Chapter 1: détente
Excerpt from page 10 of Waiting for the Light:
waves upon the shore
erase the footprints of us,
erode the soaring cliffsides
but they cannot take
the warmth of your hand in mine
and your breath upon my lips.
On the first night, the space beside Yuuri Katsuki in the bed is empty and cold.
Despite that, however, the embers of Yuuri’s heart feel anything but as he lies in the dark of this seaside cottage bedroom, flickering through a series of photographs of the night’s events.
The Midsummer sunlight flashes off the silver fringe of his wayward writer, brightens the glow of his pale pink cheeks, sparkles in his sea-coloured eyes. Against every odd, against every hope, Viktor Nikiforov had returned to him, a wandering ship finally coming home to port.
But on the first night, Viktor stays at Yu-Topia. He’d had a guest room booked for him courtesy of Christophe and Phichit, and Makkachin had spent the evening getting pampered by Yuuri’s parents, Viktor having promised to bring him to visit Yuuri at the cottage in the morning.
Sure enough, when Yuuri goes out to fetch the post the next morning, he only ends up collapsed in the garden of the cottage with an excitable old poodle licking at his face for his troubles. Viktor, who’d stepped out of Mari’s car at that moment, runs over to call Makkachin off.
“Down, boy,” he says, and Makkachin obeys with a forlorn whine. Viktor looks over at Yuuri, a nervous little smile playing at his lips, while Mari goes around the back to pop the boot, pulling out a suitcase.
Yuuri raises an eyebrow, and Viktor bites his lip.
“I could book another room,” he says. “I only had the room for the night, but it’s no trouble —”
Yuuri shakes his head, freeing his hands from where they’d been stroking through Makkachin’s fur. ‘It’s all right,’ he says. ‘I’ll take the couch.’
“I couldn’t possibly,” Viktor flusters, visibly fidgeting. The smell of burning kippers wafts out the open door, causing Yuuri to leap to his feet and dart inside to salvage the food. He can hear Viktor conversing with his sister outside, but his heart only hammers harder when he hears the rolling of the suitcase up the pavement to his door, and the clang of the kissing gate as the latch swings shut.
Mari’s car pulls away shortly after that, and then it’s just them. Yuuri plates their breakfast with trembling hands, watching Viktor slide back into his old seat at the kitchen table with a new awkwardness. The writer’s movements are strangely ungainly in the morning light, like a pointillist painting that’s been zoomed in on too close.
‘How was Yu-Topia?’ Yuuri asks after he sets down the food. Viktor considers it for a moment while Yuuri goes to pour them their usual mugs of tea. It’s strange, serving Viktor’s cuppa in one of Mrs McNamara’s mugs instead of the matryoshka one, but at least his hands still remember how Viktor takes his tea.
“The bed was nice, and your parents spoiled Makkachin,” Viktor replies, stabbing at his kippers thoughtfully. Yuuri sets down the mugs, reaching under the table to scratch Makkachin briefly behind the ears as the poodle rests his head in Yuuri’s lap.
‘How long are you planning on staying?’ he asks.
Viktor looks down at his plate. “I don’t know,” he admits. “I only packed for a couple of days.”
Yuuri’s stomach churns at that. ‘And then you go back to Russia?’ he asks.
Viktor frowns quizzically, so Yuuri rewrites his answer in his notebook. Viktor bites his lip; he looks up with a shrug.
“Probably,” he says. “More likely I’ll go somewhere else. I don’t know — I don’t want to overstay my welcome.”
It’s funny, the power of words. Sometimes all it takes is a sentence — one sentence to raise armies, to fell nations, to shatter Yuuri Katsuki’s heart all over again. The air is thick, souplike. There’s a lump in his throat he can’t quite swallow.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
You’re always welcome here, Yuuri writes, his hands shaking against the pen. Viktor’s eyes follow the movement of his fingers, the quaking of his jaw. Yuuri feels like he’s teetering over the edge of Lovers’ Point.
Viktor reads, and Yuuri holds his breath. “I’ll only stay for as long as you’ll want me,” Viktor says, and Yuuri exhales.
He doesn’t tell Viktor he’ll always want him. That seems to go without saying.
Excerpts from the writing journals of Viktor Nikiforov, vol. 1 (age 7):
Figure Skating [translated from Russian]
My mother and father ice skate,
But somehow I hesitate.
I wish to lay in the sun
With a story begun
Rather than try and skate straight.
Dacha [translated from Russian]
Babushka owns a dacha.
We visit with our dog Sacha.
In the summer we play
By the lakeside all day
Then go in and eat kasha.
I find writing English is hard.
I’m really not much of a bard.
But Anka will scream
If my letters are lean,
And she’ll burn all my work in the yard.
The prettiest boy in the town
Has long hair of bright copper-brown.
He’s really quite swell,
I will wish him well
When he leaves me for school I’ll be down.
The boxes are slow to trickle in, but Yuuri recognises every single one of them from the grainy feed of Skype calls. Cardboard box after cardboard box full of all of the things that had once cluttered the corners of this cottage show up on their doorstep, and things are quietly slipped back into their rightful places.
There are some new boxes too, full of things from Viktor’s life in Saint Petersburg that he’d asked his parents to ship down. One of them is a box full of composition notebooks with Cyrillic letters all over the cover. Viktor had laughed when Yuuri asked what they were, saying that they’re his oldest poems, things he’d scribbled out as a child.
Yuuri wants to read all of them. Wants to smile at the budding genius of the writer who has saved him time and time again. But Viktor tucks the books into the bookcase, like a parent hiding the biscuit jar on the top shelf of the pantry, and Yuuri can only look at the cheery spines with a frustrating burn of curiosity bright within him.
On his first night back in the cottage, Viktor had taken the couch. The morning after he had insisted on going to the shop and buying a lilo instead of joining Yuuri in bed, though they both know there’s more than enough room for the two of them. He sets it up in the den alongside his suitcase, as if he’s just here as a guest for a couple nights despite having had all of his belongings shipped over.
Yuuri appreciates it, really. Especially since Makkachin dislikes the lilo and uses it as an excuse to jump into bed with Yuuri. The old poodle is as bright and energetic as ever, always ready to go on excursions with Yuuri to the beach or into town. Viktor, too, comes along on those trips, though he keeps his pace a couple steps behind.
Everything is a reminder of the shifted equilibrium between them, of forgiveness on paper but still not quite in person. Viktor looks at him like he’s a recently-mended vase, something delicate and beautiful that he had once broken and is now terrified of ever touching again.
It tugs Yuuri through so many emotions that he didn’t know he could have with Viktor. Though he’d felt betrayal before, and anger, and desperation — none of that had ever felt quite like this, in soft greys like most morning skies, muted in frustration. It’d been one thing to experience all of this alone in a hospital room, Viktor a lifetime away in Saint Petersburg. It’s another to do it with him standing five steps away at all times.
One afternoon a week or two past Viktor’s return, Phichit stops by with the groceries. As he steadies his bike with the crate full of vegetables on the back patio, he casts an interested eye towards the remnants of cardboard boxes lined against the wall. “Viktor’s moving back in?” he asks.
Yuuri nods. Viktor had gone down to the library for something, hoping to squeeze in some reading before the place closes at six. Makkachin is asleep under the kitchen table in his favourite sun-baked spot. Outside the open kitchen door, the gulls cry against the pounding surf, and Phichit’s bike is overflowing with leafy greens.
Yuuri helps him carry the crate in, signing his gratefulness which Phichit responds in kind. His friend then takes a seat at the table as well, bringing Yuuri up to date on the town’s comings and goings, while Yuuri makes little nods from where he’s prepping some potatoes and carrots for dinner.
“So it seems like Yuri and Otabek have gotten banned from the movie theatre for the rest of the summer for ‘indecent behaviour’, which I’m frankly surprised didn’t happen last summer,” Phichit is saying as Yuuri throws the vegetables into a pot of beef stew to simmer. “Honestly, for someone who’s lived in this town all his life, Yuri seems resistant to going to Lovers’ Point like everyone else.”
Yuuri huffs, setting down the knife. ‘He doesn’t like to think he’s predictable,’ he replies. Phichit rolls his eyes.
“Right, and — wait, were you outside during that one night they got caught snogging next to the lighthouse lantern? Everyone saw that one.”
Yuuri shakes his head. ‘Good for Yurio,’ he says. ‘Otabek seems like a decent bloke.’
“Speaking of decent blokes, though.” Phichit places his chin on his hands. “Deets.”
Yuuri spreads his hands. Phichit’s eyebrow is unimpressed.
“Viktor’s moving in. How are you holding up? How are things between the two of you?” He pauses. “Are you sure you want him back this quickly?”
‘If not now, then never,’ Yuuri replies, shaking his head. ‘And he doesn’t touch me.’
“Good,” says Phichit. “Considering what he did, it’s a miracle you’re even letting him stay in the same house.”
Yuuri begs to differ. It’s a miracle Viktor’s even agreed to taking this second chance. It’ll take an even bigger one for them to overcome what’s left ahead of them. Yuuri likes to think he’s brutally honest with himself, and what everything is telling him is that this is but the eye of a hurricane, a lull in the summer tempest. Viktor Nikiforov has been a force of nature in Yuuri’s life ever since their chance meeting at St Andrews, and Yuuri would be lying to himself if he said he isn’t jumping at the opportunity to reconquer him.
A ship is safe when it lies at shore, but that is not what ships are for. Mrs McNamara has that carved into a plaque over the kitchen door, and Yuuri has never felt that quite so sharply in his bones as he hears the footsteps of Viktor resound against the patio tiles, and Makkachin’s excited bark as he goes to greet his master.
“Hey, Viktor,” says Phichit cheerily as Viktor returns, no sign of probationary warning in his eyes. Yuuri knows his friend still thinks mostly well of Viktor — how could he not, since he helped to plan their reunion? Here is your second chance, the sharp curves of Phichit’s smile seems to say. Don’t fuck it up.
Viktor gets the message, too, if the way he tucks himself a little tighter into the neck of his shirt seems to say anything. “Hey,” he responds, before stepping just short of Yuuri’s side and peering into the pot. “Beef stew?”
Yuuri nods, washing a couple spring onions so he can chop them into the stew. He sets them down, and signs, ‘give it another half an hour.’
“Do you… need any help?” Viktor asks, casting around for something in the kitchen that he could do.
‘Put the rice on?’ asks Yuuri, nodding towards the cooker. That’s something Viktor never had, and the Japanese labels on the button means Viktor has to ask him how to use it, but eventually the familiar hum of the cooker mingles with the slow bubbling of the stew. Outside the window, the shadows grow and crawl along the walls, heralding the slow but inexorable darkening of the sky.
They make three bowls of rice and stew. Phichit digs into his with gusto; Yuuri smiles at Viktor as his eyes light up over his bowl. The two of them have a bit of a tussle over who gets seconds first, though Viktor is quick to relinquish his claim when Phichit sends a pointed glance at Yuuri, his shoulders hunching like a chastised puppy.
‘Phichit,’ scolds Yuuri, frowning as he makes the camera clicking gesture he’d coined as a name for his friend. ‘Don’t play dirty.’
Phichit only wags a challenging eyebrow in reply. In turn Viktor only looks contritely at his stew, as if he’d suddenly lost the rest of his appetite. Yuuri brushes his fingers against Viktor’s, but the other man flinches back like he’d been electrocuted, and Yuuri’s heart clenches as he slowly draws his fingers away.
Viktor locks himself into the den after doing the washing-up, while Phichit helps Yuuri wipe down the table, chattering about the entrants to the arts festival this year. Yuuri only half-listens, watching the way the sea-glass windchime in the backyard tinkles against the brisk evening breeze.
Beautiful and delicate and broken. Just like himself.
Excerpt from page 2 of Waiting for the Light:
to your untamed nature;
o come with me, my love, into the sea,
and i will linger long within your arms!
your sea-foam tresses ghosting on the lee,
a splash of sunset sparkling in your charms!
tempestuous love, ‘tis you i hold most dear,
as sure as moonlit tides upon the beach.
my heart in joy doth drown when you are near,
and in your absence it to you will reach.
upon your touch, my heart in whole i give
for you to hold and warm on lonely nights.
think on our love, the memories relived,
and let these words from me to you take flight.
if i could beg, my only wish is this —
to give you all my world upon your kiss.
The storm comes a week later, fierce winds extricating frantic melodies from the windchime on their back patio. Yuuri huddles amid the blankets in his bed, cuddling against Makkachin as he pulls his sealskin up around him.
It doesn’t work without water or the requisite incantation, but he derives some comfort from its warmth against his bare arms. It thrums with a magic that courses also through his veins, a familiar call that he had, until last year, never been parted from for more than a couple days at a time.
The rain pounds like bullets against the fragile glass windows, the lightning flashes and the thunder roars. Makkachin’s whimpering grows, especially as the windchimes’ tinkling grows more cacophonous over the blustering gale. Yuuri curls in tighter against Makkachin, letting a strange sense of calm settle on him as his fingers curl into the thick coarse hairs of his sealskin.
There’s a crash in the kitchen. Yuuri startles, shifting off the bed and striding from the room, leaving Makkachin tucked in with his sealskin. He grabs his bathrobe off the floor as he goes, tying it together just as the lightning illuminates the kitchen in front of him, casts Viktor’s handsome face in contrasts of blue and white. The writer has knocked down a mug from the kitchen table; shards of colourful porcelain litter the ground along with the remnants of Yuuri’s tea.
Oh, Viktor, Yuuri thinks, reaching out to guide Viktor away from the table. The shards of the mug jut out against the tile like jagged bone, and Viktor’s shins have a couple stray pieces embedded in them. Yuuri shudders at the sight, but the expression on Viktor’s face gives him greater pause. The man’s eyes are wide, as if he’s seeing a ghost.
“No,” breathes Viktor, shying away from Yuuri’s hand. “Not you again.”
Yuuri slowly withdraws his hand. ‘Viktor?’ he asks, tracing his finger in a heart around his mouth. ‘What are you talking about?’
“I burned it,” says Viktor, his eyes pleading. “I burned it, okay? What more do you want?”
‘What are you talking about?’ It’s moments like this when Yuuri’s frustrated his throat won’t give him more sound than what he can make as Katsudon. He kneels down, starting to pick away the pieces of porcelain digging into Viktor’s feet. But the writer flinches away from his touch, his cheeks ashen and hollow as the lightning flashes into the kitchen again.
The tea oozes across the tiles like blood. Yuuri grabs Viktor’s hands, holding tight despite Viktor’s attempts to shake him off. The thunder crashes along with the waves; outside the tinkling of the sea-glass chimes continue to echo their eerie melody.
Viktor. Viktor, my love, what are you seeing?
“I’m so sorry,” Viktor babbles, rocking back and forth in Yuuri’s grip, tears rolling down his cheeks. “I’m so sorry, please don’t hurt me.”
