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The Second Superstring Revolution

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March 2005

Yuuri’s skin prickled as he entered the changing area, cold from its proximity to the rink.

“Yuuri!” he heard Yuuko call from the corner. He looked over at her; she was waving to him. “Come on, you’re just in time! He’s about to start,” she said, as he sat on the bench next to her.

“Who’s about to start?” Yuuri asked.

“Silly Yuuri, you remember the skater I was telling you about!”

Yuuri remembered no such thing, but her excitement was infectious. He turned toward the TV, where one skater was getting his scores and another was skating onto the ice. The latter had long, silver hair and a tight black costume, and Yuuri felt a swooping sensation in the pit of his stomach, almost like anticipation.

He shivered again as he left the rink hours later, the warm air hitting his chilled skin with an unpleasant sensation, but Yuuri hardly noticed. Viktor Nikiforov. The most beautiful skater Yuuri had ever seen, and Yuuri had been watching Yuuko skate for years. Minako met him outside to escort him back to Yuu-Topia, and he could barely answer her inquiries into how the competition had gone. Viktor had been magic on ice, and Yuuri could hardly be expected to make small talk after seeing him. Minako would understand once he showed her.

Yuuri dragged her through the inn to the family computer room and wriggled impatiently until the machine booted up and let him open a search window. “This boy must be good, if he’s got you all worked up like this,” Minako remarked, as Yuuri typed Viktor Nikiforov into the search bar.

No results.

Yuuri frowned. Maybe it was spelled differently? He tried Victor Nikiforov, and junior world championships winner, and figure skater long silver hair black costume, but none of them brought him any results.

Tears sprang up into his eyes. Now Minako would think he was making things up, she would call him a liar and a silly boy -

Minako’s hand landed on his shoulder. “It must not have been uploaded yet. And maybe it’s his first season and that’s why there’s nothing else online. You can show me later, Yuuri. It’s okay.”

Sniffling, he nodded. He would keep searching, and he would show her. Surely a skater like Viktor would make a splash, especially if it was his first season. No one who moved like that could go unnoticed.

-----

June 2006

Viktor stepped out the front door of his building, slipping his keys into his pocket. It was a nice apartment, suitable for a teenager just setting out on his own, but it was a bit lonely. Maybe he would get a pet, just to bring some life in with him.

The day was pleasantly warm, and as he stretched in the sun, his eyes fell on the building across the street. It was a bakery, which was strange, because he distinctly remembered an entrance to a small gym in that storefront when Yakov brought him to see the apartment a month ago. It must have been sold, Viktor thought. That was a shame; part of what had convinced him on the apartment was the nearness of the local gym. Maybe it sells good food, at least, he thought to himself, and checked his watch. He had time to forgo his morning run and step in before making his way to the rink.

Viktor finished his rasstegai just as the bus dropped him off at the rink, and he licked his fingers. They had been delicious, almost enough to make him sanguine about the loss of the gym.

Yakov shouted at him for skipping his run, and for buying pastries, and he slapped a few extra weights into Viktor’s backpack for his run home after practice. Viktor scowled at him but didn’t fight it - skating with pastry in his belly had been a mistake.

On the way back home, Viktor made note of the next nearest gym to his apartment, nearly a mile away and down a frightening-looking alley. Ugh, he thought, turning the corner to his block. His eyes settled on the bakery. I really wish that was still a gym.

A breeze kicked up, making his skin tingle, and he blinked. When he opened his eyes, the bakery was, once again, a gym.

Viktor tripped over his own feet and went down hard, the weights in his backpack landing solidly on top of him. Groaning, he pushed himself back onto his feet and examined the damage. Skinned palms, and the front of his thigh was aching, but it was nothing some ice and a few painkillers in the morning shouldn’t fix, and at least tomorrow was a rest day. He looked back up at the bakery, which resolutely remained a gym.

“What on earth,” Viktor said, and went in.

The woman at the front desk smiled at him. “How long has this gym been here?” Viktor asked.

“Oh, we’ve been here for years, sir,” she replied.

Viktor frowned. “And it’s never been a bakery?”

She looked puzzled. “No, sir. I think before us there was a clothing shop here, but I don’t know anything about a bakery.”

“Right,” Viktor said. “Right, okay. I think I understand. Thank you.” He turned on his heel and went home.

The next morning, Viktor peered out his window. The gym was still there. Screwing his eyes shut, Viktor said, as clearly as he could, “Bakery. I wish that was a bakery.” He waited for a few moments, eyes still closed, skin tingling with anticipation, and then he looked.

Bakery.

“Okay,” Viktor said. “Parallel universes.” He paused. “I think I will get a dog.”

-----

March 2010

Yuuri’s alarm went off at 6:45am. Groaning, he slapped at it until it shut up. He let himself lie with his eyes closed for thirty more seconds, the absolute limit before he would start to fall back asleep, and then opened his eyes. Vicchan was curled up at his feet; when Yuuri sat up, the dog startled and then dashed up to Yuuri’s face to cover it in licks. “Good morning, boy,” Yuuri said, petting him furiously.

Once Vicchan had been appeased, Yuuri slipped out of bed and over to his desk. He pulled a purple notebook out from under a stack of artfully-arranged papers, sat down, and opened his laptop. He opened a new tab in his browser, and started typing into the search bar. Viktor Nikiforov.

The first page of results loaded. Nikiforov placed to take gold again this year, read the top headline. Nikiforov signs three-year sponsorship contract with Adidas, proclaimed another. Viktor Nikiforov: The best costumes, offered a third. Heart pounding, Yuuri shut his laptop and opened the notebook, flipping to a page marked 2010.

In handwriting as small as he could manage, Yuuri pencilled in the date and added the initials VN next to it. Above the new entry was a date from last week, and above that one from the week before, stretching all the way back to the beginning of the year. None of the preceding entries had initials.

Yuuri flipped back through the notebook. The last time Viktor had appeared, Yuuri had been fourteen years old; the time before that, Yuuri had been thirteen. Combined with the skater’s first appearance when Yuuri was twelve, Yuuri was ready to start drawing some conclusions.

He let himself check once a week, a far cry from when he was twelve and frantically searching for any sign of the other skater multiple times a day. Yuuri had four data points now, and he figured that was enough to start identifying a pattern. For the vast majority of the year, Viktor Nikiforov simply did not exist. There was no sign of him online; careful scrutiny of the leaderboards for the big figure skating championships declared different winners each year, none of them Viktor. However, three times in the past six years, Viktor Nikiforov had appeared from nowhere to compete in the World Championships. If the past was any indicator, he would be there again this year.

When Yuuri was thirteen, references to Nikiforov had started appearing in his searches a few days before the competition. When Yuuri was fourteen, he had searched the morning of the short program and found nothing, only to see Viktor skate onto the ice later that night. Yuuri had broken his pattern and searched multiple times over the course of the competition; Viktor appeared between the short program and the free, and then disappeared again a few hours after receiving his gold medal. Georgi Popovich had skated in the gala in the gold medalist position.

Yuuri had many theories; at the moment, his favorite was that Viktor was some sort of fairy creature who loved figure skating and manifested himself whenever he felt like competing, erasing himself from history when he was done. It didn’t quite hold up to scrutiny - surely Yuuko and Takeshi would have noticed too - but there was an element of the fey about Viktor, with his long hair and his ethereal grace.

Either that, or Yuuri was going insane. He didn’t particularly favor that theory.

Yuuri carefully arranged the stack of papers back on top of his notebook and scooped up Vicchan. “Time for breakfast, boy,” Yuuri said. “For both of us.”

Once Vicchan was happily chomping away at his kibble and Yuuri had a bowl of natto, he got a text from Yuuko. Want to meet up for the Worlds free programs tonight after you finish practicing? it read. Takeshi’s making dinner, you’re welcome to join us. Yuuri replied in the affirmative. Takeshi had grown much less annoying since marrying Yuuko three months ago, and he was a spectacular cook.

“Ready to see your boy?” Takeshi boomed when Yuuri let himself into their house that night. “Yuuko’s been reading me headlines; it sounds like he’s on track to win again.” Yuuri’s boy—did he mean Viktor? Yuuri had watched alone the last two times Viktor had appeared, but it seemed like Takeshi knew who he was.

