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Wisteria

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“Victor! You’re going to be late!”

Victor came running out of the bathroom, socks sliding across the hardwood. Makkachin popped out behind him from the bedroom, nails clacking. She bumped the back of Victor’s legs when he came to a quick stop to grab his shoes and he fell over with a shriek, catching himself on the wall next to the door.

Yuuri laughed. “Be careful, silly,” he said, voice soft.

Victor stood up, turning away from the door and patting his pockets to check if he’d forgotten anything important. Yuuri took the moment to place a light kiss on Victor’s nose. He itched the place Yuuri's lips touched, turned, and walked out of his apartment, giving his poodle one last scratch behind the ears before he closed the door.

“Goodbye,” Yuuri whispered in the new silence.

Yuuri was Victor’s roommate of three months. That’s what he liked to pretend. He said “good morning” when Victor came out into the kitchen, put his favorite wake-up tea on the counter so he wouldn’t have to look in his disheveled cabinet for it, kept Makkachin company while he was gone, and said “good night” in the evening. Yuuri was very fond of their little routine; it made him feel like he had a life to live.

He did not, of course; Yuuri had died at the age of 23, in 1932, from tuberculosis. He did not die in this apartment. It had not, in fact, been built at the time of his death. However, 53 years prior, the ikebana vase his spirit was joined to was sold from his parents’ home and inn where he had died. It travelled with the tourist who bought it to America before being sent to a relative in France. It was given as a gift from that relative to her lover, and then to their child.

That child, and then adult, was the last person he had lived with before Victor. He had been loud loud loud, which Yuuri hated, but he couldn’t change who held his vase. Eventually, that man’s parties dwindled down and he began to drink more alone. As far as Yuuri could tell, he ended up moving in with his mother after the death of his father to help take care of her in her elder years, selling almost all of his belongings, vase included. Yuuri wished them the best.

Eventually the vase ended up in a flea market in Fontainebleau, where it was bought by Victor. Yuuri was thankful because he was starting to feel lonely, passed by, forgotten (although no one ever knew he was there in the first place). Victor wrapped it up like a treasure in copies of L’Equipe that had pictures of his own face and headlines with his own name on the front page. That’s how Yuuri learned Victor was an ice skater, and a good one at that. It made him think of his home in Hasetsu, how he would skate with his sister on the frozen pond before he fell ill, humming duets together to dance along to. When they arrived in St. Petersburg, Victor carefully unwrapped the vase, then crumpled up and recycled every one of the papers with his name on it.

Yuuri liked him pretty much right away. Victor was sweet with his cute poodle, and kind to everyone. He got a little snarky with his friends, especially the blond child who skated with him and had Yuuri’s name, but he could tell it was from love; they acted like brothers.

Victor, thankfully, didn’t bring people home every night he went out (only once or twice, and Yuuri had stayed far, far away. But he did take each of the strangers’ socks and chuck them out the bathroom window into the alleyway behind the building, because he was a little petty and he never liked those strangers. They always left too quickly in the morning, and Victor always looked lonelier the next day). Victor told Makkachin he liked her company the best.

Yuuri had been worried about Makkachin at first. Ghosts and dogs don’t often get along, but she had noticed him right away, tail wagging. Yuuri had cried big wet tears that dissipated before they could hit the ground because it was the first time in 87 years someone had acknowledged he was there. And the big poodle treated him like a friend. They lay next to each other while Victor was out, and Yuuri would sometimes sneak her a treat from the glass jar on the kitchen counter. She would lick his cheek, not even caring how cold he was, that it was akin to lapping up fog.

They made a good little family, Yuuri liked to think.

(Yuuri knew he wasn’t really a part of it, but he needed to pretend, or he figured he’d go crazy).

Chapter Text

From the age of nine, Yuuri studied ikebana under the guidance of Minako, a dear friend of the Katsuki family. His first projects were messy with bruised leaves and clashing colors. It took years for his hands and eyes to understand precision, but by the age of 16 he became Minako’s assistant. Their flower arrangements were some of the most sought-after in southern Japan. When he was 17, in the year of 1927, the vase that would hold his soul was formed, glazed and fired. It was a dark blue, swirling with black like the deepest parts of the sea. Three bright red dots were dripped carefully onto the blue. Mari said they looked like angry eyes, but they reminded Yuuri of burning sparklers on a summer night. On the bottom, was his name: 勝生 勇利.

This was the first vase that was all his own, gifted to him by Minako on his birthday, the day he turned 18. It was very fine and expensive; far more than his family could ever afford. But for once he didn’t contest that which he wondered if he deserved, and accepted it with tears of gratitude in his eyes.

His most beautiful, his silliest, his worst, his wildest creations were all born from that precious pottery. He treated it with the utmost care and won his first national ikebana competitions with it as the vessel. He never once let it gather dust, even when he began coughing up blood in the warm, wet summer of 1931. He would sit, quarantined in his room, thin and calloused fingers arranging the wildflowers his mother brought in on the tray with each meal and placing the vase by the window to gather and refract the sunlight.

It wasn’t until his final few hours on his final day that his eyes wandered to the vase, and he saw the wisteria just beginning to wilt, that his own mortality felt visceral. The red drips on his vase began to resemble blood, not fireworks.

In April, on a day the ground was inexplicably covered in snow, hiding the flowers from his view, Yuuri Katsuki succumbed to tuberculosis and died.

He was lucky, really; most families lose far more than just one child, and the rest of his family was able to move on.

What no one writes in the myths and legends about ghosts is that it hurts unlike anything else. You must watch your family mourn, watch them die, but most painfully, watch them live. Yuuri wanted so badly to see Mari get married, give birth to her children and be able to say absolutely his tears were from happiness, but it would be a lie. He was happy for her, but not for himself, and that sadness blanketed his existence for years. Eventually she moved into a house of her own with her husband and daughter and son, and Yuuri could not follow. When his parents sold the inn in 1966 and moved away themselves, his vase, now dusty, sat in his room they couldn’t bear to dismantle and pack away, and Yuuri was alone, truly, for the first time in his life.

It was in 1966 that the new owner of the inn opened up the door to Yuuri’s room for the first time in years. Yuuri was frightened as soon as he heard steps coming up the stairs of the building he knew should be empty. He looked to the vase he had been unwilling to touch since his parents locked the door to his room and knew it must be hidden. He understood from death that it was vital to him, that it was him in some way. Every time he thought of picking it up, feeling the smooth surface and wiping away the dust, he would stop himself, overwhelmed by something much more than what he could understand. He would not leave this house, no matter what, and if the vase was taken, he too would be forced away.

