reaches for Victor as much as Victor reaches for Yuuri, as if their hands on each other are a necessary part of the language they’re learning to share.

Touch by touch, they are building a lexicon of Victor and Yuuri that sits outside spoken language.

#

Beginning podcasts give rise to intermediate podcasts. “What is this?” in Japanese turns into, “Delicious again, Nagahama-san. How did you make the broth?”

Victor has a mind for languages. In part, it’s because he travels a lot, and he wants (possibly needs) people to like him. He’s fluent in Russian, French, and English. But he also can make himself understood in a smattering of other languages—Spanish, Tagalog (he trained as a junior with a ballet dancer from the Philippines; she taught him all the rude words), Mandarin, Greek, Italian, and German.

Of course, Japanese is different from anything he’s ever experienced, and with his knowledge of Kanji characters still in the dozens, the language is frustratingly inaccessible in print.

But Victor is stubborn. Exactly one person in the world can reliably land a quadruple flip in competition. Millions of people can speak Japanese. These two things have nothing to do with each other, but Victor doesn’t care.

He will prevail because he can, dammit. Winning is the only thing he knows how to do reliably.

#

Initially, it doesn’t occur to Victor that Yuuri never sees him practicing Japanese. Yuuri misses his first fumbling introductions, his pointing and gesturing, his graduation from repeating mangled phrases to forming halting sentences.

Besides, Victor’s not good at Japanese. He’s not even competent at it. There is no point in those first months when Victor feels that he should say, “By the way, Yuuri, I understand Japanese.”

Why would he say that? He doesn’t understand.

Except… sometimes, sometimes he almost does.

Sometimes, like the night in early August, with Yuuri’s first national tournament a month away…

Yuuri insists on English with his family when Victor is around. Of course, Yuuri’s English is much better than his family’s, but he usually translates when the conversation lapses into Japanese.

“I don’t want you to feel excluded,” he tells Victor. “You’re here, and you’re welcome, and…” And Yuuri trails off, blushing, leaving his sentence incomplete. Sometimes, though, he’ll touch Victor’s elbow, as if that is an explanation in itself.

But when Victor is doing something else—tonight, Victor is brushing Makkachin—Yuuri and his family will talk. Victor’s on the other side of the room, so of course they don’t think anything of speaking in Japanese.

This night, Victor’s paying attention to what they’re saying. Brushing Makkachin requires little brainpower, and language acquisition takes practice.

He doesn’t expect to understand much of anything. If they had been speaking slowly and simply, he might have been able to follow some parts of the conversation. But they’re not speaking for him, and so it feels like he’s standing in a quiet firehose of Japanese, the few words he knows standing out like fluorescent particles in the stream of syllables: something something boku wa something something kaeru something something yon kaiten sarukou something something something something. He recognizes words here and there. Numbers. Skating words. Some sentence patterns that he’s familiar with. A few sentence-ending particles, and after a few months of study, he’s still not exactly sure what the fuck a particle is anyway, because no other language he’s learned uses them with such bewildering intensity.

Then he hears his name.

He can’t help but perk up at the way Yuuri says Vikutoru-san. The syllables sound different in Japanese than in English, Yuuri’s voice breathy and low. His name on Yuuri’s lips short-circuits all Victor’s synapses.

Mari laughs and says something in return, something that makes Yuuri blush. (Not that that’s hard.)

But what Mari says is even more exciting, because Victor understands the sentence pattern—a simple one, one he’s already learned!—he understands everything in it except two words!—it’s about something that Yuuri did to him, and ooh, that was definitely the past tense!

Victor’s delighted to be able to recognize that much—look at him, getting actual information from conversational-speed Japanese!—but in an even greater stroke of luck, Mari says the same sentence twice, the second time in a teasing voice, giving him the opportunity to catch those missing words.

Victor sets aside the brush and sounds out the phrase on his phone dictionary absentmindedly. Something about how Yuuri chased Victor when he was in the flush of youth, maybe? Probably a metaphorical reference to Victor’s stellar junior record?

Victor’s just as absentmindedly adding the two words to the “new vocabulary” flashcard deck on his phone when his mind parses the second meaning the dictionary offered up. Suddenly Mari’s teasing tone makes sense. Not youthful flush, that’s not what Mari said.

She said childhood crush.

He stares at the flashcard he’s just made. His own cheeks heat, and he doesn’t dare look up.

He isn’t trying to eavesdrop. He’s just practicing his Japanese. How was he supposed to realize that Mari was teasing Yuuri about having a childhood crush on Victor?

Also, Yuuri had a childhood crush on Victor. That’s…great. Right?

“Childhood, ha!” says Hiroko-san from the couch near Victor, and something else he doesn’t quite catch—it’s a question and it has something to do with time.

Mari is still teasing Yuuri, with something like: “Does Victor know something something something?” Something something sounds suspiciously like the English word poster, probably borrowed directly from it. Does Victor know about your poster? he guesses. Maybe posters; Japanese doesn’t distinguish between singular and plural nouns, so it could be two.

So Yuuri probably had a poster of him back in the day. Should Victor admit that he paid a ridiculous price to have several of Yuuri shipped all the way to Russia last January?

Yuuri shouldn’t be embarrassed. Victor’s not. His posters were a business expense. He needed to stare at them to develop his Eros routine…

Yuuri being as easily flustered as he is, it’s probably best not to mention it.

Victor allows himself to look up.

Yuuri is blushing, protesting. He meets Victor’s eyes and blushes even harder.

Victor gives Yuuri an encouraging smile.

“We’re talking about your…coaching,” Yuuri says. “I was saying how…thankful I am for it.”

Here’s the thing: Yuuri obviously doesn’t want Victor to know what his family is saying, or he’d have translated it. Victor really didn’t mean to listen in, and something slightly sour settles in his stomach.

That moment of decision, brief though it is, passes with the best of intentions. If he says something now, Yuuri will become embarrassed all over again. They’ve become friends, close friends, and Victor doesn’t want to set their friendship back. Besides, this was a one-time thing, unlikely to happen again.

Victor’s not lying. He’s not saying anything at all, in fact. He’s just helping Yuuri save face.

Victor pockets his phone, picks up Makkachin’s brush, and stands.

“Well, talk away.” He smiles at Yuuri. He can’t help but smile at Yuuri. “I’m going up to my room. I have a phone call to make anyway.”

Chapter Text

Victor isn’t lying. He does have a phone call to make. He occasionally texts, too, but older people view text messages with extreme suspicion, and he’d never get a response if he relied on SNS.

The time difference, annoying as it is, is not the most difficult part of attempting a conversation. It’s the obstinacy—on both sides. Even though their talks have always gone the same way, Victor still calls at least once a week.

Yakov always answers. He yells, but he answers. This time, the phone only rings once.

“Victor.” Every time Victor hears his old coach’s voice, he feels homesick all over again. Victor can hear the sounds of the St. Petersburg rink in the background—the piped music, someone calling off laps. “Tell me you have a plane ticket back to Russia. It’s not too late.”

Victor holds the phone slightly away from his ear in preparation for what is coming. “You know I don’t.”

Commence the explosion. “How many times do I have to tell you?! I don’t want to hear from you unless you’re returning! After all that I’ve done for you, I can’t believe that the only gratitude you’ll show is to walk away without the slightest apology!”

If Victor didn’t know Yakov so well, he might be intimidated. But it’s hard to be intimidated by a man who once rushed in front of a car to yank him out of harm’s way.

“How are you?” he asks instead, a smile on his face.

“Are you listening to me? Act as if nothing has happened, why don’t you? I’m feeling much better, now that you’re gone and I don’t have you encouraging the whole team to disobey me!” Yakov sighs. “Georgi never alters my drills for the younger students.”

“Mmm.” Victor knows better than to try and divert Yakov from one of his tirades. “That’s good. Someone should listen to you.”

“They don’t like him as much, and you know what that means—more work for me.” Yakov exhales. “You always make more work for me.”

Victor smiles and leans against his pillow. “I miss you, too, Yakov.”

This is met with a beat of silence. When Yakov speaks, his voice is just a little rough. “Why aren’t you here, Vitya? Why are you playing at coach a continent away?”

Victor has never been able to answer this question to Yakov’s satisfaction, not in any of their conversations—if that’s what you can call these intermittently spaced bouts of yelling. Victor doesn’t have the words in any of the languages that he knows. He still tries every time.

“I was lost,” he says. “I need to get…unlost.”

“Lost?” Yakov has never had a figurative turn of mind. “Lost where? Lost how? Your life could not have been more simple! You practice. You skate. You win. How do you get lost when there’s nowhere to travel but in a straight line?”

Victor thinks of wandering Hasetsu that first week in the rain, of Yuuri looking at him in adorable confusion and demanding to know how he could have gotten lost traveling three blocks.

“You know my sense of direction,” Victor says with a smile.

“Ha,” Yakov agrees. “You’re the only one who could lose your way on the short, straight path from success to success.”

“Well.” Victor looks upward. “I’ve never really been good at straight, you know.”

There’s a small silence.

“If what you want is to try your hand at coaching,” Yakov says tentatively, “you know…I’m not getting any younger, and… I always thought, eventually, it would be you. If you came back, you could…”

“No.” Victor’s voice is bright. Impossibly, improbably bright. Yakov taught him that smiling is better than tears, and so he smiles now. “I couldn’t.”

He isn’t sure if he means that he could never take Yakov’s place, or that he can’t come back, not when the rink in St. Petersburg had begun to feel like such a cage. Both, maybe.

“Ungrateful child,” Yakov mutters. “Sixteen years I put into you, and this is what I get—no answers, nothing, abandoned, and for what?”

Victor doesn’t answer.

“I hope the sex is worth it,” Yakov tells him. “But when this all comes crashing down on your head, when you realize what you’ve thrown away? Don’t expect me to be there to pick up the pieces.”

Victor’s heard this threat a million times, so often that he smiles in bittersweet, disbelieving nostalgia. Yakov has always been there to pick up the pieces, every time. They both know that Victor could show up distraught on his doorstep ten years from now, and Yakov would tell him—in detail—precisely what he did wrong and how he had brought this disaster on his own head.

He would lay out Victor’s failings in unending, gruff bullet points as he brought him to his kitchen and fed him borscht and dried his tears.

“You have the wrong idea about this,” Victor says instead. “It’s…not like that. I’m just Yuuri’s coach.”

“What?!” The volume is back to eleven. “Is that boy yanking you around?” Yakov demands. “I’ll speak to him, I don’t care what you say. If that Japanese Yuuri doesn’t value you, he’s an idiot! Just because he’s Japan’s best skater, doesn’t mean he has any right—”

“It’s not like that. We’re not like that.”

“Vitya,” Yakov growls, “I’m not a fool. I’ve coached nearly fifty hormonal idiots just like you over the years. I know what a damned booty call looks like.”

“I miss you.”

Yakov snorts. “‘I miss you,’ the boy says as he cavorts about Japan without the slightest consideration for my feelings.” His volume increases once more. “Don’t say you miss me when you have the capacity to return at any time! Don’t call me again until you’re ready to come back, do you hear me?”

“We’ll talk next week, then?” Victor says brightly.

Yakov hangs up.

He and Yuuri aren’t like that. The question of what he and Yuuri are to each other is…confused. Complicated. Coach and student, certainly. Friends, absolutely.

More than that. He’s seen the way Yuuri looks at him. He knows how Yuuri responds when they touch. But Yuuri has strict boundaries, shrinking away every time Victor tries to push too far.

They’ve reached an uneasy détente when it comes to touch, he and Yuuri—they indulge in casual, friendly touches to their heart’s content, but there’s been nothing with any real sexual intent, not since Victor’s confusing misfires in the first weeks.

At least there’s no sexual intent on Yuuri’s part, not that Victor can tell, and he’s been watching like a hawk.

They indulge in hugs. They positively wallow in them.

One time Victor went to Yuuri’s room at night to critique the video they’d made of his short program. He’d ended up falling asleep in Yuuri’s bed—one peril of being an early riser is that he can’t stay awake at night to help himself—and Yuuri let him sleep there. Because he didn’t want to disturb him, he said.

It’s been the only time.

They cuddle regularly, and Victor loves it even though the repeated proximity leaves him on edge, his body wired and insistent, wanting more. The touches they’ve exchanged have all been just barely on the platonic side of extremely warm friendship, but they’re still—arguably—platonic.

Except he overheard that conversation Mari and Yuuri had tonight. Even knowing he should expunge his ill-gotten knowledge from his head, the fact that Yuuri had a childhood crush on him…

It delights Victor. He can’t think of it without getting a little thrill from head to toe.

Perhaps that’s why it also feels like cheating. It feels like sixteen glasses of champagne and a Grand Prix banquet—beautiful while it’s happening, but vanishing into nonexistence with no explanation. The delight is unlikely to last beyond the moment.

A childhood crush doesn’t signify anything about Yuuri’s current feelings. In fact, it may make things even more confusing for Yuuri if Victor is annoying him as his coach. Which he probably is. Maybe what Yuuri’s thinking is, “Why was I stupid enough to like this guy? Now that I’ve seen him in person, I’m pretty sure I want someone who doesn’t get lost going from room to room in the onsen.”

It all makes a kind of dismal sense. Of course Yuuri came on to him when he was drunk; he had a crush on him when he was younger. Ever since then, though, Yuuri’s done his best to maintain their friendship on the frustrating side of that thin line between platonic and erotic.

If they ever cross that platonic line again, Victor wants it to be because Yuuri wants him intentionally and soberly. He doesn’t want it taken away again.

So Victor stares at his bare walls, listening to the cheerful murmur downstairs. He wonders if Yakov is staring angrily out at the rink, taking out his frustrations on Victor’s former rinkmates.

And Victor announces, in accented Japanese: “I have a dog and a crush on my student, Yuuri.”

Learning more complicated sentence patterns is not making his life easier. It’s making it harder.

#

A few weeks later, Victor returns to the onsen before Yuuri. Yuuri is going to Minako’s to get some additional ballet practice in. When Victor comes in, he finds Hiroko-san carefully dusting off Yuuri’s old medals and trophies, humming to herself as she works.

She doesn’t see him standing there. She’s smiling to herself, even shaking her head at one particular trophy as if remembering something fondly. Then she opens the doors of the cabinet.

Victor catches sight of a row of leatherbound books. She wipes the bindings carefully. That’s when she looks up and sees Victor.

Her smile grows. “Vicchan. You’re home!” Her English is good. She’s not fluent, like Yuuri, but she’s good enough that they can converse on simple subjects with relative ease.

And she just said that he was home. He can’t help but smile at that. “Yes, I’m home early. I’ll get out of your way.”

“Yuuri’s not here?”

“He’s at Minako’s.”

“Ah. Excellent.” She gestures him to come closer, almost dramatic as she furtively looks around the onsen. When he approaches, she whispers. “Now is a good time.”

“Good time for what?”

In answer, she pulls one of the books out and opens it.

Victor lets out a little gasp of pleasure. Oh my God. They’re baby pictures. She has an entire book of baby pictures of Yuuri. She must see the look on his face—it’s not like he could have tried to hide his delighted hunger—but instead of demanding to know what his intentions are regarding her son, she just smiles indulgently.

“Here,” she says. “Come. Sit down. I’ll show you them. Do you want something to eat?”

He shakes his head, mostly because he doesn’t want to miss a minute of this, and they drift over to sit next to each other at the table.

There are so many baby pictures. Yuuri, a tiny wrinkly mess fresh from the hospital, a few ugly scraps of hair not even pretending to cover his head. Yuuri, so young that his eyes are still gray and unfocused. Yuuri, reaching overhead to grab hold of a young Mari’s finger with a solemn, serious expression.

These have all been lovingly collected and saved, along with various memorabilia—a satiny lock of thin, wispy childhood hair, a piece of his baby blanket.

Babyhood moves into toddlerhood, and toddler Yuuri—darling, pudgy toddler Yuri with his bright smiles and serious expressions—is even cuter than infant Yuuri.

Victor doesn’t know what he’s feeling. Overwhelmed by adorableness, yes. But there’s something else, too, something he can’t express, something about the hours of work that Hiroko-san must have put into the act of celebrating Yuuri’s existence. It makes Victor’s chest feel strange.

It’s not jealousy. He wouldn’t know how to be jealous of Yuuri. It’s easy to believe how well-loved Yuuri is—Yuuri positively demands love. It seems right that he should be surrounded by it, and Victor is happy to be a tiny part of that confluence.

Instead, the thing that twines around Victor’s heart is more of a wistfulness, a sense of loss, and he doesn’t like being reminded of the thing that’s missing in him. It makes perfect sense to him that Yuuri would inspire this affectionate outpouring.

It makes just as much sense that Victor never has. The closest he’s come is Yakov’s borscht, his gruff, lying insistence that Victor should not call.

Wishing that he had…this…is about as stupid as wishing for wings. He doesn’t have it, and he won’t.

The time for it is over. It’s gone. It’s past.

They’ve made their way through three of the albums, up to the point where Yuuri first started skating. The door opens and adult Yuuri comes in. Hiroko-san jumps, a hand slamming on top of the album. “Shh,” she whispers. “Maybe he won’t notice.”

Yuuri is sweaty from his ballet work out, hair plastered to his forehead.

“What are you two…” His gaze falls on the photo album; his face goes blank for a moment. Then he pales, making a strangled noise. “Okaasan!” He covers his face with his hands. “Ah! Why?! Are you trying to embarrass me?”

“But you’re so cute,” Victor says seriously. “Why would you be embarrassed?”

Hiroko-san nods in definite agreement. “Don’t worry,” she says to Yuuri. “This way, you can ask to see his baby pictures too, ne?”

“Oh.” Yuuri looks carefully at Victor. There’s a faint pink sheen on his cheeks that isn’t just from the exercise. His eyes catch fire. But the words that come out are diffident. “I guess. If he wants. I wouldn’t want to…um…”

Victor licks his lips. He’s very careful to keep the smile on his face. “Well, it’s…not really an option. I’m sorry. My parents really aren’t much for pictures. I don’t really have any of me until I started skating competitively.”

And other people started taking the photos, he doesn’t say.

Hiroko-san tilts her head in his direction, the indulgent smile that had been on her face slowly freezing in place.

“It just wasn’t their thing,” Victor explains, and what he actually means is I wasn’t their thing. But he never wants to admit that—not to this woman, not to Yuuri. There’s something subtly wrong with Victor, and so far, they haven’t noticed. He doesn’t want them to know that he never inspired much more than tepid approval in his parents.

Hiroko reaches over and pats his hand, though. There’s a look in her eyes that makes him think that she might have heard it anyway. She knows. She knows.

Victor definitely doesn’t flinch, but he wants to.

#

Victor started learning Japanese to be polite, but the truth is that Victor makes the effort to be polite because he is aware that he is, deep down, not quite right. He knows he’s hard to love; he doesn’t need to be hard to like, too.

Language acquisition is something like breaking a dam: the first few holes take forever to drill. A trickle of moisture follows: words he recognizes here, sentence patterns there. Understanding is a sudden crack spidering through the concrete as a result of unseen pressure: it breaks on him all at once.

He doesn’t understand everything past that point, of course, and he still has difficulty with speech that’s too fast or too technical. But there’s a threshold he crosses where suddenly he’s no longer feverishly translating words, but is grasping just enough to mostly fill in missing gaps from the surrounding context.

It turns out, his awareness that he’s crossed that first, most important threshold of understanding Japanese occurs because he is a little bit of an asshole, and it’s all Minami Kenjirou’s fault.

Okay. It’s not really Minami’s fault. But the younger skater is so enthusiastically into Yuuri at the first local competition that it sets Victor on edge. The boy stares at Yuuri so determinedly during the morning practice that he doesn’t even notice where he’s going, and skates into a wall.

Minami’s worship only gets worse after Yuuri skates his short program. The boy (and yes, he’s technically a teenager, but he’s still a boy, dammit, in the same sense that fifteen-year-old Makkachin will always be a puppy) babbles about how Yuuri was amazing and how he embodied pure Eros—not that Victor would disagree—and it turns out he’s copying Yuuri’s prior costumes…

It leaves Victor feeling just a little growly. More than a little possessive. Victor should be the one skating into walls out of distraction and telling Yuuri how amazing he is. And this is all ridiculously irrational, because first, he has no claim to Yuuri, and second, if Victor has his way, more people than just one overexcited beanpole of a child will be fanboying over his skater…

But really. Really. Victor suppresses the urge to tell the child to contain himself. Barely.

Victor pushes those inconvenient feelings aside until Yuuri blows off Minami just before his free skate. The first thing he feels is… Something like delight.

His second reaction is embarrassment. Damn it, Victor hates when his natural jerk tendencies come out. Minami is practically a child. His exuberant response to Yuuri doesn’t mean anything except that he has good taste, and hell, Victor has watched Yuuri pole-dance with another man, he can deal with someone else having a…

Childhood crush, his brain supplies in Japanese. Then, because Victor’s brain is apparently an asshole, his next Japanese sentence is this: I hope Minami-kun gets trench foot.

Clearly he needs to expand his vocabulary, if that’s the best dis he can come up with.

Alas. Victor’s response doesn’t get more straightforward from there. His own embarrassment leads him to tell Yuuri to treat Minami better, but apparently, he is not only a jerk but a hypocrite. When he notices Minami watching, he tells Yuuri that he’s beautiful, puts lip balm on his lips, and hugs him twice—just to show Minami that he can, that Yuuri lets him do it without even thinking.

Victor is so focused on not being an asshole, while simultaneously making sure that Minami knows that Victor has prior claim, that he doesn’t realize the plain and obvious truth. Not until Yuuri has finished his program. Not until Minami is standing in front of Yuuri demanding an autograph.

Victor understands Minami. He understands him. He has understood him this entire time. And yes, it’s partially because in Minami’s perpetually excited state, he’s talking half in interjections—but Victor understands his Japanese.

Sugoi. Maybe the kid’s not all bad.

#

(Much later, Victor realizes that this discovery made him complacent. When he listens to Yuuri announce his theme for the year, he thinks he understands more than he does. I mean, yes, he knows the word “love,” right? He’s expecting to hear it. He and Yuuri talked about the theme before. The problem with that precarious point where you can fill in blanks is that if you have expectations as to what those blanks are, it’s like playing Mad Libs with your subconscious.

He hears “ai” and “Vikitoru-ko-chi” and why wouldn’t he hear Yuuri talk about those things? Love is his theme and Victor is his coach. Duh.

It’s his own arrogance that makes him not actually look up the words he doesn’t know. That’s why he doesn’t realize what Yuuri is actually saying. Sometimes, being good at a language—but not yet good enough—can be a hindrance.)

#

Victor sleeps with Yuuri for the second through the fourteenth times in the weeks before the Cup of China.

It happens for the first time because Victor knows that Yuuri is getting stuck in the labyrinth of his own anxiety. He’s staying up too late stalking his competitors on social media, psyching himself out with snapchats of all their perfect jumps (“Yuuri, they won’t put their failed jumps up, that’s just common sense!), then yawning through practice the next day. Missing jumps in practice only makes him more nervous, so Yuuri stays up again, falling deeper into the unhelpful anxiety spiral.

“Yuuri,” Victor says, the third time Yuuri shows up to practice half an hour late with dark circles under his eyes, “you are banned from looking at anything on your phone between the hours of ten at night and seven in the morning.”

“But—”

“I’m sleeping on your floor tonight,” Victor informs him. “And you know what a light sleeper I am. Don’t even think of reaching for your phone. Not once.”

Yuuri flushes pink. “You’re not sleeping on my floor.”

“Oh, yes, I am. You need to sleep, and if you think that I’m going to let you stay up to all hours staring at Instagram—”

Yuuri’s blush deepens to brick-wall red. “I meant—you don’t have to sleep on the floor. My bed is big enough. Or we could use yours.”

Oh.

“Not like that!” Yuuri hastens to add. “I didn’t mean it that way. I don’t want you to think—that is, I understand, it’s, this is just what you’re doing as a coach. That’s why I’m agreeing.”

Victor doesn’t say anything to that. But when they get into bed together that night (Victor’s bed)—when Yuuri spends fifteen minutes tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable spot, stammering how sorry he is every time his knee accidentally nudges Victor’s thigh—Victor finally reaches over and slings his arm around Yuuri.

“It’s okay,” he says. “Stop apologizing. I don’t mind if you touch me.”

Yuuri freezes under his arm. “Oh?” His voice is carefully quiet.

“Haven’t you noticed? You’re the one who pulls away. If you don’t want us to touch…”

“No,” Yuuri says quietly. “No, no, it’s not that. I just don’t want to…impose.”

“You aren’t imposing.”

He thinks that’s the end of the conversation. Yuuri snuggles up against him, fitting his head into the curve of Victor’s arm. His breath is warm against Victor’s chest, and even though it’s a little arousing—fine, a lot arousing—skating, even just as a coach, is hard work, and Victor has never been good at staying awake once he’s in bed.

He’s almost asleep when he hears Yuuri whisper. “Victor?”

It takes him a moment to hear. Another moment to realize Yuuri is speaking to him. Yet another to begin to struggle out of the depths of almost-dreaming.

It takes him too long.

“I lied,” Yuuri whispers in Japanese. “I’m not afraid of imposing. I’m afraid that if I start touching you, I won’t want to stop.”

Victor is still mostly asleep, not quite capable of formulating a verbal response. Understanding Japanese is easier than speaking it.

Instead, he sleepily takes hold of Yuuri’s hands. He sets them on his chest, slowly runs them down his side. He spreads Yuuri’s fingers against his skin and feels the temperature rise underneath the blanket.

Yuuri’s breath stutters. His hands linger of their own accord, exploring Victor’s abdomen through his shirt. His appreciation comes in little gasps.

Victor goes on long runs, works as hard as Yuuri when he coaches, and joins Yuuri at the gym. Maybe it’s because he wants to be able to report to Yakov that yes, he’s keeping his skating skills up to competition level. It’s the reason he’d give if anyone asks.

In reality? Victor is vain. He’s always imagined Yuuri seeing him, touching him, and when—if—that ever happens, Victor wants to look and feel good. It’s the most selfish form of vanity—vanity adulterated with a liberal portion of thirst.

“Victor?” Yuuri’s voice is shaking.

“Mmmm?”

“What are you…?”

Victor comes all the way awake. Opens his eyes, to see Yuuri looking at him wide-eyed.

That’s the point when he realizes that Yuuri spoke to him in Japanese, believing he couldn’t understand. He wasn’t telling Victor a damned thing; he was expressing his private thoughts when he thought Victor was asleep.

Yabai.

Victor exhales.

“You were asleep,” Yuuri says softly. “Sorry for disturbing you.”

Victor has, over the months, accepted that he will never convince Yuuri to stop apologizing for existing, for wanting. For touching him, even after Victor guided his hands and offered him explicit permission. Yuuri’s embarrassment and anxiety are a force on their own, and as much as Victor wants him to set these things aside, they’re a part of him, and he can’t care about Yuuri without caring about this part of him, too.

Victor just pulls Yuuri close, until they’re chest to chest, Yuuri’s nose brushing his. He smiles sleepily. “Nice way to wake up,” he says in English. “Do it again. Any time.”

“Victor.”

“If you have to apologize to me to feel comfortable doing it, I’ll take the touch with the apology than no touching at all.”

Yuuri doesn’t say anything. Not for a long time. Then he slides an arm around Victor’s waist, pressing their bodies close together. “Okay. Then I am going to be very, very sorry.”

#

“So Victor didn’t sleep in his room last night.” At breakfast, Mari gives her brother a wink. It’s the first time they’ve openly spoken in Japanese with Victor sitting right there.

Yuuri, of course, flushes pink and glances at Victor.

“You know he can hear his name when we talk about him? Besides, I’m not sure how much Japanese he understands.”

Victor loves when Yuuri says his name. He doesn’t say anything.

“Fine,” Mari says with a shrug. “Let’s call him Sekushii-san.”

Yuuri chokes, and no wonder. That’s not a loan word that Victor has encountered at Nagahama Ramen. But it was borrowed from English, and with the middle vowel devoiced, it’s close enough to sexy that he knows what they’re saying without having to reach for his translator. Plus, Yuuri’s blush rivals a bonfire. “Mari-neechan! Don’t call him that.”

“I remember how last time went,” Mari says. “I don’t want you to get hurt again. I don’t care if Sekushii-san is the hero of Russia. I will beat him up if he hurts you.”

Last time? Victor thinks of Yuuri’s no comment when he asked about his prior lovers, and feels a little angry.

“He isn’t—it isn’t—Mari.” Yuuri winces. “We can’t talk about this right now, okay? We’re being so rude.” Yuuri looks over at Victor, inhales, and switches to English. “Sorry, Victor. Mari wants to know why you…um…”

Victor gives him a bright smile. “Why we slept together?”

