Actions

Work Header

hopeless, breathless, baby can't you see?

Work Text:

01. lifted in a haze

 

Happiness begins, for Viktor Nikiforov, on a rainy Monday morning in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The day starts just like any other. Viktor has been living more or less the same routine for over a decade: wake up, eat his carefully nutritionally planned breakfast, take Makkachin to the doggy daycare, go to the rink and skate until he can’t feel his feet, pick up Makka, come home, sleep.

Rinse. Repeat.

There’s a few seconds when Viktor wakes that morning, before he sits up and starts his day, that he just lays there and breathes. Imagines a time in the future when he doesn’t dread the entire day ahead of him. Imagines a time in the past when he used to enjoy this routine. Something inside his chest gives away that day, and he thinks that he doesn’t know how much longer he can do this.

It doesn’t really matter, though. He can’t just retire from being Viktor Nikiforov. Eventually, he hauls himself up and starts the day.

When he gets to the rink that morning the sun still isn’t fully up. The sky over St. Petersburg is grey with early dawn light, the air crisp. Viktor is always the first person in the rink, besides Yakov. It’s a leftover habit from when the only practice time Viktor could afford to book was pre-dawn, before the older and more successful skaters needed their ice time. Now, Viktor could theoretically pick any time he wanted and the staff would bend over backwards to give it to him, but he likes the early morning. Less distractions.

(Lonelier.)

Viktor makes his way into Yakov’s office, ready to begin lovingly annoying him, but he pauses just outside the door. There are voices coming from inside.

“... and once you fully settle in….” That’s Yakov’s distinct, low rumble, no doubt about it, but the other voice—

“Thank you so much for this opportunity, Mr. Feltsman,” says the other person, his voice is soft and his english is slightly accented.

Viktor doesn’t need to look. He knows who’s on the other side of this door.

He steps backwards, ready to make his escape to the locker rooms where he can fully process his emotions before bottling them back up again, but instead he knocks into someone.

“Ow! Watch where you’re going!” Yuri hisses.

“Wha— Yura, what are you doing here?” Viktor looks nervously between Yuri and Yakov’s still closed office door.

“What are you doing here? Why are you snooping outside of Yakov’s office?”

“I’m not snooping, I was just—“

“You wanted to see the new skater, too, huh?” Yuri smirks. “Well, get in line. Mila and I got here like an hour ago and we still haven’t seen him.”

“New skater? I didn’t hear about a new skater.” Viktor frowns.

Yuri rolls his eyes. “You probably weren’t paying attention. Yakov’s been on all our asses to be on our best behavior. I thought you just pretended to ignore his instructions, I didn’t know you actually just don’t listen.”

“Hey! I listen, I’ve just been… distracted.”

Yuri widens his eyes in mock surprise. “You? An airhead? No way!”

“Must you always antagonize me? I’m not an—“

Viktor’s cut off when the office door slams open, revealing a red-faced and irritated Yakov.

“Are you two children done bickering?”

Viktor sputters and Yuri screeches indignantly.

“I’m not a child—!

“We weren’t—“

“Enough! It’s too early for your attitudes, both of you.” Yakov closes his eye and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Do you see what I have to deal with? I trust that you won’t give me the same trouble.”

“Um, I’ll try not to Coach Feltsman!”

Behind Yakov, sitting in one Yakov’s uncomfortable office chairs, is Yuuri Katsuki.

Viktor’s breath catches in his throat. Yuri swears.

“Katsuki?! No fu—

“Yurochka! Language!”

Yuuri raises a hand and hesitantly waves, cheeks flushed a dusty pink color. “Hi, I’m Yuu—“

“We know who you are, idiot!” Yuri yells. Why is Yuri yelling? Well, Viktor kind of understands, he, himself, is internally screaming. “You’re the best male skater in the world, of course we know who you are!”

“Best?!” Yuuri squeaks. “No, I, uh— Viktor here is, um. Great. The best. He— yeah.”

Yuuri snaps his mouth closed. Yuri squawks, outraged. Viktor continues to have his silent meltdown.

In the middle of this, Yakov sighs heavily.

“Well, this isn’t how I wanted to introduce him to everyone, but this is Yuuri Katsuki, as you know. I am taking him under my wing. He’ll be your new rinkmate.”

 

 

 

Here’s the thing about Viktor’s relationship with Yuuri Katsuki, or lack thereof:

Viktor is a fan. Yuuri is not. Simple.

But not really.

Embarrassingly, Viktor actually hadn’t really paid attention to Yuuri until last year. For the past couple of years, Viktor has had a general disinterest in the skating world. People come and go, but no one has been in it as long as Viktor has. Every season there’s a new skater that the media pick up as a potential rival to Viktor and every season that skater fails to even come close to Viktor’s scores.

But Yuuri? Yuuri slam dunked Viktor’s short program world record into the trash and then lit it on fire.

The weekend of last year’s Rostelecom cup, Yuuri Katsuki declared his love for fried pork in a press conference, got caught by paparazzi rescuing a dog from a river, revealed a short program costume that showed off his multitude of soulmate marks, and broke Viktor’s world record. All while being, objectively, the cutest human being on the planet.

The entire skating world–– including Viktor–– fell in love instantly.

For the first time in years, Viktor was looking forward to skating against someone.

Things fell apart after that. Yuuri failed to qualify in the final because of a spectacular fall in his freeskate, taking him out for the rest of the season. Viktor spent weeks waiting for any form of Yuuri Katsuki news. He appeared in public exactly once, to announce that he was parting ways with his longtime coach, Celestino Cialdini.

And then he completely dropped off the map.

Until now, apparently, because now he’s sitting in Yakov’s office, looking adorable and shy and just generally loveable. He is existing in close proximity to Viktor, and Viktor doesn’t know how to handle this.

