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It's Always Ourselves We Find in the Sea

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It begins, as it always does, in a little cottage by the sea, in a sleepy town where everyone knows each other’s name and business. In the morning, Viktor Nikiforov wakes to the gently slumbering form of his husband in the bed beside him, leaning in to wake him with soft kisses.

“Good morning,” he tells the dark-haired selkie. Yuuri makes a growling noise somewhere deep in his chest, and rolls over onto his stomach, burying his face deeper into the pillows with a loud snore. Viktor laughs at that, turning over to start his morning. Yuuri will join him later, yawning and beautiful in whatever shirt of Viktor’s he’s scrounged from the closet.

Viktor often jokes that Yuuri has a terrible habit of stealing his clothes, but both of them remember all too well the black sealskin shining on the coat hook by the kitchen door, and how it had languished for months in Viktor’s closet, a dirty, desperate secret tucked away until too late. So in the scheme of things, a couple pilfered shirts is nothing.

Sure enough, Yuuri shows up in the kitchen as Viktor is pouring their morning cuppa, sliding into his seat at the kitchen table and giving Makkachin his good-morning rubs. The old poodle barks, resting his head in Yuuri’s lap, and Viktor leans in to kiss Yuuri’s cheek as he sets down the mug in front of him.

“What’s the schedule like for today?” he asks. Yuuri mimes writing. “On our novel?”

Yuuri shakes his head. ‘I’m sorry,’ he says. ‘You know how publishers are.’

Yuuri has recently been asked to pen a continuation of On My Love. Viktor knows full well how publishers are.

“It’s fine,” he says, turning to the stove to plate the kippers before they burn. “You must be pretty far in, then? We haven’t touched our novel in a month.”

Yuuri’s cheeks flush, and he promptly busies his hands with the toast and butter.

Yuuri Katsuki has writer’s block.

It’s almost embarrassing, given that he has literally no reason — he’s a successful author, with a successful author husband who loves him very much. They’re in high demand, Hollywood wants the movie rights to his book, more tourists swarm to Torvill Cove than ever before.

But writer’s block will not be stopped, and not even selkies are immune to it.

After breakfast, he locks himself in the den of their cottage, opening up his laptop to his word processor. As it has for a month already, the cursor glares smugly at him, as if telling him hey, maybe you are a talentless hack who only stumbled into fame by publishing a metaphor about your own life, after all.

He can hear Viktor typing avidly in the other room, probably answering emails from Yakov. He can hear Viktor fielding calls for both of them, talking cheerily with publishers and producers and — was that someone from Netflix on the line? Yuuri’s stomach lurches; he slams his laptop shut and strides out of the den, whistling for Makkachin.

‘I’m going for a walk,’ he tells Viktor, and Makkachin follows him out the door before Viktor can protest either of them.

Torvill Cove is a town practically designed for long romantic walks on the beach, or along the coastal trails leading from the boardwalk to the old lighthouse. Makkachin chases after a butterfly in the golden morning light; a troupe of kids on bicycles streak past, laughing. As Yuuri continues along the trail towards the lighthouse, he tries to think of the best way to ask the old lighthouse keeper for his advice.

Hi, sir, I need an idea for my novel and I need it fast.

Hi, sir, do you have a spell for writer’s block?

Hi, sir, how do I tell my husband I don’t know how words work anymore?

The door to the lighthouse tower looms ahead of him before he even realises it. At the softest knock, the weathered wood creaks open, admitting him into the dimly sunlit tower. Makkachin sneezes on the dust motes dancing in the light; Yuuri unhooks his lead and pockets it in his coat before heading into the main house.

“You have a question,” Old Man Plisetsky’s voice rings from the living room. The old man is in the living room, nursing a glass of whiskey. Yuuri nods as he comes to a stop before him.

‘I have a problem,’ he signs. ‘I cannot write anymore.’

Plisetsky’s eyes narrow. The glass clinks on the table; his joints creak as he rises out of the chair and peers into Yuuri’s face. “Is that so?” he wonders, before gesturing for Yuuri to sit on the sofa. “What brings you to me, instead of the library or your husband?”

‘It’s because of my husband,’ replies Yuuri. ‘I’ve never written an entire novel with him before.’