Why would I ever hurt you? Yuuri reaches up, angry at his own silence. He presses his hand to Viktor’s cheek, presses his forehead against Viktor’s own. In a burst of light, Viktor shudders against him, and Yuuri closes his eyes.
When he opens them again, Viktor’s breathing is steady. The storm has lulled somewhat, though the rain still hammers against the windowpane. Viktor’s eyes seem clearer than they had been minutes ago, but the tear tracks shining down his cheeks are real.
“Yuuri?” he whispers. Yuuri nods, stepping back to free his hands.
‘You dropped my mug,’ he points out, gesturing to the mess on the ground around them. Viktor’s cheeks flush in mortification; he leaps to his feet and darts to the pantry for the broom.
The shards of Yuuri’s mug are deposited, along with soaked paper towels full of blood-red tea. Viktor frets at the table as Yuuri gently rubs antiseptic against his cuts, murmuring and signing his thank-yous as if he doesn’t know which one Yuuri will like better.
(Yuuri’s heart grows light no matter which one, but he doesn’t say that.)
“I guess I better…” Viktor says when Yuuri finally puts the last plaster on his feet. He nods pointedly towards the den, but Yuuri shakes his head.
‘Stay with me,’ he says, gesturing towards his own room. ‘Maybe I can help.’
“With the nightmare?” Viktor asks, confirming whatever it was that had just happened earlier. “I don’t know.”
‘Then let me try,’ insists Yuuri, and Viktor’s movements are hesitant as he acquiesces. He winces with each step towards the bedroom, collapsing down onto the bed next to Makkachin with a weary sigh.
Then he turns to see the sealskin lying next to his head, and freezes.
Yuuri takes it, folds it up and tucks it onto a shelf in the closet. He closes the door, steps back towards the bed while untying his robe. The terrycloth slips to the ground once more, and Yuuri clambers into bed next to Viktor with his heart hammering in his throat, apprehension pounding through his veins.
“Well, um.” Viktor shifts a little, as if unsure whether to tuck himself against Yuuri or Makkachin. But his dog seems to get the message, and leaps off the bed to tuck up on the rug below. Yuuri chuckles a little at that, before turning towards Viktor once more, and pressing the other man closer to him. Viktor’s throat bobs nervously.
Slowly, Yuuri takes Viktor’s hand, presses it against his chest to feel his heartbeat. Viktor’s breath hitches in his throat; he looks down at Yuuri like sunlight emerging from behind a stormcloud, his gaze flickering down to their touching hands as if he doesn’t quite believe this is happening. Yuuri’s heart feels as fragile as his mug at that — what could possibly have happened to his love in the past to make him so convinced he is unworthy of this?
And with that thought burning bright in the forefront of his mind, he circles his arms around Viktor, and listens to the rhythm of his breathing as the other man eases into sleep.
Excerpts from the writing journals of Viktor Nikiforov, vol. 2 (age 10):
I wish I could see ya
Far away from here.
So I will have no fear
When I tiptoe past
Your dacha with your cats.
Your screams will make no sound
That tear my feelings down,
Your thrashing is no use
When you cannot bruise.
And I will wander free
And live quite happily.
Silly old Nika
Chews on my sneakers
And hoards all the tennis balls
She’s Babushka’s poodle
I give her oodles
Of love every spring and fall
Because she’s not mine
The nannies can’t fine
My shortcomings by sending her off.
there is a girl in my neighborhood who
took in my dog Sacha.
she walks him outside a window i can see through
and towards the river.
Sacha looks fatter now, and i’m glad.
he’s eating well and his dinner
probably isn’t being taken away when the nannies are mad.
As the night ebbs from the sky, the dull roar of the rain softens down to a gentle trickle, and then a fine mist. Torvill Cove is almost silent, then, the only noise coming from the waves against the shore. Viktor slumbers on in Yuuri’s arms, his expression the most peaceful Yuuri has seen in ages.
Gently, he tucks a strand of silvery hair behind one ear. The edges of Viktor’s hair are uneven, as if he’d chopped it off himself. It’s growing out in jagged patches now, though, some portions a little longer than others. The fringe that falls in his face is a little longer, too; Yuuri pushes it out of his face with a small sigh.
Viktor’s expression is serene in slumber, but there are now new lines on his face, new wrinkles of worry at his brow. Yuuri traces along them, his fingers unsure but gentle as he recharts his mental map of Viktor, draws new lines and markers over areas previously unexplored.
This new Viktor is terra incognita, a wild frontier stretching beyond the familiar lands of their life together prior to their separation. Yuuri sees as much in the crease of his brow and the twitch of his fingers, and the fluttering of his lashes against pale skin.
He longs to linger here, warm in bed with the possibility of exploring this new Viktor further but there’s a calling deep in his heart, an inexorable tug of his gut towards the sea. It’s been a while since his last change; he has to swim again before the tide turns unbearable.
So with a soft sigh he slips from the comfortable buoy of Viktor’s body, and tiptoes to his closet to fetch his sealskin. It shines reproachfully at him when he takes it out, but he ignores that as he slips out of his clothes and into swimming trunks, creeping out of the cottage with the sealskin tucked under his arm.
The little beach is closed for pupping and moulting season, but Yuuri ignores the sign as he slips down the rickety cliffside staircase towards the tide-swept beach. He leaves his trunks, shoes, and glasses on the stairs, wrapping himself into his sealskin and stepping onto the wet sand with a small shudder. The high tide soaks him to his shins. He presses on.
Only when he is submerged beneath the waves can he let the magic take over. He looks over towards the Torvill Point lighthouse, and the young blond man whose face he will never forget. The man had freckles dotting his nose, light webbing stretched between his fingers. He had sat down on the beach next to a younger Yuuri, the sea breeze blowing through his blond hair, and asked with his hands if Yuuri knew what the little pelt clutched in his hands was.
The waters and rocks are full of harbour seals. They seem to recognise him, though they know this is his territory. Katsudon looks among their ranks, meets the gazes of intelligent dark eyes. Not all of them are like him, but those who are — if they know who he is, they do not show it.
Is the quiet man with the webbed fingers among them? Yuuri had been ten when he disappeared, his little rowboat left bobbing out on the waves. There had been no storm, no choppy waters. He had simply slid into the embrace of the sea, and returned to his mother. Or so the seals say.
But Yuuri’s thoughts don’t linger long on him, not when thoughts of rowboats bring him back to Viktor, to the way he’d stared at Yuuri like he was seeing the jagged edges of some unknown beast instead. Viktor’s dreams are plagued with Yuuri’s monsters, and Yuuri doesn’t know how to factor that into his new maps of his old beloved.
How does he go on from here?
How will he love Viktor, when Viktor looks at him and sees nothing but shattered porcelain?
The sea churns around him, soothing, calming, warm. Come back to us, the seals dance. This boy who has given you such sorrow does not deserve your love.
Viktor has given him sorrow, indeed, sorrow warranting enough tears for a sea of their own. But he has given him joy, too, in equal measure. Greater than all the seas of the earth.
And if he can make the joy outweigh the sorrow — if Viktor can show the depth of his commitment to them — then it would have been worth any wound.
So he swims and swims, clearing his head with each twist of his body through the waves, until the sky has lightened from dawn to day and the harbour mists are just starting to ebb from the shore. Yuuri clambers out along the damp morning sand, the sealskin melting away at his song as he steps towards the staircase where his clothes are, only to find Viktor there, his face pale and peaked and Yuuri’s clothes in his lap.
Yuuri freezes. Bunches his sealskin closer to his chest. Viktor silently worries at his lip, his fingers playing with the fabric of Yuuri’s swim trunks. Slowly, he stands up, undoing his bathrobe and holding it out to him.
“You’ll catch your death of cold,” he says, his eyes downcast. Yuuri takes it from him, watching the way Viktor doesn’t meet his gaze. His heart churns nervously in his chest, buoyed by his emotions like a corked bottle at sea.
‘How did you know I was here?’ he asks. Viktor’s smile is brittle.
“I had a feeling,” he says vaguely. His hand twitches, as if wanting to reach out and touch, but he clenches it and moves it behind his back. Yuuri is suddenly breathless with want; he surges into Viktor’s space, sealskin dropping from his hand onto the sea-weathered wood. Viktor’s eyes darken as his hands reach out, arraying the bathrobe barely draped over Yuuri’s bare shoulders into something more modest, despite the tremor in his hands telling Yuuri that he’d rather do the exact opposite.
Viktor holds onto his shoes and trunks. Yuuri grabs his sealskin again, squeezing out some of the excess water as they head up the staircase and over the sign.
Somewhere at the patio, his hands find Viktor’s, and for the first time since Midsummer, Viktor doesn’t pull away.
Excerpt from page 21 of Waiting for the Light:
your bed’s a rock (in everything but texture)
darling, i wish to never get up.
tell me not to get up.
the world spins with the blink of an eye and i
feel as if you ground me, hold me still.
pull me closer, my love.
darling, i wish to never get up.
tell me not to get up.
your arms around me are enough to hold me
as secure as davy jones holds his locker.
drown me in your kisses, my love.
darling, i wish to never get up.
tell me not to get up.
for if i get up these woozy waves will crash
over us and catch us in the undertow of reality.
let me stay down, my love.
Viktor Nikiforov is a man of many masks, each one more brittle than the last. He spins them as quickly as he spins stories, paints them as brightly as he paints characters.
Yuuri can see through them more clearly than anyone else, now that he’s known him for so long. Viktor Nikiforov is a man of many masks, but his desperation to understand Yuuri has always been a two-way street. His topography may have changed, but some of the landmarks are still the same.
Yuuri knows perfectly well which smiles of his are fake, and the one he’s wearing right now is the fakest it’s ever been.
Across the table, Yuri Plisetsky smiles daggers with Otabek Altin at his side. “I’m just checking in to see how you’re doing,” he says to Viktor, as Yuuri prods hesitantly at the electric samovar whirring on the kitchen counter next to the kettle. They had to convert the plug to the outlet, and Yuuri’s mildly afraid that it will blow a fuse somewhere. In the cosied teapot next to him, the smell of Russian Caravan permeates the air.
The samovar beeps, and Viktor immediately bolts out of his seat for it. “I’m doing fine, thanks,” he tosses over his shoulder as he takes the pot from Yuuri and fills it with boiling water. He then stirs in a couple spoonfuls of strawberry jam, despite Yuuri’s sceptical stare; the rest of the jam goes back on the platter of fresh-baked scones and deposited on the table in front of Yurio and Otabek.
Viktor covers the pot, lets it sit. Yuuri gets out more mugs. He’s yet to replace his own, though he’d asked his mother to see if one of his aunts in Japan will ship one over.
The tea Viktor brews is a strong concentrate, watered down with more water from the samovar and then lightened with milk. He’s hiding behind painstaking attention to detail, as usual — there’s no room for emotion when he’s so busy trying to pretend he cares about how Russian tea should be prepared.
“Good, I’d hate for it to be otherwise.” Yurio bares his teeth. “Piglet will tell me if anything happens, won’t you?”
Yuuri stares, wide-eyed, at him. ‘Are you suggesting something?’ he asks.
Yurio purposefully makes his signs as fast as possible, to try and hinder Viktor’s basic conversational fluency. ‘If he hurts you again, this time I’ll fight him myself.’
It’s a sweet offer, all things considered, but right now all Yuuri feels is a cold tremor at the base of his spine. A scream perched at the bottom of his throat which he knows no one will hear even if he tried to let it loose. How are any of them going to put this in the past and move on, if all they do is treat the two of them like some volatile but inevitable law of physics?
Not every action deserves an equal and opposite reaction. Yuuri stirs more milk into his tea, until it is as weak as everyone seems to think he is. The taste cloys at his tongue, but he swallows it down nonetheless, his chest heavy with the weight of his own isolation.
Yurio moves on to talk of other things, with Otabek’s occasional input. They want to perform one of Otabek’s pieces at the arts festival this year, and they’d like to borrow the cottage living room because it has a piano and Mila is hogging the lighthouse for some dance thing she and Sara want to do. Phichit’s also involved in that, somehow — Yuuri remembers seeing photos of rehearsals in the groupchat, Phichit grinning bright and lively against the backdrop of dancers, lamenting Yuuri not being there.
Yuuri has both a novel and a boyfriend to fix. His schedule for the summer is already looking quite occupied.
He and Viktor agree readily enough to Yurio and Otabek using their piano, though Viktor’s smile slides off his lips the instant the two of them depart to the other room to begin. Stiffly, he rises to his feet with his mug and a saucer of scone, trodding the beaten path towards the den where he will sequester himself with his lilo and his books.
But Yuuri is faster this time. He strides into the den ahead of him, blocking his escape. Viktor’s spine sags; he tries to turn away, but Yuuri shoots a furtive glance at Yurio and Otabek before ushering him into the den and closing the door. Inside, the sheets on the lilo are rumpled, the clothes spilling messily out of the suitcase. Viktor sets down the mug alongside an empty glass, and an emptier bottle of vodka.
‘What have you been doing in here?’ Yuuri demands, brows furrowing pointedly at the drinks.
Viktor says nothing, and Yuuri has to inwardly laugh at the irony. For a bunch of supposed ‘masters of communication’, they’re really quite terrible at this.
‘I know you’ve been locking yourself in here,’ he says. ‘I didn’t know it was this bad.’
Viktor shrugs. “I’m starting to get used to this,” he says, gesturing to the surroundings. Yuuri snorts.
‘I’m not,’ he says. ‘Do you know how painful this is for me? To see you cowering and hiding every time someone else in this town looks at you funny?’
Viktor clenches his jaw. He looks towards the French doors, shuttered from the living room with muslin curtains. The faint refrains of piano chords and off-key singing warble over to them.
‘They’re mad,’ he signs after a moment, his hands slurred in hesitancy. ‘They know. They’re right.’
‘This isn’t the Viktor Nikiforov I know,’ Yuuri retorts.
Viktor looks at him, forlorn. ‘Was I ever a Viktor Nikiforov that you knew?’
Yuuri’s proud of the fact that the only thing that splinters inside him at that is his heart. ‘You said to me once that you wanted me in my entire being as much as I wanted you. That you would try to be yourself with me. Just you.’
His hands are shaky, his signs stuttering and uncertain. Viktor frowns in apprehension, so Yuuri seizes a notebook off the table and writes it down.
‘How can you still want me?’ he wonders.
That is how, replies Yuuri. That you are willing to speak to me in my own language. I know somewhere in this new martyr complex of yours there’s still a thread of who you really are.
Viktor looks down at his hands, uncertainty etched across his face.
I know this is you, too, Viktor, Yuuri writes, reaching for his hand. Saying something is easier than believing it. Writing down an apology is easier than reliving it. For the first time since Yuuri has known him, Viktor is deathly aware of their boundaries, terrified of putting even a single toe out of line.