When it comes down to it, Yuuri is the perfect person to usurp Viktor. He’s bright and down to earth and incredibly talented. And abundantly loved. There are rumors that Yuuri Katsuki has seven soulmate marks. Viktor’s never seen anyone with more than two. Yuuri is popular and artistic and his scores are approaching Viktor’s at an alarming speed.

(Privately, Viktor thinks he wouldn’t mind being overthrown by Yuuri Katsuki, if anyone loved him even a fraction of the amount Yuuri is loved.)

 

 

 

An hour and three other breakdowns later, Viktor is in the rink’s breakroom nursing a cup of tea and listening to Yuri rant about how amazing and terrible and exciting and awful having Yuuri as a rinkmate is going to be. He is fooling no one. Everyone has seen the Yuuri Katsuki Fan Club exclusive poster that he keeps in his locker.

“The worst! This is the worst! How am I supposed to be his rival when he’s training under the same coach as me?!”

“Yura,” Mila sighs. “You can’t be his rival. You’re not even skating in the same division.”

Yet!” Yuri snaps. “Once I get into the senior division, then it’s all over for you!”

Viktor yawns. “If I’m not dead by then, sure.”

You, why aren’t you freaking out?” Yuri rounds on him. “Weren’t you the one dramatically draping yourself over the ice and loudly whining about Katsuki not too long ago?!”

Viktor sips his tea. “I’ve grown since then.”

“That was last week!”

Viktor coughs and shifts in his seat. “Whatever, just— be nice to him, okay, Yura? He’s in a new country with a new coach and he’s probably adjusting. The least we can do as his new rinkmates is be nice to him.”

“Fuck you,” Yuri snaps, “I never said I wouldn’t be nice to him! I’m gonna be the nicest!”

Viktor sighs again. He really doesn’t know what he’s going to do.

He wants to be friends with Yuuri, but he has a feeling Yuuri doesn’t like him very much. Why else would he ignore Viktor’s text message and try so hard to obliterate his records. Viktor looks down at his tea and suddenly, despite being surrounded by his rinkmates, feels incredibly lonely.

Over the next few weeks, Viktor only gets bits and pieces of Yuuri. It seems like Yuuri must have a completely different schedule than Viktor, because he’s only seen him at the rink a handful of times and only in passing. He’s not even a part of the weekly group conditioning tourture session that Yakov has all his skaters do as a form of “bonding.” When Viktor asked about this Yakov just grunted, said Yuuri was a special case, and made Viktor do an extra set of pushups for his trouble.

Surprisingly, Georgi seems to be closest to Yuuri. Viktor sees through Georgi’s snapchat story that they sometimes even get lunch together.

(“He and his old coach just agreed that he should try training under Yakov,” Georgi explains, when Viktor, Mila, and Yuri press him for info about why Yuuri had moved all the way to Russia. “Plus, Yakov has been asking Coach Cialdini to work with him for a while.”

“Yakov? Why?”

Georgi just shrugged. “Yuuri doesn’t know why, he just said that Yakov and him have been emailing about a summer training thing for a while. I guess they decided to just make it a permanent thing.”)

Viktor just wants to be his friend so bad. He takes to staying at the rink later than he normally does, hanging around the gym and Yakov’s office for no reason other than to hopefully run into Yuuri. Yakov tells him he needs to be less weird. He says that Viktor’s lurking is bad for his own creative process.

 

 

2. you know, i know

 

When it finally happens, it’s an accident.

Viktor is in the locker room after his skating session. He just finished changing into more comfortable clothes. He pushed himself too hard today, and his knees are really feeling it.

The door opens and closes.

“Hey!” Viktor calls out, not turning around as footsteps approach. He figures it’s probably Yuri or Georgi, since they usually skate after him. “The second shower to the left is doing the hot water thing again.”

“Oh. That’s, uh, good to know.”

Viktor whips around. Standing in front of him, clutching the strap of his gym back and looking slightly flushed is Yuuri.

“Oh! I— Yuuri! Hi, I didn’t know it was you.”

Yuuri blinks. His eyes behind his thick blue glasses are a warm shade of brown. Like, oak or mahogany or… something. Viktor can’t really hold onto his thoughts right now.

“Yeah, hi. It’s me. Um, obviously, you just said that ... sorry.”

Viktor gulps. “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced yet! I’m Viktor!”

At this, Yuuri smiles a little. Viktor’s heart pounds. “Hi, Viktor. I think Yakov did introduce us, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to do it again right? I’m Yuuri.”

Right. Of course Yuuri knows who he is. Of course they know who the other person is. This is a disaster.

“Ah, yes, well. It’s nice to officially meet you, Yuuri.”

“It’s, um, nice to meet you, too.” Yuuri has moved closer, setting his gym back on the bench in the middle of the room. He sticks out his hand for Viktor to shake.

Viktor’s brain short circuits. He’s not wearing his gloves and his arms are bare. Years of societal conditioning not to touch strangers kicks in. He instinctively cringes back, moving himself out of touching distance from Yuuri.

Yuuri looks confused and embarrassed. He lowers his hand. “Oh, um. Sorry.”

“No, I— it’s not your fault.” Viktor steps back. He quickly grabs his gloves and tugs them on, the cool leather encasing his palms. He reaches his hand out again for a handshake. “Ah, it’s just in Russia it’s customary to not shake hands.”

“Because of soulmarks?” Yuuri asks hesitantly. He nervously shakes Viktor’s gloved hand, letting go quickly. Viktor feels bad about scaring him.

“Yeah. We generally don’t touch people the first time we meet. Just in case.”

Now Yuuri definitely looks hurt. “Oh, okay. It’s just, in America and Japan it’s kind of encouraged? Then you know right away if the person you’re meeting is going to have an impact in your life.”

Viktor doesn’t need a soulmate mark from Yuuri to know he’s going to impact his life.

(But, God, does he want one.)