“He’s not my anything,” Yuuri said. “But yeah, he’ll probably win again. What’s for dinner?”

“Omurice,” Takeshi said. “Yuuko had a craving.”

“Don’t blame it all on me,” Yuuri heard Yuuko say, and turned to see her laboriously making her way through their living room. “You like omurice as much as I do.”

“Sure, sure,” Takeshi said, moving to meet her halfway across the kitchen. He kissed her and passed a hand over her extremely pregnant stomach. “At this rate, the kids’ll need it to survive once they’re born.”

“Can you feed omurice to a baby?” Yuuri wondered, in no small part to break up the tender moment. His feelings for Yuuko had faded after she had chosen Takeshi, but on his worst days it was still a little painful to see them together.

“We’ll have to ask the doctor,” Yuuko said. “Hi, Yuuri, it’s lovely to see you.” She toddled over to him and waved.

He waved back. “You changed your hair.” It was shorter than it had been the last time he’d seen her a week ago, and it looked wavier too.

She laughed. “You’re just noticing now? Silly Yuuri, I cut it a month ago. You could at least pretend to pay attention.”

Yuuri blinked, but decided not to say anything. She certainly hadn’t changed her hair a month ago, but if she thought she did, who was he to say otherwise?

Dinner was, if basic, at least delicious, and soon they were all crowded around Yuuko’s laptop. Yuuri surreptitiously pulled out his phone and did a quick Google search—Viktor still existed, so Yuuri would get to see him skate for the first time in three years. Yuuri could feel the anticipation flood his veins.

Viktor was skating towards the end, as if he had placed well in the short programs he hadn’t taken part in, and the three of them chatted about the other skaters as they went. “Christophe Giacometti gets better every year,” Yuuko said dreamily, prompting Takeshi to elbow her. “What? It’s true. He’ll be topping Viktor soon enough.”

“No chance,” Yuuri said. Takeshi laughed at him.

Yuuri couldn’t keep himself from leaning in closer to the screen as Viktor took to the ice. His costume this year was a deep purple, clinging tight to his torso and billowing out down the arms. It was not, perhaps, the most objectively appealing look, but Yuuri couldn’t tear his eyes away.

His music was fiery, passionate, and it took Yuuri’s breath away in seconds as Viktor tore across the ice. His hair was shorter this year, much shorter, but it still spun around his head like a silver halo as he moved. “He’s in good form this year,” Takeshi said. Yuuri waved a hand at him absently, not looking away.

Viktor took second, behind China’s Cao Bin. “He was robbed,” Yuuri said, flushed with more than just the wine he and Takeshi had shared. “He should have won.”

“For once, I agree with you,” Takeshi said. “It was the costume, it had to have been.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Yuuko said, stretching. “I liked the color, anyway.” She stood up. “One last drink, Yuuri?”

“No, I should get back,” Yuuri said. “I have training in the morning.”

Takeshi laughed. “Of course you do. Yuuri, the season’s over. Surely you can take at least a little break?”

“Not if I want to stay in shape,” was what Yuuri meant to say; what actually came out of his mouth was, “I think I’m going to move to America.” Up until that moment, Yuuri hadn’t known he had decided.

Yuuko blinked at him for a moment, and then her surprised face melted into a smile. “You’re going to take Coach Celestino up on his offer, then?”

Yuuri nodded. “I’ll miss you guys.”

“We’ll stay in touch, and it’s not like you’re leaving tomorrow,” Takeshi said, clapping a hand onto Yuuri’s shoulder. “Just don’t run off without saying goodbye. Come on, I’ll walk you out.”

Out of curiosity, Yuuri searched the internet again when he got home and found article after article referencing Viktor’s second-place finish. He dreamed of Viktor’s program that night, and when he searched again in the morning, Viktor was still there.

And he was still there the next day.

And the next.

And the next.

After two weeks, Yuuri started to panic in earnest. Either his favorite theory was right, and Viktor the fairy creature had decided, for whatever reason, to stick around longer than normal, or - 

Or his other theory, parallel universes, was right, and Yuuri had somehow gotten stuck in the wrong one. Yuuko’s changed hair lent credence to the previously-unfavored theory, as did the fact that Yuuri hadn’t seen Mari smoke a single cigarette in the past fortnight. Normally she was like a chimney, lighting up at all hours over their parents’ obvious disapproval.

Or Yuuri really was going insane.

He had to spend two hours in Minako’s dance studio before he felt like he could breathe properly through the worry. Okay, so he was in a parallel universe. All he had to do was figure out how he had gotten stuck and undo it.

Two more hours of dancing, plus some time on the ice, and Yuuri was no closer to a solution. Yuuko’s mother finally threw him out of the rink after dark, and as he walked home, he found himself almost praying, Let me go home, just please let me go home. This universe was nice enough, but the thought of staying any longer made his skin prickle with discomfort.

Stopping just outside the side door to the inn, Yuuri pulled out his phone again. Viktor Nikiforov, he typed into a search window.

No results. For the first time ever, Yuuri felt a frisson of relief at not seeing any results about the other skater.

The door in front of him opened. “Are you coming in, or are you going to stand there all night?” Mari asked, a cigarette en route to her mouth.

“Don’t smoke that in the kitchen, Dad’ll kill you,” was all Yuuri said, brushing past her.

-----

July 2010

Viktor felt that all-too-familiar skin tingle just when the lobby door closed behind him and sighed. It was always problematic when he jumped just before interacting with people; he never knew what to say, or what had just happened in the other universe. He braced himself for the bakery-universe version of Yakov’s bad combover as he opened the door to the rink proper.

To his surprise, the Yakov who greeted him had his usual proudly-bare scalp. If Viktor didn’t know any better, he would think he was still in his home universe, the two Yakovs were so similar. “Vitya,” Yakov boomed. “Your costume has returned from the seamstress. Please pick it up from me before you leave.”

“You’re actually going to let me leave tonight?” Needling Yakov, whichever Yakov was there, was usually a safe bet. It seemed that every version of Yakov failed to instill what he referred to as the proper respect in Viktor. “I thought your plan was to chain me to the boards at night.”

“I’ll save that for when the season properly starts,” Yakov said. “Start warming up and get onto the ice when you’re ready. I’ll be working with Mila until then.”

Viktor slipped behind the bleachers as soon as Yakov was out of sight. As much as it was necessary in a shared rink, and especially during competitions, Viktor had always hated warming up in front of other people. It felt too much like a performance, instead of his last moments to himself. Yakov knew this, and usually let him get away with hiding during the off-season, unless Viktor had been particularly disrespectful.

As he stretched, Viktor let his mind wander. This appeared to be a new universe, not his home one or the one with the bakery, and he decided to stay a while before jumping back. Cataloging the changes between universes was fun, and he’d all but exhausted the differences between the two he knew.

As it always did when he warmed up, Viktor let his mind wander to the coming season. He’d browbeaten Yakov into letting him choreograph his own programs, but he was starting to regret it—inspiration wasn’t coming. He had the bones of a short program and most of a step sequence for the free, but neither was filling him with confidence, and the furrow between Yakov’s brows grew deeper with each passing day.

A thought occurred to him, and he dove for his phone, navigating to the stored videos as soon as it was in his hand. In the two universes he knew, he always had the same programs, but maybe that would be different in this new one.

He almost cheered when he saw dozens upon dozens of videos he didn’t recognize, short snippets of choreography and repetitions of jump combinations that Viktor had never tried before. He started watching, committing as much of it to memory as he could, sketching out arm movements as he sat behind the bleachers.

“Vitya! Are you on your phone?!” hollered Yakov, and Viktor jumped. “I told you to warm up!”

“Sorry, Yakov! I was just checking a few things.” Viktor closed his eyes and thought, Home, as fiercely as he could, until his skin tingled. Let that universe’s Viktor deal with an angry Yakov.

“Viktor?” His universe’s Mila poked her head around the bleachers. “What are you doing back here? Yakov says to get out onto the ice already.”