But there’s no moving on if Viktor keeps on walling himself in here, and Yuuri knows what he has to do.
He reaches down to the lilo, pulls the stopper. It slowly deflates, its dying wheeze filling the room all around them.
‘Let’s end this,’ Yuuri signs, and Viktor’s eyes shine like the unfathomable sea.
Excerpts from the writing journals of Viktor Nikiforov, vol. 4 (age 13):
i recently got a new dog.
his name is makkachin
and he sleeps like a log
at the foot of my bed.
when i’m sad he comes
and gives me kisses on my head.
please let him stay, oh please.
the entire world against me
if all the world’s a stage,
then my stage is crumbling.
i’ve had enough and want to disengage.
i want to die out on a rainy field
alone, with no note or tape or picture.
only death can make me healed.
maybe then my parents will come to my aid quicker.
The lilo is rolled up and stowed in the depths of the closet. Viktor clears out his suitcase, hangs up his clothes alongside Yuuri’s. His toothbrush shows up on the bathroom sink, his other possessions are squirrelled out of the last of the boxes so that Yuuri can take them out to the recycling bin.
On the first night, they begin with only whispered goodnights, migrating towards one another in the depths of slumber and waking in each other’s arms. On the second night, Viktor tucks himself against Yuuri’s neck, and Yuuri wakes to find him pressed against the wall, a wry sort of smile playing at his lips as he cards his hands through Yuuri’s hair.
The third night, though, Yuuri has just finished brushing his teeth when he sees Viktor reflected in his bathroom mirror. Last summer he had often went to bed without a shirt, though the first couple of nights they’d spent together had him pull on a t-shirt for Yuuri’s comfort.
Yuuri rather prefers it the other way around, and tonight seems no different. Viktor’s robe hangs open over his bare chest, and for a moment the toothbrush stills in Yuuri’s mouth as his eyes rake over the reflection of Viktor framed in the doorway, the light above the bathroom sink reflecting across his pale skin. His nipples peek out from just behind the terrycloth, flushed just a slightly deeper shade of pink.
It takes Yuuri a couple minutes to realise he’s dripping toothpaste foam all over himself. He hastily wipes himself up, rinses out his mouth, watches the way Viktor’s eyes crinkle in amusement. Then, slowly, he turns around, stepping closer to Viktor.
‘Need the bathroom?’ he asks.
‘I already went,’ Viktor points out, a hesitantly playful smile tugging at his lips. Yuuri breathes in his shampoo, feels the steam from the shower still clinging to him. He swallows, watching a stray droplet of water travel from Viktor’s nape down his neck, along the bob of his adam’s apple.
Something warm and yearning tugs deep in his gut now, like the persistent call of the sea but different, more immediate, more primal. Viktor licks his lips, his gaze the steadiest and clearest it’s been all month. Yuuri watches the gears in his head spin, waits with his face turned upwards, his lips slightly parted. Carefully breathless.
Viktor surrenders to him, inevitable as the river rushes to the sea. His lips are soft against Yuuri’s own, tasting of mint from the toothpaste they share. If their first kiss had been a crowning moment of joy at the zenith of a Ferris wheel, this one is a soft recapitulation of that first triumphant motif. Quiet, muted, yet beautiful — like the echo of the waves stored in the rim of a conch, the soft tinkle of Beethoven’s ninth played on a wooden music box.
Yuuri’s hands come upwards, fingers tangling themselves in Viktor’s nape. All of the fears and doubts of the past several months seem far away, pushed to the other side of the tunnel behind him now that he’s approaching the light. Viktor’s hands come to rest on his waist, slowly walking them backwards to the bed.
Yuuri pulls him down with him, and the breathless smile that graces Viktor’s lips as they pull apart show that he’s drowning already, and he doesn’t mind at all.
Excerpt from page 8 of Waiting for the Light:
love is a sacrament (that must be taken kneeling)
god of my idolatry, make me anew.
with each blessing of your touch upon my hips
be all my sins forgiven, my trespasses
forgot with every kiss upon my lips.
your body is a temple; i am but
your most ardent priest. i sacrifice
my life and love to you without reserve
upon the marble altar of your thighs.
my days of wand’ring now are at an end,
for at your side my lonely heart renews.
i searched the world for love and only found
it nestled in this tiny cove, with you.
touch me again, reforge me in your flame,
and in your love my life will bear no shame.
When he was seventeen, Yuuri had kissed a boy at a party at the Crispino Winery.
(In his head, since all of the other times he’s kissed someone involved dim lighting and alcohol and not much more past the hungry brush of lips, he doesn’t count any of that.)
His lips had tasted of strawberry wine, light but heady. Yuuri, too, had had several glasses, caught at that age where he doesn’t properly know his limits, but oh is he willing to figure it out.
The boy said nothing of it the days after, and Yuuri didn’t have the courage to ask. He’d been too caught up with his fears of letting the boy in closer, letting him take him out on dates, letting his wandering hands actually touch Yuuri where he longs to be touched.
Too caught up with the possibility that the boy will find the sealskin and run. Or worse, take it and never give it back.
But now the worst has come and gone, the tides are changing once more, and the sea roars loudly outside the window as it dashes whitewater upon the shore. Yuuri’s eyes are closed as he feels Viktor’s fingers inside him, working him open with gentle but insistent thrusts. He exhales, swallowing through the foreign uncertainty, but when Viktor crooks his finger and a shiver of pleasure rocks Yuuri to his very core, he realises he’d gladly do anything to feel that again.
“How are we doing?” Viktor whispers, his silver fringe falling in his eyes as he leans up, his gaze burning into Yuuri’s own. Yuuri smiles, nodding at him to continue, and Viktor’s laugh is a little breathless as it ghosts against his lips.
Yuuri kisses Viktor as he slides his fingers out, his back heavy against the pillows. He only has a moment to mourn the loss of Viktor’s fingers before the man kisses him again, heady and sweet. Yuuri can see the desire plain on his face, can feel it with each brush of their lips, but his touches are still light and hesitant, as if he’s terrified of breaking Yuuri beneath his fingers if he presses down too hard.
So Yuuri brackets his legs against Viktor’s hips, draws him closer by his nape. Viktor’s eyes widen briefly, his reverence faltering for a moment as his fingernails dig into Yuuri’s thighs, but when he presses into Yuuri he is slow and gentle still, pausing to let him adjust to his length once he’s fully seated inside.
Yuuri has only ever known Viktor’s touches down here, has only ever known how it feels to be loved by Viktor and Viktor alone. But if he’d had his way, he’d have rewritten his drunken kisses at seventeen and throughout university — he’d have reshaped every half-baked pulling attempt at the clubs in Altwegg with Phichit just to save all of himself for Viktor and Viktor alone, entirely, wholly.
His lips, his body, his heart — all Viktor’s for the first time, and again.
Viktor’s hips pick up a sweet rhythm against his, his breath coming in soft pants against Yuuri’s skin. Yuuri feels as if he’s being broken in the best way possible — torn down and reforged, like sandstone from the seafloor as the Earth turns and the oceans become mountains. If Viktor is a force of nature, then Yuuri must be the one who can tame him: a rock to his ever-changing sea, or a house that can withstand his strongest storm.
Viktor thrusts again, deep and perfect, brushing against that spot once more that causes little sparks of pleasure to jolt through Yuuri’s body. He can’t get enough of it, can’t get enough of Viktor hard and thick inside him, can’t get enough of their newfound proximity. They’re so close, so connected, and yet the distance is too far. Like the ocean which claims the shoreline wave by incremental wave, Yuuri wants to claim and be claimed by Viktor alone.
Wants to show the world that others may have been Viktor’s past, but he is Viktor’s now.
Viktor comes with a soft gasp of Yuuri’s name, his fingers reverent against Yuuri’s skin. He doesn’t pull out immediately, instead taking Yuuri in hand and stroking him with a single-minded determination to bring him over the ledge along with him.
And fall Yuuri does, like one who capitulates to the call of the sea at the edge of a cliff. He pulls Viktor closer, shuddering against him as he spills. Viktor’s eyes grow wide at the sensation; he pulls back his hands to taste Yuuri against his palm before pulling out, stepping back, and cleaning them up with a washcloth from the bathroom.
Yuuri feels indolent, beloved, divine — he lies against the pillow, boneless, sated, as Viktor worships his body with kisses once more. Along his shoulders, down his sternum, against the crook of his leg to his ankles and his toes — every bit of him is marked with Viktor’s lips, memorised again after months of separation.
Briefly, Yuuri thinks of that fateful Samhain night, of the overwhelming sense of loss in his chest even as Viktor touched him. He thinks of the persistent calling of the sea then, of the withering of the world beneath his feet, the exhaustion deep in his bones. Viktor had been part and parcel of that misery — had been the cause of it, though Yuuri hadn’t known at the time. But now he’s also making it right, giving Yuuri all of the pleasure and happiness that lovemaking could be.
Viktor slots in beside him, behind him, and Yuuri leans back to steal a goodnight kiss. And for a long while after that, Viktor’s writing-callused fingers play melodies against Yuuri’s vertebrae until they both fall asleep to the sound of the roaring sea.
Excerpts from the writing journals of Viktor Nikiforov, vol. 11 (age 17):
it’s the last scarlet sail of summer
and my childhood is ending
in the kisses on vasilevsky —
i hope you are the one
who makes my heart beat forever,
like the ebb and flow of the tides.
the skies are still pink
the gulls are still crying,
and i am dreaming in your arms —
of a shoreline dacha
and the taste of freedom
mingled in the saltwater from your lips.
to the one —
i hope you are fine
with the jagged edges
of my lonely heart.
i’m quite imperfect,
but if you let me,
i’ll love you more perfectly than you’ll ever know.
The end of the summer sneaks up like a sunset, with the town bedazzled in garlands of red and gold for the arts festival. Yurio and Otabek take third with their musical performance, Mila’s dance troupe takes second, and Christophe’s time lapse compilation of the Torvill Cove shoreline takes first.
With the end of summer comes the departure of people and families only here for the holidays. The Leroys return to Canada, Otabek to Boston for university, and Emil to Prague. After Otabek leaves, Yuri Plisetsky sequesters himself in his room, and doesn’t leave for days except for mealtimes.
But while August is blurring into September, and the skies are still golden before the gloaming, Yuuri takes Viktor back to Lover’s Point, his sealskin folded firmly under his arm. Makkachin is left at Yu-Topia for the day, and Viktor carries a picnic basket with their dinner.
It’s been a while since their last visit — almost an anniversary at this point. Yuuri feels Viktor’s eyes on him as he traverses the hidden cliffside trail down to the small beach, and revels in its familiarity. If there’s one thing in this world worth being hated over, then let it be him being the one to steal Viktor away, to so bewitch him that every subsequent poem and story from his fingertips is branded with Yuuri’s presence.
They find a spot on the beach as the sun continues to slip westward, along the arc of the sky towards the horizon. Yuuri helps Viktor spread the picnic blanket on the dunes, before kicking off his shoes and unbuttoning his shirt. He hears Viktor’s sharp intake of breath as he drops it, and smiles a little at the thought that a man like Viktor Nikiforov can be so rendered by a simple action as the careless flutter of cambric down to the sand.
“Are you sure you want me to watch?” Viktor’s voice rasps in his throat; he has sunk to his knees upon the gingham blanket, his knuckles white on the handles of the basket in his lap. Yuuri suspects he’s hiding his arousal with it, like he had a lifetime ago before Yuuri had succeeded in luring him into his heart and his bed. The sudden same bashfulness is remarkably endearing.
‘Don’t take your eyes off me,’ he replies, though his cheeks burn as he strips off the rest of his clothing and wraps himself in the skin. Viktor scrambles to zip up his wetsuit, before grabbing his fins and a snorkel set which he’d recently purchased for this excursion. Together, they head down to the gentle waters in this small hidden cove, and Yuuri waits for Viktor to don his mask and fins before slipping beneath the waves.
The currents here are gentle yet powerful, smaller echoes of the waves that dash themselves against the rocks which shelter and hide the cove. Yuuri feels, once again, the burning knowledge of Viktor’s eyes on him as the transformation takes hold of him, but all apprehension flies out the window when Viktor only swims closer, clearly fascinated by the magic that he had just witnessed.
Katsudon leads him on a merry race, first through the gentler waters of the cove, and then past the rocks out into the wider sea. Viktor keeps apace readily enough, though with considerably less flexibility and more breaks for air. Out past the rocks of the secret cove there are schools of fish teeming in the kelp and all sorts of other creatures out in the deep. Viktor’s presence scares away some of them, though Katsudon is quick to snap up straggling fish as they try to escape with their school out into the blue.
Time loses meaning here, in the watery embrace of the tide. But Viktor’s fatigue grows more obvious with each passing minute, so Katsudon uses that to guide them back to the shore. Viktor’s expression grows even more reverent when Yuuri emerges from his skin, saltwater dripping from his hair as he slowly rises to his feet out of the cocoon of black pelt.
“I don’t know what to say,” he breathes, stepping forward with worshipful softness, one hand coming out to cup Yuuri’s face.
Yuuri smiles, leaning into his touch. Don’t say anything at all, he thinks, as Viktor’s gaze flickers briefly down to the sealskin and back up at him again. He grabs it before Viktor can, wrapping it over his shoulders with a bracing smile, and together they head back up the beach towards the blanket and their picnic dinner. Overhead the setting sun stains the sky in passionate red, gives way to dusky purple spotted with silver stars and a bright crescent moon.
On the sixty-eighth night, Yuuri Katsuki lies beneath the silvery moonlight in the arms of his lover, and wants for nothing else in the world.
Excerpt from page 23 of Waiting for the Light:
to the ebb and flow of you;
o, let the stars pay homage to our hearts!
they do not know the depths of me and you
for when the waves have ebbed, our bodies part;
our souls lie ling’ring in the tidal blue.
i must lament when you are far from me —
for distant shores you sail your lonely bark.
and when you leave, my heart doth lonely beat
with every pace of foot within the dark.
o sweet fey soul that lies within my love!
the honey of your kisses lingers still,
and when you come again — below, above —
i linger in your arms, my heart fulfilled.
return to me, my life and love, my one —
to you i cleave, our stars anew begun.
