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The Measure of My Time

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Soulmates: A Very Short Introduction, by Simone B. Wallace-Alvarez
Oxford University Press, 2007

Excerpt from Preface:

The biological cause of soulmates—the condition, affecting an estimated 25% of the world’s population, of forming a link of empathic communication with another person—remains a pressing question in nearly all fields of human inquiry. Some people, scholars and laymen alike, claim that soulmates indicate the existence of a god or gods. Others believe that there is a non-spiritual explanation for soulmates, although that explanation may be beyond the reach of modern science. What is certain, however, is that soulmates span the full course of human history. Cave paintings thought to depict soulmates have been found in France, South Africa, and Mongolia. Greek drama made ample use of soulmates and the limits of their connections. Carl Jung spent the bulk of his career studying the impact of soulmates on the individual mind. These are only a few examples of the impact soulmates have had on culture through the ages.

This book seeks to introduce readers to the cultural history of soulmates, along with current soulmate scholarship across the disciplines. I should begin, perhaps, with the story of how I, one of the unlucky 75%, became interested in soulmate studies as a field….

Excerpt from Chapter 1, “What Is a Soulmate?”

The term “soulmate” is itself part of the debates surrounding the phenomenon. The name is a form of circular reasoning, since to use the word “soul” is to presuppose the existence of a human soul. Scholars who object to the religious and spiritual connotations have coined many alternatives (see Glossary), but none has ever surpassed “soulmate” in popular usage.

The soulmate bond, also simply called a “soul bond,” forms the moment the younger soulmate is born. Throughout their lives, soulmates maintain a link that allows them to send and receive emotional sensations with their partner or, in some cases, partners. The strength of the sensations increases with physical proximity.

It is unusual for soulmates to meet in person, although the rates of soulmate encounters are much higher than simple probability would suggest. Perhaps this is because the soul bond leads partners to similar interests and careers, thus increasing their chances of crossing paths. Failure to meet one’s soulmate, however, does not lessen the importance of the soul bond in a person’s life. Soulmates who never meet can still offer mutual comfort and support through their bond. One notable study (Zhang, et al., 1998; see Bibliography) even found that sending positive or calming emotions through the soul bond may alleviate the symptoms of some mental illnesses, although this effect was greatest when combined with talk therapy and/or medication.

Soulmates who do manage to meet do not necessarily begin a romantic relationship. The soul bond does not take into account gender, sexual orientation, or even familial relation, rendering some partnerships romantically incompatible from the outset. Despite the popular culture image of soulmates as a match quite literally made in heaven, romance between soulmates is not a guaranteed success. Although the small sample size available makes it unwise to draw firm conclusions, the divorce rate of married soulmates is estimated to be similar to rates among the general population….

Excerpt from Chapter 5, “Time Travel”

If the existence of soulmates poses difficult questions, the phenomenon of so-called time travel between soulmates is downright inexplicable. There is no discernable causal event for travel incidents, and few scholars have ventured a guess as to why time travel happens. Many of the variables appear to be random. The shortest known case was approximately ten minutes (Rifat Nasr, Jerusalem, 1782), while the longest is recorded in the Icelandic Landnámabók (Book of Settlements): Herdís Bolladóttir, a teenage girl, was replaced by an elderly version of herself for three full years. Likewise, travel may be directed to any point of time in the traveler’s past or future.

Time travel is exceedingly rare since it seems only soulmates who have met in person experience it. The University of Toronto Center for Soulmate Research has tracked time travel incidents since 1948, finding an average of .7 occurrences per year. The year with the highest amount of time travel activity was 1979, with three cases recorded. Many other years featured no reported incidents at all.

Opinions vary as to where the “Alternate” (there is some controversy over this word—see Glossary for a list of other proposed options—but it remains generally accepted alongside its companion term, “Original”) comes from during a time travel incident and where they go afterwards. The arrival of a 50-year-old Alternate does not mean that the 20-year-old Original will appear for a few hours in thirty years’ time, nor do the parents of a young Alternate remember the week that their child became middle-aged. This fact makes the idea of parallel universes seem quite appealing, but it is not the only possible explanation. Another popular theory is that Alternates do not have lives of their own at all, but are rather constructs who exist only for the duration of the time travel. The same, this theory holds, is true of the world which the Original visits, meaning that no real time travel takes place….


Sports Champions Club. Saint Petersburg, Russia. June, 2021.

“I seem to recall telling you to mark the jumps this time, Yuuri!” Viktor called across the empty rink. Everyone else had already gone home, but Yuuri wanted an extra session alone on the ice to perfect his new free skate.

“And I told you to stop doubting my stamina!” said Yuuri, pausing at the start of his step sequence. He was grinning, but even if Viktor couldn’t see that, he would feel the cheerfulness flowing from Yuuri. “I’m not going to get a second Olympic gold by taking it easy.”

“You won’t get a second Olympic gold if you blow out your ankles, either.”

“Did either of us win all those medals by listening to our coaches all the time?” Yuuri skated over to the boards and leaned forward for a quick kiss.

“If your coach isn’t worth listening to, how about your concerned husband?”

As a coach, Viktor had learned to separate his persona at the rink from his off-ice friendships with his students, but that approach was pointless with Yuuri. They could never achieve that kind of emotional distance when an empathic connection gave their feelings away instantly. Even in the early days, when Yuuri had refused to so much as say the word “soulmate” and Viktor had played along despite his confusion, their best training sessions at Ice Castle Hasetsu happened when they let their bond do all the talking.

“My husband—” Another kiss. “—is a sweetheart, but he worries too much.”

“Indulge me, love.” Viktor reached up and fixed a stray lock of hair that clung to Yuuri’s forehead. Yuuri wrinkled his nose. He had grown impervious to distraction tactics in situations like this. His stubborn resolve was like a brick wall against Viktor’s cajoling.

“My quad loop landing was shaky on the last run-through. That’s not going to improve with marked jumps.”

Viktor sighed, somewhere between exasperated and adoring. “Fine. You can have the loop. But mark the rest.”

“Doubles.”

“Deal.”

Yuuri skated back to center ice and took his opening pose. He counted off the intro beats, then began to move. The first jumping pass was a quad Salchow, triple toe combination—“You said doubles, babe!” Viktor complained—before a flying sit spin and the step sequence. Then it was on to the quad loop. Yuuri had worked up to it a few years ago to keep himself competitive with the other top skaters, but it wasn’t his favorite jump any more than it was Viktor’s. Viktor did the loop in competition once, just to get himself on the official record as having all five quads, and then refused to do it again. It didn’t hurt that he also made history as the first to land a quad-quad combo. Well, it did hurt. His knees. A lot. But he made it to the end of his program and almost kept his Worlds gold, so he never regretted the decision.

Yuuri’s footwork was never sloppy, but he did feel a bit tired in the entrance to the jump. Viktor made a mental note that they really must have a conversation (again) on the difference between Yuuri taking advantage of his stamina and pushing himself for no reason (again). Yuuri bent his knee under him and launched up into the rotations. One, two, three, four… The landing wasn’t going to be any better on this attempt. His air position was too open and losing momentum.

What Viktor didn’t expect was the thud of impact with the ice.

There was no pain when the soul bond vanished. It was as if half of Viktor’s mind had just winked out of existence. The pieces of him that remained seized control of his legs and drove him, faltering, still in his running shoes, out onto the rink surface toward the crumpled body near center ice. Yuuri couldn’t be dead, Viktor knew it even as his heart tried to pound free of his chest. It wasn’t that kind of fall, and Viktor would have felt it. There was no way death felt like this, painless and instantaneous. Still, something was seriously wrong if he couldn’t reach out to Yuuri through their bond.

“Yuuri, are you—?” The words died in his throat. The figure sprawled on the ice was all wrong. Those limbs were too long, the hair the wrong color. Silver, cropped short.

“Yakov, how on earth did I fall on a double lo-…” The younger Viktor looked up. “What the fuck.”

Chapter Text

The younger Viktor scrambled up onto his skates. “You’re me. Me, but old,” he said, making no attempt to disguise his horror. “Is this…?”

“Time travel.” It had to be. But, at the same time, it was wrong. Shouldn’t he be talking to a younger Yuuri instead of himself?

“Can’t be. That only happens with soulmates. I may be a narcissist, but I’m not my own soulmate, I know that much. My soulmate was born when I was a kid. And I can’t—” He trailed off and glanced down at the ice.

“You can’t feel him anymore,” said Viktor. If his Yuuri had gone to the other Viktor’s world, that meant both Viktors had been cut off from their soulmates in the same way. This younger Viktor must have been coping with the same emptiness in his mind where he expected to find a teenage Yuuri.

“Him?” A strange look crossed the younger Viktor’s face. His jaw clenched, but his eyes were wide. There was disbelief alongside something Viktor could swear was happiness. “My soulmate is a man?”

“My soulmate is my husband.”

Viktor was counting the seconds until Yuuri came back. He couldn’t remember anything about how long time travel incidents were supposed to last. There had been a new world record for shortest duration a few months ago, less than one minute and miraculously caught on security cameras for proof, but had the media coverage mentioned anything about averages? Maybe there were too few incidents for an average to mean anything.

So far, the younger Viktor wasn’t going anywhere.

“Congratulations on your marriage,” he said in a clipped tone. “But this still doesn’t make sense. Maybe all the movies are wrong or something, but time travel can’t happen unless you’ve met your soulmate in both worlds, right? You know him, obviously, but I don’t even know who he is.”

Viktor examined the details of his younger self’s appearance. Short hair, so he was no younger than twenty. His skate blades were plain silver, putting him under 24. The lack of a wrist brace meant he wasn’t 21 with strained tendons from a bad fall, unless maybe Viktor was remembering wrong and that happened later in the summer.

“You haven’t met,” he said at last. “Not properly. But you’ve been in the same place before. What are you, twenty-three?”

“Twenty-two.”

Viktor took a moment to catalog the near misses he had with Yuuri before the Sochi GPF. He would guest star in an ice show where Yuuri was performing in 2012, but that was a year away, as was Yuuri’s first senior Worlds. At twenty-two and eighteen, there was only one time they’d not-quite-met.

“Just the 2009 Grand Prix Final, then,” he said. “He took bronze in juniors that year. Missed gold by six points.”

“So he competes.”

“Yes.”

“Is he good?”

“Very.”

“Better than me?” the younger Viktor asked with a smirk. He glided slowly backwards as Viktor picked his way across the ice.

“Much better.”

The smile flashed off the younger Viktor’s face as quickly as it had arrived. The back of his blades clunked against the lip of the rink and nearly sent him sprawling through the gate. He hauled himself upright against the boards and closed a hand on Yuuri’s blade guards. It took several seconds of staring at the red and white plastic before he seemed to realize they weren’t his. He slapped the guards back down onto the boards, passed through the gate, and stalked to the bleachers, hunching his shoulders at each step that forced his blades to have unnecessary contact with the floor.

While the younger Viktor unlaced his skates, Viktor spared a glance through the huge wall of windows lining the practice rink. There wasn’t anybody walking around in the parking lot, at least. People who didn’t know him well might not think a younger Viktor looked out of place on his own, but two men with identical silver hair in the same room would alert even casual passersby to something being amiss.

“We’d better get out of here before somebody sees us.”

“There’s a problem,” the younger Viktor said softly.

“What?”

He waved a hand at the gear on the bleachers. Extra gloves, athletic tape, running shoes, all of it Yuuri’s. “I don’t have shoes. All my stuff is back where I came from.”

“I brought another outfit with me. Yuuri and I… We were going out for dinner tonight. Let me get changed and you can have these shoes.” He didn’t add, If you’re still here by then.

“Okay. I’ll, uh, get this stuff packed up.”

Viktor was torn between ordering his younger self not to touch Yuuri’s things and feeling grateful that he didn’t have to do it himself. He settled for a brisk nod and headed for his office, where he and Yuuri had left casual date night ensembles that morning. As he changed out of his sweatpants and fleece jacket, he kept looking over his shoulder for Yuuri to burst through the door, eager to share the stories about his five minutes—no, it was almost fifteen minutes now—of visiting a world ten years behind their own. They could make it to their dinner reservation if they hurried.

The younger Viktor was waiting for him at the rinkside, Yuuri’s bag packed next to him.

“Don’t look so happy to see me,” he said with a smile that didn't reach his eyes. “I want to get back as soon as possible too. There’s an ice show starting rehearsals in America next week, and my short program isn’t ready.”

“I know,” said Viktor.

“Of course you do. Let’s go.”

It was a mercy that Viktor and Yuuri had driven to the rink that day for easier access to the car later. Now the tinted windows minimized the chances of anybody spotting the younger Viktor on the street. Once home, they rushed from the parking garage into the building, up the stairs, and through the apartment door.

The younger Viktor took his borrowed shoes off and left them right where Viktor usually placed his in the shoe rack. He stepped into the apartment, surveying everything that had stayed the same (the light fixtures, the crammed bookshelves) and changed (the photographs where there used to be nondescript modern art on the walls, the larger sofa). He turned back to Viktor with his hands on his hips. His expression was artfully blank.

“Makkachin’s dead, isn’t she,” he said. It wasn’t a question.

“Yes.” Viktor put his own shoes in Yuuri’s spot. He knew coming back to the apartment would wrench at his heart, all his domestic routines disrupted by Yuuri’s absence, but hearing Makkachin’s name made the space feel doubly empty. He hung up his jacket and arranged it carefully, pretending he wasn’t wasting time until he couldn’t put off facing his younger self any longer.

“When?”

“Last spring,” Viktor said to a piece of lint that wouldn’t detach from his jacket sleeve. “It was peaceful. She just didn’t wake up one morning.”

Silence.

Viktor wasn’t exactly known for his reserve—an area in which he and Yuuri made each other worse, really—but he resolved to be as calm as he could with his younger self. He remembered being twenty-two. Viktor at twenty-two was frustrated. None of his work was paying off the way he wanted, not the hours of choreography, not the commissioned music, not the outrageously expensive costumes that he could only afford because, frankly, he was the sole Russian men’s singles skater worth sponsoring at that point. He was starting to wonder if the Torino upset and his small handful of European titles were going to be the best he would ever do. He rarely missed a podium, but he wanted to be so much more than a medalist. He wanted to be extraordinary.

22-year-old Viktor didn’t know that he was about to begin his first season of sweeping gold at every competition he entered. 32-year-old Viktor refused to think that his younger self might not be back in his own timeline to make it happen.

Twenty-two was also around the time Viktor gave up on men, dating and hook-ups alike. He was tired of letting strange hands explore his body in exchange for charming smiles and compliments. He was very tired of boyfriends who only wanted him as arm candy or, worse yet, believed they could rescue him from the brutal world of skating, turning him into a content little housewife in the process. He found all the companionship he needed in the ice beneath his blades, in his bond with a timid but affectionate soulmate, and in Makkachin.

If Yuuri hadn’t been there, Viktor wasn’t sure he would have survived losing Makkachin, not without becoming a different person on the other side of it.

“My in-laws put her picture and tags on the family shrine in Japan. I’ve got some photos of it on my phone, if you want to see.” He unlocked the phone and held it out, opened to the gallery app.

“Why?” His younger self frowned and quirked his head. “She’s not dead in my world.”

Viktor was going to need more patience than he’d anticipated.

The younger Viktor strolled toward one of the family photo arrangements. His posture was nonchalant, but it was an act that Viktor saw straight through. These were his own tricks, after all. His younger self was taking in every detail, and there was nothing casual about it. It was the same way he looked at other skaters during practices; he was taking stock of strengths and weaknesses, planning his own performance accordingly. He viewed Viktor as a challenge.

“Is this him?”

Viktor joined him by the wall. “Yes, that’s Yuuri. This—” He pointed to a photo of himself gazing into Yuuri’s eyes, both of them oblivious to their wedding party flanking them. “—is our wedding day. Our third anniversary was May 20th. Oh, it’s 2021 now, by the way. That one is us with Yuuri’s family last New Year’s in Japan. And this is from our first season together, when Yuuri took silver at the GPF.”

The photo was a selfie they had printed and framed. Yuuri was wearing his free skate costume with his medal, and their right hands were clasped to showcase the rings. They had used it as an engagement announcement on social media. The joy on their faces clawed at Viktor in the empty space where his link to Yuuri should have been. It’s temporary, he thought. They always come back in the stories. He’s not gone.

“What’s with the suit?” There was a dark edge to the younger Viktor’s voice. He was glaring at the photo.

“I’m Yuuri’s coach. I had basically retired to work with him, but we decided I should keep competing. I came back for the second half of the season, and Yuuri moved to Russia so I could coach him while I trained.”

“And this was what year?”

“2016.”

The younger Viktor snorted. “So you quit skating for half a season when you were twenty-seven, and then you came back and kept coaching your boyfriend? Were you out of your mind?”

“A lot of people thought so,” Viktor admitted. “But we were in love. We made it work.”

“Hm.”

The evening passed haltingly. Viktor felt icy fear digging deeper into him with every minute that Yuuri didn’t return. His hands shook if he didn’t focus on keeping them steady. The younger Viktor maintained his prim composure as he picked at his dinner of leftover Japanese-style curry, which he had immediately declared too heavy to eat after a training day.

Viktor’s attempts at conversation all fell apart within seconds. His younger self didn’t want to hear about the future—“It’s not going to happen like this now that I’ve been here, so what’s the point?” he said—and grew irritated with questions about his own life.

“No, my programs aren’t going well,” he grumbled from his place by the bookshelves, where he’d been examining the section full of Yuuri’s books. “You know they aren’t.”

“I just thought you might want to talk about it, maybe figure out how to fix the problems,” said Viktor.

“No spoilers.” The younger Viktor winked, but it was the kind of face he reserved for the media. There was no true humor in his voice, no hint of the smile that Viktor found so natural these days. He held up a copy of Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. “Can you read this?”

“Not well. I speak decent Japanese now, but the Kiki’s Delivery Service series is more my speed for reading.”

“I love that movie,” said the younger Viktor, his eyes truly lighting up for the first time that evening. The Disney dub had been one of the films his tutors gave him for English practice while he was still a novice.

“I know,” Viktor replied in the same instant that his younger self said, “You already knew that,” with a self-deprecating laugh.

“Want some tea?” Viktor asked.

“Uh, yeah, thanks.”

While he waited for the kettle to boil in the kitchen, Viktor pulled out his phone and searched for universities that studied the time travel phenomenon. The University of Toronto had an entire division of a research institute dedicated to it. He sent a message through the institute’s “Report an Incident” form before turning back to the kettle, trying not to put too much hope in a quick or helpful response. Movies about time travel always saved the soulmate’s return until they’d learned some kind of important life lesson in the past or future, but Viktor was pretty sure the real cases didn’t follow narrative logic.

He could almost hear Yuuri’s fond teasing as he spooned jam into two mugs of tea. Despite Viktor’s best efforts, Yuuri never did develop a taste for it.

Viktor was not going to break down over a jam jar, damn it. He wiped his eyes and gathered up the mugs.

His younger self was lounging on the sofa when Viktor came back to the living room. He accepted the tea and smiled slightly at the first sip. He wasn’t used to anyone indulging him on the truly obscene amount of jam he preferred, always having to add more to cups prepared by other people. Yuuri, for all his mockery of Viktor’s sweet tooth, got it right every time. Viktor took a seat on the other end of the couch, and they drank in silence.

“So,” the younger Viktor said when they’d both drained their mugs. “Do we approach this like I’m going to disappear in the next ten seconds, or should we plan for the long term?”

“Does it make that big of a difference?”

“Well, if I’m going right back, we can just sit here and do nothing. Otherwise, I need to schedule some ice time.” He bit his lip and ran a hand through his bangs. Viktor wanted to laugh at how familiar that nervous gesture was, but he couldn’t summon up the energy. That part of him seemed to have left with Yuuri. “That’s assuming I can get home before the season starts, anyway. Do you think the powers that be would let me compete this year if I’m stuck here? Maybe not the Grand Prix, but the Senior B stuff and nationals, at least? I could qualify for the Olympics and Worlds on my own then.”

Worlds. Almost a full year away. Viktor wanted to scream. Did this younger version of himself not even care that he’d spend ten months cut off from his soulmate if he stayed through Worlds, or was skating enough to make up for it? Did he not care that staying would mean separating Viktor from his husband for that long?

Deep breaths, he thought. You’ll blink and Yuuri will be back. Just hold on.

“Maybe they’d allow it,” he said, finally, once he’d stopped clenching his teeth (and the younger Viktor had almost certainly noticed and catalogued that reaction). “But you wouldn’t have a very easy time. The top skaters all have four or five quads now. Yurio even got it in his head to try for the Axel last season, but I talked him out of it before he hurt himself.”