“Ahhhh.” Yuuri’s eyes screw shut. “Yes. But it didn’t mean anything! You only wanted to make sure I wasn’t making myself anxious on my phone last night.”

Victor considers his options. Play along, or…

“That’s why we got in bed,” he says slowly. “But that’s not why we snuggled.”

“Haaa.” Mari pokes Yuuri’s side.

“Stop!” Yuuri says to his sister in Japanese. “It’s not like that, he’s just a really touchy person. He hasn’t even asked me if I’m…” He says another word that Victor hasn’t encountered in Japanese.

Victor is slightly offended. Does Yuuri think he’s this thirsty with everyone? Wow, no. His smile tightens. And because Victor is—deep down—just a little bit of an asshole, somehow, the question he asks with that too-bright smile on his face is this: “What does ゲイ mean in English?” He pronounces the word the Japanese way. Even though the meaning is obvious.

“You would pick out that one word,” Yuuri mutters in Japanese. He hides his face in his hands and doesn’t respond.

Mari watches, a grin on her face.

“It’s a loan word,” Yuuri finally whispers through his fingers. “It means exactly what it sounds like.”

“In that case,” Victor says, “if you were wondering about me, I flirt with everyone, but I basically identify as gay in practice.”

“I know,” Yuuri mutters. “I’ve read all your interviews. That’s not what we were talking about.”

“Oh, were we talking about you?” Victor says, just a little brighter. “You just came out to Mari? Wow! Amazing!”

“No,” Yuuri says in agony. “Mari knows. Of course she knows. She’s known forever. We were talking about…uh…”

“Whether I knew about you?”

Yuuri’s face is crimson. “Yes.”

Victor shrugs. “I had assumed you were bi—you told me you used to have a crush on Yuko—so—”

“It’s… Well…” Yuuri shakes his head. “Yes, um. That’s—not… Not the point? God, Victor.” His face turns crimson as he speaks. “I just…didn’t realize you knew…I was into…”

“Men?” Victor raises an eyebrow. “I could hardly miss that.”

Mari cracks up on the other side of the table, laughing hysterically. “Look on the bright side, little brother. At least okaasan isn’t here.”

Yuuri hides his face. “I’m so embarrassed. Why are we talking about this? What’s the weather like today?”

“Why would you be embarrassed?” Victor knows he shouldn’t purposefully misunderstand Yuuri, but he’s still annoyed that Yuuri thinks Victor would be like this with just anyone. “It’s perfectly natural.”

“I know!” Yuuri sighs. “I’m not embarrassed about—” He cuts off whatever he was going to say. “Never mind.”

#

Victor waits until they’re on the ice before he continues the conversation.

If Yuuri’s fault is apologizing when he doesn’t need to, Victor’s is not apologizing when he should. He knows how private the other man is. It’s not that Yuuri’s in the closet; he doesn’t even try for plausible deniability. The way he looks at Victor when he’s on the ice, he might as well wear a flashing neon sign that says, gay gay definitely gay.

It’s more that Yuuri’s personal feelings are private, acknowledged only after his trust is earned, and even then, only grudgingly.

After a moment of silence at the edge of the rink, Yuuri watching him, waiting for instruction, Victor finally gives in.

“Sorry,” he says. “About earlier. I shouldn’t have made fun of you.”

He also should tell Yuuri that he sort of, kind of speaks Japanese. He knows he should tell him; Yuuri deserves to know. But if he does, Yuuri might stop telling him things at night. And if Victor has a weakness for anything, it’s being told that people care about him. If this is the only way he gets to hear it, he’ll keep it, thanks.

Yuuri shrugs. “It’s fine.”

“It’s not fine,” Victor says. And because he’s not going to tell Yuuri about the diminishing language barrier, he offers this instead: “I really liked last night. I was…maybe a little rude to you over breakfast? It’s because I’m nervous. I’m afraid you didn’t like what happened last night as much as I did.”

Yuuri lets out a little gasp. He looks over at Victor. “Every time,” he says, with a shake of his head. “Every time I tell you something, you meet me where I am.”

Victor cocks his head as he puzzles this over. “Of course I do. What would be the point of meeting you where you weren’t?”

#

Despite their growing closeness, Victor still goes to Nagahama Ramen some evenings. Yuuri still refuses to come, making reference to his friend. It’s probably Phichit.

Victor’s made an entirely separate flashcard deck just for sea vegetables, this one with pictures since there is no translation for any of them. There’s no other way to learn them: konbu, kaiso, arame, and tsunomata join wakame and nori.

Nagahama-san goes out of his way to introduce Victor to more and different species.

Victor’s not really sure why, but somehow, seaweed, in all its infinite and untranslatable variety seems important for some reason.

He tells Yakov about the new ones every time he calls, to Yakov’s immense confusion.

#

His nights with Yuuri fall just this much on the side of nonplatonic—but they are definitely on the nonplatonic side now, becoming more so every night. This new, tentative exploration between them leaves Victor aroused, delighted, and excited. A new sensuality blooms in Yuuri’s skating, deepening his routine, transforming his Eros from dashingly seductive to Helen of Troy launching a thousand ships straight into Victor’s chest.

There’s a glint in Yuuri’s eyes when he tracks Victor during his routine, an assurance to his motions, a burgeoning, beckoning confidence to his steps, the sway of his hips. He goes from creating music when he skates to conducting symphonies.

You, that graceful curve of his arm says, I have you. You love me. You wouldn’t dare not to.

At night, in bed: You, Yuuri says with his body, pulling Victor to him, until Victor’s head rests against his chest, his hands splaying across Yuuri’s bare belly. I have you. I know you love me. You wouldn’t dare not to.

Every night pushes them into new territory, new explorations. Yuuri’s hands stray—one night down his ribs, the next, tracing a line down Victor’s spine as if Yuuri is the world’s most dedicated cartographer, intent on recording the terrain of Victor’s body to the millimeter. The night Yuuri’s fingers brush Victor’s nipples—lightly, but definitely—Victor almost dies. He has to hold his breath to keep from pressing his hips into Yuuri. He doesn’t want Yuuri to stop exploring.

I’m here. That’s the message he wants to send. Go on, don’t stop. I’m yours for whatever you want.

I know, Yuuri’s body says in return.

Yuuri’s lips say something else entirely, something completely at odds with the confidence of his caresses.

“Sorry.” The word is almost a gasp; Yuuri’s thumb idly circles Victor’s areola. “I’m sorry.”

Yuuri’s not the least bit sorry, not if his body language is any indication. His lips curl in a small smile as Victor lets out a little moan; he bites his lower lip in concentration.

It should be ridiculous, that’s what it should be. Victor’s had lovers before. He’s had sexual encounters before that would rival the most arousing pornography. Yet here he is, undone by the brush of a thumb when they haven’t even kissed.

But Yuuri’s simple touch breaks Victor’s rationality in tiny shards, sends his body into aroused, delighted expectation. Yuuri’s breathing mirrors his, soft and gasping. The fingers of his other hand dig into Victor’s hip. His caresses—objectively somewhere at the level of middle-school groping sessions—are the most sensual experience of Victor’s life. The soft calluses of Yuuri’s thumb skim the point of Victor’s nipple, and Victor outright whimpers.

Yuuri’s breath whispers against Victor’s forehead in an almost-kiss. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you. Go back to sleep.”

Yuuri doesn’t stop touching him, though, and Victor doesn’t sleep. Not for hours.

Chapter Text

There is no one transition between not-fluent and fluent, of course, but Victor is nowhere close to fluent in Japanese.

Perhaps that is why Victor is surprised, when he wakes up a few mornings before they leave for China to the light stroke of Yuuri’s fingers on his elbow, to realize that he’s achieved fluency in a language he didn’t even realize he was learning.

There was a skater who worked with Yakov until she shredded her ACL and had to give it up. She had lived in Russia since she was four years old. Her native tongue, technically, was Mandarin, and if Victor really listened, he could hear her childhood origins in that tiny hint of tonality when she spoke. But she’d told Victor once that she thought in Russian and dreamed in Russian, and for all that it wasn’t her first language, it had the deepest roots.

It has taken Victor an embarrassingly long time—until this morning in bed with Yuuri, the Cup of China a mere three days away—to understand that Japanese is only Yuuri’s first language. It’s not his deepest one.

Victor should have figured it out when he talked to Minako the very first week. Or maybe when he talked to Yuko and Takeshi. Instead, it’s taken him months to understand.

Yuuri is fluent in both Japanese and English, but there’s a hesitation to him when he speaks in either tongue, a holding back, as if the words for what he wants to say don’t quite exist.

Skating—or, rather, movement, in general, for Yuuri—is his deepest language, and once Victor understands this, everything falls into place.

When Yuuri told Victor about pushing that girl in Detroit away when she hugged him, he wasn’t just saying that he found her touch uncomfortable and invasive. He was trying to explain, in the halting, embarrassing way that one attempts to translates the untranslatable. He meant that their languages didn’t match, that for him, a hug is a conversation, not just the press of two bodies in the same space.

To have someone intrude on that conversation without understanding his context? For Yuuri, it must have been like having someone walk up to him and shout in a language he couldn’t understand.

Victor has been trying to figure out how shy, diffident Yuuri could be the same person as the Yuuri who pole-danced with Christopher Giacometti at the last Grand Prix final. Now it finally makes sense.

Yuuri isn’t shy. He isn’t diffident. If he stands back from others, it’s because his spoken languages fall short of the task of communicating the intensity of his feelings. Victor was wrong. Yuuri doesn’t skate like he’s creating music; he skates as if he’s creating language, a language of tone and rhythm, gestures and toe loops, all coming together and…

“I was just thinking about the Grand Prix final last year,” Victor says softly, as Yuuri’s eyes flutter open, the rays of the sun burnishing his face in gold.

Yuuri winces and squeezes his eyes shut again. “Oh, God, Victor. Don’t remind me. I can’t think about that now.”

“Not your scores.” Victor doesn’t want to remind him of the shame or the embarrassment. “What is it you were trying to say with your routines?”

“Ahhhh.” Yuuri blushes red and buries his head in Victor’s shoulder. “Nothing. Nothing. It was stupid. You were performing shortly after me anyway. Why would you watch my programs?”

“Hmm.” Victor smiles. “Translating from Yuuri to Russian is always a bit of a task. ‘Nothing’ means ‘everything.’ ‘It was stupid’ means ‘It was extremely important to me.’ And ‘Why would you even watch my programs?’ means ‘Don’t you dare take your eyes off me.’”

Yuuri stills against his chest. “Sorry.”

Sorry means something between You’re right and I’m not sorry, but they both know that already, and Victor lets it pass without saying.

“You were trying to say something to me, weren’t you? Even back then.”

Yuuri swallows and very slowly, he nods.

Victor doesn’t have to be told, because he’s come to understand Yuuri. He knows now that this tilt of Yuuri’s head is embarrassment, that flare of the nostrils is amusement. And the way Yuuri sets his forehead against Victor’s collarbone? That’s something else entirely. It’s want.

Victor has watched Yuuri’s programs from the last year. Yuuri had done substantially better at Skate America, where he took second, than he managed at the final. Now, Victor realizes that Yuuri intended to shout with his programs, shout in a way that would have been entirely unacceptable in any language he knows except the one he speaks on the ice.

Victor roughly translates Yuuri’s message from last year as something like this: I am here on the ice with you, and you won’t ignore me.

Not quite, of course; meaning never translates precisely from one tongue to another. There was more yearning, more affection, more desire in Yuuri’s programs than those bare words could convey.

It explains the post-Grand Prix banquet, too. Victor is only now beginning to understand that Yuuri’s disappointment wasn’t just because of the crushing loss and the embarrassment. His failure meant that he was silenced, that the thing he wanted the entire world to know was smothered in his anxiety. To be hushed in that way, in the moment he’d prepared for… It sent Yuuri into a spiral.

But Yuuri is stronger than he looks. His heart may shatter easily, but he always puts it back together again. Having failed to convey his message to Victor one way, Yuuri got stunningly smashed—and proceeded to tell him exactly the same thing in different form.

It would be a mistake, Victor concludes, to think that Yuuri is shy and diffident except when drunk. It’s that he is only able to be himself when someone else speaks his deepest language.

#

It comes to Victor that afternoon, when Yuuri is skating compulsory figures as a way of warming down after their practice. Victor has a flash of blinding inspiration—the start of his next short program.

Victor’s short programs—everyone’s programs, actually, all of them—have a certain similarity to the start. A few choreographic moves, designed to catch the eye while building the speed necessary to manage the first jumps. There’s a reason for it; speed is vital for jumps, and it would be absolutely ridiculous to do it any other way.

But what if…

What if he were absolutely ridiculous?

Victor stands on the ice, facing where Yakov would sit in the St. Petersburg rink. Abruptly he turns—speed, he needs to dash like a hockey player. He takes three sharp steps, glides—yes, like that, just like that—and pushes off into a triple axel.

It’s an unusual enough entry to the jump that he underrotates it and almost flubs the landing. Still, he almost laughs. Nobody would expect that. It’s utterly ridiculous to start with an immediate departure—like a world champion walking out on his coach when nobody expects it, perhaps—then another explosive build up of speed, a combination jump next…

Victor glances over the ice to where Yuuri stands. He’s stopped skating. He’s watching Victor with a curious look on his face.

That’s what this short program is. It’s like a world champion walking out on his coach. Or—inspiration strikes again—more like, it’s the first half of a story, one where the hero and his trusty dog are bewitched into leaving their village. Victor can almost hear the music—adventure, danger, enchantment. It’s a rearrangement of that piece by Liadov, for sure. He’ll have to talk to his composer.

He remembers abruptly that he doesn’t have a composer. He doesn’t have a short program. He’s not competing.

“What are you doing?” Yuuri calls out to him over the ice.

It’s worth it, to have lost all those things, just to look over and see Yuuri.

Victor grins. “I’m skating.”

“Of course you’re skating. But why?”

“For fun.” Victor laughs. “It’s fun.” That’s what it is, more than anything. Skating is fun again. It’s an adventure. He hasn’t enjoyed skating like this, inventing like this, for years.

Victor crooks his finger come hither, and Yuuri comes on a sensual swish of skates. The tension between them thickens with every meter that he crosses. It’s so deliciously sweet that Victor can almost taste it on the tip of his tongue.

When Yuuri’s almost to him, Victor starts skating backwards.

Yuuri slows. “I thought you wanted to talk to me?”

“Where’s your stamina now?” Victor teases. “Can’t catch me?”

It takes them a moment to synchronize on the ice, matching velocities so they can take each other’s hands. Their fingers tangle; their legs move in tandem, twin manifestations of a melody that only they can hear.

It’s a conversation as much as anything.Yuuri’s fingers curl around Victor’s. How long have I been chasing you?

Victor turns, sending them both into an elongated spiral, and taps Yuuri’s chin. As long as I’ve been waiting for you to catch me. Catch me soon; I need you.

Yuuri takes hold of Victor’s other hand, brings them close, turning…

Their footwork comes from one of Victor’s old routines; his muscle memory takes over. Yuuri’s hand slides to his thigh; they pull in close together, their lazy spiral turning into a spin, faster and faster as they draw in on each other.

Their hands are on each other’s sides. Yuuri’s chest expands against Victor’s. They speed up, slow down, and then break apart, still holding hands.

At the side of the rink, Yuko bursts into applause.

“That’s incredible!” She’s beaming. “How long did you have to practice that?”

“About two seconds,” Victor volunteers breathlessly.

But Yuuri answers at the same time Victor does. “About eleven years.”

Victor blinks.

Yuuri shrugs. “I’ve watched your routines forever. I know when you’re about to start a spin, Victor.”

“Oh?”

Yuuri’s tongue darts out. Touches his lips. “I used to watch you in slow motion,” he confesses. “I had this idea that one day I’d need to know how to time a spin tangled up in you.”

Victor’s throat dries and Yuuri flushes for the first time in that conversation. It’s as close as Yuuri has come to confessing his childhood crush on Victor, and this little piece of him, freely given in a language they both speak, feels like a treasure. Their hands clench. Victor leans his head, resting his cheek against Yuuri’s shoulder.

“Yuko is here.” Yuuri’s voice is low in his ear.

“I don’t care. Do you?”

“Axel, Lutz, and Loop are the ones who posted the skating video. They’re not trustworthy.”

Victor inhales Yuuri’s scent, feels the rise and fall of his breath. “I don’t care,” he repeats. “Do you.”

Yuuri’s arm goes around him. They’re in public. Yuko is watching. For Yuuri, this is as good as a declaration: Stay by my side and never leave.

He nuzzles Yuuri’s collarbone. He can feel the warmth of Yuuri’s skin through his shirt. Victor inhales, wanting, wanting, wanting. He has wanted since the banquet at the Grand Prix final, since Yuuri first locked eyes with him over a bottle of champagne.

Over the months since, that want has undergone a series of metamorphoses—from lust to yearning, from yearning to need, and finally from need to absolute requirement, until Yuuri’s presence has become a necessity in his life.

Even Yakov didn’t believe Victor when he said they weren’t having sex. But sex…

Besides, until he met Yuuri, Victor thought of sex as something like cheesecake. Cheesecake is good. It’s even excellent on occasion. But the rigorous diet and training program demanded by professional skaters never left much space on the menu for cheesecake. Or sex.

Up until now, he’s always had to insulate himself before he had sex. He had to figure out who his partner wanted him to be and wrap himself inside it so that his own wistful desires wouldn’t sneak out where they wouldn’t belong.

Yuuri? Yuuri’s been dismantling Victor’s insulation since the night they met.

It’s not that Victor doesn’t want to have sex. Fuck, he wants sex so much. He has wanted sex from the moment Yuuri loosened his tie in the bright glitz under the banquet chandelier and smiled as if Victor were made for him and him alone. Victor has never stopped wanting to have sex with Yuuri.

But that want has transformed from a physical itch that demands to be scratched into a lifelong goal. For Yuuri, who speaks with gestures and touches, sex will never be just a physical urge.

Yuuri isn’t holding back when they snuggle together, no matter how breathless he leaves Victor. He isn’t a cocktease, despite what others might think of the situation. This slow exchange of caresses, this unspoken dance of arousal…this is the way that Yuuri takes Victor apart: piece by piece, waiting for Victor to knock down one barrier before moving on to the next.

Victor wants sex now not just for the orgasm and the shared delight. It’s no longer just cheesecake. It’s the joy of skating. Every touch is a promise, and Victor wants to deserve every last confidence that Yuuri is willing to bestow on him.

They’ve run their hands along every inch of each other’s bodies. They’ve pressed into each other, breathing into each other’s shoulders.

They still have not kissed, and Victor wants to know. He wants to know the precise softness of Yuuri’s lips against his. He wants to know the taste of his lover (and just because they haven’t had sex yet, doesn’t mean he’s not his lover) after Yuuri has indulged in katsudon, whether he will still be as sweet as Victor imagines, or if he’ll taste of umami and salt. He wants to know if Yuuri will melt into him and give him everything, or if he’ll retain control.

He wants to know everything.

Most of all, though, he wants Yuuri to tell him.

“Come on.” Yuuri shifts his arm around Victor’s waist. “Let’s go home.”

#

Victor: Hey Yakov, do you want to see my new short program?

There’s no answer. But then, Yakov never answers texts. Doesn’t matter; Victor will see him in a few days.

It will be nice to get yelled at in person, Victor thinks wistfully.

#

At first, Victor thinks Yakov doesn’t see him at the Cup of China. Yakov walks right past Victor and Yuuri with a stuffed expression, as if the two of them are not even there.

Silly old man. Victor chases him down, grabbing hold of him before he can escape to his hotel room.

Yakov turns because he has no choice. His nose twitches when he sees Victor. His eyebrows wrinkle.

“Yakov,” Victor says, before Yakov has a chance to start on one of his tirades, “want to come have hot pot with us?”

Yakov tilts his head in Victor’s direction, and Victor feels suddenly cold. Yes, he yells, but there was a way he used to look at Victor. He had a softness in him.

Yakov’s gaze catches on Yuuri and his expression darkens.

“Victor.” His voice is a low rumble. “I don’t want to hear anything from you except that you’re coming back. Watching you pretend to be coach? It makes me want to puke.”

It’s nothing Yakov hasn’t said before. But now Victor’s here, in person. He thought he’d at least get a hug.

Instead, Yakov brushes him off as if he’s nothing.

Maybe he is. Maybe he was only a skater to Yakov. Maybe Victor made up all the rest of it, a fantasy of being wanted. His head rings as if he’s been slapped.

When Victor turns away, he makes sure that he laughs loud enough for Yakov to hear him. And he holds Yuuri extra tightly.

#

Maybe that’s why Victor gets roaringly drunk that night. Maybe that’s why the incriminating picture that goes viral on social media has Yakov giving him a dark look across the ink the next day.

Maybe that’s why Victor doesn’t notice that Yuuri is spiraling into anxiety after he lands in first place after the short program, not until the morning he’s supposed to skate. Victor doesn’t know what to do about it, and he would ask Yakov, but…

Yakov isn’t talking to him.

Victor does his best on his own, but his best is frankly garbage. Nothing Victor does to help works, and in a fit of stupidity, Victor says he’ll resign if Yuuri misses the podium. It’s the only thing he can think to say, and he knows it’s a mistake while his words are still echoing in the garage.

Yuuri looks at him as if he’s betrayed something between them, as if Victor has rendered their nights of tentative exploration meaningless with that one sentence. He starts crying.

Victor has never felt so utterly helpless in his life. Things are falling apart, and he can’t fix them. Anyone else would know what to do, but he’s bad at people.

“I’ve been wondering if you secretly want to quit,” Yuuri says through sobs.

Victor approaches. “Of course not.”

“I know!” Yuuri practically shouts, and at least that much is clear between them.

Victor winces. “I’m not good with people crying in front of me.”

Understatement; deep down, Victor knows he’s inadequate in every way. Yuuri continues to cry, and Victor keeps trying.

“I'm not sure what to do. Should I just kiss you or something?”

It sounds horrible the way he says it. It’s not what he wants for their first kiss. Not like this, not this way. But clearly, English isn’t working between them if he’s made Yuuri a sobbing mess a handful of minutes before his free skate. Maybe touch will work better. Help me out, Yuuri, he begs. I don’t know how to say what I want.

And Yuuri does help him. “Just have more faith than I do that I’ll win,” he says. “You don’t have to say anything. Just stay close to me and never leave.”

Victor does have the language for that. In the dark, in the parking garage, with the music muted overhead, he pulls Yuuri close. And for the minutes it takes for his heart to start beating in time with Yuuri’s, he holds him.

#

Everything on the ice is a language, and Victor doesn’t know what Yuuri is going to say. He just watches as Yuuri takes his place on the ice.

Victor’s expecting Yuuri’s anxiety to come through in his skating. Instead, Yuuri…smiles. He hits his first quad combination perfectly. Somehow all the things that Yuuri wanted to tell Victor come through on ice, even though they didn’t work in English.

Stop worrying about me. I’m fine. I’m not here to play around. I may fall, but I will keep going.

You will be proud of me.

Victor is proud. He’s delighted with Yuuri’s performance. Yes, there’s room for improvement, but he’s good, very good. His stamina is amazing. He’s doing well, so well. There’s nothing left but the last quad toe loop…

Victor’s breath stops in the second when Yuuri sets up for the jump. No. No.

For some things, there is no translation. Yuuri vaults into the air from the back inside edge of one skate, a fucking flip, it’s a quad flip at the end of his routine, and it doesn’t matter that Yuuri doesn’t land the jump.

Victor has never been so stunned in his life. He doesn’t know what to think. Yuuri’s never landed a quad flip, never even attempted one in Victor’s presence.

That little move—a flip at the end of his program, holy fuck, Victor couldn’t have gotten that height, those rotations at the end of his free skate—was a message.

I told you to meet me where I am, Nikiforov. Don’t be fooled; the place I am may be above you. I’m not waiting behind because you think I’m too weak to take it.

As a coach, Victor knows he should scold him. With the rest of his free skate imperfect and Chulanont’s combined score so high, a properly landed toe loop would have been worth more points. Yuuri’s personal message to Victor might have meant the difference between silver and gold.

Fuck the medals.

Yuuri comes to a halt as the music slows, one hand on his heart.

Victor doesn’t let himself think. He stands for a moment after Yuuri finishes in stunned silence, waiting, waiting… He presses his fingertips to his eyelids, wondering if he’ll wake up.

There are some things that can’t be translated from one language to another, and his response to Yuuri after that fucking flip is one of them. Victor doesn’t let himself think. He reacts.

Victor opens his eyes. Runs to the place where Yuuri will come off the ice. His heart is thundering, but there’s only one way he can respond.

He’s moving.

Can’t let Yuuri hit his head is his only conscious thought. His arms come around him protectively. Their lips press together.

Victor has fallen on the ice tens of thousands of time. He is intimately familiar with that split second between when his skates go out from under him and his body slams into the ice. He knows just how to brace himself, when to go limp.

In that fractional second, he experiences the heat of Yuuri’s body, warm from his free skate. The touch of their lips, the briefest taste of sweetness. Then there’s the shock of the ice as they hit the ice and the gasp of the crowd, because—oh, yes—they’re kissing on national television.

Victor doesn’t care. He wants the whole world to see. When Yuuri looks up into his eyes with a luminous, adoring expression…

Victor never wants to let go.

#

After the medal ceremony, after the interviews, after they’ve barely been able to let go of each other, linking arms, bumping shoulders, holding hands…

It happens on their way out of the rink. Victor sees Yakov. Yakov is just down the hallway, talking to Georgi in his usual style—which is to say, Yakov is yelling at him in a futile attempt to comfort the boy after his lackluster performance.

Yakov brushed Victor off at the beginning of the Cup of China, but surely—surely now that he’s seen Yuuri win silver, now that he knows that Victor isn’t just screwing around as a coach… Surely now they can exchange a few words?

“Yakov!” He waves a hand. “Hey, Yakov!”

Yakov stops in place. Victor can see him set one hand on his temple, as if he’s doing his best to stave off a migraine. Very slowly, he turns.

“Victor.” The word is a growl. He speaks in Russian. “I told you. I don’t want to talk to you as long as you’re pretending to be involved in this sham of a coaching thing!”

Behind him, Georgi takes a step backward, grateful for the interruption. Then another. Victor can’t blame him; he wouldn’t want to be around Yakov, either.

The smile stays on Victor’s face by force of will. He takes a step forward.

“Can you really call it a sham?” he replies, speaking the same language. “My student beat yours.” He gives Yakov a cheeky smile and a wink, to show that he’s joking.

“And you overshadowed it all by kissing your student in public!” Yakov thunders. “What were you thinking? You told me it wasn’t like that, and now I find out you’re lying to me? I can forgive hormones! I can forgive flightiness! I know what you are. But I can’t forgive lying. It’s too much. I never want to talk to you again.”

Victor just nods. “I’ll call you next week.”

Yakov shakes his head. “This time I mean it! Call and I’ll block your number.”

He doesn’t mean it. He never means it.

Yuuri is watching them, his eyes darting between them. He licks his lips. He can’t understand the words of course, but it wouldn’t be hard to interpret their body language or the volume of the conversation. The argument must feel triply loud to someone used to the relative quiet of the Japanese culture.

Yuuri clears his throat. “Ah, Mr. Feltsman,” Yuuri says politely in English. “Congratulations. Georgi had an excellent program, one I can see you worked hard on together. It was a pleasure to compete against the two of you.”

Yakov’s nose twitches. “Tell your toy to stay out of my business,” he mutters in Russian.

Victor doesn’t lose his temper. He doesn’t. He just doesn’t—not ever. But he’s close now. Closer than he’s ever been with Yakov. “Don’t call him a toy.”

Yakov continues. “I don’t need compliments from slutty so-called skaters—”

It’s the so-called that does it. Victor loses his temper. Her doesn’t know how he crosses the distance between him and his former coach because it seems to happen all at once in a fit of red rage. One moment they’re apart; the next, he’s standing right in front of Yakov.

“Don’t.” His fists clench in Yakov’s jacket and he yanks him close.

Yakov’s hands close around his arms. “How dare you touch me like this?! Victor, what has gotten into you?”

“Call me a liar,” Victor whispers. “Call me an ungrateful wretch and an idiot boy and anything you want. I don’t care. I love you too much to give a damn. But if you ever call Yuuri anything, ever again—”

Yakov just stares down at Victor’s fingers in his jacket. “What the hell is that boy to you?”

Victor’s hands are shaking. “Don’t call him that boy, either. I’m going to marry that boy. If you want to be a part of my life, you will talk about him with respect. Do you understand?”

