As soon as Yuri’s family learned of the jump workshop they had insisted that the attendees stay at the inn, and made sure to give them a rate that made it worth their while. That was how Yuri found himself sitting down for dinner with the group of skaters and their coaches.
The air was energetic, the group of mostly teenagers excited to learn jumps from the five-time consecutive world champion. Victor had insisted that Yuri teach as well, pointing out that even coming in sixth, he was a finalist at the previous year’s Grand Prix Final, officially making him one of the best skaters in the world. Eventually it was determined that Victor would teach quads, while Yuri worked with the students to shore up triples and spins. Minako had intruded on the planning at one point, making herself available as well, and the whole thing had ballooned from something expected to last a handful of hours to a full day figure skating intensive.
Introductions were made, but the names flew so fast that Yuri knew he wouldn’t remember them all. Alongside the three men from the regional competition were a handful of upcoming female skaters whom the coaches thought might develop the ability for quads if given proper instruction, as well as one more man in the senior division and one in the junior.
Minami was thrilled, spending as much time gaping at Yuri’s childhood home as participating in the conversation. He ordered katsudon for dinner, over the objections of his coach, because it was Yuri’s favorite, and sheepishly asked for an autograph on his favorite poster.
As Yuri got comfortable with his, self-described, number-one fan, he found himself curious. “When did you first see me skate?”
Minami was excited for the chance to discuss how big a fan he was. “I went to the regional competition the last year you were in juniors to support a friend skating in the novice division. You were incredible. I was able to see you again at sectionals, and watched you on television all the way through your win at Junior Worlds!”
“You’ve been a fan that long?”
Minami nodded. “I had entered the novice division that year, but didn’t qualify for regionals. Seeing you gave me the drive to compete harder.”
Yuri blushed, and the color deepened when Victor turned and leaned against him. “What are you talking about Yuuuri?”
Yuri turned just enough to look at the Russian. “Minami-kun was telling me about the first time he saw me skate.”
“Do you want to hear about the first time I saw Yuuri skate?”
Minami nodded so hard it reminded Yuri of the bobblehead dolls that had seemed so popular in America.
Yuri looked at Victor shocked. “Wasn’t it the video the triplets posted?”
Victor laughed, a sound that both made Yuri embarrassed and made him realize how comfortable they were around each other. “Of course not! I would be terribly negligent in the duties of a professional athlete if I didn’t research those I could be skating against.”
“I thought you didn’t know who I was. I mean, didn’t you think I was just a fan in Sochi?”
“Yuri. Give yourself more credit. Now do you want to hear about this or not?”
Yuri felt himself pale, but at the same time he wanted to hear the story himself. He nodded slowly.
Victor smiled. “I think it would have been your Junior Worlds win.”
Yuri’s eyes widened. “That long ago?”
“Of course! You’d announced you were moving into the Senior division in the fall, so it was a decent bet you’d be seeded into the Grand Prix series.”
“But we weren’t in the same events.”
Victor shrugged. “So? Why wait months to see who I’m up against when the off-season is the perfect downtime to research?”
Yuri buried his face in his hands. “I never thought of it like that. I always did my research when I knew my assignments.”
Victor laughed. “And what did you do when you learned who was in the final, scramble instead of practice?”
Yuri groaned. That was exactly what he did, staying up late to watch videos.
Victor’s laughter only increased, and as much as it embarrassed him, Yuri had to admit that he loved the sound.
“I was a bit disappointed when you barely missed the final that year. Your skating has always been beautiful Yuri.”
“I’d just moved to the US, probably not the best time to move halfway around the world, start college and get a new coach.”
Victor smiled. “Probably not, but you had your reasons.”
Yuri leaned against the older man, momentarily forgetting that they weren’t alone. A soft shriek from Minami reminded him and they separated awkwardly.
“A part of me kept hoping we’d get assigned to the same preliminary events every time I was seeded into the Grand Prix Series,” Yuri said softly. “At the same time I didn’t want to skate against you until the finals. So… in a way… I guess I got what I wanted.”
“I…” Victor started, before one of the coaches and Minako got into a boisterous discussion over what would be the best part of the following day.
The men looked at each other, the collection of road-weary skaters and decided that it was time to declare the party over. They would need to be on the ice early the next morning.
Yuri slipped into the onsen. Though it was still open, the late hour meant it was nearly empty. Minami and one of the other skaters were talking in hushed but animated tones. Yuri smiled at them but decided he wanted to have a bit of peace.
He moved to the far side and found Victor sitting alone in one of the private recesses.
“May I join you?”
Victor opened his eyes and smiled, nodding.
Yuri moved and sat across from him. They spent several minutes in comfortable silence before Yuri spoke. “You’ve really been watching my skating for that long?”
Victor smiled. “I have. Some years I paid more attention than others, I tend to limit my deep research to those who medal at major competitions, but Sochi was hardly the first time I was prepared to skate against you.”