Viktor pushed himself to his feet. “Coming, coming.” He gathered up his things and dumped them onto one of the bleachers, removing his skate guards and setting them on the boards. “Yakov!” he hollered, waving to where his coach was frowning at him from the other side of the rink. “I’ve finally found my inspiration! I have so much to show you!” After all, it wasn’t plagiarism if he had come up with it all himself, was it?

-----

August 2010

Two days after Toshiya declared Yuuri as unpacked as he would ever be, hugged him, and flew back to Japan, a knock came at Yuuri’s door. “Hello, Yuuri,” Coach Celestino said, when Yuuri opened the door. “I came to see how you were settling in, and to show you to the rink.”

Yuuri knew Celestino had a car, but they took the People Mover and then a bus, so Yuuri could learn the way. “I expect you’ll run more often than not, but it’s still good to know how to get here by transit,” Celestino said, opening the door of the rink for Yuuri. “Welcome to the Detroit Skating Club.”

Celestino introduced him to a flurry of new people, leaving Yuuri tense and anxious by the end of it. Perhaps noticing, Celestino waved the last person off and took Yuuri aside. “You brought your skates, right?” Yuuri nodded. “Why don’t you get out onto the ice a little bit? We’re not having a formal practice, so just show me a little bit of what you can do.”

Grateful for the respite, Yuuri all but fled onto the ice. It was reasonably crowded for a weekday, but there was space enough for him to get some spins in and run through some of his favorite step sequences from past programs. People were giving him a wider berth by the time he had worked up a bit of a sweat, and there was a smattering of applause as he pulled out of a final spin. Yuuri flushed.

Celestino waved him over to the boards. “That was wonderful, Yuuri. It’s clear that your step sequences are your real strength.”

Ducking his head, Yuuri nodded. He would never be technically good; his only hope for achieving anything lay in his performance. It was good that Celestino knew that already.

“Who are your favorite skaters, Yuuri?” Celestino asked. Yuuri looked back up at him. “Who do you like to watch? Who do you want to skate like?”

“Oh, um,” Yuuri stammered. There was really only one answer. “I like Lambiel, and Oda Nobunari, and, well...” He steeled himself. “I really like Viktor Nikiforov.”

“Viktor Nikiforov?” Celestino repeated. “I don’t think I’ve heard of him. But the other two are fine skaters, Yuuri, and good role models to have. I’m sure Nikiforov is great as well.”

“Not many people have heard of him,” Yuuri mumbled. So Viktor would be as elusive in Detroit as he was in Hasetsu.

Celestino clapped him on the shoulder. “Send me your class schedule once it’s finalized, and we’ll work out some official practice times. I think we’re going to work well together, Yuuri. You’re going to do great things, I can tell.”

Yuuri nodded. “Thank you, Coach Celestino.”

“Do you need help getting back to your apartment?”

Yuuri shook his head. “I want to learn the running route. I’ll manage on my own, but thank you.”

Celestino nodded. “Call me if you get lost, and send me that schedule as soon as you have it. I look forward to working with you.”

“Me too.”

-----

March 2011

Viktor woke slowly, wrapped in the sort of warmth that can only come from sleeping next to another person. He became aware that the heartbeat he could hear was not his own, that there was an arm wrapped around his shoulders, and that a soft kiss was being pressed to the top of his head. “Sorry, Vitya,” a voice said quietly. “I’ve got to move you.”

“Noooooooooo,” Viktor whined, shoving his face deeper into the person’s chest. “Don’t go anywhere.”

“Unless you want me to pee in our bed, Vitya, you have to let me up.” Delivering another kiss to his hair, the arm around him gently started to dislodge him. With a sigh, Viktor allowed it to happen. He blinked open his eyes to see an unfamiliar man with thick, dark hair and warm brown eyes get out of bed and turn back to him. The man smiled, and Viktor’s heart filled to bursting. “You can sleep a little longer. I’ll wake you up when breakfast is ready.” Viktor fell asleep again to a soft press of lips against his own.

Someone shook Viktor and he startled, his neck aching from the angle of his head against the wall behind him. “Come on, Viktor, your group is up on the ice for warm-ups,” Christophe said from beside him. “I can’t believe you fell asleep in the middle of a competition.”

“And I was having the most wonderful dream, too,” Viktor said. He let Chris help him up and rubbed at his neck. “Ugh, don’t tell Yakov or he’ll kill me.”

“My lips are sealed, now go,” Chris said, giving him a shove on the back to get him moving. “Knowing you, you’ll still win. You disgust me.” Viktor flashed him a dazzling smile, to which Chris rolled his eyes.

Warm-ups went as well as could be expected with Viktor five minutes out from a nap, but Yakov, who couldn’t know that, scowled at him. “Get your head in the game, Vitya. You have a chance to win this. Your programs are solid; you just have to do them justice.”

His programs, which he’d stolen from another version of himself. “I know, Yakov. I’m taking this seriously.”

Yakov regarded him for a moment. “I know you are.”

Having come first in the short program, Viktor was skating last, and he let himself keep warming up slowly. His eyes were closed half the time, remembering how it felt to be held in the mysterious dream man’s arms. It had felt safe there, in a way Viktor couldn’t remember ever having felt in reality. The closest feeling was when he was on the ice, having just delivered a spectacular performance and basking in the roars of the audience.

Viktor rarely dreamed, and when he did, they were usually stress-based nightmares.

Yakov came and fetched him as the skater in second place took the ice. “Where’s your head, Vitya?” Yakov asked him.

“On the ice, Yakov. I’m fine.” Viktor took a long drink of water and blew his nose. “I’m going to win, Yakov. I promise.”

Yakov blessed him with a rare smile. “I know you will, boy. Good to know you know it too. Now get out there and show them what you’re made of.”

As nice as it was to be finished and praised, Viktor’s favorite moment of any competition was the skate out to center ice. The audience was cheering for him, but it was anticipatory, not congratulatory. They were all still in suspense, himself included, waiting to see what magic he would work in the next three and a half minutes. The adrenaline coursed through his veins, the rink fell silent, and all that was left was for Viktor to do what he had been trained to do.

He took home gold, and a world record.

-----

August 2013

Yuuri heard the knock on the door as if it were the knock of the executioner.

You’re being dramatic, he told himself, standing up from where he’d been huddled on his bed, pillow pressed to his face. It’s just a roommate, it’s not the end of the

Goosebumps prickled over his skin, and as he looked around the room, it changed. Where there had just been blank white walls, now there were posters everywhere. Posters, he saw as he looked closer, of Viktor Nikiforov.

Crap.

Yuuri stood frozen for a few seconds, until the knocking at the door repeated itself. He still had a roommate, wherever he was, and Yuuri needed to get ahold of himself and let him in. He allowed himself one more moment of panic, and then forced himself to move towards the door.

“Hi!” said the person on the other side, when Yuuri had swung it open. “I hope I didn’t wake you up, I know students have weird sleep schedules. Nice to meet you at last. I’m Phichit!” The newcomer stuck his hand out. Slightly dazed from the force of his enthusiasm, Yuuri shook it.

Phichit didn’t have much, just two big suitcases and a duffel bag. Yuuri helped him wrangle them all over the threshold and shut the door behind him. “Wow,” Phichit said, looking at the walls. “A Nikiforov fan, huh?” Yuuri rubbed at the back of his neck, feeling his face flush. Phichit looked over at him and laughed. “Aw, don’t be embarrassed. He’s great!” He looked appraisingly back at the walls. “Although I may ask you to take a few of them down, just so I have space for the posters I brought.”

“Oh, of course,” Yuuri said, and then suddenly all his posters were gone, and Phichit had much shorter hair than he had a second ago. That was fast, Yuuri thought stupidly, and then shook himself. Wherever he had been, he was back now, in a world where Viktor Nikiforov didn’t exist.

Phichit was looking at him expectantly. “Sorry?” Yuuri said. “I didn’t catch that.”

“I said, do you mind if I put some posters up? I brought a few with me.”

“Oh, not at all,” Yuuri said. “Go crazy.”

-----

July 2014

“Hello!” Viktor said, walking up to the counter. “I’m here for my dog’s semi-annual checkup.”

