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One Step Sideways

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***

 

When Victor woke up, he was alone.

 

That wasn’t too much of a concern, but he didn’t remember going to bed.

 

Or why he was in a hotel.

 

He rolled over and looked around. Yes, certainly a hotel, in a standard and familiar layout. One bed, one low slung chest of drawers, two nightstands, lamps, industrial blinds firmly closed but daylight peeking through anyway.

 

A closet, a bathroom, a thin door that presumably led to the rest of the suite.

 

The world seemed off-centre, somehow, and not in a hangover way. Victor threw off the blanket and crossed to the window, reeling up the blinds.

 

“Well,” he said to the world at large. “I am certainly not supposed to be here.”

 

The world at large did not respond, and the view from the window remained, stubbornly and unquestionably, Moscow.

 

“Yuuri?” he called, turning on his heel and rushing to the outer door. “Are you here?”

 

“Where else would I be?” That was not Yuuri.

 

Victor swung the door open, and Yurio frowned at him from the floor, legs spread in a butterfly stretch. “I thought you were going to stay in bed all day,” he said. “Why were you speaking English?”

 

 “Uh.” Victor closed the door again.

 

Okay. He was in Moscow. He was in a hotel with the wrong Yuri. Yesterday, he’d been in Hasetsu, with the right Yuuri, going into their final preparation for the Grand Prix Final.

 

He opened the door. Yurio hadn’t moved, but he did look considerably more outraged. “Why am I in Moscow?” he asked bluntly.

 

Well, at least now Yurio looked confused as well. “Did you hit your head? Do the words Rostelecom Cup mean anything to you?”

 

Victor tilted his head to the side, blinked once, twice. “I’m very confused, Yurio.” He closed the door again.

 

Yuuri was not hiding in the bathroom with an explanation when Victor checked, which wasn’t terribly surprising. He wasn’t in the closet, either, but there was a garment bag, one of his own suitcases, and a skate bag.

 

Inside the garment bag, there were two costumes, vaguely familiar. Inside the skate bag, they were his brand in his size.

 

“Yurio?” he called, kneeling in front of the closet. “Am I skating in the Rostelecom Cup?”

 

There was a pause, and then the bedroom door slammed open and Yurio loomed over him. “How much did you drink last night, you idiot? We’re in the middle of the competitive season!”

 

“Hey,” Victor said sharply. Yurio abruptly cut himself off and settled for glaring. “Something’s going on that I don’t understand. I need your help, Yurio.”

 

“That’s obvious!” Yurio snapped. “You’re not competing in the Cup, Victor, you won it! Yesterday!”

 

Victor knew his jaw had dropped unattractively, but he couldn’t help it. Yurio stepped over him into the bedroom itself, carelessly and quickly ransacking the room until he pulled a gold medal from underneath a jacket. He brandished it at Victor wordlessly.

 

He scarcely realized he was moving, standing up from the floor and taking the medal from Yurio’s hand. The cool weight of metal in his hand was usually reassuring, but he’d won a skating competition that he had not only been competing in, but had not even been present for the latter half. He suspected there wasn’t much that would be comforting.

 

“Is this a joke or something?” Yurio asked, drawing Victor’s attention back to him. Yurio stared at him a long moment, and shook his head. “No, you really don’t remember?” He abruptly thrust his hand up towards Victor’s face. “Watch my finger.”

 

Where was Yuuri? Why wasn’t he in Japan?

 

What was going on?

 

Victor jumped when Yurio grabbed his head and pulled him down to his level. “Calm down,” he ordered, running his hands back over Victor’s scalp. “Does it hurt anywhere?”

 

“No,” Victor said, forcing down the panic and closing his eyes. “I don’t think I hit my head, Yurio.”

 

“What else could it be?” Yurio scolded. “You were fine when I left you last night, and now you can’t even remember yesterday!” His voice cracked on the last syllable, and Victor patted him on the shoulder.

 

“It’ll be okay, don’t worry,” he said automatically. “I think… I need to find Yuuri.”

