Yuuri writes the name on his blue ribbon in kanji and passes the marker to Victor, who hesitates over his own. No matter who you ask for, visitors still choose you. Yuuri's fingers are steady as he ties the ribbon on the fence. Victor ties his just below Yuuri's; their ribbons twine together as they flutter in the wind, blue and pink, pink and blue.
There's nothing special about the chain-link fence with its flying ribbons, aside from the view over the Neva. The sunset must be spectacular.
When Yuuri wakes up the next day, the sky is nearly dark, glowing with the rich purple of twilight. "Oh no," he slurs, fumbling for his glasses on the night stand. "I slept so late, Vitya."
Victor startles, his elbow bumping against Yuuri's spine. "What?" His face is pale, washed out by the blue light from his phone.
"I was going to do things," Yuuri says. "Like—"
What was he going to do? Laundry? Last night comes back to him in a shivery rush. Vicchan on his lap, then barking at his feet; the bowl of lavender salt still on the floor, untouched. Yuuri should put it away for next year.
He rolls over on his side, onto Victor. "Are you okay?"
Victor's phone screen dims. "I'm fine. What about you?"
Because it's Victor, Yuuri takes a few moments to think about the question and the long night Victor spent with himself. His younger self. In bed together. "I told you already. I don't mind that you—of course, I don't." He kisses Victor's shoulder and can't help but roll his hips against Victor's bare thigh. "Do you want—"
"Do you think it's hot?" Victor puts down his phone and runs his hand down Yuuri's side, tucking his fingers into the loose waistband of Yuuri's sleep shorts. "I thought you might."
That's not quite it, but Yuuri kisses Victor's neck instead of answering. He's soft at first, pressing his lips to the hinge of Victor's jaw, to the delicate skin just behind Victor's ear. Every part of Victor is beautiful. Yuuri bites at the lovely stretch of Victor's throat and sucks hard enough to bruise. Beneath him, Victor shudders and grinds up against Yuuri's hips, his dick hardening. "You're mine," Yuuri says. "You're all mine. Don't you forget."
Yuuri has always thought the visitors were ghosts. That's what Mari said when he asked, when they were small. "Mama thinks so, too," she said. "She won't say, but she does."
For the first three years, Yuuri asked for Baachan, and each time he got her. She smelled like camellia shampoo and put him to bed after an hour of, how are you, how is school, tell me about your life. They ended each visit with the same conversation.
"Every year, I ask for jiichan," she said as she smoothed the duvet across Yuuri's chest. She liked his hands tucked under. "He comes every year."
Yuuri had never met Jiichan. "What's he like?"
Baachan patted his hand beneath the duvet. "He smiles like Hirokochan."
After he scattered the salt, Yuuri dreamed about Mama's childhood—or really of the photo album she went through a few times a year. Yu-Topia Katsuki was Yu-Topia Inoue then, but the springs and the sea were the same. The water was still the warmest where you tucked your feet beneath the stone.
World Team Trophy is the last competition of the year, three weeks away. The FFKK has elected to send Yuri and Georgi to Tokyo, but not Victor—a deliberate snub. The atmosphere at the rink is tense.
"Maybe Japan will win gold," Yuuri says to Victor after one particularly long day. He keeps his tone light, cajoling. "If I get two gold medals in a season, does that mean we have to have two weddings?"
They're alone in the lobby of the rink, Yuuri zipping his jacket as Victor buttons his coat, readying themselves for the bitter dregs of Saint Petersburg winter. The room is long and narrow, the walls papered with news articles and posters, heater on full blast. Victor is standing in front of a three-meter-high poster of Mila, who towers over him in her bright costume and white boots. He digs his leather gloves out of his pocket and tugs them on, tucking the ends into his sleeves. "Of course, darling." He glances up then, meeting Yuuri's eyes. "As many as you like."
Yuuri's palms are already clammy; they'll turn unpleasantly cool as soon as they go out the door. He takes one of Victor's gloved hands in his mittened one. In some other universe, he knows the right thing to say. Yuuri can't feel the ring through all the layers between them, but he runs his thumb over Victor's finger anyway.
On Yuuri's fourth Visiting Day, he got his mother's sister.
