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we have loved the stars too fondly

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“Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.”

 

 

Yuuri Katsuki knows better than to let himself have more than one cup of coffee, but today he’s had three, trying to parse the overnight results from the VLA.

Last time they got a signal like this, things worked the same way: he whipped himself into an anxiety and coffee fueled frenzy of output and analysis, all for nothing .

Okay, it wasn’t nothing: it was objectively a valuable contribution to the realm of astrophysics. He may be slightly prone to fatalism. What he means by the line of thinking is this: last time they got a signal like this in from the array, it had a mundane answer, the kind of thing that brought them no closer to answers in the search for intelligent life in the universe. That is the question that’s haunted him since childhood, when he first fell in love with space, standing on a dock next to his father. Learning the names of the constellations. He can’t let himself get too excited here: it’ll be disappointing when the same thing happens again, the way it inevitably does. Nobody ever wants to get too excited here at the operations center in Socorro, New Mexico. So far there’s been no other stations able to repeat the observation they’ve made and the change in radio signal is so brief -- just a blip, really -- that it might as well be nonexistent.

And probably is.

Yuuri has been looking at the stars for as long as he can remember. He never wants these things to be just a blip, just interference. The universe is so big and so wondrous, and earth is so small and so fragile. Intellectually, he knows that untold numbers of stars burn beyond the range of human observation, that there are more planets than he can even comprehend, other galaxies who rival the Milky Way for their beauty and intricacy. He knows that he, himself, is made of the same stuff as the stars: six primary elements and a handful of others. He’s got a ph.D in physics. He can do the math. In fact, during their undergrad years together at MIT, Phichit Chulanont once got him drunk enough to get a tattoo, and now Yuuri Katsuki has the Drake equation stamped forever on the inside of his arm. It’s a probability exercise, and a faulty one at that, but it at least tries to answer the question are we alone out here, spinning through space?

Emotionally, he’d like to be reassured that something else is out there, that looking out into space, sending signals, wishing on shooting stars -- that all of that means more than a scream into a vast, beautiful void.

He would like to believe it isn’t entirely unknowable.

Yuuri’s boss is a big man named Celestino Cialdini, whose family runs Socorro’s only Italian restaurant. They do meatballs, he does particle physics. It’s a phenomenon that only makes sense in his presence. “Someone should drive up to the array, I guess. Might as well see if anything can explain what we got in from the third dish last night. Jim’s on paternity leave this month. Any takers?”

Yuuri doesn’t want there to be a mundane, normal solution to this. But he also doesn’t want to sit here crunching numbers anymore, chewing on the nasty end of a mechanical pencil. It’s a bad habit. All of his anxiety behaviors are. He’s got blunt nails that he picks at too much and when he gets home tonight he’s going to drown his sorrows in a whole tub of red bean ice cream that he had to drive all the way to Albuquerque to even buy.

He likes to drive, likes the wild isolation of New Mexico roads that all lead to nowhere. “I’ll go,” he says. It takes about forty-five minutes to drive to the array. That’s enough time to listen to Atlas: Space I and Atlas: Space II, and ruminate on his fragile hopes and his constant disappointment. He does it rattling through New Mexico’s dry and empty plains in a beat-up forest green jeep that has been all over the country, ever since it got handed down to him from Mari in undergrad. The number of times he’s piled boxes into the back of it and just drove, off to some new place or new life, away from himself, even -- it’s high.

He’s bad about running away from things.

Diagnostics prove that there’s nothing wrong with the dish, but Yuuri’s already made the trip. He likes the way the stars look, out here, so he settles in to watch the sun sink and to think. According to his sister, he tends to do too much thinking. Before the very last part of sunset, he sees a shooting star that races off towards the place where Venus will come over the horizon later. They’re always so brief, so pretty. Yuuri doesn’t know what it is he’s wishing for, these days. He’s gotten too used to his own indecipherable longing. He, too, is radio-static.

He dozes off in the twilight, gets heatstroke-driven dreams of a heart-shaped smile. There you are, something hums. If love made a sound this is what it would sound like. I’ve been looking for you.

 

 

“The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”

 

At Nasa’s JPL laboratories in Pasadena, California, Phichit Chulanont rolls his eyes for the thousandth time because he’s having to listen to Jean-Jacques Leroy talk. Again. “We get it, Leroy,” he grumbles. “You’ve been in space.” Jean-Jacques Leroy has been in orbit because Jean-Jacques Leroy has been up to the ISS. It’d be exactly the sort of thing Phichit would be delighted to ask him about if JJ didn’t wear his CSA credentials around like a fucking badge of honor. Phichit is a brilliant engineer, a graduate of MIT and Caltech, and whenever he gets to travel for conferences, he’s invariably also banging one of the top Swiss researchers at the LHC, but you don’t hear him bragging about alignment or waxing poetic about gravity.

Aren’t Canadians supposed to be nice? There’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t wish Yuuri had taken the fucking job here instead. Phichit thinks Yuuri’s maybe one of the top ten young physicists in the world, though Yuuri always insists otherwise. Yuuri’s a better scientist than JJ is, more creative, much more likely to come up with an unexpected and elegant solution.

The math he does is objectively beautiful: he makes art appear where numbers were.

Yuuri gave it the college try, back in the day, came out to California and took the interview. He crashed for a week in the apartment Phichit still shares with his Caltech friends, and then had a near-miss panic attack in the middle of rush hour traffic. He followed this up with a full-on meltdown at Universal Studios, Leo and Guang Hong’s idea of fun. It’s too crowded. Phichit, I --

“Okay, darling,” Phichit crooned, back then.

He’s been friends with Yuuri’s anxiety for as long as he’s been friends with Yuuri, a relationship that goes back nearly ten years to freshman dormitories at MIT, when they were all roommates together, three distinct personalities sharing a two person dormitory. Phichit Chulanont and Yuuri Katsuki and Yuuri Katsuki’s Anxiety. Yuuri’s the sort of person who puts the whole universe on his own shoulders. He’s the kind of person who makes the myth of Atlas make sense. Nobody would do that willingly. Nobody? History is full of nobodies like Yuuri Katsuki, carrying the world. “Let’s get you home.”

Home is a complicated concept these days for Yuuri, who lives his life like a nomad, like he didn’t grow up at a bed and breakfast in Nantucket, always anchored to the same place. Except Phichit knows that nobody’s ever in the same place, nobody’s ever perfectly stationary. Christophe Giacometti was still his TA at MIT, their senior year, and he waxed philosophical about a solar system orbiting the center of the galaxy at almost five hundred thousand miles an hour. Phichit waited the whole semester to get out of his class and properly measure the land speed at which he might be able to dive into that bed. Christophe finished his ph.D a year later and went back to Geneva but the point was this: Motion is relative.

