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“After finals, let’s end this.”

He immediately wished he hadn’t gone through with this after all. But now that he’d said it, he couldn’t very well take it back.

In front of him, Yuuri stilled. His hair still glistened, vaguely wet, and a white, fluffy towel sat around his shoulders. Just a moment ago, the perfect picture of relaxation, suddenly tense again. His face betrayed nothing, and his glasses were misted over. Victor couldn’t bear it, couldn’t bear not knowing what Yuuri thought about this.

“…Victor.” His voice was tightly controlled. Not a hint of emotion shone through. “Explain.” Then, almost as if tagged on as an afterthought: “Please.”

Victor swallowed. He could feel himself fraying at the edges with every word, feel something snapping in his chest, because it hurt, but he had to do it, and he had to do it right. “I’m thankful for…everything you’ve done for me this season.  I’m…I’m retiring. After tomorrow. Thank you. For being my coach.”

He was met with silence.

Victor’s knuckles were white, fisted in the fabric of the hotel comforter.

“Oh,” Yuuri finally said. His shoulders slacked again, visibly relieved. The older man’s voice was soft and mild. More musing, than anything else. “I…didn’t know you felt that way. I’m not sure about the timing and your morale, but if you needed to get it off your chest, I’m glad you did.”

Victor stared as his coach and lover stood up, padding across the room in hotel slippers. Easy. Something constricted in his chest, broke, shattered, exploded into millions of pieces. It was easy. So easy. He couldn’t believe how easy it was. Blood pounded in his ears, and his vision blurred.

“…Victor?”

He knew he shouldn’t, because it was counterproductive, he should be relieved that Yuuri’s handling it well, that Yuuri was already moving on and forgetting him. It was stupid to let it get to him. He wanted this to be easy. But he had to know. “Is that it, then?”

Yuuri looked back over his shoulder. “Hmm?”

“…Aren’t you going to stop me?” He hated how his voice wobbled and cracked, and he had to fight to keep the tears in his eyes.

Yuuri’s brows creased. The mist had cleared from the lenses of his glasses and he looked at Victor with confused, amber eyes. “Why should I? It seems as though you’ve come to a decision.” Something must have wavered, and Victor knew this was a mistake, because if they went down this road he wouldn’t be able to do what he’s supposed. But the look on his face must have given him away, because before he could try to steer the conversation away, Yuuri sat down next to him on the bed, reaching out to smooth the errant locks of long silver hair away from his face gently, brows creasing, this time in worry. “Vitya.”

Victor couldn’t make out any response, except a strangled sob.

“Vitya,” Yuuri pulled him closer and kissed his forehead, rubbing his arm soothingly. “It’s okay. Shhh. It’s okay. Hey,” he wiped away the tears with the pad of his thumb, cupping Victor’s face with his hands, “I’m not going to love you any less if you decide the ice isn’t for you anymore, okay? This,” He gestured between them, “is not conditional on you skating. Whatever you want to do, I’ll be here.”

“—But you have to,” Victor managed, between shaking breaths. The tears were falling now, falling into Yuuri’s shirt like rain. He felt them on the back of his own hands, scalding hot. “You have to leave.”

Yuuri frowned. “What does that mean, Victor?”

“Don’t you see? I’m trying to—trying to—“ It hurt, so much. His chest hurt. His voice hurt. Yuuri’s gentleness, his sheer obliviousness, hurt the most. “I’m trying to let you go.”

“…Victor. When you said “end this—“”

“I meant us. End us.” He wiped fiercely at his eyes, sniffling hard to achieve some semblance of normalcy.

Silence, again. He hated how loud his breathing was, in the silence. How obvious, the redness of his eyes or the tightness in his shoulders.

Yuuri was no longer looking at him. His teeth worried at his lip.

Then, finally: “Is that what you want?”

Victor blinked. “What?”

“Do you want that?” Yuuri asked, voice still gentle, still tender, despite the trembling. A question, laid raw, and open, and bare. Victor could tell it hurt him to ask. A smile flitted into Yuuri’s face. Eyebrows knit, corners of lips tugged up. Desperate, and kind, and devastating, and it stole Victor’s breath way. “Would that make you happy?”

Yes, he wanted to say. Yes. And then Yuuri can go back to his charmed life, go back to what he should have, the things that Victor couldn’t provide. He could go back to the ice, to the world where he belongs.

No,” was what he finally managed to choke out, dissolving into sobs all over again, clinging, like a child, to Yuuri’s shirt. “No. I don’t want you to go. But you have to. You have to so you can go back to the ice, and do what you love.”

A pause.

“Vitya.” Yuuri said, again.

 Victor didn’t know how he managed to make his name sound beautiful every time, surprising, like something that had never been spoken before.

He needed to be strong. He needed to do this. But he wasn’t. He couldn’t.

Yuuri smelled like cheap shampoo and complimentary soap. It was easy to lean in to his touch, emanating heat from the shower, easier still to allow himself to be drawn into Yuuri’s arms.