Yakov doesn’t say anything. He looks at Victor. He looks past Victor to Yuuri, who is standing right there

And, oh, fuck. The blood drains from Victor’s face. He said… He just… With Yuuri next to him… He said out loud…

Oh, thank God. They were speaking in Russian. If Yuuri had understood a word of that, he’d be reacting right now, and he only looks worried. Yakov’s the only one who heard that damning confession—Georgi has somehow disappeared, and Victor can’t blame him, because after this,Yakov will be impossible to deal with.

Still. Those words actually came out of Victor’s mouth. They just did, as if they were a truth he’s stored in every cell of his body…except the ones in his brain.

Victor hadn’t even realized the words were true until he said them.

Oh, holy hell. Realization hits him like a crowbar to the head. They’re true. Every word he said is true. He is going to marry that boy if he has any choice in the matter. He realizes it for the first time glaring at Yakov, refusing to back down, because no, no, he can’t—he won’t—let anyone say those things about the man he loves. Not even Yakov.

Yuuri’s hand caresses his arm, breaking the cycling emotion. “Victor,” he says in a low voice in English. “Victor, you don’t want to do this. Not here. Not like this.”

Victor lets out a shaking, shuddering breath. His fingers loosen their hold on Yakov’s jacket. His muscles suddenly turn to water; his knees almost buckle. Yakov brushes off his fingers, and somehow, the look of contempt that Yakov gives him feels like…

Like the empty seat at the edge of the rink at his Junior World Championship. Like a half-dozen lovers who wanted Victor as a prize, not a person. It’s like all of those, except this is Yakov, Yakov. This can’t be happening with Yakov.

“Victor,” Yuuri says again. “It’s okay. Come with me. Let’s take a break.”

“Go on,” Yakov says on a growl. “Walk away from me. Disrespect me like that, and you had better leave.”

So Victor does. He turns. Takes three steps.

Yuuri sets his hand on Victor’s spine and rotates him a hundred and eighty degrees. “The other way, Victor,” he says gently. “The exit is this way.”

Yakov lets out a snort.

Victor doesn’t need Yakov to help him find his way any longer. He has Yuuri. So why does his throat feel so hoarse?

It doesn’t matter. Save your tears for the ones who will care for them. Good advice, no matter who gave it to him. Victor brushes his fringe back. He finds his smile. Straightens his back.

He turns to Yakov, who is watching him, his face blotchy and red.

“Take care,” he says in English. “I kicked your ass as a coach, and I will do it again. And again. And again.”

“Victor,” Yuuri sighs. “You don’t want to do this.”

Victor winks at Yakov. He smiles until his mouth aches with the same bruising pain that he feels in his heart. And he links his arm with Yuuri’s and walks away.

#

“We need to talk.”

Victor looks over at where Yuuri is leaning, looking down at the floor. The elevator up to their hotel room is mirrored on all sides, making it seem as if an infinite number of Victors and Yuuris are standing next to each other instead of three feet apart.

Yuuri’s Team Japan jacket hides his silver medal. He’s fussing with the handle of the carry-on he uses to carry his gear, but when Victor doesn’t answer, he looks up.

Victor can’t see his eyes. Not at this distance. Not with the lights overhead reflecting on Yuuri’s glasses. But he can imagine them narrowed in his direction in judgment.

“Victor?” Yuuri prods once more.

Victor does not want to talk. He doesn’t want to rehash what just happened. He can’t tell Yuuri what he just told Yakov—for God’s sake, they kissed for the first time an hour ago—without seeming completely idiotic. As to why he’s so upset? He certainly can’t tell him that. Yuuri’s family is so completely loving and accepting that he will never understand the empty ache Victor has carried his entire life. You see, my coach is basically something like my father…

Yuuri’s arms are folded, one eyebrow raised, waiting for Victor’s response.

Talk? Victor would rather impale himself on Georgi’s skate. He would rather spend the final excruciating seconds of his life listening to Georgi cry about how Anya would be so pretty calling an ambulance, maybe it would be better if she did it…

Still. “What do you want, Yuuri?” Victor knows his tone is somewhat cool. He’s caught somewhere between shock and dismay. He wants to curl in a ball and not think about what just happened with Yakov. He wants to skate circles on the ice and examine the dazzling revelation of the words he just said. He doesn’t want to talk about any of it, not until he knows what words to say.

Not talking is one of the things he’s liked best about being with Yuuri. They communicate without squashing everything into unwieldy words. Victor hates the incessant desire other people have to put his pain in a conversation. As if somehow, he will stop feeling if he applies the proper label to his emotions.

But now Yuuri wants to talk.

Dammit.

“Fine.” he bites off looking up at the ceiling. “So talk.” I can’t yet, is his implication.

“We need to talk,” Yuuri says, “about your deficiencies as a coach.”

Victor pauses. He frowns at Yuuri, who is looking over at him with those brilliant brown eyes.

This is…not what he thought they were going to talk about. No. It’s worse.

My deficiencies,” he repeats. “As a coach.”

At first, he’s annoyed that Yuuri is even bringing up something like this at a time when he’s obviously upset. Then he remembers. It feels like forever ago, but it was only a matter of hours. Victor has already forgotten their argument before Yuuri’s free skate, the memory getting buried beneath the quad flip, the kiss, Yakov’s accusations, the medal ceremony…

He truly fucked everything up today, and he doesn’t want to talk about that, either.

“Of course your deficiencies,” Yuuri says with a teasing smile that doesn’t seem to fit the bleak direction of the conversation. “I don’t have any other coach, do I?”

Yuuri crosses the elevator and wraps his hand around Victor’s. His fingers curl in Victor’s palm, and Victor feels his heart thump despite his annoyance.

It’s Yuuri. It will always be Yuuri. He wants to marry this boy, and if that means he has to talk to him…

At least it’ll be a distraction from the hole that Yakov has punched in Victor’s heart. Victor swallows and does his best. “Yuuri. I’m sorry for what I said in the garage. I shouldn’t have—”

“You think I want to talk about that?” Yuuri shakes his head. His thumb draws a line down Victor’s palm. “Victor, Victor.” He says Victor’s name with such adoring softness that Victor finds himself melting. “You don’t even know what you’ve done wrong.”

Fuck. He doesn’t. He’s failed again in another way.

“What.” His voice is shaking. “What is it? What have I done?”

“Month after month, program after program, I’ve fought to be the most sensual skater on the ice.” He looks up at Victor. “And what do I have to show for it? One lousy kiss, no tongue.”

It takes Victor a moment to understand. Yuuri’s not mad. A longer moment to look down at Yuuri, to recognize that what he’s seeing—the teasing smile on his face, the way he’s rubbing Victor’s hand.

Yuuri’s not mad at him. He’s… He’s flirting.

Oh. Oh.

Victor blinks. “You take that back.” He clears his throat. “That wasn’t a lousy kiss. It was the best kiss of my life.”

Yuuri waves his hand, conceding the point. “But it was just one, which is an abysmally low number. Don’t you think?” His eyes spark, and Victor’s heart warms, too. “How are you going to motivate me to improve if that’s the only encouragement I get?”

“Uh. I.” Victor clears his throat. “What kind of…encouragement…?”

Yuuri comes up on his toes so his nose is level with Victor’s. He sets his index finger against Victor’s chest. His eyes catch the light reflecting off the mirrors. For a second, it feels as if they’re skating together—their speed matching perfectly, wind ruffling both their hair. Victor can almost feel them slide into a spin in tandem, they feel so perfectly synchronized.

Victor has never seen anyone as beautiful as Yuuri in his entire life.

Yuuri’s hand spreads on Victor’s chest, his fingers tangling in his shirt, pulling him closer. “You told me to seduce you with everything I have. Tell me, Victor. Did I succeed or didn’t I?”

Chapter Text

Victor’s stunned.

“Ah… Yuuri.”

Yuuri’s face is right next to his. The thin pane of Yuuri’s glasses separates their eyes. Their noses are so close that mere molecules separate them. It’s easier to notice these trivial details than to parse what Yuuri is actually saying.

“Yes, Victor?” Yuuri’s voice is low and sultry, as heated as the waters of the onsen where he lives. “What’s it going to be?”

It takes Victor’s sluggish brain an eternity to understand that Yuuri wants an answer, another infinity to comprehend his question. Yuuri somehow—inexplicably—wants more from Victor, not less.

“What am I going to have to do to have my way with you?” Yuuri asks, pressing his forehead to Victor’s. “Do I have to take off your pants with my teeth?”

Heat courses through Victor’s body. “Uh…” An image pops into his mind of Yuuri on his knees in front of him, and after that, Victor can’t keep anything else in his mind. Fuck, fuck, oh fuck.

“Yes,” he whispers hoarsely. “Yes, please. You are going to have to do that. You are definitely going to have to do that.”

How is Yuuri so perfect? He doesn’t want to talk, not that way. Victor doesn’t know how Yuuri understands that he needs touch right now rather than words. He doesn’t care how this is happening. He just knows that he needs it, needs him.

The elevator stops at their floor with a quiet ding. Yuuri exits. He takes three steps down the hall, with Victor staring after him in lustful bewilderment. Then Yuuri looks back over his shoulder, an amused look on his face.

“Well, come on then.” Yuuri smiles. “Unless you want me to take you apart right here?”

“Ah…” The hallway is scalding. How did Yuuri know, when they haven’t even talked about it? “Maybe some other time. The hotel room is fine for now.”

We need to talk. God, Yuuri gave Victor heart palpitations with that phrase, and he shouldn’t have. Victor should never have forgotten that Yuuri’s words and his actions rarely match.

The elevator door starts to slide shut, and this spurs Victor into action. He starts walking, fast then faster, until he’s practically jogging to their room.

Yuuri gives Victor a cheeky grin. “Hurry up, then. I’ve been waiting for you all day.”

Victor takes the key to their room out of his pocket and opens the door.

Yuuri brushes past him and pushes his skating gear in the corner as Victor is shutting the door. They stop and face each other. It’s dark inside the room, and the lights of Beijing twinkle irrepressibly through a thick blanket of something that—in the dark, at least—they can pretend is fog. Yuuri’s hair seems like midnight in this dim lighting—ink-black, limned in silver reflections.

“Turn the light on,” Yuuri commands.

“You want to see me?”

“More like I want you to see me.”

Victor flips the switch.

“Good.” Yuuri crosses the room to Victor once again. He tilts his head back. Shifts his weight up onto his toes, wraps an arm around Victor’s neck. There are only a few centimeters between them, and Victor is aware of every one of them. Yuuri shifts closer.

Victor has fallen ten thousand times on the ice. He understands that split second between when his feet go out from under him and he lands on the ice, because it’s a lesson he’s been learning all his life. There’s a sense of imbalance, the certainty of impact. Victor knows how to fall.

Yet every time he thinks that he’s fallen all the way in love with Yuuri, he discovers that there’s more of his heart to give. He’s been in a perpetual state of falling for the last eight months.

Their lips touch, and the gentle impact drives Victor’s breath from his lungs as if he’s landed flat on his back.

Yuuri’s mouth opens under his. There’s no preamble, no warm up to this kiss. After the long months of wanting, there’s no need for any. Just this kiss, this hot open-mouthed acceptance. Yuuri’s hands curl in Victor’s vest, pulling him closer, as if his clothing is too much distance between them.

It is.

“I’ve wanted to do this forever,” Victor says, wrapping an arm around Yuuri. He’s been thinking of Yuuri’s lips since the Grand Prix banquet almost a year ago. He wished then that he’d taken Yuuri up to his room then—to sober up—so that he could convince him in the morning there was no need for embarrassment.

But if he’d done that, he might not have gone to Hasetsu. He wouldn’t have learned all the ways he could talk to this man. He wouldn’t have this kiss, their kiss, not this same way. He doesn’t want it any other way.

It seems impossible that they only kissed for the first time a few hours ago. That public kiss on the ice feels like a lifetime ago. It feels as if this kiss has been building between them forever, the firm push and pull, the giving and the taking. They’ve been practicing this moment as assiduously as they’ve perfected Yuuri’s routines. It’s taken them somewhere between eleven years and two seconds to get here.

Yuuri undoes Victor’s vest with clever fingers, pulls his collared shirt from the waist of Victor’s tailored trousers.

His lips are hot and hungry. He pulls away, and Victor reaches for him, wanting him back in the circle of his arms.

Yuuri settles on his knees.

Victor’s mouth dries. “Yuuri. What are you…”

“You said I had to take off your pants with my teeth if I wanted you in bed,” Yuuri’s eyes twinkle up at Victor. “So I will.”

Victor should stop him. He should slow this down. Victor’s fairly certain that Yuuri is—relative to him, at least—inexperienced. But Yuuri’s tongue darts out, and he’s undoing the button of Victor’s trousers with lips and teeth, and Victor is going to hell, because he won’t, he can’t stop him.

The air of the hotel room is cool against his thighs when Yuuri slides the material of his trousers down.

“This carpet is a little easier on my knees than pushing you against the edge of the rink,” Yuuri says as he pulls down Victor’s boxers. That image—of Victor bracing himself against the edge of the rink, sweaty and disheveled and mostly naked, Yuuri in front of him, toe picks bracing him in place on the ice, with no care for who might be watching them—has Victor hard, impossibly hard. Yuuri looks up at him, gauging his response. “Ah. Some other time on that one.”

Victor shivers at that promise. Fuck. He’s going to have to get Yuuri to tell him what he’s been thinking about all these months.

Yuuri settles back on his heels, contemplating Victor’s hard-on.

Victor leans down and pushes Yuuri’s hair out of his eyes. It’s still gelled from his free skate, which makes it easy enough to tousle. “What happened to my shy Yuuri?”

In response, Yuuri licks the tip of Victor’s cock, sending a cascade of pleasure through Victor’s nervous system, and it’s an answer to the question. I’ve never been shy, just reserved. Maybe that’s what he means. Maybe.

Maybe…

Yuuri swallows him, and Victor almost drowns in the sensation. The warmth of his lover’s mouth, the strength of his hands, steadying Victor’s hips… The sheer jolt of pleasure, as Yuuri explores the length of him, taking him in steadily before pulling away, tongue finding the sensitive underside…

“Yuuri.” The other man’s name is a gasp on his lips.

Yuuri responds with a kiss, pulling away for a moment to press his lips to the head of Victor’s penis, before engulfing him once more.

It’s more than just a blowjob. There’s a tenderness to it, a lovingness—that slight pause as Yuuri sucks him in, that stroke of his fingers on Victor’s thigh. I love you, and I won’t let you be alone now.

Lust hasn’t pushed away the rawness of Victor’s emotion. The last hours flash in front of him now—their argument, their kiss, Victor’s fight with Yakov—and Victor’s hands clench in Yuuri’s hair. He’s been scraped bloody by the day; this is Yuuri’s way of comforting him.

It’s not that this is any different than cheesecake, he thinks wildly. If someone asked him to classify this objectively, he’d have to admit it isn’t perfect. Hell, he might even say he’s had better. Perfect would be Yuuri knowing without asking that Victor really, really needs his balls touched. Perfect means Yuuri would never have to take breaks to rest his jaw, subtly stretching it out as he transitions from sucking to pressing kisses down Victor’s length, back to taking him in his mouth once more.

Victor can’t be objective. This is perfect, fucking perfect, because it’s Yuuri.

“Yuuri,” he says.

Yuuri pulls away long enough to look up at Victor. “I have you,” he says quietly. “I have you now. Give me everything.”

Victor already has. The feel of Yuuri’s tongue, the heat of his mouth… He’s been sucked off before, but never like this. It’s such a new feeling, this feeling of being loved. Of being comforted. It’s the feeling of someone caring what Victor needs.

Yuuri hasn’t been told what Yakov means to Victor, but then, they’ve been telling each other things without words for so long that it seems perfect that Yuuri somehow knows that Yakov is the closest thing Victor has to a parent. That he understands how much Victor hurts right now.

Yuuri pulls back a second time, lavishing love on the head of Victor’s cock, and Victor needs to grab a wall to stand.

“Yuuri.” The name sounds so perfect on his lips.

Yuuri blushes at that. Stops, just long enough to respond: “Victor.”

“No,” Victor says, looking down. “Say my name the way you say it when you’re speaking Japanese.”

Yuuri’s fingers freeze against his hips. Slowly, he pulls away. “What do you mean? It’s the same.”

“No. It’s not.” Victor couldn’t explain even at his best, let alone a minute from orgasm. The vowels of his name are slightly different when Yuuri says it in Japanese, the consonants altered…

“Victor?” Yuuri says hesitantly.

“Fuck.” Victor lets out a little sound. “Like that. Say it like that.”

“Victor.” Victor twitches, and Yuuri takes him back in his mouth, coaxing him, convincing him. Victor doesn’t need much encouragement. He’s wanted Yuuri so long. It doesn’t take long.

“Yuuri,” he says. “I’m coming.”

Yuuri swallows it all, and Victor has a hard time staying upright.

#

He doesn’t stay upright. The only way he manages to regain enough control over his muscles is to pull Yuuri on the bed. Once he’s there, he takes off Yuuri’s jacket, then the sparkling free skate outfit. He lifts off the medal and sets it on the bedside table. He settles between Yuuri’s thighs on hands and knees, and it’s an act of worship. Yuuri’s skin is a little darker than his, reflecting more light, so golden and beautiful that Victor feels like a pale interloper next to him. But Yuuri’s so sensitive, so responsive, that he scarcely has a chance to get nervous.

Instead, Victor kisses Yuuri’s thigh. Runs his tongue down that V made by the muscles between his legs and his torso. He loves making Yuuri gasp.

Yuuri’s hips push up against him momentarily, before Yuuri catches his breath and stills. “Sorry,” he whispers.

“Sorry?” Victor echoes. It’s the first sorry he’s heard from Yuuri since they started, and it pulls him out of the moment. “Sorry? You’re apologizing now, when you just sucked me dry? You’ve got to be kidding.”

Yuuri blinks, struggling up onto his forearms, meeting Victor’s eyes. “Well, that was for you,” he says. “This is different. It’s for me. It’s okay if you don’t want to—”

Victor swallows Yuuri’s cock, and the rest of that ridiculous sentence vanishes into an unsteady moan.

Of course Yuuri holds back from asking for touch. Of course he apologizes when he explores Victor’s body late at night. He’s sorry when he thinks he’s doing it for his own pleasure. When it’s for Victor, he gives over everything without hesitation.

Victor’s getting used to the sensation of falling more and more in love with Yuuri.

“It’s all for you,” he says heatedly, a little later, when he’s resting his jaw and stroking Yuuri with his hands. “I get off on every noise you make, every ounce of desire you feel. What the hell, Yuuri.”

“I…” Yuuri’s hands slide in Victor’s hair. “I… Victor, I don’t… You don’t want to, you don’t know what you’re asking, don’t know how much I want you, it’s too much, you don’t, you can’t—”

I want you too much is not a thing that will ever turn Victor off.

“I’m a selfish son-of-a-bitch,” Victor tells him fiercely. “You’ve been holding back on me. Those wants are mine. Now stop messing around and give them to me.”

He takes Yuuri’s cock in his mouth, feeling the hard length of him press against his lips, hearing Yuuri’s exhale. Yuuri pushes up, fucking hard into Victor’s mouth.

“Like that,” Yuuri tells him. “Do it just like that and don’t stop.”

“Say my name,” Victor stops long enough to tell him this. “Say it in Japanese.”

Yuuri does. Victor makes sure he screams it.

#

“So,” Yuuri says.

They are pressed together afterwards, hands tracing each other, bodies slick with sweat, exchanging kisses that make this moment not an aftermath but an interlude.

“You like when I say your name in Japanese.”

“I like when you make me yours,” Victor confesses. “Every way you do it.”

“Ah.” Yuuri presses a kiss to Victor’s collarbone. “And I was going to ask what you wanted next.”

They don’t say anything for a while after that—they’re too busy kissing to talk. They don’t say anything until Yuuri’s between Victor’s legs, teasing him, slipping lubed-up fingers deep into Victor.

“You know.” Yuuri speaks with too casual an air. “With the lights on and the curtains open, anyone could see in.”

Their room is on the thirty-second floor. It seems highly unlikely that anyone would see them, not unless someone’s staked out a room in one of the neighboring buildings with binoculars. Still, the suggestion sends a shiver of pleasure crawling up Victor’s spine, one that’s intensified by the slow feel of Yuuri’s fingers exploring him.

“That’ll make for a more interesting photo than the kiss,” Yuuri comments. His words are calm; his voice is laden with tension. “We could break the internet twice today. Imagine what they would do with a photo of the great Victor Nikiforov getting fucked by his student.”

Victor imagines exactly that—a telephoto lens trained on them—and lets out a gasp. “You’re killing me.”

“Shall I close the curtains?” Yuuri is teasing him, and how he understands this, Victor does not know. “No,” Yuuri says, answering himself. He moves, positioning his cock at Victor’s entrance. “No. I think I should give them a better view. What do you think?”

“Yes.” Victor has never wanted anything more. “Yes, yes, yes.”

Yuuri pushes into Victor on those words, sliding up as Victor’s thighs clasp him, claiming his lips as he claims his body.

He pushes in an inch, no more, enough for Victor’s body to feel the intrusion, to respond. To clench around Yuuri’s dick and to need.

“More,” Victor demands.

Yuuri’s eyes meet his, brown and sparkling. “You want more of my cock?”

The word cock sends a pulse of hot desire through Victor, a lash of heat that sweeps him from head to toe. “I want it all.”

Yuuri’s muscles are taut on top of him, taut and so fucking perfect. “You want me to give this to you while everyone watches? You want them to see me take you apart from the inside out? You want me to fuck you until you come all over both of us?”

“Yes,” Victor pants. “Yes. God, where did you get such a dirty mouth?”

Yuuri flushes, the first sign of insecurity.

“Don’t stop,” Victor insists. “I love it.”

For a second, Yuuri shakes his head, biting his lip. For a second, Victor thinks that he’s fucked up—hurt Yuuri, ruined this moment.

Then Yuuri dips his head down and presses a kiss into the corner of Victor’s mouth.

“Victor,” he murmurs against his lips, “why do you think I blush so much around you? It’s not because I don’t think about sex. Trust me. I think about it…an alarming amount of the time. You have no idea what you’re getting into.”

Victor wraps his arms around Yuuri. “Show me, then.”

“I’ve think about this, with you…a lot more than I’ll ever have a chance to do it.”

“Not anymore. Not anymore.”

Another kiss. Their noses rub; Yuuri sets his forehead against Victor’s affectionately. “Yeah,” he breathes. “Yeah.”

It’s a moment of sweetness in the middle of a lightning storm, and when the lightning starts again, when Yuuri moves his hips once more, his fingers digging into Victor’s side, the sweetness stays. Their lips catch again, then again.

“Show me,” Yuuri demands. “Show me how to take you apart. I want to ruin you for the rest of the world.”

“I want to be ruined,” Victor confesses. It’s a lie, though. He wants to ruin. He was ruined for everyone else months ago at the banquet. What he wants is more complex. He wants Yuuri to push dick-deep into him and pull out all his secrets. He wants Yuuri to fall in love so hard that he won’t care about Victor eavesdropping on his conversations.

It’s stupid to teach Yuuri all his other secrets—the angle to fuck him so that Victor’s brain shuts down, the fact that his left nipple is more sensitive than his right, the precise rhythm—“there,” Victor gasps when Yuuri gets it, “there, like that, do that”—that lets him feel every thrust without overwhelming him in sensation.

It’s stupid to teach Yuuri how to make Victor fall more deeply in love, but Victor is an idiot for this man, and he tells him everything. What’s the point in holding back his body when he’s already handed over his heart, his soul, his career? He can have everything.

“I’m close,” Yuuri says. “Fuck. What do I need to do to get you off?”

“Touch me,” Victor urges him. His hand covers Yuuri’s on his cock, showing him. “Harder. Yes. Like that.”

“Everyone’s going to see me make you come,” Yuuri tells him.

Victor is lost. Yuuri keeps going, wringing from Victor the sweetest orgasm he’s ever had in his life.

Yuuri can have everything, if he keeps giving it back that way.

#

“How did you know?” Victor asks later, when they’ve had a chance to catch their breath. “How did you know that I, um, get off on public displays?”

This is a thing he’s never spoken aloud before. He’s never been with anyone long enough to feel comfortable expressing this particular kink, has never felt as if anyone actually wanted to know about Victor’s pleasure. In his prior relationships, he’s always been the kink—the celebrity, the public personality, the item to be crossed off the bucket list and left behind.

Nobody has ever asked what he wants, let alone known.

He’s kept that want buried deep inside—a quirk of personality that didn’t need to be shared, one that he occasionally uses to tantalize himself in internal fantasies.

And yet here Yuuri unraveled it without a being told.

“How did I know?” Yuuri laughs. “Victor. Have you seen yourself skate?”

“It’s that obvious?”

“Well, yes, if you know what to look for. But, um, Victor… You’ve asked me to seduce you on the ice in front of thousands of people how many times now? If you were trying to keep it a secret, that’s…a pretty massive tell.”

“Ah.” Victor pulls Yuuri closer.

“And,” Yuuri says, flushing slightly, “you may have noticed that I’ve been…pretty enthusiastic about doing precisely that? It’s not like I’m…different in that respect. I thought you’d noticed already? One of the reasons I wanted to skate on the same ice as you was to catch your attention. Publicly.”

Something clicks in Victor. That first time he noticed Yuuri—really noticed him—was when he took charge at the banquet. Like had recognized like.

He’s delighted in his own brilliance, falling in love with this man.

Yuuri’s fingers are tracing patterns against Victor’s chest. He looks up, almost shyly. “You’ll tell me the others, won’t you?”

“Hmm?”

“The other things you like?” Yuuri’s face flushes pink. “I’m not going to figure them all out on my own.”

“Oh. Um. Yes.”

“Except the foot thing,” Yuuri says. “I…um, noticed that one too. I was…pretty sure that wasn’t just a coach caring for his student’s feet.”

“Right.” Victor feels dazed. “It wasn’t. Yes. Okay. But in my defense, your feet are really, really hot.”

“And you kind of like it when I boss you around. I guess we’ll have to figure out how far that one goes, right?”

Victor starts to laugh. Holy shit. Yuuri has everything of his, and he can’t make himself care. Their bodies wrap together, Yuuri’s arms around Victor.

“Victor.” Yuuri’s lips press into Victor’s shoulder. “Did you really want to know when, um, I’m interested in going again, or should I hold off?”

Yuuri’s stamina is going to kill him. Victor is going to love dying.

“Tell me,” Victor says, turning toward his lover. “Always tell me. Tell me what you want me to do.”

“Switch from last time,” Yuuri says. “If you’re up for it?”

“Give me a minute, and I’ll be up for you,” Victor promises.

He’s a fraud and a fake, Victor thinks as they kiss. Body. Soul. Desires. Career. Heart. Life. It feels like those things are the sum total of Victor. He can pretend he’s given everything he has to this man. But it’s not true, is it?

The thing Victor is keeping for himself is the one thing Yuuri most deserves. Victor’s still holding onto the truth.

#

“That was a kiss.” Mari is speaking in Japanese.

Victor and Yuuri arrived home yesterday, ate, and fell asleep almost immediately, jetlagged and exhausted from travel and sex. Victor woke Yuuri up this morning—a gargantuan task, one made worse by jet lag and the mutual desire to fuck each other senseless—and forced him back on schedule, because desire or no desire, the Rostelecom Cup is only weeks away.

Yuuri hasn’t had a chance to talk to his sister until tonight. Now, they’re all sitting on the couch together, watching television.

Victor knows he should not be listening to their conversation, particularly since it is about him. About them.

He knows he shouldn’t.

And yet he stays where he is, at the end of the couch, Makkachin curled up between him and Yuuri. He has only the excuse of his tablet to occupy him.

“What,” Mari says, as Yuuri doesn’t respond. “You aren’t going to talk about it?”

“What is there to talk about?” Yuuri shrugs. “We kissed on international TV. If you missed it, there are YouTube videos of every possible camera angle. You’ve probably seen the slow-motion replay.” There’s a teasing smile on Yuuri’s face.

Mari wrinkles her nose. “Fine. Don’t tell me.”

“Uh…” Yuuri trails off. Glances at Victor. Victor senses his wariness at the edge of his peripheral vision.

“Yes!” Victor says pointlessly. “Go Chris!”

Yuuri raises an eyebrow.

Victor points at his tablet. “He’s adding another quad to his free skate.”

…And that makes this active deception now, pretending that he’s not paying attention when he’s straining to hear every last word Yuuri says.

“Ah, good for him?” Yuuri looks back at Mari, and switches back to Japanese. “That’s Chris Giacometti Victor is talking about. He grabbed my ass when he saw me at the Cup of China, did you know?”

“Not the person I want to hear about. Spill, little brother.”

Yuuri still doesn’t say anything.

