A/N: Written for the Victuri BB 2.0 collaborating with the lovely artist Baph (see my Ao3 or Baph's tumblr at anonbaph to see the awesome art!), and for the Diversity Writing Challenge, h21 - write a fic that is K rated. About as close to fluff as I get with longer works. :D Enjoy!
It certainly wasn't the first time Yuuri had competed in Japan, but it was the first time in an international competition and the first time in years Japan had a good chance of getting a senior skater into the Grand Prix. On top of that, he was back in his home country and yet still so far from home, and he ached with a loneliness he hadn't felt since finally settling into Detroit four years ago.
Actually, it was worse than that, he reflected as he stood in Matsumoto Airport near Nagano, because he'd been, in part, running away from Hasetsu. How quickly it had changed. How his place was slipping away: with Yuuko and Takeshi suddenly married and with triplets, with the inn standing solo while the rest of the town dwindled away… Detroit had been a multicoloured dance floor, after that, and it had been a welcome distraction. And yet it never quite became home. Home was katsudon and Vicchan yipping in his ears and nose and Mari's cigarette smoke lingering in the hallway and his parents' voices mixing in with the many guests'. Home was sneaking off to the rink or Minako's ballet studio whenever anxiety nipped at his heels. Home was losing himself scrubbing dishes and floors and furniture until they shone.
'You're finally competing on your home turf.' Celestino was thinking the same thing, but he was beaming. He was proud. He was missing all the subtle cues Yuuri oozed… and no-one could blame him, because Yuuri was trembling with equal parts anxiety and excitement and it all looked and felt the same before a stage. It was the stage itself that would decide it: decide whether the excitement outweighed the nerves and infused his performance, or the anxiety outweighed the joy and tripped him up at every turn. And he couldn't fall back on past experiences in the Japanese Nationals held in similar arenas because the skaters he was competing against, the judging and the audience were all on a different scale. As for the Big Hat in particular… It was this season's Nationals that would be held there. Ironic, really, that he'd get to warm up on the field in an international competition, before he protected his national title.
But he was here for the NHK Trophy, not the Japanese Nationals. He was looking towards the Grand Prix Finals in Sochi, 'Not quite home turf.' Yuuri looked around. They were safe at the moment as they waited for their luggage, but the moment they left they'd be accosted by the media and fans. And it was Japan, even if Hasetsu was still a good fourteen hours away. Still, Mari was coming, and Takeshi if he could get away from the triplets. 'In a few years, we won't be able to keep the twins home when you compete in Japan,' Yuuko had laughed over the phone. And Yuuri would think about how his family and friends always tried to be there, and Minako who went the extra miles and attended most of his international competitions as well, and yet he couldn't make it to Hasetsu after four years of living and training away from home.
It wasn't the distance, though. He knew that. He just wanted something to show when he did. He wanted to walk through that town he'd grown up in with his head held high and a medal around his neck. Something big, like the Grand Prix Final, or the World Championships... or even the Four Continents. What he actually had to show was a smattering of bronze medals from various smaller stages, a few silvers and he'd even managed to grab a gold last year at his first Grand Prix event. Of course, he'd sabotaged himself and wound up in the bottom half at the second and there went his best chance to date to qualify. But he was also stubborn to a fault and now that he knew he could get a gold on the international stage, he hungered for more.
Except he was going up against Victor Nikiforov, and if he did manage to get onto the podium, he had to content with both him and Chris Giacometti (who he'd never beaten since from their Junior days together) at the finals.
He had to make it to Sochi first, though. He had to make it to the podium here in Nagano.
'Hey.' Yuuri jumped at Celestino's hand on his shoulder. The coach had neatly caught him floating amongst his thoughts... again. 'Don't go psyching yourself out, now. Meet your fans. Enjoy your local cuisine. Enjoy the time with your family and friends. Ignore the tabloids. Don't go on your social media. And tomorrow and the day after, skate the way you know you can and know everyone is proud of you no matter what happens with the podium.'
