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Yuuri remembers first truly realizing what the sudden appearance of symbols on the back of his hand meant sometime around the age of ten.

He remembers Yuuko breaking off mid-sentence to gawk down at where his left hand grips the laces of his skates, and his own eyes flick down to see odd looking characters being scrawled into existence on his skin.

“Yuuri!” she had gasped, eagerly grabbing for Yuuri’s wrist to bring his arm to both their eye levels. (Or sort of—Yuuri has to tiptoe a little to match the other girl’s view of his own hand.) “Takeshi! Takeshi, look! Yuuri’s soulmate!”

“What kind of alien writing is that?” the older boy scoffed, having lazily skated over to scowl at Yuuri’s hand, and Yuuri resists the urge to pull his arm back and tuck it inside his jacket. “Your soulmate’s not even Japanese? Good luck finding them then.”

Yuuri had tugged his arm back then, already feeling the pinprick of tears gathering at the corners of his eyes.

“Takeshi!” Yuuko had snapped then, stomping her skates into the ice. “That’s not very nice.” She turned to Yuuri, leaning down with a smile. “Don’t you recognize the writing? It’s Russian. Russian. Remember where we’ve seen those kinds of symbols before?”

Yuuri remembers perking up, eyes widening at the realization. “T-the banners! The ones on TV, the ones behind Viktor—“

“What if Viktor is your soulmate?” Yuuko shrieks then, and Yuuri has never remembered another moment afterwards where he had been more elated and hopeful than he had been just then.

Of course, it was crushed when Nishigori snorted moments later, “chances of that happening are next to none.”

Yuuko smacks him, and Yuuri turns away, tamping down his hope. Of course that wouldn’t happen.

— — —

Still, that day had left Yuuri hyperaware of the writing on his hand ever since. Sure, he’d noticed it all throughout his youth—smudges of colored markers or crayons popping up on his hands when he hadn’t even been coloring that day, awkward doodles popping into existence on his forearms—but after that day, Yuuri understood that it was his soulmate.

Yuuri loves the idea, even if it still is something that no one has been able to figure out. But it had been something that existed many, many years before, and it was such a small thing that no one ever completely questioned its existence. In fact, being able to write out messages to your soulmate on your skin made it incredibly easy to meet… as long as you knew the language.

Yuuri buys books on the basics of Russian, and struggles to comprehend where to even begin.

He hasn’t even tried to reciprocate. Writing a message in Japanese was a no go since his soulmate was obviously Russian, but Yuuri had thought to try and draw a small doodle on his skin, just to let the other person know that he was there. But whenever Yuuri tries to touch pen to skin, he falters and decides to put it aside for next time.

And “next time” isn’t until well into junior high, when the buzz around soulmate messages was at its peak. With coming of age came the interest of love, and the fact that Yuuri’s hands always seem to blossom with writing gets him more than his fair share of attention.

“What language is that?” one of his classmates asks him, her eyes wide. “Wow… is he writing an essay on your arm, or something?”

“It’s Russian, and I… I think it’s a list,” Yuuri says sheepishly, his own eyes following the never ending scrawl of Russian pouring from his palm and down his wrist. “I’m not sure what of though.” He frowns when one sentence is harshly scrubbed off, another few words settling into its place. ‘Four’, Yuuri thinks he recognizes from one of his books. Four of what?

The day when Yuuri finally writes on his skin comes in the middle of winter, one of those days where he’s too tired and cold to care about the drone of the teacher, and wishing he was skating.

Yuuri idly watches the snow fall outside when a flash of movement catches his eye. With a start, he realizes his soulmate is writing something else—not a list, but a long, solid black line down the back of their hand. And another. And another—

Yuuri lets out an audible snort when he realizes that his soulmate has drawn a tic-tac-toe board.