“I’m worried,” Mari said. “I know how bad last time was. I just want to make sure you’re okay. I want to know he’s not pushing you. It’s not like he gave you any choice out there…”

She trails off.

Oh, God. Even worse. Mari had mentioned a last time before, and Victor has been wondering ever since. He really shouldn’t be listening to this at all. Yuuri glances over at Victor once again; Victor rapidly types out a text to Chris and attaches the first photo in his camera roll, which thankfully is of Makkachin.

“You have the wrong idea about last time,” Yuuri says quietly. “Probably I should have explained—”

“You called me sobbing.”

Yuuri shrugs. “It was a mistake, but… I was in the US, and they do things differently there? I thought I would give Grindr a try, and I was…”

“Depressed,” Mari says. “Not making good decisions.”

Yuuri shrugs again. “He sent me pictures of his dick. I knew what we were meeting up to do. And yes, I…maybe, once I got there, I realized I didn’t want to? But it seemed impolite to say no, so… I figured, if I just got it over with as quickly as possible, it wouldn’t be that bad?”

Oh, God. It would be just like Yuuri to give someone a blowjob just to be polite, even if he was dying inside. Would it be wrong for Victor to close the distance between him and Yuuri right now? To shoo Makkachin off the couch and hug him and tell him it was okay? To demand that he never, ever be polite to Victor in that particular way?

Yes. It would be wrong, he realizes. He isn’t supposed to understand any of this.

“It wasn’t anything like that with Victor. I don’t know if I can explain it, really. I practically ordered him to kiss me in front of everyone. It was part of an argument we were having.”

Mari just stares at her brother. “You—my shy little brother—looked your coach in the eye and said, ‘Victor, start an international skating scandal by tackle-kissing me on national TV.’ I don’t believe it, not for a second.”

“Ehhh.” Yuuri flushes. “Not in so many words, but…yes? Basically? I mean, I didn’t know that’s exactly what he was going to do, but on my end, it was kind of like…throwing all my cards down on the table, and saying ‘your move.’ I mean, Mari.” Yuuri looks up. “You know I did a quadruple flip, right?”

Mari likely didn’t know. She cheers for her brother, but the sport baffles her. One jump looks the same to her. She shrugs. “So?”

“The quad flip is his move,” Yuuri says. “I couldn’t have been more more obvious about my intentions if I’d stripped naked on the ice and held up a sign saying ‘Property of Victor Nikiforov.’”

Mari just shakes her head. “Your American metaphors are bewildering. I’m glad you’re not training there anymore.”

“I did order him to kiss me afterwards,” Yuuri says, blushing fiercely. “He didn’t do anything that I didn’t tell him to do. So… You don’t have to worry about that.”

“Fine.” Mari exhales. “At least tell me you’re being safe.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” There’s a hint of a smile on Yuuri’s face. “Skating’s a dangerous sport.”

“You’re using condoms, right?”

Yuuri flushes. “Oh, mmm, will you look at whose business that is? Not my sister’s.”

“Yuuri.”

“It’s really not your business,” Yuuri says stiffly.

“Oh my God, you didn’t. Yuuri—”

Yuuri’s eyes flash, and he puts a hand on his hip. “Mari, we are professional athletes. We get tested twice a month to make sure the absurd amount of training we do isn’t doing wonky things to our blood chemistry. That’s not to mention the random ISU drug tests. Victor is my coach. He knows my platelet count and my Vitamin D levels. You could not find two people who are more familiar with each other’s medical history. What’s more, I’m an adult and I make a living with my body. I don’t give you shit about smoking. This isn’t your business. Go back to teasing me about something that is.”

Victor tenses during this conversation. Yuuri very rarely gets prickly, but when he does, he’s immovable. But Victor knows how much Yuuri’s family means to him. He’s not sure what he’ll do if he’s the cause of a rift. He knows how much that argument with Yakov hurt him, and Yakov is just Victor’s coach, not his family.

“Fine,” Mari says. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

Victor bites his lip. What, that’s it? That’s it?

There’s a wordless glance between them. Mari bumps Yuuri’s shoulder. Yuuri gives her a faint smile.

That is, apparently, it. Victor wants that. He wants that trust that allows for arguments without fear that he’ll lose everything he cares about. He wants it, and he’s never had it, and he doesn’t know how he’ll ever fit in here—just that he’s never wished to be a part of anything so much in his life.

“So.” Mari steeples her fingers. “Are you together now?”

They actually haven’t discussed the precise contours of their relationship. Possibly because Victor is afraid of starting an argument, of losing whatever undefined thing they have. He can’t help but hold his breath, waiting for the answer.

Yuuri just frowns. “Define together.”

Mari sighs. “He’s not seeing anyone else? The two of you are interested in a relationship with each other?”

Yuuri shakes his head thoughtfully. “If that’s the definition, then we would have been together since the day he arrived in Hasetsu.”

Huh. That’s the answer Victor would have given.

Mari persists. “But you’ve talked about it now.”

“Uh, not in words? We’ve been…busy.”

“You were in China for three days after you kissed in public, and you didn’t talk about the status of your relationship?”

“Hmmm.” Yuuri flushes red. “Well. After the ceremony we, um…basically…didn’t have time to talk so much?”

“No details,” Mari says, holding up a hand. “We agreed that wasn’t my business. Ugh.”

“The next day… We, um, were busy not talking to each other in the morning. Then we watched the pairs skate. After that, we spent some time with other skaters? I hadn’t seen Phichit in ages, so that was good, but then we’d gone all day without…uh, not talking to each other, so we went back to the hotel room and continued to be too busy to talk.”

Mari sighs. “I’m getting the picture.”

“The day after that was the exhibition skate, and you know what my exhibition routine is…”

“Yes, Victor’s over-the-top romantic free skate from last year,” Mari says with a roll of her eyes. “I’m sure that didn’t raise any eyebrows.”

“Um, apparently he likes watching me perform it?” Yuuri flushes. “So. There wasn’t really time to talk. And after that, we were traveling. It’s not like we were going to hash out particulars on the plane.”

Mari’s jaw squares. “Do I need to take him outside and warn him about hurting you? Just because he’s a big celebrity doesn’t mean he can mess around with my little brother. I have a crowbar somewhere around here that I can beat meaningfully against my palm as I spell out how things are.”

“No need.” Yuuri says absently. “I’m not worried about him looking at anyone else.”

“You, not worried? Who are you, and what have you done with my little brother?”

“I’m still worried,” Yuuri says. “Just not about that.” He glances over at Victor again. “Victor is mine as long as I’m selfish enough to keep him.”

#

There’s another reason Victor doesn’t want to tell Yuuri about his language skills. He’s afraid that if he does, Yuuri will stop talking to Mari with such easy fluency. Victor has never had a Mari in his life; he doesn’t want Yuuri to lose any part of what he has with his eldest sister. Their relationship is loving and supportive, and Victor adores them together.

When they’ve been home a few days, Mari leans her head against her brother’s shoulder. “Yuuri, you have to make the Grand Prix Final.”

“I know.”

“No,” Mari says. “You don’t. Okaasan just told me that Auntie Fumika is coming to visit in early December.”

“Oh?” Yuuri snorts. “I see. It’s a matter of life or death, then.”

“It is, for Auntie Fumika. I have to go with you to Barcelona.” Mari sounds almost desperate. “Because if I have to sit in one place and smile and nod while she tells me that I don’t need to worry, I’m very pretty, and I can find a man and have babies as long as I take out my piercings, I will kill her.”

“I’ll save you, big sister.” Yuuri snuggles against her side. “At the GPF, I’ll introduce you to all the skaters. Maybe one of them will have babies with you.”

Mari groans and digs an elbow into Yuuri’s side. “Men, yes. Babies, no. Seriously, are any of them straight?”

“Er, bi, a few? I don’t know about JJ. Please don’t make me ask him.”

Mari just nods. “We have the most unfortunate distribution of traits between us. I don’t have a maternal bone in my body, and you’re just like okaasan.”

“Shut up. You’re great with the triplets.”

“No,” Mari says with a shake of her head. “I would be the best auntie.” She glances over at Victor and then looks away. “I would be the one who snuck your kids out for ice cream and piercings, not necessarily in that order.”

“Mmm.” Yuuri just smiles. “Too bad I’m gay.”

“That doesn’t mean you can’t have kids.”

“Perhaps not,” Yuuri says. His tone is thoughtful, but there’s a teasing twinkle in his eye that suggests he’s about to say something outrageous. “You’re right. I always thought Victor was hot enough to get me with child when he skated. All I need to do is convince him to return to competitive skating, and we can shut up Auntie Fumika for good.”

Mari laughs and tickles him, and Victor is too delighted by this conversation to do anything but blush.

#

It happens a few days before the Rostelecom Cup.

Victor has known today was coming. He’s been aware of its approach every day. He’s been trying not to think of it at all. But now it’s here—November first—and he’s calculating the time difference between Hasetsu and Moscow for a reason that has nothing to do with any of his St. Petersburg rinkmates.

“Yuuri,” he says that evening, after they’ve finished dinner, “I have to make a phone call.” He can’t stop himself from touching Yuuri, even now, even with Yuuri’s parents around. His hand rests on top of Yuuri’s; they’re sitting side by side. He’s not even sure Yuuri realizes how much they touch each other.

Yuuri looks up at him. “Sure. I’ll be down here.”

Sometimes Yuuri doesn’t figure everything out without words. Victor swallows. “Um… Actually, I want you to join me. If you wouldn’t mind. I…could use the company.”

Yuuri looks up at him. He doesn’t ask why. He just stands up. “Let me help with the dishes, and we’ll go up together.”

Victor helps, too. When they’re done, they go to Victor’s room. Without being told, Yuuri sits next to him on the bed, sliding his arm around him.

Victor takes out his phone. He presses the contact button, sets the phone to speaker. It’s not that he wants Yuuri to hear the conversation; it’ll be in Russian, and Yuuri won’t understand.

Victor just wants his hands free. If he’s holding onto Yuuri, maybe this time, he’ll finally be able to let go.

Yuuri glances once at the phone screen, but the words are in Cyrillic.

His last call was precisely a year ago. He shuts his eyes while the phone rings, inhaling, willing his voice to contain no trace of emotion.

He used to tell himself that this year would be the last time. He stopped lying to himself half a decade ago; at this point, he’s resigned himself to an eternity of this. Last year, he sat in Yakov’s kitchen, with Yakov looking on, shaking his head, muttering that Victor didn’t need to do this to himself. She wasn’t worth it.

“Hello?” A woman’s voice, speaking Russian.

“Mama,” Victor replies in the same language. Thankfully, his voice sounds good. Happy. Not upset at all. “Happy birthday. How are you?”

Yuuri’s arm tightens around his waist. He doesn’t need to understand Russian to understand the word Mama—as close to a near-universal word as there is in this world.

His mother gives off a little trill of laughter. “Oh, Victor. Imagine your remembering my birthday after all this time.”

Victor’s hand curls into an involuntary fist. Yuuri takes it in both his hands and pulls it to his heart.

“You got the flowers, then?” Victor’s voice is still steady.

“Were those yours?” Another trill of laughter. “You’re a sweet boy, Victor. How’s the skating going?”

“I’m not skating this year, Mama. I took the season off to coach.”

“Goodness. Coaching? That sounds very adult of you. I can’t possibly be old enough to have a son who can coach, can I? You’re…what, nineteen now?”

Victor has long since given up expecting his mother to remember his age or imagining that she might follow his career. It doesn’t matter where he skates; she hasn’t come to one of his competitions since he was fourteen.

His mother has never been rude or mean or abusive. Victor knows just how much worse his childhood could have been. She just wasn’t the sort who paid attention. Victor did most of the damage to himself, with his futile hope that one day she’d care. Now that he understands what to expect, it barely hurts at all.

“No,” Victor says teasingly, “you’re right. You can’t possibly be that old. You’re what, thirty-five today?”

She is fifty-two.

She laughs. “You’re a dear.”

He is a dear. He never loses his temper, not since the time he threw a tantrum when he was six and didn’t see her for three weeks. He always smiles. He tells her how beautiful she is, even though he hasn’t seen her in half a decade. If he’s gracious enough, she’s gracious back, and he can almost imagine that she loves him.

Save your tears for someone who will care for them, Yakov used to tell him when one of Victor’s birthday passed without so much as a phone call or a card.

Victor has spent so much of his life trying to win acknowledgment from her, and when it became obvious that she wouldn’t be forthcoming, from anyone. He had to win, then win again, and then win yet again, surprising the audience more and more every time because deep down, he has always known that if he ever stops surprising the world, they will forget him and move on. Affection is fickle; it sparkles when you’re in the spotlight, but if you slip once, it’s gone and you’re nothing.

“Well,” his mother says, “thank you for calling. And do have fun with your skating!”

Coaching, he thinks. But it’s useless correcting her. She won’t remember. For a second, he almost asks her if she’ll be in town for the Rostelecom Cup.

She probably will be. He hesitates… He could get her a ticket. He could wait, his nerves subtly on edge, to see if she would come and see Yuuri skate. But while Victor is sometimes a masochist, he never tries to do real damage to himself.

“Happy birthday again.”

“Be well, darling.” She hangs up before he can.

“There.” Yuuri’s arm is around him. Of course he’s smart enough to figure out the score. Victor’s mother, who he never speaks to, was on the phone. Plus, he asked Yuuri to keep him company. Yuuri doesn’t have to speak Russian to understand what just happened. “There. I have you.”

“I’m fine.” He mostly is. He’s used to it after all.

“I always used to wonder,” Yuuri says. “You occasionally talked about your mother in your interviews, but I never saw her at your Kiss and Cry. Not even when you were a junior.”

“She was never cruel to me,” Victor says. “Don’t get the wrong idea.”

She just made me feel like I didn’t exist.

Victor’s family has always had money. Hell, Victor had inherited his Swiss bank account at the age of three, when his grandmother had died and left him some ridiculous sum that he couldn’t make a dent in if he tried. He doesn’t really talk about the money—everyone assumes he’s wealthy from endorsement deals, and he’s happy to not explain. His parents had enough money to ignore Victor completely, and they were happy to do so.

The emotions have become more manageable with age. He no longer feels small and insubstantial every time he calls her on her birthday.

“It’s not a big deal,” Victor says untruthfully.

“Mmm,” Yuuri says, and Victor is fairly sure this is not agreement.

Maybe that’s why he keeps talking. “Some parents, when they get divorced? Argue over who gets the children. Mine argued over who didn’t.”

Yuuri’s hold on him tightens.

“I’m grateful,” Victor says. “She at least agreed to take me? When I was young, she used to send me off to the rink so I’d be out of her way. It was a relief for both of us when Yakov suggested I move to St. Petersburg and train with him.” It had been a relief for his mother immediately; it had taken Victor six months to understand that it was a relief for him, too, that he was now allowed to stop expecting anything more.

But he shouldn’t have mentioned Yakov. That hurts more than his mother, now. He closes his mouth and stops talking, and Yuuri pulls him closer. Victor isn’t sure how long they sit like this, Yuuri’s arms around him, Yuuri lightly rocking him back and forth. Maybe half an hour.

“I used to wonder who would want me,” Victor eventually confesses.

“Me,” Yuuri whispers, as he holds him. “I want you. I want you.”

Victor lets out a shuddering breath.

“Yakov always used to ask.” He imitates Yakov’s deeper growl. “‘If it makes you feel this way, why do you call? You stupid idiot. I’m not always going to be picking up the pieces, you know!’ So go ahead, Yuuri. Tell me I’m a fool for calling.”

It’s almost physically painful to talk about Yakov. Victor isn’t sure why he’s doing it. He hasn’t spoken to Yakov since China. He hasn’t been able to bring himself to call, and these last ten days are the longest he’s gone without talking to his coach since the day his mother banished him to St. Petersburg. Yakov’s absence is a gaping hole in his life.

“Why would I tell you any such thing?” Yuuri leans into him. “You wouldn’t be you if you ever stopped trying. I don’t want you to be anyone but yourself.”

Victor smiles and turns to set his lips against Yuuri’s. Yuuri melts under him, his arms holding Victor in place, refusing to let go of him. One kiss blurs into another. Victor’s fingers inch their way under Yuuri’s shirt, up the firm muscle of his abdomen…

The bed vibrates next to them. Victor jumps, cursing. But it’s just his phone ringing. Victor reaches out to silence it—and his breath freezes when he sees who’s calling.

Yakov Feltsman.

Victor’s fingers go numb. He scrambles up into a sit, reaches out and hits accept in a daze. His hand is shaking so hard, he doesn’t dare try and hold his phone. He puts Yakov on speaker.

“Hello? Yakov?” He tenses himself for the certain explosion.

It doesn’t come. “Victor.”

He isn’t shouting. Victor doesn’t know how to talk to a Yakov who isn’t shouting. He doesn’t know how to understand a Yakov who isn’t shouting.

“Yakov,” he says again stupidly. “You called.”

Yuuri sits up and wedges himself against Victor. His hand slides across Victor’s thigh. He frowns stubbornly, as if he could protect Victor from his own heart.

Yakov is never one to go round about an issue. He jumps straight in. “How are you? Are you okay?”

“Um.”

“I know today is hard for you,” Yakov says. “You called her, didn’t you?”

Victor didn’t cry today, not for his mother. But Yakov remembering that he would call…? That gets him. His eyes sting and he rubs stupidly at them. “Da.”

“And it bothered you.”

“Da,” he whispers. “But I wasn’t alone. Yuuri was here this time.”

This is met with silence. Victor remembers what Yakov said last time, and he finds himself praying that he won’t slander Yuuri today.

“Good,” Yakov says. “I’m glad.”

Yakov doesn’t say anything, not for a while. Victor has been longing to hear his coach’s voice. He’s afraid that he ruined it all. Afraid that his temper—God, when has he ever lost his temper that way? Not since he was six—has destroyed what they had.

Who are they really to each other? Yakov is his coach; Victor pays him money. And now that he doesn’t any more… Maybe they aren’t anything at all.

Plus, the things Victor said last time were too much. Yakov of all people, Yakov who taught him what agape was by shouting at him and acknowledging him and caring about him—Victor was convinced that Yakov was done with him. But here he is, on the phone.

“I…” Yakov starts. Then he stops.

Yakov is never reticent. It kills Victor that Yakov is holding back, that Victor may have ruined their relationship forever with a single outburst.

“I’m an idiot,” Victor says in Russian. “And a fool. I am everything you have ever called me, but most of all, I have been disrespectful to an old man who has been father and mother to me. You only want the best for me. Forgive me.”

Yakov exhales. He doesn’t say anything for a long moment. Victor’s heart is hammering. It was so easy for Yuuri and Mari, so hard for Victor. He’s trying to think of a better way to apologize, something he can do to reach across the aching gap, when Yakov finally speaks.

“I…I like your Yuuri,” he says. “You know, if I were still coaching you, I’d yell at you to watch him more. You could learn something from his spins. My Yuri idolizes him, you know. You could have picked many worse skaters to run off and coach.”

Victor feels his eyes sting again. “I have learned something from his spins.”

“Tell him I apologize,” Yakov says. “For what I said about him.”

“I will.” This is a lie. Victor will never translate any of this.

There’s another pause, this time because Victor doesn’t know how to transition from apologies to a regular conversation. Luckily, Yakov figures that out.

“I’m going to be the godfather of your children, do you hear?” Yakov’s voice stops shaking, starts gaining in volume, and it’s so comforting to finally be yelled at properly. “I expect at least three! I don’t want to hear any argument! No, I’ve changed my mind. You need four. Or maybe five. And think of my age! What will you do if I’m not here? Who else is going to give them their first pair of skates? You? You know nothing about children’s skates! I don’t trust you to get it right!”

“No.” Victor isn’t sure if he’s crying or laughing now, possibly because he’s doing both. “You’re right. I don’t know anything. We need you. But uh… Yakov. We haven’t even talked about marriage yet. It’s far too early to discuss children.”

Thank God Yuuri doesn’t speak Russian. Thank God.

“Well, I’m not getting any younger! How long do you intend to make me wait? You can’t drop these hints about marriage and expect me to be patient! I deserve grand-skaters!”

Victor chances a look at Yuuri. It’s a mistake. He’s seen Yuuri’s baby pictures, and suddenly he’s imagining a little girl with Yuuri’s dark hair and his dancing eyes. He feels like he’s been stabbed through the heart with his own wants. Oh.

Yuuri had joked about kids with his sister—but suddenly, Victor wants the little girl in his imagination to be real. To be his. Theirs. They would put her in skates as soon as she could manage to stand up right. They’ll skate with her around the rink. Something in Victor tilts askew, something he’s never allowed himself to tap into, and he wants it. He wants to be a part of a family so much that he doesn’t know what to do with that deep well of need.

“Give us a few years,” he says quietly. “I don’t think it’s a good idea while we’re still skating professionally.”

“Hmph.” Yakov grunts. “I’m seventy, Victor. Lilia’s friends Mikhail and Alexei, over at the ballet? They used an agency for their surrogate. I’ll get you some references.” There’s a longer pause. “Do Japanese have godfathers? Will your Yuuri mind? Maybe ask him. If he’s there.”

Yuuri stirs at the mention of the name. Turns to Victor. Raises a questioning eyebrow.

Victor waves his hands at Yuuri. God, no, they are not talking about this. “Ah… Maybe I can talk to him about that after we’re actually engaged, Yakov?”

“Hmph.”

“But… No, I don’t think he’d mind.” Victor can’t help grinning. “He’ll understand. He’s really great. You saw his Eros routine, didn’t you? Tell me honestly—Helen of Troy can’t hold a candle to him, don’t you think?”

Yakov lets out a sigh. “Ah, Vitya? He’s…not really my preferred gender? I’m sure he’s just fine, if you’re into that sort of thing. And here I used to think how lucky I was you never fell in love. I knew you would be utterly ridiculous if you ever did. You can’t just win the World Championship; you have to set a new record every time you do it. You’re never content to just do things. You always have to overdo them. I suppose you saved up a decade and a half’s worth of romance just to torment me in my old age.”

“No,” Victor says. “I was just waiting for the right person. Once I found him, there was no point doing it halfway.”

#

When Yuuri holds him after Yakov’s call, it’s different. Yuuri’s still there, his arms still around him, but for the first time in Victor’s life, he doesn’t feel empty. That little voice, the one he’s heard all his life, the one that says this will end, there is something wrong with you…

Even it can’t stand up to this much love from the people Victor most cares about.

Yuuri doesn’t hold Victor like he’ll break. He holds him like there is no end to his love, and for one minute, Victor thinks there won’t be. For one minute, Victor allows himself to bask in the fact that even though Yuuri had no idea what Yakov was saying, he knew that Victor was upset—and that now he’s better—and that Yuuri was here for him either way.

Victor thinks about how lucky he is that Yuuri isn’t demanding to talk. He doesn’t need to know exactly what happened, he doesn’t insist on a play-by-play translation that Victor wouldn’t know how to give. Yuuri trusts him enough to discover the truth of what happened when Victor is ready.

He has a moment of perfect happiness. It’s just a moment, though.

Then he thinks about Yuuri’s confession the other day. How he told Mari about the thing that happened to him in America. How he’s confided in his sister what he thinks of Victor all these months. How Victor has been deceiving him, letting him think he doesn’t understand.

It’s a knife to his stomach.

This will end, that voice whispers. It will end because you can’t give Yuuri the trust he so willingly gives you. You’re lying to the man you love.

Victor’s fingers curl in Yuuri’s thigh. He pulls him in for a kiss, one that tastes of fear and loss. He has to tell him. Victor knows he has to confess.

But when he tries to imagine how that will go, he loses his nerve. Yuuri’s face will wash of emotion. He’ll push Victor away. Victor will lose this, lose all of this, and…

And he knows it’s pure cowardice, but he’s Yuuri’s coach, and…and it wouldn’t be professional to mess with his student’s emotions this close to a competition, would it? He won’t tell him today. Nor tomorrow.

After the Rostelecom Cup, he thinks. He’ll tell him after the Rostelecom Cup.

Chapter Text

Actually, Victor tells Yuuri that he speaks Japanese the very next day.

Not in words, of course. He tells Yuuri the only way he knows how—through skating.

He wakes up early in the morning. Yuuri is curled next to him like a pill bug. One of his hands is balled up and pressed against Victor’s chest. He shouldn’t be sexy, not with his hair flattened on one side, not with a line pressed into his face by the seam of his pillowcase. He’s wearing a shirt so old that the seams are falling apart.

But it’s Yuuri. His eyelashes are long. His nose is so adorably perfect. His lips are full and kissable, and god, the things he did to Victor with them last night… Victor wants him forever.

If Victor keeps falling more and more in love, his affection is going to collapse in on its own weight. It will form a black hole of want. Yuuri is so hot that it’s quite possible he will end the universe.

Victor leans over and sets his fingers on Yuuri’s neck. “Good morning, sunshine.”

“Unnnnnnngggh.” Yuuri’s face scrunches and he turns, hiding in his pillow. “No. No sunshine. Bad sunshine.”

Victor can’t restrain his lovesick smile. Literally the hottest man on the planet, right here in bed with him. Also the literal worst at waking up, but who’s counting?

“I’m heading to the rink. Want to come?”

Victor already knows what the answer will be. He smiles in anticipation. Yuuri’s arm curls up, like a cat batting at his face, and he lets out what can best be described as an unholy noise. “Gnnnnnngh.”

“What’s that?” Victor’s teasing him. “What did you say?”

“Gnnnnnghaaaaaaake.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t quite catch that. Could you repeat yourself?”

Yuuri’s hand clutches the covers and pulls them over his head. “Do. I. Look. Stupid.”

Ah, there they are. Victor puts a hand over his heart, feeling it thumping in sweet adoration. Victor may be a black hole of want, but Yuuri’s ability to sleep through anything is powerful enough to resist the strongest gravitational pull.

The universe is safe. Victor, if he keeps bothering Yuuri? Not so much.

Victor leans over and plants a kiss somewhere approximately in the neck area on the Yuuri-shaped lump under the blankets. “I’ll see you at the rink at nine-thirty, okay?”

“Mmmmmph.”

“That’s an order from your coach.”

“Hmmmph.”

“Take Makkachin. She likes sleeping in with you.”

The lump under the covers curls into a tighter ball. “Go away. I hate mornings.”

Victor loves mornings. The air is cool as he bikes down to the rink, the streets uncrowded. After all this time in Hasetsu, he feels pretty confident in his ability to find his way to the Ice Castle—although once, there’d been construction on his usual route, and the detour had thrown him off course so much it had taken him an extra hour. Today, though, the path doesn’t deviate from the familiar—the bridge, the sea, the river.

The air is clean, and it smells of salt. Seagulls cry overhead. By the time Victor arrives at the rink, his muscles are warm and loose from the bike ride. He lets himself in—Yuko gave him a key long ago—and laces himself into his skates.

Clean ice. It’s one of the other reasons he loves getting up early in the morning. The rink is a pristine sheet of glass, waiting for his blades to carve it into curves and lines. He takes off his skate guards and slides into a warm up, slicing an ellipse around the edge of the rink before transitioning into a step sequence that leaves white dust and scratches like Kanji radicals in the center of the rink.

The short program that he’s been working on is coming together, but for now he’s just warming up. He goes into a jump—a double axel, nothing big, just easing into the morning—and the lines on the ice become discontinuous.

Skating creates a record of the past, etching lines into ice, crossing and then recrossing, every move filling the ice with a record of what has been. Victor had found it impossible to get excited about making that history when the future had no appeal.

When he won his last world championship, he’d felt tired, but sleep hadn’t helped. His bones had ached; he’d finish routines utterly wiped out, too exhausted to eat or think. Things that had once delighted him had felt like thankless chores, and actual thankless chores—answering emails from his booking agent, for instance, or remembering to deposit checks at the bank—had become Herculean labors.

Maybe the months of rest have helped. Maybe falling in love has made the difference. But now, even when he spends six hours in skates, he just feels tired. Good tired. Not empty.

It’s a joy to not feel empty any longer, and Victor never wants to take joy for granted again. The ice is a mirror, and Victor traces his hopes on it in elliptical contours.

His watch taps him at five minutes before his scheduled appointment.

Victor opens his backpack, takes out his phone and attaches an external battery and a tripod. He checks the field of vision on the camera and the internet connection. He’s fussing now, ticking off the seconds. Finally, he starts the Facetime call at fifteen seconds to the half hour.

Yakov is waiting. His arms are folded. He’s wearing a dressing gown and he’s glaring at Victor.

“Good morning!” Victor sings.

“No, it isn’t.” Yakov scowls. “It’s the middle of the damned night.”