What Yuuri is saying is mostly true, universally. Most places, the soulmate phenomenon is celebrated. The magic of touching your destined soulmate or mates for the first time and having a burst of color bloom under their skin has been a point of human fascination for centuries. Even in Russia, though they tend to be more conservative about it, most people jump at the chance to brush hands during first meetings.

Viktor is an exception. Viktor and soulmate marks are… a complicated subject.

“Sorry,” Viktor apologizes again. “It wasn’t personal, just habit.”

Yuuri nods, but he still looks slightly uncomfortable. He turns away from Viktor and starts to unlock his locker quietly.

Viktor is losing his chance.

“Um!” Viktor squawks. He coughs, clears his throat, and tires again. “If you want I could maybe explain some other Russian customs to you. Being in a new country is probably unsettling.”

Yuuri pops open his locker and peers hesitantly at Viktor. “Yeah, I’m still kind of adjusting.”

“I could help! Have you explored St. Petersburg yet?” Viktor rocks back on his heels, trying for casual. “There are a couple sightseeing places around here. We could go, get to know each other ….”

Yuuri locks eyes with Viktor. For a second, Viktor is sure he’s going to say no.

But something in Viktor’s face must change his mind, because his expression shifts and he utters out a soft, “sure, okay,” instead.

Viktor beams.

“Great! Are you done for today?”

Yuuri nods.

“Okay! I’ll wait for you outside!”

Viktor grabs his stuff and quickly absconds. As soon as he’s out of Yuuri’s sight his smile drops. Stupid. And painfully awkward. Viktor has never been the best at socializing, but those past 10 minutes really took the cake. It was like he’d forgotten how to be a person just because Yuuri was looking at him and talking to him.

But he agreed to hang out, so. That has to count for something.

Viktor quickly pulls himself together as he waits for Yuuri. Viktor Nikiforov is not an awkward bumbling idiot. He is smooth and suave and incredibly friendly, ask anyone. Viktor Nikiforov is a catch. The skating world’s sweetheart.

(But that’s just a persona he presents, isn’t it?”)

“Ready to go?”

Yuuri emerges from the locker room with his hair slightly damp, wrapped in a fluffy blue sweater and dark, tight jeans. Viktor promptly dies.

“Ready!” His smile is slightly too bright, but whatever. Viktor is in survival mode now, no extra points for style.

Despite the initial awkwardness, Yuuri and Viktor actually get along very well. They have a lot of common, which isn’t surprising. The months Viktor spent scouring the internet for any and every available Yuuri fact means that he actually already knows a lot about him, but it’s different hearing Yuuri talk about himself. And Yuuri seems to know a fair amount about Viktor as well.

“I’m actually a bit of a fan,” Yuuri confesses sheepishly when they pause their mini St. Petersburg tour at a cafe. He has his cup of tea cradled gently in his hands, a bright spot of one of his soulmarks just visible above the curve of his palm.

Viktor snaps his gaze away from the mark. “A fan?”

Yuuri blushes. It’s adorable. “Of course, who isn’t?”

“But—“ Viktor stops.

Some of it must show on his face though, because Yuuri cocks his head to the side, curious. “But…?”

“But, um. I was under the impression that you didn’t like me very much.”

“What? Why?” Yuuri looks personally offended. “I like you so much!”

Viktor blushes. “Uh, it’s stupid really. It’s just that ….”

How does Viktor admit that he found a years old video of Yuuri on Japanese television talking about his programs in which he denied a reporter’s implication that he was emulating Viktor’s style?

Viktor clears his throat. “I just thought I heard something in passing, once. Nevermind, sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry,” Yuuri says, frantically waving his arms. “I don’t know what you heard, but whatever it was it’s wrong! I’m such a big fan. The biggest fan, actually.”

Yuuri quickly shuts his mouth after that, still flushed a cute embarrassed pink. Viktor’s heart leaps in his chest.

“Ah, that’s good to hear.” Viktor relaxes back into his chair and sips his coffee. “It’s a shame, though. If I’d known we were mutual fans of each others’ work, we could have met a lot sooner.”

Yuuri giggles a little, still obviously a little embarrassed. Viktor is hopelessly charmed.

“Ah, it doesn’t really matter though, right Viktor? We’re rinkmates now, so it all worked out.”

Viktor smiles, feeling softer than he’s ever felt.

“Yeah. Rinkmates and… friends?”

“Friends.”

Yuuri smiles back. He lifts his cup to his lips, sipping his tea. The mark on his hand catches Viktor’s eye again and he tracks the movement of Yuuri’s hands, watching as the sunlight from the nearby window dances along the mark, seeming to light it up from the inside.

It’s considered rude to ask someone about their soulmate marks and even kind of frowned upon to casually talk about soulmates at all, but… Viktor can’t resist. He wants to know everything about Yuuri, wants Yuuri to know everything about him. And the brightness and intensity of the color of someone’s mark tends to indicate a strong relationship. Viktor has never seen a mark as bright as Yuuri’s in person.

Viktor clears his throat. “Um, can I ask about…?”

Yuuri follows Viktor’s gaze to his hand and hums in understanding. “Oh, my mark?”

Viktor nods.

“Sure,” Yuuri says, smiling. “I’m not sure what it’s like here, but in America at least soulmate marks are one of the most talked about things. It’s pretty common to ask about marks when you’re getting to know new people.”

“Oh, wow.” Viktor spends so much of his time dodging interview questions about soulmates, he can’t even imagine just casually talking about them.

“Can I ask who it is?”

“This is Phichit,” Yuuri says, turning his left hand back and forth. It’s a beautiful mark, dark orange and vibrant yellows, brighter than any mark Viktor has ever seen. It covers the entirety of Yuuri’s palm and extends out through the gaps between his fingers, like their first touch had been them interlacing their hands.

“We knew the second we met that we’d be soulmates,” Yuuri explains, smiling down fondly at his marks. It’s like someone had poured sunshine into Yuuri’s palm.