Yuuri graduated late, the fault of a semester abroad at the University of Tokyo. He did his ph.D at Oxford. Now Yuuri’s in Socorro, New Mexico, and aside from the Very Large Array, the place might as well have changed its name to Nowhere, USA.

It’s like he wants to disappear.

Phichit doesn’t understand it, not entirely, and there’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t cheer himself up for Yuuri’s absence at NASA by entertaining ridiculous ideas about their on-loan Canadian astronaut. Today’s edition?

I bet Isabella pegged him when he came back from space.

 

 

“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”

 

“Look alive, people.” Celestino’s in one of his boisterous moods today, pushing a man with platinum-colored hair through the doorway into the operations center. “You all remember Victor Nikiforov?” Viktor Nikiforov is the name of an obscure 20th century mathematician whose theories on multiverses are utterly impractical and wonderfully poetic, so Yuuri loves them, naturally. It’s also, well, nearly , the name of the newest scientist to join them at the VLA’s operations center. Victor is someone Yuuri just barely recalls interviewing. He chalks it up to a reaction he hopes he squashed the first time they spoke, but is certain he must’ve had, whenever that was exactly: fuck, I’m gay.

Victor Nikiforov’s looks are more Armani billboard than they are New Mexico space nerd. They’re out of this world good: people aren’t supposed to be made with eyes that are that wonderfully blue, or with hair that looks that shiny, that soft to the touch. Real humans are not supposed to make Yuuri think about the way he prefers moonlight and starlight to the sun, or make him daydream about what it might be like to go for a swim, together, back home. While Celestino shows their new hire around, Yuuri devotes precious seconds to trying to come up with an objective scale, some sort of scientific proof for beauty. He texts Phichit: 

 

 

Yuuri: The most beautiful man on earth is now my colleague, please send help
Phichit: am torn between “pics or it didn’t happen” and being offended af
Yuuri: are you trying to fish for compliments?
Phichit: christophe giacometti is the most beautiful man on earth
Phichit: don’t make me text you that picture of his abs again

Yuuri is halfway through a response when he decides he and Phichit will have to agree to disagree until Phichit can make an objective measurement of his own.

Except he doesn’t really want that to happen. Phichit could befriend a pile of moon rock, and then convince it to enter a harmless, polyamorous relationship with him. He tends to make inspections of the intimate kind, something Yuuri evidently escaped because Phichit has a don’t make it weird with your roommates rule. Yuuri only knows about this rule because Phichit texted him once to complain about Guang Hong’s crush on Leo de la Iglesia. It’s like he doesn’t know the cardinal rule: don’t make it weird with your roommates.

“Hi, Yuuri,” croons a voice too close for comfort. Does Victor say everyone’s name the way he says Yuuri’s? It’s got an intimate note. Like a lover, Phichit might say, except that lovers are thin on the ground and thin in the skies in Socorro, New Mexico; and even before then, Yuuri’s always been terrible at relationships. Yuuri puts a hand on his chest, ignores his heart palpitations. “Sorry,” Victor murmurs, like he’s reading Yuuri’s mind. There’s a terrifying thought. Hi, hello, you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. He nods like he’s agreeing to something, though Yuuri doesn’t know what. “Didn’t mean to startle you,” he quips, and then he smiles beautifully, with a sparkle in his eye, like he’d very much like to laugh. “Celestino said to take the desk next to yours?”

“Y-yeah. That’s fine.”

 

 

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet.”

 

The dreams begin. Yuuri loses count of how many different places he sees, planets and star systems that he imagines while he sleeps. He watches sunrise over an ocean rolling with deep, mile-high waves: there are two moons here, wherever here is, and their influence over the water in this place is felt in a dangerous, terrible way. Underneath the violent churn of the surface swim sea creatures beyond his wildest imagining, sturdy things he can only helplessly assign the word whale to. It’s hopelessly incomplete as a paradigm. They’re called T’venek, some familiar voice hums. They’ll sing for you, if you ask them. Yuuri asks. The result is something he can only helplessly assign the word music to. You’re not wrong, the voice assures him. It’s the same voice he’s been thinking of for a while now, and there’s only one word for this voice. It has four letters and Yuuri tries not to think it in his dream, because the strange angel of his dreamscape always seems to know his thoughts.

Every morning he wakes up dizzy, and he goes to work, where Victor Nikiforov sits next to him with an uncanny ability to pour through pages of data, and find new planets so far away that they’re nothing more than a micro-moment of darkness over the lightwave of a distant star.

After two weeks of these dreams he wants to know: why are you showing me all this?

There’s a long pause. Like someone is holding something back. You’re very smart, Yuuri. You’ll figure it out.

Incidentally these are the exact same words Victor Nikiforov says to him the following Monday when he asks him out to dinner. Victor’s flirting has been too marked not to notice: he’s touchy, always pats Yuuri on the shoulder when he’s done something good at work, lets his fingertips traverse bone. He’s been insisting on eating lunch with Yuuri -- always a salad that Victor picks at, while Yuuri shame-eats his own junk food -- asks a million invasive questions in a charmingly curious way. But he never pushes. Now he’s leaning over Yuuri’s desk with a playful gleam in his eyes. “I’ll get you home soon enough that Vicchan won’t have anything to worry about,” Victor promises. A little over two weeks sitting nearby and he knows the name of Yuuri’s dog, Yuuri’s sister, the inn back in Nantucket, his favorite professor at Oxford …

“Why would you want to go out to dinner with me?”

“You’re very smart, Yuuri,” Victor murmurs. Yuuri has to actively resist a shiver. “You’ll figure it out.”

They go to a cafe that makes homestyle food and real, handmade confections, and over dessert Victor drags a finger up the equation on the inside of Yuuri’s arm, where he’s pushed his shirtsleeve up. Yuuri can’t help himself. He shivers. “Tell me about this.”

“It’s the Drake Equation,” Yuuri murmurs, and no recognition lights Victor’s eyes. He’s getting used to this. There’s something strange about the way Victor’s memory functions -- he’s not stupid or careless, but sometimes there’s just an empty space where a piece of information ought to be, the sort of thing someone else would know, and then Victor gets a probing look on his face, thinks, fills in the gaps. Celestino thinks it’s a native-language thing, but Yuuri’s not buying it. He speaks three languages. This isn’t the frustration of a forgotten word. Entire concepts are foreign to Victor. Things you’d expect a physicist as good as he is to know. “... it’s a probability statement for how many active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way there might be.”