Excerpt from page 5 of Waiting for the Light:
seven ruminations on watery lovers
the goodman of wastness is a fool;
he stole away the one thing
that would have allowed her to stay by his side
through every season. now
he pays for his pride with her absence.
do they ask the woman carved from stone,
who comes and steals the sheep from icelandic farms,
why she exacts her revenge? surely folly
when one toys with a force of nature
must be our undoing.
melusine must have cried,
when her lover saw her in the bath, for he
could not love her in that true form of hers. i
wonder how many others will fall prey
to their own curiosity, only to
pay the ultimate price.
and oh, ondine of the foam-flowers!
your heart is rent in two, though
you do not remember the sorrows of the knight
who loved you and scorned you and loved you still.
perhaps the waves and time
will heal your soul.
sometimes i wonder if in heaven,
the little mermaid looks down at her prince
and sighs for what could have been. sometimes
i wonder if she still thinks him worthy of love,
though to attain him she had to walk
until her feet bled and her heart ached.
and for each ring in skuleskerry
or each fiddle played on the rocks of skua
there must be dancers light and fleet;
a summer love that fades to autumn regret.
keep apace, my love, lest gunners come
and steal our pride and joy from us.
oh but every day i think the most of you —
with your inky tresses haloed on my pillow;
your warmth inside me, tucked in my heart
as sure as the sealskin tucked in the closet with our winter coats.
i am full of you, your love, your life.
and for once i see not death and sadness in the water,
but rather the rebirth of what we had been, but now.
The summer slowly bleeds into autumn, which blankets the sleepy town in leaves and rain and fog. The dusk creeps in earlier and earlier, its purple starlit fingers chasing after the remnants of the sun. Sheets of rain buffet the brittle seaside windows, the windchime in the back patio tinkling wildly in the autumn gales. The leaves on the trees lining Market Street turn bright colours, and dance wildly through the air in their descent to the ground.
These are the days when it’s best to be bundled up in bed with a mug of tea, but some mornings sacrifices have to be made. Viktor brings out the coats and scarves, bundles Yuuri in them when they go into town. Makkachin bounces through puddles, barking at stray leaves. Halfway along the pier the winds blow Viktor’s umbrella inside-out, to Yuuri’s amusement, and it takes them a couple tries to get it back to its proper shape again.
They’re soaking wet as they arrive at Yu-Topia for dinner with Yuuri’s parents. It’s just a day past mid-autumn, the bright harvest moon just beginning to rise as they step into the resort. It’s low season for tourism, but there’s still a couple people checking in and out — mostly business people here on conferences, or parents of students at Torvill College coming to check in on them. Nevertheless, his parents meet him at their usual backroom table in the restaurant downstairs, two big bowls of katsudon laid out for him and Viktor.
‘How has he been?’ asks his father, nodding at Viktor. Yuuri looks sidelong at his lover, who’s chatting with his mother about his writing while Mari looks on drolly, and shrugs.
‘He’s been doing better,’ he replies. ‘He can sleep through the night sometimes.’
His father considers it. ‘Have you tried kososan?’ he wonders.
Yuuri shrugs. ‘Do you have any?’
He knows some of it must be Viktor’s residual guilt from this time last year. He probably would be thinking of the same, if their places had been switched. Slowly watching the lights in his eyes go out, watching the sea-longing leech out all colour from the world around them — Viktor has been on edge lately, carefully examining him every morning to make sure he’s all right. And Yuuri responds in kind with soft kisses and gentle smiles, but it’s really quite weary to see how much Viktor worries.
“You’re looking a bit peaked, Viktor,” Mari remarks, her eyes still sharp after all this time. “Something troubling you?”
“Nothing more than usual,” replies Viktor. “Yuuri’s supposed to do another round of edits with his team, so that’s been pretty stressful since they haven’t gotten their comments back to him yet.”
“I suppose,” Mari says, her smile showing all of her teeth. She is a bastion of sisterly protectiveness, slow to anger and slow to forget. Yuuri wonders if he’s still seven to her in her mind’s eye, sometimes.
“I mean, I usually find editing to be the less painful bit of the two, but that could just be me. I’m not always committed to my words; I like to be mutable wherever I can.”
“Flexibility is good,” remarks Mari. “Though I can’t imagine that you’d bend to the whims of every editor.”
“No, definitely not.” Viktor’s smile has edges, too. “Just the ones who matter.”
It’s strange though — in the months since their reunion, Viktor has yet to sit down and actually write anything. He reads a lot: all of the books in the den’s bookshelves, piles and piles of additional tomes checked out from the library, a couple novels bought from the bookstore. But he doesn’t write, not in his notebook, not at his laptop. Yuuri wonders why he’s talking as if he’s been guiding Yuuri through the editing process, when he hasn’t.
Perhaps he’s just looking for a semblance of productivity, yet another mask to craft. He’s on the phone with Yakov several times a week, complaining about the lack of ideas. He goes for long ambling walks down to the little beach, and along Torvill Point just short of the lighthouse. Makkachin usually comes along then, ambling alongside his master against the winds and rains.
Genius can’t be rushed, though, and Viktor is still undeniably one, despite standing in the remnants of his writer’s block. Yuuri wonders if it’s something he can help with.
(Or if it’s something he caused.)
At meal’s end, Viktor smiles across the table at Yuuri’s family, declares their food absolutely divine, and bows. Yuuri takes him out on the patio to watch the moon afterwards, little cups of sake in their hands.
The harvest moon casts a golden shimmer onto Viktor’s silver hair, renders his cheeks soft and pale against the relative dimness of the patio. Yuuri’s breath catches short in his throat as he watches his lover drink the sake, the smooth line of his throat bobbing before the sparkling sea.
How had he been so fortunate to find someone like Viktor? How had he been so fortunate as to convince Viktor to stay? At any other time in his life, he would’ve capitulated to Viktor’s self-effacing need to place distance between them. To let them fester and wither and die. This is ripping the bandage off, this is cleaning the wound and checking on it, to make sure it heals properly with as little scarring as possible.
But had he any less recklessness, any less conviction that what he had with Viktor was worth this pain, he, too, would have let them go.
Viktor’s eyes are as unfathomable as the sea, his depths as uncharted. Yuuri takes comfort in it anyway; the sea is in his blood as Torvill is in his bones. He reaches up, cupping Viktor’s face, examining the play of the patio lights in Viktor’s eyes like the glimmer of the moon on the water’s surface.
“Is there something on my face?” Viktor jokes. Yuuri feels his cheeks burn at that, feels his heart race at the way those eyes crinkle in the autumn evening. He pulls back, gulps down his sake, shakes his head.
‘The moon is lovely tonight,’ he says when his hands are freed again, and Viktor nods, looking out again at the waves. Little black heads of curious seals bob in the waves. Yuuri wonders if one of them is the quiet blond man in the boat.
“Harvest moons rise earlier after sundown than other moons,” Viktor says suddenly. “That’s why they’re ‘harvest moons’ — they provide brighter nights for farmers to work.”
Yuuri laughs, just a little. His fingers find Viktor’s, tangles briefly with them in a gentle squeeze before pulling away. ‘That only makes it lovelier,’ he replies, his eyes fixed on Viktor’s silver fringe, on the broad lines of his body. A gust of wind hits him then; he shivers a bit, and Viktor pulls him closer almost on instinct.
The days continue to pass; the rains and winds continue to buffet the little town. Yuuri works and reworks his novel late into the night, sitting at the kitchen table long after Makkachin and Viktor have gone to bed. He sits in on calls with his editors in the United States and Canada, hiding his yawns and typing his responses to their questions. He browses through cover art options, some variations so minute that he can barely tell the difference between them. Sometimes he even dozes off halfway through writing, waking up to find long strings of single letters blinking on his screen and Viktor’s groggy but concerned expression as he tries to usher him to bed.
On My Love is the story of them, though. It’s a story of love and loss and forgiveness, a dive into the depths of Yuuri’s soul as he tries to work his way through what had happened last year. He wants it to be perfect, and he hates that sometimes he doesn’t have the right words for it. Every revisit unearths new problems, new details to tweak and problems to resolve.
“At some point you have to put down the pen and push it out the door,” Viktor says one night, watching the process as he perches his chin on Yuuri’s shoulder. Yuuri sighs, pressing an absent minded kiss to Viktor’s cheek.
Don’t tell me you never reread your stuff and not find anything else to fix, he types. Viktor laughs at that, a heavy sound that reverberates in Yuuri’s chest.
“I don’t,” says Viktor. “I don’t read my books when they’re printed.”
Yuuri snorts. Why not?
“It’s just like you said,” says Viktor. “I’ll get the urge to go in and fix something. The editors took that version for a reason. Too much editing can ruin a story, too.”
But as the month winds down — as Samhain approaches, and Yuuri feels the spark of magic thrum brighter and brighter inside him with each passing day — Viktor seems to draw farther and farther into himself. New masks crop up, even when it’s just the two of them, and this time they’re so seamlessly uncanny that Yuuri almost has trouble spotting them for what they are.
And then on Samhain, one of the masks cracks.
Yuuri wakes that morning to the sound of the waves and Makkachin barking frantically. It’s disorienting, and for a quick millisecond he thinks he’d fallen asleep on the beach. The concept’s not completely unfounded, as it’s happened once or twice before, but it’s been years since the last incident. Besides, the waves sound far too distant for him to be on the sand.
The blankets tangle his limbs as he sits up abruptly. He pushes his hair out of his face when he swivels his head to check if Viktor’s there.
But Viktor’s side of the bed is empty.
Yuuri’s heart races like a comet suddenly launched back out of orbit. Everything is falling, crashing, burning into place with alarming alacrity. The new masks of placid smiles and noncommittal laughs, the growing distance in his gaze, the date, Makkachin barking — Yuuri looks around him frantically, trying to figure out where Viktor could have gone, and that’s when it hits him.
The sound of waves is louder than usual because the French doors leading out from the bedroom to the patio are open.
Those doors are almost never open.
No, no, no!
Yuuri shakily rises to his feet, Makkachin tugging at the hem of his t-shirt. He steps out of the cottage, onto the patio, and shivers in the grey autumn morning. The sky is overcast; a fierce wind whips through Yuuri’s hair as he looks around frantically for any signs of Viktor.
Where are you? Worst-case scenarios spring to mind: Viktor sinking into the waves, whether deliberately or accidentally. Viktor falling from the edge of the sheer cliffs. Viktor walking away, in no discernible direction, just away from Yuuri and Torvill Cove and everything all of this entails. Giving up. Leaving at last.
Even with all of his things in the cottage, even after all of the distance between them that they had closed this summer, Viktor is drawing away again, and this time he’s yanked off bits and pieces of Yuuri’s heart with him.
Makkachin leads him to the rickety staircase to the little beach, and Yuuri’s breath hitches when he sees Viktor’s silvery figure below, sitting on the sand just inches from the roaring surf. He’s still in his pyjamas, which would suggest he came down early and is ruminating on something, except Makkachin wouldn’t wake him up for Viktor’s usual brooding. So something must be wrong. Something —
His feet hit the sand, most of it still damp from high tide. The closer he gets to Viktor, though, the more wrong the picture becomes: Viktor’s hair is damp from the sea-spray; his clothes are soaked in the brine. His body is scrunched up, his eyes stare ahead, unblinking, and his breathing is shallow in his chest.
Yuuri waves a hand in front of his face, but Viktor makes no response, only digs his fingers into the sand a little harder.
“Viktor,” Yuuri whispers, the words lodging foreign and painful in his throat. He claps his hands, trying to urge his vocal cords to form more than just the growls and squeaks that Katsudon makes in the water. “Vik.”
Makkachin barks; the sea roars. Whitewater comes soaring up to them, circling Viktor’s ankles and Yuuri’s shins before receding to the sea. Yuuri taps at Viktor’s shoulder, but after that gets him no response, he jostles him a little harder.
Viktor’s eyes, which had been glazed over, blink back to consciousness. He turns, sees Yuuri kneeling at his side in the sand, and there’s a brief flash of fear in his eyes. But then Makkachin barks again, barging into the space between them, nosing insistently at Viktor’s face and licking at his cheeks. The fear dissipates immediately; Viktor laughs sheepishly at he rubs at Makkachin’s fur, and smiles apologetically at Yuuri, mask sliding back in place.
“Yuuri,” he breathes. “I’m so sorry. I… why are we down here?”
‘I thought you knew,’ says Yuuri. Viktor shakes his head, biting at his lip as he scratches behind Makkachin’s ears.
“I think I must have… I must have come down here in my sleep,” he says, though a part of his voice still seems uncertain as to why he’s doing such a thing. Yuuri takes a breath. Hold. Hold. Exhale. His heart should not be racing as hard as it is.
He swallows down the lump in his throat, absently wipes at his eyes. ‘You worried me,’ he says. ‘I thought for a moment you were gone.’
“I’m right here,” says Viktor, reaching out for him. Despite that, there’s something distant in the look in his eyes that chills Yuuri to the bone more effectively than the seawater lapping at his legs. Shakily, he leans into Viktor’s touch before standing up, helping Viktor to his feet as well.
‘Let’s go home,’ he suggests once Viktor has dusted himself off, shivering in his wet clothes. Viktor follows him up the stairs with Makkachin trotting happily alongside them. Once at the patio, though, he pecks Yuuri on the cheek before heading for the open bedroom doors, mumbling something about a shower.
In turn, Yuuri heads to the door leading into the kitchen and takes down the sealskin from its hook next to Viktor’s coat. He folds it up, and places it in a box in the bedroom closet. It’ll be winter soon, he tells himself as he covers the box with his old writing notebooks and summer clothes. It’ll get too cold to change back and forth.
Maybe if he keeps on telling himself that, he’ll actually believe it.
Excerpt from page 9 of On the Geometry of Snowflakes:
a cosmic funeral
“what happens when we die?” i ask her as i lie
with my head on her thigh.
the radio is on in the background,
tuned to a folk station.
i am five.
when she laughs it is with kind mirth.
a calm fire crackling in a hearth.
“oh my small snowflake,
what brought this subject up?”
my shoulders shrug.
the night air is cool on my cheek when she
opens the door; reminding me of winter’s cold reality.
one hand on my back, the other lifting a lantern,
she guides me towards the lakeside, towards the rowboat.
“we are stars,
this she says amidst the oars creaking
from exertion and the water softly splashing.
“this is what happens when we die:
the heavens honor us with their own form of funeral.”
she points upwards.
the stars above are the universe’s people.
the space between them their cathedral.
“this is the geometry of life shared,” she says.
the rowboat rocks, and it’s the most bittersweet feeling.
‘what happens when we die?’ i ask in sign.
her hands answer me the same, line for line,
as she did back when i was five and curious
about a concept i didn’t know would come into action so quickly.
she is sixty-five,
her bedroom in the dacha is adorned
with flowers and figurine pianos (which she ignores).
the early november sun sprinkles in through the blinds,
and her radio is tuned to a folk station.
she cannot hear.
gnarled fingers tuck a stray piece of hair behind my ear;
the softest touch i’ve known from her over the years.
it strikes me suddenly how bright she was, is,
and how soon she’ll dim away.
when she goes,
the heavens honor her with a cosmic shower
that occurs before the witching hour.
at around one in the morning i row out
to the middle of the lake and stare upwards.
we are stars
she becomes ethereal — the brightest one there.
otherworldly eulogies are sung like hymns through the air.
the stars’ cathedral becomes a place of worship.
they revere her life, her legacy, her death
while she transitions into oblivion.
A couple days after the incident on Samhain, Yuuri hears Viktor on the phone in the den.