“How could you be sure?” Viktor asks. He can’t tear his eyes away from Yuuri’s hand.

Yuuri locks eyes with him, gaze turning gentle. Understanding.

“You just know.” He looks at Viktor like he’s trying to tell him something, and Viktor tries his hardest not want too much.

Viktor clears his throat, uncomfortable. “And this?”

He’s gesturing to a small tattoo on the palm of Yuuri’s hand, black ink settled neatly in the middle of Phichit’s wash of orange. It’s the linework of a tiny diamond in a bed of flower petals.

“Oh, I just–– I do that for all my marks. I pick a small symbol, something that I feel represents our relationship, and I tattoo it over our mark. It’s like… like I get to chose them. Make them mine twice.”

Damn. As if Viktor wasn’t intensely jealous before.

“Why a diamond?” Viktor ploughs on. It’s masochistic of him to ask so many detailed questions about one of the many loves of Yuuri’s life, but he wants to know. He wants to understand. How can one person contain so much love?

“He shines.” Yuuri says simply. Quietly, Viktor agrees. Phichit Chulanont is a beacon of optimism and hard work in the skating community.

“And the petals?”

“They’re rose petals. I like flower symbolism.” Yuuri smiles down at his tattoo fondly. “Yellow roses for friendship.”

Without really meaning to, Viktor thinks about giving Christophe his rose flower crown at his last junior Grand Prix Final. They were blue, but Viktor wishes they were yellow. Hearing the way Yuuri talks about Phichit makes Viktor miss Christophe more than anything. He looks down at his own gloved hands and imagines the skin underneath covered in a mark. He thinks that Christophe’s mark on him would probably be green.

(He wonders if Christophe misses him. If Christophe thinks they’d have a mark, if Viktor wasn’t so scared.)

 

 

 

It’s not that Viktor has no marks––

It’s just that he doesn’t like to talk about the only one he has.

 

 

 

After that day in the cafe, it’s like an unspoken ban has been lifted. Viktor and Yuuri get scheduled together more often, until it’s rare that Viktor isn’t sharing the ice with him. Viktor thinks that at first it was probably just a scheduling mistake, but after Yakov sees how they push each other, he makes it permanent. Viktor’s not complaining. Something about having Yuuri on the same ice as him lights a fire in his chest. He skates faster, jumps higher. Laughs louder.

(Viktor catches Yakov smiling at them out of the corner of his eye once, before his face shifts back into its usual carefully constructed grimace. He’s not fooling anyone, all of Yakov’s skaters at this point know that he’s a giant softie.)

Being with Yuuri is just so easy. It’s effortless in the way the quad flip has become for Viktor: muscle memory, instinct, a moment of weightlessness suspended above an endless mirror of glassy ice.

Once Yuuri gets over his initial shyness and really gets his legs under himself, Viktor’s pleasantly surprised by how much attitude he has. He’s sharp and witty at times and firmly encouraging at others. Viktor thinks he’d probably make a good teacher.

Today is like any other training day. Viktor, Yuuri, and Yuri have the rink to themselves. The GPF qualifiers are coming up soon and Yakov wants them to train together, show little Yuri how to gear up for a competition like this.

Viktor spots Yuuri break off from practice and skate over to the edge to take a break. He follows.

“So, Yuuri,” Viktor drawls, sidling up to where Yuuri is leaning against the boards, resting, “why did you decide to come train with dear old Yakov?”

Yuuri whips his head around, looking for Yakov nearby. He’d skin Viktor alive if he heard Viktor call him old. Viktor knows that Yakov stepped out a couple minutes ago to take a call, and so he’s safe. For now.

It’s a question that’s been on Viktor’s mind for a while. He eagerly awaits Yuuri’s answer, watching his throat work as he takes a swig from his water bottle before answering.

“Celestino recommended Coach Feltsman to me,” Yuuri says. “I finished my degree in America and even though Ciao Ciao and Phichit are my family, I needed a new training environment. A different coaching style.”

He calls Celestino Cialdini–– tied for scariest figure skating coach in the world with Yakov–– Ciao Ciao. Wow. Yuuri could probably become friends with a great white shark, he’s that loveable.

“Okay,” Viktor says, “but why Yakov in particular. I imagine after your world record, you’d have your pick of coaches. Why come all the way to Russia?”

“Well,” Yuuri smiles, wiping sweat off his brow, “I wanted to go out with a bang, and Coach Feltsman promised me a perfect last season.”

Viktor’s blood freezes in his veins. Last season.

“You’re retiring.” It’s not a question. Viktor can see it in the set of Yuuri’s shoulders, the way he throws himself at jumps with everything he has. He’s not worried about aggravating old injuries or getting new ones if it means perfecting his routines. For him, it’s all or nothing.

Winner takes it all.

Yuuri rolls his shoulders, skates scraping the ice beneath him. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I was actually going to quit last season, but––”

Something in Viktor’s face must worry him because he cuts himself off abruptly.

“Viktor? Are you okay?” He skates closer.

Viktor swallows around the lump in his throat. “You… you can’t retire. Not yet.”

Not when I’ve only just found you.

Yuuri pauses, brow furrowed. “Well, it’s not really your decision, it’s mine. And I’ve made it, so.”

“No, I mean–– of course.” Fuck. Shit. Viktor is panicking. Viktor is going to cry right here in the middle of the ice rink.

Because Yuuri Katsuki is retiring. The best thing to happen to Viktor’s world, to the skating world as a whole. They’ve barely had any time together and already Viktor is so much happier for it. Yuuri will skate one last perfect season, beat all of Viktor’s records, and then disappear again, never to be found. What will Viktor have after this, half hearted text messages? Birthday greetings? Not the thrill of matching Yuuri jump for jump, not anymore.