Plisetsky snorts. “Still sounds like none of my business,” he says before vanishing into the kitchen. The sound of tinkering and puttering can be heard moments later, accompanied by a small puff of vaguely-herbal smells through the open doorway. Yuuri wonders what Yurio would have to say to that, or Mila — and then he remembers that neither of the two are here. Yurio’s an ocean away, and Mila’s down in Cardiff, which might as well be an ocean away as well.

‘Are you lonely here now?’ he asks Plisetsky when the old man returns, the sound of a kettle just starting up echoing in his wake.

“I don’t miss Yura slamming doors,” replies Plisetsky, but his hand trembles a little as he picks up his glass of whiskey. “It’s odd to see friends go, isn’t it?”

Phichit’s down in Cardiff with Mila, Yuuri knows. So many of their friends, scattered the four winds, moving out of town. Even Christophe is talking of moving in with his partner in Altwegg, and while that’s not far away from here (as opposed to Seung-gil, who’s decided to flee all the way to California, of all places) it still means he and Viktor can’t just walk to his place for a drink whenever they feel like it.

‘There have been many changes I’m still adjusting to,’ he admits. ‘And I suppose marriage is part of that.’

As far as Phichit’s concerned, marriage is even more of a change than uprooting oneself to go work in Cardiff for the Beeb. Yuuri wouldn’t say he’s any more different now with a ring on his finger, but who is he to tell?

“Yet for some reason you’ve chosen to discuss this with the local crackpot old man instead of your own husband,” remarks Plisetsky. Yuuri sighs. The kettle in the kitchen finally boils.

‘I don’t like burdening Viktor with my troubles,’ Yuuri replies, when the old man returns with two sets of mugs stuffed with odd-smelling tisanes. ‘Ever since… well, he likes to shoulder the blame a lot more than he deserves.’

Plisetsky nods. “A habit he hasn’t fully broken from despite your best efforts.”

‘Which is why I can’t go to him first,’ agrees Yuuri, before taking his cup and blowing against the tea lightly. It smells sweet, slightly cloying; he quickly sets it back down and sighs. ‘It’s such a silly problem in comparison to all the other things we’ve been through. I just thought you’d have some advice.’

“Do you think your inability to write has anything to do with how you still hold yourself as a writer in comparison with Nikiforov?” wonders Plisetsky.

Yuuri considers it through another breath, before nodding.

Plisetsky hums at that. “Then perhaps you might need this cuppa,” he replies, nodding at the mug steaming in Yuuri’s hand. With a sigh, Yuuri takes a sip, and winces at the sweet burn of the tea down his throat.

Yuuri wakes to the sight of his own face in the bed next to him, and nearly screams.

The eyes — his eyes — fly open. The face — his face — contorts in consternation. Yuuri raises a hand to his face, noting the pallor of his skin. He presses down on his head, and silver hair falls in his eyes.

In the other body, Viktor clears his throat and says, slightly hoarsely, “what the fuck.” The words are rough, but they come out fine. Yuuri wants to respond, but the coldness brewing in his gut is too familiar. He shrugs instead.

“What happened?” Viktor demands, reaching out to stroke a hand across Yuuri’s cheek. “Why am I… why are you?”

Yuuri shrugs again. With a yawn, Viktor rises and stretches, clambering out of bed with the same chipper brightness that he has every morning. Yuuri would normally be content to watch his husband start his daily routine, but the unusual circumstances have him burrowing back under the blankets with a frantically fluttering heart.

How did they get into this? And, more importantly, how do they get out of it?

“I’m going to go start breakfast,” Viktor tosses over his shoulder as he throws on his robe over Yuuri’s pyjamas, stepping into his slippers. Yuuri, who does neither of these things regularly, peeks over the edge of the blanket and nods. “You want a cuppa?”

Tea. Yuuri is out of bed in a second, except he underestimates a little the length of his own legs, and nearly stumbles over nothing on his way to the bathroom. Sure enough, Viktor’s face peers out at him from the mirror when he gets inside.

What on earth was in the tea he had at the lighthouse?

Viktor is reeling, and the sight of his face against the burnished copper of the pan isn’t doing himself any favours.

Or precisely, the sight of Yuuri’s face. Because he’s currently in Yuuri’s body.

As the kettle starts to boil, Viktor can hear the sound of footsteps behind him. It’s a bit different from what he’s used to hearing, and he has to suppress a shudder at seeing his own face instead of Yuuri’s when he turns to greet his husband. Yuuri looks a bit hunched, sheepish, like he’s not used to taking up this much space in the universe. Viktor’s heart lurches a little at that.