“I know, Mama, I’m sorry I missed it again this year.” The writer’s voice is weary, resigned. “I miss seeing her in person, too. Soon. Sooner, maybe, if this doesn’t work out.”
There’s a click, a soft exhale. The muffled sound of sobs. Yuuri steps away, a lump in his throat.
On Guy Fawkes Night, the town hosts a bonfire. Yuuri usually only goes for a couple minutes, or as long as it takes to finish a couple glasses of mulled wine before sneaking off back to Yu-Topia. Sometimes Phichit will keep him longer, but this year Phichit has midterms that have kicked his FOMO into high gear, and won’t let Yuuri hear the end of that.
Yuuri takes a couple pictures of the towering pile of kindling from his spot next to Viktor. Viktor’s smile is bittersweet, hovering over the edges of his paper cup. His gloved hands are warm against Yuuri’s cheek, but that somehow feels like the only warm part of him.
(His kisses are wine-heady and sweet, but that also somehow feels like the only sweet part of him.)
Yuuri knows, rationally, that it’s not his fault — it could be the weather, could be the lack of daylight, could be Viktor simply reliving some unseen horror that Yuuri isn’t privy to. But in his mind the memory of the phone call returns: Sooner, maybe, if this doesn’t work out.
Does Viktor still want to try? Or is he falling back into old habits once more? It’s not Yuuri’s place to pry, though, even though every atom of him burns with curiosity, screams with a longing to know what has gotten Viktor like this.
The bonfire blazes up in a column of golden orange light. The children scream with joy, lighting sparklers among the flames. Viktor draws closer to Yuuri, his eyes shining yet at odds with his smile. The effigy of Guy Fawkes burns, ragged tatters sparking against the velvety blackness, and Yuuri clings onto Viktor’s fingers so tight his knuckles turn white.
Don’t go, he thinks. Don’t give up on us.
Later, he kisses Viktor with a desperation he doesn’t fully understand. Viktor quirks a quizzical eyebrow at him; Yuuri responds by pressing him against the wall in the hallway just before their bedroom door. His nails dig into Viktor’s skin, hungry, greedy, wanting, claiming. At some point it’s going to make it through his stubborn brain that Viktor’s trying to give up, that Viktor wants to leave. But right now is not that time, not that moment.
Maybe it’s a sunk-cost fallacy. Or maybe it’s just Yuuri never really knowing when to quit.
“Yuuri, please,” breathes Viktor, tangling his hands into Yuuri’s hair as his breath ghosts across his lips. “Is there something wrong?”
Yuuri pauses mid-kiss, pulling back to examine him. Viktor’s cheeks are flushed; his eyes are wide with apprehensive wonder and perhaps a dash of fear.
Yuuri shakes his head, casts a glance towards the kitchen where Makkachin is gnawing at a new rawhide bone. With a sigh he nudges Viktor forward, pushing him through the doorway of their bedroom. ‘I heard you,’ he admits as soon as he closes the door. ‘On the phone with your mother. You said you wanted to go back to Russia.’
Viktor blinks. “No,” he says quietly, and it’s like the brief flare of life in him has gone out. Slowly, he sinks onto the bed, looking down at his hands. Yuuri wonders if this time last year Viktor had felt the same emptiness as he does now. “It’s not what — that has nothing to do — I’m so sorry, Yuuri.”
Yuuri exhales, sinks to his knees in front of Viktor. ‘Tell me, then,’ he suggests. ‘What a pair we’d make if we could only express our deepest worries to one another through fiction.’
Viktor laughs at that, though the sound is a bit too harsh. “It’s the anniversary of my grandmother’s death,” he admits after a moment, his gaze fixated on his hands.
Yuuri freezes. Oh. ‘I’m sorry,’ he says quietly, settling back onto his haunches, looking up at Viktor with contrition filling his gut. ‘I probably shouldn’t have —’
Viktor reaches out, stills his hands. “No,” he says. “You didn’t know. That’s not on you.”
‘When?’ Yuuri asks. ‘When did she die?’
“When I was twenty,” replies Viktor, gently carding his hands through Yuuri’s hair. “She was… one of the few good moments of my childhood.”
And that says a lot about the rest, Yuuri thinks, as he pillows his head in Viktor’s lap, looking up at him with a soft sort of desperation. They’re still on borrowed time, it seems, stolen moments before the other shoe drops and Viktor leaves him again. Even though his stuff is all here, his clothes are mixed in with Yuuri’s, his notes and reminders tucked in with Yuuri’s on their fridge —
If this doesn’t work out.
‘Do you like it here?’ Yuuri asks after a moment. Viktor tilts his chin up, his blue eyes clouded with grief and longing. Yuuri remembers another time when they had been like this, and at that time he also didn’t know how to make Viktor stay.
“I do,” Viktor replies. He runs a thumb across Yuuri’s brow, a pointer finger along the shell of his ear. “I’m just still a little scared that one day you’ll wake up and not want me here after all.” The resignation in his tone screams volumes.
Why would you think that? Yuuri wonders, tracing the words into Viktor’s lap. Viktor shivers visibly.
“I’m used to it,” he replies. “Only being wanted for something I’m not. I want… I want to be myself, but sometimes I don’t know what that even entails.”
Yuuri thinks back to Samhain, to Viktor’s thousand-yard stare, to his night terrors. Thinks back to his momentary panic which led to the sealskin getting tucked back into the closet, deep into the recesses of memory.
‘If you don’t know who you are, then what about me?’ he wonders. ‘What do you want me to be to you?’
Viktor bites his lip. “Is it bad that all I can think of right now is ‘someone I don’t deserve’?”
Yuuri snorts, nods. ‘I wrote you an entire book that proves that wrong,’ he points out.
Viktor laughs. “Then just yourself, then,” he says. “Someone I want to prove I’m worthy of, to the entire world.”
Yuuri doesn’t tell him he’s already worthy. Maybe someday Viktor will realise that on his own.
Excerpt from page 26 of Waiting for the Light:
what you gave me
whatever is on your lips —
the sweat, the cries, the softly moaned lullabies.
the moonlight, the wine, the heat inside mine.
the want, the need, and your lust-locked greed. —
allow me, for a moment, to steal it away from you.
it’s a burden for you to carry the weight of our world on your shoulders.
you, my dear, are not atlas.
you, my heart, are more like eleos.
so allow me to steal this unjust burden and
worship you with these love songs.
if my odes are not enough, then let me apologise
and make up for them by kissing you praises
that could fill the seven seas to the brim.
i would give you my tears upon your altar
though i know you’ve had enough salt water
to last a lifetime.
oh, who am i to create such melancholy?
my darling, i say you are more like eleos since
you have forgiven my trespasses,
the most severe alongside the most mundane.
i stand before you undeserving, and yet…
compassion flows just as the crow flies to passion;
and i would place my kisses upon the temple of your body
as a sacrificial love song only heard
by the confessor and the god
receiving the confessionary.
eros knows how this goes.
you consent to my theft and i
relieve you of your burdens.
for the night, we meld into one;
rose petals fall from our eyelashes with every sigh.
i drink you in from the root of your need and you
— oh you —
turn me immortal as you grasp the soft sheets.
ambrosia: the drink of the gods.
that is what you have given me.
— oh i —
savor every last droplet.
you, my dear, are not atlas.
give me the weight of our world;
allow me to steal whatever is on your lips with
one immortal, worshipping kiss.
As the winter begins to settle in, so does that familiar buzzing of the sea-longing. Yuuri had swam once, at the end of November on his birthday, but as one of the coldest Scottish winters digs its claws into Torvill, swimming grows less and less reasonable with each passing day.
Somehow, this time the buzz just makes him irritable. He knows it’s there, he’s felt it before in the month after Vicchan passed, in the months when Viktor had kept his sealskin from him. The sudden lethargy, the sudden lack of interest in anything beside the call of the ocean — it angers him now, that he’s so fallible and dependent on a stupid little pelt in his closet and the big vast sea outside his window.
Viktor, in turn, grows quieter, his footsteps solemn and his touches ginger whenever he’s near Yuuri. He turns himself inside out with misplaced guilt, gaze almost permanently fixed to the floor. New masks, hard and brittle. New shards to drive into Yuuri’s heart.
“Have you sent in your edits?” Viktor asks one night, on the way back home from Kachu. Christophe and Minako had plied them both with drinks, and Yuuri’s head spins a little as he stumbles against Viktor’s body. If this pins him against the railing of the boardwalk, well, that’s just another bonus.
‘Why do you care so much?’ he wonders, his hands trembling a little as he signs. ‘It’s my book.’
“The sooner you send them the last edits, the sooner things go to print,” Viktor points out.
‘I’m still on the last scenes.’ Each sign is a bit more vehement than it should be. ‘Stop nagging me.’
Viktor’s expression hardens a little. “Well, I’m sorry if I’m nagging,” he replies drily. “I’ve just seen you stuck on those last scenes for weeks already —”
Yuuri puts a finger to his lips, cutting him off. Shut up. The sound of the sea roars in his ears, drowns out everything else. The winter wind is brisk and frigid against their faces, cuts into their bodies like knives. Maybe if he swims in this weather, he’ll freeze the instant he steps back out of the waves.
‘You nag about everything,’ he says when he steps back. ‘Always asking if I’m okay, like I’m going to break if you turn your back.’
“You’re clearly not okay right now,” Viktor points out.
‘And you haven’t been okay since last-last Midsummer, but who’s counting?’
That throws Viktor for a loop. His jaw goes slack, his eyes widen. “Last… last Midsummer?”
‘I should’ve known then,’ Yuuri remarks bitterly, all of the pent up anger roiling in his stomach and bubbling forward at last. ‘But I was stupid and in love.’
“Was?” echoes Viktor, because leave it to him to argue semantics.
“Am!” The sound bursts from him abruptly, a single bark that only barely takes on the shape of the word, but Viktor seems to get it anyway, stepping back against the railing in alarm.
“So you’re — ”
Yuuri quickly flees back to sign. ‘Clearly I’m still stupid because I still love you, despite the fact that you can’t seem to get your fucking head out of your ass!’
Viktor gapes at him. “You’re not stupid,” he says.
‘Then maybe you are,’ retorts Yuuri, and jabs a finger into Viktor’s chest for good measure. ‘You keep falling back into your old habits, regressing into old guilts and horrors. Do you have any self-awareness, Viktor? Any understanding of what you’re doing to me? To us?’
It takes him a moment to realise what he’s done. When it does, he tries to turn and run away, but Viktor grabs his wrist and turns him back against the railing of the boardwalk. The lights cast his lover’s hair in shades of shimmering gold, and his eyes are flashing, sparking, burning — at last, Yuuri thinks, and shivers.
“Every day I’m aware of how much I hurt you, and how much more I have to go before I can consider myself worthy of you again,” Viktor says, every word running into one another in his rush to spill it all from his throat. His hands come up, cupping Yuuri’s face, stroking at his hair. “And every day it just feels like I’m failing you again and again, hurting you in all the little ways I don’t measure up to you. And now you’re angry about it all the time, and it — it just —” He breaks off, his shoulders suddenly wracked with sobs, his eyes suddenly welling with fat, pearly tears. “I’m so selfish, Yuuri, squandering this second chance with you, I know —”
Yuuri kisses him, hard, biting, wanting. Viktor capitulates just as greedily, wrapping him close under the lights of the boardwalk for the entire town to see. Suddenly the winter chill has no effect, the perpetual emotional impasse between them has no meaning. Every mask that Viktor has carefully crafted, every wall of ice and words — it all seems to come tumbling down at Yuuri’s triumphant feet.
‘I can’t believe I have to tell you this,’ Yuuri says when they break apart, ‘but I’m just as human as you.’
“You’re a selkie,” Viktor points out.
‘I have a human side,’ Yuuri retorts. ‘And it’s just as flawed as you think yourself to be. God, Viktor, ever since our first actual meeting at St Andrews I’ve always thought of you as some kind of deity. I guess there’s some truth to that adage about meeting your heroes.’
“What, that you should fuck your heroes?” asks Viktor, a wry smile tugging at his lips.
Yuuri snorts. ‘Now that you mention that,’ he says with a grin, and Viktor’s expression is brighter than every light on the pier. The sea still roars loudly in his ears, but right now his heart pounds even faster. ‘Fuck you, Viktor Nikiforov.’
Viktor beams at him. “Please,” he says, and practically drags Yuuri all the way home.
Excerpts from the writing journals of Viktor Nikiforov, vol. 19 (age 23):
fireflies on a july evening
in summer the fireflies come,
little glowing bodies filled
with starlight, ebbing, pulsing,
against the darkening july sky.
i try to grab them, little ones —
fragile wings fluttering, beating
against the cage of my fingers
through the darkening july sky.
but then i set them free,
in golden pathways, carving bright
roads to heaven, dappling moonlight
under the darkening july sky.
Somehow, they break the bed.
Yuuri’s not entirely sure how they manage that; one moment he had been fucking Viktor into the mattress, the next there’s a broken bedpost from where Viktor’s bound wrists had pulled too hard.
Viktor laughs about that as Yuuri unties him from the ruined bedpost, angling up to capture his lips. He cants his hips towards Yuuri’s thrusts, body arching needily into his touch as he does so. Carelessly, Yuuri tosses the scarf aside, leaning down and driving himself deeper into Viktor, his fingers digging red crescents against Viktor’s hips and shoulders.
“Oh god,” breathes Viktor, his now-freed fingers burying themselves into Yuuri’s hair. “Harder, please —”
It’s a side of Viktor Yuuri hadn’t seen before, so he really can’t be blamed for taking his time. His lover is like moonlight, his beautiful body spread open to Yuuri’s greedy touch. Like the waves upon the little beach at high tide, Yuuri claims him completely, and for the first time in his life it feels completely right, somehow. As if Viktor had been made for this, and he had been made to love Viktor in this way.
“How did I ever,” gasps Viktor, his breath tickling Yuuri’s ear, “think you were — ah! — innocent?”
Yuuri has to laugh at that. He pulls back a little, fingernails scraping along Viktor’s hips. ‘You must have thought virgin meant innocent,’ he points out.
“You said I was your first kiss,” Viktor remarks, pushing his sweat-slick fringe out of his eyes. Yuuri had never quite appreciated just how high his forehead is; he giggles at it now, pressing kisses to it.
‘My first sober kiss,’ he amends, and Viktor snorts at that.
“I knew it,” he says. “No way you couldn’t have kissed before, with that skill.”
‘It worked,’ Yuuri points out. ‘You insisted on coaching me in kissing.’
“I can’t believe I was coaching a gold medallist,” retorts Viktor, clapping his hands to his face. “I must’ve looked like an ass.”
‘I liked it,’ Yuuri replies sweetly, before putting his hands over Viktor’s lips. “Shh,” he adds, and picks up the pace of his hips. Viktor stifles a mewl into Yuuri’s hands, arching needily into his touch.