“I decided to retire a while ago, Viktor. That doesn’t mean––”

“What the absolute fuck do you mean retire, Katsuki?!”

Yuri comes to a stop in front of them, shredding ice with his skates and sending flakes everywhere. Viktor hardly registers the slush hitting his legs, he’s too busy trying to process that in a couple months he’ll lose Yuuri.

“Ah.” Yuuri frowns and brushes ice off his pants. “This is going to be my last––”

“Like fuck it will!” Yuri screeches. “You can’t fuckin’ retire yet, dumbass, I’m still skating juniors! I haven’t gotten to skate with you yet!”

Yuuri’s face softens. In the past few weeks he’s grown pretty close to Yuri. Viktor isn’t surprised that he sees past all of Yuri’s prickly, angsty bullshit and sees the sweet kid underneath it. A couple days ago he saw that Yuri had him saved as “Katsudon” in his phone–– probably an inside joke or something. It’s clear that Yuuri has such a soft spot for him.

“I skate with you everyday, Yura,” he says, voice gentle. Yuri bristles.

“Not like that! I mean in competition, idiot.” Yuri skates right up to Yuuri, tilting his head up to look at him. “You are not allowed to retire yet, I still have to beat you.”

Yuuri sighs heavily. He leans against the boards and knocks some snow off his blades. “I still have the rest of this season, don’t worry. Anyway, we should get back to practice. We’ll talk about this later.”

That’s Yuuri code for ‘stop asking me about this, my seemingly infinite patience is actually wearing very thin.’ Viktor drops it. Yuri doesn’t.

“No, we’ll talk about it now––”

“Yakov is coming back,” Yuuri cuts him off, eyes on the rink’s doors. “Get back to your figures or he’ll make you stay longer.”

“But––”

“How about,” Yuuri cuts him off, skating away backwards, “we all get dinner after this, then we can talk, yeah?”

He doesn’t actually wait for an answer. He skates off to the other corner of the rink and begins practicing his step sequence. Yuri fumes next to Viktor but doesn’t skate after him.

“Did you know he was going to retire?” Yuri asks him.

“No,” Viktor says hollowly.

“What?” Yuri frowns. “I thought you two were best friends or whatever.”

Viktor laughs bitterly.

“No,” he says, thinking about Yuuri’s brightly colored marks and his own blank skin. “I don’t think I’m that important to him.”

 

 

 

Viktor’s problems start and end with Yuuri in sleeveless shirts.

The main reasons for this being:

Yuuri is attractive and has attractive arms. Viktor didn’t know he could find someone’s elbows appealing, but here he is, admiring Yuuri’s. He’s subtly muscular in the way that most figure skaters are, and Viktor struggles to not drool all over the gym mats. He looks strong. Viktor wonders if Yuuri could pick him up, if Yuuri would agree if Viktor choreographed a pair skate for them.

The sleeveless top shows off all of Yuuri’s marks. It’s like a cascade of rainbow paint down his arms, some darker than others, but all visible. They are neon signs, loudly broadcasting the fact that Yuuri is a widely and deeply loved man. Viktor is jealous, both of Yuuri and of his soulmates.

There’s a lot of free real estate, right there. Viktor knows if he asked, if he removed his gloves, Yuuri would probably let him press his palms against his skin. Yuuri would let him, would watch with anticipation to see if color bloomed from their point of contact.

Viktor is too afraid to try.

Skate America’s date is approaching fast and Yakov has been pushing them even harder than he usually does. This means more gym time for both Yuuri and Viktor, which means Viktor gets to suffer for hours on end while Yuuri exists, attractively, mere feet away from him.

Today, they start their regular work out routine with some warm ups. Half way through their stretches Viktor’s curiosity wins out over his own self preservation instincts. Even if it hurts, he has to ask.

“I’ve never seen that mark before,” Viktor says, trying for casual but missing by a mile. He nods his chin towards a light splash of color on both of Yuuri’s biceps, symmetrical imprints of fingers around his upper arms.

“Ah, the purple? That one is Minako-sensei.” Yuuri rolls his shoulders. “It’s my first one, apparently.”

“Apparently?” Viktor asks, amused.

“It happened when I was a baby, completely by accident,” Yuuri explains. He dips down into another stretch and Viktor struggles to stay focused on the conversation. “Even as a baby, Minako-sensei was my favorite person. My mom asked her to hold me for a second and instead of, like, cradling me? Like you’re supposed to do with babies? She just kinda held me as far away from herself as she could and lifted me up by my shoulders.”

The image of a baby Yuuri being hoisted up by his shoulders startles a laugh out of Viktor. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Yuuri grins, lopsided and perfect and upside down, bent in half from his stretching. “Have you ever seen that American cartoon movie? The Lion King? Like that.”

Viktor giggles. He straightens up, popping his spine. “What did you get tattooed?”

Yuuri twists his body, arching his back in another stretch. Viktor’s throat goes dry.

“Here.” Yuuri angles his shoulders so Viktor can see his right bicep, tilts his head to the side. It’s adorable and attractive and Viktor is dying. “Ballet slippers.”

“Ballet?”

“Yes, I was a dancer before I discovered skating. Minako-sensei taught me.”

Ah, that explains Yuuri’s general gracefulness. And his frankly offensively beautiful step sequences.

“And the flowers? Or… are those leaves?”

Yuuri smirks and drops into a full split. Viktor whimpers.

“They’re laurels.”

“Ah. Victory,” Viktor says.

Yuuri hums affirmatively. “Minako-sensei was my first coach, even though she didn’t really know much about coaching. I won my first medal with her. I got this as soon as I was old enough.”

This is surprising. Yuuri is the humblest person Viktor has ever met, almost to a fault. He rarely talks about his achievements in a positive light. He is Japan’s Ace, had the world record for both free skate and short program scores in the junior division until Yuri broke them, and broke Viktor’s short program world record just last season. Despite this, Yuuri won’t acknowledge that he’s one of the best skaters in the world. Last week he called himself a “dime a dozen” skater and Yakov almost pulled his nonexistent hair out.