 

He’d been with Yuuri, hadn’t he? They’d been at Fukuoka, and then the rink, and then…

 

Nothing. He’d been at the rink, had been with Yuuri, and then he’d woken up in Moscow and nothing made sense. Had it been a dream? Was he dreaming now?

 

“Yuri?” Yurio repeated, his eyebrows drawing together. “What?”

 

“I was with Yuuri,” Victor said, injecting confidence into his voice. “He’ll know what happened.”

 

Yurio stared up at him blankly, and then realization swept across his face. “Wait, the Japanese Yuuri? What? He didn’t even compete yesterday, why were you with…”

 

“He didn’t compete?” Victor repeated, an icy shock spreading through his stomach.

 

“I’m telling Yakov,” Yurio announced, pushing past Victor into the main room. “Something’s wrong with you.”

 

“Wait,” Victor demanded, grabbing Yurio’s wrist. “Wait.”

 

Yurio didn’t pull his arm free, but he wasn’t cooperating either, his back stiff and alarmed.

 

“Yuuri Katsuki. Why wasn’t he competing?”

 

Yurio didn’t answer right away, but eventually his shoulders dipped in surrender. “Because he wasn’t assigned to Rostelecom. He’s just here because his training partner is.” He eyed Victor up and down. “You really are confused about a lot of things.”

 

Victor closed his eyes again and thought back. Had he shared a room with Yurio last year at Rostelecom? Had he tumbled back into his own past?

 

But no, he would’ve noticed if Yurio was a year younger. He would’ve recognized his costumes, certainly. He checked the medal he was still maintaining a death grip on, and sure enough, it was clearly marked with 2016.

 

Victor let go of Yurio, let go of the medal, and stumbled back to the bed on unsteady legs. The mattress was firm and solid underneath him, but the world was spinning.

 

It was November, 2016. He was still a competitive skater. He’d won the Rostelecom Cup. He was in Moscow. These all had to be facts. The evidence proved it.

 

But then, yesterday it had been November, 2016. He had been a coach. His Yuuri had come fourth at Rostelecom. He had been in Hasetsu. Those were also facts. He had lived it; he had the love to prove it.

 

When he looked up, Yurio was gone. Probably to go find Yakov and tell him that he’d lost his mind.

 

Victor tipped his head forward and buried his face into his hands. How had this happened? What had happened to him? If he was here, where was Yuuri?

 

He stilled at the thought. If something had happened to Victor to tear him away from Yuuri’s side, was Yuuri here in this strange world too? Was he as lost and confused as Victor was?

 

Or had Victor just imagined-

 

No. A flash of Yuuri, picking himself off the ice after a failed jump in practice and beginning his approach again. Yuuri, baring his heart on a beach, in a parking garage, on the ice. Their lips together, the line of their bodies pressed together, a promise to stay with him. Victor would not have thought of that for himself, never in a million years.

 

It was real. He might be crazy, but he had to believe in his memory.

 

A hand pressed at the crown of his head.

 

“Yuuri?” Victor asked hopefully, dropping his hands and looking up.

 

No.

 

He had something in his eye, maybe. He blinked furiously, but the wide, shocked eyes staring down at him didn’t change.

 

“Wow,” said another Victor, his hand still resting on the top of Victor’s head. “I guess I see why you were so upset, Yuri.”

 

Victor stared up at his own face, completely lost for words. The other Victor looked back, letting his hand drop, and Victor could still see the confusion underneath the familiar but defensive enthusiasm.

 

At least he didn’t have to question his memory anymore, if there was another Victor who must still be a competitive skater. Still, waking up in a world where the best possible turn of events was a literal doppelgänger was not exactly what Victor considered a great morning.

 

The other Victor apparently begged to differ.

 

“Amazing!” he said, poking Victor in the shoulder. “You’re just like me! Yuri was too excited in the hallway to be very clear about what was happening. Where did you come from? How did you get here?”

 

“I was at the ice rink, and then I woke up in your bed,” Victor said, tearing his gaze away from the curious sight of his own face to look at Yurio, who was standing in the doorway of the bedroom watching them. “I don’t know what happened.”

 

“Well, you sure scared Yuri,” Victor said. “He came running out into the hallway like someone was chasing him, and then his face when he saw me! I thought he’d drop dead right there!”

