Count Your Winnings
Victor was used to people realizing, very early on, that he wasn’t a nice guy. Achieving a positive image was something he only bothered to do for an audience and for fans, because he knew that a good chunk of his career depended on it. The habit stuck even now that he had more or less announced his retirement, because it was easy, and because he didn’t care to try and change for a better and healthier expression of himself—for the worse, as Yakov would’ve called it.
Psychology he didn’t care for and empathy he was deprived of to a level bordering the wonderful. He had very few people he considered close and his family was long gone from him in terms of emotional attachment. The younger skaters he had trained with under Yakov’s supervision were soon sorted into easy categories; some, like Yuri, who forged a dislike for him out of pure admiration; and some who couldn’t grow past the admiration at all.
Yuuri wasn’t a child, though. Maybe that had been Victor’s mistake all along, trying to sort him the same way he had the others.
Throwing himself at Yuuri had felt like breathing after being held underwater. His elbows ached from hitting the ice, and from the way Yuuri winced standing next to Phichit Chulanont as the silver was given to him he gathered that his back must have protested under the shock as well.
More than anything Victor felt the imprint of the other’s lips on him like a blow. Like a bruise.
Yuuri evaded questions and evaded Victor’s eyes all the way through interviews, and when the topic of their kiss was carefully brought up by an American reporter he shut his mouth as tight as he could. Victor pressed a hand to the small of his back. Yuuri didn’t jump.
The way back to their hotel was spent in the same sort of silence. It didn’t feel uncomfortable so much as tense, as if the rush of relief and pride and flush desire that had taken Victor earlier had left without bothering to unclench the span of his shoulders in its wake. His lips throbbed—it really had been a blow, with the way he had gone about it, instead of waiting for Yuuri to come to him and stop in his motion—but his arms and knees throbbed harder, so that was easy enough to ignore.
“I’m going to change in my room,” Yuuri mumbled when they arrived. He looked pale again, and a little shaky. “See you later.”
“Alright,” Victor replied. “I’ll come by in an hour. Clean yourself up and get yourself something warm to eat.”
Yuuri made a sound, something like a grunt. Victor watched him walk to his room and stared at the door long after it had closed again.
He took his phone out of the pocket of his coat when he crossed the threshold of his own room and let himself fall onto the wide bed the way he imagined Yuuri did on his side. He didn’t try opening any of his social media accounts, only searched his name and skimmed through the latest news. As expected, several videos of himself and Yuuri were already online. The tone of the articles he found in English looked amused and surprised, a little emotional for some. The Russian ones he didn’t look at. For Japanese, well. Yuuri would be the one dealing with that, wouldn’t he.
Victor let the phone drop on the bed and rubbed at his forehead. Little grey spots littered his sight every time he blinked.
He almost jumped out of his skin when someone knocked on the door.
For a wild second he wondered if the hotel’s security had let someone in, or if another of the patrons had decided that now was a good time to infringe on his privacy. But looking through the peephole revealed nothing but Yuuri himself, still looking the same as he had fifteen minutes ago.
“Sorry,” he said, a little quickly. “Can I use your bathroom instead?”
“Sure,” Victor replied, bewildered.
Yuuri walked past him too fast for him to say anything. He had a bag under his arm and his outfit for the free program was still on. Victor watched his back and thought of the way it had looked taut and powerful as he danced earlier, and then he stopped watching.
He knew it was a bad idea, but he made coffee while Yuuri showered. Almost as an apology to himself, he also ordered their meal for the evening, and then picked up some clothes from the floor to put in the bin that room service would pick up in the morning. That was as much energy as he wanted to spend on cleaning.
Yuuri made a face when he came out and saw him drink. “You won’t sleep,” he declared. His hair was wet and his face pink from the heat of the shower. “Again.”
“Look who’s talking,” Victor murmured into the rim of his mug.
Yuuri put on a pair of spare slippers from one of the closets and sat down at the table with a sigh. His hand crawled to the menu almost automatically, but Victor caught it.
“I already ordered dinner,” he said with a smile.
Yuuri let his forehead hit the tabletop. “Oh,” he mumbled.
It was easy enough to move his hand again, then, from the soft of Yuuri’s wrist to the crown of his head still warm and wet. Victor tread his fingers through his hair lightly. “I picked a lot. We probably won’t finish all of it.”
“I don’t care.”
Victor laughed, low in his throat. His chest felt like a drum and its beat was fast and soft.
Inevitably he had to let go of Yuuri’s hair when the man bringing their dinner knocked on the door and brought in the tray. His hand was still a little damp, and his fingers slipped around his knife. In front of him Yuuri was eating fast and silent, grease from the meat staining his lips and then disappearing for the shine of fresh water and fresher fruit. As predicted, neither of them finished everything. Victor pushed a little on his own boundaries and took care of clearing the table and putting away the leftovers in the tiny fridge under the stoves. He took a look and the crumbs and stains they had left on the wooden surface of the table and decided to leave it as it was. They’d be out of the city in a few days anyway, back to Japan and to Yuuri’s delightful family house in Hasetsu.