The problem was that he wouldn't be proud of himself for missing the podium, but there was nothing Celestino could really say to change that. And he'd trained many skaters in his career. He knew they all came with their quirks. He rolled with each of them. Just, sometimes, he needed something else and he wasn't quite sure what it was. And, at other times, he just needed someone to tell him he could do it: someone to believe in him.
'I want the podium,' he said.
'You have solid programmes. You can do it,' Celestino nodded, then launched into the technicalities of his skate, the quad salchow that was still giving him grief, and a few other bits in his programmes that were constantly tripping him. Yuuri let it all wash over him. Sometimes, especially right before a skate, he didn't need this... but right now when he had the time to skate it all out, he really did.
He had two programmes that had gotten him onto the podium at Skate America. He had two programmes that could get him onto the podium again. He had bits of the programme that felt unnatural: too slow, too trippy... and then the quad salchow he'd never managed to land in competition but kept putting into his skate despite his coach's recommendation. The rest of it was Celestino, though, and the team at the Detroit Skate Club. The music, the skeleton programmes, the costumes. One day, he'd tell himself, he'd create his own programmes. One day, he'd be able to land (and consistently land) the salchow and maybe some of the other quads as well. One day, he'd control the ice and the crowd as well as Victor Nikiforov... but really, that was a pipe dream. Not like the podium at this competition. That was in his reach, assuming he didn't sabotage himself again.
'Finally. There it is.' Celestino left him with his bag and went for the other one, black and heavy but with enough stickers to be indistinguishable from the numerous other black bags on the carousel. 'Let's go greet your fans.'
'I don't think there's as many you're expecting...' Yuuri mumbled, ducking into his collar. It might be Japan so he couldn't expect no fans, but he wasn't as accomplished or as popular as Oda. And at a competition with one of the big names of the current skating world, he expected even the local ace would be drowned out... and, if he was honest with himself, that was equal parts disappointing and a relief because it would take some of the pressure, some of the expectations, off his shoulders.
When he saw the actual crowd though, he realised either the other skaters were in the plane behind him or he'd severely underestimated the number of figure skating fans in Nagano and near surrounds. He gave a few nervous smiles and waves... and luckily, at an airport right before a competition, that was all that was expected of him.
Homecoming would be a different story, which was odd to think when he was closer to Hasetsu than Detroit.
There was nothing special about Nagano, but Victor thought he could only say that because he'd been all over the world since he began skating on the international stage. That was back in his teens, and now that he was approaching the end of his career the world didn't look quite as colourful. Neither did the gold medals he'd collected over the years, drowning out the silvers and bronzes and non-podium finishes of his very early career.
Aside from Yakov and he himself, he wondered how many people even remembered he hadn't always stood on the podium, and hadn't always swept golds.
And honestly, he missed those times. Chris was good, but he'd been stuck on a silver streak and was starting to lose the competitive age. They were twenty-five and twenty-seven, after all. Figure skating was a sport for the young, after all. And he still didn't know what he was going to do when his own retirement time came... or even when that would be.
His heart rebelled against retiring anytime soon, and he figured with expectations for his retirement rising, that would only get worse. He'd always been that kind of person, living to defy expectations and that propelled him to the top of the skating world... but he didn't want to throw a skate simply to break his winning streak because everyone expected another gold, as well. He wanted to skate his best, skates that he was proud of... and it was disrespectful to them, and to the people who supported him and cheered him on, to do anything other than his best.
And he was so stubborn he doubted he could do anything other than his best even if his success didn't affect anyone else. Still, it wasn't as exciting as it used to be. It wasn't the struggle to be the best, to become constantly better. The value of a rival pushing from below... Chris was good, but their gap had started widening. Chris had reached his prime, that peak, before him.
And there was no-one amongst the newer competitors that could catch up to him. There were people hammering out new quads, dancing difficult programmes that maxed out their technical points if they landed everything... but other things were getting lost in between. The opposite of him, really, who wanted to tell stories with his skates. The stories got lost. The enjoyment got lost.