“Yurio?”

“Yuri Plisetsky. Blame Yuuri’s sister for the nickname, we needed to differentiate somehow.”

“That little hellion is still skating? How many heart attacks has he given Yakov?” The younger Viktor looked downright gleeful at the prospect.

“You didn’t notice him in the pictures over there? Yes, he still skates, but it’s me he’s tormenting these days. Yakov retired from coaching two years ago, the same time I stopped competing. He’d been training me to officially join the coaching staff since Yuuri moved to Russia, so it was an easy enough transition. I took over with Yurio and Mila Babicheva—do you remember her?—and then their boyfriend moved here to work with me last year.”

“Huh.” Viktor recognized that noise as a complete dismissal of everything he’d just said except for the bits that personally interested his younger self. “So do you think he’d come out of retirement for me?”

Yakov?” And then Viktor did laugh, one sharp burst that almost hurt his throat. The thought was too, too ridiculous. He hadn’t even decided if it was safe to tell Yakov that the younger Viktor was here yet. “I would love to see you ask him, truly. You could take bets on whether he keels over dead, murders you, or both.”

“Then what the fuck am I supposed to do?” the younger Viktor snapped.

Viktor hesitated. There was an obvious answer, but was he ready to offer it? It couldn’t hurt. With any luck, Yuuri would be back by morning and this entire conversation wouldn’t matter anymore.

Not that luck had been on his side so far.

“Well,” he said slowly, “I happen to have a vacancy in my schedule right now.”

“You? Look, I get that you’re all domestic and married now, but I can’t have changed that much. I’m a flake over everything except my own career. I’ve accepted that about myself. There is no way Yakov gave me a job with actual responsibilities unless he was just trying to keep me busy in retirement. I need a real coach, not a pity project.”

Viktor froze. His instinct was to go straight for the jugular, just as his younger self was doing. He knew every one of his own sore spots. It would feel so good. But no, he needed to use his anger effectively. Lashing out wouldn’t motivate the younger Viktor; he found emotional people funny, or behaved as if he did, anyway. Better to get past his defense mechanisms and appeal to his competitive streak.

“Okay, I understand,” he said.

Without another word, he took the mugs back to the kitchen and washed them. His younger self apparently didn’t budge because he was sitting in the same position when Viktor came back and crossed in front of the couch to look him in the eye. They stared each other down, but Viktor had spent the last few years having to out-stubborn both Yuuri and Yuri, often in tandem. His 22-year-old self didn’t last ten seconds.

“Sorry,” he muttered, looking away. “I wasn’t trying to insult you. You know how it is.”

“Oh, I’m not insulted,” Viktor replied. He smiled a bit and saw the younger Viktor visibly relax. Perfect. “But for the record? Last year, my four skaters brought home fifteen international gold medals, five silver, and three bronze between them. They swept the men’s singles podiums at the GPF and Worlds. My husband is a three-time world champion and the reigning Olympic gold medalist. He was the first skater to do five quads in a free skate, the first skater to do five different quads in a free skate, and he holds the world records for short, free, and combined scores. All of that was after I started coaching him. I am incredibly lucky to work with such talented athletes, but it’s not a coincidence that my skaters all get outstanding results. I have worked my ass off to make it happen. So no, I’m not insulted that you think I got my job through Yakov’s nepotism. The very idea is too fucking idiotic to offend me.”

In a sense, the younger Viktor wasn’t wrong about him. He hadn’t changed much over the last ten years. He was still fond of a good surprise, and he still knew exactly how to rip someone to shreds without raising his voice.

“Now,” Viktor continued. His younger self flinched; he’d turned sickly pale. “If you really want a different coach, I’d be glad to help you find one. But if you want to reach the top of the podium next season, whether you go back home or stay here, you’ll be warmed up and on the ice by 10:00 a.m.”

No answer, just a terrified nod. Viktor let his face soften into a true smile.

“Good. Go take a shower and get some sleep. We converted the office into a guest room, so there’s a bed made up for you already.”

“Okay.” He sounded so young. Young and insecure. Viktor felt a pang of guilt, wondering if maybe he went too far. He took back all the times he’d wished somebody had knocked him down a few pegs as a younger man; it wasn’t pleasant to watch.

“It’s going to be fun to work with you,” he added as damage control. “I always wondered how much better I could have been if somebody else knew the quad flip more than theoretically.”

That perked up his younger self. “Nobody else lands it?”

“Not for five years.” He leaned forward conspiratorially and winked at his younger self. “And when someone did, I married him.”


The Center for Soulmate Research had already responded to Viktor’s message by the time he was ready for bed. An assistant professor confirmed that there were no previously documented cases of time travel with interchanged soulmates, and could Mr. Nikiforov please send a report of the incident and keep thorough notes until Mr. Katsuki returned? And would Mr. Nikiforov and his Alternate be willing to take part in an interview at their earliest convenience? Their cooperation would make an invaluable contribution to the field. There was an attachment with multiple questionnaires, an IRB approval statement, and an informed consent release.

There was not one word of reassurance that Yuuri would come home safely, no gesture of comfort for a frightened husband. He was just a test subject, a grant renewal opportunity.

Viktor cried himself to sleep.

Chapter Text

Viktor couldn’t decide how to refer to his younger self in his own mind. Something in his brain didn’t sit right if he thought “me,” but he felt the same strange twitch at thinking “him.” They’d agreed on “Vitya” and “Viktor” to distinguish between them verbally, but that was also odd. They were both Vitya to their friends, and it made Viktor feel isolated to hear his full name from people who knew him better than that. Yuri, Mila, and Otabek all graduated to the diminutive by the time Viktor retired from competition. Yuuri had called him Vitya since shortly after moving to Russia (not that it mattered because Yuuri wasn’t there, and that fact wouldn’t stop stabbing Viktor in the chest every time he took a breath).

But the more formal skaters called him Viktor L’vovich now, and that meant he’d crossed over from nominal adult to adult-adult. He was an authority figure in the same rink where he used to be an enfant terrible. He had an office with his name on the door and a regular salary, funded by the Ministry of Sport. He could cheerfully nod his way through politicians yelling about training Kazakh and Japanese skaters on Russian money, although they were never quite angry enough to not backtrack when Viktor offered to move to Japan if he was such a burden on the state. He could deal with the discomfort of hearing the wrong name better than his 22-year-old self. That’s what he told himself, anyway.

“You don’t have to pretend you’re okay, you know,” said Yuri.

They were supposed to be discussing the transition and entry to Yuri’s final short program jumping pass, but Viktor’s attention kept wandering to his younger self. Otabek and Mila were adjusting to their new rinkmate as well as could be expected, but Yuri re-introduced himself with “You’re an asshole at this age and you’ll stay an asshole until Katsudon makes you get your priorities straight, so keep the fuck away from me,” and it had been downhill from there. The younger Viktor—Vitya, they were calling him Vitya, and he wouldn’t be here long—seemed to have taken Yuri’s animosity as a challenge. He waved and blew a kiss as he skated by, throwing himself into his newly acquired quad flip once he was a safe distance away.

“Asshole,” Yuri muttered. “But seriously, this isn’t normal. It’s not even normal for supernatural, sci-fi, soulmate time travel bullshit. You should be gone or kid Katsudon should be here. So quit acting like everything’s fine.”

“I’m not.”

“Bullshit.”

“Yura, the first thing I had to do this morning was call my in-laws and tell them their son disappeared. You want to know what they said? They asked if I was all right, because the Katsuki family is too good and kind for this world. So I’m following their example and trying to stay calm, otherwise I’m going to have a complete breakdown right here on the ice. Okay?”

His voice was maybe a half step below outright hysteria and he knew it. Yuri gave him a hard look, his eyebrows drawn together and his sharp jaw set in a frown. Otabek had paused nearby and looked ready to intervene if they escalated from heated discussion to outright argument. It wouldn’t be the first time. Mila slid to a stop next to him and bent to clean the snow from her blades, but she kept her eyes on Yuri, clearly trying to decide if he would benefit from a trip around the rink held over her head. Yuri had grown tall, towering over his boyfriend and girlfriend, but height was no obstacle to a determined Mila Babicheva.

“Okay,” Yuri grumbled. He spared a dark glance at the handful of other skaters and their coaches on the ice.

As the club’s head choreographer and coach for the top-ranked senior skaters, Viktor had plenty of clout at the rink, but he couldn’t just close the open ice sessions or kick his colleagues out of their practice slots without warning. They all seemed to have put two and two together quickly enough and stayed out of the way, but that didn’t stop them staring at both him and Vitya. Here at the rink, among people he considered friends and colleagues, the covert attention felt like having paparazzi in his bedroom.

“But listen,” Yuri added. “You know how you and Katsudon had to give me the whole ‘We care about you, you little shit’ speech because I wouldn’t let you help me with my jumps back when I started my growth spurts?”

“Yes, I remember,” Viktor answered slowly. He could see where Yuri was going with this, and it led to him crying in the middle of the rink if he didn’t get a handle on his emotions right away. This wasn’t like him, but then again, it was hard to say what he was really like without his connection to Yuuri.

“We care about you, you stubborn bastard,” said Mila. She and Otabek moved closer to make their group a huddle. Viktor could see his younger self slide to a stop and watch them from the other side of the rink.

Yuri nodded. “I would’ve gone with decrepit, balding bastard, but that’s the general idea.”

“So let us know what we can do to help,” Otabek added.

Viktor shook his head fondly at his students, his friends. “Do you practice this three musketeers act at home, or what?”

“What can we do?” Otabek repeated, firmer this time.

“You can let me do my job,” said Viktor. He skated backwards an arm’s length to separate himself from the group and switched to his official coaching voice. “Short program run-throughs starting in half an hour, all of you. I’m going to focus on young Vitya for a bit, but you know what needs work, yes?”

“Yes, coach,” they said in perfect unison.

“Creepy, guys. Help each other out, and yell if you need me. And Yura?” he added, quieter now as Otabek and Mila skated off to practice in open sections of the ice.

“What?”

“Be a little nicer to him, okay? He’s missing Yuuri too.”

“I will make no promises, old man, but I’ll try.” Yuri skated up to punch Viktor in the shoulder. “Only because Katsudon would want me to.”

“Go figure out that transition, brat.”

Viktor glided away to the dulcet tones of Yuri’s increasingly vulgar insults. As he matured and left his teen years behind, Yuri never grew out of showing his affection through the number of times he could call someone a motherfucker in one sentence. In a quieter part of the rink, Vitya was working his way through a series of steps and turns, making faces each time something didn’t go the way he wanted. He paused and let his arms flop to his sides at Viktor’s approach.

“Something’s wrong with the step sequence,” he said.

“I can see that. Do it again.”

Vitya muttered something that sounded suspiciously like “fuck you” under his breath, but he started over all the same. Even ten years later, Viktor could hear the music in his head as Vitya moved. The steps and turns themselves were clean, the edge changes precise, but the pacing was off from what he knew this sequence became before the season started.

“The problem is you’re hitting some of your marks a half beat too soon. You need to really play up the syncopation in this section or it’ll just look awkward. Here, skate it with me at half speed.” They went through the movements together as Viktor counted the beats, over and over until Vitya could demonstrate it himself. Rather than pleased with his accomplishment, he looked annoyed.

“Maybe I should just scrap this.”

“Why?” Viktor asked. He tried not to be insulted at the idea, but it was difficult. He had fretted over the step sequence all summer of 2011, unable to figure out why it didn’t quite work. It wasn’t until Yakov’s laptop glitched out and de-synced the audio while they reviewed footage that Viktor realized the piano was always hitting accent notes between the movements of the sequence, making him appear strangely off the beat even as he matched the percussion. It was a tiny detail, the kind of thing the audience might never have noticed, but he couldn’t afford to sacrifice a quarter of a point in GOE or PCS. The flip alone wouldn’t guarantee him gold if he didn’t maximize his performance across the board. He’d given all that information to Vitya in twenty minutes, and the result was seeing his summer of hard work thrown out?

“If I have to compete here, the audience will already know these programs. They’ll have seen you skate them ten years ago. What kind of surprise is that?”

“I’d say your being here in the first place is a big enough surprise. Getting to see you skate these programs in person again, at the right age, this time knowing how significant they are?” Vitya had refused to hear how well his older self did in the 2011-12 season and beyond, but he knew just from how people looked at the two of them that he was due to become a superstar. “Any event you enter is going to sell out in seconds.”

Vitya looked unconvinced.

“Besides,” Viktor added, “you should be grateful you can recycle programs this old at all. It’s pure luck that your jump layouts meet the current balance requirements, but if this time travel thing had happened two years ago, you would’ve shown up before the ISU gave men’s singles back our extra thirty seconds and eighth jumping pass in the free skate. You’d have to cut the music twice and practice different versions for if you stayed here or went home.”

“Ugh.”

Viktor had to chuckle at that. It was the same face he had pulled when he heard the news about the lowered time and jump limit.

“It could have been worse. For a minute, they were floating some ridiculous idea about doing away with the short and free to replace them with ‘athletic’ and ‘artistic’ programs.”

“What kind of bullshit—!” Vitya squawked.

Every single person in the rink froze and snapped their attention toward Viktor. They probably, Viktor realized, thought there was a fight gearing up, not a couple of PCS-hoarding drama queens ranting about ISU stupidity. Before he could remind himself that he was too miserable and empty for humor, Viktor was laughing hard enough to double over and brace a hand against Vitya’s shoulder for balance.

“I know, right?” he managed to say through his laughter. “They could try enforcing the PCS guidelines or something, but why do that when you can destroy everything the sport stands for instead? Oh my god, have you said the thing at nationals yet?”

Vitya grinned. “You mean the ‘Men’s singles should be more than a competition of who can fall on the fewest quads’ thing? That was last season, right after I landed the flip.”

“That’s the one! Nearly cost me my Euros and Worlds slots, and I thought Evgeni was going to have me murdered.”

“Worth it.” The edges of Vitya’s smile twitched and faded a bit. “I figured you wouldn’t find that funny anymore.”

“Are you kidding? I’m a professional thorn in the FFKK’s side. The only thing stopping them from blacklisting me is they can’t stand the idea of me coaching Russians in a Japanese skating club. Yurio and Milya would follow me, even if it forced them to skate for another country. So the officials glare, and I keep saying whatever’s on my mind in a polite enough way that it makes them look like assholes if they punish me.”

“Sounds familiar. You’re not all business in your old age, then,” said Vitya.

“Mm, I have my moments. But speaking of business, we’re doing short program run-throughs in a minute. You’ll go last, okay? Keep working on those steps. Marked jumps only today.”

Viktor had to laugh again when, during his turn, Vitya looked him right in the eye and flashed a shark-toothed smile before launching into the full quad flip. Even Yuri had to give a nod of respect for the open rebellion. Vitya was going to fit right in.

Viktor hoped he wouldn’t be around long enough for it to matter.


By the end of the week, the media had caught on that there were two Viktor Nikiforovs in the world and Yuuri was missing. Viktor had his publicist release a statement, canceled the ice show appearances he and Yuuri had agreed to, and refused all interview requests. It didn’t take the reporters long to realize they’d get better stories from the researchers in Toronto than from both Viktors’ steady “No comment.” They took a leaf from Yuri, Otabek, and Mila’s book and started saying it in unison just to freak people out.

Viktor found himself feeling… not exactly back to normal, but less actively in crisis mode. He’d resolved to trust that Yuuri was safe, wherever he was. Hours on the Center for Soulmate Research website had shown him that soulmates really did come back from time travel without fail. He began to understand why some people viewed soulmates as proof of higher powers. There were no recorded examples of an Original or Alternate getting hurt or dying during time travel, as if the universe wouldn’t allow it. He didn’t let himself think about there being no recorded examples of time travel switching people either. Yuuri and Vitya’s case may have been strange, but Viktor had to believe it would work out in the end. In the meantime, his job was to take care of himself and Vitya for the sake of both of their Yuuris. He knew Yuuri must be working just as hard in the other timeline.

As for Vitya, he was settling in at the rink. Yuuri’s vacant schedule required only minor tweaks—a bit less time in the ballet studio, a bit more in the gym and the physiotherapy clinic—to suit his training regimen. He was as headstrong as Viktor remembered being at that age (still are, said the memory of Yuuri’s voice in his head), but he was also his own harshest critic (that too, sweetheart, said the imaginary Yuuri, and maybe Viktor was going a little bit crazy in his absence), always staying on the ice at the end of sessions until the resurfacing crew yelled at him to get out of the way. He could translate critique into improvement like magic. The only thing he couldn’t do was obey orders to mark his elements. His younger self’s behavior explained a hell of a lot about why Viktor had to wear a knee brace at work and got anti-inflammatory injections to his hips every two months. As a younger man, he’d thought his training team were just being paranoid, keeping him from his full potential for the sake of protecting their antiquated theories about what a skater’s body could handle. None of them was prepared for a world where men could do three, four, even five different quads in a free skate. He was going to be the first, and then maybe he’d show them the sixth quad wasn’t so impossible after all.

He owed Yakov an apology. Maybe in the form of a case of vodka. Or a Mediterranean vacation.

Sunday brought the first rest day since Yuuri’s disappearance. Since Viktor couldn’t distract himself with work, he dove into food preparation for the week, roasting chicken breasts, slicing vegetables for salads, and mixing up various dressings and sauces so mealtimes wouldn’t be totally monotonous. When that was done and there were still too many hours left in the day, he began a labor-intensive pasta sauce that he’d learned from Chris. All of the aromatics were minced, not diced, and the early stages of cooking required constant attention to the pan. The tomato paste had to be within a hair’s breadth of scorching before it was time to add wine, water, and seasonings. He’d burned it horribly the first time he tried the recipe without Chris’ supervision. Yuuri had a pizza on the way before Viktor finished his first round of swearing at the charred mess on the stove.

“Smells good. Need a hand?” Vitya strolled into the kitchen.

“It doesn’t take two people to stir.”

“Well, your options are letting me help or letting me talk at you, because I am bored. There’s only so much I can read in one day. Besides, rest days are supposed to be for—” He broke off and looked away from Viktor.

“Taking Makkachin to the park,” Viktor finished for him. “It’s okay. I’m not going to break down at her name.”

Vitya shrugged. “Still. Awkward.” He picked up the open bottle of wine and took a glass from the cupboard. “I’m just gonna… get out of your way.”

“You’re not bothering me.” He really wasn’t, Viktor realized as he spoke. The Makkachin comment hadn’t held the barbed quality it did earlier in the week. It was a product of Vitya’s (and, to be fair, Viktor’s) natural bluntness, not a subtle attack designed to throw him off-guard. It felt familiar, almost like a conversation with Yuuri and the way they laughed at each other when they inevitably said something tactless or silly.

“I was thinking of looking for exhibition music anyway. Mind if I use your laptop?” Vitya’s voice was bright again and so, so transparent. The exhibition idea had probably popped into his head half a second ago, and its only purpose was to get him out of the room without admitting he didn’t want to be there. Well, Viktor wasn’t going to force him into discomfort.

“Feel free. It’s in the office. I suppose you don’t want any hints about what song I used that season?”

“Don’t you dare!” And with that, he was gone. Viktor could hear him walking between the office and living room, then there was a competing strain of music against the classical mix Viktor was playing in the kitchen. He popped in his earbuds and shoved back the urge to passive-aggressively hum along. With Yuuri, that would have earned him a playful swat on the ass and a kiss. Vitya was proving much more unpredictable.

When the sauce hit its simmer, there was nothing to do but leave it alone for a couple of hours. Viktor grabbed a wine glass of his own and joined Vitya in the living room. He found him hunched forward on the sofa, the laptop sitting open on the coffee table in front of him. It wasn’t potential exhibition music he was listening to. No, Viktor knew this music intimately, could feel it in his bones because he had choreographed it and skated it beside Yuuri in practice.

Vitya was watching Yuuri’s free skate from Worlds two seasons ago. Viktor settled in next to him and let the sounds carry him back to the rinkside in Montreal. He could still feel the calm Yuuri exuded with every movement, years in the spotlight as a champion having built up his confidence so that he hardly got stage fright anymore. It brought a hollow ache to Viktor’s chest.

“He’s so beautiful,” Vitya whispered.

“I know.”

“I mean, he’s good-looking in all the photos and stuff you have here, but this? I’ve never—” He trailed off, seeming uncertain. Viktor knew the words he needed.

“You’ve never seen anybody who makes music with his body like this.”

“Exactly.”

“This is how he skated even before he improved his jumps. He made it to seventh at the 2015 Worlds with just a quad toe, and he two-footed it in his free skate. And somehow he thought I hadn’t noticed him.”