Yuuri’s hand shook as he reached forward. He had pulled open the drape, and dust glittered in the light which had been foreign to this room for so long. His fingertip felt the grime on his treasure, light as air. He breathed in and pressed forward to feel the cool glaze, but his hand fell through the vase and to the wood of the windowsill below. He gasped, and one hand flew to his mouth. The other rose slowly through the clay and he inspected it like it was not his own, index finger still coated in dust.

This was the first and only thing that Yuuri had been unable to touch. He reached down again, and once more his hand fell to the wood below as if it wasn’t there at all. It made sense, he would posit later, that one could not touch their own soul, no matter its form; they would wield too much power over their own fate.

Yuuri heard the lock rattle. The man had reached his room.

This man was Mr. Hisaishi. He had plans to demolish the inn and build a newer, more modern hotel for the newer, more modern tourists with the hot springs in the back. Mr. Hisaishi coughed and covered his mouth with his hand as the dust rose and clouded his senses. He walked in in his salaryman suit, undoing his wide tie, settling a handkerchief over his nose. He worked quietly, heedlessly sorting things that did not belong to him into boxes.

Yuuri was forced to watch on in silence as his ikebana vase, his vessel, was sorted into a box marked with 売る: to sell.

Chapter Text

On December 25th, the doorbell rang seven times. Most were deliverymen. There was a fruit-bouquet, a box addressed from his parents, a bag of fan-mail and a hug which were delivered by Yakov, and a plate of pirozhki left outside the door by Yuri. The last three deliveries were bouquets of flowers, the final doorbell ringing out at 7:14 PM.

Victor accepted each visitor with a big smile that faded as the door closed.

The fruit ended up on the kitchen counter before Makkachin could get to it. The fan-mail was stored in his bedroom for when he had energy to go through it, and the pirozhki he put in the fridge for the next few dinners.

He sat down heavily onto his couch with the box from his parents, turning it over in his hands. It was postmarked from Japan. Makkachin came up beside him to sniff at the package as Victor grabbed a pen from the coffee table and used it to cut apart the packing tape. Beneath a few layers of brown paper, he found a matcha set from his parents’ trip to Kyoto. He picked up the bamboo chasen and bounced it against his palm. He’d always wanted to visit Japan, really visit; it was on his bucket list. He’d been there for competitions, but the most he’d experienced was the walk between the hotel and the rink. All he had from Japan was a blue ikebana vase which he’d bought in France, of all places (and a couple of skating medals, but they were made in China). He set the matcha kit on the coffee table next to where he’d placed the Japanese vase. As long as it was in his possession it had never held flowers. He didn’t buy it because he needed a vase, and thinking back, he wasn’t really sure why he had bought it. But he had been drawn to its deep blue sheen, and the little red dots on the surface that made him think of the red poppies his mother used to bring home from the Sennoy Market in St. Petersburg. It was really a beautiful piece. He found his eyes losing focus as he gazed at the vase, and he blinked forcibly to bring himself back to the present. He stood up to put the kettle on.

The flowers he had received he placed on the counter in the kitchen. It had been quite a while since he last had flowers in the house that were not given to him during competitions by people whose faces he couldn’t remember. He read each attached card:

Bon Anniversaire, Vic! Bisous, Chris” 28 red roses with baby’s breath.

“To many more years, Mila and Georgi” Daisies, Queen Anne’s lace, roses and gerbera daisies in a sunset of yellows.

“Take care of yourself, Vitya. Lilia” A mix of hydrangeas, snapdragons, eucalyptus and roses in shades of sage and rosy peach. Victor ate a strawberry from the fruit bouquet and smiled to himself at Lilia’s card. She may have divorced Yakov, but she and Victor quietly kept in touch over the years. He let his finger run lightly over the curly snapdragon petals.

The kettle beeped and pulled him from his reverie.

Yuuri stood and stared.

He’d retreated to the bedroom after the third time the irritating doorbell rang, but had re-emerged when the smell of matcha swirled in from the living room. It was one of his favorite scents in the world, and he was drawn out like a moth to a flame. He came to a stop, however, when he saw flowers. Not the supermarket, plastic-wrapped bouquets he saw a couple of times a year at his last residency, in France; these were soft and blooming, arranged and delivered just before they would open fully. The smell of roses and eucalyptus lingered with the bitter green tea in the air.

He walked forward in a daze, hand outstretched and shaking. Makkachin came up behind him and whined her question, tail wagging slowly and head tilted to the side. Yuuri distractedly patted the curls on her head and she trotted back over to Victor, curling next to the couch so she could watch them both.

These bouquets were obviously expensive and well-planned. They were jubilant and busy in a distinctly Western fashion but he thought they were pleasant nonetheless. He found himself with his nose in the swirls of petals. In his proximity, he could count each white vein lacing the soft pink surfaces. His eye snagged on a spot of brown amidst the greens and blushes: a rose already past fully bloomed, scent heavy and cloying, its petals beginning to fold and spot.

Once Yuuri noticed it, he couldn’t un-notice it, like an itch.

He turned to Victor, who was working on whisking the tea into a cup, back to Yuuri. Yuuri didn’t like to make his presence too obvious. His biggest fear was Victor leaving him behind somehow, so he just wouldn’t risk it. But his hand moved forward of its own accord and his fingers curled around the base of the wilting bloom, a familiar feeling from years past. A petal loosened and fluttered onto the back of his hand—

Suddenly, a feeling very foreign to him punched away any other thought. Warmth. He felt warmth caress his cheek, as real as the wood beneath his feet. He whipped around, eyes wide, energy making his fingertips tremble.

Victor had a hand resting on Yuuri’s vase, his eyes thoughtful. He picked it up reverently and carried it to the kitchen sink. He filled it part of the way with water and set in on the countertop, not a meter from where Yuuri stood stock-still.

The feeling of water pouring into his vessel was akin to the brush of wind that cooled his face as he raced across the frozen pond with Mari. He smiled and a peculiar hope filled his chest.