Outside the window, the first snow begins to fall. Yuuri briefly pauses to take it in, bright against the soft glow in their bedroom. The heat is on, the bathroom door is sealed against drafts, and the down comforter is warm and soft underneath them. Viktor’s breath comes in pants, his cheeks flushed bright pink with exertion as he bucks his hips in a needy reminder. “Please,” he whimpers, and Yuuri acquiesces readily, his nails digging crescents against Viktor’s skin as he thrusts deeper into him.
With a strangled cry, Viktor comes, splashing his belly in strips of white. Yuuri pauses, makes to pull out, but Viktor shakes his head.
“Keep going,” he rasps, his voice hoarse from exertion. Yuuri does, his breath shuddering out of him at the sight of Viktor’s flushed skin, his eyes sparkling in the dim lamplight. The bed creaks ominously beneath them, but Yuuri keeps going, keeps thrusting in time to Viktor’s murmured praise and soft, wanton moans until —
Crack! The frame gives, the mattress sinks, and Viktor laughs, briefly startled. For a moment Yuuri wants to sink into the bed and never come out, but Viktor moves his hips encouragingly, and Yuuri can’t help but respond to that, slipping back into his lover’s heat again and again until he’s drowning in the connection between them. In the feeling of Viktor all around him, with nothing else seeming to matter.
(He’d never known drowning to feel so right before.)
When he comes, it’s to Viktor’s needy mantra of his name, Viktor’s heated caresses of his skin. Viktor, he thinks wildly as he collapses, folds himself into Viktor’s arms without regards to the mess between their bodies or the fact that he hasn’t pulled out yet — Viktor, my love, my life, welcome back.
It’s only later, when they’ve gotten out of the wreckage of their bed and blown up the lilo for the night, when Viktor looks back at the splintered headboard and laughs.
“We’re going to have to explain that to Mrs McNamara,” he remarks.
Yuuri muffles a silent groan into his shoulder.
Excerpt from page 19 of Waiting for the Light:
the morningstar was an angel, too, before he fell
so many poems talk of sex like some revelation,
a holy testament to bodily union, but
sometimes there is no god in my flesh,
only hellfire burning for your skin.
i live for these days, for the taste of blood
in the scraping of your teeth upon my lips
your nails pressed to my hip bones, rough, claiming
branding my body as yours in eternal flame.
have i corrupted you, my angel, with my touch?
have i so scorched your soul with my own?
then take me harder, love, with every thrust
there is no inch of me not marked by you.
if the only form of love is divine,
then i do not love you, for heaven
recoils at the thought of being linked to something so base.
but if my imperfect heart can feel perfectly,
then i defy the stars; i’ll pull you down
with kisses of fire and touches of brimstone.
Winter solstice is cold and bitter, knife-like winds driving ice crystals against the glass panes of their cottage. Yuuri is restless, pacing the floor during his free moments. He’d sent off his edits a week ago, and now all that’s left to him is waiting.
He hates waiting. All of the dark little thoughts that creep into his brain and whisper in his ear come back when he’s waiting. Viktor tries to chase them out, but there’s only so much reassurance he can give. Especially when Viktor seems to be just as stir-crazy as him.
Maybe it’s cabin fever, with the outside world being muffled in blankets of snow. The sea doesn’t freeze, but it seems to come dangerously close, and Yuuri hears its call at all hours, even startling awake at night with the sound of water rushing against the shore echoing in his head. Viktor distracts him when it get too much — they’d invested in a more solid bed after an embarrassing talk with the landlady — but even the heights of pleasure don’t eliminate the call entirely.
The daylight dies in the early afternoon, golden sunset fading into dusky twilight far too soon for Yuuri’s liking. Viktor is cooking tonight, and the smell of stewing beets and cabbage seems to permeate every corner of the cottage.
While the borscht cooks, Yuuri grabs Makkachin’s lead from the hook by the door, waving it at Viktor to signify he’s taking the dog out. Makkachin darts out into the cold almost as soon as Yuuri opens the door, barking joyfully at the flurries of snow flying wildly through the air. It’s almost as if he’s impervious to the cold, though next to him Yuuri is shivering wildly in his woollen coat and scarf.
They can’t stay out for long; Yuuri only walks him up to Torvill Point and back. Makkachin sniffs curiously at the hedges and shrubs, while Yuuri looks out into the winter evening, watching the black eddies of the tide curl against the jagged rocks at the point. In this weather there’s no signs of life besides them and the flickers of light in the town, tiny columns of smoke wafting out of the cottages like will-o’-the-wisps.
And then, inexplicably, Makkachin begins to bark and pull at the lead. Yuuri resists him at first, but then he capitulates and runs along with the dog, slipping and sliding down the coastal trail back to their little cottage. The smell of burning beets fills the air when they come in; Yuuri hastily turns off the stove and looks around. Viktor has vanished.
Makkachin, however, is determined — he scampers to the bedroom, leaving muddy pawprints on the tile and wood, and Yuuri’s heart freezes like the weather outside as he opens the door to see Viktor standing in the middle of the room, eyes unfocused as he clutches onto a familiar black pelt.
“Viktor!” The name tears itself out of his throat, claws its way into sound with terrifying clarity. Viktor comes to with a shuddering gasp, the sealskin slipping out of his hands and falling to the floor with a soft, accusing whisper.
Yuuri sinks to his knees. Viktor’s hands tremble from where they clutch at thin air. Yuuri looks up at him, anger and hurt flashing through him like fireworks, spluttering and sparkling into the recesses of his mind.
‘What are you doing?’ Yuuri asks him quietly. Slowly, Viktor sinks down onto the bed.
“I don’t know,” he whispers, looking at his hands. “I thought — I thought I saw something going through the closet, and it — it’s stupid. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t know —”
Yuuri leans up, presses a finger to Viktor’s lips. ‘What do you mean you saw something?’ he asks, brows furrowing. ‘This isn’t the first time you’ve done something strange, Viktor.’
“Oh my god,” says Viktor. “I’ve lost it.”
Yuuri raises an eyebrow, asking him to continue. Viktor nods.
“I’m seeing things, Yuuri. I’m seeing you when you’re not there. Well, some creepy, half-dead version of you. I thought — I thought maybe it was you trying to tell me something, when we were still separated, but —”
The rest of Yuuri’s insides turn to ice. ‘What do you think it is now?’ he asks.
Viktor shrugs. “I don’t know,” he admits. “It’s all in my head, isn’t it? So it must be me telling me something. Telling…”
He slides from the bed, one hand reaching for the sealskin in the space between them, the unspoken thing that has lingered between them for so long. With shaking hands, Viktor takes the skin and drapes it around Yuuri, pulling him close. Yuuri’s heart slowly begins to warm.
“Here you are,” Viktor says quietly. “No need to hide, beautiful in every part of you.” There’s a tear pooling in the corner of his eye; he blinks, and it runs down his cheek as swift as a shooting star. “You should swim, Yuuri. Answer the sea-longing.”
‘It’s too cold,’ Yuuri protests. ‘It’s the dead of winter; I’ll freeze when I turn back.’
“I’ll be on the beach with blankets and hot cocoa,” suggests Viktor. “I’ll be there to keep you warm.”
Yuuri feels a lump of something ineffable settle in his throat. Slowly he points to himself, crosses his hands over his chest, points to Viktor. The words form, too, golden and warm, deep in his chest until it is all he can think about and more than he can bear alone.
Viktor brings him in closer, his tears wetting the sealskin around Yuuri’s shoulders. “Your voice,” Viktor manages after a moment, and Yuuri realises that the words had slipped out of him, too, somewhere along the way. “Your voice, Yuuri — god. I love you, too. I love you so much.”
Yuuri’s arms come around to hold him closer, his head nestled in the crook of Viktor’s neck. The storm may not ever fade away entirely, and neither will the scars they’ve carved into one another, but like the shifting of the shoreline by the ever-hungry tides, so will they transform one another over the years.
Nothing of them that doth fade but doth suffer a sea-change, after all.
Excerpts from the writing journals of Viktor Nikiforov, vol. 22 (age 24):
this is a new notebook mama sent me. i do not know what to do with it, like i do not know what to do with the 21 other notebooks that came before. how swiftly i have moved from composition books to spiral-bound to moleskines! but i must be good, and i must give this first entry something of note.
i have not forgotten the boy from last week who didn’t want my autograph. not in a conceited way, of course, but it was strange to see him just grab the books after he paid for them and leave. i will forget him soon, i know, as i didn’t even get his name, but for now i remember his face as clearly as if it has been branded into my mind’s eye. he was quiet. i don’t know if quiet is my type.
we always want the things we cannot have, crave the people who are worst for us. this much i know, as i press on across the atlantic in a month and away from alexei and everyone else i’ve ever known. we always want the things just out of our reach, the almost-connections, the could-have-beens. and something tells me this boy is a could-have-been. an almost-connection, a brief flicker of a star in my cosmos.
his cheeks were pink like sakura blossoms, his almond eyes brown and warm like topaz in firelight. they shone behind blue-framed glasses; his inky black hair was covered mostly by a black beanie with cat ears. i could have tried to talk more, could have asked if i could see him later. but i should not read more into his little shy smile and the fleeting brush of our fingers when he handed me the money for my books.
he is a memory now, and i will forget him, but within these first couple pages of this notebook, he will live forever.
A couple things come at Christmas: an invitation to the lighthouse for a potluck dinner, a brown paper package from Lilia addressed to Yuuri, a Skype call with Viktor’s mother.
Ekaterina Nikiforova beams at him from the laptop’s grainy camera feed, her eyes bright even in the dim lighting from the room. “You must be the handsome boy from Vitenka’s Instagram pictures,” she declares. “Yuuri, right?”
He nods, feeling his cheeks heat at the compliment. She claps her hands.
“Congratulations, Yuuri, for tying down my wayward Vitenka. I thought I’d never live to see the day.”
“Mama,” Viktor protests from his spot next to Yuuri, his arm wrapped around Yuuri’s waist. They’re on the couch in the living room, a little Christmas tree decorated with blue-and-magenta baubles nestled on the coffee table nearby. Makkachin is asleep with his head on Yuuri’s lap, though his ears perk a little at the sound of Mrs Nikiforova’s voice.
“What, I can’t be happy about someone finally convincing you to settle down?” wonders Mrs Nikiforova. “I’d hoped he’d be the one, after you suddenly decided to fly back to Scotland to chase after him, and for a while I was pretty worried about everything that’d happened between the two of you, but —” she cuts off with a shrug, grinning at them both. “I’m so glad it worked out like this.”
Yuuri feels his cheeks burning, feels the ever-present, ever-familiar urge to sink into the ground and never come back out. But Mrs Nikiforova’s eyes are kindly, sweet, though a hint of regret flits across her expression when she looks at her son. She’s wishing them both happiness and love, Yuuri realises, because she never had the chance to give it to Viktor herself.
“What are your plans for the day, boys? How are we celebrating Vitenka’s 29th?” asks Mrs Nikiforova.
‘There’s a Christmas potluck up at the lighthouse,’ Yuuri says, with Viktor translating his signs as easily as breathing. ‘We’re bringing one of Viktor’s mince pies.’
“A mince pie?” echoes Mrs Nikiforova. “Sounds delicious. But why didn’t you go for your grandmother’s borscht recipe? You used to love it so much you’d beg her to make it for you every time we went to visit her.”
Yuuri looks over at Viktor, whose cheeks and ears are flushed. The memory of burning cabbage and beets wafts in from the kitchen.
“We had a bit of a mishap the last time we tried making borscht,” Viktor replies, cringing a little. “We’re trying to get rid of the smell.”
Mrs Nikiforova chuckles at that, the sound of her voice tinny over the laptop speakers. Yuuri curls in against Viktor’s warmth, smiles as he listens to his boyfriend continue to talk about holiday plans and writing. At one point, Makkachin wakes up and pokes his face into the laptop camera, and Mrs Nikiforova laughs at that for five minutes straight.
She sends them off ten minutes after that with birthday and holiday wishes alike, and Viktor’s expression is thoughtful as he closes the lid of the laptop. “She wasn’t always like that,” he says, a small smile playing at her lips. “She used to be a lot more focused on her medals and students. This might be one of the first calls I’ve had with her where she didn’t mention how well her students were doing.”
‘Are they doing well?’ Yuuri wonders.
“Yeah, they got second at the Grand Prix Final this year, I think.” Viktor shrugs, pressing a kiss to Yuuri’s hair. “Shall we make sure the pie’s ready to go?”
The mince pie turns out beautifully, and they manage to get it up to the lighthouse unscathed by the falling snow and slippery ice. Makkachin bowls Mila Babicheva over when she comes to open the door; her girlfriend Sara Crispino has to help her up from that.
“Yuuri, you’re a sight for sore eyes!” Sara exclaims. “We heard you’d been busy writing; are you finally taking a day off for Christmas?”
‘No, I took a day off for Viktor’s birthday,’ Yuuri replies, and Sara laughs at that, opening her arms for a hug. Her brother Mickey scoffs from the couch, but says nothing else — especially when Emil calls for him to come help out in the kitchen.
It’s a fairly boisterous gathering, with everyone crowding the dining table with their dishes. Viktor’s pie is placed to the side with a pretty Christmas cake sent from Minako, and Yurio had taken it upon himself to scrawl ‘Hap Birth Dogbreath’ on it in blood red icing. Christophe is brewing mulled mead in the kitchen alongside some eggnog concoction, and Mila and Phichit are helping him taste-test. To the side, Otabek scrolls through his laptop, carefully curating their holiday party playlist with his usual stoic efficiency.
‘Survived finals?’ Yuuri asks Phichit. Phichit squeals at the sight of him, nodding furiously.
“Hell yeah, I killed them! Well, I hope so — the grades don’t come out until after New Years’.”
‘That’s good timing,’ Yuuri replies. ‘If you got good grades, you can keep drinking to celebrate. If you got bad ones, keep drinking to forget.’
Phichit laughs at that. “That sounds more like something Chris would say.”
“What’s something I’d say?” asks Christophe, turning back from the stovepot to answer a text.
“Getting my grades after the New Years is good because I can either keep drinking to celebrate or keep drinking to forget,” replies Phichit.
“Yeah, that does sound like something I’d say.” Christophe winks at Yuuri. “Do you like my outfit?”
Yuuri glances down, catches the glint of the kitchen light off the sporran, and raises both eyebrows. ‘A kilt?’ he asks, arching an eyebrow.
“It’s Christmas, what can I say,” replies Christophe, waggling his hips so the festive tartan sways around his bare knees. “Gotta celebrate it like a local. Speaking of which, where’s yours?”
Yuuri feels his face heating at that. ‘No comment,’ he replies, and promptly flees the kitchen.
He’s just made it out into the hallway when Yurio bumps into him. ‘Viktor’s busy lording it up in the living room,’ he says, nodding towards the archway through which the warm glow of a fire can be seen.