Yuuri looks down at his tattoo with such pride, such open satisfaction. Viktor wonders want kind of hardships Yuuri and his Minako had to endure to make an ordinarily insecure man like him beam with such honor.

Viktor is glad that young Yuuri had someone like her to look out for him. He wonders if Minako watches him now, keeps up with his skating from back home in Japan. If she still has Yuuri’s first pair of dance shoes, if she watches his step sequences and sees herself.

If she touches her matching laurel tattoo when she watches Yuuri win a medal.

Viktor wonders if Yakov feels that same swell of pride when Viktor’s on top of the podium, or if he knows deep down that all the medals are weighing him down.

 

 

3. so entranced by you it hurts

 

Me [9:24 AM]

yuuri

yuuri i’m bored and this plane is taking forever to take off

Aeroflot continues their evil plot to ruin my life, specifically

✨🌈Yuuri 💖💜💙[9:24 AM]

hi bored

i’m yuuri

Me [9:25 AM]

yuuri

( ´△`)

✨🌈Yuuri 💖💜💙[9:25 AM]

sorry lol

thanks again for coming viktor

you didn’t have to, you know

you aren’t even competing

Me [9:26 AM]

i know but i wanted to come cheer you on!! it’s your first qualifier of the season

O(≧▽≦)O

you know yura and mila would’ve come too if yakov would let them

plus i love skate america!! its the only place yakov will let me eat junk food

✨🌈Yuuri 💖💜💙[9:26 AM]

ah i knew you were only in it for the snacks (っ- ‸ – ς)

oh the pilot just said we need to turn off our phones now so…

um before we go can i tell you something

Me [9:26 AM]

?

✨🌈Yuuri 💖💜💙[9:27 AM]

its kind of silly but i get really nervous on airplanes

i’m worried all my fidgeting is bothering the lady next to me

i hope she’s not annoyed enough to complain about me ((´д`))

 

 

Viktor reads Yuuri’s last text and makes an impulsive decision. He gets up, gathering his bag and moves to the back of the plane, ignoring Yakov’s command to sit back down.

“I’m gonna go sit with Yuuri,” he calls over his shoulder, sending a worried flight attendant a dazzling smile. “Ah, excuse me….”

It’s not hard to locate Yuuri once Viktor is out of the separated first class cabin. It’s not a large plane, and Viktor would know Yuuri anywhere. He’d know Yuuri just from the cadence of his steps. He makes a beeline for where he spots Yuuri’s familiar fluffy black hair, seated next to a middle aged woman who’s eyeing his bouncing leg with disdain.

“Excuse me, Ma’am?” Viktor sends the lady in the seat next to Yuuri’s a charming smile. “Would you mind switching seats with me so I can sit next to my friend?”

She looks between Yuuri and Viktor. “Um, I’m not sure….”

“My seat is in first class,” Viktor says.

She immediately starts gathering her things.

“Sorry for the trouble.” Viktor smiles again, the same smile he’s been using on the media since he was a child.

She waves off his apology and hustles to the front of the plane. Viktor’s fake smile melts into his real one as settles down next to Yuuri.

“You really didn’t have to do that,” Yuuri says. “I’m sorry, I can pay the difference––”

“Nonsense!” Viktor says. “I would be bored up there by myself anyway. Plus, I haven’t ridden economy in years. It’s time to come back to my roots.”

The tension drains out of Yuuri’s shoulders as he rolls his eyes. “Typical Viktor.”

Viktor bites his lip. He’s wanted to ask something of Yuuri for a while now, and this seems like a good time.

“Yuuri? Can you call me Vitya instead?” Viktor asks. “Please? It’s like, uh, a nickname. A show of familiarity, friendship.”

“Oh,” Yuuri says. “Like Yura for Yuri?”

Viktor blinks.

“He asked you to call him that?” Viktor chuckles. Of course. “Yuuri, you’ve really wormed your way into all our hearts, huh?”

Yuuri smiles. “Considering how fond of you I already am, I would hope so.”

Viktor tries to not think too hard about whether or not Yuuri meant the plural you or singular. “Don’t worry, Yakov’s probably already written you into his will. And between me, Yuri, Mila, and Georgi, I think you can say you’ve successfully won over the Russian skate squad.”

“Russian skate squad?” Yuuri giggles. “Does this mean I’m an official member now, Vitya?

Viktor’s heart tries its hardest to beat right out of his chest.

He pretends to think. “Well, we still need to conduct a formal interview, and there is the hazing process….”

Yuuri pushes his shoulder playfully. Viktor isn’t used to being touched so much, even through layers and layers of clothes. Viktor finds himself leaning into the touch, exhilarated from having starved himself of human contact for so long.

They continue teasing–– not flirting, Viktor reminds himself, don’t get your hopes up–– until the plane takes off, and then continue until the plane lands again, hours later in America.

There’s a lull in conversation halfway through the flight when Viktor suddenly realizes just how much Yuuri has come to mean to him. He never would have dreamt of giving up precious training time just to watch another competitor’s qualifier in person. He never would have switched seats like this.

Yuuri really inspires a selfless kind of love in him.

Huh.

 

 

 

The first thing Viktor notices when he meets Phichit Chulanont is his mark, on his right hand, a perfect mirror of Yuuri’s orange-yellow on his left hand. It’s hard not to notice when the first thing Phichit does when coming up to greet them is thread his fingers through Yuuri’s hand, briefly, like their own little hello.

It only takes five minutes to see why Yuuri and Phichit knew right away that they were soulmates. Yuuri is comfortable around Phichit in a way that Viktor hasn’t seen before, a charged energy in the way they move around each other. A gentle push-and-pull. Ocean waves. Balanced weights. There’s a solid kind of love there, obvious even without their joined hands. It’s something in the way they stand next to each other, bodies slightly curved towards each other like a pair of parentheses.