Victor stood in front of the vase and stared, lips and brows scrunching in concentration. He plucked a branch of baby’s breath from the batch of red roses and slid it between the spines at the bottom of the vase. His mouth smoothed out as he gave a half-smile, eyes brightening.

Yuuri stood behind Victor as he worked. When Victor’s eyes were downturned, Yuuri would lift some flowers ever so slightly from their vases so they stood out, and in this way, he silently instructed Victor’s creation.

When Victor was done (no, when they, Yuuri and Victor, were done) he stood proudly before a twist of yellow, green and pink. Eucalyptus and baby’s breath weaved around Queen Anne’s lace, framing a centerpiece of a light pink hydrangea and white snapdragons peppered with daisies.

It was jumbled and a bit crooked, but Yuuri thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world. He was beaming at their combined efforts. He cast his eyes downward, resting a hand on Victor’s elbow, and he whispered, “I’m glad you found me, Victor.”

When he looked up again, his vision was filled with the cornflower blue of Victor’s eyes.

Victor felt something.

It was sweet and calm, a light and comforting pressure on his skin. He heard something, too, his name so gently spoken like something cherished. He turned around and caught a flash of wide brown eyes, sepia like an old photograph. But he blinked, and they were gone. He found himself reaching out into nothing as the warm chocolatey feeling left his senses. He mourned the loss, but didn’t fully understand what it was he was missing. He let his hand fall back to his side.

Victor cradled his hand-made flower arrangement in his arms and brought it into his bedroom, setting it on the bed-side table.

On his 28th birthday, Victor fell asleep early in the night with Makkachin warming his side, flowers perfuming the air, and a feeling he couldn’t quite explain softening the crease between his brows.

 

In the kitchen, a rose petal fell silently to the floor.

Chapter Text

Victor got home around 8 o’clock on his first day back at practice after the New Year’s celebrations. He set his takeout boxes on the coffee table, and bent down to squish Makkachin’s face as her tail wagged cheerfully. He filled her food bowl and apologized for the later-than-normal dinner before allowing himself to sink into his couch, mussing up his hair that he’d kept perfect all through the day. It wasn’t like anyone would see it….

Although, perhaps that wasn’t true.

He’d spent the days after his birthday chasing that chocolatey feeling he’d felt before, those warm brown eyes that blink up at him in the back of his mind and make him feel less alone.

He might have wondered whether or not he was going crazy, but he felt too captivated to question it. There was something, someone here with him, and he wanted to understand; he wanted to reach them. All he knew was that everything was centered around that Japanese vase.

The vase sat on his coffee table, littering the glass surface with petals and pollen. Victor had brought it out of his bedroom as his birthday flowers had begun to wilt and smell more of decay than anything else.

His poodle came over after she’d finished dinner, snuffed at the powdery yellow pollen and sneezed, which made Victor giggle. She turned her back in disdain and jumped up next to him on the couch, resting her chin on his knee.

“What do you think, Makka?” He leaned down to kiss the tip of her nose and she licked his chin, making him grin. He groaned as he sat up from his slump, careful not to bother his dog. He stretched forward, plucked each dying flower from the vase and set them aside, petals falling like confetti. Victor stood up and moved one of the couch pillows underneath Makka’s chin to replace his knee in supporting her head, and went to the big steel sink in the kitchen to pour out the cloudy water.

He rinsed the vase out carefully, cleaning the silky surface and turning it in his palms. He watched the light bounce off the glaze and running water. The bottom of the pottery was left unpainted, rough and earthy red. For the first time since it had come into his possession, he examined more closely the four Japanese characters etched into the clay.

His heart beat a little faster. A clue.

He grabbed his phone from his coat pocket and scanned the kanji to input the characters into google search. There were too many results to sift through, so he tried out different word combinations to narrow it down:

勝生 勇利 pottery

勝生 勇利 flowers

The first few pages of results for each search were fruitless. He sighed and rubbed his eyes, leaning over the countertop. He tried to think back to what the woman had called it when he purchased the vase in Fontainebleau.

Ikebana. The woman who sold it said it was used for ikebana, the Japanese practice of flower arrangement.

勝生 勇利 ikebana

The first two results were completely in Japanese, but the third was an overview by a British university professor on the history of ikebana in Japan, written in English. It summarized the most prominent names in the art of flower arranging, including the child prodigy and youngest winner ever of their national competition…

Katsuki Yuuri.

Victor’s hand dazedly traced the kanji etched into the clay of the vase. “Katsuki Yuuri,” he murmured. The name was written in both English and Japanese on the webpage, and the characters were the same as those beneath his fingertips. He felt the name form on his tongue as he spoke it aloud, and it made him smile before he could help himself. “The vase must have belonged to him. Died 1932. Almost a century ago… it’s older than I thought.”

He swung around at the sudden boom of Makkachin’s bark and the coffee table screeching across the wooden floor, shattering the quiet. He yelled out for Makka, running around to where she’d disappeared in front of the couch. He had come home to ripped couch cushions and shredded magazines one too many times to ignore a dog-related ruckus. But when he finally caught sight of her, he stopped cold.

There was a man. A young man, with tousled black hair, dressed in a navy blue yukata lying on the floor, laughing in great joyful bursts as Makkachin stood on his stomach and licked his face. The dying flowers Victor had set on the coffee table had fallen to the floor, surrounding them in stems and petals.

“Ma- Makkachin! What’s gotten into you, silly girl?” the man giggled.

The man knew Victor’s poodle, and it seemed very much like she knew him too. Victor was still gaping at the scene unfolding when the man looked up and noticed him watching. He froze, and Victor’s mouth opened and closed as he tried to figure out words that could possibly be applicable in this situation. Before he had a chance to say anything, the man’s smile dropped and he sat up quickly from where he’d been pinned to the floor.

“You… can you see me?” he whispered. Victor nodded shakily, taking a step forward. He knew those eyes.

The man started to hyperventilate, hand pressed over his heart. “Pl- please, please, don’t get r-rid of me. Please, Victor.” His eyes pinched shut.

Victor was really, really confused, but he decided to take a leap of faith.

“…Yuuri?” The man’s eyes snapped open, and Victor was never more sure of anything in his life, he knew those eyes. “Katsuki Yuuri?” They looked at each other silently until Makkachin skipped between them, snuffing in Yuuri’s face and wagging her tail against Victor’s knees. Yuuri broke their staring contest and softened, looking into the poodle’s warm eyes instead. He took a deep breath and looked back up, nodding.