‘It is his birthday,’ Yuuri points out. Yurio rolls his eyes, falls into step next to him as Yuuri heads for the lighthouse tower.
The climb up to the observation deck passes in companionable silence. The tower is empty, as everyone is crammed into the main house instead. Winter moonlight flickers over the glass covers of photo frames bearing pictures of the Plisetskys and the other previous lighthouse keepers. Yuuri vaguely wonders if any of the ghosts will make an appearance tonight.
Once they reach the railing of the deck, Yurio taps his shoulder. ‘Did Viktor ever tell you he spent his last Christmas here too?’
Yuuri shakes his head. Viktor hasn’t told him much of anything during the months of their separation. Yurio purses his lips, as if debating what to say to that. Finally, he settles for:
‘We thought you two wouldn’t show up.” He rolls his eyes for added emphasis. ‘Because he’d want to keep you all to himself this Christmas or something.’
Yuuri raises an eyebrow. ‘We spend a lot of time together already,’ he points out.
Yurio snorts. ‘Right, of course.’ He pauses, and a spark of fierceness flashes through his eyes. ‘How has he been? How is he treating you?’
Yuuri remembers those eyes. They’re the same ones as the quiet man on the boat, the one who taught Yuuri how to transform for the first time before his mysterious disappearance. But when he looks down, he notes that Yurio’s fingers aren’t webbed like his father’s.
‘He’s recovering,’ he says, after a moment. ‘He’s trying his best.’
‘Good.’ Yurio nods vehemently. ‘It would suck if it was all a waste of time.’
They subside into silence again, broken only by the distant roar of the waves. Most of the storm has dissipated, leaving only blankets of softly-falling snow. In the distance, echoing across the waters of the bay, the sound of church bells rings in the air.
“I hope you two are happy together,” Yurio’s voice suddenly says. Yuuri looks at him, noticing how the blond teen seems more fascinated with his fingers against the railing of the observation deck. “You and Dogbreath seemed really happy before — before all of that happened.”
The silence stretches between them then, and Yuuri feels a strange sense of calm rushing through him. He smiles, patting Yurio’s hand. ‘Thank you,’ he says, when Yurio turns to look. ‘That means a lot.’
“Whatever,” says the teen, before pushing off the railing and heading back inside. The bolt of light from the lamp circles past, almost hits them both in the face with its bright glare. Yuuri remembers Phichit’s report that Yurio had gotten caught snogging Otabek up here, and can’t help but hide a snicker.
‘How are things with you and Otabek?’ he asks as they close the door behind them. Yurio’s eyes soften at that, and his cheeks heat up.
‘It’s none of your business,’ he snaps, his signs irritable, and Yuuri grins at his back all the way back to the party.
The rest of the evening passes in a pleasant blur of drink and warmth. Viktor gets several presents from the others, which he opens after dinner in front of the fireplace. Among the offerings is a new blank notebook and an ergonomic fountain pen, as well as a set of pants with poodles printed on them (apparently from Christophe, continuing some tradition from last year). Yuuri’s own present — the package from Lilia — lies unopened still back at their cottage.
There’s also a brief Christmas present exchange, but they’re only halfway through that when a peppy Christmas song comes on the playlist. Mila, who’d gotten into her fourth cup of mead, jumps up at it with wide-eyed (and half-drunk) wonder.
“Dance with me, birthday boy!” she yells, tugging Viktor by his hands up from his mountain of gifts. Viktor laughs, acquiescing to the dance easily. He spins her around, even briefly dipping her before sending her into Sara’s arms. But by then everyone else had drank enough to enjoy the concept of a birthday dance, and as the song goes on, so does the dancing.
Viktor dances with everyone, his blue eyes merry as he does. Phichit whoops when he spins him around; Yurio deliberately tries to tread on his toes. Yuuri grudgingly waits for his turn, a longing pull in his gut as he watches his lover enjoy himself. This is how it should be — Viktor should be merry, bright, the life of the party. The sun around which all of Yuuri’s world revolves, the lighthouse beacon to mark his weary path home.
“Have you forgiven him?” The voice is old, gruff; it belongs to Old Man Plisetsky, bowed by his own grief and guilt possibly until the end of his life. Yuuri looks between him and Viktor’s light smile, and shrugs.
‘I forgave him long before he forgave himself,’ he replies.
Old Man Plisetsky nods. “The sea works in mysterious ways,” he remarks.
‘The sea loves those who are willing to change,’ says Yuuri, as if that’s supposed to be an adage for sailors to steer by. A familiar haunted gleam lingers in Old Man Plisetsky’s eyes when he looks at him properly in the firelight, which in turn sends shivers down his spine.
“She has not been so kind to me,” says Old Man Plisetsky, folding his hands behind his back. “And yet I love her.”
Yuuri looks over at Viktor, who’s just finished a brief awkward turn with Otabek, and is clearly searching the party for him. He waves, and Viktor’s eyes light up.
‘Sometimes it takes more than just love,’ he replies, just as Viktor comes by to grab his hand and pull him into a dance. However, when he swings around again, bouncing in time to the cheery Christmas jingle, Old Man Plisetsky is gone.
“What takes more than just love?” asks Viktor curiously as he brings Yuuri in, rocking them both to the tune. Yuuri smiles, leaning up to kiss his cheek.
It takes more than just love for someone like Viktor to overcome his flaws and foibles. The tragedy of it all, though, is just how long it took Yuuri himself to realise that.
Excerpt from page 14 of Waiting for the Light:
ode to your thighs
yesterday the bookstore
had a sale on cashmere scarves; i
almost bought one before I thought of you.
it’s almost earmuff season;
the couples line the boardwalk, pressed in
tight against the chilly seaside winds.
i would’ve brought out the blankets,
but i saw you’d aired the down comforter
and tucked it into the blue seashell cover we both like.
and of course the jumpers —
you have the nicest colours, when you
bundle us up for winter storms.
but the nicest way for me to keep warm, i think
is when i lie with you, and let your legs
fall on each side of my head.
After the party, after taking Viktor and Makkachin home with a bag of presents and an empty pie tin, Yuuri slides a note with a phone number into the parcel that he gives Viktor for his birthday.
His heart races as he presses the package into Viktor’s lap later, after they’re both warm and sated in bed. Viktor’s eyes light up; he rips open the brown paper wrapping and coos delightedly at the cover of the book within.
‘It’s the proof copy,’ Yuuri signs. ‘It’s still not perfect.’
“It’s perfect for me,” replies Viktor, before picking up the card with the additional note stuck to it. Yuuri worries at his lip, especially as Viktor reads the note with a furrowed brow.
‘I’m sorry if I presumed —’ Yuuri begins, but his hands still as Viktor looks up with a small smile, his eyes shining. He leans forward to fold Yuuri into his arms. Yuuri’s heart slowly inches back to its normal rhythm then, as he breathes in the scent of Viktor’s shampoo and the dim salty tang of the sea breeze.
“You’re right,” Viktor says. “It takes more than just love.”
In the new year, Viktor takes some time out each week to visit a nice old lady in Altwegg. Yuuri remembers her from his own childhood, remembers how she had carefully helped him manage his feelings about his muteness and his anxieties over being perceived as different in the world outside Yu-Topia and Torvill Cove in general. He waits outside, with the nice receptionist with the little biscuits on a platter, while Viktor has his appointments, and afterwards they go to a little café for lunch before Viktor drives them home in the convertible he’d gotten back from Christophe.
Viktor doesn’t talk about what he discusses with her, and Yuuri doesn’t pry. What matters is the slow ebb of the masks off Viktor’s face, like he’s a crocus emerging from the depths of winter into early spring. The slow melting of the ice from his eyes, the crumbling of the plaster from his smile — here is a new Viktor, even better than the one Yuuri had fallen for lifetimes ago. The lines on his face seem to lighten; the weight of the world slips off his shoulders.
He begins to write again.
It’s been a long time coming — Yuuri has heard the tail end of hushed phone calls with Yakov, frantic pacing in the den, frustrated groaning into Makkachin’s fur. Viktor goes for jogs with the old poodle in the mornings, helps Christophe up at Kachu in the afternoons, sets up a small routine for himself in order to find a comfortable place in which to write. But only now does he actually start to do it — start to open up his laptop and type away at the kitchen table alongside Yuuri, humming to himself as the words fly from his brain out to his fingertips.
‘What are you working on?’ Yuuri asks one evening in February, as Viktor pauses in his typing to take the mug of tea from Yuuri’s hands. They’d gotten matching poodle mugs as birthday presents from Yuuri’s mother; Viktor’s is pink and Yuuri’s is blue.
“It’s a surprise,” says Viktor, his eyes twinkling. He slams down his laptop when Yuuri tries to peer over, and laughs when Yuuri takes that opportunity to slide onto his lap anyway, looping his arms around him and kissing him slow and sweet.
‘A surprise for me?’ he asks when he pulls his hands back, and Viktor grins, his own fingers dancing along the small of Yuuri’s back.
“Especially for you,” replies Viktor. He squeezes at Yuuri’s ass, a sly grin sneaking across his face. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to take your mind off it somehow.”
A shiver runs down Yuuri’s spine. ‘How about a bedtime story?’ he suggests. ‘You still haven’t finished reading the book to me.’
“You wrote it, you know how it ends,” Viktor points out.
‘Do the silly voices,’ counters Yuuri, and his writer laughs as he hefts him into his arms.
They don’t end up getting very far in the proof copy of On My Love, not when they’re pausing for kisses every other page and Yuuri’s hands get more and more creative in the confines of Viktor’s trouser pockets. After a while, Viktor sets down the book entirely, just as Yuuri triumphantly undoes the zipper to free him from his pants, already hard and wanting.
He takes Viktor into his mouth, hands and tongue working together in sweet tandem. Viktor comes undone beneath him, his own hands gripping white-knuckled at the sheets as his hips twitch in desperation against Yuuri’s mouth.
“If you think this is going to get me to give you a sneak peek of what I’m writing, you’re wrong,” Viktor pants when Yuuri pulls back, wiping a strand of precome from his lips. He slots their hips together, fingers fumbling to roll down his sweats and free his own hardness. Viktor groans, tosses his head back against the pillow as Yuuri nips a trail along his neck, marks him for his very own.
Banish the thought, Yuuri remarks drily, fingernails tracing the letters into his shoulder. He presses them together, biting back a sigh as Viktor’s hands move to touch him in tandem with the rolling of their hips.
Outside of their bed, the world loses time and meaning. The faint call of the sea through the window only thrums at Yuuri’s blood, makes his heart race as his hips pick up speed. Viktor moves, too, with his hips and hands, his breath coming in soft pants against Yuuri’s shoulder. The friction is exquisite, almost dizzying; Yuuri can feel himself tensing for release with each stroke, each kiss, each rub.
Viktor’s name is the only thing that echoes in his head when he does — when he climaxes and falls, like a star toppling out of heaven and shooting down to earth. A brief moment of beauty before the touch of oblivion — a little death, holding him in its tender caress as he sinks down against Viktor, their heartbeats shuddering in synchrony.
Viktor cleans them up afterwards and takes Yuuri’s hand, pressing a kiss to his wrist. Yuuri presses their foreheads close, and then their noses, nuzzling against Viktor with a familiar, welcome warmth blossoming in his chest. Viktor chuckles as he shifts up a little against the pillows, picking the book up from the bedside table. He turns on the lamp, shifting the light in the room from a dim silver to a warm, bright gold.
“Where were we?” he asks, thumbing to the page. “Ah, yes, chapter six, Toriano and Jack’s first kiss.”
‘Remember ours?’ Yuuri asks.
Viktor beams. ‘Always,’ he signs, and kisses his forehead.
Excerpts from the writing journals of Viktor Nikiforov, vol. 25 (age 27):
another year almost gone, another lifetime almost done, and what do i have to show for it? lies. beautiful lies of ice and love. love is a lie. so is my ability to write. i’m showered in praise, but no one ever wants to talk about how fake all of my emotions are, how insincere i am in my prose. no one ever feels the way they should. no one is ever relatable. i’m not pouring my soul into these like i used to.
i once wrote with passion, with clarity. even as a child, my shitty doggerel was founded on strong emotions. betrayal, pain, love — all of that was there. but now i’m just numb. and lying to pretend to the rest of the world as if i’m not.
will this ever change? i can only hope so. the year is dying, i stand upon the knife’s edge between today and tomorrow, and the only thing i have left is hope. my words have been strangled out of me, the ice triad now a millstone around my neck. it’s as if i have hit a wall, or the sides of a plateau, and i don’t know if i’m improving, or if anyone cares enough about my work to tell me so.
my writing has always been personal, until i looked back at the last year and realised how impersonal i’ve become. i need a break. a holiday. a change of scenery.
i hear it’s nice in torvill cove in the summer.
In late March, the snow begins to fade in patches, and the first buds of spring begin to poke through the cold. The bonsai cherry tree that Yuuri’s father carefully tends to alongside his model ships begins to bloom, dropping tiny petals onto the kotatsu whenever Yuuri and Viktor visit. Mari’s smiles grow warmer with the arrival of spring, and so do Viktor’s, as he claps and bows over Hiroko’s cooking.
“A letter came for you in the post today,” Hiroko says as she’s bringing out the clementines after lunch. Viktor is collapsed into the warmth of the kotatsu alongside Makkachin, dozing off amid a half-empty bottle of sake. Yuuri feels just as warm, with Makkachin half in his lap and Viktor pressed against his side. “It’s from a Manami Doyle in San Diego.”
Yuuri hums over his latté, remembers the tang of bitter coffee against his lips. Hiroko gives him the envelope, and he tucks it into his coat without opening it.
He spent all of last year looking back, both at himself and at Viktor. Lamenting pasts that were not his, idyllic has-beens that can never be attained again. Even during this year there are still moments when he thinks about the other Yuuri, or the past Viktor, or the version of him that would’ve existed if he’d never gotten stranded from his selkie mother twenty-five years ago. Would he still have been called Yuuri? Would he have ever tasted katsudon, or mead, or the handmade ice cream from the boardwalk parlour? Would he have ever gone to St Andrews or been published?
Would he have ever known the joy of writing, or signing, or loving Viktor?
So many different things have led him to where he is today. So many little choices, from himself and others. Perhaps that had been in the design of some greater being all along, or Yuuri himself has just been peculiarly lucky. Lucky to have found the Katsukis, and Torvill Cove, and Viktor.
Lucky to have been the answer to all of his true mother’s prayers.
In the gathering spring twilight, Yuuri walks with a small bouquet of camellias to a little grave in Bowhill Cemetery. Makkachin’s steps are sedate alongside him; Viktor’s hand is warm in his.
The other Yuuri’s grave is dusty when they arrive, so Yuuri cleans it with quiet but sure strokes of his hand. The letters are worn and faded from twenty-five years of age. Yuuri sets down the bouquet, feeling Viktor’s hand clench on his shoulder.