 

“Well-”

 

“Did you drop weight this season?” he asked, moving on to squeezing Victor’s bicep. “You seem a little smaller than me.”

 

“I took up coaching,” Victor said, frowning at his other self’s hairline. Was his getting so high as well?

 

“What?!” The other Victor said, and Victor shrugged. A near-genuine smile spread across his face. “You did? That’s amazing! How do you like it?”

 

“Well, it was going very well,” Victor hedged. “I suspect Yuuri will be very upset if I don’t make it home to him.”

 

“Ah, you’re coaching Yuri?” The other Victor said, nodding along. “I considered that, but how did you get him to listen to you? I’ve never had much success, but maybe-”

 

“I’m still right here,” Yurio snapped. The wild look had faded from his eyes a little once the other Victor had taken over the situation, but he still looked pretty stressed.

 

“Ah, sorry, Yuri,” the other Victor tossed over his shoulder. “So, how did you get him to listen?”

 

“I didn’t,” Victor admitted easily. “I’m not coaching Yurio. I’m-”

 

“Why do you keep calling me that?” Yurio demanded. “I was willing to let it go when I thought you had a concussion, but now you’re being ridiculous.”

 

“It’s your nickname,” Victor explained brightly. “Yuuri’s sister didn’t want to confuse the two of you, so she gave you a new name. Yurio in my world loves it,” he added as an aside to the other Victor, who nodded sagely.

 

“It’s a good name, Yurio,” he said, smiling, and it was clear that he’d picked up on the game. If they wanted to talk seriously, they needed a little more privacy.

 

“There’s no way that any version of me would like such a stupid name!” Yurio retorted.

 

“Are you calling me a liar, Yurio?” Victor asked, grabbing at his chest in mock despair. “I can’t go on.”

 

The other Victor grabbed him close, and Victor sagged theatrically. “No!” the other Victor cried out. “Yurio, what have you done? Hang in there, Victor!”

 

“The world is turning dark,” Victor whispered. “Please, my other self, call him Yurio…in my memory.”

 

“Of course,” the other Victor said. “Anything for myself.”

 

Yurio slammed the bedroom door on his way out.

 

Victor leaned against himself for a moment longer, waiting for the other Victor to let him back on his feet. It was a strange sensation, to be so close to what was nearly an exact copy. Very, very strange.

 

Judging from the curious way that the other Victor was looking at him, the feeling was mutual.

 

The impasse stretched out over several more seconds, until the other Victor laughed nervously and let him go. “Poor Yuri,” he said.

 

“It’s good for his character,” Victor said, putting a little distance between them. “Anyway, as I said, I’m not coaching Yurio. I moved to Japan to coach Yuuri Katsuki.”

 

“Really?” the other Victor said, shocked and then thoughtful. “I don’t really know him. How did it happen?”

 

“Fate, I think,” Victor said. “But it doesn’t explain how I got here, or how I can get back.”

 

“I did think about coaching,” the other Victor said, clearly only half-listening. “But Yuri needs the experience that Yakov has, and there weren’t exactly other options beating down my door.”

 

“Victor,” and Victor was struck by sudden sympathy with Yakov for the years he’d spent trying to get Victor’s attention. “How could this happen?”

 

“I don’t know,” the other Victor said, frowning. “Sorry, I’m focusing on the wrong things!” he added with a bright grin, and how easy it was to see underneath of it added to how disconcerting this whole situation was.

 

Was Victor so transparent and false as well? Could everyone see through him?

 

But then, Victor was the only person who knew how he’d felt last year, how this other him still seemed to feel this year. It only made sense that he could recognize his own techniques.

 

The other Victor pulled out his phone. “Yuuri Katsuki,” he said, tapping at the screen. I had a bit of an awkward encounter with him at last year’s Grand Prix Final, and haven’t seen him since then. I wanted to apologize at the banquet, but he left early and then didn’t make World’s. Looks like he skated at NHK and Skate Canada this year.”

 

“Oh!” Victor said, relief spreading through him. Of course the Grand Prix assignments were different, with him in the mix.