Yuuri’s score appeared on the screen, and he and Viktor shared a celebratory kiss at the first-place finish, minutes from becoming Yuuri’s second world title after Yuri and JJ edged him out the last two years. Losing 2018 to JJ hadn’t been so bad because Yuuri was coming off his Olympic victory with pain in his left ankle and had taken it easy for Worlds, but the free skate fall that let Yuri squeak past in 2019 had hurt his pride, even if it was a close friend taking home the gold.

“Do you want to see more?” Viktor asked. “I made a playlist of my favorite programs for a Twitter Q&A a few months ago.”

“Please,” Vitya breathed.

Viktor patted his back lightly and poured two glasses of wine. He remembered falling this hard and fast for the way Yuuri used his body, and that had been a nervous Yuuri who had rotten luck with his jumps, followed by a drunk Yuuri who couldn’t keep his balance off the dance floor. Vitya’s first exposure to Yuuri was at the pinnacle of his skating achievements, the first of his back-to-back Worlds golds, bringing the total to three with his 2017 win.

Vitya didn’t glance away from the screen for an instant after Viktor hit play on his personally curated “Best of Katsuki Yuuri” list. It included short programs, free skates, exhibitions, ice show group numbers, junior and senior eras alike. He had aimed for variety, some lesser-known favorites alongside what everybody expected. He planned, per Vitya’s no spoilers policy, to skip the “Stammi Vicino” duet, but he figured an occasional glance at himself in all-on-ice segments wasn’t significant enough to be breaking the rules.

The screen blinked from Yuuri’s Pyeongchang short program to “Yuri on Ice” from the Cup of China. When he made the playlist, Viktor had deliberately chosen a video with a plain title: “Yuri Katsuki FS CoC 2016 no commentary,” nothing about “4F!!!!” or “THE KISS OMG” like so many of them had. It was about the whole performance, a testament to Yuuri’s stamina that wouldn’t let a shaky start drag him down in the end. The kiss was a bonus.

Vitya frowned as Yuuri bobbled his jumps. He glanced over at Viktor with a look that clearly said, Why the hell is this video a favorite? Then Yuuri got it together for the triple Lutz, triple toe combo and the step sequence, and Vitya gasped as he recognized his own favored entrance to the quad flip.

“Did he get the rotations?” he asked, breathless, when Yuuri slipped off his edge and fell.

“Tech panel called it as a quad. He landed a clean one two months later at the final.”

“Did you know he was going to try it?”

Viktor nudged him and pointed at the screen. “Keep watching.”

He may have chosen a video with a low-key title, but he had made absolutely certain that it had a good angle of him launching himself at Yuuri. Vitya’s startled, joyful laugh mirrored the happiness Viktor felt every time he remembered this moment.

“So that’s a ‘no,’ I take it.” Vitya shot him a wink.

“I had no idea. But I’d say I surprised him right back, wouldn’t you?”

The Viktor on the screen was whispering in Yuuri’s ear (“You forgot to take your bows”) as they helped each other to their feet. Yuuri, blushing furiously, gave a deep but shaky bow to the judges and accepted a bouquet from one of the sweepers. Kissing Yuuri was like opening a fire hydrant on the relationship they’d been slowly developing over the summer. All that pressure was released at once, and they were giddy from it. They grabbed hugs between interviews, cuddled in the back of the hotel shuttle, and fell asleep in each other’s arms for the first time. Yuuri had woken him with feather-light kisses in the morning before giving off a wave of nervous determination and slipping his fingers past Viktor’s waistband. They were in for trouble not long afterward—Viktor still heard “Let’s end this” in his nightmares—but those first weeks had been a constant rush of euphoria.

“You know,” Viktor murmured, “Yuuri didn’t want to believe we were soulmates at first.”

“The hell? Why? He obviously worshipped you. Isn’t that, like, every teenager’s dream, finding out their idol is their soulmate?” Vitya glanced up from the latest video, this one the all-on-ice finale from Viktor’s last World Team Trophy in 2019. Viktor and Yuuri were holding hands as Viktor officially announced his retirement, first in Japanese, then English, then Russian. In a few moments, Yuri was going to pounce on them in tears, and then the entire rink full of skaters would crowd around for hugs and well-wishes.

“He told me it upset him to realize how unhappy I’d been. It’s one thing to be soulmates with your idol, but finding out your idol is the clinically depressed guy who’s been hanging out in your brain your whole life? It’s not a fairy tale.”

That hesitant Yuuri was nowhere in evidence on the laptop screen. He was beaming while he matched pace with Viktor on a final lap around the ice. They were about to leave for the airport straight from the arena, and after that they would spend two weeks celebrating Viktor’s retirement and their first wedding anniversary in a private villa on the Sicilian coast. It was a good memory, filled with passionate sex and gentle reassurance whenever either of them grew pensive about closing a chapter of their life together. They had spent five years building themselves around each other, bolstering with their strengths where the other was weak. It was unthinkable now that there was ever a time when Viktor was afraid to let anyone see his vulnerabilities, but physical proof of it was sitting right next to him.

“I don’t have depre—” Vitya began, faltering on the word.

“You do. The sooner you admit it and get help, the better.”

He was trying his best to be matter-of-fact and not push too hard. Forget better quad flip technique, if he could reach his younger self on this he might improve his life immeasurably, even if it was in a different universe. There could be a Viktor Nikiforov who never spent his gold-winning streak staring at oncoming trains and thinking, “What if…?” That was assuming this younger Viktor even had his own existence, Viktor reminded himself. He could just wink out of being when Yuuri came back. That wasn’t how Viktor had been treating this ordeal, though. If he really believed Vitya had no life of his own, he wouldn’t be stepping in as a coach or creating a primer on how best to love Katsuki Yuuri, whenever they ended up meeting in their world.

He was so wrapped up in his own head that he responded automatically to the pair of lips pressed against his. Five years with Yuuri had built kissing into his muscle memory like no other lover could. Yuuri didn’t need an excuse to give him a quick peck in passing or to press him up against the wall and kiss him senseless when the mood struck. To kiss Yuuri was easier than breathing. It wasn’t until a too-heavy weight straddled Viktor’s legs that the alarm bells in the back of his mind finally got his attention, and he shoved Vitya off him with more force than he’d intended.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

“Kissing you,” Vitya answered simply. “You looked sad. More than usual. I thought… maybe it would help.”

“Oh god,” Viktor groaned. “Of course. That’s exactly where your mind would go. I’m sad, so you’re going to try and fuck it out of me, and then everything will get better, right?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to. I was you, remember? I know how I used to operate.”

Vitya wouldn’t look at him. His arms were crossed over his chest and he leaned against the arm of the couch, as far removed as he could get without running away.

“That’s not what I was doing,” he hissed between clenched teeth. “Maybe you have ten extra years of experience being me, but I still know you. I know how you are about… about touch. You came home to him”—he waved a hand at Yuuri on the laptop screen—“for five years, and you expect me to believe you weren’t having sex several times a week? And now he’s been gone for six days. Have you even been able to get yourself off?”

“That’s none of your business.”

Vitya was right. In the shower the night before, Viktor had wrapped a hand around his cock and tried desperately to make himself come over thoughts of Yuuri. Yuuri sliding Viktor’s erection between his lubed thighs, pounding into Viktor from behind, kneeling before him with his mouth open to swallow every drop of come. Each image drawn from Viktor’s memory and imagination only tore the emptiness wider within him, and he quickly softened in his hand. He’d ended the shower sobbing against the tiled wall.

“You can’t do it, can you? Not without Yuuri in your head. It felt wrong when I tried, and I’m not even married to him.”

Viktor shook his head as if Vitya’s words weren’t practically reading his mind. “It’s not the same.”

“I know. He’s your husband. You love him. My connection with him is nowhere near what you have together, and I can’t begin to replace that for you. But you need physical contact or you’re miserable. I know that because I need it too. So let’s do what we can to make each other feel good. It’s basically masturbation, isn’t it, if we’re the same person? At least let me try.” He scooted closer to rest a tentative hand on Viktor’s knee. Their eyes met, and Viktor saw his own fear and loneliness reflected back at him. “If you don’t want this, or if you think Yuuri would be hurt by it, then say no. I’ll never bring it up again, I promise.”

Viktor leaned forward and caught Vitya’s lips in the gentlest kisses he could manage. Each touch of their mouths brought them closer together until Vitya’s right thigh was pressed to Viktor’s left.

“Is that a yes?” Vitya asked, panting slightly.

Yes.”

“Good.” Vitya swung a leg over Viktor’s hips and hauled himself into his lap again. Their lips crushed together as Vitya tangled his fingers into Viktor’s hair.

Viktor didn’t know what to do with his hands. He stroked along Vitya’s shoulders and cupped the back of his head to deepen their kisses. Vitya finally pulled back with a frustrated little growl, grabbed Viktor’s right hand, and planted it on his ass. Viktor squeezed, just a touch, and smiled at the gasp he elicited from Vitya. That earned him a flurry of kisses so forceful he could hardly draw breath afterwards. He was getting hard, and Vitya wasn’t helping by driving their groins together at the peak of each kiss.

“Go shut off the stove,” Vitya murmured in his ear. “Do whatever you need to get ready. Then meet me in the bedroom.” He gave one final grind of his hips, and then he was walking casually down the hallway without a glance behind him.

Viktor downed both glasses of wine in one gulp each and set about following Vitya’s instructions to the letter.

Chapter Text

Viktor half-expected Vitya to be waiting for him naked with lube and a selection of toys at the ready, but he sat fully clothed at the foot of the bed. He was drumming his fingers on one knee, and he looked up with a close-lipped but welcoming smile when Viktor walked in. Viktor sensed instinctively that he would have shut this down if Vitya had been nude or pounced on him before he made it through the door. Vitya probably knew it too. He stood and crossed the room, but he stopped half a meter away, just outside arm’s reach.

“Here to let me down easy?” he asked, offering a smile that broke Viktor’s heart at how winsome—and fake, fake, fake—it was. Only twenty-two and so primed for rejection.

Viktor answered by closing the space between them and pressing his lips to Vitya’s. Vitya wasted no time in wrapping his arms around Viktor and slowly sliding one hand down to grip his ass. Their hips rubbed together in tempo with the kisses, steady and smooth, and Viktor could feel them both beginning to get hard again. It was surreal to be standing and kissing someone straight on. Tilting his head down slightly for a kiss was the most natural thing in the world to him now, but Vitya was, of course, exactly his height.

As the kisses slowed and finally petered out, Viktor brought his hands up to cup Vitya’s face. “There’s one rule tonight: No performing. There’s nobody to impress here, just me. So be honest.”

Vitya furrowed his eyebrows, looking like he wanted to protest. Viktor kissed him once more and found, when he stepped back, that Vitya had let his eyes fall shut. He leaned forward after Viktor, chasing the contact of their bodies.

“Okay,” he whispered, and he placed a delicate line of kisses across Viktor’s cheek. “Okay. No games, no performances. Tonight, I’m going to make you feel incredible. You won’t be able to sit down tomorrow without remembering how good this was.”

“You seem very confident that you’re topping.”

“It’s simple,” Vitya answered. “You’re lonely. And when you’re lonely, you want to get railed. How’s that for honest?”

“Well, you’re not wrong.” Viktor leaned in for another kiss, but Vitya stepped back and shook his head with a smile, this one free of artifice.

“Let me get things set up before we go any farther,” he said. “I hate breaking the mood to find lube.”

“I—”

“I know, I know, you already know that, you remember being me, et cetera, et cetera. I’m just making conversation, you ass. You still keep your supplies in the nightstand?” He crossed to the side of the bed, closed his hand on the top-drawer knob, and glanced over his shoulder.

Viktor waved for him to go on, and Vitya gave a satisfied nod. He opened the drawers and began sorting through the sex supplies and toys Viktor and Yuuri stored there. Vibrators, plugs, cock rings, everything was examined and put back in its place. Vitya pulled a double-ended dildo from a mesh bag and gave Viktor a knowing grin.

“This looks fun.”

“It takes some trial and error to get the rhythm right, but after that, yeah. It’s incredible,” said Viktor. Yuuri had surprised him with it for their second anniversary, and they’d spent their annual two weeks’ vacation before the ice show season working out that trial and error. It was also the last possible thing Viktor was interested in doing at the moment, and Vitya seemed to feel the same way. He slipped the dildo back into its bag and replaced it in the drawer.

“But not for tonight,” he said.

“No. Not tonight.”

“Are you out of condoms?” Vitya asked. He pulled the bottle of lube out and set it on the nightstand. “I don’t see them in here.”

“We, uh… We don’t use condoms anymore. Didn’t use them for long in the first place, really.”

Vitya blushed down into the v-neck of his shirt and slowly slid the drawers shut. “Oh.”

“I think there’s a spare pack in our travel kit,” said Viktor. “We try not to mess up hotel sheets.”

The box in their bag of travel toiletries was empty. Viktor swore under his breath.

“That week in Tokyo after the Team Trophy,” he groaned. “How did I forget?”

“It was a fun time, I take it?”

“The best. We were supposed to sightsee. I think we left the suite twice, and those were both to go swimming.”

Vitya plucked the empty condom box from Viktor’s hand and tossed it in the waste bin.

“Oh, well. Could be worse,” he said with a shrug.

“It’s not like we’re short on other options,” Viktor agreed.

“No, that’s not what I meant.” He pressed a kiss to Viktor’s neck, then licked a stripe with just the tip of his tongue from the dip of Viktor’s collarbone to his jawline. Viktor let out a strangled moan, but Vitya continued speaking as if it hadn’t happened. “If I’m barebacking for the first time, it may as well be with someone I trust.”

He followed that up with a nip at Viktor’s earlobe and grinned at the full-body shudder he’d provoked, Viktor’s fingers scrabbling for purchase at his shoulders. They were kissing again, and Viktor felt Vitya’s erection against his leg, seeking friction from his thigh with slow thrusts.

“Tell me the hottest thing Yuuri does for you,” Vitya whispered in his ear. “I want to know.”

“Do you want a list, or—”

“Just tell me the first thing that comes to mind.”

Viktor didn’t have to think long. He and past lovers had experimented a fair amount, but he had a particular favorite scenario that was unique to sex with Yuuri.

“Sometimes, when I top, he likes to talk about me fucking him so well it gets him pregnant. It’s weird as hell to think about any other time—we don’t even want kids—but when we’re in the moment it’s—”

“That sounds amazing.” Vitya stilled his hips and kissed Viktor lightly, right on the cupid’s bow. His fingers played up Viktor’s thighs and slipped past the hem of his shirt. Leather slid against metal as Viktor felt his belt loosen and fall open. “I’ve been told I’m pretty good at this, but I don’t think I can compare to what you’ve been getting these days. Soul bond sex, pregnancy kink, double-ended dildos… All I have going for me is incredible blowjobs.”

“And talking too much,” Viktor added as he helped Vitya out of his shirt.

“You like talking in bed.” Vitya fussily brushed his hair back into place from where his shirt had disturbed it and shot Viktor an irritated look, though it wasn’t clear if he was annoyed about the hair or about Viktor being a hypocrite.

Viktor smiled and shrugged in a ‘Caught me’ gesture. “We’ve got to be in bed for that to count,” he said, “which means we’re still wearing too much.”

“Well, then.” Vitya arched his eyebrows and popped his belt open. Maintaining steady eye contact with Viktor, he undid his fly and stepped out of his jeans, followed by pulling off his briefs and daintily dropping them to the floor. His cock was already so hard it was jutting straight out from his body. From there, Viktor’s eyes were drawn to the sculpted thighs and abs. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen Vitya naked in the last week—he was as casual as ever about nudity and never hesitated to shed his towel when he picked out clothes from Viktor’s closet—but this was the first he’d dared to truly look at him in detail.

Vitya was two kilos of upper-body muscle away from the best shape of his life. Viktor’s metabolism hadn’t betrayed him in retirement—yet, as Yakov and Yuuri were equally eager to remind him—but he’d lost the sharp definition of his competitive days. It was vanity as much as solidarity and convenience that kept him on a lower-calorie version of Yuuri’s training diet and sent him to the club gym with Otabek while the others were at ballet. Was he out of his mind to be doing this with Vitya, who never hesitated to show his disgust at every sign of aging?

“It’s your turn.” Vitya’s voice broke past Viktor’s thoughts. “Take your clothes off and lie down.”

When had Viktor’s fingers started trembling? He took a deep, centering breath, but his hands still shook as he tugged his shirt over his head. His trousers and underwear fell to the floor, and—carefully not looking at Vitya—he walked to the bed and lay on his back, his legs stretched out to pull his stomach muscles taut.

Beautiful,” Vitya whispered.

All the tension Viktor had been carrying seeped out of him. He let his limbs relax into the bed, and then he heard Vitya give a sharp, barking laugh.

“Is that really what you were so nervous about just now? That I wouldn’t think you’re hot?” He sank, still laughing, onto the mattress next to Viktor and patted his thigh. “Of course you’re gorgeous. I mean, maybe you’re not me— Except you totally are me. Because time travel, and we’re the same— Fuck, you know what I mean, right?”

Viktor grinned up at him. “I think maybe we’d better give up on this whole banter thing. But I appreciate the compliment.”

That sent Vitya into a worse fit of laughter, and his perfect abs shook while he reached toward the nightstand and retrieved the lube bottle.

“Open those beautiful legs for me,” he said.

Viktor spread his thighs and drew his feet back until his heels reached his ass. Vitya knelt below him and poured a thick dollop of lube over his hand, rubbing it between his fingers to warm it up. With his free hand braced on Viktor’s raised knee, he brought two fingers down until they pressed against his rim. He paused and looked up at Viktor for confirmation.

“Go on,” he answered the silent question. “You know I don’t need much prep.”

Vitya shook his head. “This isn’t about prep. I want to finger you for as long as you need it to last. Would you like that?”

“God, yes.”

With a firm thrust, Vitya’s fingers sank into him to the first knuckles, then slowly pushed onward to the second. He angled them up and stroked along the inner wall, watching Viktor’s face until he gasped at the low thrum of pleasure from his prostate.

“There?” Vitya asked

“Right there.”

“Okay. Let me know what’s working for you.”

Viktor let himself ride the sensations as Vitya stroked him. Sometimes he would rub his thumb against Viktor’s perineum or push a third finger inside, but mostly it was those two fingers magically finding the right angle and pressure as Viktor thrust his hips into Vitya’s hand. They could read each other near-perfectly, telegraphing any changes of speed or rhythm. It was more than Viktor could have hoped when he’d started kissing Vitya on the couch. That felt like days ago now.

“I know how much you love this,” said Vitya. “Nobody ever does it long enough. They all want to get on to the main event, so they can say they fucked Viktor Nikiforov.” He placed a firm kiss to the side of Viktor’s knee and laughed breathily as Viktor moaned at those long, slender fingers moving inside him. “Why does nobody ever want to say they made me come just by fingering me? Seems like a bigger achievement. I’ve never managed it myself, but everything I’ve read makes it sound like the best feeling in the world.”

“Yu– Yuuri… Ah!” Viktor threw his head back at a shattering jolt that spread from his groin all the way to his fingertips. His hips were starting to shudder at every touch. It wouldn’t take long if they kept this up.

“Are you trying to say Yuuri does this for you? Touches you like this until you come?” He smiled at Viktor’s frantic nod. “You lucky, lucky man. Is that what you want tonight?”

“I… No. No, I want… Oh god, please.”

“Please what?” Vitya stilled the movement of his fingers. “I’m listening. Tell me what you need.”

“I need you in me. Fuck me,” Viktor gasped. The waves that had been building within him, not far from carrying him through to orgasm, subsided as the steady attention to his prostate ceased. It left him with nothing but the desire to be filled, stretched, taken. He needed someone else to seize control of his body and use him until he couldn’t think anymore. He whined as Vitya pulled his fingers out and stood from the bed to wipe his hand off on some tissues. Then he was back kneeling between Viktor’s legs, picking up the lube again and rubbing a generous amount over his cock in deliberate, luxurious strokes.

“How do you want me?” he asked, his eyes fluttering half-shut as his hand moved.

“Just like this.” Viktor hooked one leg around Vitya’s waist to pull him closer and groaned when the movement brushed their cocks together. Vitya pitched forward, but he caught himself with a hand on each of Viktor’s shoulders. His fingers dug in as he slowly rolled his hips for more contact and grinned all the wider at Viktor’s moans.

“Plain, old missionary position?” he teased. “Such a romantic.”

“Yes,” Viktor agreed simply. “So are you. Please don’t make me beg for this. Not tonight.”