Makkachin barks, that same warning tone that has stricken fear into Yuuri’s heart twice already. Yuuri looks up, just in time to catch the pale face of a young man covered in seaweed, the hem of his white gown dripping green with seawater. His breath hitches; next to him Viktor draws closer, his hands shaking against Yuuri’s shoulder.
The man looks at Yuuri for a long, silent moment. Then Yuuri exhales, and the man fades away.
“Did you see it?” Viktor asks, his voice faint and awed.
Yuuri nods, rising to his feet. All around them the gloaming has seeped into evening, stars winking bright above them in the dusky purple sky. Makkachin shakes his head like he’s trying to rid his ears of water; Yuuri takes his lead from Viktor, and tucks himself into Viktor’s side.
Let’s go home, he traces into Viktor’s palm, and Viktor nods and puts an arm around his waist for the long stroll back to their cottage by the sea.
Excerpt from page 16 of Waiting for the Light:
une petite mort (dans une lit avec toi)
the french never lie when
they whisper “la petite mort”;
so why should i?
your love, of which i
am on my knees for,
rains down upon me —
upon my face —
and i have never known winter so
thoroughly as i do when your
hands tug my hair.
my heart melts,
my eyelashes flutter closed,
yet you lean over me and touch me still
just to turn me to ruin
like the bed beneath us.
As the town warms up, the tourists start to arrive, spilling out of cars and buses with their luggage and cameras all along Market Street and the pier. The boardwalk comes alive again, between holidaymakers taking photos of the sea and students enjoying the brief bursts of bright spring sunshine, and the shops and parlours in town get more busy as a result of this early tourist season.
“Housewarming Week is starting up in a couple of weeks,” says Yuuko Nishigori as Yuuri helps scoop a chocolate, a vanilla, and a strawberry kiddie cone for Axel, Lutz, and Loop, respectively. “I don’t suppose you’ll want to go to some this year?”
Yuuri grimaces as he hands Loop her strawberry cone. ‘Not particularly,’ he says, before looking at a new set of orders. Three of them are double fudge waffle cones, and when he hands the cones to their respective customers, he notes that all of them are students or young tourists who seem to trip over their thank-yous.
“Ugh, of course,” says Yurio, when Yuuri points that out. He gestures to the other orders, to the other young customers lining up at the register. “You think they’re all here for me?”
“Viktor’s fanbase are excited for your novel too, Yuuri,” says Yuuko cheerily as she watches her daughters eat their cones. “He posted a clip of him reading a little segment of it on Instagram; I hear preorders are going through the roof.”
Yuuri ducks down into the ice cream container, in the wild hope that that will help cool down the flames on his face. He fills a couple more orders, smiling shyly as he hands the cones over. Next to him, Yurio groans and rolls his eyes.
The next couple hours pass by like clockwork. Yuuri fills orders, smiles at the customers, watches the seagulls flying outside the windows of the diner. He waves goodbye at the triplets when they finish their ice-cream and leave with their mother, clamouring something about a Minke whale that had been spotted just beyond Torvill Point earlier in the morning.
Finally, all the customers are served. Yuuri notes that the tip jar is getting remarkably full; he looks over at Yurio, who raises an eyebrow at him before nodding towards the gaggle of young tourists and students.
‘They must really like you, Piglet,’ he remarks drily, and Yuuri chuckles at that.
‘You weren’t the one charming them into tipping?’ he asks.
‘As if,’ retorts Yurio, just as the bell by the door tinkles again, and a new person steps into the parlour.
“A small strawberry cone and a vanilla doggie cone, please,” says a familiar voice. Yurio groans.
“Park your dog outside, Dogbreath,” he snaps. “And what do you think this place is, your house? Come up here like a regular customer and say that again.”
A brief chuckle. Yuuri looks up from the tubs of ice cream to smile at Viktor as he approaches the till, his smile firmly heart-shaped. Viktor flashes a wink at him; Yuuri hides a blush by turning back to the waffle iron to make more waffle cones.
“A small strawberry cone and a vanilla doggie cone,” repeats Viktor cheerily, and Yuuri feels keenly aware of Viktor’s eyes on him throughout the transaction. He must have come over just after his appointment, since he’d apparently gotten the time to pick up Makkachin as well. He rolls a couple cones and sets them to cool, before getting to work filling Viktor’s order.
“So, come here often?” asks Viktor as Yuuri straightens up, handing him the cone. Yuuri feels his cheeks heat at that; next to him, Yurio groans.
“Can you two save the PDA for an establishment I’m not in?” he asks. Yuuri removes his gloves, briefly signing that he’ll be back, before guiding Viktor by the waist out of the parlour. He holds the doggie cone in one hand as he kneels down to feed Makkachin, and Viktor takes a seat on the bench next to his dog, patting the space next to him with a grin.
‘How was your appointment?’ Yuuri asks as he complies. Viktor gives his cone a couple licks, before smiling.
“It was good,” he says. “I’m almost done with the thing, by the way. The writing thing. The surprise.”
Yuuri raises an eyebrow. ‘What is it?’ he asks.
“That’s part of the surprise, dear,” Viktor says, eyes reminiscent of the skies above Torvill just after a storm, bright brilliant blue with no hint of clouds. “It’ll be done hopefully by Housewarming Week. Oh, do you want to go to the cèilidh that kicks off that week this year? I hear Chris is wearing his kilt to it.”
Yuuri raises both eyebrows. ‘Do I even want to know why?’ he asks. Viktor laughs, holding out his cone for Yuuri to lick; Yuuri takes a couple small bites before returning to feeding Makkachin.
“It’s Chris; he’s looking for any excuse to accidentally flash a cheek or two,” says Viktor, rolling his eyes. “But as for the cèilidh, well, I just thought…”
Yuuri nods, urging him to continue. Viktor’s cheeks flush the same shade as his ice cream; he quickly slurps at it as if he’s delaying his answer.
“I just wanted to dance with you again,” Viktor admits after a moment. “Just like the night we met, or that Midsummer dance. When it felt like time had lost meaning, and it was just the two of us in each other’s arms.” He reaches out, squeezes Yuuri’s hand. “I want to fall in love with you again, but more, and better.”
Yuuri huffs in laughter, tossing Makkachin the remnants of his cone. ‘Have you ever fallen out of love with me?’ he wonders, half-joking, half-worried, but Viktor looks mildly offended, so he shakes his head. ‘Sorry I asked, I was just —’
He’s cut off by Viktor swooping in to kiss him, strawberry sweetness lingering on his lips long after they break apart. Viktor stuffs the rest of the ice cream into his mouth with a sheepish expression, and Yuuri can’t help but hide both his blush and his grin behind his hands.
“I fall a little more in love with you every day,” replies Viktor as simply as if he’d just been telling Yuuri about the weather. Highs at fifteen, lows at ten, and it’s looking cloudy with a chance of love. “But sometimes a little public dancing is good, right? Showing you off to the rest of the town, reminding them that you chose me?”
‘Yeah,’ agrees Yuuri, leaning his head on Viktor’s shoulder and watching the glittering, rippling waves. ‘I’d like to show my love to the rest of the town, too.’
Viktor grins. “So it’s a date, Mr Katsuki?” he asks, extending his hand.
Yuuri blushes, pressing a kiss to Viktor’s knuckles before standing up to head back into the parlour. ‘I’ll come get you at the cottage at six that night,’ he jokes, and Viktor’s laugh follows him all the way back inside.
Excerpt from Stay Close to Me:
This is not the story of how I love you.
This is the story of how I lost you.
Your eyes, brighter than the stars. Your hands, soft and warm in mine. You pull me from the lowly earth into the crowds, and when you touch me I know what it is like to be divine.
But sure, maybe this is also the story of how I loved you. (How I still love you.) This is also the story of the way love slowly strangled the reason out of my head, of how I was so terrified of the bitter cold winds of loneliness that I was willing to steal and hide the one thing that would have kept your trust in me. Of how my own desperation to make you stay only ended up driving you away.
I fell in love with you like the way a snowstorm sets in, from flakes to flurries, until it is all I can see and feel as it stabs into my skin. I fell in love at the first glimpse of you across the Samhain bonfire, in the town you’ve called your own since you were small. Aviemore is in your blood, her magic suffusing through your veins as surely as Hasetsu bewitches me and mine. We are both products of the towns we grew up in; we carry them in our bones.
I knew, in the moment we first danced, in the spark of your hand in mine and the constellations in your eyes, that you were the one mystery in the world I will never fully unravel. I’m not a good person; I have never claimed to be, but one of my worst habits was treating others like puzzles to solve, toys to figure out the inner workings of and then set aside.
Something about you defied all of that. You and Aviemore, dear Aviemore with her soaring mountains and wooded trails, with her loch sparkling in the sunlight and the gentle push of crystal water against her pebbled shores. Aviemore seeps into my blood, mingling with memories of you until it is difficult to pick you two apart.
But that’s unfair for you — you are You. And I wanted so much to know You. To peel away the masks you presented to the world, to discover the truest form of you that you would not show to even your closest family members and friends. But somewhere along the line, I forgot to ask your permission.
And I know, now, that that is how I lost you.
The night of the cèilidh finds the two of them standing side-by-side in front of the cottage’s bedroom mirror, the contents of the closet flung out on the bed between them. Makkachin is buried somewhere between the sealskin and Viktor’s thickest winter coat, with the only real indicator of his presence being contented little boofs from beneath the pile of furs.
“How do I look?” asks Viktor, tugging at his tie. Yuuri stills his hands, reaches out and fixes it for him.
‘Like starlight,’ he says, before stepping back and adjusting his sporran with a grimace. ‘I can’t believe I let you bully me into a kilt for this.’
“It’s semi-formal, isn’t it?” Viktor bats his lashes innocently. “I’d wear one, too, if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t pull it off nearly as well as you.”
Yuuri rolls his eyes, but he pulls on his jacket, smooths down the navy tartan of his kilt, and steps into his brogues. ‘You just like the easy access,’ he teases, and Viktor’s cheeks flush a faux-affronted pink.
“I assure you, all of my blood is in the head up here,” he says, gesturing to his forehead. Yuuri laughs at that, leaning in to peck him on the lips.
‘Let’s walk Makkachin quickly before the dance,’ he suggests, and whistles for the poodle. Makkachin shakes himself free of the pile of clothes, causing the sealskin to slip to the floor.
Briefly, Yuuri glances over at Viktor, who is busy adjusting his cuffs. With a small smile, Yuuri takes the sealskin, and leads Makkachin into the kitchen where he grabs the lead and attaches it to the poodle’s collar. The sealskin he places onto the other hook by the door, next to Viktor’s windbreaker.
Viktor falls into step with him as they traipse along the coastal trail. Already the faint sound of Highland music is wafting over from the boardwalk, lit on this warm late April night with enough golden fairy lights to rival the stars. Yuuri’s hand finds Viktor’s as they lead Makkachin around Torvill Point, only pausing to watch a shooting star wink across the sky above.
“A touch of beauty before the eternity of oblivion,” Viktor breathes as he takes Makkachin’s lead, echoing words from a lifetime ago. Yuuri leans against him, grateful that the sea-winds aren’t too brisk tonight.
‘Maybe we’ll be able to spend eternity together like this,’ he says, and the next time he looks at Viktor, the man’s eyes seem shinier than usual.
“You’d want to spend eternity with me?” he asks. Yuuri laughs.
‘I’d be honoured,’ he replies, and before he knows it Viktor has grabbed him by the waist, spinning him around with merry laughter. Makkachin barks; Viktor grins as he sets Yuuri down and grabs the lead again, pulling Yuuri close and kissing him as if it’s the last thing he would ever do.
“I, uh, I was actually going to wait until after the dance to do this,” he says when they break apart, pressing their foreheads together, “but I’m unfortunately a very impatient man.”
It’s the understatement of the century, but Yuuri smiles anyway, feeling nothing but contentment creep over him at the scent of Viktor’s aftershave. ‘Glad to see you admitting you weren’t thinking with the head up here after all,’ he teases, tapping the side of Viktor’s head.
His lover gasps. “No, I — just see for yourself, Yuuri,” he declares, tugging him by the wrist back down the trail to their cottage. The smell of the salt spray tingles at Yuuri’s nose; Makkachin barks at a passing squirrel skirting along the cliffside heather as they cross their patio back into the cottage. After hanging up Makkachin’s lead, Viktor goes into the den and brings out a set of papers, handing them to Yuuri with a flourish.
Yuuri raises an eyebrow, especially as he thumbs through the pages and finds nothing but poems printed on them, of all styles and formats. He sets it down on the kitchen table, before asking, ‘What is it?’
“My new anthology,” replies Viktor. “I haven’t found a title for it yet, or a good first poem… but this is pretty much the manuscript. It’s coming out in December; Yakov’s approved it and everything.”
Yuuri looks through the poems again, smiling at some of the titles. ‘They’re all love poems,’ he remarks.
“They’re all about you,” replies Viktor. “I wanted to show you how much of an inspiration you’ve been, without, you know, exploiting what happened to us like with Stay Close to Me. For so much of my life I’ve been in the dark, searching for feelings that meant something deep enough for me to write about. You’ve given me so much, Yuuri — life, and love, and… light. You’ve brought so much light into my life.”
Yuuri’s proud of the fact that the only thing inside him that bursts at that is his heart, because the rest of him feels like a balloon, growing lighter and lighter with each word Viktor tells him. He looks through the poems again, only dimly registering the wet drops that fall onto the paper until he reaches up to rub his eyes and finds his fingers coming away wet.
“Yuuri?” asks Viktor, concern crinkling adorably at his brow. Yuuri wants — he wants so much, he’s always wanted the world of himself. And here Viktor is, offering him his without hesitation. “Is — is everything all right?”
Yuuri smiles, wiping absently at a stray tear. “Happy,” he manages, the words thick with emotion. “Very happy.”
Viktor’s smile at that is brilliant, genuine, and heart-shaped as he leans in to kiss him. “Let’s go dancing,” he suggests.
‘That sounds perfect,’ replies Yuuri, and meets him halfway.
Excerpt from page 30 of Waiting for the Light:
help me explain the story of how the consequence met the action.
not the action meeting the consequence, no;
because that would mean it was the action looking for the consequence.
flip the two like a lip curling over a face,
that’s the only wave worth catching.
now that i have you.
help me explain the story — our story —
of my consequence meeting your action.
the two intersected and now we are lodged in the hearts of each other.
how this happened i know only as much as
humankind knows about what lives in the depths of the ocean.
now that i know you.
so ring me with myths unheard, untold, and unfinished.
spin me with lost recollections of the violence in the waves;
wherein we both drowned devastatingly deeper under one another’s world.
what was my consequence and what was your action?
perhaps we can piece together the sense of our heavy closeout.
now that i love you.