“Really? But… You’re Victor Nikiforov, five-time consecutive world champion. I’m just me. I don’t even really have the right to be teaching these kids anything tomorrow.”
Yuri stared at ripples in the water. He could feel the self-doubt creeping in, he hated himself for it. He was an alpha, but one without the confidence he was supposed to have.
“Come here Yuri.”
Yuri looked up and saw that Victor’s arms were open for a hug.
“How’d you know?” Yuri whispered as he moved over and buried his face in Victor’s neck.
“It’s the little things, the way you avoid looking at anything, the tiny tremble in your voice, how your muscles tense when you’re trying to hold yourself together.”
“Am I really that obvious?”
“Only to someone who knows you. I look back now and see how hard you fought at the exhibition. I didn’t recognize the signs yet.”
Yuri laughed sarcastically. “I guess do this a lot if you’ve learned them so quickly.”
Victor grumbled and lifted Yuri’s face so that their eyes met. “I told you when I got here that I wanted to learn everything about you. I wasn’t kidding. You hide so much Yuri, I’ve never had to study a competitor as much as I had to study my own student.”
“I’m sorry,” Yuri murmured, turning his eyes away.
“Don’t be,” Victor said softly, allowing Yuri’s head to fall back against his neck. He rubbed soft circles on the younger man’s back. “I like learning about you.”
“Really?” Yuri closed his eyes and nosed at Victor’s scent gland.
They were silent for a couple minutes, and Yuri realized they were the only ones left in the bath.
“I… I thought you didn’t know who I was in Sochi. When you offered a photograph I assumed you thought I was just another fan.”
Victor ran his cheek across Yuri’s head. “I didn’t recognize you at first. I’d never seen you with glasses and your hair natural. But I had put it together before even offering the photo. I’m so used to fellow skaters wanting them I just assumed you would too.”
Yuri swallowed. “I did, but…”
“I’d just failed in front of you. I came in last place, and messed up all of my jumps. I looked like a joke.”
“Yuri…” Victor sighed. “Everybody gets nervous, and everybody has bad days.”
“Especially me. It’s hard to be where I am. Everybody’s expectations weigh on me. Russia expects another gold, the audience expects another flawless performance. Every time I step onto the ice I feel it. I love skating, but… some of the magic is lost when you’re skating for everybody’s sake except your own.”
“I never thought of it like that.”
Victor pressed his lips to the top of Yuri’s head, making the younger man blush. It was the first time the Russian had ever done that.
“Yuri, from the first time I saw you skate I wanted to face you. You’re far more talented than you give yourself credit for. I kept waiting for the day we’d be assigned to the same events, or the year you’d finally come up to worlds. I know what to expect from so many of the other skaters. Chris is a powerhouse when it comes to jumps, Cao Bin was a master of transitions and twizzles before he announced his retirement. Michele Crispino skates with a singular devotion that gives each of his programs a raw emotional feel.
“But you, Yuri, you’re more. Your body makes music while it moves to it. You transition between elements so smoothly that it’s as if there’s no transition at all. Your skates sing during your step sequences, and the world revolves around you when you spin. Your pour so much emotion into every movement the audience has no choice but to feel it with you. There’s no one thing that makes your skating stand out, because that limits what you bring to the ice. And I know that, given time and training, you’ll be able to land all five of the ratified quads, you may even become the first to land a quad axel. The power is there. I see it.”
Yuri squeezed Victor close, needing the words far more than he realized. “Thank you,” he whispered.
Yuri leaned on the barrier and watched as Victor lifted off from the ice. He made four perfect rotations and landed the quad loop to the applause of the students. The coaches were all holding video cameras, making sure to capture everything. They had even spread out to get different angles and had made arrangements to share their footage.
Yuko came up and leaned on the barrier next to Yuri. “When Victor texted me about a jump workshop I was a bit surprised, but everybody here is so excited.”
Yuri nodded. “I worried they’d be starstruck, but they’re focused. They want to learn.”
“Wouldn’t you have been, if you were in their shoes? An opportunity like this is rare, they know to take advantage of it.”
Yuri smiled. “Yeah. It would have been a dream to learn from Victor. Even one day would have been amazing.”
“And you’ve got him every day.”
Yuri blinked, and smiled. “You’re right.”
“I like seeing how close the two of you have gotten. You’re happier than I think you’ve ever been.”
“Huh?” Yuri turned to look at Yuko. “What do you mean?”
Yuko stared at Yuri, a shocked look on her face. She quickly softened into a smile. “Yuri, I’ve known you for a long time. You’re happy. Victor makes you happy, and when I compare him now to when he arrived, you make him happy too. You both smile a lot more, and there is genuine joy there.”
Yuri looked back to the ice, where the platinum-haired had just landed another perfect jump. He smiled softly. “I guess you’re right.”