“You believe in aliens, Yuuri?” Victor always says his name. It’s another one of those interesting habits of his. “What was the answer?”

“It depends on the inputs. They originally thought at least a thousand, and no more than a hundred million. Kepler data says there’s maybe forty billion planets like ours in habitable zones in the Milky Way, can you imagine?”

I can, but I don’t have to. Victor smiles. “Not really,” he admits. “Is that why you started to study space?”

“My dad keeps a telescope, back home. Looking at stars is what we used to do together.” Yuuri’s had a beer, feels a little bit emboldened. “Don’t you have a tattoo, too?”

“Oh, this thing?” Victor’s dismissive, but he rolls up his shirtsleeve anyway, shows off a strange latticework of lines across his forearm. It’s not like any kind of tattoo Yuuri’s ever seen, but he’s heard about UV tattoos before, things that give off a bit of glow. The lines are quite faint, almost white. In fact it’s a bit of a tell that Yuuri’s asking about it at all; it means he’s been looking, because this isn’t the sort of thing you see about Victor with just a single glance. The sweeping spirals make him think of fractals, have him doing idle calculus to try to assign an equation that fits. Yuuri reaches out to touch, feels strange, raised edges, which is the first thing to give Victor pause. “... They’re in vogue back home,” he murmurs, distant, and then his smile is back in place, brighter than the northern lights. “Do you want another beer?”

When the date’s over, Victor walks him back to the jeep, stands at the driver side door looking very much like there’s something on the tip of his tongue. He leans forward, like he’s about to share a secret, and then turns his head, presses his lips to Yuuri’s cheek. “Drive safe,” he murmurs gently, which leaves Yuuri to go home and press his face into his hands, wondering how this can possibly be his actual life.

There are more dreams. More easy, simple dates with Victor, who eventually talks Yuuri into a daytrip up to Santa Fe. They pile into Yuuri’s jeep, Vicchan, too, and make the drive up north, zipping through Albuquerque, where the snow begins, and then it’s turned into a full-on blizzard and suddenly they’re making a hotel reservation at a place that’s almost all booked up for some sort of cross-country ski meet. It amazes Yuuri sometimes: humans have put a man on the moon but the weather is still a mystery. He doesn’t have time to stew. They’re in a predicament. I’ve got one room left, the concierge is apologizing, which has made Yuuri’s face as red as mars, but it’s got two singles? Yuuri’s blushing everywhere, he’s sure of it, and so he avoids eye contact, lets Victor decide.

“We’ll take it,” Victor chirps, and Yuuri’s so busy living down his embarrassment that he doesn’t notice that Victor never once pays for the room.

They have a strange conversation about snow after getting dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. It’s another one of Victor’s little mistakes: “We don’t get anything like this at home.” He’s transfixed on the vista outside, the way the pine trees are getting dusted by each wave of falling snow. New Mexico transforms from mountain steppes to white wonderland while he watches, threatens the end of fall and the beginning of winter, just like that.

“What sort of Russian are you?”

“Yuuri,” Victor admonishes, without conceding the point, “that’s stereotyping.” These little errors never seem to hang on Victor, though; details just slide off of him. It’s almost like they’re unimportant and he’s something more real than an objective fact. Instead of explaining further, he turns around and kisses the tip of Yuuri’s nose. Victor’s affectionate, but he’s also careful: he’s never pushed Yuuri past something like this, light touches that are also a little bit distant, like the radio waves they study. By the time that message makes it to earth it’s just a fragment of what it used to be, and they’re always extrapolating to discover the brightness of some host star.

Yuuri hesitates like he’s on the edge of the event horizon. One step forward and there’ll be no escape from Victor’s gravity.

He tilts his head up and kisses Victor on the mouth, firm and warm.

To an outside observer he’ll be falling forever.

Victor tastes a little bit sweet and possibly a little bit smoky too, strange, in a way that Yuuri can’t place. He thinks he hears something like oh, I love you, except that can’t possibly be real because neither one of them is speaking right now. Regardless: it’s the most intimate a kiss for him has ever been, leaves him feeling like he somehow knows Victor a little bit more than he did before. Like he’s unlocked some aspect of Victor he couldn’t have gotten to, except in this fashion, something that’s past the stories they tell each other or the identities they construct.

At night his dreams show him a planet that makes him chuckle, in his dream, and think of Hoth. Except there are no terrible abominable snowmen, no mounts to slay for heat, no resistance fighters in furs. Just a glacial plane tinted slightly ice-green that goes on for miles and a hazy overhead atmosphere that’s the same precise shade as dusk.

Hoth?

You know, from Star Wars.

Star … Wars?

It’s brutally cold, wherever they are, and when Yuuri wakes up it’s still the middle of the night, it’s because he’s shivering, feels a tingle on his fingers, cheeks, and toes.

Almost as though he’s actually been there.

Victor’s not in the other bed; the other bed is untouched, in fact, and Victor’s standing in his pajamas by the curtains, looking up at the sky. “There aren’t really wars in space,” he murmurs, almost to himself. His tattoo is glowing, but only in places, like he’s picked out some subset of all of its arrays. In the morning, Yuuri will remember the kiss, the dream, and Victor standing by the window. He’ll feel like Victor said something important, but he won’t be able to remember what.

“Victor?”

“Sorry, love.” Love . He’ll remember that Victor called him that, remember that the word sounds different when Victor says it. “Cold?”

Yuuri hums yes, and manages not to die of embarrassment when Victor proves they can both fit on a single twin bed. If he dreams for a second time, he doesn’t remember. He wakes up to the thrum of Victor’s heartbeat, which sounds different in a way he can’t place.

The way Victor kisses him good morning, warm and slow and gentle, makes any thought of a murmur totally slip his mind.

 

 

“The second best thing about space travel is that the distances involved make war very difficult, usually impractical, and almost always unnecessary.”

 

There’s really nothing in Socorro that qualifies as upscale, but Victor Nikiforov’s duplex might be the actual paradigm of an apartment. Like he rattled around a magazine ad to build this place. Everything he owns looks like something that just got bought out of a Bed, Bath, and Beyond catalogue, and none of it is in quite the right place.

It doesn’t feel lived in. Or particularly personal.

“Sorry,” Victor admits, toeing the floor while Yuuri takes a wayward comet’s path through his living room. “Finished unpacking in a frenzy when you said you wanted to come by.” To prove his point he holds up the hdmi cable for his television, and looks extra hopeless. “If you wrangle this thing into submission, we can watch something?”