“I’m sorry,” he found himself saying. “I’m sorry. I can’t—I can’t even do this right, because I’m selfish and I want to keep you—but I know—You can’t—I have to retire.”

“I don’t want you to retire if this is why you want to do it,” Yuuri told him gently.

“But—“

“No buts. Just listen. Even if you retire after tomorrow I’m still your coach for tonight.”

Hearing Yuuri say it, the finiteness of it all, burned even more, as much as the breath in his lungs, and Victor squeezed his eyes shut, tight, focusing on the way air entered and exited his body.

“In hindsight, this is my fault.”

Victor attempted to protest.

“Shh. Please just listen to me.”  Yuuri pressed butterfly kisses to the tearstains on his face, and Victor shuddered, brows knitting as he closed his mouth again. “I’m too private of a person. Sometimes…there are things that I should say, and I don’t, because I’m comfortable leaving them unsaid. I thought it was that way for you too, but I guess I didn’t think things through. I should have made it clear.” A deep breath. And then: “I love you.”

Victor’s breath hitched in his chest.

“The question is, do you? I’m not saying it to try to change your mind, or to stop you,” Yuuri said. “If you want to leave, if it makes you happy, then you can do what’s best for you. But I love you. And I want to stay with you more than anything else. If that means living a quiet life in the middle of the woods nowhere even near a skating rink, that’s fine.”

Victor bristled to Yuuri’s defense faster than he’d ever bristled to his own. “Of course I do.”

“And do you want this?” Yuuri took Victor’s hand between his, fingers brushing across the gold ring nestled against warm skin.

Victor could feel his earlier resolve slipping and slipping. He nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

“Then will you believe me when I say that I want this too?”

“But Yuuri,” Victor began, dejectedly. He still hadn’t got it under any semblance of control, and his face was going a little blotchy. If it had been just a few tears, it might have been fine. He was used to doing that for the cameras. But the full on crying until he couldn’t see mess—Victor had never figured out how to do that prettily. “I won’t win tomorrow.”

It was a feeble defense. One that would hurt Yuuri, no doubt. Yuuri had every right to be offended, but Victor was aiming to do this. Let Yuuri leave him first. If Yuuri left, Victor could pick up the pieces. Well. He wouldn’t. But at least Yuuri would be untethered.

“You don’t get it yet,” Instead, Yuuri’s face split into a smile. The same, heartbreaking smile. “It doesn’t matter. I’m marrying you, not your medal. If you’ll have me, I want to be Yuuri Nikiforov, or Yuuri Katsuki-Nikiforov or whatever the hell we decide on, as soon as possible. I want to marry you.”

Victor wanted to cry. “You know that that won’t change any of this…right? That tomorrow I’ll wake up and I’ll still be me. Just me. And I’m not—You shouldn’t settle for me.”

 “Vitya.”

 “What?”

 “Do you remember what I asked you when we were by that lake in St. Petersburg?”

 “…Yes.”

 “Ask me.”

 “…Yuuri, what do you want me to be?”

He closed his eyes. “Yourself. Just yourself. Nothing more, nothing less.” When Yuuri opened them again, Victor’s sitting, staring, still there, and he thanked everything in the sky for that, really. “I’m not settling for anything. I just want you. I don’t care about the world. I don’t care about my career or yours or winning or gold medals. I care about this.” He lifted their hands, still joined. “I care about this.” He leaned in to press a kiss to the tip of Victor’s nose. “I care about you.” Slowly, he got up.

Victor shifted a little to sit on the edge of the bed, still staring at him.

Yuuri knelt, never letting go of the other boy’s hand.

“Because I botched this the first time,” he explained. “I’m an idiot. I shouldn’t have called them good luck charms, or said I’d marry you if you won gold tomorrow. What I should have said is this.” He took a deep breath.  The silence between them was suffocating, but the look on Yuuri’s face was fierce, burning warm. Victor probably forgot how to breathe.

“Will you stay with me, Victor?”

And it sounded like a proposal. Was a proposal.

His resolve snapped, and then broke free all at once. Victor couldn’t keep it in anymore. The tears broke the dam again, cascading down his face. He’s selfish, god, he’s selfish. But let him be selfish, just this once. “Yes,” he managed, between broken sobs, closing the distance between them and half hauling Yuuri to his feet with the sheer strength of his fingers curled in Yuuri’s shirt. “Yes yes yes yes.”

“Oh good,” Yuuri breathed a sigh of relief. And then, a beat later. “Can I kiss you now?”

Victor nodded his consent.

Quite an amount of kissing and hugging and lounging later, Yuuri turned his head to Victor. “So do you want to retire?”

Victor tilted his head, considered. “Do you?”

“I don’t know yet,” Yuuri admitted. “I haven’t thought about it a lot. But I don’t know. Going back, I mean.”

“Maybe we should go into ice dancing.” Victor suggested, sleepily nuzzling into Yuuri’s neck.

“Maybe we should. But before that, you need to rest. Someone has to lift me tomorrow.”

 "...if I drop you, you get to decide where the wedding is, and vice versa. Deal?"

"...Deal."