“What’s your name?” the tech at the desk said. Viktor gave over all his information and took a seat to wait, accepting Makkachin’s paws into his lap.

Seven minutes into what turned out to be a ten-minute wait, Viktor felt the tell-tale tingle on his skin that meant he’d jumped. He looked at Makkachin—the dog’s hair was a touch shorter, but otherwise he looked just like Viktor’s Makka. The decorations in the vet’s office were different too.

Out of curiosity, Viktor decided not to jump back. Makka’s hair had never been shorter in the other universes Viktor had jumped to, which meant this was a new one. He pulled out his phone, but before he could get very far into a search of his past performances, his name was called and he had to put it away.

The vet was not his usual vet, but an unfamiliar man with long curly hair and a distinct accent to his Russian, which was technically perfect. Viktor squinted at his nametag. “Hello, Dr. Celestino,” he said, once he’d corralled Makka into the small exam room.

“Ciao ciao! And hello to you, Makkachin!” Dr. Celestino bent down to give the dog a pat. “What brings you both in today? Just a routine checkup, right?”

Viktor nodded. “Everything seems normal. Nothing’s changed, no weird behaviors.”

“Good, good. Glad to hear it. Well, I’ll give him a look over, and we’ll take some blood to run some tests just to be sure. Help me get him up onto the table?”

Dr. Celestino peered into Makkachin’s eyes and ears and gave his stomach a massage. “So fluffy!” he proclaimed, digging his hands into Makkachin’s fur. “You know, Makkachin looks just like another dog I know. It’s almost uncanny.”

Viktor perked up, mentally willing the vet to produce pictures. Any dog that looked like his Makka was sure to be adorable. Sure enough, after extracting his hands, Dr. Celestino pulled out his phone. “He’s a toy poodle,” the vet explained. “He’s owned by my protege. His name’s Vicchan, look.”

“Oh my god, he’s so small,” Viktor breathed, leaning in. Then he noticed the man holding the incredibly tiny fluffball. “Who is that?”

“Hmm? Oh, that’s one of my proteges, Yuuri,” Dr. Celestino said. “He’s still in school, but he’ll be joining our practice once he’s graduated.”

Viktor clung to the phone, staring, until the vet cleared his throat. Viktor released it with a murmured apology. “Well, Makkachin looks fine to me,” the vet said, “but he’s getting on a bit in years, isn’t he? So let’s run some blood tests just to be sure. I’ll take him back now to get some samples, we’ll be just a moment, won’t we, boy?”

Viktor helped get Makka off the table in a daze, and sank down onto the chair in the exam room as soon as the door was closed behind them. He would have to change vets. There was no other solution.

He barely remembered the dream he’d had mid-competition all those years ago, before setting his free program world record. Just the sensation of being held, the barest impression of a kiss. He hadn’t remembered the man’s face until he saw it on Dr. Celestino’s phone. Viktor could never risk interacting with a man that beautiful, who had made him feel that safe—he’d make an ass out of himself. Changing vets was the only option -

Wait. This isn’t my real vet.

Viktor shut his eyes. Home, he thought, home, before he walks in here and I trip over my own feet.

He shivered, and before he opened his eyes he knew he was back home. “Here we are,” Dr. Vedenin said, coming back into the room with Viktor’s Makkachin. “We should have the results tomorrow. I’ll give you a call, but I’m not expecting anything out of the ordinary. Makkachin seems in fine health.”

Viktor barely remembered to pay before all but fleeing the office. 

-----

October 2014

Omg I’m running SO late but I’ll be there in time for the free I promise!!!! read Phichit’s text.

Yuuri sent back an acknowledgement. I’ll make dinner, he added, feeling a surge of generosity. Phichit had been run ragged with midterms this year, and Yuuri could throw together some chicken to make his life a little easier. Yuuri’s own midterms were a lost cause.

Phichit ran in five minutes before the food was done. “That smells great, Yuuri,” he said brightly, toeing off his shoes at the door. “I’ll get the livestream set up.”

The two of them had invested in a projector for competitions last year, cheap and so close to broken that Phichit was often the only one who could convince it to work. He wrangled it into position as Yuuri dished up two portions of chicken and rice and brought them out to the main room.

The men’s free program of Skate America was just starting as they settled onto their overstuffed couch. “Ten bucks says Cao Bin wins this one,” Phichit said.

“Not taking that bet.” Yuuri’s morning Google had indicated that Viktor wouldn’t be in this competition, and while Giacometti would, everyone knew he wouldn't be at his best this early in the season. Skate America was Cao Bin’s to lose.

Between one bite and the next, Yuuri must have blinked, because when he opened his eyes, he was no longer on their ratty couch with a plate of food in his hands. Instead, he was rinkside, watching Viktor Nikiforov skate onto the ice.

“I’ll let you watch, Yuuri, but then you have to get back to warming up,” came Celestino’s voice over Yuuri’s shoulder. Yuuri turned to find his couch standing behind him, arms crossed. “You know it isn’t good for you to watch too much of the competition.”

“I know,” Yuuri said. He turned back to the ice. “I just want to see.” He’d never before gotten to see Viktor skate live, and it was almost worth the swooping uncertainty of the sudden shift, to get to be this close.

Viktor’s music started, and Yuuri’s heart stopped. The song was dizzyingly fast from the start and Viktor met it beat for beat, swinging into his first quad almost faster than was humanly possible. The rest followed in quick succession, his step sequence crisp and his spins lighter than air, and Yuuri was gasping for breath in sympathy by the end of it.

Yuuri brought up his hands to clap, but before he could bring them together, Celestino’s hand came down on his shoulder. “Come on, Yuuri,” Celestino said, pulling him back and away from the crowd. “Don’t listen to the applause. Just keep warming up.”

“I want to hear his score,” Yuuri said, tugging back against his grip, but Celestino was firm.

“No, you don’t, it’ll only unsettle your nerves. Trust me, Yuuri.” Celestino directed him back to the warm-up area. “I haven’t been your coach this long without knowing to keep you away from the competitors as much as possible.”

Normally this was a fair point, and Celestino had no way of knowing that this Yuuri wasn’t actually a competitor at this competition, but Yuuri still chafed at it. Viktor’s score must have been legendary, after a performance like that. As he turned and placed his hands on the wall, Yuuri screwed his eyes shut and thought, Home.

“Are you all right, Yuuri?” Phichit asked, from his spot on the couch next to Yuuri. “You looked, uh. Really into that performance. You dropped your fork.”

Yuuri looked; his fork was, indeed, in his lap instead of his hand. “I’m fine,” Yuuri said, picking it back up. “It was a good performance, is all. Best he’s ever given.”

-----

January 2015

Viktor set his fork down on his empty plate, the food sitting stone-like in his stomach. In front of him, Chris was rinsing his plate at the sink, humming softly to himself.

Viktor had found himself in this universe at the start of the meal. He’d been surprised to see Chris; as far as he could tell, they weren’t at a competition, and those were the only places he usually saw Chris this time of year. He’d been even more surprised when Chris kissed him on the mouth as he set the plates down, but also intrigued. It wasn’t as though the thought of starting some kind of relationship with the other skater had never crossed Viktor’s mind; here was a chance to see what it might be like.

Viktor had never, as far as he could tell, been sent to a particular universe for a purpose before. He had one here, though, and he knew what it was. He just didn’t want to do it.

Across from him, Chris sat back down at the table. He was no longer humming, but scrolling idly on his phone. Viktor opened his mouth, closed it, took a breath. He tried again. “Chris.” Chris looked up at him. “Chris, this... This isn’t working.”

A heartbeat of silence passed. Chris sighed and put his phone down, rubbing his other hand over his eyes. “I know.” He huffed a little, humorless laugh. “At least we made it through dinner, eh?”

Viktor reached across the table and grabbed Chris’ hand. “Chris, it’s not you, it’s me, I swear. No, listen to me,” he added, when Chris just laughed again. “It is, I’m broken, there’s something wrong with me -”

Chris held up a hand. “I’ll stop you there, thanks. There’s nothing wrong with you, love. We’re just in a bad relationship. There doesn’t have to be something wrong with one of us for that.” He stood up and kissed Viktor, lingering and final. “I’ll just pack up my things and stay at a hotel tonight. It’s no one’s fault, Viktor.” He left the room, headed towards Viktor’s—their—bedroom.