They wind up watching Game of Thrones on Yuuri’s HBO account, though Victor’s expression goes from interest to disdain over the course of just two episodes. “Phichit got me hooked once,” Yuuri explains. “Not a fan, huh?”

“If I understand the premise,” Victor murmurs carefully, “the civilization --” said with rare disdain, “-- we’ve been watching is over ten thousand years old? And this is the current state of their world? Murder and rape and war and mayhem?”

“I guess?” Yuuri doesn’t really know the lore. That’s for Phichit, Leo, and Guang Hong, who know every possible conspiracy theory for this show, every in and out. They’ve taken and made Yuuri take every possible Which Game of Thrones House Are You quiz as though they all don’t have advanced degrees and more important things to be doing with their time.

Yuuri operates a little differently. He’s got the whole boxed set of Lost back at his house. Maybe that would’ve been a better fit.

“That,” Victor says, “is not how civilizations work.”

“Well, it is fiction, babe.”

“Indeed.”

Yuuri spends the night, pointedly ignores Phichit’s texts:

 

 

Phichit: hey, try not to bang your hot russian boyfriend before new years’
Phichit: i’ve got a bet going with chris
Phichit: yuuri?
Phichit: for the record, he says Christmas

They never make it that far, though the petting’s getting severe: Yuuri could construct a topographical map of Victor’s abdomen from memory at this point, and it’d be accurate.

It’s the kissing that still takes his breath away. It’s like going someplace with high altitude, getting light-headed and dizzy. “Tell me how civilizations work,” he hums into Victor’s collarbone, curled into the sterile white of his bed. He falls asleep to the sound of Victor’s voice.

I’ll show you.

At night he dreams of a planet perfectly balanced between city and wilderness, with beautiful, glowing latticework buildings built out of the faces of cliffs, with crystal-clear waterfalls and strange, opaque plants.

Where are we?

Home, says the voice that is love, with a longing that makes Yuuri want to wrap it up in his arms as they walk together under a set of beautiful pointed archways that he thinks might be something like a cathedral. There’s something familiar about the latticework that features in every design here, something crystalline, sinuous. Around him thin lines curve and weave through the stone (if it even is stone), and from time to time they pulse with a thin white streak that reminds him of starlight.

He has a sense that this is a place of comings and goings, and for some reason he keeps thinking about train stations and airports, the way someone is always leaving and someone else is always arriving. He’s also thinking about geometry, and a fractal pattern he knows he’s seen before somewhere but can’t place now. We call it the Conduit.

It’s the most objectively beautiful place he’s seen in these dreams so far. It glitters, pale, and on the horizon a streak of white begins to gather strength. Our star is rising, says the voice that is love. The city will wake soon.

Something steps out of a doorway early and it startles his host. That something is a biped with long, gold-spun hair and sharp, glittering green eyes that are as gem-bright as Victor’s. He looks human, almost, and yet not, otherworldly in the way that Victor is otherworldly to a waking Yuuri, and this young man’s gaze goes wide with both piercing recognition and searing fury. In his head, Yuuri names this new face T empest .

We have to go.

 

“The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there’s no good reason to go into space -- each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision.”

 

 

They don’t sleep together over Christmas or New Years’ because Yuuri goes home to Nantucket for the holidays. Victor carts him to the airport, explains that he might do some traveling of his own. In Nantucket, there are no dreams and Victor doesn’t answer his phone. Yuuri feels his absence in a physical way, like he’s withdrawing from a drug, something even nights bundled up next to his father out on the dock can’t distract him from.

“Bring him next time, you little shit,” Mari mutters, smoking a cigarette while Yuuri stares up at Orion’s belt and pines.

“What?”

“Your boyfriend, idiot. I took a picture of your lovesick face ten minutes ago and texted it to Phichit and you didn’t even notice.”

“Sorry.” Yuuri’s habit when he’s at home is to apologize. He’s never quite sure what for. Maybe for his absence. His parents run the inn, and sometimes he thinks Mari might be smarter than he is, but after Boston College she came home, settled into the routine. She’s the one who shovels snow now that he doesn’t live here anymore, the one who does the accounting and helps their mother out in the kitchen. Yuuri’s the one who rocketed off from one top-tier school to another, whose name has been published in research papers that all promise to further human understanding of space and time.

Mari snorts and shakes her head. “Hopeless. What’s he like?”

Yuuri hesitates, because there’s something about Victor that defies description. “Gentle,” he says finally. He knows he’s naturally shy, but: “... when I open up, he meets me where I am.”

He thinks of Victor eschewing any real holiday plans and pines again, a deep pang that goes soul deep. Until Victor, Yuuri had not really considered the concept of souls. Now he needs a word for this new part of him that wants so badly it hurts. “... Lonely, too.” He adds quietly.

“Not anymore,” Mari smiles. “He’s got you.”

Oh, Victor does. But Victor’s phone rings and rings and rings, and Yuuri spends the whole week miserable, except for one blissful reprieve with a woman he calls Minako-sensei, his high school physics teacher and one of his mother’s closest friends. Minako-sensei is a high-functioning alcoholic and Yuuri’s first mentor.

When he’s drunk Yuuri gets dreamy and loses his inhibitions. He tells her about the dreams.

Before he leaves, Minako prints an article for him to read on the plane. It’s a reminder about a planet just discovered this year: thousands of light-years away.

It’s in a habitable zone.

It has two moons.

Victor is waiting for him at the airport, arms open. He looks as miserable and exhausted as Yuuri feels and when they come together he can’t help but feel like something wrong in his orbit has been set right. They hug until the baggage claim at the Albuquerque airport beeps and passengers shuffle past to get to their luggage, until Yuuri’s offering a sheepish laugh, until Victor’s remembered to apologize profusely for the trouble with his phone.

“I didn’t even realize it wouldn’t work back home,” he admits. “I’m so sorry, Yuuri…”

“You went home?” Victor doesn’t talk about home or family very often.

“Yeah.”

“How was that?”

“It was …” Victor pauses again. Like he’s trying to find the right word. “Argumentative.”

 

 

“Sir,” I said to the universe, “I exist.”

 

 

Celestino sends them together to a conference in Vienna, which Christophe and Phichit have been referring to in text messages as getting the band back together for a month. It’s a cute quip, if a little bit inaccurate: they’re not so much a band as they are comets that orbit through different parts of the known galaxy: Yuuri and Phichit were roommates at MIT. Christophe completed his graduate research there, but before that he went to ETH Zurich -- with two years of overlap with Mickey. Phichit went on to Caltech, where he met Guang-Hong and Leo. Yuuri knows Emil from Oxford. Thinking about it too much has Yuuri contemplating butterfly theory, the way his whole world could be wildly different if Phichit’s parents had never immigrated or if Christophe had never chosen to do a degree abroad.