He knew about Mariko, of course. Mama always called her by name. It was hard to think of her as his aunt, even though she was. "Why are you in my room?" she said now, looking around the room that had become Yuuri's. "Who are you? You don't belong here." She couldn't be more than seven, because she never had been.
Yuri had written Baachan's name on the ribbon and tied it tight on one of the trees outside the temple, the same way he did every year. "It's okay, Marichan," he said helplessly. "It's okay, I'm sorry."
The bowl of salt, sweet-scented, was on the the floor by the head of the bed, where he always left it. He'd never done more than cast it gently on Baachan's slippered feet. Mariko watched Yuuri with wide eyes as he scooped salt into his hand and aimed.
"You're sure you don't need to see the doctor?" Victor slams the kitchen cabinets open and closed, as if they might hold a cure and he'd know what to do with it if he found it.
Yuuri sniffles again. "It's just a cold." He has lotion tissue, ginger tea, and a designer blanket. "I could have gone to practice today."
"No," Victor says. He comes up to the back of the couch and leans over to press a kiss to Yuuri's sweaty, germ-y forehead. "You have to rest, sweetheart." It takes Yuuri another ten minutes to get Victor to leave for the rink.
Everyone has something they watch when they're sick. For Papa, it's Tora-san; for Mari, it's MVs from her favorite kpop band. Yuuri lazes on the couch for most of the day, going through his YouTube favorites until the battery in his phone runs low. Makkachin doesn't react when the tinny notes of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" fill the air, but why would he? He grumbles contentedly while Yuuri scratches the back of his neck.
Yuuri sticks to the programs from Victor's juniors career for the most part; the videos are low-quality, the music frequently obscured by the commentary, but they're still Victor—a younger Yuuri's Victor—doing his best at what he loves. It would be strange to watch them with Victor himself, so Yuuri hasn't looked at Victor's old performances in months. Not since he arrived in Hasetsu.
As always, Victor is lovely in motion. At 16, he hasn't built the muscle he needs for the jump that will be his signature five years later, but his triples are cleanly executed and his spins pristine. His silver hair floats behind him over the ice. Yuuri can't look away.
The differences are obvious when Victor sits down next to Yakov in the kiss-and-cry: the subtle baby fat clinging to his face, the narrow shoulders, the slender thighs. Baby Vitya. His whole face is alight with satisfaction. Yuuri knows better now than to mistake it for joy.
Here's how Yuuri knows they're ghosts:
Yuuri was in his single dorm room and Andrew was still in the hospital, but Andrew was in his room, too. He looked the way he had when Yuuri last saw him, which was before the hospital, when it happened. He was only bleeding a little, just at the corner of his mouth.
Andrew sat opposite Yuuri on his bed, still solid enough that the ancient springs creaked and the vinyl mattress cover rusted beneath the sheets. The blood had dried. He didn't seem to notice. "Am I dead?"
"I don't want to know," Yuuri said. You could be honest with the dead. They wouldn't remember, anyway—at least, Baachan never had. "You weren't this morning."
"I was going to ask for my grandpa for Visiting Day." Andrew looked disappointed. He picked at the loose stitching on Yuuri's comforter and glanced around the room. "I've never been in your place before. There's a lot of Victor."
Yuuri only had four posters on his walls, plus the Russian National Team's calendar. This had seemed comparatively discreet when he put them up at the beginning of the year, even if the calendar was in Cyrillic and always on October. "So?"
"I'm gay, too," Andrew said, all in a rush. "I just—I want to tell someone. If I'm really dead."
Yuuri wanted to say, I'm not gay, but he didn't know what he was. "Do you want to kiss me?" he said instead.
Andrew's mouth tasted like sharp, like iron. A few miles away, he was dead, but he was alive and warm and real here, for a few hours. Yuuri had never kissed anyone before.
Mail is starting to pile up on the hall table, unopened. "Yes, I'll pick up toilet paper on the way home," Victor says, and doesn't. When they get home from the rink at night, he can barely hold a conversation.