The teacher clears his throat, and Yuuri blushes, pretending to focus until the class resumes as if it hadn’t been disturbed. Only then do his eyes dart back down to his left hand, and Yuuri feels the beginnings of a smile when he sees that his soulmate has already drawn a bold X in one of the squares.

Yuuri pauses in reaching for a pen. Is he ready? Does he want to finally make contact with his soulmate?

Almost as if in response to his thoughts, his soulmate bolds the X, drawing it out with thicker lines and making their impatience clear. Yuuri smiles then, and lets his pen touch the back of his hand quickly enough to draw a crude looking circle in the center of the board.

His soulmate’s response is almost immediate. Instead of another X, Yuuri’s entire hand begins to fill with little hearts circling the game, and Yuuri feels his ears begin to burn. Immediately after that, he feels terrible—it’s the first time he’s ever made contact with his soulmate after years of having the other write and write, and now Yuuri’s sure he’d made the other person think they didn’t have a soulmate to begin with.

The hearts finally stop when Yuuri’s hand seems covered with black ink, and another X pops up adjacent to his circle. Before he can chicken out, Yuuri draws in his next move, replacing his circle with a heart. There’s a long pause in which Yuuri thinks his actual heart is going to fall out of his ears or something, when the entire game is suddenly and violently scrubbed out, black ink smearing into grey smudges until his hand resembles something close to clean. Yuuri’s eyes widen in dismay. Did I… Did I scare them off?

Even as soon as he’s thought it, Russian words are being scrawled into the back of his hand, a heart following soon after. Yuuri frowns unhappily, and tentatively writes back in his own language. I don’t understand.

!!!!!!!, says his soulmate.

Yuuri laughs quietly through his nose as his soulmate draws out a small flag of Japan with a question mark following it, and Yuuri bites his lip before doodling an ugly looking thumbs up.

There’s a tiny pause before even more Russian appears, followed with another heart. And another.

Yuuri ends up not replying because, hey, he doesn’t even know what that says. But for the rest of the class period, he watches as tiny hearts periodically pop up on his hand.

— — —

The rest of junior high and high school goes from days of classes, to skating, to admiring Viktor onscreen, to watching his soulmate write out lists and, when a heart was included, little messages to Yuuri himself.

He takes pictures of all of them, of course, but with school and skating, Yuuri finds nearly no time to learn Russian, or even try to translate just one of the little messages he gets.

High school ends up being a rocky time for him as well. The pressures of a future in figure skating have Yuuri alternating between eating his heart out from stress, to working his butt off to get back into shape. The messages from his soulmate become a little rarer, even if he does wake up sometimes to doodles and to the one or two messages he’s finally found time to figure out. Good morning, Yuuri sees some afternoons, and good night when he wakes up for a run at six in the morning.

And one day, Yuuri sees numbers scrawled on the back of his hand, and his heart nearly stops. A phone number.

Is it his? Yuuri thinks wildly. Is it… is it someone else’s?

His worries are assuaged when his soulmate underlines the phone number twice, a doodle of a phone and a heart appearing next to it.

And now Yuuri is confused. How were they supposed to chat if they couldn’t even understand each other?

Yuuri curses himself as a coward, but lets the number sit on his hand until the water of his hot springs bath that evening washes the ink away. The next morning, Yuuri wakes up to a sad face scrawled into his palm, and his ears burn with shame. The next feeling he gets is shock as, that afternoon, his soulmate uncertainly draws out shy? in uncertain looking characters, as if copied straight from a dictionary.

Even though it’s the middle of class again, Yuuri tugs out his Russian dictionary and frantically scours through the pages until he finds what he’s looking for. Yes, he writes back in uneven Russian characters, feeling a slight blush warm his cheeks. Sorry.

OK, his soulmate replies, and encircles it with a heart to let Yuuri know everything is fine.

And Yuuri can’t help it when he knocks his book to the floor, where it loudly smacks the ground of the classroom, when his soulmate writes out slowly, love you!

The teacher scolds him, but Yuuri is too shocked to care.