Or if Victor had never interviewed to come work with the VLA.

It’s all butterfly math: change a single input and the outputs are all wildly, chaotically different.

Victor is the latest star in their cluster. It’s a broken metaphor because he’s the newest, but he’s also, to Yuuri, one of the brightest. On the day of their collective arrival they all meet up for dinner together near the opera, and even Christophe -- especially Christophe -- whistles and flirts. Nevermind that Christophe’s in committed relationships with at least two different people Yuuri knows: a brilliant French mathematician who’s teaching in Marseilles, and Phichit, whose deceptively angelic demeanor has stayed with him long past their undergraduate years together.

Christophe has a strange way of wanting to cut to the chase with people, though, and so he asks Victor all sorts of questions that it’s never occurred to Yuuri to really press for. The man has no sense of privacy. He does it charmingly, though. Over the course of three hours and many rounds of drinks together he’s held his own against Victor, dug into things like why astronomy (“because understanding the universe felt like a way to understand myself,” an answer that has Yuuri thinking of all the elements that humans share with stardust and the way matter persists long after a person’s death) and what’s your family like.

Yuuri winces at that. Victor’s never particularly eager to talk about his family. “Opinionated,” he says with a wry smirk. “I have an … adopted brother. Of a sort.” This is news to Yuuri, and at the same time he’s not surprised. Something about Victor seems to suggest that; when he’s serious, he has a mentor’s mien. “He’s a lot younger than I am. And he’s at that age where he thinks he knows everything there is to know.”

The word tempest comes to mind, unbidden.

“So your parents adopted him?”

Victor has the faraway look he gets sometimes when he’s trying to decide how to explain a thing the way he wants. “My Godparents,” he murmurs, after a short, searching pause. “We have the same godparents.”

Phichit chooses this moment to ask the worst possible question, the one on the tip of everyone’s tongue. “Oh my god,” he says, pitying. “Are you an orphan ?”

“Phichit,” Yuuri snaps, “you can’t just ask someone if they’re an orphan.” Except he’s suddenly terrified that maybe that’s what Victor is, and maybe he ought to have asked sooner. Now there are people Victor’s talking about that Yuuri never once imagined in his orbit.

He wonders if he’ll ever meet them.

“It’s nothing so complicated as that,” Victor says with a short chuckle. “Don’t worry. But I think Phichit can buy my next drink,” he adds with a grin, raising an empty glass. “Just in case.”

“No worries there,” quips Phichit. “Christophe’s paying for me anyway.” Then he bats his eyelashes and nudges the Swiss physicist. “Right, darling?”

Christophe sends him a speculative look that promises revenge, and Phichit makes a kissing face, and just like that they’re out of the field of landmines. Victor and Christophe and Phichit are in the middle of a heated debate about whether or not it will ever be possible to travel faster than the speed of light when Yuuri feels his jetlag catching up to him, starts to doze off against the comfortable plane of Victor’s shoulder. Ever conscientious, Victor finally bows out of the debate; they’re talking extremely abstract math, and he keeps insisting Christophe is far too drunk to check his work.

He’s not wrong.

Victor has his own hotel room, ostensibly, but he won’t stay in it. There’s an equation for the curve their bodies make nestled together, a slope of perfect comfort. Together their geometry is flawless, and in some future time Yuuri will also realize: they are more than the basic math. They are also the proof.

Would you still want to meet them if you knew, muses the voice of his dreams while they stand together on a strange, dusky moon, watching a distant sunrise coming around the giant curve of a big, auburgine-colored planet. Meet who? Yuuri wonders, and he's met with a kind of strange, accusatory silence.

It feels like the first time he's disappointed whatever it is that haunts his dreams.

If you let yourself know is the correction he wakes up to, startled, and Yuuri’s subtle gasp into Victor's collarbone must wake him up. “Yuuri?”

“Sorry,” he mumbles. “I had a strange dream.”

“Do you have those often?” Victor asks, almost pointedly, like it's something he has to know and not a simple, passing curiosity. Yuuri nestles closer into this man who is too real for reality, curls his fingers.

Yes. I have dreams that love itself is shepherding me all over space. There. You finally think I'm crazy, right Victor? Yuuri doesn't say all that; instead he makes a noncommittal sound and misses the way Victor’s brow furrows in the dark.

You’re not crazy.

 

 

“However,” replied the universe, 
“The fact has not created in me 
A sense of obligation.”

 

  

He’s getting coffee on a break on the second day of the conference with Victor when an angry-looking man with a red face and a permanent scowl barrels towards them both, dragging along a kid who barely looks old enough to be attending this type of thing. Yuuri has never seen the first man, but the second one, the student, seems like someone Yuuri ought to remember, like they've met before.

“Oh,” says Victor, and for a moment his focus is rather intense. Then he puts on the smile that Yuuri hates because it’s the fakest one. “Yakov!” Yuuri’s not sure what to make of this, and Victor falters for a moment as he looks at the blonde. “... and … Yuri!”

The man, whose name is apparently Yakov, fixes Victor with a long stare. “Victor,” he says finally. Yuuri would like to think that he’s imagining the older man’s intense disappointment, but it’s to marked to be missed. “Yuri told me you were here.”

“So you’re the one,” the blonde adds, and he circles Yuuri slowly like he’s sizing up an enemy. His eyes are startlingly green, the way Victor’s are startlingly blue.

Yuuri saw eyes like that in a dream once.

“Sorry,” Yuuri murmurs. Apologies are his default way of reacting to stressful situations, and he looks to Victor for help. Victor grabs his hand, a strangely defensive gesture, and laces their fingers together.

“I don’t think he seems like anyone worth going halfway across the --”

“Yuuri,” Victor says, and he’s still got that smile on. “Yakov and the-other-Yuri have apparently decided to surprise me from St. Petersburg for our trip.” Yakov and Yuri perform a synchronized snort, possibly for different reasons. Victor’s entire body is bleeding tension into Yuuri’s from the joined link of their hands. Yuuri has never once seen him like this, barely holding back an anger that he doesn’t understand. “Yakov is my … mentor, the godfather I mentioned. And Yuri’s my …”

The word godfather looks like it’s about to send Yuri into fits of laughter. Until Victor introduces him properly. “Adopted brother,” he adds. Just like that, the blonde’s gaze goes serious, scanning Victor’s face for clues that won’t come.