“And Vi- Victor. You’re Victor.” Yuuri pronounced Victor’s name with a cute accent, making a –ru sound at the end.

Makkachin woofed up at Yuuri.

“And Makkachin,” he said with a smile, dropping the hand that had been pressed against his chest into her curls.

Victor closed the rest of the distance between them and sat down next to Makka so he and Yuuri were at the same height. Victor leaned forward and placed his trembling palm delicately on the curve of Yuuri’s cheek. Katsuki Yuuri was so, so cold.

Yuuri felt so, so warm where Victor’s skin touched his.

Chapter Text

It was the feeling of warm companionship that allowed Yuuri to discover something about himself: when he was very, very happy, he could bring dying flora back to life.

Yuuri sat still on the hardwood floors, leaning back on his hands, dead stems imprinting jagged shapes into his palms. He was afraid to break contact with Victor, to even blink, for fear that Victor, or himself for that matter, would disappear. When his eyes eventually did close, they re-opened to something new: the man before him was smiling. Yuuri had forgotten what it felt like to receive a smile, and it was a gift, all his.

He felt, suddenly, a fluttering like butterfly kisses on his knuckles, and the perfume of flowers lifted to his nose. He would have ignored it, but Victor looked down behind him and gasped.

 “Yuuri.

(A smile, and his name; absolutely amazing).

He blinked and followed Victor’s gaze. The dead flowers under his hands were blooming, plush and fragrant. Hydrangea petals were tickling his skin.

“Amazing,” Victor whispered. “How…?”

Yuuri lifted the flower between their faces to inspect the pink petals. “Um… I’m really not sure. That’s never happened before.” When he peeked back over the bloom, Victor held a wilting snapdragon out to him, eyes bright. Yuuri grabbed it carefully, pinky finger brushing against the soft skin of Victor’s hand. The naked stem fireworked with white buds that opened before their eyes like stars appearing at dusk.

Yuuri and Victor picked up the rest of the dead flowers, reviving each reverently in the process and re-placing them in the vase. They sat together and tried a new ikebana creation, as equals this time. Victor would place a bloom, and then hesitantly look at Yuuri for guidance. Yuuri would smile and nod, tweak this or that, and giggle when Victor’s bumbling hands knocked something out of place for the second or third time.

They talked about a lot of things. Yuuri couldn’t really keep quiet; it had been years since anyone could listen to the gentle words that fell from his mouth to keep himself company. He spoke of his life, his little poodle Vicchan, his family, and of skating with his sister on the frozen pond, that feeling of weightlessness. He spoke of the seaside town in Japan where he grew up, and the purple wisteria blossoms that cascaded from the branches outside his window; of learning the prick of thorns, the velvet of petals, and the colors that nature creates, which he would mosaic in the vase that now held his soul. He spoke of the snowy day in spring when he died and the lonely summers and winters that followed. He then told Victor of their life together the past few months, when they coexisted, alone. How he would sometimes drink Victor’s leftover tea after he’d left for practice, and keep Makkachin company on late nights. He confessed these things to Victor in a reticent whisper, avoiding the bright rainfall color of his eyes, just in case they turned stormy and grey.

Victor just said he’d make two cups of tea in the mornings.

Victor told Yuuri about himself, too, how he’d adopted Makkachin from an American shelter during a competition trip when he was a teen, and Yakov had nearly burst a blood vessel. She had been his best friend ever since. He did not talk about skating. He did not talk about loneliness, but it could be felt in the spaces between his words, along with a silent confession, I’m glad you’re here.

As the conversation slowed and settled into a silence that comfortably enveloped them, Yuuri’s mind wandered.

Hello, my name is Katsuki Yuuri. This is my roommate, Victor. We drink green tea in the mornings. We have a dog, and there are always flowers in our home. Yuuri practiced these words in his head as he stared down at the bouquet in front of them.

Our home. Home. Home.

That word had begun to lose all meaning to Yuuri, so far away from all the love he’d known in Japan, in life. Now, once more, it warmed the very air around him like sunlight. 

Over the next few months, Victor and Yuuri settled into a comfortable routine.

 

“Victor! You’re going to be late!”

Victor came running, smoothing his hand through his bangs to make sure they were swooping perfectly. Makkachin sat by the door with Yuuri, tail wagging faster and faster as Victor came into her sight. When he slid to a stop in front of them, she jumped up and rested her paws on his knees so she could lick his cheek… and nose, and chin.

Yuuri laughed and pulled her back so Victor could get his shoes on without unnecessary risk to life and limb. “Be careful, silly,” he said, voice soft.

Victor stood up, turning away from the door and patting his pockets to check if he’d forgotten anything. He snapped his fingers, as if suddenly remembering something very important. He turned to Yuuri and rested his big hands on each of his cheeks, gently pulled his head towards him to kiss the very tip of Yuuri’s nose.

“See you soon, my Yuuri.” His thumb lingered on the cheekbone beneath one big brown eye before he swept out of the apartment with a little wave over his shoulder as the door swung shut.

“Goodbye,” Yuuri whispered in the new silence, when his voice began to work again.

He quickly pulled open the door, leaning over the threshold, careful to keep his feet within the boundaries of the apartment. Victor was just stepping into the elevator at the end of the hallway.

“Victor!”

One boot appeared, keeping the elevator doors from closing, and then a head of silver hair popped out and tilted towards Yuuri in a silent question.

“Goodbye, Victor!”

Victor’s responding smile could’ve made his heart beat again.

Chapter Text

On an evening in late summer, when the air was crackling and warm with the promise of a storm, the gentle quiet of their apartment was shattered by the front door slamming open and loud voices echoing against the walls.

Yuuri had been standing by the kitchen sink, revitalizing each flower of their bouquet, which he did every Friday evening. He had set each newly refreshed stem next to the empty vase for Victor and him to arrange together when he came home from the rink, save for the last one, which he still held in his hands when the door opened. He jerked around at the sudden intrusion, and it fell, still lifeless and brown, to the floor. It made a dry sound as it landed on the tiles, and one of the leaves snapped away.

