Yuuri knew about Victor before he even knew about soulmates.
He would always remember that day, everyone gathered around the old television at Ice Castle, watching the Junior World Championships. That first glimpse of the boy with the long silver hair, gliding and spinning and leaping, eyes half closed in ecstasy. Like he was born for the ice. Everything else faded into the background: Yuuko's breathless excitement, Nishigori's scoffing disdain. Yuuri was entranced. He had never seen anything so beautiful.
He looks like he's flying across the ice.
It was not until much later that Yuuri found out, only he could see the wings.
They were taught about soulmates in the final year of elementary school, so they would be prepared when their wings manifested themselves.
"Your wings are an expression of your innermost self," Yoshida-sensei said. "Like a light shining out of your heart." She explained about the history of wings in society and culture, and how their knowledge had evolved over the centuries, from legends of spirit worlds, to research on folded dimensions.
There were two important things to remember. Your wings were not for flying. But your wings would reveal you to your soulmate.
"You might not meet your soulmate right away," Yoshida-sensei said, "or even for many years. But you'll know for sure when it happens. Only one person in the world can see your wings."
Yuuri got his wings the year he was thirteen. It was a cold spring day, the sky still clouded over, although the cherry blossoms had tentatively begun to open. Yuuri woke to find two whorls of feathers unfurling from his shoulder blades, hazy and indistinct, like grey shadows. By nightfall, they had fully manifested: two long curving wings in soft grey, like clouds on the edge of rain. They phased through clothing and furniture like they were made of smoke, but when he touched them, they felt warm and solid.
His family celebrated with a special dinner, his mother making his favourite katsudon. Yuuri described his new wings to them as best he could, trying not to show any hint of disappointment. They were perfectly adequate wings. It was just that he had hoped for something special, something worthy of Victor. But they were plain and ordinary, after all, just like him.
Yuuri wanted more than anything to skate on the same ice as Victor. He dreamed of their first meeting, Victor lighting up with joy and recognition. "It's you," Victor would say. "I've been waiting so long to meet you."
"I'm here now," Yuuri would say. "And I'll be here always."
The Grand Prix Final was his chance. He was performing on the biggest stage of his life, but there was only one audience who mattered.
Victor was dazzling on the ice. On television, through the lens of the camera, his wings were ethereal and translucent, like sunlight shining through frosted glass. Here and now, in real life, they stood out bright and sharp as blades: silver wings rippling with light, shining like the sea reflecting the sun. They swept through the air, in perfect unison with the music, an elegant counterpoint to his skating. His wings were part of his performance, expressing his emotions with every sweep and shiver. Even though he must know his audience couldn't see them, that no one in the world could see them, except for one person.
Yuuri could not look away.
He had no idea if Victor was watching him in return.
Yuuri wished he could erase that day and all its miseries: grieving for Vicchan, fumbling through a disastrous performance, and enduring the scorn of a junior skater. But running into Victor in the foyer was worst of all.
Yuuri gazed at him from across the room, an ache in his heart. He wanted to skate for Victor. He wanted to prove himself a worthy match. An equal. And he'd blown his chance. Every humiliating stumble, every shameful fall, every flailing wingbeat, was seared into his memory.
As though sensing eyes on him, Victor turned. "A commemorative photo?" he inquired. "Sure."
Yuuri froze. Victor waited, a blithe smile on his face. Nothing there, beyond polite friendliness. No joy. No recognition. Victor saw nothing out of the ordinary. Victor saw no wings.
It was all Yuuri could do to turn his back and walk away. Not even his worst fears had prepared him for this. He could not bear to admit the truth out loud. Too much of a coward to say the words.
Victor, you're my soulmate. But I'm not yours.
It was not unknown. In the old days, they called it an aberration of nature, and those so afflicted were spoken of in whispers. Now, scientists termed it asymmetric entanglement, and philosophers discussed whether it served some purpose. But it was still considered a grave misfortune.
When Yuuri went home, he said nothing about it to his family. They knew how he felt about Victor, and they had never asked him why, but he thought they might have guessed. He was grateful they refrained from asking if he had met Victor at the Grand Prix Final. His silence on the subject was probably enough. So they showered him with love and comfort, while he wondered if he had the strength to skate for himself alone.
It snowed in spring, the day Victor arrived in Hasetsu.
Yuuri should have known it for an omen. Even before he saw the familiar poodle at the front door to the inn, even before his father told him about the handsome foreign guest, Yuuri should have had an inkling that something momentous was about to happen. After all, Victor was his soulmate. There should be some kind of connection there.
But Yuuri had no premonition of events at all. And when he burst into the baths, still giddy with denial and disbelief, he was not prepared to face Victor.
Victor stood up, hot water sluicing down his bare skin, shining droplets sliding down his silver wings. Like an angel caught unaware, bathing in a forest pool, where humans were forbidden to trespass. Yuuri flushed all over, like he was in a fever dream, one of those that sent prickles of lightning through his body.