“Good morning,” he says. He could count on one hand the times he’s heard this voice, and most of them are to aid Yuuri’s signing. Still, it would be weird for anyone else in town to hear him use Yuuri’s voice to speak, so he adds in sign, ‘how do you want me to do this?’

‘Whatever works for you,’ Yuuri replies immediately, his gestures a little exaggerated to account for how unused to this new body he must be. ‘We can say you have a sore throat.’

Viktor pours them their tea. Yuuri takes his mug with a contemplative frown, running a finger along the rim. Viktor has never particularly seen his face as beautiful, but somehow the way Yuuri inhabits it makes it undeniably so. Even the way he bites his lip and tosses his hair in his face seem remarkably endearing from this angle, as if every quirk and nervous tic of Yuuri’s is inherently alluring no matter whose body he’s in.

Viktor almost wishes they’d also swapped minds too, so he could experience Yuuri’s memories and skills and understand the world the same way as him. But that’s a philosophical exercise for another day. Instead, he sips his tea, watching the sunlight glint off the golden wedding band that his husband is fiddling with.

‘Do you think the skin will work?’ Yuuri wonders after a moment. Viktor casts a glance to the shimmering black pelt hanging on the hook by Makkachin’s leash. The old poodle watches them from under the kitchen table, confusion evident in his eyes. Viktor had known he was clever, but being able to sense his owners swapping bodies might be a bit much.

‘I don’t know,’ he admits, his own hands clumsy. Yuuri cards his hands through Makkachin’s curls, a contemplative expression hovering about his brows.

‘We can try,’ he says, getting up and fetching the sealskin. ‘We’ll never know otherwise.’

It doesn’t work. Yuuri can’t put his finger on how he knows that, but it doesn’t.

“Magic is tricky,” Viktor reasons as he hands the pelt back, his disappointment still palpable. “Maybe you could try?”

Yuuri tries, too. Everything feels off: the skin doesn’t fit quite as perfectly; none of the familiar warmth fills him as he thinks about the incantation. He grimaces as he resurfaces, promptly heading for the shore.

As consolation, Viktor takes him to the ice cream parlour and orders their usual cones. It’s strange to see someone not Yurio scooping their ice cream for them; Yuuri actually has to write out their order on paper instead of just signing it. The teen looks from the paper up to Viktor and Yuuri, their eyes growing wide as they do.

“Yuuri Katsuki!” They clap a hand to their mouth. “I love your book!”

Yuuri looks over at Viktor, who does a double take before recovering with a smile, his cheeks flushed bright pink. ‘Thank you,’ Viktor signs, before sending a slightly panicked look at Yuuri. Yuuri hides a smile behind his hand.

“I heard you come here sometimes, but I didn’t know it’d be during my shift,” continues the teen, as they start to scoop the cones. “I relate really hard to Toriano, you know, my family moved here from India when I was young, so I never feel like I belong anywhere. So getting to see Toriano deal with not knowing his roots really spoke to me.”

Viktor looks back at Yuuri, who bites his lips and nods. With a smile, Viktor writes something on the notebook, tears it out, and passes it over the counter.

Thank you for your support. His approximation of Yuuri’s signature is pretty shoddy, but the teen clutches the paper to their chest and hands them their cones, and Yuuri feels strangely boneless as he collapses into his booth.

‘A lot of people have come to me with nice things about you,’ Viktor signs as he slides into the seat across from him. ‘You’ve touched a lot of hearts.’

Yuuri swallows, busying himself with his cone to try and avoid responding. Viktor means well, but it doesn’t ease the knots festering in his stomach. All the praise he hears just reinforces the fact that he’ll never make anything as successful as On My Love again.

He feels Viktor’s hand on his, sees a smile tugging at Viktor’s — his — face. How are you feeling? Viktor wonders, passing the notebook across the table at him. Yuuri shrugs.

I want my body back, he writes after a moment. Viktor chuckles.

Well, whenever this happens in the movies there’s usually something the two people who switch bodies have to fix before things go back to normal. Yuuri wonders if he always looks like that when he’s thinking, tapping his lips with his pen with his brows furrowed. Do you know anything that could be a problem? I thought we’ve been pretty open lately.

No, Yuuri writes immediately, but then he sees the teenager sneaking a photo of them from the counter and his stomach drops.