It was not Victor bursting into the apartment, but the little Yuri, the one who shared his name. Yuuri froze, but as Yuri threw his bag by the coatrack and stole an apple from the fruit bowl, it became clear he was invisible to him. Yuuri jumped as the door opened again, and Victor ran in, panting and looking around wildly. They made eye contact, and Yuuri shook his head to convey that he had not been seen. Victor sighed tiredly, nodding. He pressed his fingertips to his lips and then held them out to Yuuri, sending the kiss his way in a silent greeting and apology. Before Yuuri could reciprocate with more than a smile, Yuri whirled around and jabbed his pointer finger into Victor’s chest, hand grasping the half-eaten apple.

“Listen up, Nikiforov. I’ve waited this long to be on the same playing field as you so I can finally beat your antique ass for gold. You will not be retiring before that happens, so shut it with that bullshit.”

“It’s not bullshit, Yura.” Victor stood with his arms crossed, staring steadily down at Yuri. His expression was not angry, just a bit sad. Yuuri had seen over the last year that Yuri’s opinions of Victor did matter, whether or not he chose to take them to heart. He perhaps wished Yuri would understand, but a child at the start of their career could not comprehend just how tired Victor was. “I’ve been skating for twenty years and-”

“Well, skate for twenty-one, you idio-”

“And I’m not happy anymore! I’m not happy anymore with competing, and skating for everyone but myself.” Victor turned to Yuuri and their eyes locked across the room. Yuuri’s hands gripped the edge of the countertop like it was the last thing keeping him standing. “And… I’ve decided to be selfish for once.”

With you. Victor whispered the words across the space between them, and Yuuri inhaled them into his lungs with a gasp.

Yuuri was feeling too much all at once. Joy pulled the corners of his mouth up into a smile, but something in all this felt wrong. He understood it, suddenly, as the kind of heartbreak that comes when rose-colored glasses crack and reveal the vast grey beyond: Yuuri was haunting Victor.

Victor, to Yuuri, was Life itself. But Yuuri also understood what he himself was: a specter, a shadow on the wall, beckoning for Victor to join him in the dark. He loved Yuuri now, but over time, as Victor aged and Yuuri did not, there was no assurance that Victor would not resent him for taking his years. And even more so, Yuuri wanted Victor to live the full life he himself never got.

But Yuuri was selfish, too.

“Yura, please, look at me.”

Yuri’s head was bowed and his skinny arms shook. When he jolted to look at Victor again, blond hair fell into his eyes and curtained away what emotions they held. He threw the apple core onto the countertop with enough force that it bounced off, disrupting Yuuri’s careful pile of flowers, and it fell to the tiled floor, wobbling to a stop when it hit the toes of Yuuri’s feet. Yuuri stared at it with an unfocused gaze. Makkachin whined from where she’d hidden behind the couch.

“‘Selfish for once,’ huh Victor? Fucking hilarious,” Yuri spat, his hands waving about recklessly. “And what about when you forgot to choreograph my senior debut?”

“But I did, didn’t I? And you haven’t even thanked me for it!”

Yuri slammed his hand onto the countertop. “Don’t try to turn this on me! This isn’t fucking about m-”

It came like a thunderstorm, and was over just as quickly.

Yuri’s knuckles collided with the cool, glassy concave of the vase. A ringing note like that of a wind chime resounded in the electric air.

Yuuri fell forward to his knees, hands stretched out as if begging for time to stand still. He was close enough. He would’ve caught it. But it fell through his flesh and bone, like it always had.

(You cannot touch your own soul. You cannot control your fate.)

Then came the thunder.

The clay crashed down, shards of blue and red scattering and sliding across ceramic tiles. If Yuuri could bleed, they would have cut him. He looked up to see Victor’s cornflower eyes, wide and mirroring the frightening desperation Yuuri knew was in his.

“Vic-”

Then the lightening of the storm split him up the middle. He felt it, like ripping the stitches from a seam, like sharp teeth and a forked tongue, and then he felt nothing.

He opened his eyes, and saw nothing.

Ah, Yuuri thought. This is death.

Chapter Text

Victor lunged forward over the countertop and reached, reached, but his fingertips only danced along the lip of the vase as it fell over the edge.

His eyes met Yuuri’s warm maple, but then Victor blinked. He blinked, and Yuuri was gone.

Maybe he flickered away, like a hologram; maybe he faded, like sun spots behind closed eyes; maybe he just vanished, as if he were never there. Victor blinked, and he had missed it.

The air was still.

Victor laid his head on his outstretched arms, still reaching into empty space. He could feel the sleeves of his shirt soaking up the warm tears that fell from his eyes, and the fabric stuck to his skin. He rested there a minute, breathing in and out.

He’s gone. Oh, my god.

Victor’s breathing stuttered and he squeezed his eyes shut. He bit the inside of his cheek, hard, to fight the numbness crawling up his body. With a shaky inhale, he opened his eyes again. His vision was blurry, and his silver lashes were clumped and slicked together. He saw their flowers, his and Yuuri’s, still on the countertop. They had shriveled back up, brown and warped like ancient, weathered hands.

In a daze, he slid around the countertop and into the kitchen. His knees shook, and he supported himself on the edge of the granite. He blinked his eyes desperately to clear them, and allowed his legs to give out, collapsing to his hands and knees amongst the shards of ceramic.

With gentle hands, he began to pick up each piece and place it in the curve of his shirt.

What do I do? Yuuri, what do I do?

At first, he didn’t hear the quiet steps behind him, or see the boy on his hands and knees working to help him gather what was precious. One of those hands was bruising at the knuckle, purple and red.

“Leave,” Victor whispered, not halting his movements or looking up.

Yuri’s hands stopped and curled into fists.

“Listen, Victor, I’m-”

“Leave!” Victor shouted. “Get out, now! Get the fuck out!”

Victor didn’t know what he looked like, what his eyes said, how red made the blue turn violent, but Yuri stood up and stepped carefully out of the kitchen on trembling legs. The door slammed shut a moment later.

Victor choked out a sob, wiped his face on his sleeve, and continued to gather the pieces of his heart.

“Hey, angel?”

(Victor didn’t know when he had started calling Yuuri his angel, but if felt like truth).

“Mm?” Yuuri hummed and looked up at Victor with warm eyes.

“I love you.”

Yuuri smiled, wide and joyful.

“I love-”

Victor blinked awake. A stripe of sun fell from the living room windows and into his eyes. It burned. He closed his eyes again and pressed his arm over them to block the light.