Sometimes, he wondered if any one of his competitors had room to enjoy one-sided competitions when they struggled up steep sloping walls for a gold no-one else had touched in the last five years - or, rather, no-one had touched while he stood amongst the competitors. Four Continents was different. It was so obviously different but people rarely commented on that. And Juniors... Juniors was the same, now, with Yuri Plisetsky dominated the horde.
Russia was happy though, sweeping the golds. Yakov...
'Why are you spacing out there, Vitya?! You're too old for me to talk for you.' Yakov scowled, and added under his breath: 'It's not like you have trouble talking, anyway.'
Well, he would have trouble if they didn't know the same language, but the lady behind the Custom's desk was talking in lightly accented English. A bit of a necessity for international Customs in this day and age. Yakov had endlessly grumbled about needing to know the basics of at least ten different languages back in his day as a competitor... and google translate didn't even exist back then.
He put on a smile and chatted with her: answered her questions, asked a few of his own like what there was to see in Nagano... just made small-talk, really. And Yakov was right. Small talk was habitual. Acting for the press was habitual by now as well. Talking honestly and plainly about himself, about his thoughts and feelings... well, he supposed it was a good thing there was only Makkachin to listen to the gibberish that came out of his mouth at those times.
There's an idea. Maybe he should bring Makkachin along sometime. He certainly had plenty of reminders from his fans, from all the customised plushies and accessories they'd throw onto the ice after skates. Too many, really, though he kept a few like they all did. Like his tissue holder. Like the occasional home-made Makkachin that made its way to him... because again, he couldn't frown upon somebody else's effort, like that. It was why he always made an effort with and for his fans, as well.
Even so, it was tiring, sometimes: being peerless, being popular, being constantly busy regardless because he didn't want to stop growing, stop surprising...
And it wasn't like the distance had stopped him from having a sizable group of fans at international competitions, even at a Grand Prix qualifier like the NHK Trophy.
There'd be a crowd waiting for him when he got outside. And, once he was through here, it'd be time to face them.
Minako had come alone, in the end, it seemed. She stood with what looked like a homemade banner from the Nishigori family but she'd come to enough of his competitions to know which parts of airport lobbies to look for her.
He was a little disappointed to see her standing alone, though. Mari had sounded pretty sure she'd be able to make it, the last they'd talked. But that was a few weeks ago. He should work on that, he knew. He was terrible at keeping in touch with people and Mari wasn't much better. In fact, the more frequent source of news regarding him in Hasetsu was, unsurprisingly, a combination of Phichit and the Nishigori triplets. But there was only Minako standing there, with a single trolley bag standing next to her.
She grinned when she spotted him and, true to fashion, clapped him on the shoulder and swept him into her own enthusiasm. 'You're competing on the international circuit in Japan, finally. How exciting! It's a shame the onsen never closes or your parents could've made it down, but with tourism dwindling as it is, it can't really be helped.'
'What about your studio?' Yuuri asked, though Minako complained about it every time they met.
'Hardly any students,' Minako shrugged. 'I pretty much open only when one of the few I have left want lessons. Maybe in a few years the Nishigori triplets will show up at my doorstep and I'll have a bit more… or Mari will get hitched and send a few tykes my way.'
'I doubt that,' Yuuri said dryly. 'Mari hardly ever gets out of the onsen. She couldn't make it?'
'She went ahead to hail a taxi,' Minako replied, and that was a relief because Mari had made it after all. 'We brought a couple others too.'
'Takeshi?' Yuuri tried.
'And blessings from the girls and Yuuko.' Minako grinned. 'And one more.'
Not his parents… Minako had already said as much. 'Satsuki?' Celestino asked hopefully, and if Phichit was here, he'd be recording and posting and tagging the video with an #ishipit, even if Muramoto Satsuki was simply a consultant in regards to their choreography. How Celestino had found out about her in the first place was a mystery though… although he had managed to find Yuuri while he'd been competing at a national level under a coach with little international exposure. Perhaps he had a talent for it.
Minako, though, was laughing. 'Not for you, Celestino-san. This one's a surprise for Yuuri.'
And it was a surprise - a very welcome surprise - as they were greeted by a bark amidst the Japanese greetings. Yuuri stopped and stared at the taxis waiting for them… and at the toy poodle peeking out the open window of one, apparently tired of waiting for them to get in.