It’s so strange to see prevarication on his own face, but Viktor sees it immediately. Yuuri’s familiar cringe is amplified by the difference in their bodies.

The walk back to the cottage is quiet, thoughtful. Makkachin intercepts them halfway, circling and barking excitedly all the way to the back patio where Old Man Plisetsky stands, armed with a scowl and a thermos.

“How are you feeling, Yuuri?” he asks. Yuuri fidgets with his fingers.

Viktor comes to his rescue. ‘We’re fine,’ he signs.

“I didn’t ask you,” says Plisetsky, and Yuuri fidgets harder. With a sigh, the old man thrusts a thermos into Viktor’s hands. “I brought more tea. Looks like you still have something to tell your husband, Yuuri.” He looks long and hard between the two of them, before setting out on the lonely walk back up to the lighthouse.

Viktor watches him go, watches the way the light careens westward, lengthening the shadows on the coastal trail. The thermos is heavy in his hands and smells of herbs; Yuuri eyes it warily as he lets Makkachin back into the kitchen.

“So what do you want to tell me?” Viktor asks, as soon as the door closes behind them. Yuuri worries harder at his lips, before he sets the thermos onto the kitchen table, crossing to the sink to grab their mugs. The tea he pours out is bitterly pungent; Viktor grimaces at his.

“Why are we drinking this?” he asks. The answer is a loud, pointed slurp of tea. Viktor sets down his mug. “Are you okay?”

I’m fine, Yuuri writes immediately. Old Man Plisetsky’s going senile.

“Yet we’re drinking whatever he’s prepared for us,” Viktor points out. Yuuri grimaces, setting down his mug and rising from the table. “Okay, don’t tell me. But I hope you can, soon, because I can’t fix what I don’t know.”

Yuuri freezes at that, the tips of his ears turning visibly pink. His mouth works uselessly for a while, before he huffs and stalks off into the study. Feeling a headache coming on, Viktor goes to draw himself a bath.

He’s just finished filling the tub and unbuttoning his shirt when he sees his face reflected in the mirror. Yuuri is hovering by the doorframe, uncertain and awkward, yet somehow so beautiful.

‘I’m sorry,’ he signs. Viktor smiles, opening his arms. Bashfully, Yuuri steps inside, pushing Viktor’s shirt off his shoulders with questioning eyes. Viktor nods enthusiastically.

“Join me,” he suggests. Yuuri chuckles, before tracing a line down his chest with a contemplative finger.

‘It’s so strange,’ he admits. ‘That’s my body.’ Viktor grins, his hands slipping to the fly of his swimming trunks. Yuuri bites his lip at that.

“I could get used to this,” Viktor teases as he slowly rolls down the trunks. Yuuri reaches down and cups him; Viktor gasps against his husband’s mouth. “You’re so sensitive.”

Yuuri nudges him against the edge of the tub, his lips now kissing the corner of Viktor’s mouth. ‘I know everything about this body,’ he admits. ‘And now I know so much about yours, too.’

“What do you know?” wonders Viktor, shivering as the magic in Yuuri’s veins course through him in golden warmth. He feels a heavy tugging deep in his gut as Yuuri guides him back into the tub, the water sloshing as he sits. “What have you learnt?”

Yuuri tugs off his clothes impatiently. ‘Everything,’ he replies, before straddling the edge of the tub to kiss him. Viktor opens into the touch, gasping as Yuuri tilts his chin back, as his knee brushes against the inside of his thighs.

“That’s not fair,” he mumbles. “You know everything about me, but I still don’t know what you’re hiding from me.”

Yuuri’s cheeks flush hard at that. ‘It’s stupid,’ he confesses, before kissing Viktor gently. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t want to trouble you.’

“Nothing is stupid when it comes to you,” Viktor insists, though he suspects if they keep like this, they’ll be talking around in circles forever. “I can’t make you tell me, but I could guess, can’t I? Your body seems more tired than usual.”

‘Can this wait?’ Yuuri wonders, his cheeks now cherry red. Viktor’s sure the last time he blushed that shade, he’d been surprised by Yuuri dressed in nothing but the sealskin in their bed. ‘It’s really stupid, I swear. You’re going to laugh.’

Viktor kisses his wrist. “Promise I won’t,” he says.

Yuuri arches an eyebrow. Viktor nods again, and Yuuri sighs, drawing his hand back.