He sat up slowly, stretching his stiff back. He scratched Makkachin behind the ears from where she lay beside him on the couch. She had spent the last couple of days wandering the apartment, searching for Yuuri. Eventually she’d resigned herself to just keeping Yuuri’s place on the bed warm, and then keeping Victor warm, wherever he went.

Victor downed the half-empty mug of cold coffee he’d left on the table the night before and picked up the vase as gently as he could, running his hands over the cool surface.

He’d puzzled it back together, and fallen asleep as the glue dried. Now, its surface was marred with white scars in the blue, like white caps on angry ocean waves. With shaking hands, he let his fingers trace along the kanji at the bottom and prayed Yuuri’s name into the air. No brown eyes appeared to blink back at him, and no voice sweetly whispered his name.

Then he tried filling it with water, to see if it could hold flowers again. It seeped from the cracks like tears.

On the fourth day, the doorbell rang. He didn’t answer it.

Then it rang again.

And again and again and again and—

“Yuri, what a surprise!” Victor swung the door open and smiled, wide and sharp.

Yuri stood outside the door with his hands deep in his pockets. He shouldered his way past Victor and into the apartment.

“Listen, Yuri, I’ll be back at the rink soon, but right now-”

“Victor, shut the damn door, I’m not leaving until we talk.”

Victor sighed and closed the door, leaning against it with his arms crossed. Makkachin lay down by his feet and whined up at him.

“Okay. Talk.”

There was a beat of silence. “…I don’t understand what the big deal is.”

“Yura-”

“But I’m sorry. So, yeah.” Yuri was fiddling with the sleeve of his jacket, and although he was scowling, his eyes were sincere.

Victor met his gaze for a moment, then nodded.

Yuri quickly bowed his head and walked back over to the doorway, pulling a crumpled piece of notepaper from his pocket. He pressed it into Victor’s chest as he reached to turn the knob. “I looked some stuff up. She’s supposed to be the best. If it helps….” He shrugged, and left without another word.

Whatever energy Victor still had left in his body wooshed away in an exhale. He slid down the wall next to Makka.

 

Yura apologized.

He never apologized.

He’s really growing up, Victor thought.

He unfolded the piece of paper and read Yuri’s scrawling handwriting:

Ito Kosuke.

Ceramics, Restoration, and Kintsugi.

Hasetsu, Japan.

Chapter Text

“Dancin’ in the moonlight, everybody feelin’ warm and bright, mm mmhmm… dancin’ in the moonlight.”

Ito Kosuke swung her hips, bounced on her toes, the silver piercings in her ears jangling together in time with the music. Smoke fanned from the cigarette hanging precariously between her fingers, glittering as it rose in the morning sun. She slid open all the windows, letting slow wind curl into the corners of the shop, stuffy from being closed for the weekend.

She continued to hum along with the boom box coughing out classic rock from an old cassette tape as she snuffed out her cigarette and unwrapped her most recent repair commission from its cotton bandages.

“It’s such a fine and natural sight,” Kosuke sang quietly, holding the piece up to the sun streaming in from the open window. Veins of gold hatched across the swirling grey and white glaze, glowing in the light like magma between rock.

Tap tap.

She looked up, lowering the bowl back to the countertop. She wasn’t actually open for business yet, but in a small town like Hasetsu, people generally came and went as they pleased. The older woman from next door, for example, shuffled in most mornings to drop off her home-grown cherry tomatoes for her and her husband and to pinch Kosuke’s sides, telling her to eat more.

But, then again, obaasan never knocked.

 

Tap tap tap.

Victor had gotten off his red-eye flight, taken a train and walked directly to Ito Kosuke’s shop, his suitcase rattling behind him on the concrete and stone. This was the end of the line; his stomach twisted in a difficult mixture of nervous anticipation and a hope he couldn’t squash down as he rapped his knuckles on the door frame.

“Hai?”

He slid open the door to the shop, releasing cigarette smoke and classic rock into the morning air, and stepped inside.

A woman stood behind the countertop, leaning on her arm and tapping her bitten fingernails on the wooden surface. Her hair was chopped into a shaggy black bob, bleached a brassy yellow at the ends. She looked around thirty, maybe thirty-five, and wore a leather jacket that whispered when she moved, worn thin at the elbows, and cuffs where she worried at the frayed edges. It looked older than she was. She took a moment to assess the disheveled foreigner on her doorstep at seven in the morning, and said, “English?”

“Um… yes. Uh, are you Ito Kosuke-san?”

“The very same. You are…?”

Victor let go of his suitcase to give her a short bow. “Victor Nikiforov.”

“What can I do for you, Mr. Nikiforov?” Ito-san said, sitting down on the stool behind the counter.

He turned and unzipped his suitcase, peeling away the layers of socks and sweaters cushioning his treasure. He lifted the vase out, cradling it to his stomach as he turned to the counter and placing it gently in front of the woman.

She slid on a pair of glasses that had been tucked into her shirt collar and picked it up, supporting the bottom with a careful hand. Despite her youthful vitality and nicotine stained nails, Ito-san handled it with delicate hands and a discerning eye as she held it up to the light.

“…Did you try to glue this back together?” She looked up at him from under her frames.

Victor gave her a big, bright, toothy smile and said nothing.

“Alright.” Ito-san took off her glasses and pointed them at Victor. “I’m going to take this mess apart, and use a lacquer mixed with 24 karat gold powder to reseal it.” She turned the vase over, pointing at the bottom. “You’re lucky the base is intact. It should still be usable, just avoid chemicals and hot water….” She trailed off, her brow knitting.

“Is something wrong? You can fix it, can’t you?” Victor leaned forward, trying to see what gave her pause. She pulled it away from him, wrapping her forearm protectively around its curve. When she looked up at him, her relaxed countenance had abruptly become severe.

“Where did you get this?”

“Um, a flea market in France, but I don’t know how it ended up there.”

“Do you know what this says?” She pointed to the kanji etched in the clay.

“Katsuki Yuuri. It belonged to him. He was an ikebana master, born here in Hasetsu.” Yuuri Yuuri Yuuri Yuuri, my angel.

Ito-san seized Victor’s gaze with striking dark brown eyes.

“Katsuki Yuuri was my grandfather.”

Chapter Text

“That’s not possible.”

“I assure you, it is.” Kosuke kept her arm around the vase, and looked down at it thoughtfully. “But, ojiisan wasn’t an ikebana master. He wasn’t a ‘master’ at anything. He was a superstitious old man who drank too much sake, but we kids thought he was magic. He always had a trick up his sleeve and a deck of cards in his pocket. You couldn’t help but love him.”