"Vicchan!" he cried, reaching through the window to pull his beloved poodle into his arms. In the back seat, Mari grumbled about how Vicchan had gotten a more enthused greeting than her… but Yuuri wasn't listening. Vicchan was busy licking every inch of him he could reach, and Yuuri was letting him, letting that tiny tongue lick away the worries that bubbled under his skin.
'Not that I mind,' the taxi driver interrupted finally, 'but the meter is ticking, you know.'
They got into the taxi after that, with Vicchan seated firmly in Yuuri's lap and Celestino getting into the front passenger seat, with Minako and Takeshi and the bulkier bits of luggage in the other taxi.
Victor wished he could have brought Makkachin along, but Makkachin wasn't an emotional support animal and it would take quite a bit of paperwork to bring her to each and every competition. And she wasn't getting any younger, either. Still, it was rather lonely being away from her. Lonely in the crowd, he called it, as he smiled and waved and exchanged a few polite words with his fans as he followed Yakov's back.
Not that he could hold that professional attitude against Yakov. It was because of him that Victor was the champion he was today, because of Yakov that he'd reached those heights and because of him that he continued to maintain it. If he didn't have a coach that snagged every error that the public was blind to, he may have quit a long time ago, once he'd reached the height called "perfection". But, for Yakov, there was no such thing as perfection.
Still, he wondered, how long could that quest for perfection last? He was flagging and both he and Yakov knew it. Some of his more astute fans were picking up on it too. Rumours of his retirement came from somewhere, and he doubted it was simply his age. He scored as highly as he ever did, after all… and that only meant the judges were blind to it as well.
'Hurry up, old man,' Yuri grumbled from behind him.
Victor almost laughed. He was an old man, as far as the skating world went and here was fourteen year old Yuri Plisetsky pointing it out. He was grateful to him, in some way, because people like him and Yakov and Mila and Georgi - people he shared a rink with, and so saw all of his shortcomings as well as the glitter of his awards - didn't sit him on a pedestal like the rest of the world. It was the opposite, rather. Yakov expected more. Yuri looked at him as a rival to beat all while searching for other role models. Mila took his ability to do the impossible and charm the crowd as her own personal challenge and Yakov lost most of his remaining hair between trying to keep her and Yuri from doing quads until their bodies were ready. And then there was Georgi, who took a backseat to Victor's achievements and never complained, and openly sought the one thing that Victor had denied.
But when the world was torn between keeping him on a pedestal and knocking him down, where he was going to find the happy medium that was someone who loved him for himself? Probably not while he was skating, and he was coming up to the tail end of that, regardless of people's expectations of him. A performer without inspiration was essentially dead on stage and he wasn't quite there yet but that prepice was there, too close for comfort, and veering off that course this late was going to be tough.
Perhaps he should skate next year to the theme of love. It was an old theme, that most skaters did at one point or another, in some shape or form. It would probably feed the rumours of his looming retirement but that couldn't really be helped. He couldn't turn himself young and starry-eyed again, and he couldn't make the skaters he'd skated with in his early days and had long since retired return to the fold. He couldn't make Stephane Lambiel or Noburani Oda put down their microphones and their new families for another shot at the gold. He couldn't make Cao Bin recede his own decision to retire after this year's Worlds, and Chris couldn't share the podium with him forever as well. It would be a dream, but in a dream he wouldn't have gotten disillusioned after five years of consecutive golds and Chris - ever-friendly Chris despite the constant string of lower podium spots - wouldn't have developed tunnel vision for Victor's gold.
He'd developed tunnel vision himself, he thought. How many unfamiliar faces would he be skating against in the next few days? Not Chris; Chris hadn't been slotted into the NHK and, in any case, Chris had left his mark as the man who was constantly on the podium with Victor Nikiforov.
The problem was that, for the last five years, nobody had left a mark as being able to surprise and challenge Victor and make him fight with more than just himself for those golds. So he set out each season to reinvent himself, to surpass his old records and learn new combinations, new jumps, and challenge himself to even greater heights - and now that wasn't enough. He was flagging and he couldn't push himself from behind forever.