“Okay.” Vitya crawled back up and onto his knees, pulling Viktor’s hips into his lap as he went. He took hold of his cock at the base and pressed it against Viktor’s hole, just as he’d done with his fingers before. At a nod from Viktor, he angled his hips down and pushed forward.

When the head of Vitya’s cock slid past his rim, Viktor knew that he wouldn’t be able to close his eyes and pretend it was Yuuri fucking him. Vagaries of size and shape aside, the way Vitya moved was too different to be mistaken for Yuuri. When Yuuri topped, he liked to enter Viktor in a series of smooth, shallow thrusts, going deeper every time, drawing out each new moment of contact. Vitya paused and waited whenever he met with resistance or felt Viktor tense up at the penetration, but he didn’t pull back until he was all the way in and rolled his hips in the first thrust.

“So warm,” he moaned. “Soft. I’m so glad I wanked earlier today, or I’d be coming already.”

“I thought—” Viktor had to pause as a rough thrust knocked the breath out of him. “Thought you said you couldn’t get off without your bond.”

“Didn’t say I couldn’t,” Vitya corrected him. “Just said it felt wrong. This doesn’t, though. This—oh god, do that again—feels perfect.”

He rose higher on his knees and pushed Viktor’s legs all the way back until he was bent double and Vitya was thrusting into him from a higher angle, letting gravity put more force behind each movement. The new position put Viktor exactly where he wanted to be. Without enough traction to counter the thrusts, he was helpless, a doll to be used until his lover was satisfied with him. He let his thoughts slip away and focused only on holding himself in place for Vitya’s cock. They rocked together, and Viktor’s consciousness faded into the background, unneeded when he was a vessel made only to accept another man’s body.

Vitya was leaning down to whisper in his ear, cutting through the fog, drawing his attention to his own cock where it hung half-hard and neglected just below where they were joined.

“What?” he managed to mumble through his confusion.

“I said, touch yourself,” Vitya pleaded. “I want you to feel good for me. I want to feel you come.”

Still a bit dazed, Viktor brought his hand to his cock and stroked slowly. It twitched, stiffening in his grasp. There was a thick string of precome hanging down from the head and pooling on the skin below it. He rubbed the slick liquid under his fingers and spread it down the length of his cock to ease the way for his hand as he picked up speed. Faster, faster, grip tighter, he was losing the rhythm of the thrusts inside him, but his mind was going too blank with need to care. Pressure mounted somewhere deep inside his pelvis, and suddenly he was crying out, jerking at his cock to send warm ribbons of come all across his stomach.

He searched automatically for the answering wave of pleasure as his partner followed him. The intensity of their bond meant neither he nor Yuuri ever lasted more than a few seconds after the other came, not without more concentration than it was worth. That kind of energy was best saved for another round, except on those rare, wonderful nights when self-control was the whole point, and Yuuri made Viktor hold back until he was a desperate mess, or vice versa. The thrusts above him didn’t stop, carrying him through the aftershocks and into a state of limbo he hadn’t experienced in years. He could hardly remember the last time he waited this long for a lover to come, couldn’t remember the name of the man he was with at all.

He focused on tightening his inner muscles at the height of each thrust, drawing moans out of Vitya with every repetition. It didn’t take long before the moans turned into keening whines.

“Close,” Vitya gasped. “I’m gonna— Can I—”

“In me.” Viktor wrapped his legs around Vitya’s waist and leveraged his hips to drive him on. “Finish in me.”

A few erratic thrusts later, Vitya threw his head back and let out a deep, stuttering groan. His arms gave out, and he collapsed on top of Viktor. Viktor could feel his cock twitching with a few final pulses inside him. This was one of his favorite moments during penetrative sex, feeling the connection with his partner in the afterglow. There were times he nearly fell asleep while still inside Yuuri. Vitya shifted his hips as if to pull out, and Viktor hooked a leg firmly below his ass to keep him close.

“Don’t—”

Vitya hushed him and kissed his cheek. “I know. My back was just pinched, that’s all. Don’t worry.”

They lay there and let their heart rates settle until, eventually, Vitya winced and drew his hips back until his cock slipped out of Viktor.

“I’m going to get something to clean you up, all right?” he said. “I’ll be right back.”

Viktor lay back and closed his eyes. He could feel Vitya’s come starting to leak out of him, and it hit him with a jolt that he’d never felt this sensation with anyone but Yuuri. Nobody but Yuuri had ever been this deeply connected to him. The bathroom faucet ran, stopped, and Vitya strolled back in with a damp washcloth. He knelt next to Viktor on the bed, and Viktor reached for the cloth.

“I can—”

“Shush,” said Vitya. “Let me take care of you.”

Viktor let his eyes fall closed again as the cloth rubbed across his stomach and then down between his thighs. The motions were relaxing, but they couldn’t dispel Viktor’s discomfort. Yuuri always sensed when he wanted to be used, treated like a fucktoy and then praised for it afterwards, but there was no way for Vitya to recognize those signals. It wasn’t something Viktor felt safe exploring before Yuuri. Vitya had brought him back to himself in those last moments, and it hadn’t been bad, exactly. Just jarring and, if he was being blunt, not quite what he needed.

“Are you okay?” Vitya asked, throwing the washcloth into the laundry hamper against the wall.

Shit, thought Viktor. “Of course,” he said. “Why?”

Vitya frowned. “Look, if you get to call me on trying to perform for you, I’m not going to pretend I don’t notice you putting up walls. This was supposed to help. Did I do something wrong? Do you need to try again? I could probably be ready in a half hour, I think.”

Good grief, he sounded so earnest. Was this what Viktor was like when he tried to calm Yuuri down at competitions? Nervous and rambling and completely unhelpful, as if he wanted to run and hide somewhere people couldn’t have emotions at him?

“No, you were fine. This was… nice. You really don’t have to stay if you’re uncomfortable, go on.”

He was caught off-guard when Vitya leaned in for another deep kiss, but he shouldn’t have been surprised. Kissing was a distraction tactic that had served him well for years. It was what Viktor used to do when a boyfriend was getting too serious, talking about their future together or getting as far as “Vitya, I love—.” It was what he tried to do in a Beijing parking garage until Yuuri rightfully screamed at him for it. People were less confusing, less intimidating when Viktor was kissing them.

“I’m not leaving you,” Vitya said in a rush the instant his lips pulled away from Viktor’s. “Tell me what to do. Tell me what Yuuri does for you when something’s wrong.”

“Just—” What did Yuuri do for him on bad days? He sent a gentle, cradling tide of comfort that wrapped Viktor in love until his sadness passed. He brought up old memories to remind them both of how happy they were together. He promised forever and beyond, and Viktor knew without question that every word of it was true. Vitya couldn’t give him any of that, but sending him away would be cruel when he so clearly wanted to help. “Just hold me.”

“Okay. Scoot over.”

Vitya stretched back out on the bed and pulled Viktor against his side. His movements were stilted, as if he didn’t quite know how to hold another person. On reflection, Viktor figured he probably didn’t. He hadn’t been a complete fool about his lovers—nobody had ever been outright cruel to him or sold a story to the tabloids—but the men he slept with were still, largely, all too happy to assume he wanted to be the little spoon. If they stayed the night.

Vitya’s fingers brushed the nape of Viktor’s neck and wound a slow, meandering path down to his hip and back again. Viktor let out a contented sigh and snuggled closer.

“Do you think the Yuuris are doing this in my world?” Vitya asked.

“Sleeping together? I don’t think my Yuuri is even going to meet himself. Seeing the champion he’ll become is just going to put 18-year-old Yuuri under more pressure, not give him confidence. No, my Yuuri is going to stay in Saint Petersburg, charm Yakov into coaching him, and take excellent care of Makkachin while you’re gone. And in his free time, he’ll write you a whole book on how to seduce him.”

“I hope I’m real,” Vitya murmured. He was staring at the ceiling, his hand still stroking absentmindedly along Viktor’s naked back.

“Hm?”

“Real. That I came from a real world and I’m not just some… some thing with fake memories that only exists while your Yuuri is gone. I hope there’s a place for me to return.” He sighed. “I want to find my Yuuri. I want to go to— Where is he in 2011, Japan?”

“Detroit,” Viktor corrected him. “He’ll have just moved there to train with Celestino Cialdini.”

“Detroit, then. I’ll go and show him that we’re soulmates. I don’t want to wait until I’m 29 to marry him. I don’t want to spend the next five years alone.” He paused, seeming to realize how that sounded. “No offense.”

“None taken. I hope that plan goes smoother for you than it did for me.”

“Wait, what?”

Viktor smiled. “After I realized Yuuri was my soulmate, I ended up going to his family’s hot spring in Japan without warning him I was coming. He found me naked in the baths, so I just, uh, stood up and told him I was going to be his new coach. There was a lot of screaming.”

“Oh. My. God.” Vitya’s mouth had dropped open. “I get more ridiculous with age?”

“Wait until you hear about the Chihoko Incident.”

“The what, now? No, no, no, this is too much. You are going back to the beginning of this dumpster fire of a story, and you’re not stopping until you reach the wedding, minimum. You keep saying you figured out the soulmate thing before he did?”

“Well… Sort of. I already knew my soulmate had to be a skater or a fan because the bond got stronger at Worlds and a few other competitions, but it really started when Yuuri bombed his free skate at the 2015 GPF—”

As Viktor talked, they finished cleaning up, put on pajamas, and went to the kitchen to find the pasta sauce well-stewed from its time on the cold stove. They reheated it and ate it over whole wheat pasta with mushrooms and two of the chicken breasts Viktor had cooked that morning. Instead of their usual seating arrangement across the kitchen island from each other, they sat side by side and bumped elbows occasionally (and maybe a little bit on purpose).

All through dinner, Vitya peppered him with more questions about Yuuri. Where had he gone to university? Did he want to use his tourism management degree after retirement, or was he planning to work at the rink with Viktor? Or, best of both worlds, did the Sports Champions arena itself have jobs relevant to his degree? Most importantly, how the hell did he manage to pretend he didn’t know Viktor was his soulmate for six months?

“When did you know you loved him?” Vitya asked as they washed the dishes.

Viktor slowly finished drying the plate in his hand and carried it to the cupboard.

“Sorry,” said Vitya. “Too personal?”

“No, I just need to think about it.” He leaned back against the counter and tapped at his lip. “I’m not sure there was any single moment. I fell for him in pieces. I loved him a bit at the banquet in Sochi, and I loved him more when I saw his video of my program. The first time he performed ‘Eros’ for an audience, that was a big one. When he landed that flip in China. I guess if there was one specific time I first thought ‘I love this man,’ we spent a day at the beach the summer I started coaching him. We were playing around with Makkachin, but for a second Yuuri just stopped. He smiled at me, and I felt so much joy in our bond. All I could think was I wanted to spend forever making him feel that happy, even if he never acknowledged that we were soulmates. So I suppose that was love. What are you smiling at?”

There was nothing of mockery in Vitya’s expression. His smile was gentle, warm, but tinged with something Viktor could swear was sadness.

“The way you look when you talk about him. It’s strange to see an emotion I’ve never felt all over my own face, you know? But it looks so natural on you.” He ducked his head to the side, breaking eye contact. “I want that.”

Viktor wanted to cross the scant meter separating them, gather Vitya into his arms, and promise him in a thousand ways that he would find love beyond his wildest imaginings. He wanted to kiss the sadness away from Vitya’s face, just as Vitya had done for him tonight. But Vitya had crossed his arms across his stomach and taken another step backward. He wasn’t used to affection freely given—he would find it overwhelming, even, after such intense intimacy—and so Viktor contented himself with waiting until Vitya took a deep breath and met his gaze again.

“Can I stay with you tonight?”

Now Viktor did close the gap and kiss him. “Of course. You don’t even have to ask.”

They took books back to the bedroom and read until they were both yawning more than once per page. Rather than scooting closer to cuddle, as Viktor had assumed he would, Vitya stretched out on his side of the bed and mumbled sleepy nonsense to Viktor’s “Good night” before pulling the blankets clear to his chin. He was out within seconds. Hours later, Viktor woke to the weight of an arm thrown across his chest and a steadily growing patch of drool on his shoulder. Vitya’s light snoring sent gusts of humid air across his neck at steady intervals. It was an utterly gross tableau, but one Viktor had seen hundreds of times with Yuuri in the last five years. Sometimes Viktor was even the one responsible for the drool puddle. He shifted into a more comfortable position, wiped the trail of spit off Vitya’s cheek with his thumb, and kissed him tenderly on the forehead. Vitya hummed happily in his sleep, and Viktor felt his eyes growing heavy again. He leaned further into the warmth of Vitya’s body and let himself drift off for the first true rest he’d gotten since Yuuri’s disappearance.

Chapter Text

The days were going too fast. They had a routine now. Vitya occupied his own space in the apartment and at the rink; he wasn’t just standing in the places Yuuri had left behind. The day after they slept together, he moved out of the guest room and into the master bedroom. They didn’t often go as far as that first night, but most mornings Viktor’s alarm clock took the form of urgent kisses and hands exploring his body. He had to admit it helped. Nothing could take away the feeling that the whole world was off-kilter in Yuuri’s absence, but sex with Vitya let him get out of his head and relax for a few precious minutes. In return, he was introducing Vitya to every toy in the nightstand drawer—all but one, because Viktor never offered and Vitya never expressed interest in the double-ended dildo. They both knew that one was special.

It was a revelation to watch Vitya’s face as he wailed, wide-eyed and clinging to Viktor, through his first full prostate orgasm, courtesy of Viktor’s favorite massager. It was nearly as gratifying to hear the disbelieving moan in response when Viktor asked, “Do you want another one?” and gently rubbed the massager where he knew it would make Vitya’s whole body seize up on reflex. They made it to three before Vitya grabbed his cock and brought himself off in just a few rough strokes. He was still twitching with the final aftershocks when he looked up at Viktor and panted out, “It’s a rest day tomorrow. I want you in me.”

Viktor took him from behind, lying on their sides with an arm hooked under Vitya’s leg to hold him open, his whole body loose and pliant from the evening he’d spent at Viktor’s mercy. They settled into a hot bath together afterwards, and it was only Viktor thinking to set a phone alarm that saved them from drowning—or worse, getting all pruny—when they dozed off.

They had become closer outside the bedroom as well. Vitya started sitting in on the early morning video calls with the Katsukis, relying on Mari and Viktor to translate for him with Toshiya and Hiroko when they exhausted their limited English. He was fascinated by Viktor speaking Japanese, and Viktor caught him more than once mouthing the syllables to himself. It wasn’t unusual for Minako or some portion of the Nishigori family to join the call as well. They all effortlessly kept Vitya involved in the conversation, just as they’d made Viktor feel part of the family from the day he walked through the Yutopia doors with Makkachin at his heels. He’d explained the Vitya/Viktor designations during the first call with Vitya present, but Hiroko had given him an indulgent smile and proceeded to address them both as “Vicchan.”

Other close friends also called, though not as regularly as the Hasetsu crowd. Chris put Vitya at ease with an immediate dive into their old playful flirtations, but they were thrown off-track when Vitya spotted Chris’ wedding ring and squealed at the admission that he had, indeed, married his choreographer.

“I knew it! I told you Mathieu’s just good at controlling his emotions! Nobody who spends so much time staring at your ass could possibly want to be platonic soulmates— Ohhh, that means I win the bet, doesn’t it? And you thought my soulmate was a woman, so I win both bets! That’s two bottles of wine you owe me. Pay up!”

Chris rested his chin on his hand and gave Vitya a sparkling, fond smile. “I already have in this world, darling, years ago. You were gracious in your triumph and shared the spoils with me, and we had a lovely evening of ruminating on how damned lucky we are. You’ll have to collect from the other me in your world when you go home.”

All that casual attitude disappeared the instant Vitya had to leave the call for ballet class. Chris looked almost haunted as he shook his head and said, “My god, he’s a baby.”

“I know.” He’d had it driven home that morning, in fact, when Vitya put his foot down over sharing facial products any longer, insisting that Viktor’s current regimen was making his forehead oily. Mila had been recruited to go shopping after practice for what Vitya described as “skincare for people who have to worry about zits, not crow’s feet.”

“Seriously, though, do you need a shoulder to cry on? Because I could be in Russia by dinnertime. IFS will sign off on travel for a first look at next season’s Milabekio programs, I’m sure.”

Viktor grimaced. “Never let Yura hear you use that name if you value your life. You’d better stay where you are, love. Your editors won’t let you anywhere near me without demanding first rights to the time travel story. Which you’ll get, I promise, just… not right now. When Yuuri comes back.”

He never, ever said ‘if Yuuri comes back,’ but he couldn’t help noticing his students—Vitya included—hiding frowns at each ‘when.’ Chris, bless him, didn’t even flinch.

“Metaphorical shoulder, then,” said Chris, adaptable as always. “Call me any hour of the day. Same goes for baby Viktor, okay? I’m sure getting thrown right into your life has been a shock for him. Tell him I’m here if he needs to talk with somebody who isn’t his happily married, wildly successful doppelganger.”

“Right, because the happily married, wildly successful doppelganger of his best friend is so much better.”

Chris waved a dismissive hand at him. “I’m less judgy, and you know it. You want to fix everybody’s problems, and it’s very sweet that you care so much, but it kind of makes people want to strangle you when they’re only looking for tea and sympathy.”

“This is what you call less judgy?”

“Brutal honesty is yet another of my services. Remember: Day or night, both of you.”

If Vitya took Chris up on the offer, it was a secret from Viktor. He knew from experience that Chris treated confidences seriously and wouldn’t dream of reporting back to him, and he didn’t doubt Vitya would make use of that discretion if he needed it.

Phichit, in contrast to Chris, was an unknown entity for Vitya, but he charmed him just as easily by opening their first call with a list of demands. Most of it had to do with making sure that significant events of the past still happened in Vitya’s world.

“Obviously, you’ve gotta go throw yourself at Yuuri’s feet the second you get back,” he said, and Vitya beamed at the unprompted endorsement of his plan. “But you’re not taking him away from Detroit, you understand? You can get him a nicer apartment, convince him to marry you on day one, fly him out to see his family four times a year—actually, you totally should do that, take a note—but you will not let him leave Michigan until he’s got a handsome and talented bestie, plus hamster nephews.”

“Hamster nephews?” Vitya shot a bewildered glance at Viktor, but he was too busy holding in laughter to explain.

“They need their Uncle Yuuri in all possible worlds!”

That led to Phichit’s catalog of the lives of his hamsters: their names, their favorite hiding places, which ones were most popular on social media, who spoke at their inevitable funerals (mostly Yuuri). Vitya found the whole thing delightful—found Phichit himself delightful—and took to stealing Viktor’s phone to text Phichit throughout the day.

In the third week after Yuuri disappeared, Viktor worked up the guts to get back in touch with the University of Toronto. His experience might be an anomaly, but who could say that it would never happen again now that it had happened once? Creating a record meant leaving a roadmap, a possible source of comfort, to the next person who lost their soulmate to time travel. The interview was conducted by a PhD candidate who opened the conversation with, “How are you both holding up?” Viktor felt much better about being a contribution to the field after that. The interviewer also confirmed that Vitya’s stay wasn’t abnormally long. The incidents that could be counted in hours or years were the outliers, while the average duration was three to four weeks.

“Of course,” she said, “it’s a small, self-reporting population, drawn from a short timeframe in our own research, and relying on historical records that are selective and potentially inaccurate for earlier incidents. That’s going to skew the data, so there’s no reason to be alarmed if he stays longer.”

Viktor almost asked, How will we know if we broke the whole thing and Yuuri’s never coming home? He could see the question just as plainly on Vitya’s face.

They let it go. They knew the answer.


The biggest obstacle in Vitya’s training was, oddly enough, Yakov. He showed up for his old summer camp, lending the prestige of his legacy while Viktor and the other coaches quietly took over the actual organization and execution of the week of intensives. Viktor advised Vitya to stay out of the way as much as possible. He limited their on-ice practice session to private rink time in the evenings, when the skaters were all at dinner, because the last thing they needed was for Vitya to bump into Yakov and cause a scene.

Their session on the third day of the camp was dedicated to strengthening the quad flip, both through practicing the jump itself and endless drills to improve takeoff and air position. The flip had been at a 75% success rate all summer, but that was lower than they wanted before they could call the jump medal-ready. In his own past, Viktor had limited it to the short program between its debut at the previous season’s Russian nationals and the 2011 GPF. He’d earned his Worlds silver and Grand Prix qualifier golds with only two types of quad in the free skate. Their goal was for Vitya to not repeat history in that respect. In his world, it would pull him farther ahead of competitors who had strong quad toe loops and Salchows. In the present, it would get him closer to the top-ranked skaters and meet the expectations of an audience who would consider his skating incomplete without his now-signature jump.