“And here he is, then, your intended,” drawls Yuri wryly. Intended is a word that sounds serious, and it shoots through Yuuri like a lightning bolt because he hasn’t been devoting conscious thought to the idea of him and Victor as a unit in that way. It’s illogical, like the paradoxes he spent so much time trying to resolve at Oxford. Victor is so much more talented than Yuuri is, does brilliant, intuitive math as though it’s as natural as breathing. Victor is handsome and mysterious and interesting; has taken an interest in run-of-the-mill Yuuri.  

Yuuri has absolutely nothing to offer him in exchange. A day is coming when Victor will realize how uneven the trade balance between them is, when his patience for Yuuri’s many flaws will expire. He will balance the equation then, cleanly isolate himself on the wrong side of the equal sign.

And it's going to ruin Yuuri, when it comes.

“My boyfriend ,” Victor corrects darkly. Yakov gives him a speculative look at that, one Victor conveniently ignores. Now Yuuri’s not sure what to think, has a feeling that he might be missing half of the conversation, can't solve for x . “Have you checked in yet? I can show you to the front desk and perhaps say a word or two on the way about etiquette.”

In the face of what is obviously simmering resentment between all parties, Yuuri feels a little weak, like any moment now he'll be staring down the precipice of a panic attack. “Should I wait here?”

“Yes,” Victor murmurs, unexpectedly curt. It shouldn't hurt, but it does. “Sorry,” he adds apologetically, and then he leans over. Yuuri’s expecting an absent brush of Victor’s mouth against his cheek and instead feels a press of lips to the corner of his mouth, a startlingly intimate gesture for this setting, in a hotel full of their peers, in front of hostile relatives that he's meeting for the very first time. “Go ahead and get to the first session,” he adds gently, with a momentarily soft look before that glittering hardness comes back to his gaze. “I'll meet you after.”

“Nice meeting you,” Yuuri mumbles. He doesn't mean it. He flees to find a spot next to Phichit, still rubbing at the warm spot on his mouth, the last place Victor Nikiforov touched down. Next to him is a woman with a mischievous smile, bright blue eyes, and the most shockingly red hair he’s ever seen.

“You must be Yuuri,” she says brightly, ruffling fingers through her undercut. Dressed in a tank top, Yuuri recognizes the same kind of tattoo twined around her forearm as Victor’s, albeit smaller and a little less intricate, and immediately feels uneasy. “Ah,” she says, with sudden understanding. “You met my angry friends already. I’m Mila.”

“Mila,” he repeats dumbly. The presenter is beginning and so she just smiles brightly at him, nods and then looks up at the slides. He swears he hears her call them quaint under her breath.

“Victor’s friend,” she whispers. “Don’t worry. I think it’s very romantic.”

“What?” Yuuri hisses, but he never gets an answer because an older man seated ahead of him has turned back to offer all of them a dirty look. Nothing this morning has gone right, and as he sits there, trying to breathe through an elevated heart rate and his sudden shortness of breath, the world doesn’t seem like it’s going to get any slower. Yuuri knows this is a lie; he knows that the velocity of the earth is fundamentally unchanged.

Fear is illogical math. He knows his body still listens to the laws of science, that the signals he’s getting are just chemical. Somehow that knowledge never helps. “Excuse me,” he whispers, and ignores Phichit’s flash of concern as he rushes to escape the room.

The hotel has a courtyard, and Yuuri winds through its meeting rooms in a blind panic until he can find his way outside, where he finds a corner and sinks into it, breathing through his hands. That tree is green, he thinks, and he makes himself count the little white buds that promise spring. He gets to forty-seven when he hears footsteps into the courtyard, shrinks to make himself smaller. He recognizes Victor's shoes, of all things, and from where he's sitting he watches three pairs of legs shuffling around for a good five minutes like there's a conversation being had, except nobody’s talking at all. At one point Victor sweeps in close to Yuri’s sneakers, an overt show of anger and aggression, and then he steps back. Yuuri finally hears his voice, absolute-zero degrees of cold. “Go home.”

“You’re going to die here,” Yuri mutters. “You’re dead already.”

“And you’re too stupid to understand,” retorts Victor. “Unsurprisingly.”

The other two leave together and Yuuri holds his breath. He thinks his worst fear is Victor’s shoes turning his way, Victor finding him like this, bewildered and broken in a corner, but when it happens the world doesn't end. Victor kneels in front of him, and his blue eyes are soft as he holds a hand out, offering to help Yuuri up. “I think we can skip this morning’s lectures, don't you?”

Yuuri trusts that outstretched hand even though reason says he shouldn't. Still, he hesitates. “I was hoping you hadn't seen me,” he admits.

“I didn't,” Victor says, bewildering truth. But I know who you are. I detected. “Yakov and Yura didn't notice you,” he adds. Yuuri suddenly has the strange feeling that Victor could find him across space and time. Perhaps he already has. “Let's get out of here?” Please.

Yuuri takes his hand; Victor takes him upstairs, and the door of Yuuri’s room closes behind them as they both speak simultaneously.

“Victor, I …”

“You need an explanation.” Victor sounds tired and a little bit wary. “I know.” He takes his blazer off, yanks off his tie. “Yakov was my teacher once. I'm a very prestigious graduate of the institute where he teaches.” It's true but not completely true and Yuuri knows it, feels his brow furrow, sees the way Victor’s gaze catches on the gesture. “When I left and came to the Array, he was disappointed.”

“Why?” Phichit and Christophe, terrible examples that they are, have taught Yuuri not to settle for half measures. What he doesn't expect is to sense that there’s approval somewhere buried in those seas of mazarine, that Victor might be glad he’s all hung up on details now.

“Because … well. Because I was following the advice of a mystic, a woman Yakov likes to call a fortune teller. And he thinks it's a waste of talent. And I'm …”

“You're what?”

“It could be argued that I'm breaking some of the rules of his school,” Victor says, in that distant way he has when he's struggling to find words. He takes one look at Yuuri and knows it's insufficient, and now Victor is the one who looks, for once, like he's hesitating.

“Do you love me, Yuuri?”

It’s almost a slap in the face and they both know it, a question that’s unfair to ask right now . Yuuri looks at him for a moment and calculates algorithms. There’s a universe where he says yes, and Victor admits to being the world’s worst Russian spy, because the real secrets are with Phichit and the others. A cinematic moment where Yuuri promises to marry him so that he can safely defect.

There’s another universe where he lies and says no and regrets it for the rest of his life.