Home, home, I want to go home, Viktor thought, and when the plate still in front of him vanished, he let the tears start to fall.

-----

May 2015

Yuuri yanked the headphones out of his ears and threw a pillow at Phichit.

“What the fuck -” Phichit flailed, nearly knocking his lamp off the table. “What the hell, Yuuri? What time is it?”

Yuuri checked. “It’s 3am. Sorry. I just had to tell you something. No, don’t get up,” he added, as Phichit rubbed his face and shoved himself upright. “You can go right back to sleep, I promise.”

Phichit flopped back down. “Alright, Yuuri. What 3am revelation have you had?”

Yuuri winced. “Sorry, it’s stupid. Go back to sleep -”

“Nuh nuh nuh nuh. You woke me up, now you’ve gotta spill. You got me curious.”

Yuuri closed his eyes and took a breath. “I’m going to win the Grand Prix Final this year.”

Phichit stared at him. A slow grin spread over his face. “Hell yeah you are.” He sat up. “I guess that was worth waking me up for, but now you’ve gotta deal with me awake, since there’s no way I’m going to sleep now. Do you have music?”

Yuuri thought about protesting, but there was no way he was going back to sleep either, and the idea of having company was too appealing. “I have a couple of ideas. Here’s the one I was just listening to, I’m thinking it’ll be good for my short.” He stood up and handed his open laptop to Phichit. “I’ll make the coffee.”

“Hell yeah you will.”

Phichit lasted two caffeinated hours before falling asleep on Yuuri’s shoulder. Yuuri stayed awake listening to arrangements and typing out concept notes and element configurations into a blank Word document. Before he knew it, it was light outside and their alarms were going off.

Celestino was not pleased when he saw the bags under Yuuri’s eyes. “Yuuri, you can’t skate if you haven’t slept.”

Yuuri handed him the printed-out sheet he’d spent the early morning working on. “Here are my ideas for next season, Coach Celestino. Please read them and tell me what you think.”

Celestino frowned but took the paper. “You know you don’t have to stay up all night working on this, right? It’s only May. We have time.”

“I know, but I really wanted to get it all out while it was fresh. And can I skate if I promise not to do any jumps?”

Celestino’s frown deepened. He looked out over the rink, which was fairly empty this time of morning, and sighed. “I’ll give you an hour’s ice time, no jumps, but then you have to go home and sleep, Yuuri. It’s the off-season; you can afford it.” He waved the paper. “I’ll read this and have some notes for you later today.”

Yuuri spent his hour of ice time drawing on every performance of Viktor’s that he’d ever seen. After all, Viktor didn’t exist in this universe. It was still entirely likely that Viktor didn’t exist in any universe, and was in fact a figment of Yuuri’s thirsty imagination, or at the very least he was a person who lived in an entirely different universe. Yuuri could use aspects of his programs without guilt. Right?

Phichit flashed him a thumbs-up as Yuuri left the ice an hour later. Yuuri waved and went over to Celestino, who was scanning Yuuri’s sheet with a thoughtful expression. “You really think you can pull these programs off, Yuuri?” Celestino asked, looking up at him. “They’re far more ambitious than anything you’ve tried before.”

“I really think I can do it, Coach.” Yuuri bit his lip. “I think this is my year. I feel it.”

Celestino regarded him for a moment before smiling. “That’s what I like to hear, Yuuri. I’ll email you some notes later. What you were doing out there just now looked good, by the way. Now go home. If you’re not asleep when Phichit gets home, I’ll know.”

“Yes, Coach.”

-----

September 2015

Viktor shut the door and dropped his keys in their usual bowl, bending down to give Makkachin the greeting the poodle deserved. “Another long day, Makka,” he said once the dog was appeased, straightening with a groan. “But it’ll be worth it, I think.” Yakov had worked him to the bone in practice, not letting him go until Viktor couldn’t see for the sweat dripping into his eyes. That was after a morning spent universe-hopping, checking in on all his other selves and attempting to draw inspiration from their past performances.

Most of his other selves skated the same programs he did, but there were one or two universes where he skated different programs, and Viktor was attempting to memorize their back catalogs. His current programs, although they would almost certainly net him more gold medals, felt stiff and uninspired, and Viktor spent hours whenever he could snatch them trying to find what was missing.

Dinner was a bland chicken and vegetables, and instead of showering he collapsed onto his couch. “Come to me, Makka,” he said, extending his arms, and the dog jumped up next to him and sprawled across his lap. Something as bland as his dinner on the television, Viktor let his eyes close.

When he blinked them open again, there was a warm weight on his shoulder. Viktor looked to see a somewhat familiar face, one he recognized from another universe’s vet office years ago, and a faint dream years before that. Ah, he thought. It’s this dream again. Giving in to temptation, Viktor pressed a kiss to the man’s forehead.

The man scrunched up his face adorably and opened his eyes. “We fell asleep on the couch again?” he asked, voice rough with sleep. “We’ve got to stop doing that.”

“But it’s so comfortable,” Viktor said. “We should stay here forever.”

“Mmmm, I like that,” the man said. “Give up skating, give up everything and just stay on this couch together.”

“Doesn’t it sound delicious?”

Instead of answering, the man tilted his head up and caught Viktor’s mouth with his own. The kiss felt intimately familiar, something Viktor must have experienced thousands of times, but it sent a thrill down Viktor’s spine nonetheless. He lifted a hand to bury it in that thick black hair, but just as he made contact, the man disappeared, and Viktor was back on his own couch, groggy and deeply lonely.

Makka was still in his lap, and he gathered the dog up into a hug. “One day,” he said into Makkachin’s fur, “I’d like to have that dream for more than just a few minutes at a time.”

-----

November/December 2015

“I can’t do it, Phichit, I can’t,” Yuuri said, almost pleading, clinging to Phichit’s arms like a lifeline. “I can’t, I can’t do it -”

“Yuuri,” Phichit interrupted, detaching Yuuri’s hands and wrapping him in a hug. “Yes, you can. You qualified for the Final fair and square, I saw you do it. You came first in Skate America and second in France. You can totally do this, I promise. I promise you, you can do this.”

Slowly, Yuuri fought his breathing until it was mostly back under his control. He wiped at his eyes almost angrily. “I’m so sorry, Phichit, I don’t know why I’m like this -”

Phichit shushed him again. “You’re like this because you’re you, and I wouldn’t trade you for anyone or anything else, Yuuri. Your brain’s a bit of a nightmare sometimes, but it’s lying to you. You made the Final because you are a fantastic skater, and you’re going to go and do great and bring me home a medal for Instagram.”

Despite himself, Yuuri laughed. “Okay, Phichit. Whatever you say.”

Yuuri’s nerves had been a near constant presence from the moment he found out he’d qualified for the Final. He threw himself into practice with a fervor that seemed to intimidate even Celestino, hoping to outrun them, but he broke down in Phichit’s arms twice more before the final. When this was over, Yuuri was going to have to buy him twenty hamsters to make up for everything.

The morning of his flight to Sochi dawned overcast and cold; Yuuri tried hard not to take it as a sign. Phichit hugged him extra hard before he left. “I’ll be watching the whole time, and you can call me anytime, no matter what,” he said, squeezing Yuuri tight.

“Thank you, Phichit,” Yuuri murmured. He let himself melt into the embrace for a minute, and then made himself pull away. “I’ll see you soon.”

“And?” Phichit gave him a Look.

Yuuri rolled his eyes. “And I’ll bring you a medal for Instagram.”

“That’s my boy.”

Twenty-four cramped hours later, Yuuri and Celestino deplaned in Sochi, Russia. They were sharing a room in the competition’s official hotel, and Yuuri collapsed into one of the small twin beds and was asleep immediately.