The latest landing was more solid than previous attempts, but he hadn’t broken the habit of picking too early. That was going to be what made the difference between the current 75% and the goal of 90%.

“Sloppy.”

Both Viktors startled and looked toward their unannounced observer. Yakov stood at the boards with his arms crossed and his usual coaching scowl in place.

“It’s a pity this time travel thing had to go wrong,” he said. “Our Yuura doesn’t try to muscle through his quads like an American. He keeps his pick out of the ice until his legs close up. He’d teach you.”

“Yakov!” cried Vitya, and he was off for the boards before Viktor could say a word. “It’s so good to see you! Oh wow, you have less hair than ever! He—” And here he jerked a thumb at Viktor over his shoulder. “—said you’d murder me if we met, so I’ve been keeping to myself.”

“I’m still weighing my options,” Yakov replied evenly.

“Well, if it helps, my vote is to not be murdered. I just… It’s really good to see you,” he said again. “Can I—”

Yakov hugged him. Yakov hugged him. Viktor could see Vitya’s muscles seize up from the shock, his arms locked at his sides until he could process what was happening and return the hug. Yakov glanced up to meet Viktor’s eyes, still halfway across the rink.

“You too, Vitya. Get over here,” he called.

“We’ve actually been—” Viktor began.

“You think I care what you told other people to call you? You’re both Vitya. Now stop wringing your hands and do as your coach says for once in your life.”

Viktor skated over slowly but hung back at the last moment. Yakov had closed his eyes as he reached up to pat Vitya’s back. He was smiling with the kind of misty affection Viktor had seen only a few times in his life, the most vivid example in his memory being the last moments before they set off toward the canopy at his wedding.

“Oh, Vityusha,” Yakov murmured, just loud enough to be heard. “Did you really believe I wouldn’t want to see him?”

The pet name did its job. Viktor felt like a small child who refused to get back onto his blades after one fall too many. The last time he could recall Yakov calling him Vityusha was when Viktor was thirteen and sulking over his very first break-up, a boy at the rink who held his hand in the hallways and taught him how to kiss with tongues, then ignored him when he came home from a Junior Grand Prix event with gold. It was his first object lesson that winning could make people hate him. Yakov hadn’t spoken without affection then, but there had been an undertone of Get it together, Vitya, all the same, just as there was now.

Vitya grabbed Viktor’s arm and yanked him into the hug. They knocked heads, grumbled “Ow, fuck” in identical tones, and burst out laughing. Yakov snorted at them and hugged all the tighter. With a final squeeze, Viktor extricated himself and backed away, followed by Vitya.

“So does this mean you’re coming out of retirement?” Vitya asked.

“Terrible boy, I wouldn’t coach you again for all the money in the world. My blood pressure couldn’t take it. Besides.” Yakov shot a glance at Viktor. “You’re in good hands.”

Viktor gasped. “Yakov!”

“Shush. Is your ego really so fragile you need to be told I only hire top-rate coaches? Now get your skates off and change into real clothes, both of you. We’re having dinner. At a proper restaurant, not whatever nutrition-maximized sludge they’re serving here.”

“We can’t—” both Viktors said at once.

“Excuse me? Can’t? I thought I was talking to Viktor Nikiforov, the man who does as he pleases without a thought for the consequences. What do you care if a few reporters see you together? And you!” He trained his glare on Viktor in particular. “You’ve been caught talking dirty to your husband in the kiss and cry so many times, it’s like a game for the networks to see how much they can broadcast without breaking their countries’ obscenity regulations! And now you have the nerve to tell me you’re feeling camera-shy?”

Viktor couldn’t find an answer to that. The instinct to hide away with Vitya had been overpowering from the moment he arrived. Their days were a straight line between home and the rink, with the occasional furtive errand when ordering delivery or bribing Mila weren’t options. All Viktor knew was that being seen in public with Vitya would cause something nonspecific but terrible to happen. Just like Vitya encountering Yakov was supposed to have done.

Viktor had been diagnosed with depression four years ago, he was married to a man with generalized anxiety, and it somehow had never occurred to him in an entire month that his brain might be inventing those nightmare scenarios for no good reason.

He turned to Vitya. “You realize leaving early means extra drills tomorrow, right?”

“If it gets me a meal without a single steamed vegetable on the plate, I will gladly skate naked tomorrow.”

“Don’t,” Viktor and Yakov answered in irritable unison, and Viktor suddenly understood the sensation Yuuri sometimes described of wishing the ice would rise up and swallow him. He was used to speaking in chorus with Vitya now; they were the same man, after all, with many of the same reactions and vocal quirks. What had just happened was the horrific culmination of every time Yuri had glared and muttered, “You sound like Yakov,” during an argument. The slow grin that spread across Vitya’s face spoke of the hours of teasing he’d just earned himself.

“Whatever you say, coach,” said Vitya, with precise emphasis on the last word. He was still snickering to himself all the way through taking his skates off.


Yakov’s restaurant suggestion required a detour to get better clothes at the apartment. The jeans and sweaters they’d packed for after practice were good enough for the drive home, but where they were going called for proper trousers and jackets. Viktor didn’t usually like to leverage his name for perks, except where pampering Yuuri was concerned, but tonight he donned his fakest ‘I’m a celebrity’ voice over the phone and had a reservation for forty-five minutes later with no questions asked. The host’s eyes went wide when she saw two Viktor Nikiforovs walk through the door with Yakov Feltsman, but a fraction of a second later she was calmly leading them into the dining room.

“I’ll catch up with you in a second,” said Viktor to Yakov. “Bathroom.” Once Vitya and Yakov were out of hearing range, he ducked into the lounge and had a quick word with the sommelier, and after that he really did step into the bathroom for a moment to center himself.

Yakov had seen Vitya, and the world was still turning. Viktor had been more than wrong about keeping them apart. He’d been cruel. Yakov seemed twenty years younger in Vitya’s company, and Vitya had gone right past cheerful to bubbly in demeanor. The real problem had been Viktor’s insecurities, his secret fear that Yakov resented him, his shame over how he’d behaved in his early twenties.

“Get it together, Vitya,” he grumbled at his face in the mirror. The reflection that glared back at him seemed more petulant than anything. It wasn’t a good look.

Yakov and Vitya were at a table near a corner of the dining room. The restaurant was nice enough that most of the other diners kept their stares masked behind yawns and sweeping glances around the whole room. Still, surreptitious cellphones were being pulled out of pockets and handbags, and Viktor knew he would be part of another trending hashtag by the end of the evening. He wasn’t bothering to monitor social media himself; his PR team would handle anything that needed attention. That assurance didn’t stop him wishing he could steal every phone in the place.

Yakov was glowering as Viktor approached the table. “Vitya the elder, a twenty-thousand-ruble bottle of wine seems to have been purchased for our table.”

Viktor took his seat with every atom of genteel grace he possessed. His knee creaking at the end somewhat diminished the effect.

“Has it?” he said. “How odd. Perhaps a lonely dowager wants to seduce you. You’d make an excellent kept man, you know.”

Yakov settled him with a look that said, Don’t push it. Viktor maintained his pleasant, airy smile and filled their glasses.

“What are we drinking to, Yakov?”

“To lonely dowagers?” Vitya suggested with a wink.

“Hah! We drink for the sake of drinking.”

“To alcohol!” Viktor declared. “May it bring us our hearts’ desires.” He caught Vitya’s eye and they shared a smile.

Yakov rolled his eyes, but the first sip of wine tempered his grumpiness. Nobody could accuse Viktor of having bad taste, and he’d gone all out on this one.

“He’s told you about the banquet, then?”

Vitya nodded eagerly. “In detail! I know about the dancing, the pole dancing, the ‘be my coach,’ Chris, Yura, all of it.”

“So I suppose the first thing you’ll do when you get home is take off for Detroit with no regard for your coaching team, and we won’t hear a word from you until the media loses its mind over your engagement to your soulmate ten minutes after meeting.”

“Engagement?” Vitya turned to Viktor so quickly his bangs flew to the side of his face. “Should I? When did you ask?”

“I didn’t,” said Viktor. “He asked me. Both times.”

“You had two weddings?” There was an unspoken That’s over the top, even for me in Vitya’s raised eyebrows.

“Two proposals. The first one was pretty early. Some things happened that made us want to do it again properly.”

“What things?”

Viktor smiled at Vitya over the lip of his wineglass. “Things you’ll never have to deal with, I hope.”

Vitya looked ready to demand more details, but he was interrupted by their waiter with a tray of appetizers. Yakov jumped into the story of Yuuri’s second proposal, how Yuuri recruited half the club to keep Viktor out of the apartment until everything was ready, how he set up a livestream for family and friends, how Viktor started crying when Yuuri knelt and asked to borrow Viktor’s ring for a moment.

Dinner passed with several more bottles of wine—house reds after the first one—and more stories, many of them at Viktor’s expense. They had reached one of Yakov’s favorites, the events of the 2016 Grand Prix Final and Viktor’s comeback.

“So he tells me he’s returning to competition for nationals, and I think, ‘All right, that’s ridiculous, but if he’s bringing back last season’s programs and giving his Yuura to a different coach, he might get through this alive.’ But no, we get him home to the rink and he wants to have brand new programs ready for competition in two weeks. And then he tops it all off with saying he’s going to keep coaching too!”

“You—” Viktor gestured with his glass toward Yakov, nearly spilling his wine in the process. “—are just mad because I did it.”

“That’s the worst part! You overloaded yourself with coaching theory, worked yourself half to death in your training, and then the pair of you still podiumed at every competition from nationals to the Team Trophy and took gold and silver at Worlds! Not to mention that idiotic quad Lutz, quad loop combo you pulled off just to spite me!”

“You did a quad-quad combo?” Vitya dropped his fork onto his dinner plate with a clatter that rang through the room. “You never told me that!”

“Don’t go getting ideas,” said Viktor. “I doubled a quad Sal in the second half because it took so much out of me. Yurio puts quad toes on his combos sometimes, but most people still don’t bother. I just did it to prove it was possible.”

“But if I start aiming for it now?” Vitya countered.

“You probably could, sure, but I’m not training you on it.”

“Killjoy.”

Yakov huffed out a laugh and shook his head. “All these years I thought the Yuris were what you got when I said I hoped you had a student as willful and stubborn as you someday. Little did I know, eh?”

Viktor refilled their glasses and raised his toward Vitya in another toast.

“To the willful and stubborn!”

Something undefinable flashed across Vitya’s face and was gone in an instant. He returned the toast and added, “Long may we antagonize our coaches.”


“People were staring at us in the restaurant,” Vitya said softly. He slipped his shoes off and left them where they lay by the door.

Viktor couldn’t help raising his eyebrows as he put his own shoes away on the rack and stepped around Vitya’s. “They do that. Aren’t you used to it yet? You’ve been in the public eye for years, especially around here.”

“Not like that. I don’t mind when people stare because they think I’m hot or they want something from me. Those people looked at us as if—” He shrugged. “As if we were freaks, I guess. I didn’t like it.”

“Someday, honey, you’ll realize there’s no difference between any of those categories.”

Vitya gave a noncommittal grunt in response and shrugged out of his jacket. He threw it over the back of a chair—more uncharacteristic carelessness with his clothing—and flopped onto the sofa. Viktor gathered both their jackets and returned them properly to the closet. When he came back, Vitya smiled up at him sleepily and patted the sofa cushion.

Indulging Vitya’s need for touch was easy. Viktor needed someone to hold as badly as Vitya needed to be held, and being together was making Vitya comfortable asking for human contact in a way Viktor never had been at that age. He wrapped an arm around Vitya’s shoulders and felt Vitya relax against him. They were still warm and mellow from the wine, but the tipsiness had worn off over the drive home and saying goodnight to Yakov.

“Will you promise me something?” Viktor asked, stroking Vitya’s hair.

Vitya craned his neck up to look at Viktor. “What?”

“Whenever you start thinking you can only depend on yourself, please find somebody who cares about you and ask for a hug.”

“I don’t think that.” He frowned at Viktor’s skeptical expression. “I don’t.”

“Oh, really? Then what do you call it when I tell you to mark an element and you go full-out anyway? What’s that other than saying you don’t trust my judgment?”

Vitya ducked out from under Viktor’s arm and snatched his hand back from where it had been resting on his thigh. They’d had on-ice lectures about the importance of saving his strength, often with pointed gestures to Viktor’s knee brace, but this was the first time Viktor had brought it up at home. Vitya crossed his arms, keeping steady, defiant eye contact all the while.

“I don’t want to go easy on myself,” he said. “We can look at arm movements or steps or whatever and get more jumping practice at the same time. There’s no point to doing things halfway.”

“Even when other people say it’s bad for you?”

“That’s not—”

“Because what I’m hearing right now is you think you’re being coddled by the people who are supposed to help you skate better. What I’m hearing is you can’t rely on anybody else, that all your strength comes from you. It has to if nobody else understands how important this is, right? If you’re going to be successful, you have to keep everyone at arm’s length so they can’t tell when you’re past your limits.”

“Stop.”

“Vitya, I’m just trying to—” He reached forward to set a hand on Vitya’s shoulder.

Vitya slapped his hand away. “No. You keep treating me like I’m a series of mistakes waiting to happen, like the whole point of being here is to stop me from all the things you did wrong. But you’re not me. You were once, but now you’re not, and I am so fucking tired of you projecting your regrets onto me! I’m sick of being measured against your perfect life with your perfect fucking husband!”

He bolted off the sofa and started to pace out the agitation he carried in his body, throwing furious glares at Viktor every few seconds. Viktor slowly stood and placed himself in Vitya’s path, sidestepping back into his way when he tried to skirt around him.

“Is that really what you believe? That my marriage with Yuuri is perfect?”

Vitya sneered, and Viktor was hit with the knowledge that he could indeed look ugly. “That’s how you talk about him. Wonderful Yuuri, three-time world champion, meets your every need on the ice and in bed, comes champagne and rainbows all over your face—”

“He’s FUCKING GONE!” Viktor, as a rule, never yelled. He wasn’t used to it, and the effort it took to shout two words hurt his throat. The sudden rise in volume made Vitya recoil as if Viktor had taken a swing at him. “Of course I’m not going to focus on our problems when I miss him so much it’s killing me! You want to hear about perfect? You know that romantic second proposal Yakov was talking about? Yuuri did it because we almost broke up half a dozen times in our first few months together. The soul bond screwed us over. It let every little disagreement build into a full-blown fight because we couldn’t get the distance to calm down. We were in counseling for six months so we could learn to control our emotions and communicate without letting the bond interfere. When he asked me to marry him again, he was saying he believed we could save our relationship. So there’s your fucking champagne and rainbows.”

Vitya was shrinking away at every word, but Viktor matched each step backward with one of his own forward. It didn’t take long before the next move would press Vitya’s back into a bookshelf.

“What, nothing to say?” said Viktor, letting candy-sweet poison seep into his tone. “How dare I not want you to go through that, right? How dare I want you to still be jumping quads into your thirties instead of hobbling around with a braced knee that could snap if you land wrong? I am just such an unbelievable bastard for hoping you never know what it feels like to be afraid you’re losing the man you love.”

Vitya’s head snapped up and his eyes narrowed. “Like right now?” he said. “Would you say it’s anything like getting pulled into another world, falling in love with somebody through videos, and then having to act like I’m okay when I may never get to go home, and I’m never good enough for you, and my—” A single tear ran down his cheek. He scrubbed it off with a motion so forceful it looked more like a slap, but by the time his hand moved away there was another tear in the first one’s place. “My dog is dead.”

Viktor could feel the blood draining out of his face, the anger evaporating as the meaning behind Vitya’s tears struck him. Vitya never talked about Makkachin if he could help it, and any accidental reference was quickly followed by an apology and Viktor’s reassurance that he didn’t mind. But Viktor wasn’t the one upset by those reminders of her death; it was Vitya transferring his concealed grief to Viktor.

“Is that what this is really about?” He raised his hand to brush away a new teardrop, but Vitya ducked to the side and out of arm’s reach.

“I— I don’t know. It’s Makkachin, you getting on my case, not letting me see Yakov, and… and everything. I try so hard to believe it’s all going to be okay, but I just can’t. It’s too much. I can’t.” He blinked hard to cut off a new surge of crying. Tears clung to his eyelashes, but only a few dripped down onto his cheeks.

“Oh, sunshine, I’m so sorry.” Viktor didn’t try to move into Vitya’s space again, but he opened his arms slowly, and Vitya stepped into the hug with only a moment’s hesitation. Their animosity dissolved through the contact. Viktor wrapped his arms tighter around Vitya and blinked back the tears that were brimming in his eyes.

“You don’t need to apologize,” Vitya said. “I shouldn’t have unloaded on you like that.”

“And I shouldn’t have yelled. I’ll try to do better at respecting your feelings.”

Vitya’s back stiffened under his touch. “Did you just do a therapy thing at me?” he asked. “Because I get it, okay? I’m a walking disaster and need a professional to un-fuck my head. You don’t need to model conflict resolution skills for me. Case in point being all of this, you kind of suck at it.”

There were a thousand quips and digs Viktor could shoot back at him, but what came out of his mouth was the most basic truth of his heart, something he’d felt from the instant he recognized the vulnerability and youth in Vitya’s eyes during his first evening in this world.

“I love you.”

Vitya’s answer was so quiet that Viktor felt the shape of the words against his neck more than he heard them: Love you too. Vitya lifted his head to pull Viktor into a kiss, but he was frowning when they parted.

“Did you call me sunshine?” he asked. It wasn’t an endearment he’d heard in his world, Viktor knew, not from family or friends.

“Yeah, I did. Yuuri calls me that, but I never really understood why until now. Come here.”

He led Vitya back onto the sofa and drew him close until he was almost in his lap. Vitya buried his face in Viktor’s shoulder, and Viktor kissed the top of his head and heard a shaky laugh in response. They stayed there hours past when they should have gone to bed, simply holding each other and letting themselves cry when they needed to.

“I want to go home,” Vitya whispered, sometime around two in the morning.

“You will, sweetheart. Just hold on.”

Chapter Text

Two weeks later, Vitya was still there. His quad flip was textbook perfection with a better than 90% landing rate, and he’d started refining his Lutz technique in preparation for the quad a full year earlier than Viktor had in his lifetime. He’d taken their fight to heart and was slowly learning to pace himself and listen to his body. There was no way to make an exception for him in the Grand Prix qualifications, but the ISU and FFKK had agreed to let him compete in the Challenger Series. Performing well would earn him a bye to the national championship, and from there he would have the same shot at Euros, Worlds, and the Beijing Olympics as any other skater.

He was miserable.

It wasn’t Viktor keeping the pair of them out of the public eye now. Vitya turned down restaurant suggestions from Viktor and shrugged off invitations to hang out from Otabek, Mila, and—in a deeply grudging, Beka-put-me-up-to-this tone—Yuri. He preferred to go straight home after practice and spend the evening curled against Viktor’s side, reading or watching videos together. They went through the full catalogue of Yuuri’s programs multiple times, including shaky home video uploads of novice competitions, at which point Vitya shyly asked if he could see some of Viktor’s performances.

“What happened to ‘No spoilers’?”

Vitya bumped the side of his head against Viktor’s shoulder.

“That hasn’t mattered in a long time,” he said. “Maybe I’ll do these programs myself in a few years, maybe I won’t. If I do, they’ll be different because I’ll be different. I want to see your first Grand Prix Final gold and your last competition programs. I want to know how Yuuri changed your skating.”

“More unders, better PCS.” It was all anybody talked about, or so it seemed to him, after his comeback. An under-rotation here or there wasn’t unusual for most skaters, but given his track record, he’d ended up with more calls in two and a half seasons than the previous five combined. His critics were fond of claiming the judges made up for the point loss by inflating his component scores, but his fans held firm that the higher PCS was earned because his performances had a new emotional authenticity, and the quality of his skating skills had increased from working with Yuuri.

Vitya rolled his eyes. “I’m not talking about scores. I know you didn’t win any championship or GPF golds after 2016 because I looked at your Wikipedia page, so that’s what I think of spoilers at this point.” He opened Viktor’s laptop, where the browser was still sitting on Youtube with a search for Yuuri’s Stars on Ice Japan appearances. “Now you get to pick where we start: Worlds 2012 or Sochi Olympics?”

Vitya smiled at the “Good Guys” exhibition skate from the 2017-18 season and laughed himself silly at the 2014-15 “Ladies Who Lunch” short program that couldn’t have been a more obvious send-up of ISU officials. He criticized Viktor’s choreography choices and asked for the names of the composers on commissioned program music. It was the happiest Viktor had seen him in days.