“Ah, sorry! It’s the only point this week when I had free ice time. So, the other day, I was—”

“I don’t need any explanation!” Yakov rolls his eyes. “The boy wants me to look at his short program. Why does he even have a short program when he’s not competing?”

“I don’t know,” Victor says. “Reasons?”

Yakov just shakes his head. “Whatever. Just… Go. Skate. I don’t have all night, you know?”

Victor hasn’t received the arrangement of music back yet, but he only commissioned it a few days ago. He skates to the center of the ice and poses.

He can hear it in his head, those first chiming notes. He turns, moves, and there, he’s got it, quad salchow, triple toe loop, right off the bat, no hesitation. The program flows from there. Victor’s strengths aren’t Yuuri’s; he’s not going to put a flip in the back half of the program.

Besides, he doesn’t care about the points. He’s not skating this competitively. It’s just for him. And for Yuuri, really. This is a program about rediscovery. About walking the same path in the woods and encountering something new, something magical. It’s about sunsets turning the sea orange and seagulls overhead while your lover leans his head on your shoulder.

There are parts he can feel still aren’t right—Yakov is no doubt taking grouchy notes as Victor skates—but that’s not the point, none of that’s the point.

At nineteen, Victor used to think that it was a good thing he hadn’t fallen in love, because skating would always come before any lover. How stupid had he been? Love has made his skating new.

He finishes the program, hand extended, palm up, waiting for someone to join him.

His chest is heaving. He’s not back in competition form yet. The end of the routine pushed him far past his anaerobic threshold, and little dots spin in front of his eyes. The air is cold around him, but he’s pouring sweat.

Yakov’s been watching the whole time.

Victor gathers himself together and skates to his phone.

Yakov’s expression on the screen is sour. “You’re out of shape.”

“A little.” Victor’s still catching his breath. “Yes. I’ll get there.”

“The step sequence is a bit stilted. You know better than to show me something so sloppy. You should use the whole rink, you know, but that serpentine curve you’ve put in makes it awkward from about the fourth beat in. You need to speed it up, too.”

Victor nods. “Yes, yes, you’re right.”

"Plus, what was that transition from the second triple axel to the flying sit-spin? Not only did you look awkward, if you pop the axel it’ll be harder to recover. You need a few more seconds there. If you cut down the choreographic elements just before, you should have the time.”

“I can’t do that,” Victor says. “I need a bit more lead up into that axel.”

“You don’t need that!” Yakov folds his arms. “In fact, why do you even have two triple axels? That’s an automatic deduction for repeated elements. Has your stamina fallen off that badly? What happened to the quad flip? If your short program just has the quad salchow and the quad toe loop, even my Yuri will be able to beat you on points.” Yakov looks off. “Although—your presentation… It’s…not terrible. That thing I kept telling you last year, less precision, more polish? You figured it out.”

“You think?” Victor grins. “I think so, too. That’s Yuuri’s influence.”

“Of course it is.” Yakov scowls at him. “I didn’t think you’d figured it out by yourself. And don’t avoid my question. Where’s the quad flip? It’s your signature.”

“I probably won’t have one in my short program.” Victor isn’t smiling now.

“No? Can’t land it anymore?”

For the last month or so, Victor’s been coming on the ice early. Experimenting, really. Trying to find moves on the ice that communicate the feelings he can no longer express solely in words. Since the Cup of China, he’s been experimenting with more purpose.

By way of answer, Victor pushes himself out onto the rink. He goes into the setup for the axel—fast, faster, running through the choreographic sequence. He hadn’t wanted to attempt it in his demonstration—Yakov wanted to focus on the choreography, after all, and it would have ruined the flow if he missed—but here, now…

He pushes, hard, reaching deep, hurtling into the air. His body is heavy as he vaults up, then weightless in the moment before landing. He knows, at the last second, that he’s not going to nail it. He ends up two-footing the landing—better than kissing the ice. Not perfect, but so, so close. He can’t quite hide his delight.

He skates back towards Yakov, who watches his approach in silence.

“Victor,” he says slowly. “You utterly ridiculous idiot. What kind of a moron quits competitive skating when he has a quad axel up his sleeve?!”

Victor just grins. “Aw, Yakov. I love you, too. It’ll make a nice exhibition piece, don’t you think? And I don’t have a free program, so it’s not like I could compete.”

“You’re an idiot,” Yakov says. “You are the biggest idiot I have ever coached in my life.”

“I know!” Victor grins. “Nobody else is stupid enough to try it, right? I’ll send you some videos for the transition. We’ll get it right.”

Yakov grimly shakes his head. “Why am I agreeing to help you with this? You are the most brilliant student I have ever had. Why are you so stupid?”

“It’s genetic,” Victor admits. “I got it from my coach.”

Yakov barely manages to suppress a smile. “Pair of idiots,” he mutters, shaking his head and looking up. “Both of us.”

#

Victor’s working on that transition a little later, smoothing out the edges, rearranging a part later in the choreography so that he has the time to dedicate to his axel. He’s going over it again and again until the flow of one element to the next is firmly stored in muscle memory.

Victor really isn’t thinking at all when he does it again. It’s his third attempt today.

He sweeps around the rink, gaining speed, leaning forward into the rush of air, then launching himself up, around, hitting the landing and sliding right into the next element. He doesn’t realize he’s no longer alone in the rink until he’s well into the following spin.

He puts out a foot, dragging his heel in the ice. His sit-spin crawls to a stop facing Yuuri.

“Victor.” Yuuri is watching him with wide eyes. “Victor, that was a quad axel.”

“Oh, was it?” Victor arches his back and stands up. How he sounds so innocent, Victor doesn’t know.

Yuuri is standing at the edge of the rink, skate guards still on. He looks like he’s almost on the verge of tears. “Victor, you just landed a quad axel. Since when can you land a quad axel?”

“I had to,” Victor tells him. “I had to do it.”

“Because you’re going back to skating?”

Victor skates to Yuuri. “No.” Yuuri’s still standing in place, right on the edge of the rink. He’s almost trembling. Victor wraps his arms around him. “No. No. I had to, because I needed to tell you.”

“You needed to tell me?”

“I needed to tell you,” Victor says, “that…”

The words choke him. He can’t quite get them out.

“That I’ve learned so many things from you,” he says instead. “That… I hope… I hope I can keep surprising you. And I hope you won’t mind if I…don’t always stay the same.”

It’s as close as he’s come to a confession. He wanted Yuuri to see his new quad as a confession. He’d hoped that he wouldn’t have to say the words, that Yuuri would understand without his saying it.

Maybe, deep down, he’d imagined Yuuri gasping and saying, “Victor, you speak Japanese?” Everything’s easier on the ice, after all.

Apparently, it’s not that easy. Even Yuuri wouldn’t get that much from a jump.

“Mind?” Yuuri’s arms come around him, crushing him. “Mind? Victor. How could I mind anything about you?”

There’s a second where Victor almost tells him in English. His lips are right near his ear. All he has to do is whisper.

Instead, he lips the shell of Yuuri’s ear, feels a shiver run through him. “Well. I’m only landing it properly about fifty percent of the time right now. My hips are going to be sore tonight, and that will probably restrict what you can do to me.”

“Hmm.” Yuuri nuzzles his neck. “Don’t underestimate my creativity. But Victor, you can land a quad axel. You have to—”

“I know,” Victor says, interrupting Yuuri because voicing any other possibility will make it real. “I know. I have to teach you how to do it.”

#

It’s not long before the Rostelecom cup is upon them.

Victor is rummaging through boxes to find warm clothing—it’s much colder in Moscow than it is here in Hasetsu—when Hiroko-san knocks on his door. “Vicchan, I have something for you.”

At first, he thinks it will be tea or a snack. She’s always making new things for him, trying to surprise him with little bites that taste like nothing he’s ever experienced before.

But when she comes in, she has something heavy under her arm. She blushes, faintly, and hands it to him. “Douzo,” she says.

It’s a book. The front of it has been painstakingly inked with his name in the Cyrillic alphabet.

“For you,” she says, this time in English.

He doesn’t really understand what she’s giving him in either language, but he takes the book anyway.

It’s a scrapbook. The picture on the first page was taken from the first newspaper article about him that was ever published, back when he was eight, before he started with Yakov as a coach. He looks solemn and determined, his very first win at a child’s competition secured. Back then, Victor thought he would be able to grab his mother’s attention.

He has no idea how Hiroko-san got this picture. Or the next. Or… He flips through pages. All these photos are publicly available, he supposes, but it would have taken a lifetime to collect these.

Here they all are, though. Interviews, podium photos, publicity photos. There’s a playbill from an exhibition that he did in Czechoslovakia at the age of eleven—that’s the one where he caught Yakov’s attention.

Victor’s lungs feel like fire. His eyes sting.

He didn’t even know all this stuff existed. How on earth did Hiroko get it? Some of this is decades old. It would be utterly impossible to gather in the months since he’s been here.

She answers his unspoken question. “It was Yuuri,” she says. “He looked up to you. When he was younger, he’d never do chores without some kind of bribe.” She gives a little laugh. “I got him to sweep the floors for a month with the promise of hunting down that first Moscow newspaper with an article about you. This is nothing. Just a little rearrangement of what he found.”

Victor looks at her. He’s not going to cry.

“I’m making one for this year in Hasetsu,” she goes on, “one for you, one for Yuuri.”

“Hiroko-san. You don’t have to do that.” His tongue feels thick. This is love on a page. He knows it. She knows it. He doesn’t deserve this, not with his ongoing lies.

But she just shrugs, as if discarding all his worries. “I know. I want to.” And she reaches up—he has to bend a few inches—and ruffles Victor’s hair.

#

Victor means to tell Yuuri about his language skills directly after the Rostelecom Cup, preferably after Yuuri earns his first gold.

But nothing goes as planned, and he finds himself on a plane home several days early. It’s a relief to find Makkachin okay, but it leaves him at loose ends. With Yuuri in Russia for another few days, and Victor in Hasetsu, he finds himself going down to the rink and skating.

The choreography for his free program comes out of nowhere. If his short program was the call to adventure, the enchantment of the new, then his free skate is about how bewitchment shades into love. It’s combination jumps that fly from one height to the other, reaching for the wings he’s started to unfurl.

He’d been uninspired for months before he came to Japan. He has ideas now—beautiful ideas—a cascade of them, as if his program is a conversation he’s having with Yuuri in absentia.

He doesn’t know when he’ll ever use the programs he’s putting together. Victor is almost positive that Yuuri will want to choreograph his own program next year; he’s growing even more into himself. And who else would use this? Yuri Plisetsky? It feels wrong.

This program is his own, and he’s not sure what to do with it. It’s too technically demanding to use in an ice show, but the alternative—competing, leaving Yuuri—is not to be considered.

He goes home—because somehow, the onsen has become home—a few hours before Yuuri’s free skate is scheduled to air.

“Vicchan,” Hiroko-san greets him. “Did you have a nice skate?”

“Mmm.” He nods. As he nods, he realizes that he figured out one thing while he was on the ice. “Hiroko-san, I was thinking… When Yuuri wins gold in Barcelona.”

She smiles at him indulgently. Yuuri hasn’t qualified for the Grand Prix final yet, but she’s as positive that he will as Victor is.

“When he wins gold in Barcelona,” Victor repeats, “who will make him katsudon?” He looks over at her.

There are a thousand things she could say. She could look up the name of a good Japanese restaurant in Spain. She could say that she’ll make katsudon when they come home.

She doesn’t say any of those things. Instead, she frowns and nods, as if recognizing Victor’s point. “Hmm.” She tilts her head, then pats Victor’s hand. “You’re right. One of you boys should know how to cook, and we both know it’s never going to be Yuuri. Come. We have time.”

Hiroko-san shows him how to make dashi. “Keep it just under a boil,” she instructs him, “so the flavor develops properly.” She lets him taste her broth, and tastes his in return.

She teaches him exactly how to slice the onion, shows him precisely how to coat the pork cutlet in panko, how to tell when the cutlet is fried to perfect crispness. “It’s, uh, wait until it’s…karikari?” She looks at him. “What is karikari in English?”

He looks it up on his phone. It’s an onomatopoeia meaning crunchy.

“No,” she says, when he tries to take out that cutlet a minute later. “That’s…ah, it’s not karikari yet, maybe baribari?”

Victor looks up baribari in his dictionary. It also translates as “crunchy.”

Just for the hell of it, he looks up a recipe in English to see if it gives a more complete explanation. It doesn’t. He’s reading through the steps while the pork cutlet rests, when Hiroko-san comes and looks over his shoulder. She rarely frowns, but she does now, a disturbed little line criss-crossing her forehead.

“No,” she says, pointing at the recipe. “Don’t use that. It’s not right.”

“No? It has very good reviews.”

Hiroko-san shrugs. “It’s probably fine.” Her eyes glitter. “But fine is not good enough. Mine is best, and Yuuri should have the best.”

He believes it.

“It, this.” She frowns, as if the words are getting away from her. “This is maybe the right taste, but definitely the wrong texture?”

“Oh.” He frowns at the offending recipe.

“Also, it’s not the best way for eggs. We can make perfect eggs in the onsen. I’ll show you.”

She does. He’s talked to Hiroko-san quite a lot since he’s been here, but this is the longest conversation he’s ever had with her, a mixture of Japanese and English.

She shows him how to simmer the onions and peas. “I’m like Yuuri, you know,” she tells him. “Except instead of skating, for me, it’s cooking. When I get anxious, I go in the kitchen and try to make everything perfect.”

“I can tell,” Victor says honestly. “You cook like Yuuri skates. It’s like music.”

She takes this for the compliment that it is, smiling as she instructs Victor to divide the broth and onion between the bowls. “When I was Yuuri’s age, it was both skating and…and…do you say football or soccer in English? I can’t remember.”

“Football is fine.” He looks at Hiroko-san and tries to imagine her playing football.

He can’t, so instead, he nudges her arm. “Did you attract Toshiya-san with your cooking or your football?”

She blushes slightly. “Who says I needed to attract him? He was the one trying to get my attention.”

“I bet he was. Was he your senpai?” he teases.

“Yes, but not in football. I was the captain of the football team in high school. After, I wanted to do a little professional playing, but there weren’t so many options for women, and I was pretty ordinary. Besides, I was always so nervous before a game… And, ah, let’s just say that Toshiya was there to calm my nerves.” She smirks, just a little. “Good thing I’m better at cooking than football. Here, let me show you what to do with the egg. Just crack it and let it pour out—ah, yes. Like that.”

When they’ve completed their bowls of katsudon and taken them out in front of the TV to watch Yuuri, Victor impulsively leans over and kisses her cheek. “Thank you, Hiroko-san.”

She just looks at him and smiles. “Vicchan. Don’t you think it’s time you called me okaasan?”

Mother.

Victor can’t do anything but look at her and smile, his heart so full that there’s no room for words. He takes her hand and squeezes it, pressing it to his heart. “Arigatou, okaasan.”

He wants this so much. So, so much. He’s never wanted anything more.

#

When Victor and Makkachin go to Fukuoka to pick up Yuuri from the airport, Victor leaves hours early. In part, he needs to give himself a comfortable margin in case he gets lost. In reality… He’s looking for a jeweler.

His heart is hammering the entire time he looks through the rings, trying to find something that matches what he and Yuuri have between them. Something simple. Something shiny. Something that isn’t too flashy.

All he has to do is…

…stop lying to Yuuri, tell him the truth, hope that he is forgiven, and get down on one knee.

Doesn’t sound so hard. But every time he thinks of it, every time he examines a ring close up, he keeps imagining Yuuri’s expression when he finally comes clean.

“Yuuri, I speak Japanese.”

The truth is, it’s been too good between them. Too easy. Victor doesn’t trust easy, not like this, and deep down, he has always known that he’ll lose this, too.

Rationally, Victor is aware that there is a chance Yuuri will be able to get over his deception. He’s lying, yes, but Yuuri has accepted all his faults thus far.

But is it right to disturb their relationship this close to the Grand Prix Final? Yuuri might say he forgives him just so that they’re not fighting before the event, and—Victor is aware that he’s being selfish—he can’t bear thinking that everything is all right when it is not.

He knows the ring he wants when he sees it. It has the gleam of something that will stay warm and bright for the rest of their lives. It’s everything he has ever wished for, and he doesn’t know if he’ll ever deserve to have something like this back from Yuuri.

“Did you want this one?” the shopkeeper asks.

He does, and he doesn’t. He stares at the gold for a while. “I…”

He can’t. He can’t come clean yet. He can’t tell the truth. And he won’t ask until he does.

“I…” His voice is shaking. “I have a few things I need to do first,” he says.

The man gives him an odd look.

“Something isn’t right.” He shouldn’t be explaining, not to a stranger, not when he hasn’t even told Yuuri.

“Eh?” The man tilts his head politely. “The ring, something isn’t right with the ring, sir?”

“No,” Victor says. “With me.” He doesn’t want to explain, and so what comes out is a fraction of the truth: “I shouldn’t, I can’t—it would be wrong to propose when I’m not…well.”

“I’m sorry,” the man says. “Is it so bad, then, your illness?”

He realizes too late that he used the wrong word in Japanese. He hadn’t meant to imply that he was physically sick. The poor fellow is probably imagining life-threatening ailments, when Victor just meant that he was wrong in the head. But it’s so much easier to be thought deathly ill than just stupid. Before Victor can think better of it, out of his mouth comes the stupidest excuse he has ever manufactured.

“Yes,” he says. “It’s terrible. I…” Dammit. Other than a cold, what diseases does Victor even know how to express in Japanese? He doesn’t have the vocabulary to lie properly. All he knows is—“I have trench foot.”

The man looks at him in blinking confusion. He looks down at Victor’s perfectly healthy feet. He looks up.

“Oh,” the poor clerk says, still terribly polite, still speaking in honorific language even though Victor has just dropped what is clearly the whopper to end all whoppers. “I’m very sorry, okyaku-san. I hope you get better soon.”

Victor leaves, ringless, in a paroxysm of embarrassment.

#

He’s close at the airport, so close to telling Yuuri the truth.

He’s aware it hasn’t been that long since they last saw each other. Any outsider would think they’re idiots, running to each other like this, grabbing hold of each other as if it’s been years since they last saw one another, not days. They hold each other as if they never want to let go. But Victor is desperate in a way that he’s never been, wanting to hold on to Yuuri and knowing, deep down, that this cannot last.

Now, Victor thinks. Tell him now. It’s not hard. “I understand Japanese. I’m sorry.”

He tries. He honestly tries.

“Yuuri,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about what I can do as your coach from now on.”

“Me too,” Yuuri says. And then he straightens, pushing Victor away—still holding onto his shoulders with a resolution that shakes Victor to his core. “Please take care of me until I retire.”

Victor swallows. Yuuri so rarely asks him for anything, and this…? He’s speaking English, but Victor’s been immersed in Japan long enough to understand what he’s really asking.

He presses Yuuri’s hand with his. Kisses the ring finger. He’s so close to spilling everything, and so impossibly far.

“That sounds almost like a marriage proposal,” Victor says. His heart is beating fast.

Yuuri doesn’t deny it. He blushes and smiles, and Victor can’t—he won’t—do anything to lose the smile on Yuuri’s face. It’s too much.

He pulls Yuuri back to him and whispers in his ear. “I hope you never retire.”

He’s not sure how long they stand in the airport, arms wrapped around each other. Not long enough, perhaps, and far too long.

Because Victor can’t say anything. He can’t say it. He can’t ruin this moment. He just holds his lover and hopes that everything will turn out with every muscle in his body.

#

Skating is Yuuri’s first language, and maybe that’s why they keep fooling around on the ice. It’s become a habit. When Yuuri’s finished practicing for the day, Victor runs through bits of the programs that are taking form in his mind. They’re about Yuuri. The programs are about love, about the way it seeps into everything, transforming the world from cold and soulless to new and exciting.

Yuuri joins him half the time.

It’s not like either of them know a thing about pair skating, but they’ve watched it before and they understand each other’s abilities. It takes so little to adapt their moves to each other. It feels like the conversation they’ve never had in words, and Victor does his best to tell Yuuri the truth every day in this way, since he can’t in any other.

Yuuri, you know I understand you? Yuuri leans into Victor with the confidence of someone who knows he’ll never be dropped.Victor lifts him—an inch at first, and they both dissolve into laughter at the ridiculousness of it.

The next day, though, he lifts him more than in inch. Then six inches, then a foot, until they don’t even have to think to do it—Yuuri skates in, swirling around Victor, a few minutes into Victor’s program, and becomes a part of it without their having to discuss where and why.

The fact that Victor doesn’t deserve this trust doesn’t matter. He has it.

Yuuri makes music of Victor’s skating. He makes music out of Victor’s love. He is the adventure that Victor has been looking for his entire life, a never-ending source of surprises.

When they’re on the ice together, they don’t tell lies. Their bodies fit together without hesitation.

When they’re in bed together, their bodies tell the truth, clinging to each other, kissing, sucking, taking turns at pushing each other's limits.

It’s only off the ice, out of bed, that Victor worries.

#

It only gets worse, as if the universe is mocking Victor’s cowardice. On Yuuri’s birthday, Victor is heading downstairs when he hears Mari talking with her brother.

“Happy birthday, little brother. This is the first birthday when I can’t get you a poster of Victor for your collection.”

“Ah, Mari-neechan.” Victor can practically feel the embarrassment wafting from Yuuri, all the way on the stairwell, hidden from view.

“Maybe for your birthday this year, I’ll show Victor your extensive collection,” she muses. “I think he might find it…inspirational.”

Collection? What collection? How extensive is it really?

“Mari. Please!”

“What’s an older sister for, if not to plague you for your own good. You have mentioned the fact that you basically worship the ground he walks on, haven’t you?”

“Mari.” Yuuri sighs. “Victor somehow thinks that I’m…not a complete loser? I have to redeem myself at the Grand Prix final still. I have to prove to him that I’ve been worth his time. I’ll tell him then.”

Victor shouldn’t be listening to this conversation. He shouldn’t understand it. But sometimes, you want something so impossibly large that there’s nothing to do but bear it alone.

“I’ll tell him everything at the Grand Prix Final,” Yuuri says. “Then and no sooner.”

There’s nothing that Victor understands better than that sentiment. At the Grand Prix Final seems like as good a time as any for his revelations, too.

#

Victor does not expect Yuuri to buy rings before the final. He most especially does not expect Yuuri to pore over the rings on offer and pick out a pair that precisely matches the ring he’d almost purchased back in Fukuoka. But he does.

Victor recognizes the moment as it approaches—when Yuuri slides the ring on his finger, when Yuuri asks him to tell him something for good luck.

Now. Now is the time for Victor to come clean. Now is the time to admit that he understands him, that he cares for him. Now he needs to apologize for his deception.

He can feel the words on the tip of his tongue, sharp, barbed things that will hurt Yuuri during this moment when he’s asking for good luck. But Yuuri always flubs his jumps when he has something on his mind. How can Victor disturb him?

He can’t.

“Here,” he says. “This is a good luck wish so you don’t have to think at all tomorrow. Just show me the skating you like best.”

#

It’s just as well he’s kept quiet, Victor tells himself later that night, as Yuuri frowns at the year-old banquet photos on Victor’s phone. He’d glanced at them over dinner, but now they’re in their hotel room.

Victor hastily switched his phone language from Japanese to English before handing it to Yuuri to peruse, and Yuuri’s head is bowed over it in contemplation.

“Oh my God,” Yuuri says, staring at the photos. “Oh my God. I had no idea. I had no idea.”

“I had no idea you had no idea.”

“I must have seemed so…” Yuuri shakes his head. “So out of it. I kind of came on to you at the banquet.”

“There was no kind of,” Victor says happily. “We were all over each other.”

“And then you showed up in Hasetsu and I was…” Yuuri waves his hands in the air. “You must have thought I was the worst kind of cocktease.”

“No.” Victor just smiles. “I just assumed I’d done something wrong. Or that you’d changed your mind.”

Yuuri rolls his eyes. “Honestly, Victor. Who changes their mind about you?”

“Who indeed.” Victor is sarcastic.

Everybody changes their minds about him. They all only want him temporarily. Even his mother had sometimes not minded him around.

At first, he’d treasured those half-hours of flickering attention. But her interest always waned. The older he got, the harder he’d tried. He’d tried to be cleverer, funnier, nicer, kinder, better. Something had to work.

Nothing had ever worked. He’d never been able to hold her attention. He’d never been able to hold anyone’s attention until Yuuri.

So, no. It hadn’t been surprising to Victor that Yuuri’s interest had seemed so fleeting. The real surprise had been discovering how deeply it ran.

He glances at his ring. He’s cuddled up next to his fiancé—oh, how lovely a word that is—and feels a well of joy. This bit of gold, this is a promise that Yuuri won’t ever get tired of him.

“Who indeed.” Yuuri blushes. “I literally ran away from you. I thought you were just…touchy, you know?”

“Well, I did think your signals were a little mixed at first.” Victor pushes Yuuri’s hair back. Gold glints on his hand, glittering momentarily against his lover’s forehead. It’s bright and beautiful. Please, he begs internally. Please let this be forever. “But we’ve worked it out, haven’t we?”

He doesn’t pronounce those words as a question, even though he means them as one. Yuuri gives him a faint smile. “If I win gold at the Grand Prix final, you mean.”

“Hmmm.” Victor holds his right hand under Yuuri’s chin, his ring on full display. “Of all my golds, this is by far my favorite. I don’t even think a Grand Prix gold medal would make me relinquish it.”

Yuuri inhales.

“Still.” Victor meets Yuuri’s eyes. “You’d look sexy wearing both.”

Yuuri flushes.

“Both,” Victor says, “and nothing else. I’d like to kiss your golds, you know.”

Victor.”

Victor leans in. “If you hadn’t been so sloshed at the banquet last year, I’d have done this.” His lips hover centimeters from Yuuri’s.

“If I hadn’t been so sloshed, none of this would have happened,” Yuuri shoots back.

“Hush with your reasons.” Victor shifts, setting one hand on Yuuri’s chest. “I had months to invent alternate endings for that banquet. Aching, impossible months where I wanted you.”

“You wanted me.” Yuuri seems stunned by this extremely obvious truth.

“Desperately,” Victor tells him. “Exclusively. Perpetually. Help me out, Yuuri, I’ve exhausted my store of polite English adverbs. If you don’t kiss me soon, I’m going to be forced to use impolite ones.”

Yuuri pulls back. “That’s a temptation, not a threat. Let’s hear the impolite ones.”

Victor racks his brains. “Fuckfully?”

Yuuri laughs. “I’m pretty sure that’s not an English word.”

“It has to be one,” Victor replies confidently. “I have it on good authority that the word fuck can be modified to become any part of speech.” He frowns. “Except particles, I guess it’s not a particle.”

“Sure it’s a particle,” Yuuri says smoothly. “It’s, um, an emphasis-adding particle. Among other things.”

Victor gives up. He still obviously doesn’t understand particles.

“Besides,” Yuuri says, “you said you wanted me fuckfully. Are you going to do anything about that fuckful wanting, or are you just going to argue grammar?”

“Your move,” Victor says. “Give me the after-banquet party we both wanted last year.”

Yuuri’s fingers curl in Victor’s shirt. His breath releases hot against Victor’s collarbone. “You asked for it.”

“Always.”

Yuuri stands so swiftly that Victor scarcely has a chance to react. He pulls Victor up with him, yanks him close in. His face is flushed; his eyes are bright.

“Victor,” he says, imitating the slurred sound of his speech from the night of the banquet, “if I win this dance battle, you’ll go down on me, won’t you?”

Victor lets out a harsh exhale. “I’ll go down on you,” he promises. “I’ll go down on you so fuckfully you won’t know what hit you.”

Yuuri swallows a cackle. “Be my lover, Victor.”

“Wait.” Victor frowns. “What dance battle? We’re having a dance battle?”

Yuuri pulls away to fiddle with his phone. The music that comes out has a light, airy beat—a bit of J-pop that Victor’s actually heard playing in grocery stores. Yuuri extends one hand to Victor on a flourish. Their fingertips touch with a spark of electricity.

Yuuri steps in close, so close, his free hand finding Victor’s ribs. They move, their bodies tangling together like the afternoons when they fool around on the ice.

Yuuri’s hips undulate to the music, suggesting sex with every movement. It reminds Victor of the banquet, of Yuuri being so good that it made Victor feel barely competent, even though most people would call him an excellent dancer. He follows Yuuri’s lead, their hips pulsing together, Yuuri’s hot breath stealing across his cheek, then teasingly pulling away as Victor turns in for a kiss.

“I bet Chris would love a video of this,” Yuuri says, shimmying down Victor’s body.

Victor groans—God—Yuuri knows precisely what his turn-owns are, and the idea of them dancing together like this in front of everyone is one of them.