He woke three hours later, so crusted over from travel that he almost couldn’t stand up. “Bet you wish you’d showered before you lay down, Yuuri,” Celestino boomed, clapping a hand on his shoulder. “Come on, go clean up. Some of the other skaters are going out to dinner in an hour, and we’re going with them. It’ll be good for you.”

Dinner was surprisingly easy to get through, once they were all in the restaurant. Chris Giacometti, Cao Bin, and Mickey Crispino were all there (JJ was having dinner with his girlfriend, he’d loudly announced when they’d run into him in the hotel lobby, and Seung-gil had turned and left without a word when Chris asked him to join them), as well as two of the ladies skaters, Mickey’s twin Sara and a fire-haired Russian named Mila. Conversation was lively enough that Yuuri could keep quiet without it being noticed, although Chris threw him a few glances throughout the evening that were surprisingly unsuggestive, for being from Chris. As they filed out of the restaurant, Chris fell back to walk beside Yuuri.

“I was glad to see you’d made it to the Final,” Chris said, after a few minutes’ silent walk. “It’s about time.” Yuuri scoffed, unable to stop himself. “I mean it,” Chris said. “You’ve always been one of the best skaters as far as performance goes, and it’s about time someone made it on something other than jumps.”

“Says the jump king of men’s singles,” Yuuri said, and clapped a hand over his mouth. “Sorry.”

Chris laughed. “I knew you had a personality in there somewhere, Yuuri. Seriously, though, I’m glad you’re here with us.”

“I’m glad to be here,” Yuuri said. It was even true, for all dinner had felt horribly awkward.

“If you don’t mind my asking, what changed?” Chris asked. “You’ve always been good, but from what I saw in France, your skating’s gone to a new level this year.”

Yuuri shrugged, thinking of Viktor. “I don’t know. I guess... I guess I finally let my inspiration come through.”

“Good for you,” Chris said. “Would you like to spend tonight with me?”

Yuuri blinked. He searched Chris’s face, but there was nothing there but a pleasantly neutral, inquisitive expression. No hint of mockery. “Um, I think I’d just like to sleep, actually. Sorry.”

“That’s perfectly all right, Yuuri.” Chris smiled at him. “Just thought I’d ask.”

-----

December 9, 2015

Viktor kicked off his shoes in the hotel room, wrinkling his nose at the smallness of the room. At least it was private, or as private as it could be with Yakov next door. Mila was one floor up in her own room too, but little Yuri had to bunk in with Yakov. Viktor didn’t know which one he felt sorrier for.

His phone lit up with a text from Chris, asking about Viktor’s dinner plans. Room service and an early night, Viktor replied. Tomorrow, though. The flight from St. Petersburg to Sochi wasn’t overly long, but the flight had been full and Viktor’s shoulders were still tense. Tomorrow was just a practice day; he’d still have the energy for social interaction by dinnertime.

Viktor slept dreamlessly, which was a shame; he’d been hoping, as he hoped every night, to return to the dream of the mysterious man in his apartment, but it hadn’t happened. Practice the next day went well; he nailed every jump he tried, and Yakov gave him an approving nod as he skated off the ice at the end of it. He met Chris in a tiny restaurant near the hotel. The food was passable, the conversation better, and they slowly meandered back to Viktor’s room.

“Now that we’re in private, with no chance of being overheard,” Chris said, once the door was shut behind them. “How are you, really? You look... tense, I suppose is the word. Like something’s on your mind.”

Viktor sighed. “Can’t you ever pretend you don’t know me so well?” Chris just looked at him. “I’m just tired, Chris. I’m so tired, and it never goes away.”

“Physically tired, or spiritually?”

Viktor shrugged. “Both. Yakov’s been training me into the ground lately. I keep dreaming,” he added, after a moment. “Dreaming that I live with someone, that I’m with someone. How pathetic is that?” He gave a humorless laugh. “Viktor Nikiforov, living legend, dreaming that someone loves him.”

“It’s not pathetic,” Chris said. “You’re lonely, cher, there’s nothing more natural than to be lonely when you’re on top of the world.”

There was nothing to do at that but look away and pretend, as Chris did, that Chris couldn’t see the tears forming in Viktor’s eyes.

------

December 14, 2015

Yuuri wept, great heaving sobs that shook his whole body. Celestino was texting him, getting more frantic by the word, but Yuuri just cried instead of answering. Vicchan...

Part of him was furious with his mother and father for telling him, instead of waiting just a few more hours until after the competition was over. But the rest of him was grateful; better to have it out and over with, rather than finding out that they’d kept it from him. He was weak, he knew he was weak, but to be treated as weak by his family was more than he thought he could bear.

Outside his stall, the door opened. “Yuuri?” Celestino’s voice said. “Yuuri, are you in here?”

Yuuri took a few gulping breaths, willing his tears to stop, and opened the stall door. “Oh, Yuuri,” Celestino said, seeing his wet, red face. “You know you’re supposed to come to me when you feel like this during a competition.”

Yuuri shook his head. “It’s not nerves,” he said, which was true. In his grief, there was no room for anxiety. “I just found out—Vicchan died.” Saying it brought a fresh wave and he ducked his head, wiping his eyes on the sleeve of his jacket.

“Oh no.” Celestino moved forward and Yuuri let his coach hug him, closing his eyes and imagining Phichit or Minako. “Yuuri, I’m so sorry.”

Suddenly the room was too small; now that it was acknowledged, his pain seemed unbearably embarrassing. To be crying over a dog at the highest competition he’d ever been to was one thing, but to be caught at it by his coach... “Sorry I haven’t answered your texts. Am I up soon?”

“Yuuri...” Celestino looked at him. Yuuri did his best to appear calm. Celestino sighed. “Yes, you’re up soon. But you don’t have to skate, you know, if it’s all too much.”

No. “No,” Yuuri said. “I can skate.” Celestino looked unconvinced. “I can skate, Coach,” Yuuri said. He had to skate; he’d come this far. “Just let me wash my face and I’ll be right out.”

“Alright, Yuuri.” Celestino left the bathroom. Yuuri moved to the sink and splashed cold water over his face. He regarded himself in the mirror. There was nothing to be done about the puffiness of his eyes, but he patted his skin dry with paper towels and methodically removed all traces of his tears.

He had to skate, and he had to skate well. Phichit was back in Detroit, waiting for Yuuri to bring him a medal. He’d dragged Celestino all the way to Russia. Christophe Giacometti had propositioned him and called him a good skater just a few days ago. He had to skate.

“Do it for Vicchan,” Yuuri whispered, and headed out of the bathroom.

-----

December 14, 2015

“Yuri,” Viktor said, following the newly-minted Juniors Grand Prix champion out towards the lobby. “Your step sequence could really use -”

“Ugh, I won, so who cares,” Yuri groaned, tipping his head back. “Save it for someone who needs it, old man.”

“Show some respect, Yurotchka,” Yakov said. “You’ll be competing against him next season, after all. Get his advice while he’s still willing to give it.”

“As if I would need his advice,” Yuri grumbled.

Viktor opened his mouth to answer, but felt the familiar tingle across his skin and shut it again as he slipped through into another universe. Yuri’s hair was longer, and tied up into a style Viktor didn’t recognize, which meant this was likely a new universe. Yakov was, somehow, balder. And out of the corner of his eye, Viktor caught a flash of thick, dark hair that struck him to his core, attached to a longed-for form with a suitcase in another part of the lobby.

Before he could call out to the mysterious man from his dreams, Viktor was back in his own universe. “No!” he cried out, unable to stop himself.

“Jesus, no need to melt down just because I don’t want your advice,” Yuri said. “Get a grip.”

“Vitya, are you okay?” Yakov asked. “You look as though you’d seen a ghost.”

Viktor gave himself a mental shake. “I’m okay,” he said. The other man was a skater, and he was here, in some other universe. Viktor could find him again. “Let’s get out of here.”

-----

December 15, 2016

Yuuri couldn’t stop touching his medal. Only bronze, not gold, but it was still the most beautiful thing Yuuri had ever seen. Well, besides Viktor. The most beautiful inanimate object he’d ever seen.