 

“What are you happy about in that?” the other Victor asked.

 

“In my world we went to Cup of China and Rostelecom,” Victor explained. “When Yurio said that Yuuri was just here to watch, I thought he’d retired.”

 

“Nope,” the other Victor said, still scanning his phone. “He’s actually qualified for the Grand Prix Final again, so I’ll be seeing him soon.”

 

Yuuri had qualified for the GPF. Victor couldn’t help the fond smile as he let that wash over him. Of course he had. Victor had been happy to give him what he needed, but his Yuuri was brave enough to go out on his own and find it even without him.

 

“Victor?” the other Victor said curiously.

 

“I have to see him,” Victor said. “Yurio said he’s here, he is, yes?”

 

“He is, I saw him this morning with Celestino and Phichit Chulanont.”

 

Phichit would have been the rinkmate he was in Moscow to see, then. It made sense that Yuuri would have gone back to Celestino. He was a good coach, with a lot to offer, and Phichit was both a friend and a peer-level skater.

 

Victor wondered what Yuuri’s theme was.

 

The other Victor was staring at him. “What?” Victor asked.

 

“Nothing,” he said quickly. “…Just, your face. You care about him.”

 

“Of course,” Victor said, “he’s…”

 

He’s indescribable, Victor realized. There was no way he could explain it. But maybe he could show it.

 

Victor had woken up in a t-shirt and athletic pants. His phone hadn’t made the leap with him, but he knew exactly how to find that original video online. “Here, give me your phone.”

 

Once his other self had seen the video, he’d understand. The only way Victor could see himself choosing another season of joyless competition over the potential Yuuri had offered him was if he hadn’t yet.

 

But then, none of his search terms worked. None of the clickbait articles linking to it were there. As far as the internet was concerned, Yuuri had never skated to Victor’s program.

 

“Oh.” Victor knew that something had to have changed, but it still felt like a kick in the chest. It hurt to consider that maybe, in this world, Yuuri hadn’t been moved enough by his program to make it his own. “I guess that’s the difference,” he said, handing back the phone.

 

“What is?”

 

“I saw a video of Yuuri skating that made me want to be his coach. It looks like it was never posted here. You said he left the Grand Prix banquet early?” That was where it had all started. It must have happened.

 

“Yeah, he was gone within an hour, but you moved to Japan to coach someone you hardly know because of one video?” the other Victor said incredulously. “It must have been something pretty special.”

 

“It was,” Victor said flatly.

 

“Well, I’d like to meet him for real, then!” the other Victor said with unforced enthusiasm. “I don’t have his phone number, obviously, but the hotel isn’t that big. Let’s go find him!”

 

Victor perked up at the prospect, and then dropped as reality sunk in. “I don’t think we both can go looking,” he pointed out. “We’d get noticed for sure, and that would be a huge mess.”

 

“You’re right,” the other Victor agreed. “Well, you wait here, then, and I’ll go find him. I’m the one who’s supposed to be here, after all.”

 

“I guess that makes sense,” Victor conceded, “but I do know Yuuri better. He’s more likely to come with me.”

 

“I’m Victor Nikiforov, and he’s a competitive figure skater. I don’t think that’s going to be an issue.”

 

“You don’t know Yuuri,” Victor argued. “He’ll run if you don’t approach him right. It took him forever to warm up to me when I started coaching him.”

 

“Look, you’re Victor, but you’re not me. This guy is Yuuri Katsuki, but he’s not the one you know. He has to be different. How could he even compete if he’s that timid?”

 

“He’s not!” Victor bit back the rest of his automatic defense, not willing to give too much of himself away.

 

The other Victor stared at him, and it seemed like even if his passion for skating was wearing thin, Victor could still be surprised.

 

“Okay,” he said eventually, a strange look on his face. “You go. I’ll find you some shoes so you’re not wandering around the hotel barefoot.”

 

“Victor,” Victor started slowly, pausing at the weight of his own name.

 

“That’s going to get confusing fast,” the other Victor said, pulling a cheerful smile back on. “We’ll have to think of a nickname. Now, do you want a jacket as well?”

 

***