Victor was squinting at her with his mouth open like a fish.

“He got his mother’s looks: big, warm brown eyes, pink cheeks. I only met my great-grandmother once before she passed, but she said ojiisan looked just like her little brother.”

Victor blinked and closed his mouth. “What was her name?”

“Mari, Katsuki Mari.”

“And her brother?”

“Him, I never met. My parents said he died way before I was born.”

What was his name?

And then Kosuke understood. She looked down at the vase again. Katsuki Yuuri, the original, was a specter of their family, a kind of guardian angel: he appeared in stories on warm summer nights, passed down from Mari to her children, to their children, in quiet memories shared in the flower gardens, and in the Katsuki family shrine.

She nodded slowly. “Katsuki Yuuri. The one my grandfather was named after.”


Victor walked with Ito-san, the ocean air blowing her cigarette smoke into a halo around his head. She had put a sign up on the door that said, “Gone fishing,” grabbed him by the coat sleeve and pulled him into the early autumn chill. The seagulls crying over the grey water of Hasetsu’s bay reminded Victor of St. Petersburg.

He thought about home. Home was an odd thing; it was a place, a person, a scent in the breeze, the evening sun patterning wooden floors. As Victor looked at this woman he’d known for maybe a half hour, ten 1,000 yen notes folded in his jeans’ pocket and yesterday’s socks on his feet, he was wrapped in a strange serenity. Here he was, walking with someone from Yuuri’s own family in this place where Yuuri had lived, loved, and died; this was the same salt air he had breathed. Victor could not help but feel a sense of peace and calm.

“This is it.”

Victor blinked up. He had almost forgotten Ito-san was there. She gestured with her cigarette to a crumbling old wooden gateway, crisscrossed with green vines, but secured with a shiny metal combination lock, and tapped away the hanging ash. The sign above said “Yu-Topia Katsuki.”

The stories Yuuri had told Victor of his home were so full of warmth and laughter that he struggled to reconcile it with this building in front of him that howled as the wind blew through its empty rooms and broken windows, like a child blowing into a recorder. 

Ghostly, indeed.

Ito-san stamped out her cigarette butt on the concrete and looked over each shoulder before turning to Victor.

“Follow me.”

She ducked around the side of the gate to a wire fence, hidden between tall grass and a small dirt path cutting off from the main road. She looked back to wink at him, and then disappeared into the brush.

The twining foliage hid a gash in the fence that pushed open like a secret gate, saved for garden gnomes, wood sprites and the curious children of the Katsuki family. Victor slid through, careful not to snag his wool coat on the metal and thorns. He brushed off his sleeves and looked into the overgrown expanse he had just entered, bordered by the wooden walls of the inn.

There was a shift in the very air around him.

Dragonflies flitted between tears in the onsen’s shoji panels, buzzing softly. The sun in the garden was filtered by deep green pine needles and bright red Japanese maple leaves, patterns shifting in the wind. The air was cooler there, just beginning to bite with early autumn. Victor shivered.

Ito-san stood beside a twisting tree, knotted and crooked, heavy with yellowing leaves. She watched Victor’s wonder with a knowing smile. “Welcome to the Katsuki Fort!” She spread her arms and twirled, kicking up dead leaves with her heels.

They sat together on the stony edge of what used to be a hot springs pool. Now it lay heavy with mud, hidden frogs and roly polies sleeping under layers of damp leaves.

Kosuke pressed her hand into the moss lining the rocks, plush and vibrant. Nostalgia clouded her senses and squeezed her lungs; mosquitos whirred in her ears.

“They were going to knock this place down sometime in the sixties and build some tourist trap. That was just when Hasetsu was starting to dry up; all the kids began to move away,” she started quietly.

She looked over at the man beside her. He was searching her face, like he was trying to find something in the slope of her nose, the bow of her lip.

“The guy figured he’d missed his chance to make a profit, so he sold the land back to the town. We thought about buying it back into the family, but we never got around to it.” She shrugged. “It’s just one of those things. Besides, I think we’d miss having to sneak inside,” she said with a little smile.  “Anyway, ojiisan always said that no matter who actually owned this place, it would always belong to the Katsuki family. He treated it like a shrine, like our ancestors haunted the hallways. My brothers and I treated it more like a playground.”

They sat in silence for a moment as the wind hummed its wistful tune through the windowpanes.

Victor’s voice weaved into the breeze, prickling the hairs on the back of Kosuke’s neck:

“Do you believe in ghosts?”

Chapter Text

Ito-san did not let Victor into her shop while she worked. She had pinched his nose, told him to be patient and booted him out the door.

He’d ended up renting out a small, traditional-style house by the seaside, and calling Yakov to ask him to send over Makkachin, who Yuri had been taking care of. The process of kintsugi, he had learned, was long and arduous, but the results were often more beautiful than the original.

More beautiful in its imperfection, Ito-san had said.

She also said it required the delicate mastery earned by age. Victor had responded that she couldn’t be that old, and she had just given him a look, tapped her forehead and said old up here.

He spent most of his time exploring Yu-Topia Katsuki, a mask covering his mouth and nose to block out the dust and mold. He found himself plucking up weeds from between stones in the springs, and running his handkerchief across wooden sills and shelves. It progressed to the point that he bought a broom and glass cleaner for the idle time he spent there. He wasn’t exactly sure why, but he needed to be able to fix something, since his could not be the hands that brought Yuuri back.

So he fixed this part of his Yuuri, passing restless hours in the Katsuki Fort.

Time did not exist in this place.

It was like that cotton-filled space between sleep and awareness. It was dark there, flitting between shades of black and grey. There was nothing to grasp onto; nothing with which to pull himself out, so he lingered.

 

All at once, there was sunlight.

It reached forward and held his face in its palms, filled the seams of his being that had burst. It was warm, and sweet like an orange, coating his tongue and eyelashes, leaving his skin sticky. It coaxed him forward.

 

Yuuri heard the sound of seagulls.

Kosuke turned the water tap the smallest bit, so it flowed out in a thin, wavering stream. She held the vase under the water, and held her breath.

It trickled into the bottom, running over golden scars and making them glitter. It filled slowly to the top of the lip, and she stopped it just as it was about to overflow, turning off the tap with her elbow. She stood there quietly, waiting.