One of Yuuri’s fingers curls tauntingly at the snap of Victor’s trousers. But he doesn’t undo it. He just slides back up Victor’s body.

Victor wants this. He wants this forever. He wants decades of exploring new cities with his lover, of coming back to hotel rooms crowded with skating gear, of dancing together until he’s not sure where his body ends and Yuuri’s starts. He wants a solid century to kiss his fiancé. He wants to wake up next to him every day for the rest of his life.

He wants to give Yakov and Hiroko-san their next generation of grand-skaters.

He wants so much, and there’s a ring on his finger that says maybe, maybe he might have it.

Yuuri dips Victor halfway to the bed, and…

And dance battle be damned. Victor lets his muscles relax and falls the rest of the way there, pulling Yuuri on top of him. Then they’re kissing, undressing. Their hands are on each other, sliding down their hips.

Yuuri is skating tomorrow; perhaps that’s why, when he reaches for the lube, he just slathers it on their erections, pressing them together. The feel of Yuuri’s cock sliding against his, their hands on each other, gripping, sliding, tugging… Their mouths meld, nipping. Heat rises over and over, building to a crescendo.

“I wouldn’t have said I’d marry you when you got gold if I didn’t believe you could do it,” Victor says, and for some reason, this makes Yuuri flinch.

He doesn’t pull away. Instead, Yuuri grabs him harder, kissing Victor with more force than ever. “Take care of me.” His voice is hoarse. “Victor, take care of me.”

“Until the world ends,” Victor promises, and Yuuri comes first, spilling hot sticky lines of seed across their chests. He groans, but he doesn’t let up, not until Victor joins him.

Afterwards, with J-Pop still playing cheerily in the background, lying side by side naked on top of the covers, still covered in semen and holding hands, breathing as if they’ve just done quad loops in tandem, Victor stares at the ceiling.

Please be okay, he thinks. Please be okay. Please don’t hate me when I tell you.

But the ring is still on his finger. It stays on his finger as they shower together. It glistens gold in the hot pour of water when Victor gets on his knees and washes Yuuri’s feet, when he slowly kneels up to concentrate his attention higher. Yuuri throws his head back and muffles his cries with his own right hand, ring clapped to his lips.

The rings are on their fingers when they go to sleep curled around each other. They’re still there when Victor wakes up the next morning. He keeps checking, just to make sure.

Before Yuuri skates his free program, he kisses the gold on his finger.

For the first time in his life, Victor begins to believe that something he has might last.

#

Victor believes it might last even after Yuuri’s short program isn’t as perfect as Yuuri wants.

“Don’t worry about it,” Victor tells him. “The free skate is where it counts.”

Yuuri gives him a fake smile. “I know.”

Victor is not an idiot; he knows Yuuri is worried. He’d know it from the tense curl of his fiancé’s fingers against his tracksuit pants, the way his eyes dart from side to side, never quite resting in one place. He’d know it even if he couldn’t see him, hear him, or smell him—this is what Yuuri does.

Somehow, though, Victor has begun to believe that this will last. They’ll have time to work through these worries tonight. He’s sure of it.

He’s so sure of it that he doesn’t give it another thought.

Victor watches Yurio break his world record and he’s not sure what he feels. The choreography is good—great, even—but he’d put it together when he was flat, when skating felt like a job instead of a joy. He could do better now.

He has done better now.

Victor realizes that he wants to show the world what better looks like as Yurio strikes his final pose. It’s not just to defend his world record, although there are elements of that, too. He wants to show everyone how far he has come, how far Yuuri has brought him.

Victor doesn’t know what to do with this want. He can’t have it, not and keep his heart intact. But—he glances at the ring on his finger—they’ll have time to figure everything out after the Grand Prix Final. Yuuri will crush his free skate and Victor will come clean. They’ll work things out—half in bed, half on the rink—and whatever the result, they’ll have each other. They’ll always have each other.

The ring Yuuri got him has been a good luck charm for Victor, too. For the first time in his life, he’s hoping for a future. That voice he’s always heard, the one that whispers that he’s not good enough, that this will end, that nobody wants him…

It’s gone.

For the first time in his life, he believes that he can tell Yuuri everything, that they’ll work it out, that they’ll be together. Victor believes that this love they have will last despite some admittedly poor choices on his part.

They will last. They will be together. They’re meant to be together, and he has a gold ring to prove it.

#

That night, Victor thinks they’re going to talk about Yuuri’s anxiety.

He’s showered. He sits across from Yuuri. He’s bound and determined to do better this time—no threats to quit as Yuuri’s coach, for one. Victor plans to radiate warm, supportive energy. He fills himself with it.

Yuuri looks at him, his face cool and collected, and says the words that Victor had finally let himself believe he would never hear.

“After the Grand Prix final, let’s end this.”

Chapter Text

It takes Victor a few moments to understand the words that just came out of Yuuri’s mouth. Not because they are so unexpected; Victor’s been expecting them forever. It was too good to be true. Of course it was. He’s always known that once Yuuri figures him out, that this will come to an end. He’s been lying to him for months now, and what kind of person does that to the man he loves?

It’s not a surprise to Victor that Yuuri has come to his senses.

It’s still a blow.

“You’ve done more than enough for me,” Yuuri is saying. “This last season…”

Victor isn’t sure he can draw breath. He hasn’t done anything. He’s taken everything.

“Thank you for everything, Victor,” Yuuri says. “Thank you for being my coach.”

It’s not a surprise, but it hurts. It hurts because Victor has let himself become vulnerable. Because even now, even as Yuuri’s ending things, it’s obvious that he cares a little bit—enough to let Victor down gently.

Yuuri saw him, knew him, understood him. He went into this relationship, taking Victor’s entire heart with reckless abandon. But he only wanted Victor for a few months.

“Victor.” Yuuri’s voice quavers, almost a question.

That’s the moment when Victor realizes that he hasn’t responded—that his eyes are stinging and tears are running down his cheeks. Save your tears for the ones who care—Yakov’s rule, but it doesn’t help, because Yuuri cares. He does. He just doesn’t care enough to stay.

“I didn’t realize you could be so selfish,” Victor says.

Yuuri hunches miserably. “Yes. I made the selfish decision to retire.”

It’s not even selfish; that’s the problem. Yuuri has always understood the things Victor could never bring himself to say. Hell, when Yuuri was talking to Mari, he basically admitted that he had figured out Victor had been in love with him from the moment he showed up naked in the onsen.

Yuuri understands this, too—that Victor is so much more in love with Yuuri than Yuuri will ever be with him, that the imbalance is too great. It will never work between them.

(I can make it work, Victor wants to scream. I can love you enough for both of us. But he’s tried that before and life doesn’t work like that.)

Yuuri is trying to be kind. He just wants to let Victor down before it’s too late.

It’s already too late.

Yuuri leans forward. Slides Victor’s hair out of the way.

Victor looks up at him. He hates that the other man can be so calm at a time like this. “Yuuri. What are you doing?”

“I’m just surprised that you’re crying.”

It’s too much. “I’m mad, okay?” Victor tasted heaven for a few short weeks. Everything after this will all be ashes.

Yuuri frowns. “You’re the one who said you’d only be coaching me through the Grand Prix final.”

“I thought you would need me after.”

Yuuri shakes his head. “Victor. Aren’t you going to make a comeback?”

Something in Victor’s chest squeezes viciously. Earlier today, when he was watching Yurio… He’d thought…

Just for a moment, he’d thought…

No. Now he’s lying to himself. It didn’t start today. His desire to skate again isn’t a transitory thing. He started choreographing his programs over a month ago. He commissioned music. He’s consulted with Yakov and worked to streamline the pieces step by step. He’d refused to examine his own actions as they were happening, but the meaning is obvious to him now.

He’s been planning to compete again. He loves it too much, takes too much joy in it, to do anything else. He hasn’t want to admit it, because admitting it would mean going back to his apartment in St. Petersburg, leaving the onsen, leaving the Katsukis, leaving Yuuri.

For the last month, he’s refused to ask himself what he’s doing because the question has no answer. He loves Yuuri in no small part because he brought joy back to skating again. But how can he keep that joy if he loses Yuuri? How can Victor keep Yuuri and lose skating?

Victor shakes his head, trying to clear through the mess. “How can you tell me to return to the ice while saying you’re retiring?”

Yuuri is still dry-eyed. “I can say it easily,” he says calmly. “Because it is the right thing to do.”

“Yuuri.” Victor’s voice shakes. “Please.”

Yuuri looks over at him. “Victor,” he says, “you’re reliably landing a quad axel. You know what that means.”

Anyone else—any two other skaters in the world—would believe they knew precisely what that meant. A quad axel? It’s a unicorn. It’s improbable, unattainable, and yet somehow Victor attained it. It had felt as unlikely as the certainty of Yuuri’s love.

“It means,” Victor says, his voice feeling harsh, “that I need you.”

Yuuri just looks at him. “Vitya.” His voice is soft. “That’s not what it means, and you know it. Your quad axel means you were holding yourself back from me.”

“No,” Victor starts to protest. “It…” But he can’t make himself say the words. He can’t lie to Yuuri.

The axel means that Victor has been planning a comeback, one that would set the world on fire, and he hasn’t told Yuuri. It means that he was already commissioning music and streamlining his routine with Yakov, and he hasn’t told Yuuri. Even at its base, if he tried to explain that he hadn’t intended any of that… Even then, he’d meant his quad axel to communicate that he spoke Japanese, and he hadn’t told Yuuri.

Yuuri is right. His quad axel means exactly that—that he’s held back too much.

Victor squeezes his eyes shut. “Yes,” he admits. “Yes. That’s exactly what it means.”

There is one thing more painful than discovering that he had never had the chance to be good enough for Yuuri. It’s discovering that he had the chance and he fucked it up.

Victor looks at Yuuri. He wants to beg. He wants to plead.

He remembers begging and pleading, feeling more and more useless, watching his mother look at him in confusion. He remembers her wondering aloud why Victor couldn’t control himself. Victor isn’t going to subject Yuuri to his whining.

“I know,” Yuuri says softly. “It’s okay, Victor. I wouldn’t ask you to give me everything. That’s why we’re ending this.”

God. He can’t even argue with Yuuri. All he can do is…walk away. Smile, don’t make waves. He’ll call Yuuri on his birthday, and wish him the best…

His fists clench. He can’t think of what next year will be without Yuuri. He can’t.

Save your tears for the ones who care.

He wipes his eyes. He looks over at Yuuri. “You want to end this after the Grand Prix final.”

Yuuri nods.

“So.” Victor’s working through this out loud. “We have…thirty-six hours left together. That’s what you’re saying.”

Yuuri looks down. “Yes.”

Victor’s heart is breaking. Yuuri has to love him, just a little. But he’s never said it, not in words. Victor let himself hear it in his voice. He let himself believe that love was a part of Yuuri’s every caress. His embrace had felt like love to him, and Victor had told himself he hadn’t needed words to make it real.

Now, now, when it’s finally too late, he knows that he did actually need them.

It’s Victor’s fault, really.

He’s been holding back, afraid to tell Yuuri everything. Afraid to tell him that he loves him. That he wants Yuuri with him not just through the Grand Prix final, but for the rest of his life. He’s been using his knowledge of Japanese to give himself the reassurance he’s refused to give Yuuri. He’s done this to himself.

He doesn’t deserve Yuuri. This is what he gets for holding out, for lying—Yuuri might love him, but not enough. Not enough to stay.

“Yes,” Yuuri says. “We have thirty-six hours.”

Yuuri’s glasses have fogged over in the steam from Victor’s shower. His hands are clenched on his knees. He can’t even look Victor in the face any longer. Victor’s heart squeezes, hard, and…

And no matter what, no matter how much he wants to scream right now, he isn’t going to hurt Yuuri. It kills Victor, but he can’t deny Yuuri anything. Victor would give Yuuri the world if he asked for it. His heart is nothing; Yuuri already has it, and he can do with it what he wants.

He reaches over and takes the glasses from Yuuri’s face.

“Victor.”

Slowly, Victor cleans them against his shirt. “I’m still your coach,” he says with all the warmth he can muster. His heart is frozen inside him, but he’ll defy the laws of thermodynamics if that’s what Yuuri wants. “Let me do this for you. While I still can.”

Yuuri lets out a short, stuttering breath.

Victor puts the glasses back on. His thumb brushes Yuuri’s cheek, and he can’t bring himself to pull away. He wishes he could be mad at Yuuri, but he can’t stay angry. Yuuri has given him so much already, more love than Victor has ever deserved. Victor can’t ask for anything more.

“The way I see it,” Victor says. “If we only have each other for thirty-six more hours… Why should we let them go to waste?” He lets his hand slide to Yuuri’s chin. “Come here.”

For a moment, Yuuri hesitates. Victor thinks he won’t even have this. Then Yuuri comes, melting against Victor as if they haven’t just agreed to part ways. His arms snake around him; Yuuri’s head tilts up, and even though it hurts, even though this intimacy shatters Victor’s heart, it’s easy to kiss him. It’s always been easy to kiss Yuuri.

It was a lie Victor told himself, that they had developed a language of touch together. It was all a lie. He knows it, because Victor knows what he is trying to say with every kiss, every brush of his lips, every dip of his tongue into Yuuri’s mouth.

Stay. Stay. Stay by my side and never let me go.

He knows it’s a lie because all he hears from Yuuri in response—the opening of his mouth, the responsive gasp he lets out—is this: Yes, I will stay. Yes, I will love you. Yes, I will never leave you.

Victor has misunderstood the whole time. He wanted to misunderstand. He wanted to believe he was loved so much that he’s turned caresses into promises. He’s built up a comforting fantasy from nothing, but at least it’s his fantasy, and he has it for another day.

He takes off Yuuri’s shirt and kisses his way down his chest.

He may have been lying to himself, but he’s not lying to Yuuri. He tongues the hardening bud of his nipple, feeling Yuuri’s response, the rising tide of his desire. Yuuri pushes up against him, his erection hard.

Stay with me. Never leave. Victor’s kiss is a plea. He won’t beg with words, but he’ll beg with his body. He’ll beg shamelessly, impossibly, in a language that Yuuri no longer seems to understand.

Maybe if he fills up on kisses, maybe if he can pack a lifetime of adoration into these thirty-six hours, he’ll be able to let the love of his life go.

Stay with me, he begs. Please don’t leave.

He says it with kisses. He says it with the deft movements of his fingers as he strips Yuuri bare. He says it as he leans down, kissing down Yuuri’s hip bones. His lips linger against Yuuri’s erection, feeling it twitch against his mouth.

Yuuri shudders, lets out a shaky breath.

Victor just spreads his lover’s legs (and he’s still his lover, even if he’s leaving Victor behind), and licks his way down the dark skin of his perineum.

Stay with me. His tongue circles Yuuri’s puckered hole, and Yuuri’s fingers clench on Victor’s shoulders as if he wants to hold on, as if he doesn’t dare let go.

This isn’t real, but Victor will take the illusion that Yuuri wants to hold to him. He’ll let himself believe that just because he can reduce Yuuri to a series of choking gasps, just because Yuuri moans when Victor slides his tongue inside him, this means something.

But deep down, he now knows that when Yuuri demands more, he’s just talking about sec. He’s insisting that Victor rub lube into him, not asking for a future together. Victor pushes inside Yuuri, inch by precious inch, and for Yuuri it’s just that—just two bodies coming together for physical pleasure. It’s not a promise to him, and it’s the only real promise that Victor has ever made. They’re together, joined perfectly, Yuuri’s thighs grasping Victor, his body pulling him in.

Stay with me, Victor begs. When Yuuri screams yes, Victor lets himself pretend that it’s an answer.

But it isn’t, and in the aftermath—when they’re both wrecked, physically sated and emotionally devastated—Victor looks into Yuuri’s eyes and he knows that this was the last time.

It hurt too much to ask a question and lie to himself about the answer.

He can’t do this to himself again.

#

Victor escapes the next morning. There’s a whole day until the free skate, and he can’t bear to spend it confronted with everything he’s going to lose. He finds coffee, but doesn’t drink it. He buys a muffin and feeds it to the pigeons that gather in a park.

Victor wanders the Christmas market by himself. Half the shops are still closed when he starts, but Victor doesn’t care. He meanders in a dream. The streets slowly fill as the sun inches higher in the sky; morning shades towards noon.

When his phone buzzes, he jumps, hoping against hope that it’s Yuuri, that he’s contacted him, that he wants to take it all back…

Katsuki Mari: Victor, where are you?

Victor looks around. He’s been wandering aimlessly for an hour. The buildings might be familiar, he supposes. Maybe? The ice rink is… Hmm.

Victor: I have no idea.

Katsuki Mari: Are you lost?

Victor: Probably.

Katsuki Mari: Send me your location. I’ll come get you.

Mari once threatened to beat Victor with a crowbar if he ever hurt her brother. He’s not entirely sure that it’s a good idea to be around her at the moment. He frowns at his phone.

On the other hand, getting beaten with a crowbar sounds about as fun as the thoughts Victor has been entertaining. He sends her his location.

She arrives ten minutes later. She doesn’t have a crowbar. She doesn’t look angry. “Seriously, Victor.” She grins at him as if they’re still friends. “We’re five blocks from the complex. How can you not know where you are?”

“I never know where I am,” Victor explains. “Sometimes, I know how to get places, but mostly everything’s a blur.”

Her nose wrinkles. “Never mind. I went up to your room. Yuuri said he needed to be alone, and that’s great, because I wanted to talk to you by yourself.”

Here it comes. It’s the crowbar talk. Mari’s upper body strength is really quite impressive; she’s taken over handling the plumbing at the onsen, and Victor’s pretty sure that she doesn’t need an actual crowbar to break him. Victor gestures to the bench next to him.

She comes and sits. “Omedetou, Vicchan.”

He frowns at her. “Why are you congratulating me?”

“Your engagement, baka.” She says the last playfully, nudging him with her elbow, and the bottom drops out of his stomach.

“Oh.” She doesn’t know. Yuuri didn’t tell her. It feels like he’s been transported two days in the past, forced to relive the happiest night of his life with the knowledge of what’s to come. Mari doesn’t know that Victor’s already managed to screw it up.

Should he let Yuuri tell her? Should he break the news himself?

“I wanted to talk to you,” Mari continues. “I have…um, something like a wedding present in mind. Maybe you’ll hate the idea; I don’t know. But it’s a little personal, and you know how Yuuri can be. When he makes up his mind about something, he doesn’t move. So I thought I would ask you first to see if you were interested. If I sprang it on both of you at the same time, Yuuri might say yes, and if you didn’t want it… Well, I don’t want to cause a fight before you’ve even planned the wedding.”

It’s rather too late for that. Victor stares at Mari, and tries to figure out how to say that she’s underestimated him. She’s perfectly able to mess everything up without her help, thanks.

“How do you feel about kids?” Mari asks seriously. “I know Yuuri wants kids, but I’ve never talked to you about it.”

“Me?” Suddenly Victor’s thinking of Yakov’s demand for grand-skaters. He’s thinking of the child he imagined, the toddler with Yuuri’s eyes and Yuuri’s hair (please, let all his kids have Yuuri’s thick, lustrous hair). He’s thinking about how much he wants to be part of a family, how he still wants it even more desperately now that it’s out of reach.

“Yes.” He breathes the word out before he can stop himself. “Yes, I do. But…”

Mari just nods. “I don’t know if you’ve thought about the mechanics at all. And—I need to be really clear here—you’d have to find someone else to carry the child because I’m sorry, that would just be too weird—but I don’t really want children of my own, and if you wanted…” She stops. She swallows. “I just wanted to throw this out there. I thought as a wedding present I could…donate eggs. That is, if the two of you wanted kids who were a little of both of you.”

It suddenly hurts too much. It hurts too much to hear this, to know that if he’d just been more, if he’d been better, he could have this.

He inhales once. He can’t answer.

“Ah, see,” Mari says, just as breezily. “This is why I talked to you first. Yuuri would have said yes, and you would have thought it was weird, and…” She trails off, frowning at him. “Vicchan. What’s wrong?”

He’s forgotten to smile. He grabs desperately for a happy expression—any happy expression—but it’s too late. Mari is looking at him with pity. She must know how her brother really feels. They’re close, so close. It’s crowbar time.

“Nothing is wrong,” Victor says desperately.

Mari sighs. “Oh, now I see. Yuuri wasn’t freaking out about the Grand Prix Final in his hotel room. He was freaking out about you.”

“Um. What? No.”

“No?”

“Or…yes. But.” Victor looks over at Mari, tries to figure out how to express it. “But it’s my fault.”

Her eyebrows mush together in confusion.

“I landed a quad axel,” he explains. “And he understood it all, better than I intended, and… And I fucked up. I fucked up. I fucked up, and now he doesn’t want me, and who can blame him? I’m not, I’m just—I’m not good enough for him. Can we just…just skip to the part where you fetch a crowbar?”

Mari’s watching him with a tilt of her head and an expression of incomprehension. She bites her lip. “Vicchan. I know you’re taking this all very seriously. I’m sure there’s a much better explanation than the one you just gave me. And I recognize that you’re upset and what I’m about to say may seem insensitive. But please understand that if I lose control and break into hysterical laughter, it is done with love.”

Victor is pretty sure he should be offended by this. “Excuse me?”

“Honestly.” Her lips compress in something like humor. “You just said ‘I landed a quad axel’ as if that was a real thing that meant something. I know you guys are apparently fighting, or whatever the word is that I should use when you two do it with skating instead of words, and I’m sure that sucks, and you’re hurting, but…” She puts a hand over her face and snickers. “A quad axel. Oh my God. I’m imagining the two of you arguing, just like that. ‘Victor, I saw you! You landed a quad axel; don’t deny it!’ ‘No, baby, no, it wasn’t a quad. I wouldn’t do that to you. It didn’t have enough rotations.’” She guffaws again. “The fact that this apparently means something to both you and my brother kind of proves that you’re perfect for each other.”

“But—”

“I know, I know. I shouldn’t be laughing. And I know my brother; it’s probably deathly serious because he’s always so serious. But…” She puts her hands over her mouth and chortles. “Oh my God, your first real fight is about a quad axel.”

What the hell.

Mari just cackles again. “‘Look baby, okay, it was a quad. But it didn’t mean anything. I was thinking of a triple when I did it the whole time.’”

“Seriously?” Victor wrinkles his nose at her.

“‘But it wasn’t the first time, was it?’” Mari answers herself in a voice that is supposed to be her brother. “‘You’ve done it before. You’ve been quad axeling for weeks now! You can’t pretend it’s nothing. You can’t pretend you don’t have feelings.’” Mari is laughing so hard now that she can scarcely get the words out.

“I don’t think you understand how serious this is,” Victor tells her. “Nobody has landed a quad axel in competition, and—”

“‘Nobody has landed a quad axel in competition,’” Mari interrupts him, repeating this in her Yuuri voice. “‘It was supposed to be our jump, our first time. And you did it on your own.’” She’s laughing so hard now that she’s wiping tears away from her eyes. “Oh my God. I’m so sorry, Vicchan. I know I shouldn’t be laughing at your pain, but your pain is hilarious.”

There’s nothing to do but give up entirely. He sighs and looks at the sky. “And to think that I used to actually want a sister.”

Mari just laughs harder. They sit on the bench, Victor with his arms folded staring into the distance, Mari breaking into gales of laughter that she can’t seem to control, for far too long. It takes her a while to regain some semblance of calm.

“Honestly,” she finally says, after she retrieves a tissue and blows her nose. “I’m not the person you should be talking to right now.”

Victor glares at her. “I had figured that out. You’re useless.”

“You need to talk to okaasan. Yuuri’s so much like her.” Mari is shaking her head. “Wildly competitive and self-destructive at the worst possible time. And she won’t laugh at you. Probably.”

Victor frowns at this. “Hiroko-san? She’s not competitive. She’s…”

Mari tilts her head and contemplates Victor. “Victor,” she says patiently, “I know you’ve seen my mother cook.”

“Yes, and…”

“And I know you and Yuuri have discussed Hasetsu’s history. You know Yu-topia Katsuki is the last onsen left in the area, right? Twenty years ago, there were six of them.”

“Yes?”

“It’s not an accident that we’re the last one standing.” Mari’s voice is dry. “Think about what that means, and let me ask you again, Victor. Do you think my mother’s cooking isn’t a competitive activity?”

Victor considers this. He remembers Hiroko scorning the recipe he found online, telling him that hers was the best. Not better; the best. “Huh. Good point. I never thought of it that way.”

Mari pulls a pack of cigarettes from her jeans and lights one. “As for the self-destructive part, did my mom ever tell you about her football career?”

“She said she played in high school. But that she was…”

Ordinary, she’d said. Oh, dammit. Victor has the distinct feeling that he’s been played. That’s how Yuuri describes himself.

“My mother,” Mari says, “was the captain of her high school football team. They won the national championship. She was one of the most aggressive forwards in the nation.”

“I…” Victor is about to say that he can’t believe it. But… Now that he’s thinking about it, he can. He absolutely can.

“She was scouted by a professional team in Australia,” Mari continues dryly. “I haven’t exactly asked what went on with my dad? But I gather that she freaked out. He flew out to calm her down before her first game. And, um, after that…she thought she was vomiting because of nerves. Nine months later, tada, yours truly. Trust me when I say that my mom is a lot like Yuuri.”

“Huh.”

Mari takes a long drag on her cigarette. “I have no idea what is going on between you two. But if Yuuri is freaking out right now? I’m not the person you should talk to. Talk to okaasan.”

#

Victor doesn’t want to talk to Yuuri’s mother. He doesn’t want to tell her how badly he’s messed up. It feels selfish to use her as a weapon to win back her son, when Yuuri doesn’t want to be won.

He wanders along the beach in the mid-afternoon, watching the seagulls, wondering if he’ll ever be welcome in Hasetsu again. He won’t call, he tells himself, not for himself, at least. He’ll call for Yuuri. He can do that much.

His palms are sweating as the phone rings.

“Hello, Vicchan?”

“Hi, okaasan.” He doesn’t want to jump right into things. He stares out over the ocean, biting his lip. “Did you watch the short program last night?”

“Yes, of course! We had a public viewing. I thought Yuuri did very well, didn’t you?”

His throat closes. “Yes.”

“Oh.” She clucks. “Oh, dear. He’s upset because he didn’t do as well as he did in Russia, isn’t he?”

“Yes. And…” He inhales. “Okaasan. I messed up. I…made mistakes, didn’t tell Yuuri things, and now he’s upset, and it’s all my fault. I don’t know how to make it right.” No, that’s not fair. “I don’t think I can make it right,” he confesses. “I’m not… I’m just not good enough for him.”

She clucks again.

“He doesn’t want me anymore. I don’t think I’ll get him back,” he confesses. Victor’s resolve hardens as he looks over the ocean. “I don’t want to try to get him back. I’m not that selfish, and I don’t deserve him, and… And that’s okay, I’m okay with it. But okaasan, he’s upset, and he’s skating tomorrow. What can I do to help him skate his best?”

There is silence on the other end of the line.

“Vicchan,” she finally says. “Vicchan, I don’t think you need to hear my advice for Yuuri.”

“But—yes, yes, I do. I’m his coach still, even if he wants to end everything else. I have to—”

“No.” Her voice is gentle but firm. “I think you need to hear what I have to say about you.”

“Oh.” He already knows everything she can say. He doesn’t need to hear her recital of his faults. He’s told himself in depth, a thousand times, and…

“You know I love Yuuri with all of my heart,” she says. “You know I would do anything for him. You know I think that he is the best son. You know I think he deserves everything.”

“Of course.”

“Then listen to me,” she says. “I love you, too. I do not care about your mistakes; you are human, and you won’t ever be perfect. But I do not think you are selfish. You deserve my love. You do.”

He doesn’t know what to do with that. He stares at the sand underfoot in confusion.

“You deserve Yuuri’s love,” she says. “I can’t give it for him, and I won’t speak for him. But that’s not important. Victor, do you know what is?”

“No?” The word is shaky.

“You deserve to love yourself, too. I know you won’t believe me, because I have been in your shoes, not believing. So let me tell you why.”

His legs feel shaky. He kneels on the sand.

Her voice is calming and sweet. “You deserve love because you saw Makkachin chained outside as a puppy, emaciated, no water in sight. You climbed the fence with wire cutters in the middle of the night to rescue her.”

“You read that story?” His voice is shaky.

She keeps going. “You deserve love because you never said one bad thing about your competitors, not in decades of skating. You have always been gracious, even when they have not been gracious to you. You deserve love because you wake up happy in the mornings and leave smiles in your wake. You deserve love because no matter how many times you get lost, you always laugh it off instead of getting frustrated. You deserve love because you came to Japan and never once complained about unfamiliar food or customs…”

She goes on and on and on, reciting things about him that he has never stopped to contemplate, things that are little, things that are big. It’s overwhelming, so overwhelming that it washes over him like the tide. He can’t escape a love this big. He can’t even try.