And Yuri was good, and would one day be a legend in his own right, but he was too young and inexperienced and arrogant right now. His step sequences were too stiff, his jumps too powerful. Sometimes, he thought he could see the greed for gold on his face and that wasn't a bad way to be considering he'd be entering the senior division next year but it really didn't bring out the best for him. He lacked a certain maturity to his skating, and it was lessons like that which could only be learned by defeat.
Victor wondered how many lessons like that he'd missed out on, being the uncontested champion for so long. He wondered how many more he would miss out on, if he retired before anyone defeated him. But he couldn't just lose; he had to be defeated at his best and he could feel his best slowly receding. The year he failed to break a single one of his records, perhaps, would be the year he should retire. And yet people would call that a shameful retirement, would say he should have retired at the height of his career, before he slipped off that slope. And neither way would be a surprise. Both were options. Both were expected. What wasn't expected was for him to cross thirty still exceeding his limits and his records.
He just wasn't sure if he had that in him, or what he'd look like dragging himself forward with a reluctance to give in to expectations and nothing else.
'What are you looking at?' Yuri snapped.
'Thinking what you'd look like doing a more graceful routine,' Victor replied. And Yuri could probably pull it off, if he could find a way to hold on that rare vulnerable side of him. He was certainly flexible enough, and adept enough at ballet (though it Yakov's ex-wife would still help out with the skaters, she'd push him much further). Perhaps he could convince Yuri to skate to love one year. That was, of course, assuming he remembered and assuming he was still with Yakov then. For all he knew, Yuri would hit a growth spurt after the Junior World Championships and stay another year to acclimate. Or he'd stubbornly refuse; Yuri stint at the top hadn't yet taught him the emptiness that came with.
Yuri grimaced at the mention of grace. 'I do ballet for cross-training, but you know full well that grace is not my style.'
'You haven't developed a style that is purely your own quite yet,' Viktor replied. 'You have years in the senior division to do that.'
'Years to knock you off your pedestal, you mean,' Yuri snorted - and perhaps he could, in a few years, but in saying so and in such a tone he was also looking down on the skaters who'd been in the senior division for years, attempting exactly that. Skaters like Chris who had countless silvers to show for his effort. Skaters like Cao Bin who'd started on the podium and then slowly crept down the ranks. Skaters like Georgi who would find himself knocked out of the running for the Grand Prix by his own rinkmate, or the other Russian hopefuls who'd fall over battling for those remaining spot for Worlds because there was no question about Victor Nikoforov taking one.
'I hope you find a good rival,' Victor said sincerely, as Yakov yelled for them again. It wouldn't be him, he thought, but there'd be someone who could challenge Yuri to be better, to stop focusing purely on his jumps and be attentive and flexible in his interpretation and presentation on the ice. There had to be someone, but ice skating had evolved to weigh jumps more heavily than in the past and if they didn't have quads in seniors they were rarely competitive for a medal.
He wanted to see that, he thought: someone dancing beautifully on the ice, breathtaking without having done a single jump. He'd do it himself, if he could, but one thing he did lack was the stamina to put every jump into the second half. Maybe he'd have his heart whisked away by a skater who pulled off such a feat in front of him. Or maybe it would never happen. Skaters were vying to ratify new quads, to perform new combinations, to maximise their points so they could reach the finals and the podium and the raw beauty got a little dulled behind that determination and that greed. And Yuri would be one of those, he knew. Most, if not all, internationally competitive skaters would be like that. Some valued artistry a well as quads but few were even seeded into the Grand Prix, let alone competitive for a spot in the finals.
Or, if they were, he hadn't paid attention to them. He doubted he could rattle off more than ten names, at this point. And he'd watched his competitors, old and recent videos, but he couldn't remember a single one of them by name. Out of their glamorous outfits and into casual wear, he wondered if he'd recognise a single one of them.
Of course, they'd all recognise him, despite how sometimes that obscurity would be welcomed.