Celestino agreed to carry it during the exhibition; Phichit, over FaceTime, had expressly forbidden Yuuri from going anywhere without it until he could photograph it in person, but Yuuri couldn’t very well skate with it on.

The exhibition was due to start in ten minutes. The ladies and pairs bronze medalists would perform, and then it was Yuuri’s turn. He was in the warm-up area, idly scrolling through Instagram, when he felt the dreaded tingle on his skin. He looked down. Seung-gil’s most recent post, a selfie with a dog he’d found in the streets of Sochi, was now a selfie of Seung-gil with his own dog back in Seoul.

“Oh no,” Yuuri said. He shut his eyes and thought Home, home, take me home. He opened his eyes. Seung-gil and his dog looked back at him from his phone. “Crap!” He tried again. Still nothing. “Crap, crap, crap.”

“Yuuri, where are you? Oh, there you are,” Celestino said, coming into the warm-up area. “The exhibition is starting.” His long, luxurious mane was gone, replaced by a buzz cut. Crap. “Want to come and watch before you go on?”

“Crap,” Yuuri said. Well, at least in this universe he was still skating in the gala. He just had to hope it was to his same music, or his exhibition skate would look really weird.

He kept trying to send himself home, and it kept not working, until the third-place pairs team left the ice and it was his time to go. “Go on, Yuuri,” Celestino said. “You’ve earned this.”

Yuuri skated out to center ice.

-----

December 15, 2015

Take me to him, Viktor thought, shutting his eyes. Take me to my dream man. He felt his skin prickle and smiled.

He was still rinkside, but the Yakov next to him wasn’t his Yakov. He had fewer wrinkles, and more hair. So this wasn’t the same universe Viktor had seen his mystery man in yesterday. Interesting.

“I’m going to go watch the show,” Viktor said, cutting Yakov off mid-word. “I don’t need to warm up anymore.”

“Some respect, Vitya,” Yakov sighed.

“I’m showing respect to my fellow competitors,” Viktor said, and left to make his way rinkside.

“And now taking the ice, bronze medalist Katsuki Yuuri,” said the announcer, and Viktor’s breath caught in his throat.

His mysterious man was on the ice, looking stunning in a deep purple costume that clung to his arms and legs. Katsuki Yuuri. Finally, Viktor had a name.

The music started, and Yuuri began to skate, and what breath Viktor had left departed in a whoosh. He moved beautifully, limbs graceful and face utterly serene. How had he only come in third? With a presence like that, he should have taken gold.

Viktor got his answer when Yuuri touched a hand down during a simple triple Salchow, but it came with more questions, because Viktor recognized the steps preceding the jump’s entrance. He kept watching, still entranced but also calculating, because as he watched, he recognized more and more of the other man’s moves, from the footage he had watched of himself in other universes.

Katsuki Yuuri was a fan of him. Of all of him.

Viktor clapped harder than anyone when Yuuri took his bows, and several people around him gave him strange looks, but when he turned to go after Yuuri, Yakov’s hand appeared around his elbow. “Where are you going, Vitya?” Yakov asked.

“I just want to talk to Yuuri,” Viktor said. “It’ll just take a second.”

“You know Katsuki doesn’t like to be approached after a performance,” Yakov said. “Everyone knows that. Let him be. You can talk to him at the banquet.”

Viktor frowned, but stayed where Yakov kept him. He could stay until the banquet. He had a feeling that, for Yuuri, he’d be willing to stay in this universe for a long time.

-----

December 15, 2015

Yuuri set the phone on the table, propped up against the room service binder, then took a few steps back and did a slow spin in place. “How do I look?”

“Like a million bucks!” Phichit crowed through the phone. “Except for that tie, I told you not to bring it.”

“I like this tie,” Yuuri said. He picked up the phone and brought it closer to his face. “I wish you were here, I hate parties.”

“Oh, believe me, I wish I were there too,” Phichit said. “Your exhibition skate was great, by the way!”

“Thanks.” Yuuri adjusted the offensive tie and nodded. “Okay. I think I’m ready.”

“Have a good time!” Phichit said. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Yuuri hung up. Even if this still wasn’t his universe, it was almost reassuring that Phichit still hated his tie. It gave a nice sense of continuity.

This universe had the added benefit of giving him his own room. Yuuri locked the door behind him and knocked on Celestino’s. “Coach Celestino? I’m ready.”

“Looking sharp, Yuuri!” Celestino said, when he came out of his own room. “Let’s go get you some sponsors.”

-----

December 15, 2015

The banquet had never seemed so dull before.

Viktor had gotten there unfashionably early, hoping to catch Yuuri as soon as he walked in, but by the time he saw Yuuri enter, Yakov had dragged him into a conversation with his biggest sponsor, and it was worth more than Viktor’s life to back out of it, even if this wasn’t his universe. Yakov kept him busy for over an hour and a half, dragging him from suited man to suited woman, and Viktor was near to shaking him by the time the last one smiled and moved away.

“Please, no more,” Viktor begged, snagging a glass of champagne from a passing waiter. “I’m dying, Yakov, my soul is shriveling.”

“Don’t be so dramatic,” Yakov said. “I thought you’d want to get them all out of the way so you can enjoy the rest of your evening.”

Viktor gasped. “Yakov, you’re a genius.” He drained the champagne and draped himself over his coach in a hug. “You’re the only coach for me.”

“Get off me, you ridiculous child,” Yakov grumbled. “Go talk to Katsuki. Don’t think I haven’t noticed you keep looking over at him like a schoolboy with a crush.”

“That’s all I am, Yakov.” Viktor gave him one last squeeze and let go. Yakov left, and Viktor tugged his suit jacket back into place, suddenly self-conscious. He scanned the room, looking for Yuuri, and saw him in a corner with six or seven empty champagne flutes.

He saw Viktor looking, and started walking towards him with a frankly intimidating sense of purpose.

“Nice of you to exist,” Yuuri said once he arrived, a faint slur of drunkenness in his voice. Viktor gaped. Yuuri held out a hand. “Want to dance?”

What else was there to do but say yes?

“No offense, but I always lead,” Yuuri said, pulling Viktor onto the dance floor by the hand.

“I’d follow you anywhere,” Viktor proclaimed. Yuuri rolled his eyes.

The dance floor filled up around them, but Yuuri made no moves towards anyone else, and Viktor suspected he himself would have attacked anyone who tried to come between them. Yuuri was a wonderful dancer, and it was all Viktor could do to keep up with him sometimes. Yuuri kept them moving the rest of the banquet, effortlessly leading Viktor from one dance style to another, his face pinking delightfully with the effort as the hours rolled on.

Finally, though, the banquet officially ended. Viktor grabbed hold of Yuuri’s hand. “Come with me,” he said. He snagged a bottle of champagne from the table, prompting Yuuri to take hold of a couple of flutes, and the two of them slipped from the room.

Yuuri didn’t remove his hand from Viktor’s until the door was shut behind them in Viktor’s room, and then only to pop open the champagne. He had sobered up some during the dancing, and Viktor could see a faint flush on his cheeks—embarrassment? Viktor couldn’t have that.

“Yuuri,” Viktor said, taking a flute from the man. “You said, when you came over to ask me to dance, you said that it was nice of me to exist. It’s been happening to you too, hasn’t it?”

-----

December 16, 2015

“Wh- What?” Yuuri stammered. “What do you mean, it’s been happening to me?”

“The different universes,” Viktor said, like it was a normal thing to say. “I recognized so much of your exhibition program, it’s from things I’ve done in all sorts of universes. You’ve been jumping too, haven’t you?”

Yuuri very carefully set his champagne down on the table and sank into the chair. “Oh my god, it’s been happening to you too.” He pushed a hand into his hair and looked up at Viktor. “You mean—it’s all real?”

“Oh, Yuuri.” Viktor dropped to his knees in front of him. “You didn’t know?”

“I knew, I just... It didn’t feel real,” Yuuri breathed. “Sometimes it just felt like I was crazy.”

“Poor Yuuri,” Viktor whispered. He reached up a finger and traced it along Yuuri’s eyebrows, down his nose, across his lower lip. “You’re not crazy. It’s been happening to me too. I think we just kept missing each other.”