‘I’m blocked,’ he says. Viktor chokes his laugh of relief into a coughing fit.

This is how Yuuri will die, apparently: melting into mortified sea foam or something, under the ridicule of his own husband. Viktor swallows hard between his coughs, before pinching the bridge of his nose.

“That’s the problem?” he asks.

‘I told you it was stupid,’ Yuuri says, a little defensively.

Viktor exhales. “So all this time you’ve been trying to write, you… haven’t?”

Yuuri shakes his head. ‘I’m sorry,’ he ventures. ‘I’ve been blocked before, but the last time it happened I wasn’t…’ he gestures between them, unsure how to succinctly point out exactly how different his circumstances had been the last time he had writer’s block.

Viktor nods. “It’s harder when there’s an audience,” he says. “I know. That was me, too, before I met you.”

Yuuri remembers their first summer together, remembers the intensity in Viktor’s eyes as he hunched over his notebook at Lover’s Point. ‘But I have you,’ he says, slowly sinking into the tub between Viktor’s knees. Viktor pulls him closer; the water in the tub splashes against the tile floor.

“You do,” Viktor agrees, humming as his fingers rub smooth circles into Yuuri’s shoulder. “And you wanna know how I get through it?”

Yuuri raises an eyebrow. Viktor’s hands slip down his chest, thumbs tracing over his nipples.

“I tell myself that dumb words are better than no words,” he murmurs against Yuuri’s ear, before digging his fingers against Yuuri’s hips. Yuuri gasps; Viktor’s sly grin looks strange on his face, but somehow it rekindles the spark tugging deep in his gut. “There’s no shame in being blocked. Not when no one reads your stuff, and not when everyone does. What matters is what you do when it happens.”

It’s so obvious in retrospect, but all Yuuri feels is a soreness from where the burden had settled between his ribs, over his heart. He licks his lips, settling himself more firmly between Viktor’s thighs. Viktor’s eyes are calm lagoons, warm and summer-indolent. It’s hard not to drown in them like always.

“I’m not mad or disappointed,” Viktor murmurs, his fingers now curled around Yuuri, stroking slow and sweet. Yuuri bites off a gasp into his wrist. “A little weirded out by having to jerk myself off, but still.”

Yuuri chuckles at that, before leaning their foreheads together. Viktor kisses the tips of his fingers.

“We don’t have to make something good,” he promises. “We just want to make something. Good can come a little later.”

Yuuri exhales, smiling as he tilts his head down for another kiss, and Viktor melts into it without hesitation.

Yuuri wakes to the familiar feeling of magic singing in his veins, and the gentle press of Viktor’s fingers against his skin. He opens his eyes, and Viktor’s blue gaze greets him.

‘Back to normal?’ he signs. Viktor beams, leaning in to kiss him hello. Yuuri’s toes curl; he kisses back, burying his fingers in Viktor’s silvery locks.

His husband hums against his lips, before grinning wickedly. “Do you miss being inside me?” he teases, causing Yuuri to smack his forearm. Viktor laughs, nuzzling in tighter against his collar. He blows a couple raspberries there, causing Yuuri to squirm in tickled amusement.

‘I’m sorry,’ he signs again when Viktor looks at him next; his husband quirks a confused eyebrow, so Yuuri continues. ‘I put us through all of that just because I was scared to tell you I was blocked.’

“I’m still a bit confused about why you are, honestly,” replies Viktor. “But it doesn’t matter. We’re back to normal, and we have a book to write. Why don’t you put your sequel on hold for a little? Let me help you switch gears to something else.”

Yuuri sighs. ‘I sometimes wish my book hadn’t been successful,’ he admits, ‘so I won’t be letting down more people.’

Viktor brushes some of Yuuri’s hair out of his eyes, his expression understanding, kind. “If they really love you as a writer, they’ll read anything you write,” he says. “And it’s worth reaching a wider audience. Remember the kid in the ice cream parlour?”

Yuuri nods. The panic is still there, cold and paralysing at the base of his spine, but it’s smaller now, more contained. When Viktor offers a hand, he takes it without hesitation.

“Let’s write something that makes us happy,” Viktor suggests, entwining their fingers. “It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to make us smile.” His eyes are like the sea outside; his heart is twice as vast. He kisses Yuuri, and Yuuri drowns in it willingly.

He’s already smiling.