Back to Japan and to Yuuri’s family, he thought. Something tightened in his chest.
Yuuri eventually moved from his chair to the couch and the TV. Victor felt his blood freeze when he saw him reach for the controller, but thankfully, Yuuri went directly to a movie without going by any sports news channels or specials. Victor took a deep breath, shook his head a little; when he moved again it was toward the bathroom. The outfit Yuuri had worn for the day’s performance was on the floor near the bag of toiletries he had brought; Victor hadn’t thought that it would feel so very thin as he held Yuuri against him in front of all these people.
The shower did little except for rushing warmth into him and making his head turn. In the end he only stayed under the spray for about ten minutes and walked out half-naked, skin still wet enough that the cold air from the window felt like it was freezing over him. He didn’t pay it much attention, though, because Yuuri was watching a rerun of the day’s figure skating results and commentary.
Victor had had the experience of watching himself fool around on international television, but not of kissing someone outright. Not of kissing a man he cared about.
With his heart in his throat he said, “Turn that off, Yuuri.”
“Why?” Yuuri sounded even enough as he turned his head to look over the back of the couch. His face betrayed only fatigue. “It’s not like everyone hasn’t seen it already.”
“You’ll hurt yourself—”
“Oh,” Yuuri interrupted. “No, it’s fine. They haven’t really said anything mean, just that it was surprising. I mean, maybe on some other channels, but I don’t really care what they say about me, just about my skating.” He smiled, then, and the warmth in his eyes only made Victor feel colder.
He walked around the couch to the TV’s screen itself and turned it off.
“Victor?” Yuuri asked behind him.
“You should go to sleep,” Victor replied. He didn’t turn around.
The sound of fabric reached him, soft and easy, because Yuuri was standing up now. Yuuri was not going to let this go. He felt him tug at his wrist gently. Looking at someone else had never felt this complicated before.
“What’s this about?” Yuuri said.
Victor smiled at him, but he didn’t think anyone could have bought it, and certainly not Yuuri, whose handsome face was already turning dark on concern and agitation. Victor put a hand on Yuuri’s cheek, willing it not to shake.
“You’re exhausted,” he started. It was easier to put on the persona of a coach than of anything else right now. “It’s a miracle you managed to do so well earlier considering how little you’ve slept, and it’s not going to be fun when you start crashing down from the stress. Insomnia does things to you, trust me.”
“I know that.” Yuuri frowned. “I’m asking what’s wrong with you.”
“Just tired myself, I suppose.”
Yuuri hummed, and grabbed Victor by the wrist held over his shoulder to tug it away. “Really,” he said.
“Really,” Victor repeated.
“So this has nothing to do, whatsoever, with you kissing me in front of hundreds of people and dozens of cameras relaying everything live for the world to see.”
Victor’s breath caught in his chest.
Yuuri smiled joylessly. “Thought so.”
They both stayed silent for a moment, Victor’s wrist caught in Yuuri’s hand between them. He took it back slowly and let it fall by his side open-palmed.
“What do you want me to say?” Victor asked.
It may have been the wrong thing to say. Yuuri scowled harder than Victor had ever seen, and then he turned around to walk to the small kitchen and pour himself a glass of water, and there was grace in his movements, an easiness achieve after months of proximity, a kind of sure-hearted masculinity Victor had never managed to achieve and that always left him aching in jealousy or want. Yuuri was soft and narrow, but his face was strong. He gestured wildly. And none of it was an act.
No, Yuuri reserved the acting for his performance.
“What did you think was going to happen?” Yuuri said from his end of the room. Victor lifted his head to look at his face again instead of the curve of his shoulders.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I’ve never—” He stopped talking.
At the time he had only been thinking of Yuuri, and how much he wanted to kiss him. There had been warmth alive on his skin despite the cold of the rink, and everything had felt right, had felt like fitting the missing piece of a puzzle after looking for it for a long, long time.
Victor had never jeopardized his career like this before. It ate at him, he found.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have,” he murmured, and Yuuri said, “God,” before striding back into his personal space again.
“Why are you so insecure?” he demanded to know. Victor could feel his breath on his chin, so close was he. “You’re Victor Nikiforov.”
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Victor protested.
“Yes it does. You’re already at the top. No one’s going to come after you for kissing me in public. You’ve done worse things than this.”
Nausea was running up his throat. He tasted bitterness on his tongue when he spoke next. “I’ve always dated women, publicly.”
This made Yuuri lean back a little. Victor watched the blood run out of his face and knew instantly that he should have worded it differently. “You’re not…”
“Oh, Yuuri,” Victor said. He brought a hand to his face and rubbed over his clammy forehead. He couldn’t stop the trembling this time. “Yuuri, don’t be an idiot.”