They've only known each for a year, really; been together less than half that. There's still so much about Victor that Yuuri doesn't know. Yuuri thinks about that while he's in the hypermarket, waiting in line with 48 rolls of toilet paper, 10 pre-grilled chicken breasts, and an empty IKEA bag slung over one arm. Victor hasn't seen Yuuri at his worst, either—he's gone months without bingeing and making himself throw up after. The possibility that Victor could see that makes Yuuri shudder. The line moves up and Yuuri distracts himself with the front pages of half-a-dozen tabloids.
"Oh, you got toilet paper," Victor says when Yuuri lets himself in, lifting the IKEA bag as high as he can while Makkachin goes wild over the chicken. "Thank you."
Last year, Visiting Day came just before Victor arrived in Hasetsu. Yuuri wrote Baachan's name on his ribbon and she turned up at sunset for the first time since he was thirteen.
"Remind me who you are," Baachan said, gazing at Yuuri warmly. He was taller than her now.
"I'm your Yuuchan," he said. "Grown up now, see?"
Baachan asked about school, the onsen, their family; she'd died before Yuuri started skating competitively, before the Katsukis had ever owned a dog. They folded all of Yuuri's clean clothes and put them away before Baachan insisted on Yuuri going to bed at the ridiculous hour of 21:00. She patted his hands beneath the comforter the same way she had when he was younger.
Yuuri looked up at Baachan's lean face, then, instead of closing his eyes and reaching for the bowl of salt. "I write your name on a ribbon every year, but you don't always get who you ask for."
"Some people just think the right person will come to them," said Baachan in the same tone Mari had used to remind Yuuri to bring in the laundry. "You have to work to get what you want."
At World Team Trophy, Japan takes bronze, Russia takes silver, and Canada wins team gold with a record-breaking combined score for ice dance. Yuri sulks all the way through the press conference. The normalcy is reassuring.
Yuuri closes his eyes in the elevator on the way up to their room. There's only a gala skate and a few days of sponsor obligations before they go home to Hasetsu for the summer. Makkachin is waiting for them; they flew into Fukuoka two days before the competition and took the first flight to Tokyo the next morning. The week hurtled by in a whirlwind.
The elevator dings and the doors slide open. "Almost there," Victor says, his hand at the small of Yuuri's back. "Don't fall asleep."
It takes Yuuri a moment to fish out their keycard, but he still beats Victor to unlocking the door. "Do you want to get room service?"
"We should order champagne," Victor says.
Yuuri takes another shower instead. He'd rinsed off after performing and dried himself with one of the rink's stiff towels, but that's not the same. The water pressure here is amazing. He feels like he's melting, some of the soreness in his body washing away.
This is the end of the season. They've made it. In the fall, they'll be back again.
When Yuuri emerges, dressed in a loose t-shirt and boxers, Victor is lying naked on the bed, watching some drama on the muted TV. He's all long lines where his skin meets the patterned comforter, but his ass curves, his back dips, and his shoulders rise up like a sinuous wave. Victor looks at Yuuri from beneath his pale lashes. "Ready for bed?"
The wet KT tape on Yuuri's foot is sticking to the carpet. "In a minute," he says, heading for his open suitcase and digging around for his last clean pair of socks. He sits on the bed to pull them on and Victor wraps his arms around Yuuri's waist.
"Yuuuri," Victor says, drawing out his name. "I'm cold. Come to bed."
"I'm in bed."
Victor's mouth turns down into a pout. He rolls on his side and drapes himself across the bed, languorous and inviting. Something about this is wrong. Yuuri abandons his second sock to the floor and throws an arm around Victor's chest, shamefully ungraceful. The sudden move leaves his body twisted, his weight all one hip and his bare foot dangling.
"You don't have to seduce me," Yuuri says. "Just be my Vitya."
"Tell me how," Victor says.
"I can't," Yuuri says.
All at once, the fight goes out of Victor. He slumps beneath Yuuri, eyes heavy-lidded, and lets Yuuri pull the covers over them. The TV is still on: the images wash over the pale comforter, distorted and obscured. When Yuuri noses at Victor's neck, he can still faintly smell the cologne he dabbed on this morning. The bruises he left there after the other Victor was here have faded. If only Yuuri could flush out whatever sadness he left behind with a handful of lavender salt.
"Sometimes," Victor says, low. "I can't even believe that I'm still here. How lucky I am, to have you."