“This one’s very pink.” Vitya pointed to the thumbnail in the recommended videos. “2015 GPF? Is that the best performance?”

“Not even remotely. It scored fine, but it didn’t really come together for me until the back half of the season.”

Vitya frowned, but then his eyes widened in realization as he did the math. “Because Yuuri happened?”

“Because Yuuri happened,” Viktor confirmed. He searched for his 2016 European Championship program and clicked into it. The score had been higher at Worlds, breaking his own world record yet again, but he knew Vitya would be able to see how worn out he’d become at that point. At Euros, he’d still had hope of seeing Yuuri again, and his performance of “Stammi Vicino” held a promise to his soulmate that they’d be together soon. That hope had turned into desperation by Worlds. Please, please, come back. I need you, he’d said through his body and his bond. The only thing that kept him from walking away was his chance to send his message and pray that Yuuri would hear. Seeing that would destroy Vitya’s good mood, and Viktor wasn’t about to let it happen.

“Wait, I know this one,” Vitya said as soon as he saw Viktor take his starting pose. “This is what Yuuri skated in the cover video. The aria, right?”

“That’s the one.”

Vitya was mostly quiet through the rest of the video. He’d watched Yuuri’s cover version several times and knew the choreography by now, save for the quads. He gave a low whistle at the final combo, but his reactions were otherwise muted.

“You really did start skating differently when you met him,” he said softly, watching the Viktor on the screen wait for his scores with Yakov. “It’s way more noticeable in your last seasons, but it’s already starting here. You’re skating for the person on the other side of your bond. You look so much more… like yourself.”

“You do too, you know. You do,” Viktor said again with a soft laugh when Vitya wrinkled his nose. “Maybe you can’t feel him right now, but you still skate for him. Your programs are nothing like what I did at your age, and it’s not just because you’re better technically. You’re honest on the ice in a way that I didn’t learn until I was so lonely that there was nothing I could do but skate it. And then people said I was trying too hard.”

“How could anybody think that about this program?”

“Probably because I’d been fake for so long that honesty looked contrived. It took me a while to figure that out. Listen… There’s a video you still haven’t seen. It’s about as big a spoiler as spoilers get. Do you—”

“Show me.”

Vitya smiled at the image of Yuuri, dressed in a blue version of Viktor’s costume, standing at center ice in Barcelona to perform the program that had put his skating career back on track. Triple Lutz—he’d have the quad by Worlds—quad flip, triple Axel, and… There. Vitya gasped and leaned forward as the lights changed and the crowd lost their minds for Viktor’s appearance on the ice. The choreography was comically simple compared to the ice dancers who gave exhibition skates that night, full of the most basic lifts and holds, but they had worked so hard in the month they’d spent on the program.

Viktor had never dared ask, once the thought came to him after the fact, whether Yuuri intended this performance to be their good-bye when he first suggested it. The answer wouldn’t do anything but open old wounds. He preferred to think of it only as what they were saying in that moment: A declaration to the world of their commitment to each other in their personal lives and careers alike. That was certainly how Vitya saw it. He’d stretched his fingers toward the laptop, probably without even realizing his was doing it, as if he thought he could reach out and touch Yuuri through the screen. Viktor slipped an arm around his shoulders and he jolted, gave Viktor an embarrassed smile, and settled back into the couch.

Viktor kissed Vitya’s temple. “I know. Believe me, I know,” he said.

“How did this feel?” Vitya always seemed entranced by Yuuri’s videos, but now he was breathless. His back muscles tensed under Viktor’s arm in time with each movement of the duet. He was copying the motions in his head, his brain sending the signals out to his body even as he sat still.

On the screen, Yuuri planted his hands at Viktor’s waist and lifted him effortlessly. They rotated three times—another move that probably had the ice dancers and pair skaters rolling their eyes backstage, but they’d been so proud of themselves for pulling it off—and hit their ending pose, modified from the original choreography, holding each other where before they’d been grasping at empty air.

“It felt like flying,” said Viktor softly. “More than any quad.”

Though it was hard to see through the darkness of the camera’s view now, the crowd were on their feet long before the music ended. The embrace of their pose turned into a real hug, and Yuuri spun them around, lifting Viktor from the ice again with a surge of joyous adrenaline. They were laughing, triumphant, and then Yuuri kissed him. The video was proof that they took their bows and skated off the rink hand in hand, but Viktor remembered nothing between the gentle touch of Yuuri’s lips at center ice and being pressed against the dressing room wall to kiss and kiss until it was time to fix Yuuri’s hair and makeup for the finale.

“Do you always get misty-eyed watching this?” Vitya asked.

“Every time. Every time we skate it too. Ice shows always request it, and we’re always sniffling by the end.” He brushed away the few tears that had built enough weight to slip off his eyelashes, then turned and did the same for Vitya. “And look who’s talking, huh?”

Vitya batted his hand away lightly. “I had an idea. Hang on.” He darted to an end table by the front door and came back with a small box. “I ordered this a few days ago. With your credit card. Sorry.”

Viktor opened the box. “A watch?”

“A microSD bracelet,” Vitya corrected him. “It’s waterproof. I want… I want to record us. In bed, I mean. And then I want to keep a copy in this bracelet, so I’ll be sure to have it with me if I go back to my world.”

All Viktor could think to say was, “Why?”

Vitya ducked his head and ran a hand through his bangs. When he met Viktor’s eyes again, he was smiling.

“I don’t know!” he said with a laugh. “It’s just something I want. I want to have a tangible memory of… us. What we mean to each other.” His smile slipped, but he self-corrected half a second later and grinned all the brighter. “And hey, bonus points: You can give Yuuri the best present ever. Other than both of us for real, anyway, but I’m guessing we can’t pull that one off.”

Viktor sat back and took in Vitya’s demeanor. His mouth twitched at the corners, and he was tapping his fingers against his knees, both habits he’d learned to control in front of the public as a teenager. At least that meant he wasn’t trying to hide his nerves. Viktor slowly set the box down beside his laptop and rested his hands on top of Vitya’s.

“First off, understand that I’m not saying yes or no yet. Okay?” He smiled at Vitya’s rapid nod and continued. “But I want to make sure you know the real reasons you’re asking for this. Take a few minutes to think about it if you need to, and then let’s talk. Do you want tea?”

“No,” Vitya said immediately, seriously. “Don’t leave.”

“Okay.”

They sat in silence, Vitya letting his eyes slip closed, head bowed, while Viktor rubbed circles into the top of his hands. It felt like a vigil. Viktor didn’t take his eyes off Vitya; he hardly allowed himself to blink, watching for telltale twitches to hint at what Vitya was thinking. In his mind, he was seventeen and clutching a gold medal he knew everyone viewed as stolen from its rightful owners, the men who had spent four years earning it before he waltzed onto the ice and spat on their efforts. Nineteen, so tired of being whipped in the face by his ponytail that he marched into the first salon he saw and demanded, “Get it off. I want it gone,” glaring into the mirror as the first strands hit the floor, daring himself to cry like the stylist seemed convinced he would. Twenty-one, concealing his anger at yet another protocol sheet that told him nobody understood what he was trying to do. Twenty-two and bringing a man home on a whim only to kick him out, also on a whim, and spend the evening snuggling with Makkachin. He wasn’t sure if that night had happened in Vitya’s life yet. If not, he realized, it never would.

For all that they shared, the young man sitting in front of Viktor was on a different path now. A path that led straight to Yuuri, to love, to support, hopefully bypassing years of uncertainty and trouble.

Vitya took a deep breath and opened his eyes. “I think I understand now,” he said. “The thing is, you mean more to me than I do to you.”

Viktor’s heart sank. Were they really back to this? He knew better than to think one night of cuddling on the sofa had solved all Vitya’s insecurities, but this regression was hitting him without warning.

“Sunshine, that’s not true.”

Vitya held up a hand to cut him off. “I’m not trying to badmouth myself, but it is true. You’re ten years older. You’re married. You know what you lost when Yuuri disappeared, and you know what to expect for your life together when he comes home. But for me…” He hesitated, only continuing when Viktor rubbed his knee in encouragement. “You’re the best lover I’ve ever had.”

“Vitya—”

“You are, though. Nobody’s ever been this attentive and affectionate and— and careful with me. But if I go home, if my world is real, how long will it be before I start to rationalize all of this away? Give me a few months, and I’ll think what we did was weird, maybe even wrong. Everybody else would definitely think so. A video will help me remember the truth.”

“And what’s that?”

Vitya folded his hands in his lap and looked Viktor straight in the eye. “That I love you. Not in an ‘I want you to leave your husband for me’ way,” he added in a rush. “But it’s not just familial or romantic or about learning to love myself, you know? It’s everything combined, with all the contradictions ironed out. It’s almost like having another soulmate.”

Vitya had a talent on par with Yuuri’s for leaving Viktor speechless. All he could do was stare and try to take in the sincerity of Vitya’s words. His silence must have sent the wrong message. Vitya’s shoulders hunched, and the confidence seemed to sink out of him.

“And now that I’ve totally weirded you out, you can tell me to fuck off and forget about the video.” He gave Viktor a weak smile and shrugged, already accepting the rejection he hadn’t yet heard.

Viktor surged forward and kissed him. His tongue swiped across Vitya’s lips and then pushed into his mouth, stroking against tongue and teeth. Vitya clung to him and dragged their bodies together. He let out pitchy little moans into Viktor’s mouth at each exhale. They broke apart and there was hope shining in Vitya’s eyes again. Viktor leaned in, bringing his mouth so close to Vitya’s ear that his lips brushed against it when he spoke.

“Let’s make a sex tape.”


“You’ve done this before,” Vitya accused him. “There’s no other reason to keep a phone tripod in your bedroom, and you knew exactly where to set it up. Are you holding out on me? Do you have sex tapes with Yuuri and didn’t let me see them?”

“The word is ‘had.’ We make videos sometimes if we’re going to be traveling to conflicting time zones, but they go on external storage and we delete them afterward. Chris’ phone got stolen and leaked a few years ago, so we’ve learned to be cautious.”

Vitya paused from folding back the duvet. “But not this one, right?”

“Of course I won’t delete this one. I’ll be careful with it—I mean, could you imagine what the internet would do with that?—but I’ll probably even make a few backups. I don’t want to lose proof of this any more than you do.”

Vitya smiled at the reassurance and went back to arranging the bed while Viktor checked the camera angle. They were naked from the shower, so undressing was one step they could skip for the video.

“Ready?” Viktor asked.

Vitya nodded, setting the bottle of lube on the mattress where it would be in easy reach. “How do we start this?”

“Honestly? It’s awkward no matter what. Whoever starts recording ends up sticking his whole ass in the frame to get back to bed, and it always takes a few minutes to feel comfortable enough to act like the camera isn’t there.”

“Well.” Vitya sat on the edge of the bed and gave Viktor his most smoldering look. “I think I’d like this to open on a shot of your whole ass. Whenever you’re ready, love.”

Viktor checked the tripod’s position and the phone charger’s connection one last time and hit the record button. Trying not to think about how foolish these first moments would look on film, he settled onto the mattress and gave Vitya a deep kiss. Vitya wasted no time in grabbing Viktor’s hand and directing it to his cock, already twitching into stiffness, and then he reached between Viktor’s legs to return the favor. It didn’t take long before they were gasping into each other’s mouths, not properly kissing anymore.

“Can I have your mouth?” Vitya asked breathlessly, once he was fully hard. He lay back and pulled Viktor on top of him, kneading his fingers in the flesh of Viktor’s ass and driving their cocks together for a slow thrust.

Viktor kissed along Vitya’s jaw, then down onto his neck, pausing to suck at the sensitive skin of his throat, but not hard enough to leave a mark. He licked a stripe across Vitya’s clavicle and lightly clamped his teeth around each nipple in turn until they hardened and turned a deep, dusky pink against Vitya’s pale chest. Ticklish kisses down his stomach had Vitya holding back laughter, his abs twitching under Viktor’s lips, and then he let out a guttural moan as Viktor took the first careful licks at the tip of his cock.

Viktor focused his attention on the head, running his tongue around it, up the glans, over the slit to taste a salty droplet of precome, then he hollowed his cheeks and sucked. Vitya writhed under him, whines growing higher with every passing second and fingers scrabbling in Viktor’s hair, trying to push him further down to suck him properly, but Viktor held back.

“Oh god, that’s too much. I can’t— Ah! Please, please, go lower, please, I can’t take this. I am literally begging, what the fuck more do you want?”

Viktor gave another lick across the head and smiled at the inhuman wail that earned him.

“Hey, if we’re doing this for memories, it’s not authentic if I don’t tease you a bit,” he said casually.

“Please,” Vitya ground out between clenched teeth. “Suck me.”

“Oh, is that what you wanted?” Viktor wrapped his lips around Vitya’s cock and took it in as far as he could, curling his fingers around the base where his mouth didn’t reach.

Vitya’s hips snapped up and nearly choked him, but that was easily stopped with a forearm pressed across his pelvis. Viktor held still, giving them both a moment to calm down before he began to bob his head and drag his tongue along the underside of Vitya’s cock. He pumped the base in time with his mouth while he found a rhythm that suited them both, then he slowly trailed his fingers down past Vitya’s balls to stroke at his rim. Vitya’s legs fell farther open, granting him access. He wouldn’t try to push in past the gentle pressure of a fingertip without lubricant, but even that mild stimulation, he knew, was enough to drive Vitya to distraction. He rubbed smooth circles into the perineum, deepening the touch to maintain the pleasure when his jaw needed a rest. As the moans above him grew louder, he tried to relax his throat and take Vitya in deeper. The first attempts made his gag reflex spasm, but he breathed slowly through his nose and dove down once again until his lips nearly brushed the carefully trimmed hair at the base of Vitya’s cock.

“Stop,” Vitya gasped. “Oh god, stop-stopstopstop.”

Viktor pulled back immediately and stared, panting, up at Vitya. His face was flushed, his lips parted and his eyes blown wide, but he wasn’t showing any obvious signs of distress.

“What’s wrong?” Viktor asked.

“No-nothing, I was just getting close,” said Vitya. “I’m not ready to come yet. Not until you’re inside me.” He sat up and pulled Viktor into a kiss. “I want to ride you. Lie down for me?”

He wouldn’t need to ask twice. Viktor rolled out from between Vitya’s legs and stretched onto his back, mindful of where the camera cut off so they would stay fully in the frame. Vitya climbed over him and settled in his lap with lube already in hand. He rubbed a generous amount on his fingers, took hold of Viktor’s half-hard cock, and gently stroked him back to a full erection.

“Could you open me up?” Vitya asked.

Viktor nodded, too keyed up to form a rational sentence, and picked up the lube bottle where it lay by his thigh. He coated two fingers as carefully as he could while distracted by the hand still moving at his cock. He reached around Vitya’s hips and held him open with his clean hand, his wet fingers deftly rubbing lube around and inside the entrance. Vitya rocked back against the penetration and curved his spine beautifully.

“That’s enough,” he moaned. “I’m ready.”

Viktor drew his hands back and placed them on Vitya’s legs, tracing slow strokes with his thumbs exactly where he knew they would make Vitya shiver in pleasure, across the baby-soft skin where his groin connected to the inner line of his thigh. Vitya rose forward on his knees and sank down, rubbing the cleft of his ass along the length of Viktor’s cock. It caught on his rim but slipped past a moment later before Viktor could leverage his hips to push in. Vitya repeated the motion, turning it into a steady roll of the hips that made Viktor whine, until he finally bore his weight down and spread his legs wider to take the head inside him. Viktor reached down to hold the base steady and felt himself sinking into the tight warmth of Vitya’s body.

It was slow going. Vitya seemed intent on torturing him. Every centimeter of progress was counter-balanced with a retreat, Vitya’s thighs flexing as he lifted himself back to the tip and began the process again. And then he had the nerve to laugh when he slid down around Viktor’s full length without warning and drew a broken cry out of him. He leaned down until they were eye to eye, his hands planted on either side of Viktor’s head.

“It’s not authentic if I don’t tease you a bit.” He threw Viktor’s words back in his face and began to move.

Vitya rode Viktor with the same instinctive grace of every position they’d tried so far. Each move was deliberate, designed to wring moans and pleas out of Viktor’s throat, and he was helpless to resist it. Vitya arched his back and rolled his hips so that his passage stayed impossibly tight through the full motion of each thrust, root to tip. His cock dragged between them, using the friction to stay hard. He rode Viktor’s cock with purpose, alternating between slow, luxurious thrusts and harsh snaps of his hips that slammed Viktor into him. It was all Viktor could do to dig his heels into the mattress and try to match Vitya’s pace. He held on, begging, moaning, crying out for more, and knowing that the camera was picking up every word of praise and desire. He would show Yuuri the video someday, and they would make love while they watched it, and again afterwards.

Viktor let himself float in the haze of pleasure from Vitya’s body until it threatened to bring him over the edge. The dragging sensations around his cock were overwhelming, driving him past the point of sensitivity and nearing desperation. Their thrusts built the pressure deep in his gut, and he could feel his balls beginning to tighten.

“Getting close,” he groaned. “If you want to come first, you’d better hurry.”

Vitya sat back upright and took his cock in hand, stroking roughly as he rocked his hips. His muscles spasmed, dropping out of the rhythm he’d set more and more until his channel clamped around Viktor and pulled him in as deep as he could go. They came together with near-identical cries, Viktor spilling into Vitya as Vitya’s come spurted over his fingers and dripped onto Viktor’s stomach. They rode out the subsiding waves with gentle thrusts. As they slowed to a stop, Vitya relaxed into Viktor’s arms and lay slack against his chest.

“Good?” Viktor asked, rubbing his hand along Vitya’s lower back in soothing circles.

Vitya just sighed contentedly and rested his head on Viktor’s shoulder, ignoring the warm mess pressed between their stomachs. They stayed like that long after Viktor softened and pulled out.

“I want to keep this part in the video,” Vitya murmured.

“Me too.”

Once they’d stopped the recording and cleaned up, they transferred a copy of the video onto a blank microSD card and enclosed it in the bracelet’s waterproof storage compartment. Viktor gently fastened the bracelet, placing a soft kiss on Vitya’s pulse point when he finished.

“Thank you,” Vitya whispered. “Thank you.”


The training schedule was grueling in the final weeks before competitions began. Viktor had reserved private ice for his students at the crack of dawn so they could have more space to work. He drank deeply from his giant travel mug of black coffee and took in the state of the rink. The focus this week was endurance, so practice was starting with an intense jump session now that they were warmed up, followed by full run-throughs of both programs. Vitya winked at him on his way past, his new bracelet attached securely to his wrist, and Otabek skidded to a stop at the boards a moment later.

“Are you trying to taunt us with that coffee?” he grumbled, sounding outright irritable instead of his usual mellow tone. “I can smell it from the other side of the ice.”

“Your water’s right there if you’re thirsty,” Viktor replied evenly.

“If I say ‘fuck you, coach,’ can I blame it on it being six in the morning and already over an hour since I got here?”

“Nope. I’ll make you do a ballet class every day until the Olympics.” But he held out the travel mug anyway, and Otabek took a long, grateful swig. On the other side of the rink, Vitya was in the entrance to his quad flip, timing his tap perfectly for height and momentum.

A wave of dizziness hit Viktor out of nowhere, like going from sober to stumbling drunk in an instant, complete with shaky vision and sensory overload. He couldn’t focus on anything but staying upright as the room spun around him. The scrape of blades on the ice became banshee screeches to his ears. He grabbed the boards and mumbled a non-response to Otabek’s worried, “You okay?”

“Vitya!”

Viktor’s breath caught in his lungs. He could see his own shock mirrored in Otabek’s face. His whole body was on fire, consumed with happiness and a brilliant, aching love. A figure was speeding across the ice, vaulting out of the gate, throwing his arms around Viktor—

Yuuri.”

“I’m home, sweetheart. I’m here, I’m here, I’m never leaving you alone again. Oh my god, I missed you so much.” Yuuri punctuated every phrase with kisses all over Viktor’s face. They were both weeping already, and Viktor could hear sympathetic sniffles from their rinkmates. “I finished my programs with Yakov, and I called my family every day, and I took care of Makkachin, but all I wanted was to come home to you.”

Viktor yanked him into a desperate kiss. “I love you,” he gasped against Yuuri’s lips. They’d always been affectionate in public, but this was miles beyond playful touches and casual innuendo. He wanted to kick everyone out of the rink and drop to his knees right there. “I love you—” Kiss. “—I love you—” Kiss. “—I love you.”