“It’s nice to meet you, Phichit,” Viktor says, when Yuuri and Phichit have finished catching up to each other. “I’m––”

“Viktor Nikiforov!” Phichit booms. “You must give me all of your skincare secrets! What kind of exfoliator do you use?”

Viktor, who is use to even fellow competitors falling at his feet, is pleasantly charmed. As they talk it becomes clear that Phichit has blown right past the hero worship phase that most people go through when they meet Viktor and straight into quickly becoming his new best friend. It’s easy to see why Yuuri feels so at ease with him. They also swiftly bond over their mutual love of teasing Yuuri until he’s a blushing mess. It’s very satisfying to have someone to play off of. Plus, it turns out he and Phichit use the same app to edit their Instagram photos.

Viktor is endlessly delighted.

(As he and Phichit excitedly trade tips and tricks, Viktor catches Yuuri gazing at them fondly. It makes Viktor feel claimed, accepted.)

The rest of the week feels less like the first qualifier of the biggest skating competition in the world and more like a fun summer camp. Viktor, Yuuri, and Phichit are inseparable, the latter two quickly folding Viktor into their dynamic seamlessly. Viktor finds himself going to sleep with a smile on his face every night.

Is this the kind of young, giddy friendship that Viktor missed out on in high school?

 

 

 

Watching Yuuri skate is like watching an artist paint a masterpiece in real time.

Yuuri shines like a diamond under the lights, glittering in his blue swirled free skate costume. It’s like a starry night of vivid blue streaks of fabric climbing up his body, giving away to sheer panels over his arms to show off his soulmate marks. The first few notes of his music twinkle in and Yuuri starts to move, gliding effortlessly across the ice.

“Wow,” Viktor whispers. He’s stunning.

Yuuri takes off for his first jump and there’s a pause in the music. For a moment he hangs, weightless, in complete silence. Then the music comes back as he lands, cleanly, with a small flourish of his arms.

The timing, the choreography, the artistry. Viktor is bewitched.

Next to him, Yakov huffs softly. “He changed the jump.”

Viktor watches Yuuri dance through a step sequence. “What does that mean?”

“It means,” Yakov answers fondly, not taking his eyes off Yuuri, “he’s pushing his quads to the back.”

Quads. Plural. Even though they train together, Viktor has never seen Yuuri perform his full program. He was under the impression that Yuuri could only reliably land the quad toe-loop, sometimes the salchow.

Yuuri, Viktor is realizing, is full of surprises.

“Katsuki’s gearing up for his next jump, a triple–– he’s changed it to a quadruple lutz!” the announcer shouts. “That’s–– Katsuki has never landed this jump in competition before! Very few skaters ever have!”

Viktor doesn’t need to look to know Yakov is smirking smugly. The jump wasn’t clean, but he didn’t touch down.

“There he is,” Yakov murmurs. “Two more, Katsuki.”

On the ice, Yuuri throws himself into a spin, back arched gracefully.

“It must be because of Chulanont’s short program score,” Yakov muses. “We agreed he’d wait to ramp up the difficulty closer to the final. He must’ve gotten scared by Chulanont’s high performance scores.”

Viktor has no idea how Yakov is constructing intelligent analysis when Yuuri’s redefining love on the ice right in front of them. Viktor can’t breathe. He distantly hopes no cameras are picking up his dumbstruck look right now. He’s not entirely certain he isn’t drooling onto the floor.

The rest of Yuuri’s program is beautiful, if not technically sound. He steps out of his last jump, but emerges smiling. As he glides to a halt and the music filters out, Viktor swears he sees Yuuri throw a challenging smirk in Phichit’s direction. The crowd roars. People are throwing small stuffed toys onto the ice.

Yuuri waves, soaking in all the love. He dips his head humbly a few times, a cute flush adorning his cheeks. He picks up a comically large plush dog and skates over to Viktor and Yakov.

“How was that Coach Feltsman?”

“Sloppy,” Yakov says immediately, patting Yuuri on the back roughly as the three of them settle into the kiss and cry. “I told you to watch your entry speed.”

Yuuri ducks his head. “Yes, Coach. Sorry, Coach.”

Yakov’s lip twitches upwards in a half smile. “Even still, I expect you’re about to break your personal best. Isn’t that right, Vitya?”

Viktor–– who had forgotten that he occupies a physical body up until this point–– jolts. “Yes! Of course, you–– Yuuri that was incredible. You’re incredible.”

Yuuri hides his face behind his new stuffed dog.

“Thank you,” he mumbles.

“No, thank you for that performance,” Viktor breathes out. “You didn’t tell me you were practicing a lutz. And did you switch up your step sequence? I don’t remember it being so––”

Tender. Enchanting. Romantic.

Viktor is cut off when Yuuri’s scores are announced.

Yuuri blinks. He squints at the screen, and then turns to Yakov.

“Coach, did I––”

Congratulations!”

Phichit barrels into the kiss and cry–– no doubt breaking a dozen rules–– and sweeps Yuuri into a bear hug, squeezing the life out of him. Yuuri laughs, startled, but hugs him back just as fiercely. Their hands instinctively reach for each other, tangling together so their soulmate marks are lined up.

(Under his gloves, Viktor’s hands itch.)

“Phichit, I––”

“I know! I know, Yuuri, I saw––!”

“–– and you, too! Your program yesterday––!”

“Shut up, you just won, forget about me––”

“Ahem,” Yakov clears his throat loudly. “You two are still on camera. We are all on camera.”

Viktor drags his gaze away from Phichit and Yuuri and looks at the scoreboard, where Yuuri’s name has risen to the top. In his pocket, Viktor’s phone buzzes violently, no doubt Yuri, Mila, and Georgi blowing up the groupchat with congratulations for Yuuri. Yakov continues to try to corral Phichit and Yuuri back onto the ice for the medal ceremony.