Perhaps… Perhaps he could steal a bit of obscurity for himself. After he got into his luggage of course.
And maybe being just Victor for a stint would spark something for tomorrow.
They bundled into the hotel room Yuuri was sharing with Celestino, and Vicchan yipped happily between the beds. Usually, he'd just want to sleep but having Vicchan around gave him a second wind. Meanwhile, Takeshi plopped onto one of the beds with a groan, and Minako was talking about working out where the other skaters were roomed.
She did that all the time, though, and some like Phichit and Chris were familiar with her. Mari, though, had never come to one of his international competitions. She looked more comfortable than him, though. Minako was happily entertaining her.
'Practice this evening,' said Celestino. 'Try not to sleep until after that and dinner.'
He said the same thing every time. Yuuri hardly ever listened - and that was one of the few instructions he just couldn't follow from his coach, but he nodded alone anyway. This time he might manage it, though. Vicchan didn't look ready to nap at all.
'You got that, Vicchan?' said Celestino, squatting down to the toy poodle's level. 'Nip Yuuri on the arm or something if he starts dozing off before dinner. And make sure he sleeps well after that, for tomorrow'
'Woof,' Vicchcan replied, and Yuuri gaped at his coach and his dog, conspiring against him.
Mari and Minako both snorted. Takeshi opened one eye. 'What did I miss?'
'Vicchan turning traitor,' Yuuri grumbled.
'If he's your miracle worker, I really don't care,' Celestino shrugged. 'If your sleep schedule survives the NHK, I might look at adopting him. Goodness knows everything I've tried has failed to keep your sleeping - and eating - schedule on track when it comes to competitions.'
'I know,' Yuuri admitted, and boy did he know but he still couldn't help either of those things, or his nerves. 'I'm sorry, coach.'
Celestino's face softened. 'Don't worry about it. You know I'd be more concerned if you were never nervous. Worrying means you've put your heart into it.'
Another famous line of Celestino's and, for Yuuri, it was a double-edged sword. Putting your entire heart into something made it all the better when you won, and all the more painful when you lost. Phichit disagreed, though. Said that was the pessimism talking and, as an eternal optimist, said it meant you'd be proud of your performance and enjoy yourself regardless of where you placed and what you accomplished. He wished he could be that carefree, sometimes. But he couldn't help being disappointed when he lost.
Vicchan woofed again, bounding up. 'Want a walk, huh.' Yuuri glanced around and found Vicchan's collar sticking out of Mari's hand carry. 'Is that okay with you, coach?'
'Sure.' Celestino waved him off. 'Walk. Explore the sights. Go off on a romantic rendezvous. Just be back in time to practice and not a moment sooner.'
'Coach!' Yuuri exclaimed. Celestino was probably the only coach on the planet that encouraged his skaters to fool around before a competition - but he only did that after he'd firmly hammered the limits of such things into them. No skating while drunk. No hangovers on competition days or in front of the press. Full mobility while skating under the eyes of the public. No visible evidence of private activities that could be caught on camera and explode into a scandal. But also no putting one's life entirely on hold while fighting for the gold.
I should listen to that more, Yuuri thought a little guiltily, as Vicchan squirmed in hold. Four years since having seen Vicchan was too long. And it had been just as long seeing his family in one place, or the onsen in person. Four long years in Detroit with one Grand Prix qualifier gold and a smattering of silvers and bronzes to show for it.
'When's graduation?' Mari asked suddenly. 'Mum wants to go, you know. Though none of us have been to Detroit so Dad and I will have to live through her.'
'You could live through me,' Yuui said.
'Nah.' Mari pulled her headband off and combed her fingers through her hair. 'That'd involve actually studying in college.'
Mari hadn't been keen on that and she didn't need a college degree to take over the onsen once their parents retired.
'You did it though,' she continued. 'Moved out of the country, studied in college while making a career out of being a bambi on ice -'
'Hey!' Yuuri protested. 'I'm more graceful than a deer.'
Mari grinned. 'I kid,' she said. 'But hold onto that confidence. In fact, quote it to the press.'