“We need to go home,” Yuuri whispered in his ear. “We have to get out of here, or I’m going to make you bend me over the boards in front of everybody. Six weeks without touching you, baby, I am desperate.”

Viktor hoped the rest of his emotions were strong enough to hide the jolt of guilt he felt at that. Yuuri had been alone in a city where his friends all considered him a stranger, and Viktor had spent over a month having sex with his younger self. Was Yuuri going to think he’d been selfish?

Yuuri nipped at his ear, and it drove away every thought except getting to their bed. Or the sofa. Maybe the living room floor would do in a pinch, if they chose a position that didn’t stress Viktor’s knees.

“Practice is on your own today, everybody!” Yuuri announced. “I am getting these damn skates off, and then I am taking my husband home immediately.”

They left to the sound of applause (Otabek) and catcalls (Yuri and Mila).


“Baby, I have to tell you something,” Viktor murmured into the crook of Yuuri’s neck after round… What were they up to, three? Four? Maybe it was three for Viktor and four for Yuuri. They were back to the kind of sex they had at the very beginning of their relationship, too happy to be embarrassed over how quickly they could bring each other over the edge and be ready for more. “While you were gone, I—”

“You slept with young Vitya.” Yuuri didn’t sound angry. Amusement, rather, was what flowed through their bond.

“How in the hell did you figure that out so fast?”

“I knew for sure when I noticed you feeling guilty earlier, but I’d assumed it would happen in the first place. You probably started falling apart on your own, and 22-year-old you hasn’t learned how to deal with emotionally fragile people yet. He would’ve offered sex because it’s the only kind of comfort he knows, and you would have accepted because old habits die hard. Plus I bet you both were curious.”

Viktor snuggled farther into the warmth of Yuuri’s arms. Over the last six weeks, he’d almost forgotten that someone knew him this well. Not even his younger self was as in tune with him as Yuuri was. The two Viktors shared 22 years of experiences, but this Viktor had spent five years letting Yuuri take him apart and put him back together as a better man. He hoped he’d done the same for Yuuri.

“And I don’t think it was cheating,” Yuuri continued. “If this whole thing had gone like it normally does, if he’d shown up here while you went to his world, I would’ve seduced him on day one. Would you think I was unfaithful to you then?”

“Of course not.”

“So there you go.” Yuuri shrugged, as if it really was as simple as that. “If you’re really worried about making it up to me, just tell me you took video.”

Viktor knew he must look like a complete fool, staring slack-jawed at Yuuri. He couldn’t know, could he? There was no way to transmit such specific information through their bond. “Yesterday! Literally yesterday! I was working up to telling you about that next.”

“For real? Oh my god, what if that’s what sent him back? The moral of the story is to always fuck yourself on camera!” Yuuri buried his face into the top of Viktor’s head and laughed so hard his whole body shook.

“It’s a very important lesson! We made a copy and put the memory card on a bracelet for the other me, so he could take it home with him to… to remember what we went through together. Maybe one day he can show it to his Yuuri. I hope you don’t think this was the wrong advice, but I told him not to wait to find you in his world.”

“I said the same,” said Yuuri. “They need each other. I couldn’t remember the address for my first apartment in Detroit, but I wrote a note and told him how to find Celestino. I left advice for everything I could think of, and when I ran out of advice I started writing regular letters. I’d write something new every time I missed you. It ended up being… a lot.”

Viktor tightened the arm he had slung over Yuuri’s waist. “I am the worst husband of all possible worlds,” he whispered to himself, then placed a firm kiss on Yuuri’s jawline. “Were you okay? I should have asked you sooner.”

Yuuri smiled. “Your mouth has been otherwise engaged, sunshine. It was difficult sometimes, but crying wasn’t doing me any good. I realized I could make a difference in that world until whenever I came back here. That’s when I started writing. It was mostly for younger you and me, but I wrote a letter for Yurio that he probably won’t appreciate until he’s about the age he is now, a few for my family—”

“Your family!” Viktor gasped. “You haven’t called them yet. They don’t know you’re back. Quick, where’s your phone?”

He started to scramble for the edge of the bed—he could have sworn he’d set Yuuri’s phone on one of the walk-in closet shelves, somewhere easy to remember but not out in the open—but Yuuri hauled him back.

“Vitya, I am not calling Hasetsu with your come all over my thighs.”

“You answered a phone call from your mother while you were inside me.”

“That was one time! Dad was going through a health scare!” Yuuri protested. “And I pulled out like a second later.”

“Right, which is why I made that noise, and she had to ask, ‘Is Vicchan okay?’ as if she didn’t know exactly what we were doing.”

“All the more reason I shouldn’t call right after we’ve been having sex! Another shower first, then phone calls.”

“Mm. I could suck you off in the shower.”

“Husband of mine, don’t you dare put your knees anywhere near that hard tile floor,” said Yuuri. “You’re the one getting a blowjob, and that’s final.”

“God, I love you.”

Yuuri held fast on the no-kneeling front, but Viktor still had hands, fingers, and the bottle of lube they kept beside the body wash. It was another hour before they called Yuuri’s family with a joyous cry of “Tadaima!

Chapter Text

Yuuri opened his apartment door, both knowing and disbelieving what he was about to find on the other side.

“Hi,” said Viktor Nikiforov.

He was beautiful.

Yuuri had been in the same room with him once before, two years ago in Tokyo during the Grand Prix Final—Viktor took silver in the seniors while Yuuri sneaked up to bronze for the juniors—but Viktor had always been at a distance.

He was beautiful.

Yuuri wanted to slam the door and hide. But he wasn’t stupid. The part of himself that he’d always known as ‘soulmate’ was missing for weeks until it suddenly returned the night before last. Ever since then, Yuuri’s soulmate had been getting closer, radiating joy and fear, and now those emotions were overwhelming because their source was standing right there in the hallway. Viktor was so, so beautiful, but he was also scared. He was scared of Yuuri.

Yuuri could try to rationalize this situation, tell himself that his own nerves were getting mixed in with his empathic connection. He’d already spent weeks ascribing his soulmate’s absence and Viktor’s social media blackout to coincidence, after all. Maybe he could keep up that illusion if he encountered Viktor under different circumstances, but here? Now? There was no other possible explanation.

“Celestino called me. He said you asked for my address,” Yuuri said, once his mouth caught up to his brain. He didn’t need to add that Celestino told him why Viktor needed to see Yuuri so badly.

“Yes.”

“He also said you walked into the rink instead of, like, calling before you got on a flight from Russia.”

“I’ve been told I can get ahead of myself sometimes. My coach blames all his hair loss on me.” Viktor gave a lopsided yet perfectly photogenic grin, and Yuuri found himself responding with a smile of his own. Relief started to edge out the fear that flowed through their bond.

“How did you figure out it was me?” Yuuri was much calmer than he ever anticipated being when faced with his soulmate. Or faced with Viktor Nikiforov, for that matter. Both at once ought to be overwhelming, but somehow it wasn’t. He was mostly feeling grateful that Minako-sensei had started speaking with him in English before he entered juniors. His high school classes and three months in Michigan could never have prepared him for this conversation.

“I time travelled ten years into the future,” Viktor answered, as if that was the kind of sentence that came out of his mouth all the time. “Except it was weird. Normally I would’ve swapped places with myself, but you—28-year-old you—came back instead. He guessed that I’d try to find you when I got home. I mean, he must know me pretty well since he’s married to me in his world. Anyway, he wrote a letter for you in case you don’t believe me. He wrote a bunch of letters, actually, but this is the one I’m supposed to give you now. The note he left said it has information only you would know, so—”

“I don’t need it.” Yuuri winced at how blunt he sounded. A phrase like that was too ambiguous, and Viktor’s nerves were amping back up. “I mean, I’ll be sure to read it later because 28-year-old me probably thought it was important, but… I know you aren’t lying. I can feel it.”

“We’re soulmates, Yuuri.”

How many times had Yuuri thought Viktor was beautiful in the last few minutes? He should have waited. Now Viktor was beautiful. There was so much hope in his expression; it gentled every sharp line from his cheekbones to his nose to his jaw. Yuuri had never dared to imagine Viktor as soft. Soft things were made for touch.

“Can I?” His fingers were already halfway to Viktor’s cheek. Viktor nodded and slipped his eyes closed as Yuuri stroked along his cheekbone and up his brow. He didn’t flinch when Yuuri ran a thumb across the dimple under his eye. Standing there in the doorway, just the two of them, felt comforting and natural. Yuuri was wrapped in affection, a gentle warmth that didn’t push against his boundaries the way this much attention from anyone else would.

Viktor’s eyes flew open when Yuuri’s fingers slid down to his lips. Their gazes locked, but Yuuri didn’t move his hand.

“Go on,” Viktor whispered. “I want it too.”

Their first kiss was careful and a bit too short because Yuuri had guarded against hyperventilating by just not breathing at all, and leaning up into Viktor’s lips cut off his airway even worse. He would have to get better at that in the long term. There was going to be a long term; he could feel it already. For the second kiss, Viktor bent down to meet him properly and wrapped one arm around his waist while the other hand cradled the back of his head.

“I wish I had a way to send a message to the other world I visited,” Viktor said when they finally parted.

“Yeah?”

“Yes. That Viktor had to wait almost a year to kiss you, but I got to on the very first day.” His smile shifted from gentle to wicked. “I want to gloat.”

Yuuri couldn’t help it; he laughed, even as a part of himself felt bad for the other Viktor. He could guess why the kissing took so long in that world, and it probably wasn’t because of Viktor.

“Oh, don’t feel sorry for him.” Of course. Viktor could tell what Yuuri was feeling. The soul bond had been an abstract presence all his life, but now Yuuri would have to get used to a person who could notice when his outward appearance didn’t match his emotions. “He’s happy now. I only saw pictures and videos, but they’re so happy together.”

In that moment, Yuuri could see the future perfectly. Introducing Viktor to his family. Vicchan playing with Makkachin. Skating against each other at the Grand Prix Final, at Worlds, at the Olympics. A shared apartment. A wedding. A lifetime.

“Do you want to come in?” He slipped his sneakers half-on and stepped fully into the hallway and to the side of the door, leaving Viktor space to walk through it and into Yuuri’s life for good.

“God, yes. But we need to go back to the rink first. I didn’t want to pressure you too much, so I left my luggage and Makkachin with Celestino.” Viktor stepped through the door just far enough to grab Yuuri’s keychain from its hook by the light switch. He handed it over, closed the door, and raised his eyebrows at Yuuri as if to say, ‘Go on.’ Yuuri slipped the keys into his pocket before Viktor’s words sank in.

“Makka— you brought your dog with you?”

“Of course! I couldn’t leave her behind if I’m staying here until my Grand Prix season starts. Oh, see? There I go, getting ahead of myself.” He took Yuuri’s hand in both of his and looked him straight in the eye. “Yuuri, my soulmate, is it all right with you if I stay for a few weeks? The, uh, notes the older you left me said you’ve got a sofa-bed, but I can get a hotel room if you’d prefer.”

Yuuri took the deepest breath his lungs could handle and let it out for a count of five. Somewhere, in another world ten years ahead of this one, there was a Katsuki Yuuri who was already married to his own Viktor. That older Yuuri had left notes for this Viktor, right down to how many beds there were in Yuuri’s apartment. He wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t believe his 18-year-old self was ready to be with Viktor in this world. Yuuri drew Viktor’s still-clasped hands toward himself and placed them right over his heart.

“Viktor,” he said, in a voice much steadier than the rushing of his pulse, “why the hell would you sleep on the sofa-bed?”

Viktor looked as if someone had just told him next season’s medals would go up to platinum. His mouth dropped open in astonishment, but underneath the shock was a sudden, deep hunger. Their bond flooded with desire so strong that Yuuri almost dragged Viktor into the apartment anyway. Instead, he dropped Viktor’s hands, pulled his shoes on the rest of the way, and marched toward the stairs leading out of the apartment building.

“Come on,” he called over his shoulder. “I want to meet Makkachin.”

Wow.”

Chapter Text

Yuuri’s arrival

Yuuri sat up, shaking off the pain of slamming into the ice. He’d known the loop wouldn’t be great, but it hadn’t seemed bad enough for a fall—let alone this hard of a fall—until he was already down.

He was dizzy as hell. It was going to be a matter of seconds before Viktor reached his side and started drilling him with questions to check for signs of a concussion. Then it would be lecture time until Viktor finally gave up before they missed their dinner reservations. But he couldn’t feel the waves of concern that should be coming from Viktor. The space in Yuuri’s mind where he should be was just… gone.

“Who the hell are you?” asked a gruff, familiar voice in Russian. “What did you do to Vitya?”

Yuuri blinked and pulled himself the rest of the way to his feet. The figure at the boards was blurry around the edges, but he recognized the general shape. And there was no mistaking that voice. As Yuuri got closer, he could see Yakov had a touch more hair than when Yuuri got to know him five years ago. His wrinkles were lighter, less carved into his skin. He was at least a decade younger, by Yuuri’s guess.

“Hi, Yakov,” he said. “I’m Yuuri, Vitya’s husband. Could you tell me what year it is, please?”


The first call home

Yuuri stared at Viktor’s phone. He hadn’t thought phone design changed that much in the last ten years, but an iPhone 4 felt weird in his hand. Now he just needed to remember the number he was supposed to call and pray Viktor already had his international mobile plan.

Oh, no. Financial stuff. He hoped there was a way to keep Viktor’s bills paid without drawing official attention. Maybe he’d only be here for a few more seconds, and then none of that would matter. But he wouldn’t be Katsuki Yuuri if he didn’t plan ahead for every possible disaster. Not that planning had done him any good, because of course he was the one person in recorded history to switch places with his soulmate instead of himself. All those hours he spent reading up on time travel were useless. He had a good, long cry on his schedule later—if he didn’t go back to his world soon—but he didn’t dare let tears be his first impression on Yakov.

Remembering his old home phone number was no use. He searched for Yutopia online, pulled the number from the website, and hit the Call button. It was near closing time in Japan, but someone should still answer the phone.

“Hello, this is Yutopia Katsuki,” said the familiar, steady voice on the other end of the line.

“Mari nee-chan!”

“Yuuri? Why are you calling all of a sudden? We haven’t heard from you since you got to Detroit.”

She was younger than him, he realized, only twenty-five to his twenty-eight. That was beyond surreal. Mari had always been seven years older than him physically and older than time itself mentally. Now he was old enough to understand how young twenty-five really was, and he could hear the youth in Mari’s voice in a way he’d never been able to before.

“Mari nee-chan, I… What I’m going to say is weird, but please don’t hang up. I’m Yuuri from ten years in the future. It’s soulmate time travel. I need you to call the me in Detroit and make sure he’s safe, because something went wrong. It looks like I switched places with my soulmate instead of the younger me. But don’t let him know anything’s up, okay? I don’t want him to worry.”

“What? Yuuri, if you’re pranking me—”

“You know I hate pranks, nee-chan. This is serious.”

There was a long pause. “Okay, I’ll call. But I have one condition.”

“Of course.”

“If you’re time travelling, you’ve met your soulmate. You’ve gotta tell me who it is.”

Yuuri broke out into a broad grin. This he could do. “It’s Viktor. My soulmate is Viktor Nikiforov. I married him.”

“I knew it!”


The letter

Yuuri,

You probably received this letter from Viktor Nikiforov. I know this is much sooner than you planned to meet him, but please hear me out and understand why I believe you should welcome him into your life now.

I’m sure Vitya already told you this, but I am 28-year-old you. The Vitya of my world is my coach, my soulmate, and my husband. I’m in this world through soulmate time travel, but something caused me to switch places with this world’s Vitya instead of you. In a way, I’m glad. I love my husband, but he might have been a bit much for you at this age.

If you need proof that I’m really you, do you remember the time Vicchan ran into the women’s baths and jumped in the spring while it was full of grannies? Mari nee-chan took responsibility and said she was supposed to be watching him so you could do your homework, but the truth is you were playing Bomberman and got distracted. Or what about the time you, Yuuko-chan, and Nishigori practiced kissing in junior high? That was when you realized you were definitely gay but also definitely not attracted to Nishigori. (Bonus fact: He had a crush on you at the time. So did Yuuko-chan.)

Please stay in touch with your family and friends while you’re training in Detroit, by the way. I made sure they’ll be reaching out to you too, but you need to realize how important you are to them. Everyone in Hasetsu loves you for who you are, whether you bring home gold or don’t make the free skate. It took me too long to understand that, and I have many regrets as a result.

Which brings me to Viktor Nikiforov. My Vitya. In my world, 2011 began the first of five undefeated seasons for him. During this time, he grew increasingly lonely and unhappy. He had very few friends, and there was no one he trusted as deeply as his soulmate. My time in Detroit was similar for me. (Notable exception: Phichit Chulanont. He should arrive next year. You’re gonna love him.) We didn’t meet formally until the Grand Prix Final in 2015. If I stay in this world long enough, I’ll write you another letter with the full story, but the short version is that Vitya became my coach and then my boyfriend. After I won silver at the 2016 GPF, he returned to skating alongside coaching me. We got married in 2018.

We could have been together much earlier if we had been braver. There were so many competitions where we could both feel our soulmate nearby, but we didn’t seek each other out. I think we were afraid of disappointment. Please don’t be afraid, Yuuri. Vitya is the gentlest man I have ever known. If you entrust your heart to him, he’ll guard it with his life. Your relationship won’t be perfect, but the two of you are strong and stubborn enough to make it through any difficulty. As much as your future will differ from the path of my life, the one thing I can promise is that you will love him more than you thought possible.

Take care of each other.

— Katsuki Yuuri


Missing Viktor (Explicit)

To say he missed Viktor would be a discredit to the word “miss” in every possible language. The absence of his bond felt like everything he’d read about soulmate deaths on those websites he ended up on that he knew would just upset him. He had never known a life without Viktor’s presence in his mind. The world felt wrong every time he woke up, and it stayed wrong throughout the day.

As trivial as it seemed compared to all the other things his life lacked without Viktor and their soul bond, Yuuri missed sex. He missed the ease with which they changed positions and traded roles, relying on the bond to communicate their needs when they were too caught up in the moment to speak. He missed making Viktor helpless and obedient under his hands one night, and the next night finding himself flat on his back as Viktor slammed into him.

Opening the younger Viktor’s nightstand felt like a mix between a violation of privacy and a mundane task. The Viktor who lived in this apartment was a stranger, but everything about the space was domestically familiar to Yuuri, and that extended to vibrators as much as cutlery. His Viktor had similar taste in toy colors—jewel tones—and favored the same brand of lube. It didn’t look like young Viktor had purchased his favorite prostate massager yet, though. That must have come later into his self-imposed mid-20s dry spell.

It was slim pickings compared to what Yuuri had available in these drawers in his world. Viktor had expanded his collection considerably when he stopped bringing men home—and learned to prioritize his own needs, which he said was how he’d discovered prostate orgasms—but the floodgates had really opened when Yuuri moved in and they realized how much they enjoyed using toys on each other. Back in Hasetsu, their sex had been quiet, careful, and usually over much too soon because they weren’t yet accustomed to the feedback loop of their bond. The Yuuri of back then could never have imagined becoming the Yuuri of now, who knew what Viktor sounded like while Yuuri pushed their thickest plug into him. In a word: Loud.

The Viktor of this world owned an unopened variety pack of condoms, a bottle of lubricant, a masturbation sleeve, and three vibrating dildos of basic design that appeared to be different colors of the same model. That part was typical Viktor. He’d once purchased blindfold eye masks in six colors because “What if it isn’t an amethyst kind of night, Yuuri? What then?” Yuuri chuckled to himself and selected the dark purple vibrator along with the bottle of lube. It was an amethyst kind of night tonight.

He started slow, using his fingers and the lube to get himself going. The dildo admittedly wasn’t much to prepare for compared to the toys he was used to, not to mention Viktor himself, but he wanted to take his time. He had masturbated since his arrival, but always in the shower as a necessary act to relieve stress. Tonight was going to be about finding his pleasure again. He curled his fingers to stroke along his prostate and let out a breathy moan at the jolts it sent through his pelvis and outward into his body. He wasn’t as sensitive there as Viktor, couldn’t reach an orgasm without either stimulating his cock or following Viktor’s release through the soul bond, but it let the tension begin to seep out of his muscles.