"Victor. Why are you here?" Yuuri managed. There was no reason for Victor to come find him. But how could it be coincidence?
Victor extended an elegant hand. "Yuuri," he sang. "Starting today, I'm your coach. I'll make you win the Grand Prix Final." And he smiled and winked. Snow and feathers floated through the crisp air.
The hardest thing, Yuuri discovered, was not Victor's training. It was resisting the temptation of Victor's wings. They looked impossibly soft and alluring, but to touch them would be rude beyond imagining. Not many people faced his dilemma: wings that were visible and tangible, but belonging to someone whose soulmate he was not. He had no right to ask for that intimacy.
But Victor invited intimacy anyway, flirting with playful passion. He wanted to sleep with Yuuri, wrap his arms around him, lean against his side. Every time silver feathers brushed his skin, Yuuri shied away.
"What do you want me to be?" Victor asked him, as they walked along the beach, the tide coming in slowly but surely.
My soulmate, Yuuri thought. But that doesn't fix things. You're already everything I want you to be. It's me who's not enough for you.
"Just Victor," he answered. Even if Victor could never return his feelings, he still treasured each moment they shared.
If I can't have your soul, maybe I can have this.
Yuuri was starting to understand why wings connect you to your soulmate.
You could see your own wings, but not those of the people around you. In a world where you look different from everyone else, you always feel a little bit alone, like no one can truly understand you.
But then, when you meet your soulmate, you find for the first time someone else who looks like you. Someone who has wings. And even better, they can see your wings. They see you as you really are. They understand your innermost self.
It was almost like other people were abstract, until he met Victor.
At the Cup of China, Yuuri took a leap of faith, when he decided to attempt the quadruple flip that was Victor's signature move. And Victor was so clearly touched, he made his own leap of faith, embracing Yuuri with a kiss, as they tumbled to the ice together.
Yuuri stared up at Victor, blushing hot, lips still warm from the press of mouths. Victor's wings arched over them like a protective canopy. Yuuri reached out instinctively to pull them close, fingers buried in feathers, and Victor sighed in pleasure.
"You know," Yuuri said, stunned. "You know I can see your wings. Even though you can't see mine."
"I've known since you danced with me at the banquet last year," Victor said, amused. "You caressed my wings, and invited me home, and asked me to be your soulmate."
Yuuri was mortified. He could vividly imagine the spectacle he had made of himself. "Why on earth did you come? I'm not even your soulmate."
Victor stroked his cheek. "It doesn't matter to me, Yuuri. It's you who makes me happy. Even if there was a world with no soulmates, and no wings, I would still find you. We would still find each other."
In Barcelona, the night before the last day of the Grand Prix Final, Yuuri made his decision. It was one thing to win Victor as his coach, his friend, or even his lover. He wanted to be known as the man who stole Victor from the world. But how could Yuuri steal Victor from his own soulmate? Somewhere out there was someone who could wrap Victor in his wings, who could give Victor everything Yuuri could not.
"Let's end this," Yuuri said.
He never expected Victor to cry.
That was how Yuuri learned about the legends they had in Siberia. Every generation, a child is born marked by the ice, born in the darkest heart of winter. Their families know better than to hold them too closely, because those children grow up to have a tenuous connection to earthly things. They will never have a human soulmate, because they are already claimed.
"My soul belongs to the ice," Victor said, quiet and simple. "I've given it all my love. And it loves me back. But it won't love me forever."
They went to bed together, but Yuuri woke up alone. He had a moment of disoriented panic, mingled with memories of the folktale about the snow child, who melted away when spring came.
Then he saw the shopping bags full of designer clothing, and the phone covered with pictures of Makkachin, and the half finished cup of tea on the bedside table. Victor was human. Victor was real.
And Yuuri knew where to find him.
Victor was kneeling on the ice of the rink, palms flat against the cold white surface, staring into his own shadowy reflection. His hair falling forward masked his eyes. But the Victor in the ice had no expression on his face.
"You'll catch a cold," Yuuri said gently, taking his hands.
"I don't feel the cold," Victor said. But his fingers were pale and chill.
Yuuri wrapped his arms around Victor, trying to warm him up. "Let's go."
"I can't give you my soul," Victor said, his voice very small. "I can't give you any of the things you deserve."
"You told me once, it doesn't matter." Yuuri held out a hand. "Skate with me, Victor. Stay by my side. That's all I want."
Victor took his hand.
There was no music, but they needed none, after all these months of practice. They moved on the ice like they were one, linking hands as they danced together.
For years, Yuuri had felt his wings were a burden, the grey of gathered storm clouds, heavy and oppressive. Now, though, ripples ran through the grey, like wind. The skies cleared. The clouds lifted. Yuuri drew in an astonished breath. His wings were transforming to pure black, glimmering with crystal. A night sky shining with stars.
Yuuri pulled Victor close. Victor smiled back at him. Their wings curled around each other, black and silver, shadow and light. And for a moment, Yuuri thought he saw stars reflected in Victor's eyes.