It did not leak.

She smiled and pressed a kiss to the blue ceramic, making some of the water splash on her nose and chin before she set it aside. She huffed a laugh and wiped it away with the hem of her apron, but then paused.

She turned and looked behind her into the main room of her shop, shivering in a rush of sudden chill. The hair at the nape of her neck prickled and the smoke lifting from the cigarette burning in the ashtray twirled and spiraled. The fogged-up windows at the front of the shop were closed and latched; the door was locked. There was no one there.

Kosuke felt a gentle touch to her cheek and gasped. It was soft, like the petal of a peony, and cold like a snowflake melting into her skin. She whipped around and ran to the front door of the shop, wiping the windowpane and peering into the evening dark. Nothing. She turned away, brow knitted, lip bitten between her teeth.

Then she saw the window, and all the rest of the air left her lungs.

In the condensation, characters dripping, was written

ありがとうございました

Thank you.

When Victor answered the door, he nearly burst out crying. Years and years of media presence pinched back the tears and he sculpted his face into a smile.

Ito-san stood before him, holding a bundle wrapped in an indigo-dyed furoshiki. She peered up at him with an expression he couldn’t read. His gaze instinctively flicked up to the space behind her, looking for maple eyes and dark messy hair. There was no one.

“Ito-san? Come in.”

She stepped into the doorway, but didn’t remove her shoes or coat. She gave Makkachin a pat, who had just woken from a nap and ambled over at the sound of the bell.

“It’s finished.”

He inhaled and exhaled measuredly. “And? It worked, right?”

Where is Yuuri? It’s done. It’s fixed, he should be here. I need you here, Yuuri. Please, don’t—

“You asked me if I believed in ghosts.”

Victor’s train of thought screeched to an abrupt stop.

“…Yes, I did. And you don’t.”

“I didn’t. But….” She shook her head and placed the bundle into his hands, stepping back out into the night. “Come say goodbye before you go back to Russia.”

As she turned away, Victor heard her quiet words settle in the wind and whisper into his ears as the door closed:

“Take good care of him.”

Candlelight warmed the light in the room. Like a careful ritual, Victor filled Yuuri’s soul-vessel with water and placed out each of the flowers from their bouquet from so long ago. He’d pressed them into the pages of a book to preserve them before travelling. He plucked them from between the pages with the softest of touches, laying them down in a careful row.

He sat on his knees before the vase and closed his eyes. He bent down, hands on either side of the vessel, fingers running along the golden scars. and touched his forehead to the smooth edge.

“Katsuki Yuuri,” he whispered. “Yuuri, my angel. Come back to me; stay by my side.”

A silent moment passed during which he didn’t dare breathe.

Then, a hand settled on his head, twining in his hair, and he started to cry.

“Vitya….”

Victor gripped those fingers and looked up, tears spilling from his eyes and dripping onto their shared hands. His Yuuri kneeled before him. The first thing he saw were those eyes he loved, overflowing like his own. Then, a sweet, soft pink mouth that trembled with emotion and whispered his name, gently kissed his lips.

Then it was the rivers of gold that painted across his skin like veins. They caught the light in an ethereal firework, and made Yuuri’s deep gaze burn all the brighter. Victor caressed them where they twisted across his arms and neck, and pulled him close against his chest.

“Vitya, I’m here,” Yuuri whispered. “I’m home.”

Their flowers, circling the vase on the tatami mat, bloomed once again.

Chapter Text

The wisteria blossoms made the tree branches heavy, bowing until they brushed the mossy ground. Yuuri looked up through the petals and closed his eyes, the sunlight bursting behind his eyelids. He inhaled, smelling the floral nectar and salt of his childhood.

He sneezed.

“Bless you,” Victor murmured, moving to stand behind Yuuri and fitting his arms around his waist. Yuuri felt him kiss the top of his head with a little ruffle of breath. One of the purple wisteria petals that had sprinkled into his dark hair dislodged and fluttered onto the tip of his nose.

He sneezed again, and he felt Victor’s laugh as much as he heard it.

Yuuri turned and stuck out his tongue with a grin, then grabbed Victor’s hand to lead him back into the house.

“C’mon, Vitya, let’s go join Makkachin on the couch for a nap.”

Victor had finalized the purchase of Yu-Topia Katsuki from the town of Hasetsu in the empty days of waiting and thinking while Yuuri’s soul-vessel was being repaired.

There was a time, back in St. Petersburg when he thought retirement would kill him– figuratively, literally… he didn’t know. In the time he spent here by the side of the sea, he’d come to understand that his life and love were wrapped up in the breeze and cicada song, and, most importantly, his Yuuri. So he bought the Katsuki Fort and fixed it up, for both of them.

 

As soon as it was ready, Victor led Yuuri, hand in hand, through the gates of the inn. After half a century adrift, Yuuri had returned home. He cried, overwhelmed. Victor squeezed the trembling hand in his, and when Yuuri turned to him, face alight with wonder, Victor got down on one knee.

In the garden, surrounded by lush maples and morning glory vines, Victor and Yuuri began the rest of their lives together, with matching golden rings on their fingers.

A beam of light from the sunset danced across Yuuri’s cheek and lit up the little wisps of peach fuzz by his ear. The pattern of glittering light captured Victor’s sleepy gaze for a moment before Yuuri shifted on the cushions and it disappeared.

“Yuuri,” he whispered, leaning in to kiss his brow.

One warm maple eye fluttered open, a smile blooming and rounding his pink, sleep-flushed cheeks.

“Victor.”

 

Outside, the wisteria blossoms swayed in the evening breeze.

Chapter Text

There is a story whispered amongst the children of Hasetsu.

A ghost story, a legend, about the big empty house by the sea that sings when the wind blows through it and the rain falls.

A story about flashes of golden light, reflecting in the glass windows even after the sun has set.

A story about blossoms that stay in bloom, no matter the season, that fall and decorate children’s hair when they duck under the fence to explore the haunted inn on a dare.

A story about stray dogs, going into the house and leaving fed and content.

A love story about the ‘Y & V’ carved above the entranceway, and the two vases that sit within– one blue and broken and fixed, and one newer, a deep, swirling magenta– that never, ever collect dust.

The children of Hasetsu whisper about the love that conquered death, and they can’t help but smile.