He was fully relaxed when he pushed the head of the dildo in and switched on its lowest vibration setting. His body opened to it easily, taking it in until the base was snug against his rim. He pulled it back for a few gentle, exploratory thrusts. The design really was as basic as it had seemed visually. There was no curve for prostate massage, no texture to offer extra sensation. How did Viktor use this toy? Did he just flip the vibrations on and jerk off? The Viktor of this world deserved so much better if this was his idea of indulgence. Maybe Yuuri could make a few discreet purchases and leave them as a gift. He turned up the vibrations and increased the pace of his thrusts, idly stroking his cock with his left hand.

His imagination conjured up figures of Viktor and his younger self, both naked and already hard. He pushed back the surreal emptiness of seeing Viktor without feeling their soul bond. If he started dwelling on it, he would never manage this, and he needed it.

“Take me,” he whispered to the empty room. “I want both of you together.” He adjusted his hold on the dildo farther above the base so he could slide a finger in alongside it. It was awkward, limiting his range of motion, and he could already tell his wrist was going to be in agony tomorrow, but the stretch was exactly what he needed. He gave up on touching his cock with his left hand, focusing on spreading himself further. In his mind, he wasn’t lying on the bed but held half-upright and open over Viktor’s thighs, his cock already deep inside Yuuri. He could almost feel the warmth of Viktor’s chest against his back while the younger Viktor knelt above them.

He had tried double penetration with Viktor once, using a slender dildo that they’d bought for the purpose, but while it had driven Viktor to incoherent sobbing from the sensory overload of being filled to his limit, Yuuri disliked the feeling of hard silicone next to his cock. Viktor had been understandably disappointed but supportive when Yuuri said he didn’t want to do it again.

Now, as the Viktors in his fantasy slowly pushed into him, he wondered if it was time to reevaluate. Maybe they could buy a dildo with a softer core and a more realistic texture. Maybe Viktor could try topping and see if the extra sensations didn’t bother him the way they did Yuuri.

What he wouldn’t give to have the real Viktors this way, to have them both inside him, moving together, stretching him so much farther than a dildo and now two fingers. Would he have a soul bond with both of them, or just with the Viktor from his own world? Would the Viktors kiss over his shoulder as they thrust into him and against each other, or would they focus their attentions on Yuuri alone? He wasn’t sure which he wanted more. He hoped desperately that his Viktor, the real one, was allowing himself comfort in the younger Viktor’s arms back in their world. The month they’d been apart was torture for Yuuri, and he wasn’t half as dependent on touch as Viktor was.

His fantasy shifted abruptly. Now the Viktors weren’t inside him; instead, his Viktor was on all fours above Yuuri, gasping as the younger Viktor fucked him from behind. Viktor’s eyes were unfocused, and Yuuri’s imagination supplied the desperate little whines he made when he was in this kind of headspace. Yuuri slipped his right hand out of himself and off the dildo, leaving the vibrations on, and took a firm hold of his cock.

“Let him make you feel good, sunshine,” he whispered, stroking himself in time to their thrusts. “Take care of each other until I come home to you.”

Viktor’s moans were growing higher pitched, taking on the rough cadence that signaled he was close. Yuuri had heard these sounds a thousand times now, but of course he’d never been able to see Viktor from this angle while they fucked in this position. The picture his mind supplied was beautiful. Viktor was on the verge of tears, gasping helplessly as his arms started to give out and the younger Viktor didn’t slow the snap of his hips. Yuuri picked up the pace with his hand and brought himself over the edge in unison with Viktor’s broken wail. Streams of come fell from the head of his cock and pooled on his abdomen, and if he imagined it hard enough—yes, there it was. Viktor came all over Yuuri’s stomach and collapsed with a phantom weight into his arms.

As Yuuri came down from the high of his orgasm, the younger Viktor faded out of the fantasy, leaving Yuuri alone with the older Viktor. His Viktor.

“I miss you so much,” Yuuri whispered. A tear slid down the side of his temple and into his hair. “I hate being here without you. Everything is so empty.”

“I miss you too, baby. Don’t be afraid. You’ll come home soon.”

He’d been telling himself that for the better part of a month with no results so far, but hearing it in Viktor’s voice made it seem true again. He knew he must look like a lunatic right now, lying naked in an empty room, a vibrator still buzzing inside him while he cried and talked to an imaginary version of his husband.

“I love you,” he murmured to nobody. “I’ll love you forever, even if I never see you again. If I get home, I’ll tell you I love you a thousand times a day. I’ll make love to you every night. I’ll stop arguing with you at practice, and we can get another dog like you’ve been wanting, just please, please, please let me go home.”

There was no answer. At four the next morning, Yuuri rolled out of bed and took Makkachin for a walk, as usual. He couldn’t be late for practice.


Dinner with Yakov

Content note: Discussion of Viktor’s depression with mentions of quasi-suicidal ideation. A little more detailed than the content that merited a similar warning on chapter 3, but it’s still not super heavy.

Yuuri was trying to train on the assumption that he would be back in his world for the Grand Prix season. He worked his ass off in his too-short private sessions with Yakov each morning; they were the only place where he could skate to his full ability. In open practices and ballet classes, he kept himself in check, doing his best not to stand out more than he already did as one of the only East Asian students at the rink. Ten-year-old Yuri Plisetsky had caught him staring repeatedly and now sharpened his glare every time he noticed Yuuri. Then tiny, serious Otabek arrived for the training camp that would change his life, and Yuuri teared up just from catching glimpses of them in the same room. All they needed to complete the picture was Mila, but she was on her own in the older division.

The camp itself, however, made training even more complicated. With all the club facilities in constant use, he had to sneak what little ice and studio time he could. The lighter workload hadn’t harmed his skating yet, but he’d needed to redo his diet plan to account for fewer calories burned per day. He wouldn’t be able to handle working off weight gain on top of getting back into his normal schedule if he went home in time for the next season. The one indulgence he still allowed himself was a drink with dinner, mostly because it reminded him of meals with Viktor.

He ended up sharing the majority of those dinners with Yakov, of all people. Keeping up the façade that Viktor was indisposed with mononucleosis—though Yuuri knew the internet wasn’t buying a word of it—required Yakov to visit the apartment regularly, and he usually arrived with beer or wine in hand. Yuuri suspected Yakov was fascinated by someone who wasn’t afraid of him but also didn’t display any of the casual defiance of his students. Their conversations were guardedly formal at first, but as the weeks passed they grew more comfortable with questions about their respective Viktors. In his world, Yuuri had heard plenty of Yakov’s favorite stories about Viktor’s youth, but the details were clouded by time and nostalgia, not to mention Viktor gasping theatrically at anything unflattering. This Yakov offered a different, closer perspective.

Yuuri was unsure what Yakov got from his stories of the future world. Maybe it was vindication when Yuuri mentioned Viktor’s struggle to develop proper coaching methods after half a season of winging it. There was unquestionable pride that Viktor had trained hard enough to snag one last silver at Worlds while coaching Yuuri to his first gold. He went quiet, though, at Yuuri’s description of the knee brace and the winter nights when Viktor could only sleep with a maximum dose of painkillers and hot water bottles on each hip.

“How bad did he get?” Yakov asked one evening.

“Sorry?”

“Vitya. How bad did he get? In his head.”

Yuuri leaned over and patted Makkachin to give himself time to think. He shouldn’t have been surprised at the question. The Yakov in their world had been Viktor’s first stop after Yuuri when he decided to get help, and for once Yakov had been the one to initiate a hug, a silent statement of pride and relief. It made sense that this Yakov had already noticed the signs of depression in the younger Viktor.

There were many ways he could answer, but not all of them were things he felt comfortable telling Yakov. It seemed difficult for people without soulmates to understand fully how the bond felt, so explaining the exhaustion that crawled into Viktor’s every emotion wouldn’t be very effective. Other details were too intimate. The nights Yuuri woke to feel Viktor overcome with sorrow but found him staring blankly at the ceiling. The way he begged for rougher and rougher sex, far beyond his submissive tendencies in bed, just so he could get out of his head for a while. The slow realization that what was wrong with him couldn’t be soothed or ridden out like Yuuri’s bouts of anxiety.

He certainly couldn’t start Yakov on the night Viktor confessed, “I don’t want to die, but sometimes I just want to… to not exist for a little bit, you know?” The sad smile he gave at the end, as if he really believed that his feelings were something everybody experienced, had broken Yuuri’s heart. That was four years ago in their world, and Yuuri was still amazed that he’d stayed calm and didn’t upset Viktor while they wrote an email to their therapist.

The answer that would mean the most Yakov—without worrying him more than necessary—was one Yuuri only knew secondhand. But he had learned it from the Yakov in his world, and that meant it had shaken him then and would do the same now.

“Right before they announced him for his free skate at Worlds 2016, he looked you in the eye over the boards and said, ‘What would happen if I walked away when they call my name?’”

Yakov swore. Bullseye, thought Yuuri.

“He skated,” he continued. “He won. Fifth consecutive world title and broke his own world record for the eighth time. A week later, he took off for my hometown. You’ve heard the rest.”

Yakov drained his beer and went to the fridge for another. He settled back into his seat—the motion made Makkachin sidle over for some ear scritches—and took a deep swig of his new drink. Yuuri let the silence continue. He knew he’d dropped a bombshell, and Yakov would need time to process it. He slowly sipped his own beer and waited.

“What does he need?” Yakov asked at last.

“Support,” said Yuuri. “He needs to know it’s okay to not be okay. He used to believe your views on sport psychology were what you thought of mental illness, and that’s one of the things that made him refuse to admit something was wrong. He didn’t think it would change anything other than telling you he was weak.”

Yakov swore again, harsher this time. Yuuri still had minimal skill with Russian cursing, but he could pick out a few of Yuri’s personal favorites in Yakov’s words.

“It’s, um, not your fault alone,” he said, an attempt to pull his punch after it had already landed. “He was getting bad messages from a lot of sources, including me a few times. You’re actually a reason he got help in the end. You were there for us when we started relationship counseling, which got him to realize you didn’t think all psychology was bullshit.”

“Of course it’s not— I don’t— As if ‘visualizing’ a quad is anything like—” Yakov sputtered the beginning of more protests before he gave up, letting out a deep sigh. “Oh, Vitya.”

Yuuri could relate to that tone better than Yakov probably knew. Yuuri may have held the market share on jumping to the worst possible conclusions in any given situation, but living with Viktor had shown him how many insecurities Viktor kept buried bone-deep under a carefree surface.

“It’s so easy for him to believe people will stop loving him at the slightest provocation, isn’t it?” he said.

“Yes,” Yakov answered without hesitation. It clearly wasn’t a new concept to him. “So how do we fix that?”

“I don’t think we can.”

Yakov snorted. “That’s not good enough.”

Yuuri straightened his shoulders and looked Yakov directly in the eye. Maybe it hadn’t been the answer he hoped for, but it was what Yuuri knew to be true. This was Viktor’s life, not a wobbly spin position. Yakov couldn’t shout at it until it got better.

“It has to be,” he said firmly. “Look, I wish it were as easy as giving him a stern lecture too. But the only real answer I’ve found is that we have to keep loving him and make sure he knows it. We have to meet him where he is and not push him to take steps before he’s ready. That’s what he did for me, and I’ve tried to do the same for him. If you want one serious piece of advice, here it is: If my husband has done what I think he will, this world’s Vitya will want to find the younger me in Detroit the second he comes back. What you can do is let him, whether he shows up tomorrow or halfway through the season. It’s up to you what you do for his training while he’s in America, but let him go. I— I can’t say for sure what will happen after that. I just know it’s going to change both their lives for the better.”

Yakov didn’t have anything to say to that, but his frown for the rest of the evening told Yuuri it stayed on his mind. After another uncomfortable silence, they turned the conversation to Yuuri’s practices and yet another attempt by Yakov to convince him he should find new music and compete in this world. There were so many reasons that wasn’t an option, the main one being that the younger Yuuri would freak out, possibly to the point of quitting skating altogether if he felt pressured enough by Yuuri’s current skill level. But beyond that, it didn’t even sound appealing. Now that he had built his confidence up over the years, he relished how deep the field was in his world. He wasn’t like Viktor in his heyday, always twenty points or more ahead of silver. Every podium was a fight among over a dozen skaters who all supported each other off the ice just as fiercely as they competed on it. Waltzing out of a competition with first place because he was leagues better than everyone else was the opposite of what he wanted from skating, and he took pride in his silvers and bronzes right alongside his golds.

That wouldn’t resonate with his younger self, still so determined to prove he deserved to be there. It made no sense at all to Yakov in either world. Viktor got it, though; he always said he’d never loved skating more than when he stopped medaling after his comeback. He liked to joke that it was because he was finally on ‘happy pills,’ but Yuuri knew it had just as much to do with the stronger sense of community he felt where before he’d been untouchable, distant to even his friends.

He dearly hoped the Viktor of this world would never experience that loneliness.

“I know you’re right,” said Yakov later, slipping on his shoes and gathering his jacket at the door. “But I hate to think he’s put so much work into reaching gold, and he’ll have to trade it all away for his health.”

Yuuri bit back his knee-jerk response that he’d throw all of Viktor’s medals in an incinerator if it would spare him pain. Yakov was being uncharacteristically open; snapping at him was the worst possible course of action, and it wasn’t like Viktor hadn’t expressed the same ambivalence himself a few times. Yuuri settled for what he hoped was a reassuring smile.

“I don’t know about that. If my Vitya is coaching him, he’s probably going to come back with his flip better than it ever got in my world, a smarter approach to training, and the number for a psychiatrist. Have some faith in him.”

Yakov chuckled. “What do you think I’ve been doing for the last fifteen years? See you in the morning, Yuura.”

“’Night, coach.”


Bonus: Yakov POV

Yuuri Katsuki was unlike anything Yakov had ever seen. He had ballet-trained expressiveness and the kind of precision that had all but disappeared with the death of compulsory figures. Lilia would have killed to choreograph for him. And he had five quads. Five quads, and apparently that was the standard for top competitors, not an express ticket to gold. All that in ten years, and Yuuri claimed it was Viktor who had dragged the whole field up with him. He was the first person to ratify five different quads in his competitive career, and one season later someone else (and Yakov thought ‘someone’ with the deepest sarcasm, because Yuuri’s blush told him exactly who it was) did all five in a single free skate.

As much as it cut into his sleep, Yakov wouldn’t dream of giving up Yuuri’s 5:30 a.m. session. It was the only place he got to see Yuuri performing to the best of his ability. His programs for the next season—in his world, not this one—had been nearly finished when he arrived, but Yakov got to polish them into gems, barking out corrections to Yuuri’s technique and helping him devise more and more complicated transitions and jump entries. Yakov was silently taking notes for things to add to Viktor’s training when he came back.

If he came back.

All Yakov had to do when he got onto that pessimistic train of thought was look at Yuuri. Here he was, trapped in another world without his husband and soulmate, and he didn’t let it distract from his training. On the contrary, it seemed to make him work harder. Yakov had no right to indulge in melancholy at the loss of a student, not even a student who had wormed his way into Yakov’s life and made himself more of an adopted son.

Yuuri’s programs were about as good as they could get without testing them on judges. That wasn’t an option, though, for multiple reasons. His music had been custom commissioned and didn’t exist in this world. He’d hummed some of the motifs from both pieces, and his performances were so masterful that Yakov sometimes forgot they were happening in silence, but that wouldn’t get him an exception to the rules. He also stubbornly refused to enter a single competition, regardless of whether he could find substitute music or bring in older programs. Something about how it wouldn’t be good for the younger version of him who was training in Detroit.

Yakov thought that the younger Yuuri ought to toughen up if he was so intimidated by people who skated better than him, and he said so, but Yuuri had smiled at that and said, “Probably, but let me baby him a little, okay?”

Yuuri’s gentle treatment of his younger self did not extend to his current self at all. This morning he was insisting on back-to-back runs of his six-quad free skate, no marking. It wasn’t the first time he’d done this in the last six weeks, but Yakov always marveled at how he was able to make it through the second performance without collapsing by the end. Full back-to-backs were becoming a thing of the past now that Viktor had kicked off the next quad race and ladies were eyeing seven-triple free skates. Nobody had the stamina to get through those programs at full steam twice in a row.

Yuuri Katsuki did.

Some of it was because his technique was more efficient than current skaters’, which Yakov catalogued and filed away for future use, but the main source of his jumping stamina seemed to be his moderate height and slender, compact frame. There was no way to make that part carry over to Viktor, who was still bulking up in the chest and shoulders. Yakov would have to settle for improvement but not Yuuri Katsuki-level ability.

When he tried later to recall what he’d seen, Yakov would never be able to describe it. There was no flash of light or strange transformation of limbs. The skater who went into the air in a perfect quad flip was Yuuri Katsuki, but the one who came down was Viktor Nikiforov. His landing was flawless, far beyond his ability when he disappeared. Then his whole body jerked and his toepick caught on the ice, nearly sending him sprawling forward.

“Vitya!”

Viktor jumped so sharply he could have used the kinetic energy for another quad. He whipped around and stared at Yakov. Yakov crossed his arms and put on his very best coach glare.

“I hope you don’t plan to fall on your face in front of the judges,” he said sternly. “From what that future husband of yours has shown me, your flip had better be— Wait, don’t— Oof!”

Viktor had crossed the ice like a shot and thrown himself into Yakov’s arms. Yakov had a split second to choose whether to catch him or let them both fall, and he chose an overly enthusiastic hug instead of letting Viktor flip over the boards with skate blades landing who knows where.

“I’m home!” Viktor crowed. He squeezed Yakov tight then let go to do an impromptu two-foot spin on the ice, his arms thrown wide. He brought a hand to his chest, over his heart, and his broad grin softened into something full of wonder.

“I can feel him,” he said, voice breathy with awe. “He’s so far away, but I can feel him. Yakov, I have to go.”

“To Detroit. I know.” Yakov had been preparing this speech ever since Yuuri raised the possibility. “I have two conditions. First, you will send me practice reports and footage of your run-throughs every day. If your new boyfriend makes you lazy, you’ll have to come back or I’ll drop you from my roster. Understood?”

Viktor’s smile widened at the word ‘boyfriend.’ “I’ll be a model student. What’s the other one?”

“That you’ll find a therapist and a psychiatrist as soon as you can. Yuuri left the names of your doctors and what medication you take in his world, so that’s a starting point.”

Viktor didn’t give him the expected pushback at all. He just nodded.

“The other me beat you to that one, actually,” he said.

Thank you, older Vitya, thought Yakov. The man Yuuri had spoken of fit every hope Yakov held for Viktor’s future, but a happy spouse couldn’t be considered a reliable source any more than a bitter ex. It was so easy for the former to become the latter, after all. The image of a stable, mature, married Viktor who never lost his sense of fun or his love for surprises seemed too good to be true. This Viktor was the proof. He was open with his emotions in a way Yakov couldn’t remember seeing in years. His time in the other world had transformed him.

“Yes, well, the other you isn’t the one who holds your career in his hands right now. Promise me, or you get to choose between staying here or going coachless this season.”

Viktor rolled his eyes at the empty threat and stepped out of the gate. He picked up the blade guards Yuuri had left on the boards that morning, slipped them onto his skates, and gave Yakov an exaggerated sulky expression that made him look all of twelve years old again.

“Ugh, everyone’s telling me what to do lately,” he whined. “Vitya, don’t overtrain and fuck up your knee for the rest of your life. Vitya, get your head checked. Vitya, have an identity outside of skating. It’s enough to make a guy think people love him or something.”

Yakov scoffed, playing along with Viktor’s usual smart-mouthed act. “Go home and pack, you ungrateful child. Call me when you need a ride to the airport.”

Viktor hugged him again, and he allowed it.

The drive to the airport that afternoon was silent except for Makkachin’s happy panting in the back seat. Viktor was almost buzzing with nervous energy. His hands shook as he opened the trunk to pull out his giant suitcase, and they were still shaking as he held out his arms to Yakov for one last hug.

“Goodbye,” he whispered, his voice wavering. “I’ll call you first thing when I get there, I promise.” He leaned down and kissed Yakov lightly on the cheek, then took a firmer hold on Makkachin’s leash and gave a final smile before turning to the terminal doors, suitcase rolling behind him.

“Vitya!”

Viktor paused and glanced back over his shoulder. Makkachin took a second to get the message, tugging on her leash before returning to sit at Viktor’s side.

Yakov took a deep breath. This was about as far from his comfort zone as he could get. “You’ll always have a place here. Win or lose, compete or retire, this is your home.”

Viktor’s mouth dropped open and a moment later spread into one his very brightest smiles.

“I know,” he said simply.

Yakov’s phone buzzed a couple days later with a photo of Viktor and Yuuri—so, so young compared to the one Yakov had met—snuggled together on a sofa. They were casting peace signs at the camera. Yakov smiled and resolved to ask one of the kids at the rink how to save pictures permanently.