Yuuri was silent. When Victor risked a look at him he was redder than before, though, and somehow the sight was enough to rip a genuine smile out of him. He touched his hair again, as softly as he could; it was dry and soft between his fingers now.
“This is the logical outcome, right?” he asked.
Their eyes were meeting. Yuuri’s were determined, if tired, and Victor licked his bottom lip nervously.
“I’m not a very nice guy,” he continued. “I was in it for the laughs at first, to be honest. I’m sorry.”
“I know that,” Yuuri said, and he might as well have said that he didn’t think anyone could be interested in his work or his person for anything more. So Victor pulled him closer by the back of his head until they were pressed together and Yuuri’s chin rested on his shoulder, his mouth and nose breathing quietly against Victor’s neck.
“I’ve learned a lot since then. I think you’ve been coaching me as much as I’ve been coaching you.”
“I mustn’t be a very good coach, if this is how you deal with relationships,” Yuuri joked faintly. His voice was muffled, but Victor could feel it at his throat like a pleasant hum. He chuckled, for the first time since they had left the rink.
“Relationship,” he said. “This is what you wanted all along, then?”
“Not all along.” Yuuri took a breath and stepped back a bit so he could look at Victor in the eye again. “There was quite a bit of hero worship to get rid of, and then it was your attitude.”
“My attitude made you fall in love?” Victor grinned.
“No, your attitude made me want to drown you in the hot springs,” Yuuri replied dryly. “The way you look at me made me fall in love.”
Heat spread through Victor’s chest at his words, almost suffocating. Yuuri blushed almost immediately and started stammering, “Not that I know I’m in love for sure, or anything—” but Victor was closing in again and pressing his lips to his forehead, on the crease between his eyebrows.
He stayed like this for a while, breathing onto Yuuri’s skin and feeling the air move between them. He didn’t feel cold now. Yuuri was standing vibrant in front of him and suffusing warmth into the room.
“I’m not sure I know how to handle a relationship with someone I like as much as I like you,” Victor said. Yuuri tried to lift his head up and away again, but Victor pressed him closer against himself. He didn’t want to be looked at more than strictly necessary. “You were worried about my reputation. You said so earlier.”
“I did.” Yuuri didn’t sound angry, at least, and Victor would take anything. “I’m still afraid of doing that, but through my skating. Not through…”
“Yeah. Yeah, I know.” You would have kissed me anyway, Victor thought. Eventually. “And I’m an asshole for fearing the exact opposite.”
“You wouldn’t have kissed me if you didn’t want to.”
He sounded so certain. It was hard not to believe everything he said when he was like this. “I’ve wanted to kiss you for a very long time, now,” Victor said, and his throat felt tight. “I just didn’t expect it to become the sort of want I can’t ignore at all.”
“Tell me about it,” Yuuri laughed softly.
Maybe it was enough like this, then. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing that Victor’s passion for skating had shifted into softer and more vulnerable kind of love because of Yuuri. Yuuri looked up at him and smiled, and Victor’s skin felt alight, felt like sparks were running over the length of his back and drawing shivers into his nape.
“A relationship,” he said again. Yuuri nodded, his mouth set. “Okay.”
He let Yuuri take hold of him, one hand at his hip and the other firm in his hair, thumb by his temple; and then he closed his eyes and let himself be kissed.
Yuuri’s lips were soft. He hadn’t had time to notice it on the rink earlier what with the speed at which it happened—but now he had time to take in the feel of them and tilt his head into it to press back, to breathe in when he opened his mouth, to feel the first touch of Yuuri’s tongue at his lips slow and tentative. He let himself be drawn into it and into the heat settling into the pit of his stomach and the lowest of his back, and when he grabbed the lapels of Yuuri’s jacket to pull him closer Yuuri breathed out against his mouth and laughed and kissed harder.
It was sweet. It wasn’t like anyone Victor had kissed before, and if he was to be honest—he had hoped that it would be like this. Yuuri licked into the part of his mouth and advanced further, until Victor’s back was flush against the wall and Yuuri could let go of his side to frame his face with both hands, fervent and adorable. If Victor opened his eyes, he was sure of what he would see: a red face tense on worry and eagerness alike, the soft of Yuuri’s hair already dampening around his hairline and curling upward. He didn’t open his eyes.
When Yuuri broke away he did so with a harsh breath; and Victor felt hot in the face and through his entire body.
“That was better, wasn’t it?” Yuuri asked earnestly. Victor nodded, because he couldn’t talk. “Good.” He leaned in once more to brush their lips together before retreating.
“The journalists are right,” Victor breathed. “You really do have me as your prisoner.” He gestured to Yuuri’s hand still keeping him pressed to the wall.
“You went in willingly,” Yuuri replied with a shake of his head and a smile.
Oh, Victor thought. I like you so much.