In this reality he decides to tell the truth, even if he senses that Victor is playing a little loose with it. He doesn’t think Victor has lied, per se, with these little half-stories, but what he is doing is a bit like looking at the theory of truth in the abstract, fitting pieces together on a page or a chalkboard perhaps. “Yes.” Yuuri looks at Victor. Victor looks at Yuuri. Victor exhales and his shoulders sink; he stops and rolls up his sleeve.

“I saw someone else with a tattoo like yours,” Yuuri mutters. “A woman.”

“Ah.” Chariot. The word enters his mind almost unbidden and it’s strange the way it fits what he recalls of Mila so perfectly. Victor reaches up and sweeps Yuuri’s hair back, careful, thoughtful. “You love me but you don’t trust me,” he observes.

“Give me a reason,” Yuuri spits back. In truth, there can’t be a reason. There’s no logical explanation for why someone like Victor Nikiforov might want to be with someone like him; the real truth has to be something more insidious, and now it’s going to come to light, reveal whatever it is that Victor’s always been hiding and then ruin him.

“We are going to deal with your inability to see the things in yourself that I see later,” Victor murmurs, almost as an aside, and before Yuuri can ask him where the fuck that came from, Victor’s curled a hand around the back of his neck, pressed two fingers to his temple. “You want the truth,” he repeats. “Will you let me show you?”

His eyes, Yuuri realizes, are so terribly blue. The word blue was invented once just to describe eyes like those. His body is at war with itself: heart insists that these eyes will never do him harm; head insists that harm is all they’ll ever do. “I told you,” Yuuri says evenly, because it’s beyond him to not look for the truth, to leave a question unanswered. “Yes.”

Victor’s lips brush his and suddenly wherever Yuuri is, it’s no longer a hotel room.

  

“Wanderer,” says a woman with a severe face and a cold gaze.

“Prophet.”

The man he knows as Victor sits across from her and offers his palms up.

“Strange,” she says. “That one of his Pride’s pupils might come to me to ask about souls.”

“It really isn’t.” Yuuri understands that this woman was once married to the man he knows as Yakov. He does not understand how he knows this but it is not as important as the next fact: that they are separated because they stand in two castes, one of Faith, and one of Reason.

He realizes Wanderer is someone they consider Rare, someone born of both.

Pride does not like the idea that the universe is not within his control, that there are strange forces he cannot study which have dictated that his heart belongs to this woman, who reads things in the stars without ever traveling among them.

She is not of his Institute.

In other worlds they call what she does Art, and what he does Science.

Language is such an inadequate device.

“What is it that you want, exactly?”

The man he knows as Victor smiles but it’s not the smile Yuuri loves. “You gave me my Name,” he says, and the answer is on Yuuri’s lips: I would like to be Found.

“You will have to travel far,” she warns him.

“I have already gone further than anyone else.” Wanderer is the top graduate of the Institute; he has made leaps through the Conduit that others only dream of someday replicating. His understanding of this art is unparalleled. For all this he is also still like his mother, one of the Faith, and when he speaks with his mind it is with shocking clarity.

He has a stronger grip on Reality than any of them.

“The place is Unproven.” Unproven, Yuuri discovers, is another one of those Words they use.

It refers to planets who have not yet made it through their Trials.

Places like the place he calls Earth, where men already have sufficient technology to get off of the planet, and are using it to destroy themselves and their home.

To be one of the Travelers and to go to an Unproven place is Forbidden.

To have a soulmate in such a place is unheard of.

And yet here is the truth. The absolute of it. It is in Victor’s blood and it is in the light of the stars.

This is why you have always been a Seeker.

“You will give me the coordinates?”

“Of course.”

Yuuri has been to the place they call the Conduit in his dreams.

He sees Victor there, watches as he manipulates the device twined around his wrist, sees four figures in robes run up to him: Pride and Tempest, Chariot and Caster.

They are too late. The Conduit is empty. Wanderer is gone.

His signal bursts across the stars, an anomaly that registers for one brief moment at the Very Large Array in Soccoro, New Mexico.

Later, Wanderer walks across the hard, unforgiving earth, and he stops in front of Yuuri Katsuki, who has fallen asleep under the giant shadow of a satellite. He kneels in front of this being that is called a Human, touches his temple. At the intersection of things that are Foreign and also Beloved by this man is a Russian mathematician, long dead, only known for a theory he once put together in abstract on multiverses.

Wanderer does the math; to a student of Reason, Nikiforov was nowhere near correct; to a student of Faith, he was in the heart of things, and this human, his Yuuri, aspires to craft theories as beautiful, as elegant.

Wanderer will use this name. It is not his name.

If he is terribly, wonderfully lucky, someday Yuuri will Perceive him properly.

“There you are,” he says, and he smiles a heart-shaped smile.

“I’ve been looking for you.”

 

It’s the kind of thing that would be ridiculous if Yuuri hadn’t just relived all of it, if he didn’t know, down to the deepest parts of his bone marrow, that every bit of it was real.

Truer than the word truth.

He immediately has a panic attack in Victor’s -- no, not Victor, not really -- arms.

 

 

“We live in a blue planet that circles around a ball of fire next to a moon that moves the sea, and you don’t believe in miracles?”

 

 

 

It’s dark by the time they sit opposite each other in the hotel room. The conference is forgotten.

“I need you to leave,” Yuuri says.

“Yuuri.” Victor, Wanderer, stares at him, begs with eyes that were always too beautiful to be of this world.

“I need you to leave,” Yuuri repeats.

Wanderer does.

When Phichit finds him, hours later, Yuuri is the only one who remembers that Victor Nikiforov ever was, and when he calls Celestino, says there’s an emergency and he has to go home, nobody asks what flight Victor’s going to be on.

It’s nearly like he never existed in the first place.

Mari picks him up at the airport, recognizes immediately that this is the face of a man who has spent most of his seven hours of flying time back to the East coast crying and sometimes bolting for the bathroom to sob in peace, which isn’t the right word. Isolation is.

His father asks if he wants to look up at the stars. “No.”

Later, Mari asks him hey, whatever happened to your Russian boyfriend?

Yuuri realizes Victor knew he’d come here. Realizes Victor’s left him this.

He spends a week back in Nantucket before he’s back in New Mexico. There is nothing on Victor’s desk, although Vicchan keeps sniffing around the house a little curiously, like something’s missing.

Something is missing. Yuuri no longer dreams at night, or if he does, he can’t recall them. There are flashes of something else, things he tells himself can’t possibly be anything related to Wanderer, little feelings and flickers of insight that come from galaxies away and are quickly and firmly pushed away because it was one thing for him to feel Victor’s thoughts when he was here and quite another entirely to still be thinking them now that he is not.