He sits on the beach, listening to Hiroko-san tell him that he deserves to be loved and exactly why. Her words are a calm accompaniment to the crashing of the waves and the seagulls overhead. He listens, and he squeezes his eyes shut.

For as long as he can remember, he’s heard a voice inside him whisper that something is wrong with him, that he isn’t good enough, will never be good enough.

For the first time in his life, he hears her voice speak out in counterpoint.

It’s okay, Victor. You deserve to be loved. Even if you make mistakes. Even if you can’t make this right. Even if Yuuri leaves you. You deserve to be loved.

Victor only stops her when his phone battery hits the five percent mark and he has no choice but to thank her and hang up.

#

Unconditional love has to be experienced first to be given, Victor thinks. It’s because he’s received it first that he can understand that. That afternoon on the beach, Victor’s love for Yuuri undergoes yet another transformation.

He’s always though of his love for Yuuri in destructive metaphors—a black hole of want, the moment before the ice knocks the wind out of him on a fall.

There has been a desperation to Victor’s love, a crushing fear of loss that has tinged the experience with doubt.

But Victor’s love is not a black hole. It is not a fall on the ice. It is an inextricable part of him. It’s the feeling of sun on his face and sand under his toes. It’s Yuuri’s arms around him during Yakov’s call. It’s lying on the bed with Makkachin between them.

His love is the ebb of his breath, the sweet inhalation of oxygen. It’s the satisfaction of a glistening pane of fresh ice, waiting to be carved into white tracks.

His love for Yuuri cannot be taken away. It is his, and even if Yuuri doesn’t want him, he will always have it. It doesn’t hurt to love like this. It’s effortless. He loves Yuuri, and maybe… maybe… Maybe he deserves to be loved, too.

#

He comes back to the hotel at four. Yuuri’s not in their room, but by the look of the place—the bed unmade, clothing strewn about, the remains of a room-service sandwich on the side table—he’s been here long enough to tell the maids he doesn’t want them in here.

Victor cleans up instead, folding the clothes that have been heaped in a pile on the floor, setting the tray outside the door, untangling the sheets.

After some thought, he texts Yuuri.

Victor: Did you want to get dinner?

Yuuri: Is it okay?

Victor chooses not to understand this question as anything but the most basic exploration.

Victor: As your coach, I emphatically recommend it. No skipping meals.

Yuuri: I’m a block from Sagrada Familia. Do you want to come meet me there?

Victor: Sure, if you don’t mind that there’s a 30% chance I’ll end up halfway to Madrid in the attempt to find you.

Yuuri: Sorry, I forgot. I’ll come get you. Hotel lobby in fifteen?

#

When Victor sees Yuuri, he hugs him. It’s not premeditated; it just feels right to hold him close, to squeeze him tight.

“What was that for?” Yuuri asks.

“I haven’t seen you all day. I missed you.”

Yuuri looks away, his fingers running along Victor’s hand. He takes it in his. They don’t say anything after that; they just walk hand-in-hand down the street and find a cafe.

Giving love to Yuuri is easy. Victor can’t stop himself from doing it, can’t stop himself from looking over the menu with him and agreeing to swap bites of their respective dishes when neither of them can decide which of their two favorites to order. He can’t stop smiling every time he looks at him. He knows it doesn’t make sense—this is their last night together—but somehow it works.

“Victor, are you okay?” Yuuri asks the question on their walk back.

“Yes,” Victor answers. “Yes. I’ve always been okay. I’m just now figuring it out. But I’m not the one who matters here. It’s you. How are you?”

“I’m fine.”

They don’t say anything else. But that night, Yuuri pulls him into bed. He holds him tight. For one moment in the darkness, Yuuri tilts his head, pushing his forehead against Victor’s collarbone. His shoulders shake; the breath he lets out shudders like a sob.

But when Victor strokes his cheeks, his eyes are dry.

“Sorry,” Yuuri says. “It’s okay. I’m okay.”

They drift off to sleep in each other's arms and wake the same way.

#

That sense of calm continues between them through the next morning, through their practice on the ice, up until Yuuri’s free skate. On Victor’s side, the way he feels…it’s not going to change. They’ll talk again later. But he knows Yuuri flubs his jumps when he has things on his mind, and he loves him enough to wait.

For Yuuri? He’s not sure. There’s a clarity to him, a determination, that Victor has never seen before.

They both get muffins in the morning. The pigeons in the park remain well-fed as they walk together. They go through their early practice as if nothing has changed. Yuuri leans on Victor when he puts on his skate guards; Victor grabs Yuuri’s extra bag in one hand, and takes his hand in the other.

They walk along the shore hand in hand a few hours before the final, and Victor commits everything about this to memory—the warmth of Yuuri next to him, the way Yuuri looks out over the ocean as if he’s making a wish.

Victor makes one with him. Please, let me be what he needs. If only for today, let me be what he needs.

It’s all he can think of as Yuuri takes the ice. Yuuri stretches, the dark of his costume contrasting with the glittering sequins under the bright lights. He does a quick loop, arching his back, before skating over to Victor.

He sets his hands on the boards and bows his head.

Let me be what he needs, Victor thinks.

“It’s okay,” Victor says. “You can win gold. Believe in yourself.” He sets his hand over Yuuri’s.

“Really, Victor.” There’s a note of amusement in Yuuri’s voice. Yuuri looks up at him, his eyes sparkling for the first time since before the short program. “You said you wanted to be true to yourself. Don’t start being a model coach now.”

Yuuri’s hand turns in his. His thumb brushes Victor’s palm. “I want to smile for my last time on the ice.”

Last time. Victor ignores this. He utterly rejects it. He doesn’t want that at all. He looks Yuuri in the eyes, and…

And, to hell with trying to be someone else. Yuuri will see through it anyway.

“Yuuri, listen to me. I debated whether I should tell you this, but I took a break from being the five-time world champion to coach you. So how is it possible that you still haven’t won a single gold medal?”

Yuuri has never been good at claiming things for himself. But for Victor? Victor has seen Yuuri transform. Yuuri’s eyes widen. His jaw squares in determination.

Victor smiles. “How much longer are you going to stay in warm-up mode? I really want to kiss your gold medal.”

Maybe Yuuri hears what Victor really means. I love you. Maybe he has always heard. They put their arms around each other and hold each other, and Victor prays it’s not over. It can’t be the last time they touch.

Victor’s heart may be breaking, but he’s better, stronger for the last months. He’s had these moments to learn what love is, to understand it in all its many varieties. To experience it, even if Yuuri never meant it to last.

The music starts. It’s as hauntingly familiar as the beat of Victor’s own heart. Yuuri moves, his arms sweeping in the choreography they’ve made together.

And at first Victor doesn’t see it. No; he’s afraid to see it. That part of him that says not good enough, not right, pretends it’s not there. But the language they’ve spoken on the ice has always seemed so clear. Victor thought he knew what it meant up until the point when Yuuri ended it.

At first he thinks that despite the journey he’s traveled over the last day, he still can’t accept that this is over. His own aching heart wants to believe he’s seeing something other than their last performance together.

But Yuuri’s presence on the ice says something else.

I love you. You will always be a part of me.

No, he tells himself himself. This is ending, not starting, no matter what Victor thinks.

But Yuuri changes a triple loop to a flip…

And, oh, God. He suddenly understands what Yuuri is doing, what he’s saying. It can’t be becomes it is.

It is. He thinks of Yuuri, tentatively touching him, apologizing for what he’s done. He thinks of Yuuri pulling him close and sliding his hands down Victor’s sides. Of Yuuri kissing his forehead and telling him to go back to sleep, that he doesn’t want to disturb him.

In that moment, Victor realizes that he is an idiot. Yuuri never says what he really means. His words are hesitant, afraid to demand Victor’s affection. But his body has never been equivocal, not once. Not yesterday, not the day before, not at any time in the last six months.

No matter what Yuuri has said in English, his language on the ice has never wavered. He’s never said anything except this: I love you.

Victor is the one who didn’t believe he deserved those words and couldn’t listen. Yuuri loves him. Not just a little, not just temporarily. Yuuri was never able to skate cleanly for himself. There were always too many worries, too many apologies. But for Victor? Yuuri loves him enough to swallow his anxiety, to skate calmly. Yuuri loves him so much that he adds a quad to the middle of his program—I will meet you where you are, he promises, and if you love me this much, I will never let you go.

By the time Yuuri lands his quad flip, Victor is in tears.

It’s not just that he deserves love.

He has it. All he has to do is stretch out his hands and take hold of it.

#

It’s not until after the medal ceremony, after Yuuri asks Victor to stay on as his coach, after they wrap their arms around each other on the ground and cuddle, too desperate for each other's touch to let go long enough to move anywhere else, that they talk. Yuuri is on top of Victor. Their foreheads press together. They exchange sips of air as if Yuuri’s breath were sweet wine. And no matter how clear things are on the ice, there are times when only words will do.

“Yuuri.”

Yuuri’s arms come more tightly around Victor. “It’s okay,” Yuuri says. His eyes close. “It’s okay if you don’t want anything from me beside coaching. It’s okay if this is all we ever have. I…don’t need anything else.”

Victor takes a deep breath. He examines the thread of panic that starts at these words, the whisper that Yuuri doesn’t want him, of course he doesn’t want him…

Deliberately, Victor shoves these fears to one side. Instead, he strokes Yuuri’s cheek.

“What if I do want you?” he asks.

Yuuri lets out a shuddering sigh. He turns his face unconsciously, leaning into Victor’s palm. “Don’t.” He almost whimpers. “Don’t say it if you don’t mean it.”

“What if I mean it?”

“Victor.” Yuuri sounds almost strangled. “Victor, I told you we should end this and you just…you didn’t even ask me to stay.”

It takes Victor a beat to understand the quaver of Yuuri’s voice. To realize that Yuuri has been hurting these last days, too.

“You…” Victor inhales. He can still feel the sharp pain of loss, somewhere deep inside of him. “You didn’t… Yuuri, did you want me to?”

Yuuri’s hands clench on Victor’s shoulders. “I said I would walk away from you, leave you to pursue your skating by yourself, and you didn’t tell me you wanted me to stay.”

Victor’s fingers clutch Yuuri’s elbows in response. “You told me you wanted to end it. Nobody ever wants me, not for good, and you wanted to end it. I wasn’t going to push. You didn’t want me. Of course you didn’t want me.” His voice is shaking now.

“No,” Yuuri said. “No.” And now that he’s saying it he melts into Victor’s arms. “No, no, I can’t believe you thought that, I’ve told you so many times. I want you. I gave you a ring. I said I wanted to hold onto you. I will always want you. Don’t you understand? I was setting you free. I thought you wanted to go. I let you go and you went.”

“Yuuri,” Victor says. “It’s not like that. You can’t set me free. You are my freedom.”

They squeeze each other harder. The realization comes a moment later.

“I hurt you” Victor finally says. “I hurt you when I didn’t push, when I didn’t tell you I needed you. I should have told you. I… I promise, I won’t let it happen again.”

“You won’t ever have reason.”

They lean against each other, their breathing synchronized now, Victor holding Yuuri, not wanting to let go, not knowing where to start with what has happened since Yuuri told him to end things.

“Mari,” Victor finally says, by way of starting. “She ran into me yesterday. I told her a little bit about what happened.”

“Oh, no.” Yuuri burrows his head in Victor’s shoulder. “I know how protective she is. Did she threaten you?”

“She laughed at me.”

“Laughed at you?” Yuuri frowns. “Why did she laugh at you?”

“She thought it was funny that you were mad I landed a quad axel.”

“That’s not funny,” Yuuri mutters. “That hurt.”

“Right?” Victor shakes his head. “It was serious. I think your sister may be a sadist. She made up this whole dialogue making fun of us. It went something like this: ‘Victor, don’t lie. I saw you landing a quad last night.’ ‘That wasn’t a quad, baby, I underrotated it.’ It was traumatic.”

Yuuri inhales, and Victor listens—really listens to what he just said.

And now, with the fear of loss off his shoulders, he realizes… Yeah, it’s actually funny. He’s not sure who snickers first. Maybe it’s Yuuri. Maybe it’s him. Their chests are so close that Yuuri’s laughter feels like his own.

“Oh my God,” Yuuri says. “That’s exactly what happened. That’s hilarious.”

Victor brushes his lips against Yuuri’s. “It would be hilarious if we hadn’t hurt each other.”

“It’s okay.”

“No,” Victor says. “It’s not. Let me do it again.”

#

They hold hands on the way back to the hotel. They close the door to the room and look at each other. Yuuri’s eyes are wide, his pupils dark, and he looks at Victor.

“Victor.”

Yuuri looks up at him. His eyes glitter. He exhales very slowly, his hands settling on Victor’s shoulders, holding him as if he’s afraid.

“How did it go?” Victor asks. “After the Grand Prix Final, let’s end this?”

Yuuri’s breath sucks in. “Victor.”

“Let’s not,” Victor says. And it really is that simple. “Let’s not end this. Let’s stay together for the rest of our lives. Let me skate my programs for you at World’s this year. Sit with me in my Kiss and Cry and I’ll sit with you, and they’ll have to show replays from both our programs while we’re waiting because otherwise the entire world is going to watch us make out.”

Yuuri lets out a shuddering breath.

“Congratulate me when I break your world record,” Victor says. “I’m afraid I won’t let it stand long. But then drop-kick my new one to the moon on your way out the door. Keep doing that until I’m famous not for being Victor Nikiforov, but for being the coach and husband of Katsuki Yuuri, seven-time World Champion.”

“Five,” Yuuri breathes. “You said five back at the rink.”

“Five is what you owe me,” Victor explains. “You’ll need at least two for yourself.”

“Oh.” Yuuri pulls Victor close. “When do we start?”

“We already have.”

It’s that easy. It’s that easy to kiss each other, to undress each other. It’s that easy for Victor’s heart to feel butterfly-light. It’s not just sex, when they run their hands on each other. It’s the promise Victor wanted to hear. When Yuuri sinks into him, their eyes on each other, it’s a vow. Victor moans, and Yuuri sets his hand over his mouth—not to silence him, but so he can kiss his ring.

It’s a promise, and it’s almost perfect.

“Vitya,” Yuuri says, as he snaps his hips into Victor. “Touch yourself. Do it.”

Victor does. He can feel his body clamping down on Yuuri’s hard cock, can feel Yuuri’s thrusts switch from an even rhythm to a syncopated beat. They come exactly like that, their bodies in time with each other, naked but for the gold on each other's fingers.

They’re exposed and safe in each other's arms.

It’s perfect. Almost perfect. There’s nothing separating them but the words Victor still hasn’t said.

Yuuri. I speak Japanese.

Yuuri pulls out of Victor. He rolls to his side, takes Victor’s hand in his. “Victor.”

“Yuuri.” Victor will tell him. He’s going to tell him now. “Yuuri, I—”

“Wait.” Yuuri touches his forehead to Victor’s shoulder. He inhales, as if gathering strength. “You’re going back to St. Petersburg, aren’t you?” He almost mutters this.

Victor rests his hand against Yuuri’s cheek. “Don’t worry,” he says, tilting Yuuri’s head to his. “We can stay in Hasetsu if you want. I can Facetime Yakov. I’m not going anywhere unless you’re coming with me.”

“No, no, that’s not it. It’s just that… St. Petersburg… It’s…” He pauses, frowning, as if searching for the word.

“Big,” Victor supplies.

Yuuri shakes his head.

“Cold.”

“Mmm.” Yuuri’s eyes squeeze shut. “No. It’s… it’s Russian.”

“Oh.” Victor contemplates this, trying to figure out the problem. “If you need help learning some basic Russian, I’m happy to provide the Vitya crash course. I’m pretty good with languages. In fact…”

He couldn’t have found a more perfect segue for his confession. “In fact, Yuuri, I—”

“No, please. Let me finish.” Yuuri’s hands clench on Victor’s forearms. “It’s… Victor. Ya ne mogu zhit bez tebya.”

Victor freezes. Of all the things he’d expected Yuuri to say to him, I cannot live without you, in Russian…

“What?”

“I love you,” Yuuri continues. In Russian. He is speaking Russian. “I have loved you forever.”

“I have loved you forever, too.” Victor whispers this back in his native tongue, his heart impossibly full.

“I do not know when I have not loved you,” Yuuri says. “Every part of you. Every way that you exist. The day I saw you for the first time, I knew I had already loved you, even if I hadn’t known it until that moment. Every day I spend with you, I find a new way I’ve loved you.”

Oh, God. Victor takes in a shaky breath. All the ways to say “I love you” in Russian—those, Yuuri could have easily looked up on a website. But Yuuri’s accent is actually…not abysmal, and these are not stock phrases he’s spouting any longer.

“Yuuri,” Victor says softly. “You learned a little Russian?”

Yuuri shuts his eyes. Almost flinches, as if he’s expecting Victor to be angry. “I…sort of started studying it when I was twelve.” He swallows. “I majored in Russian literature in college. I wrote my honors thesis on language parallels and human consciousness as exhibited in the complete works in Dostoyevsky.”

Victor blinks. “I haven’t read the complete works of Dostoyevsky. I haven’t even read one work of Dostoyevsky.”

Yuuri pulls back and opens one eye, as if to assess Victor’s emotional state. “Um. Well. Yes. The forever I’ve loved you has been…a little longer than the forever you’ve known I existed. I thought it would be a dead giveaway when my mom gave you all the Russian-language newspaper articles I’d collected. What language did you think I would study in college?”

“English?”

Yuuri waves a hand. “Well, yes, that. But I’ve wanted to impress you since the day I heard your name. Of course I took Russian.”

Victor can only repeat himself. “What.”

“I didn’t say anything because book learning isn’t great conversation practice, you know? I’ve read a lot, but speaking is much harder. I tried to speak Russian with Yuri Plisetsky and he told me not to murder his native language. I was embarrassed, and I didn’t want you to laugh at me. So when you went to Nagahama Ramen back in Hasetsu I took conversational lessons with a tutor on Skype. I wanted to, um, be good enough for you.”

Victor is utterly, completely dumbstruck. “You have always been good enough for me.”

Yuuri exhales. “Then things got out of hand.”

“Out of hand? How do you mean that, out of hand?”

Yuuri flushes and looks away. “I want to have kids, but you have to be the one to tell Yakov that four is too many. I’m…a little scared of him.”

Understanding dawns on Victor. His conversations with Yakov. Yuuri was there for them. Victor assumed that Yuuri didn’t know any of the details, that he picked up the gist of what happened from context.

But he’d understood every word. Victor telling Yakov at the Cup of China that he had better not insult Yuuri again, that he loved him, he was going to marry him…

He had—briefly—wondered at the time why Yuuri had seduced him so thoroughly, but they’d been so desperate for each other that it had simply seemed to fit, a natural expansion of emotion after everything that had passed in that day.

Yuuri heard Victor say that he loved him. He’d listened to Victor’s conversation with his mother. He hadn’t batted an eye through the entire discussion about surrogacy with Yakov.

Yuuri had understood all of that, and he hadn’t run screaming.

“Do you hate me?” Yuuri’s voice is very small.

Victor doesn’t hate Yuuri. He doesn’t know how to hate Yuuri, not even one little bit. In this, as in everything, apparently he’s met Yuuri where he is. They’ve synchronized, and he’s not sure if it’s taken them two seconds or eleven years to reach this point.

Somehow, that makes his own confession easy.

“Iie,” he says softly. “Daisuki da yo.”

Yuuri lets out a long breath.

Victor isn’t done. “Ai shiteru yo.” He wishes he knew more ways to say I love you in Japanese, but he hasn’t been studying the language for eleven years, and he has just the two.

Yuuri looks up at Victor, his eyes wide. “Shitteru sa.” I know.

Victor exhales, and keeps going in the same language. “I have something to tell you. I…speak Japanese.” Victor’s words come out halting—not because the language is unfamiliar; after all these months, it’s not. It’s because he’s still a little scared. Scared that even though Yuuri has made his own confession, his will break them. He brushes his hand against Yuuri’s shoulder. “Your Russian is much better. I speak badly. But my understanding is…not terrible. I’m sorry.”

Yuuri giggles. Of all the possible things he could do at this moment, he giggles. “Oh my God, Victor. You have a Kyushu accent.” His eyes are bright. “I mean, you have a Russian accent, too. But your Kyushu accent is worse than mine. Your pitch accent on that last sentence… It’s the cutest thing.”

Of all the reactions Victor expected—anger, disappointment, hurt, forgiveness—this was not on the list. He stares at Yuuri. “I… What? You’re not mad?”

“That you speak Japanese? Why would I be mad? I think it’s great!”

“But I didn’t tell you! You and Mari—you had all these conversations, thinking that I couldn’t understand—”

Yuuri presses his palm into Victor’s lips.

“Victor. Listen to me. Hasetsu is not St. Petersburg. It’s tiny.”

Victor stares at him in confusion.

“I can run around Hasetsu in thirty minutes when I am out of shape, that’s how small it is.”

“Ah?” Victor blinks stupidly.

“Even if we weren’t celebrities, and we are, everyone in Hasetsu has known me since I was this big.” Yuuri demonstrates with thumb and forefinger. “They all know everyone else’s business. Do you think that you could spend eight months in Hasetsu speaking Japanese and that nobody would ever mention it to me?”

Victor had thought…exactly that. His head is spinning.

“I got progress reports,” Yuuri informs him solemnly. “You thought I didn’t know?”

“But…You… You and Mari, you’d always…”

“Wait.” Yuuri tilts his head at Victor. “You thought we would just talk in Japanese in front of you, even though you didn’t understand? I know we did it a little in the beginning, but I…honestly tried not to, not until I was pretty sure you could follow the conversation. It would have been rude otherwise. I figured you would join in if you had anything to add.”

“I… But… You were talking about me.” He blinks.

“Nothing you didn’t know.” Yuuri looks at Victor, tilting his head. “You giant dork. Have you been worrying about that this whole time?”

Victor swallows. “Um. Yes?”

“Don’t,” Yuuri says. “It doesn’t matter what language I say it in. I want you to know. I always want you to know that I love you.”

#

Translation is at best a dicey affair.

It isn’t until Victor watches Yuuri on the ice at the exhibition, a spotlight on him, that he understands how impossible it is to explain that they’ve been speaking to each other without words since they’ve known each other.

Yakov is standing next to Victor, his arms folded. “You don’t have to go out there,” he says. The music starts; Yuuri moves. “You’re making a comeback. Everything you do gives people ideas about what your season will be like. You could let the boy do the exhibition skate alone. He might even like the attention for himself.”

“No, I can’t,” Victor replies softly. “It’s a conversation between us, you see. He’s calling to me when he skates. I can’t not answer.”

Yakov frowns. “That makes no sense. He’s skating your program from last year. What could he possibly be saying to you with your own choreography?”

From the very first moment, from Yuuri’s first short program at the Grand Prix final to their dance at the banquet, from the day that Yuuri skated Stammi Vicino… Victor stares at Yakov blankly. There is no translation, not even a half-baked one. He could talk for an hour without explaining. It’s something that can only be experienced.

“It’s like seaweed,” he finally says.

“Seaweed again? I would say Japan broke your brain, but it’s been faulty for a long time.”

“It’s a metaphor. It’s like the word seaweed in Japanese,” Victor continues. “There are hundreds of words that all have the same translation, an infinite, colored variety of species, all different, all utterly indistinguishable in other languages.”

“I don’t understand.” Yakov shakes his head. But when Victor removes his skate guards and steps on the ice, waiting for his cue, he sighs. “But I’ll try.”

“The things we’re saying, they all translate in English to the same word,” Victor says. The music is swelling. Ten seconds, until he skates out. Until he and Yuuri break the exhibition skate, the Grand Prix final, and the internet by pair-skating together unannounced.

All his life, Victor has wanted love. He’s wanted it with an impossible, empty ferocity. Now he’s found someone who has so much of it that he’s created an entire language to contain it. He’s never letting go; he won’t, because he deserves this.

Yakov may not understand now. But Victor is certain he will eventually. There are, after all, grand-skaters in his future.

“What word?” Yakov frowns. “What word are you skating?”

“It’s really quite simple,” Victor says, in the moment before he pushes off to join Yuuri. “We call everything on the ice love.”

Chapter Text

…twenty-five minutes later…

They snuggle together on the bench at the edge of the rink, unwilling to part for even a fraction of a second. Yuuri’s head rests against Victor’s shoulder. The announcers, Victor is sure, must be having a field day talking about Yuuri’s exhibition skate. He can’t hear what they’re saying, and he really doesn’t care.

It’s not as if he and Yuuri have tried to hide their relationship; it’s not as if they want to. There will be questions to answer, of course, but they’ll answer them together. With their rings on.

The questions will start as soon as…

…Well, apparently, they’llc start here, with Yurio coming up to their bench. He’s dressed in the black leather and bright leopard print of his exhibition skate. His hands make angry fists in front of him, and he glares at the two of them cuddling at the edge of the rink as if they’ve done something horribly wrong.

Victor wonders what he’ll say. So you’re not retiring, katsudon? Prepare to be beaten again and again. Maybe. Or: Moving to St. Petersburg? I’ll kill you both. Something pleasant like that would be just his style. Yurio bites his lip, and for a moment the tension swells.

Yuuri speaks first. “Hi, Yurio. I really liked your exhibition performance. Amazing choreography. You did it yourself, right?”

“Shut up, pig.” Yurio’s nose wrinkles. His eyes narrow. “If you hurt him,” he says on a growl, “I will end you. Do you understand?”

Victor glances at Yuuri. Yuuri tilts his head toward Victor.

“Understood,” Victor says. “Loud and clear.”

But Yuuri speaks at the same time. “Of course,” he replies.

There’s a beat of silence. Yuuri bites his lip and steals a glance at Victor at the same time that Victor tilts his head toward him.

“Um, Yurio,” Yuuri finally says. “Were you talking to me or Victor?”

“Yes!” Yurio practically shouts this word in frustration. He turns and stomps away in his skate guards before either of them have a chance to ask for clarification.

“Huh,” Yuuri says.

This seems like the only possible response. Victor shakes his head. “Huh.”

#

twenty-five days later…

Victor doesn’t often think about the fact that Yakov has an office. It’s always been there, a storage facility for old papers and trophies, situated just past the locker room at the St. Petersburg rink. Yakov stores his coat here in the winter. Over the years, the only time Victor has ever been in this room with Yakov has been when he’d really, really screwed up. Like the time he crashed the zamboni at three in the morning.

Being in Yakov’s office gives him a faint feeling that he’s done something wrong. He’s pretty sure there’s something he did now, too. Probably something to do with his faint exhaustion at coaching and skating simultaneously, if he had to guess.

“Victor,” Yakov growls in front of him. “You know what this is about. It’s about what happened at Yekaterinburg.”

“Yekaterinburg?” Victor frowns. “You’re referring to the gold medal I took at Russian Nationals with three weeks of preparation?”

It had been touch and go. He and Yuuri had gone straight there from Barcelona—Yuuri, to get as much coaching in as possible before Japanese Nationals, Victor to adjust to the time zone and the rink, to maximize his familiarity with it before his own national championships.

They’d both gotten gold; what was the problem?

No, I won’t stop coaching Yuuri, he thinks. He’s going to hold his ground on this one.

“Not the gold medal, although that was sheer luck,” Yakov says. “I’m talking about—”

“Oh. My exhibition skate.” Victor shakes his head, hoping to distract his coach. “It was a bit of a squeeze getting Yuuri back in time to skate it with me, but you know I didn’t have time to choreograph a third program. And honestly, how was I supposed to guess that someone would start a petition to the ISU to allow same sex pairs? I had nothing to do with that.”

Well, technically, he’d signed the petition. And retweeted the link nineteen times. Plus, there was that op-ed on the subject that he and Yuuri had cowritten for an American newspaper, but that wasn’t going live until tomorrow, and Yakov probably didn’t know about that. Yet.

“I had almost nothing to do with that,” Victor amends. Internally, he urges Yakov on. Obvious bait is obvious…

“It’s not that,” Yakov growls.

Damn. His misdirection has failed. This is definitely about the coaching/skating thing.

Yakov sits behind his desk, his eyes narrowing. His gaze fixes on Victor.

“Well,” Yakov says. “Do I have to spell it out?”

Victor takes a long, slow inhale. You see, Yakov… I can’t skate without Yuuri. But even though he knows Yakov cares about him, he’s afraid to say the words. Afraid that even now, this will break something between them.

He takes too long.

Yakov rolls his eyes. “You’re trying to come up with a sufficiently flowery apology for what happened at the rink after hours. Don’t bother. There’s nothing you can say!”