That would be amusing, and it was an easy enough thing to feel confident about. 'So the next time I mess up, I'll say at least I was better than a fictional deer,' he replied dryly.
'Or Vicchan,' Minako offered. 'I wonder how many Japanese fans would make the connection.'
Yuuri flushed. 'Victor Nikiforov is competing in the NHK,' he reminded her. It wasn't the first Grand Prix qualifier they'd share, but any Grand Prix qualifier with Victor meant there were really only two podium spots they were competing for and that made it both more and less stressful. Less because they could want the gold but, realistically, wouldn't get it. And more because two spots for the remaining skaters…
He was glad he wasn't Russian. Their nationals were probably an all-out bloodbath on the inside. The Japanese nationals would probably be quite tame this year, since they'd passed an Olympic year and Oda had retired. Coming up to the PyeongChang Olympics in 2018 would be a different story. New young and talented skaters fighting for a spot at the Olympics… and that might be his one and only shot, as well.
He blinked suddenly. How did he go from thinking about Victor to thinking about the Olympics?
'Why not?' Mari shrugged, when he explained where his mind had gone. 'You've always aimed for the sky and climbed your way up.'
His shoulders relaxed. 'Thanks, Mari.'
She punched him lightly on the shoulder. 'Go get them. And Vicchan can bite anyone who disagrees. Right, Vicchan?'
'Woof,' Vicchan agreed.
'What did you teach Vicchan when I was away?' Yuuri groaned. 'It would be a disaster if he bit any of the competitors, you know.'
'It'd be hilarious,' Mari deadpanned. 'And you know full well Vicchan's too much of a sweetheart to maul anyone, or else Takeshi would have permanent scars.'
'I have plenty of scars,' Takeshi mumbled. 'If not from the ice, then the kids.'
Viktor thought he'd managed to dig out an appropriate incognito attire. Yuri, of course, had said he looked ridiculous - and hopefully that meant someone who didn't know him too well would just pass him by. It wasn't Russia, as well. Trying to hide during the Sochi Olympics would have been impossible even if he'd been dressed in a potato sack and ski mask.
As it was, casual with a beanie hiding his distinctive silver hair would hopefully do the trick. He got down his hallway alright, at least, but that floor was reserved for competitors anyway. The lobby would be the real trial. And going outdoors. Or maybe he could try the restaurant in the hotel. So many options. He could check out the Custom girl's recommendations, or google a few recommendations, or ask the hotel concierge what they suggested, or just wander blind…
Well, there was no hiding he was a foreigner, at least, when all the Japanese he knew came out of a guide book. There was an idea, he mused. He was skating to an Italian song this year so why not pick something in Japanese for the following year? Japanese and English, to compliment his placements this year. He wondered how many people would be able to put that together. He wondered if he could combine that with his previous thought on love. If he couldn't find the music, he could commission it. The ideas though, the inspiration… Love in Japan and America, huh. He might have to read up on some history, if he wound up pursuing that.
But artists also scrapped a lot of ideas. It was a brutal world, in their own minds, and only the fittest ideas survived so who knew? It might prove to be another fleeting fancy… and another something he cut away or let pass by.
He sighed. Nobody stared at him, at least, shuffling to the lobby.
Then someone yelled "Victor!" and made him jump.
He froze, and a moment too late realised that was as good as an admission of guilt and began to walk again. He resisted the urge to look over his shoulder because that would only further the admission. He resisted the urge to walk faster for the same reason.
Really, he hadn't even made it outside yet! If it was a terrible disguise, Yuri could have at least said so instead of insulting his fashion sense and his silver hair in the same breath.
And the whispers had started up. 'Victor Nikiforov?' 'He's here in this hotel, isn't he?' 'Where is he?' 'That tall young man?'
Then something crashed into his back and he accepted that he wasn't getting outside anytime soon, and probably not dressed as he was either. So he put on his press smile and turned around.