“I was twelve the first time it happened,” Yuuri said. “I went over to my friend’s house to watch the World Championships and I saw you skate, and you were beautiful, but then when I went home I couldn’t find you anywhere.” Now that he’d started, he found he couldn’t stop. “I kept checking, at first every day, then every week, and you only came back a few times but you were like nothing else I’d ever seen before. I would wake up and think, I hope Viktor Nikiforov is back, because one day I want to skate on the same ice as him, I want to meet him and tell him what he’s meant to me. Mostly, I just wanted not to be crazy, I wanted not to have made you up, because you’re so much more than anything I could come up with.” A thought occurred to him. “Are you mad I stole your programs?”

Viktor shook his head. “I’ve been doing the same thing.” Yuuri frowned, and Viktor went on, “I’ve been out of inspiration for, well, for some time now. I would jump to different universes and study what the version of me there was skating for ideas. I can hardly fault you for doing the same thing.” He grinned, suddenly wicked. “I knew you were a fan of mine, just from watching you skate. I wanted to come and find you, but my coach said you don’t like to be approached after performing.”

“I don’t,” Yuuri said. “I get anxious, and other skaters make me nervous.”

“Do I make you nervous?” Viktor asked, voice suddenly low. His fingertips felt very hot where they rested against Yuuri’s collarbone.

Yuuri swallowed. Viktor’s eyes tracked the movement of his throat. “Nervous isn’t quite the word for what you make me,” he whispered.

Viktor smiled, brilliant as the sun. “Oh, Yuuri,” he said. “I’ve been waiting so long for the chance to fall in love with you, and I’ve gone and blown it all in one day.”

Yuuri kissed him. His skin prickled, sharper than it ever had before, and he clung tight to Viktor for fear of losing him in the shuffle, kissed him harder, moaned a little. Viktor’s hand slid from his throat into his hair, and his other arm came to wrap around Yuuri’s shoulders. Yuuri pressed closer and they overbalanced, Viktor tumbling backward and Yuuri landing on top of him. “Are you alright?” Yuuri asked. Viktor nodded, and Yuuri kissed him again, groaning at the feel of Viktor’s whole body pressed against his own.

They kissed desperately, and then they kissed more calmly, and then their kisses became long, languid, drowning things, and then they stopped kissing and just breathed near each other. “Did you feel that?” Viktor whispered, after several long silent minutes.

Yuuri nodded. “It felt like we changed universes, but... more, somehow.”

“I wonder...” Viktor kissed Yuuri again and sat up, fumbling for his phone. He showed Yuuri a picture on his phone. “That’s my Yakov, from my universe. We weren’t in my universe just now, we were somewhere else.”

Yuuri googled for recent pictures of Celestino and came up with one from the competition a few days prior. His long hair had been restored. “That’s my Coach Celestino, from my universe,” Yuuri said, showing Viktor.

“Wow, I’ve never seen him with his hair that long before,” Viktor remarked. “But how can we be in both universes at once?”

An idea occurred to Yuuri. “Wait, one second.” He called Mari.

“Yuuri?” she grumbled when she answered. Her eyes were bleary, and she was clearly still in bed. “What’s up?”

“Sorry for waking you,” he said. “I just wanted to say hello.”

“Hello, Bronze Medallist,” she said, giving him a sleepy grin.

“Mari, is... is Vicchan...” He couldn’t make himself say it.

“Vicchan is right here,” she said, angling her camera down so he could see the small dog tucked up against her side. “He says congratulations, and to come home and visit soon so he can see your medal.”

“I will,” Yuuri choked, his throat dry. “I will, tell him I’ll be home soon.”

“Who’s that with you?” Mari said. “That’s not that skater you’re obsessed with, is it?”

“You know Viktor?”

She laughed. “Of course I know Viktor, Yuuri, he’s all you talked about from the ages of twelve to fifteen. You have his posters still up in your bedroom.”

“Right,” Yuuri said. “Right, of course. Sorry to have woken you, Mari. Give my love to Mom and Dad.” He hung up.

“What was that?” Viktor asked. “I don’t speak Japanese but I thought I heard my name.”

“My, my dog,” Yuuri said, tucking his face into Viktor’s neck. “He died, in my universe. He died, but he’s alive again now, and my sister knows who you are.”

Viktor kissed Yuuri’s forehead. “That’s wonderful about your dog. While you were talking to your sister, I tried to jump back to my universe, but I couldn’t make myself go. I could go to other universes, but not mine. I think they may have fused, or something.”

“When we kissed?” Yuuri asked. Viktor nodded. “Then... then do you think it was about us all along? Do you think other people can jump too, or was it just us?”

“I think we were meant to find each other,” Viktor said. He brushed Yuuri’s bangs back from his forehead. “I think it was all for us.” He was quiet for a moment. “I’ve been having these dreams... Just once or twice, but you were there. I thought they were dreams, but they might have been another universe, one where we’d already found each other. I’ve never been able to jump there on purpose, though. Only in my sleep.”

Yuuri kissed him, slow and deep. Viktor broke away to scramble up onto the bed; he drew Yuuri up behind him and they kissed again, and again, and again.

-----

March 29, 2016

“I’ve never been nervous after a competition before,” Viktor said, gazing up at Yuuri on the podium.

“Have you ever been nervous before a competition?” Yuuri said lightly, smiling back down at him. “Viktor, I promise my family are going to love you.”

“But I only won silver. How can I impress them as a silver medalist?”

The crowd of photographers was starting to disperse. Yuuri reached down and took Viktor’s hand. “It matches your hair. That’s impressive.”

Viktor helped Yuuri down from the topmost step. “Hmm. You make a good point. And gold does look lovely with your costume.”

“See? It’s for the best.”

Hand in hand, they skated towards the side of the rink, where Celestino and Yakov were waiting. “Well done, Yuuri,” Celestino said, beaming and handing Yuuri his skate guards. “You should call Phichit; he’s starting to message me looking for you.”

“Vitya, I have some comments about your takeoff on that last Lutz,” Yakov said.

Viktor sighed dramatically and turned to Yuuri. “A kiss for strength, Yuuri?”

Yuuri rolled his eyes but leaned in to kiss Viktor. “I’ll meet you at your room in forty-five minutes?” Yuuri knew Viktor was likely to jump to another universe to avoid Yakov’s lecture, and giving him a specific time would help him know when to come back.

“I’ll count the minutes,” Viktor proclaimed.

Forty-seven minutes later, Yuuri knocked on Viktor’s door. “You’re late!” Viktor declared, swinging it open. “I demand a kiss for every second’s delay.”

Yuuri slipped past him and, once the door was closed, pulled him into a single long, lingering kiss. “Or that, that will work instead,” Viktor said, dazed, when they pulled apart.

Yuuri smirked. “Where did you wind up?”

“Judging by Mila’s hair, the one with the bakery, although it’s hard to tell without actually being home.” Viktor ran a hand through Yuuri’s still-damp hair. “Did you shower already?”

“Before I came up, yeah.” Yuuri unzipped his hoodie; beneath it, he was wearing a ratty t-shirt and soft sweatpants. “Who came second and third in that universe, out of curiosity?”

“Chris and G.G.”

Yuuri climbed onto the large bed and started pulling back the covers. “You know full well his name is J.J.”

“Do I?” Viktor asked. He pulled his shirt off, Yuuri’s sleepy gaze focusing for a moment, and picked up his pajamas from where they lay on the floor. Once changed, he joined Yuuri in bed. “How was Phichit?”

“Screaming his face off despite the fact that it was well past midnight in Detroit,” Yuuri said with a smile. “He says hi, by the way, and congratulations on the silver.”

Viktor curled up, resting his head on Yuuri’s chest. “I’ll never get used to silver. It’s only okay if you keep taking gold.”

Yuuri kissed the top of his head. “I’ll do my best.” He flailed out with one arm, hitting the light switch conveniently located next to the bed and plunging them into darkness. “Goodnight, Viktor.”

“Goodnight, my Yuuri.” Wrapped in Yuuri’s arms, Viktor fell asleep to the sound of Yuuri’s steady, strong heartbeat.