Victor blinks. This wasn’t what he’d expected at all. “Uh. What?”

“Don’t play dumb with me.” Yakov glares at him. “I know what you get up to when you and Yuuri get your special, authorized after-hours practice! You’re not fooling anyone! Why can’t you wait to go back to your hotel room like an ordinary person? Do you have so little self-control?”

Victor feels his ears turn red. This conversation has officially become three thousand percent more awkward than he could possibly have imagined, and his imagination is pretty good.

“‘We call everything on the ice love,’” Yakov quotes. “And to think, I wasted actual time wondering if that had some deeper meaning! Why did I let myself get played like that! You could have just told me you were talking about blowjobs.”

Victor starts coughing. Well. Shit.

“Just because you think the rink is empty does not mean the rink is empty!” Yakov bellows. “Think of the poor coach who might show up to offer advice late at night.”

Oh, dear. Poor Yakov.

“For the record…” Victor clears his throat. “Maybe don’t do that any more? Possibly not ever again?”

Yakov sighs.

“Also, love and blowjobs are definitely not the same thing. And also, it…mostly wasn’t blowjobs in Yekaterinburg?”

“Did I ask for a slow motion replay with commentary?” Yakov rolls his eyes. “It all comes down to the same thing! You’re corrupting that poor boy.”

That poor boy. Ha. Victor has an intense, almost visceral flashback to standing on the ice at nine in the evening. It had been their last night with each other—as coach and student, as lover and beloved—before Yuuri had to fly back to Japan. His flight, a red-eye, had been leaving in four hours.

Victor hated to let him go, hated even more that he wouldn’t be with him.

But Yuuri had skated up to him after one final performance of Eros, sweaty and sultry.

“How was that?” he asked.

“Beautiful.”

Yuuri had put a finger on Victor’s hip. “How beautiful?” He had drawn a curving arc from thigh to belly, bringing Victor to attention.

Yes, Yekaterinburg had entirely been Yuuri’s fault, from that first come-on, to the point where Yuuri had grabbed a fistful of Victor’s Olympic jacket, hauling him in for a kiss. In the end, Victor had found Yuuri’s thighs around his hips, pulling him in. It had been Yuuri urging Victor to fuck him harder, fuck him now…

What was Victor to do? Not have sex with his fiancé just because they happened to be in a semi-public place? The venue staff had already left. Probably. And Victor wasn’t a monster.

“Right,” Victor says to Yakov. His memory of that evening is very, very fond. “I’m corrupting him.”

Yakov doesn’t sense his sarcasm. “I honestly have no idea how you convinced that sweet, innocent boy to marry you.”

Victor isn’t entirely sure either, but he hopes that complying with his fiancé’s insatiable demands will help hasten the wedding. But he’s not going to tell Yakov this. If Yakov wants to think that Yuuri is sweet and innocent—or that Yuuri is the source of the colorful bentos that have started appearing at lunchtime—that’s Yakov’s business. Victor doesn’t need to explain that he’s been facetiming Hiroko for cooking help.

“So?” Yakov demands on a growl. “Go ahead. I know the words are empty, but say them anyway. You’re sorry and you’ll never do it again.”

“I’m not sorry,” Victor says with a smile. “This is the new normal. Sorry, Yakov. Yuuri comes first.”

Yakov sighs and looks up. “And to think,” he mutters. “I actually wanted you to come back to skating. At least Yuuri did get gold at Japanese nationals. Maybe a different approach…” The last remark seems to be more for himself. Yakov bites his lip, then nods and glares at Victor again. “That’s exactly it. Yuuri comes first. Victor, you have to be careful. You can’t interfere with his training, not with your shenanigans. It’s for his own good.”

Victor gives Yakov his best who, me? look. “But Yakov, I’m sure you’ll understand how necessary this is for Yuuri’s training. Cross-training is excellent practice. And I know Yuuri told you about his mental health issues. Endorphins are clinically proven to help manage anxiety. What kind of coach would I be if I didn’t…ah, assist my student in endorphin production?”

Yakov gives Victor a look of excessive displeasure. “I can tell you exactly what kind of coach you’d be. You would be a professional one. But you wouldn’t know anything about that. Are you even charging him a halfway normal rate?”

Victor cackles. “Oh, sure. I’m charging him double what I charged for the Grand Prix.” Two times zero, yep.

Yakov drums his fingers on the desk. “And doing it properly? Sending out invoices, having him sign contracts with appropriate liability releases?”

“Oh.” Victor stares at his coach. “You’re awfully serious about this. Why would I do that? Yuuri’s family.”

Yakov just shakes his head. “Victor, I charge you. We have a contract.”

“Yakov.” Victor leans in. “Yuuri’s sister would kill me. You haven’t met her yet. She’s… I don’t want to be on her bad side, okay?”

Yakov just shakes his head. “I don’t know why I even bother to talk to you. It’s not like anything I say ever gets through.”

Victor reaches over and pats Yakov’s hand. “I don’t know why you bother, either.”

#

…twenty-five months later…

Yakov’s office has only gathered dust from the last time Victor was called on the carpet. Yakov gestures him to a chair; Victor sits. There’s a dull throb in his hip from where he fell in practice that day, and an even duller twinge in his ankle that he’s pretending isn’t there. He’ll think about it after World’s.

Not now, though. He asked to talk to Yakov this time around, and he intends to go through with it. Yakov looks at his old coach. Raises an eyebrow.

It turns out that Victor is very bad at starting conversations when he’s afraid of the outcome. He’s been fretting about this particular conversation for four months now. Longer, really, but it’s been urgent for at least that long.

Every night, Yuuri looks at him. “Did you tell him yet?”

Every night, Victor shakes his head.

“Well?” Yakov frowns at him. “What is it? What did you want to tell me?”

The urge to chicken out is strong. Victor swallows. “I’ve been thinking…”

Yakov’s eyes go to Victor’s. They narrow in suspicion. His lips press together. He folds his arms.

“Victor, Victor, Victor.” The volume increases on each iteration of his name. “First, I’m not sure what you call that thing you do with your brain, but thinking is a complete stretch!”

Victor sighs and tries to regroup. He can do this.

Last night in bed, Yuuri kissed Victor’s forehead, and slid an arm around him. “Tell him, Vitya,” Yuuri said for what was probably the two hundredth time. “Yakov loves you. It’s going to be okay. He probably already has some idea.”

“He loves you.” Victor shut his eyes. “You can do no wrong in his eyes. Maybe you should—”

“Victor, I love you, but I am not going to tell your coach that you’re retiring.”

“But—”

“Remember the time you worried yourself sick wondering how to tell me you spoke Japanese?” Yuuri’s hand rested on Victor’s side. “It’s okay, Vitya. It’s going to be okay. People love you.” His husband’s voice was soft and reassuring. “I love you. Yakov loves you. It’s going to be okay, because we love you and we want you to be happy. And also, not incidentally, we prefer that you not shred your Achilles’ tendon beyond all repair. Tell him.”

Victor exhaled. “Okay,” he’d promised. “Okay. I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Except now it’s tomorrow. Victor promised Yuuri. He can’t avoid it any longer.

Victor takes a deep breath. “Okay, Yakov. You see—”

“Ah.” Yakov holds up a finger. “Wait. Let me prepare first.”

Victor’s hand curls in frustration against his thigh. He’s never going to get through this conversation. “Prepare? Prepare for what?”

Yakov doesn’t yell at him. He stands and rummages around various medals and plaques that are gathering dust on a back shelf.

“Ah,” he mutters to himself. “There you are.” He picks up a pair of shot glasses, emblazoned with the logo of some long-ago competition, and gives them a casual rinse in the sink.

A dusty bottle of vodka gets retrieved from a cabinet that he unlocks; ceremoniously, Yakov pours two fingers of liquid into each glass.

“There.” Yakov pushes one at Victor.

This is not what he was expecting. Neither of them speak. They silently lift their glasses and down the liquid all in one go.

It’s crap vodka; Victor coughs as the liquor strips the lining from his throat the entire way down. It settles in an uneasy lump in his stomach. Yakov always drinks crap vodka. Last year, Victor tried to buy him a top-shelf bottle for his birthday, something with a hint of pepper and spice and excellent ratings in the best magazines.

Yakov accused Victor of trying to poison him.

His coach, it turns out, favors alcohol that could be mistaken for paint thinner.

Yakov pours himself another two fingers, and holds the bottle of toxic chemical waste up, offering Victor a second round.

“No, thanks.” Victor means the no part more than the thanks. “I need to be somewhat sober for this conversation.”

Yakov shrugs. “Why? You’re retiring after Worlds this year. Not much more to say, is there?”

“I…” Victor blinks. He didn’t expect Yakov to know. He certainly didn’t expect him to be so blase about it. “But… I thought you would…”

“Be mad?” Yakov shrugs again. “I’m utterly delighted, you idiot. I’m never going to have to bribe rink employees to look the other way about the fact that you and Yuuri are desecrating the ice again. No more subtle complaints from ISU officials about how your exhibition skates are giving people ideas about same-sex ice dancing. It’s going to be so glorious. Almost relaxing.”

“About that. Yuuri’s not retiring,” Victor says. “So…none of that is changing.”

“But Yuuri’s not my student.” Yakov gives him a shark-like smile. “Hallelujah. It’s not my problem any more! Now you get to bribe traumatized workers. Now you can talk to the ISU.”

“But—”

“Fine, you want me to argue?” Yakov sighs. “I can do that. You’re one of the most decorated skaters in the world. You’re no longer the only one who wins gold, but you medal enough that you could continue skating. Your achilles tendon is bothering you a little, but enough rest could bring it back long enough to go another season, if you wanted. Keep skating, Victor.” He says this without even an iota of enthusiasm. “Maybe I could say that more forcefully? Pretend I did.”

Victor’s mouth doesn’t quite drop open. He’s been dreading this conversation for weeks now. Yuuri had to psych him up to it. And here Yakov is apparently ready for it.

“But…”

Yakov gives Victor a thin smile. “I’m saving my yelling for when it’s needed.”

Victor swallows. That sense of unease returns. Here he is, in Yakov’s office. Years ago, Yakov offered to have Victor take over for him when he retired. And yet… It wasn’t just talk of retirement that had him dreading this conversation.

“Um… When I retire.” Victor drums his fingers against the armrest of his chair. “I guess… Everyone seems to think it would make sense for me to start coaching full-time? I’ve had requests already.”

“I suppose almost everyone does think that. ” Yakov folds his arms. “You’re one of the most decorated skaters in all history, and you’ve coached the only person in the world who is likely to challenge you for that title. You’ll have students lined up out the door, Vitya. You could name your price. Is that what this is about? You want to start taking over for me?”

“Right. Um.” This was the part of the conversation he had dreaded most. “Yakov. I love skating. I always want to be a part of it. There’s only one small problem.”

One corner of Yakov’s mouth twitches up. “Ah?”

Victor leans forward. “Yakov,” he whispers, “It turns out that I am utter crap as a coach.”

“Oh, thank God.” Yakov clasps his hands together. “He already knows; I don’t have to break it to him. The boy figured it out on his own.”

“I mean, you would think I would be a genius?”

“Actually, I wouldn’t,” Yakov mutters.

“I’m a fantastic skater, right? And then there’s Yuuri—he’s been so brilliant, absolutely wonderful, he’s utterly blossomed, and it’s amazing. But Yuuri’s accomplishments have more to do with the fact that he’s extraordinary as a skater, and I’m an excellent husband. It has absolutely nothing to do with actual coaching skill on my part. Skating was too easy for me. I don’t know how to do things properly. I just do them. It turns out, grabbing people’s asses and saying, ‘no, use more whoosh, and from here’ is really ineffective for everyone who didn’t spend eleven years studying my every interview.”

Yakov looks at Victor. “What are you going to do instead?”

“You never did come visit me in Japan,” Victor says, instead of answering. “I wish you had. Hasetsu—the town Yuuri is from—used to have several onsens.”

“What?”

“Hot springs,” Victor replies. “They’re the best for soaking sore muscles after training. I always thought that if I was going to run a skating school, I’d base it there.”

“I thought you said you weren’t going to run a skating school.”

“Me? No. Not yet. Not by myself. But Yuuri and I are moving back to Hasetsu. I’m a terrible coach, but Yuuri? He’s…great.”

Yakov nods. “It’s true. He’s a lot better than you.”

“I’m going to be the choreographer,” Victor says, “and I’ll work with the costumers, and—”

Yakov sighs and shakes his head. “Vitya.”

“What? You don’t think I can do that?”

“Vitya,” Yakov says, “I am seventy-three years old. Do you think I got out the good vodka to hear you go on about choreography?”

“This is good vodka?”

Yakov downs another shot, then points a finger at Victor. “ Do you think I haven’t seen you and Yuuri weeping over your phones? I’m not an idiot! You have ultrasound pictures. Were you ever going to show them to me?”

Victor would have told Yakov—but “We’re pregnant!” would have led into the “I’m retiring” talk, and…

And Victor’s an idiot, and bad at telling people things.

“Oh.” Victor swallows. “Yes. Those. Well. Did I mention that…we’re about five months along?”

Yakov gives Victor a dirty look. “Vitya, if I didn’t love you so much, I would fire you as a student. Two weeks before World’s, I would do it. I’ve been waiting months for you to tell me.”

Months. Yakov’s known that Victor has been retiring for months. Victor shuts his eyes. Of course Yakov has known for months. Victor has been stressing himself out about retiring and not-coaching, wondering what Yakov would say.

Yuuri had been right. Of course Yuuri had been right.

Victor exhales. “Um. She’s, um, just a baby-shaped blob. Did you want to see?”

Yakov just shakes his head. “The boy asks if I want to see my goddaughter. He asks, and he waits for an answer as if there could be any doubt. Hand it over.”

Victor pulls out his phone, finds the photo, and slides it over.

There’s a long pause as Yakov peers at the screen.

She’s just a baby-shaped blob, but she is a perfect baby-shaped blob. This is an objective fact—Victor is sure that if the ISU ever came out with baby criteria, his child would score an unbeatable world record. Yakov stares at the grainy ultrasound. For a few minutes, he doesn’t say anything. Then, very slowly, he wipes at the corner of his eye.

“Whose is it?”

He and Yuuri decided on the answer to that question—the one that they’ll give to the rest of the world—months ago. They’ll tell their daughter the truth when she learns enough of biology to ask the question. But for now, it’s simple.

“Ours,” Victor says. “She’s all of ours.”

#

twenty-five gold medals later…

It’s not the first time that Yakov has come to visit the Katsuki-Nikiforov skating complex in Hasetsu, but now that both Yuuri and Yurio have retired, this time he comes with five suitcases and a one-way ticket.

Yuuri is busy with the afternoon students, and Kasumi is still clingy enough that an outing to the Fukuoka airport for either of them was out of the question. Instead, Hiroko-san went out to Fukuoka to fetch Yakov. On the way home, they no doubt exchanged photos, stories, and complaints about their respective skaters.

Hiroko-san escorts Yakov into the house with a smile, and Yakov actually remembers to take his shoes off this time around.

Victor hugs his old coach as best as he can with Kasumi in a sling around his neck. She’s a warm, comforting weight. Mariko, at age six, is old enough to remember him and to greet her godfather with a shy wave.

They have tea. Mariko helps Hiroko serve little sandwiches.

“I helped make these for you, Yakov-coach,” Mariko volunteers. Then she clams up.

Victor’s eldest daughter is a little shy until she gets going (in that regard, she takes after Yuuri), and a lot stubborn (another trait that comes from her otousan’s side of things).

It doesn’t matter what language Yakov uses. She answers Yakov’s questions in monosyllables.

Until he asks that question. The question, the one Victor has known is coming.

“How’s the skating going?” Yakov asks with a broad grin on his face. “When are you going to be the next junior world figure skating champion?”

Mariko glances at Victor. At this remark, her eyebrows come together in a determined line. Her mouth doesn’t move.

Victor has a good idea what she’s thinking.

“Papa,” she’d asked four months ago, when she’d dropped her not-so-little bomb. “Will you still love me?”

“Yes,” he’d said, without even having to think about it. “Yes, always, no matter what. I will always love you.”

“Even if—”

“Especially if,” Victor said. “You’re Mariko. We want Mariko to be Mariko, not anyone else. I promise.”

Now, Mariko looks over at Yakov and pulls a dour face.

“It’s okay,” Victor says. “You can tell Yakov.”

“Tell me what?”

“Can’t.” Mariko shakes her head. “It’s not respectful to say it. Otousan says I have to be respectful of Yakov-coach.”

Yakov practically melts into a puddle at this. “You were an excellent skater last time I was here, and I’ve seen the videos since. It’s okay to have pride in your abilities. Just say it. Who’s going to be the next junior world champion?”

Mariko’s mouth tilts down. Slowly, she holds out her arm and points directly at Victor’s chest. “It’s going to be Kasumi.”

Yakov sits back in his chair. He blinks. He glances at Mariko.

“Well,” he finally says. “She certainly doesn’t get her arrogance from you, Victor.”

Victor thinks it wise not to say anything in response.

“Um,” Hiroko says beside them. “Actually…”

Yakov bends down beside her. His knees pop; a sour expression crosses his face. “Masha, I believe in you. I know you have what it takes to succeed at anything you want.”

“I know that,” Mariko says impatiently. Her shyness is a feint; her stubbornness is the heart of her. “That’s why I’m going to be the best forward on Japan’s National Football team.”

Yakov chokes. “You’re going to be what?”

“I’m not going to be a professional skater,” Mariko explains. “I’m going to be a footballer. Skating is no fun. Plus, you can’t kick anyone, not even on accident!”

Yakov stares at her as if she’s turned into a tarantula.

“Skating is boring,” Mariko continues, “and you’re all by yourself all the time, and what kind of sport only lasts four minutes long? Did you know—” She’s warming to her subject by now “—did you know that people say my otousan has great stamina for skating? Four minutes! Do you know how long football matches last by comparison?”

Yakov exhales. “Football. The girl is six years old, and she’s decided to become a footballer. Where on earth did this come from?”

At his side, Hiroko just smiles.

“Hiroko-san,” Yakov says, turning to her. “did you know your granddaughter doesn’t want to skate? She wants to play football. And you just let her do that? You promised to look after my girls for me.”

“Oh,” Hiroko says, “I did promise that, didn’t I? How interesting.”

“Football!” Yakov continues, not really listening. “Where did she learn about football of all things?”

Hiroko just smiles. “Children get the strangest ideas, don’t they? Who even knows where they come from.”

#

…twenty-five years later…

“It was easy for you and otousan.” Kasumi is curled up on the edge of the couch, examining her toes. Two nails are blackened from jump practice. “You had the onsen. You had each other. You were the perfect coach/choreographer team. You two went from being the most decorated skaters in all of history to becoming the most sought-after coaches in history. Me…?”

Katya has Yuuri’s (technically, Mari’s, but whatever) hair and Yuuri’s eyes. Such is the biological inevitability of dominant traits. Sometimes people thinks she takes after Yuuri more than Victor because at first blush, she sort of looks like him. But she has Victor’s eyebrows, his nose. God help her, the poor girl, she has Victor’s forehead.

Mariko is quiet and stubborn. Her stubbornness has seen her through seven seasons of professional football. Her tenacity brought the first Katsuki-Nikiforova gold medal from a Summer Olympics.

By contrast, Katya likes to make people laugh. She doesn’t let her feelings show easily. She performs for the crowd, all smiles on the outside. When she worries, she rarely lets it show. The fact that his daughter trusts Victor enough to let him in when she’s upset is worth more to him than all the medals in his display case.

“It was easy for you two,” Katya repeats, with no apparent knowledge of the actual truth. “Here I am, about to skate in my fourth Grand Prix Final. I’ll probably get another gold. Maybe I’ll keep this up for a few more years. Then what? I win, then I stop being able to win, and I spend the rest of my life wishing I could go back?”

“It doesn’t work like that,” Victor finally says. “Everyone always used to tell me I was living the best part of my life. They said that in Juniors. They said it the year of my senior debut. They said it after I won Olympic gold. They always lied. It’s gotten better every year, every decade.”

“But that’s you. You had otousan.”

Victor shrugs. “What can I say? Get drunk at the next banquet and look for the girl on the pole.”

Papa. That’s not remotely helpful.”

He kisses her forehead. “It worked for me, Katen’ka. And you’re better than I am, so… I believe you’ll figure it out. You’re going to be fantastic all your life.”

She curls into a smaller ball. “How do you always believe in me?”

It takes Victor a while to answer. Genetics are a mixed bag. The flexibility and stamina his daughters have inherited were surely bonuses. The anxiety and depression? Not so much.

“That’s what families do,” he finally says. “We believe in each other when you can’t believe in yourself. We tell you that you deserve the very best because sometimes, you won’t remember it. And we do it over and over and over again, because you should never forget.”

Kasumi lets out a long breath. She doesn’t say anything in response.

“You’ll figure it out, Katya,” Victor tells her. “I know it doesn’t feel like it to you, but you will.”

She snuggles into his side, and Victor holds her. His heart is very, very full.

“You’ll figure it out,” he says, “because you’re wonderful, and perfect, and we will always love you. Just watch.”

#

It’s the end of an era.

No, it’s not just because the ISU announced that after years of protests, they’re finally lifting their stupid gender-restrictions on ice-dancing pairs.

Victor has seen enough eras go by that he no longer wonders what’s coming next. He knows that whatever it is will work itself out.

Still, it seems utterly appropriate that this year’s Grand Prix Final has finally come back to Sochi… and that Kasumi Katsuki-Nikiforova won gold yesterday with a world-record breaking program. She was the first woman to ever land a quadruple axel in competition. She’s not the first one of his and Yuuri’s students to take first in a major international competition, and she won’t be the last.

Still, somehow, having his daughter win thirty years after he and Yuuri met, on the same ice…

It’s special.

He’s thinking of this as he’s tying his tie in the mirror.

“Almost ready?”

Victor looks behind him and smiles. Yuuri—Katya’s official coach, as compared to her mere choreographer—is here. He’s one of the most revered coaches in all of figure skating history. His hair has just a hint of salt-and-pepper—something that’s completely unfair, Victor is sure, given that he’s only a few years younger than Victor himself. Yuuri is more solid than the last time they were in Sochi together, but the extra weight just makes him curvy and more adorable. So do the laugh lines at the corners of his mouth.

Victor has never stopped falling more in love with his husband.

Still, it’s not the sight of his husband that makes him gasp. It’s the scrap of blue fabric in his hands.

“Yuuri.” Victor takes a step forward. “You told me that you burned that. You told me that decades ago.”

Yuuri looks down. He raises one eyebrow. “Maybe I implied it. Or maybe you assumed.” There’s a touch of amusement in his voice. “I didn’t actually say. I’ve been waiting for the perfect time to bring it around again.”

“You kept that deplorable tie twenty-seven years after our wedding just to taunt me with it now?”

Yuuri considers this. “Yes,” he says. “Yes. That’s exactly what I did. Come on, Victor. We have our Sochi Grand Prix Final Banquet back again, and I’ve, um, arranged for…things. Aren’t you coming down?”

“Things?” Victor looks at his husband. “What kind of things?”

Yuuri winks.

“Oh, good.” Victor grins. “Those kinds of things. Kasumi is going to be so embarrassed.”

Yuuri nods. “I consider that to be an absolute bonus.”

#

Kasumi takes one look at the champagne glass in her otousan’s hand—his third—and another look at the pole in the corner of the banquet hall. She glares at Victor as if to say that this is all his fault.

“Oh, no,” she says. “Oh, hell no.”

She frantically calls Mariko, who came with her to Sochi to cheer her on, and her sister responds with frightening speed. The handful of ISU officials in the room have have never been able to keep Yuuri and Victor in line. But the two women manage this situation with practiced ease. Yuuri is reprimanded and pulled from the room. Victor is practically frog-marched down the hall to his hotel room by his daughters. Both of them are hurled inside. The door shuts. The screech of hotel furniture sounds in the hall.

They’re barricaded in.

“And stay there,” he hears Mariko say. “God, they’re the worst. This is almost as bad as last year’s World Cup. At least there were no cameras, right?”

Their daughters’ footsteps fade down the hall.

“Well.” Victor glances at the door. “That didn’t exactly turn out as we expected. Now what?”

Yuuri just takes a step toward him. “It didn’t turn out as you expected,” he says with a grin. “But… Here we are. In Sochi. And instead of having to babysit our offspring at the damned banquet, we have the perfect excuse to take the evening to ourselves.”

“Oh.” Victor smiles. “That’s brilliant? Was that your plan?”

“Nope,” Yuuri replies, “but let’s pretend it was. Hey, Victor. What’s a nice choreographer like you doing in a place like this?”

Victor takes a step forward. He sets his hand on Yuuri’s cheek, running his fingers down his beloved’s jaw.

“You,” Victor replies softly. “I’m doing you.”

#

Kasumi Katsuki-Nikiforova makes her way back to the banquet hall after hugging her sister in thanks.

She is fairly certain that her fathers are the best—and the worst—fathers in all of skating history. Mariko had the right idea, going into football. She’s not saddled with supportive, brilliant, funny coaches who are just a little bit too affectionate with each other in public most of the time—and utterly impossible when either of them drinks.

As she returns to the banquet hall, she isn’t really thinking about the Grand Prix event that just passed, or her future, or skating. She’s not even thinking about the banquet. She’s thinking about her parents and how stupidly perfect their lives are, and how she’ll never measure up. She’s thinking about how everyone in her family seems to be born to make history…except her.

She’s the second child, the dutiful child. She was the one who always made her godfather smile. The one who listened to her fathers and never pushed the boundaries. When they told her not to try quads just yet, she didn’t. When Papa said she should downgrade her jumps and try for a perfect PCS, she did.

She skates perfectly, but deep down, she knows she’s missing that special spark. Sure, she holds the world record for both free skates and short programs, but that’s hardly original in her family. She’s a dime-a-dozen top skater. She was the last person in her immediate family to win an Olympic gold, and even then, it was close. She’s okay, but when she can’t skate anymore, what will she do? Who will she be?

Kasumi doesn’t let any of these worries show.

She smiles at the other skaters. She holds conversations without really noticing what she’s saying—she’s good at that—but when someone asks her what she’s planning on doing next season, the smile slips off her face and she can’t quite come up with an answer.

She’s so deep in thought that she doesn’t notice the moment when the music shifts from Tchaikovsky to something modern, something with a restless beat.

She looks up from contemplation to see that a crowd has formed on the other side of the room, everyone gathered around the pole that her father had somehow managed to get into this room.

Honestly, otousan. A pole. He was in his fifties. What the hell was he thinking?

But it’s not her otousan on the pole, thank God. It’s a slim woman in a red cocktail dress is ascending it. Her hair is black and cut short enough to show ears that are almost elfin. Her skin gleams brown in the light of the chandeliers. Her thighs are perfectly muscled. They tense around the pole; her skirt slides up until it’s almost indecent.

Indecent or not, Kasumi can’t look away. She finds herself drifting closer. The woman twirls on the pole, and Kasumi’s breath catches. There’s something about the play of light on the rich brown of her skin that makes Kasumi want to look and keep looking. There’s something about those gentle, muscled curves that utterly demands Kasumi’s attention. The graceful arch of the other woman’s back, the tilt of her head, the enticing brown-and-gold of her eyes… There’s a little glitter on her cheeks, and Kasumi wants to make her way through the crowd and brush her fingers against it. She wants to know if it’s makeup, or if the other woman is just naturally sparkling.

The woman looks familiar, and Kasumi isn’t sure why.

“Who is that?” She asks someone at the edge of the crowd. It’s Lisa Livotti, the silver medalist.

Lisa rolls her eyes. “That’s Pensri,” she says. “Pensri Songprawati? Honestly, Kasumi. She was one of the women’s Grand Prix finalists this year. How do you not know this? There’s only six of us. She came in last, but she still made it.”

Oh.

Pensri’s bare toe points. She pivots on the pole, catches sight of Kasumi, and lets out a little gasp.

“Kasumi!” she calls out as if she’s an old friend.

Kasumi is certain—well, almost certain—that they’ve never met. But Pensri twirls down the pole, graceful as rain falling from the sky, landing on her feet to applause from the onlookers.

“Kasumi Katsuki-Nikiforova!” She grins. “I’ve been looking for you.”

“Oh?” Kasumi’s throat dries. She has the feeling that she’s been looking for Pensri, too. She just didn’t realize it, not until now.

Pensri takes a step forward. She takes hold of Kasumi’s hands. “You heard the news, right? The ISU got rid of the gender restrictions in pair figure skating for next year.”

Kasumi swallows. Shit, oh shit, the woman is touching her. Her hands are so warm, and her lips look so soft, and…

Pensri throws her arms around her. “Kasumi,” she says, “be my partner next year!”