'I'm sorry.' Victor was greeted by a mop of black hair before the boy - man - spun around, bowing and apologising to the crowd. 'Vicchan - Victor here - ' Victor heard a woof and blinked, befuddled. 'Got a little over-excited about his walk and slipped his collar.' Then there was a string of words that were probably Japanese, repeating the same. It was enough for the crowd, at least, and they dispersed -
- leaving Victor-the-human and what sounded like a Victor-the-dog. And the dog's owner, who he actually did recognise, now that he looked. One of the skaters who did do well in the performance aspect but was really inconsistent with jumps. He had a quad under his belt though, unlike most others. With a good run of jumps that skate, he'd be competitive. And Yuri had a poster of him in his bedroom (that he thought his rinkmates hadn't seen).
Speaking of Yuri, he was going to have a field day with this.
It turned out Vicchan wasn't a huge fan of the elevator. Not enough space to run around. Not enough things to see and noises to hear. And Yuuri hadn't been expecting him to slip his collar, because he hadn't done that in their youth.
Then again, Vicchan had had four years to learn how to get into trouble from Mari and Takeshi.
In any case, Vicchan was out of his collar and out the elevator doors before Yuuri had quite registered the first. 'Vicchan!' he called. Vicchan disappeared around a corner.
Yuuri muttered a curse and raced after him.'Vicchan!' Vicchan didn't stop to listen, and if he got to the lobby… 'Victor! Get back here right now!'
Vicchan stopped short, knowing he was in trouble, and Yuuri scooped him up.
Unfortunately, he hadn't been looking where he was going and crashed right into someone with that momentum. And to add to matters, a small crowd had gathered to stare, muttering about Victor Nikiforov.
Well, that cat was sort of out of the bag, now. Yuuri gulped, threw a quick apology at whoever he'd run into, and rushed through a quick but clarifying explanation for the crowd - in English first, reflexively after seeing blue eyes and a wisp of blonde or white hair - and then Japanese because he was in Japan and not all the guests would be there from overseas and involved with the NHK Trophy.
And someone would put the meaning behind Vicchan's name together soon, but it wasn't a big deal. Plenty of skaters looked up to Victor Nikiforov. He'd said he did in interviews before. As long as he didn't think it was weird a toy poodle had been named after him…
The crowd was satisfied, at least. They dispersed, and Yuuri bowed again to the person he'd run into. 'I'm so sorry,' he said. 'I was trying to catch Vicchan before he got outside. He hasn't been out of Hasetsu before but he came to cheer me on at the -' He stopped himself. He wasn't normally the sort to advertise such things, or even that he was here for the competition if he hadn't been recognised first.
Too late though. The man was mulling over his words. 'The NHK Trophy?' he repeated. 'I'll see you on the ice, then.'
He'd run into a fellow competitor? Yuuri looked up - and gaped. Victor Nikiforov was smiling back at him, bundled into loose clothes and distinctive silver hair tucked under a beanie. 'Your poodle's name is Victor?' he asked.
Yuuri nodded, hoping Victor wasn't going to be the first person this incident to put two and two together. But Victor just continued smiling. 'Then would you and Victor like to come sightseeing with me? I'd be less likely to attract attraction with a bundle of fluff sharing a name with me,' he explained. 'And, of course, the pleasure of being accompanied by a cute toy poodle and owner. Also, I have a rinkmate called Yuri - Yuri Plisetsky. Though he'll pull all my hair out if he finds I've met you and didn't introduce him.' Victor grimaced, and it made him a little less like the god of the skating world. And the beanie helped as well.
Although… 'Yuri Plisetsky knows who I am?' And another thing… Victor Nikiforov knew who he was?
Vicchan began to protest being held at that point. 'Back upstairs to fetch Yuri?' Victor offered. 'Then off on that walk?'
Yuuri just nodded along. He felt a little like a tide had just swept him away but it was better than the swirling down the drain pattern his thoughts normally took pre-competition. And it might even make it easier to compete tomorrow, hanging out with Victor the human today, instead of Victor the skating legend. And Victor the dog that had pulled him through his time in high school and Juniors, as well.
Victor the human and Victor the toy poodle. He wondered which of them should be held responsible for this tide of events - or perhaps he should call it coincidence or fate, having the two in the same place at the same time, and in his home country to boot.