He gets drunk once. Calls Victor’s number.

The answering machine on the other end informs him that it now belongs to a laundromat.

Yuuri tells himself he’s going to get over this terrible longing, even if it feels like it’s too big for his body, the kind of thing that isn’t supposed to be borne alone, and one afternoon, standing under the shadow of a very particular satellite in the Very Large Array, he realizes he can’t stay here anymore.

He sells the house.

 

 

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”

 

 

A year goes by and the ache hasn’t left. Yuuri has an Adjunct position at Brown University where he’s already racked up a semester’s worth of reviews as one of the kindest and most understanding professors in the entire Physics department. This is not to say that the two classes he teaches are easy. Quite the opposite, in fact: his exams have gotten a reputation, too. The equation he puts into his final will make your head spin until you solve it, and once you do you’ll be amazed at how elegant the solution is, says one review. Look. He’s a good teacher. In his office pretty much all the time if you need help because apparently he’s got no life outside of this school? says another, which Yuuri went home and cried into Vicchan’s fur about after reading.

He moves into a cottage along one of Providence’s many coves, just outside city limits, where he can point a telescope away from the lights of town and out over the dark of the Atlantic at night.

He used to think he just wanted to know if anyone else was out there.

He knows that now.

So why is he still searching?

It’s Winter Break. New Years’ Eve. Phichit has texted him to tell him to find somebody to kiss, which Yuuri can’t blame him for; Phichit doesn’t remember the apparition that was Victor Nikiforov, can’t understand that Yuuri never wants to kiss anyone else.

He’s out on the dock that extends over the marsh at the edge of his backyard.

Fine, he thinks pointedly, in the direction of Orion’s Belt. Nobody else is here, so he says it, too. “You win,” he tells the night sky, the cold, distant twinkle of the stars. “Wanderer, do you hear me? You win. I’m going to be in love with you for the rest of time and evidently all of Space and if you really believe in all this bullshit, you’ll --”

“Do what?”

Victor-who-isn’t-Victor has long hair. He is still, objectively, the most beautiful thing Yuuri has ever seen.

“I’m still mad at you.”

His eyes twinkle. “I was more interested in the other part.”

Yuuri has approximately a million questions. Victor was supposed to be in trouble, wasn’t he? I was. Prophet intervened. And he can’t stay here. That would be ridiculous. Not entirely. Earth is primitive compared to what Yuuri’s seen. Earth is Earlier, which is Different. Earth is across the galaxy from wherever it is Wanderer is even from. Galaxies.

A different galaxy? Yuuri’s brain stammers and so does he. “Andromeda,” he guesses. Victor tilts his head. It's immaterial, he says, or he thinks, all of it's ridiculous, doesn't he know how big space is, how vast and impossible the distances he's describing are? Nonetheless. I am here and you can hear me. Victor is walking towards him. He still has too many questions.

It is in your nature to ask.

“You had an argument with Yakov. With Pride. That day. About me.”

“He did not think you could Comprehend me,” says Wanderer. Yuuri is not sure he wants to know what that means. He is the recipient of a beautiful, incredulous laugh.

I will tell him you Comprehend me perfectly. I will tell him I came back for you and we had twenty different conversations at once and it was at once easier and more necessary than any dialogue I’ve ever had with anyone else. I will tell him that it was like breathing.

“You’re in my head.”

A construct.

“Heart.”

The same. “One could also say that you are where I am,” Wanderer observes mildly.

This is also the truth; Yuuri can feel him, sense him. It’s like magic. Wanderer’s blue eyes dance. Sufficiently advanced technology, he teases, which is an Earth quote, of all things. Yuuri scowls at him and his gaze just gets warmer.

“I love you, Katsuki Yuuri.”

It’s impossible. Improbable,  corrects the thing that feels like Victor's thoughts, that voice from his dreams.   They’re not even the same species. “I’m not inhuman, if that’s what you’re suggesting.” Wanderer scoffs, almost offended.

“What does that even mean?”

“Prophet believes we share a common origin,” says Wanderer, who stops when he’s standing toe to toe to Yuuri, and hesitates just short of a touch. Yuuri will come to know more about what that means in time. Wanderer’s thoughts on the subject are clear: in the tradition Prophet follows, there are star systems like this one sprinkled all throughout the universe, each touched with beings of a similar type. Some of these civilizations have Risen, the way his own has; others have Fallen, have never passed the test of invention to seek the reaches of space. She would say it’s one of the reasons why you can hear me.

“What are the others?”

Wanderer pauses. “Have you figured out what we call you, I wonder? The thing we might say is your true name?”

The word hangs in the air between them.

Seeker.

“I don’t believe in soulmates.”

“Of course you don’t.” Wanderer has run out of patience, Yuuri senses; he feels it the way he might feel a thought or an emotion of his own, almost as though it belongs to him. “You believe in questions and answers. Think of it that way, if you must. You look into the stars and want to know them. I look into the stars and wish to be known.”

There are questions we ask with our lives for which we are also the only answer.

An equation?

Yes.

“Seeker,” he says, exasperated. “Do you want me to kiss you or not?”

“Please,” Yuuri practically begs, which the man he used to know as Victor silences with his mouth immediately. You beg for nothing, he insists, and Yuuri has the deep and abiding sense that perhaps one of Wanderer’s biggest regrets is that he never kissed him enough in the first place.

Hours pass. It’s time incredibly well spent.

Wanderer presses another kiss into the sensitive skin of Yuuri’s abdomen, sweeps a possessive arm over his hips. He’s terribly pleased with himself at present, almost smug. “Not inhuman,” he repeats, but Yuuri is thinking about the dreams, tracing the glowing white lines on Wanderer’s arm.

“Were we really in all those places?”

“I was.” He is not called Wanderer for nothing, evidently. “I relayed them to you.”

Yuuri realizes without ever asking that this is not a limitation of the technology. Or Wanderer’s abilities.

Or your own.

He kisses fingertips. These are hands that have been across galaxies, hands that believe the most important trip they’ve ever made is the one just taken over Yuuri’s skin.

“Fine,” says the Seeker, and he watches as deft fingers write new trajectories into the device twined around Wanderer’s arm; the piece of the Conduit which enables every leap he makes through space, tangles their hands together.

He has eight days before the semester at Brown resumes and he’s in love with someone with the unique ability to go anywhere.

“Show me.”


“listen: there's a hell
of a good universe next door; let's go”