— — —

Yuuri has just cried in a bathroom stall, got his ass verbally handed to him by a fifteen year old, and locked eyes with his idol, only to ignore his offer of a picture in favor of turning on his heel and basically running away.

The next year is spent in both a mental and physical struggle. He turns twenty-three and finds himself at home, wondering what to do next.

Yuuri is twenty-three, and hasn’t even considered meeting his soulmate yet.

Those years spend in college and training in Detroit had been peppered with little messages from his soulmate here and there, but even with Yuuri replying with greetings, those messages had still appeared with far more gaps between them than he liked. His soulmate was busy— as was Yuuri. But that still didn’t help him feel better when he’d been struggling with training, or competition losses.

My name is Yuuri Katsuki, Yuuri desperately wants to write. I’m twenty-three, I’m a figure skater (was a figure skater?), and I live in Japan, but I was in Detroit for a few years. I’m trying to decide what to do next, but right now I know that I really, really, want to get to know you. But…

Well. Not that he even knew enough Russian to eloquently write even half of that out.

Yuuri slumps against his bed, hesitates, and draws out a little heart. Next to it he writes in Russian, Good afternoon.

It takes a minute or two, but Yuuri gets a reply in the form of another few hearts drawn under his message, a smiley face following soon after.

Good morning, in Russian follows that, and his soulmate draws the number 9 and a sun next to it. Then they draw a sleepy faced emoticon, and Yuuri chuckles.

Yuuri freezes when his soulmates slowly begins to write again, and Yuuri can tell they’re about to write something down in Japanese. “Will… you… meet… me?” Yuuri reads into the quiet stillness of his room, and he tucks his hands against his chest, face beginning to burn. Yuuri squeezes his eyes as he feels the usual nerves and uncertainty crawl up his throat, and he presses his arms against his midriff, never more aware of his weight than he was just then.

I want to, Yuuri thinks, I want to… I want to, but not yet! I’m not ready!

No, he scrawls out in squiggly English, and Yuuri leaps up to grab his skates and gloves from where they sit at his desk. He tugs the gloves on in an attempt to ignore any more writing on his hands as well, and resolutely heads out the hot springs in the direction of the Ice Castle.

Yuuri has always used skating as a means to take his mind off of his worries. And right now, he had something to show Yuuko anyway—no better time than the present.

— — —

Hours later finds Viktor Nikiforov sprawled out on his couch, desolately clutching Makkachin to him as his eyes burn holes into the words on the back of his hand.

“‘No’”, Viktor reads, drawing out the english word into the silence, letting it grate on his ears. “’No’”.

His hand comes up to rest against his eyes as he tilts his head back, the picture of misery. “Hey, Makkachin,” Viktor says, leaning back up to squeeze his poodle’s adorable face, “the love of my life, the person I’m meant to be with—they don’t want to meet me!”

Makkachin lets out a tiny whine, and Viktor sighs in agreement.

“Me! Not want to meet me? If they knew who I was, I’m sure that would change their mind!” Viktor squeezes the dog even closer, and Makkachin lets out another happy whine, tail wagging furiously. “You’re right! I just… I just have to find a way to convince them that I’m me. You’re a genius, Makkachin!”

The dog barks before pulling away to settle around Viktor’s waist, promptly going to sleep.

“My soulmate… doesn’t want to meet me,” Viktor repeats solemnly, and his eye twitches in an uncharacteristic show of anxiety. “How will I find my inspiration then?”

Viktor’s phone chimes, and he tugs it out, fully expecting a text. Instead, its a notification from Yakov, having shared a video privately through Viktor’s social media. The thumbnail is a small dark haired (and slightly chubby) figure on the ice of a skating rink, mid spin.

And the second that the video finishes playing, Viktor knows what he wants to do for his next move.

“Makkachin,” he says softly, gently rubbing the dog’s ears. “We’re going on a trip!”