Gold at Skate America. What a way to start the season.

For Yuuri to qualify for the final now, he only needs to get third place at his next qualifier. NHK Trophy in Japan. The same one Viktor is competing at.

He can’t wait.

 

 

 

Viktor musters up the courage to ask about Yuuri’s mark from Christophe after they get back from Skate America.

He and Yuuri have started getting breakfast together in the mornings before practice. Since they’re deep in the middle of training, it’s usually just the two of them sitting on a bench in the park across the rink and wolfing down their matching plain oatmeals. Sometimes, Yuuri brings them tea in a cute pink thermos with little cartoon characters on it. It’s such a small, quiet corner of their day, but Viktor treasures every second of it.

“Yuuri,” Viktor says, “can I ask about your mark from Christophe?”

He nods to Yuuri’s right arm, where Viktor knows there’s a red mark just above his elbow, even if he can’t see it with Yuuri’s jacket on. He’s caught glimpses of it during workouts and practices and knows that it belongs to Christophe, but he’s never asked.

“Yeah, sure!”

Before Viktor can protest Yuuri is shrugging off one side of his jacket and rolling up his sleeve until Viktor can see the deep red, slightly lopsided mark on his skin.

“Yuuri!” Viktor squawks, almost knocking over his cup of tea. “Put your jacket back on! It’s cold!”

Yuuri rolls his eyes. “It’s not that cold. Plus, the tattoo I got for Christophe is one of my favorites and I like to show it off.”

Viktor peers closer at Yuuri’s arm. It is a pretty tattoo, but–– “why is your mark shaped like that?”

Yuuri groans. “Because Christophe Giacometti is the single most dramatic person on this planet. It’s supposed to be a heart, see? He, like, pressed his fingers together in a way to make it look like a heart.”

Yuuri demonstrates by putting his thumb and pointer fingers together at an angle.

“Ah,” Viktor says. “I guess it does kind of look like a heart.”

Yuuri smiles. “Christophe likes to make unique shapes for his marks. I think the one he has with Phichit looks like a smiley face.”

“How…?”

Yuuri shakes his head. “I have no idea.”

Viktor reaches out slowly and traces the mark with a gloved finger. Yuuri shivers.

“And the flowers? Carnations?” Viktor raises an eyebrow.

“Passion.”

Viktor chokes.

Yuuri looks over alarmed. “Not for––! Not us! I mean, not Christophe and I. Not that I don’t love him or think he’s unattractive, it’s just that––! Well, he and Phichit, I think… oh, crap, wait forget I said anything!”

Christophe and Phichit, huh? And they have marks? Interesting. Viktor had his suspicions.

“Okay so carnations for passion, because you are… passionate about your friendship?”

Yuuri looks away, embarrassed “No, because he’s a passionate person. He inspires me to be passionate about what I love.”

“Yuuri, that’s adorable.” Viktor is already thinking about a million different ways to set Christophe and Phichit up on a blind date of some kind. “Does Christophe know…?”

“Yeah, he was there when I got the tattoo. It was after our last junior World’s together.”

Well. Viktor was gonna ask about Phichit’s feelings, but he wanted that question answered, too.

Fuck. Viktor is such a shitty friend. He didn’t even know Yuuri and Christophe were so close. Christophe hardly ever mentioned him. Or maybe Viktor just wasn’t paying attention? Viktor’s heart sinks. No wonder Christophe has never offered to mark each other.

“W-What’s the knife for?” he asks, forcing himself to cut off that line of thought.

“Um.” Impossibly, Yuuri blushes more. “Do you want the real answer or the better sounding one?”

“The real one.”

“It’s because Christophe reminds me of that plushie of a duck holding a knife.”

That startles a laugh out of Viktor. “A what holding a knife?”

Yuuri quickly pulls up a picture on his phone and–– yeah, that’s Christophe Giacometti’s personality in a nutshell.

“Okay, what’s the better sounding answer?”

Yuuri smiles wickedly. “Christophe was the first competitor to seriously consider me a threat. Before him, I kind of blended into the background. Christophe is the one who saw my scores improving, approached me, and asked to be friends.”

Viktor smiles fondly. “Christophe is like that. Keep your friends close––”

“–– and your enemies closer,” Yuuri finishes. “Yeah. He really pushed me, when we were younger. I think I would have given up on skating after the junior division if it wasn’t for him. Plus, he recommended me to Celestino.”

“Oh, wow.” Viktor blinks. “So, when you say you’ve known him since you were young, you mean before you moved to Detroit?”

Yuuri nods firmly. “We aren’t the closest friends, but he’s a big reason I’m the skater I am today.”

And that–– that sounds like Viktor and Christophe, too. And Viktor and Mila, and Yuri, and––

If Viktor starts thinking about the people in his life, the people that shaped him, he’ll start to get ideas about soulmarks. And ideas are dangerous. Viktor has no soulmates, and that’s final. He shouldn’t delude himself like this. Giving himself false hope will inevitably just disappoint him when he touches them and no mark appears.

And that disappointment would kill him.

 

 

4. waiting for your love

 

After the flurry of activity during Skate America, Viktor’s own first qualifier seems tame in comparison.

Yakov has agreed to let Yuuri tag along, like Viktor did for Skate America. He allows it under the guise that Yuuri hasn’t gotten to properly visit France before, and he needs to acclimate himself to the climate before the Final.

(It’s no matter that the Trophée de France is in Paris and the Grand Prix Final will be in Marseille, which have different climates. Yakov gracefully ignores these facts–– and the fact that they’ll be inside a temperature controlled building for both events–– and buys the extra plane ticket for Yuuri.

Again: Yuuri is everyone’s secret weakness.)

Viktor has been excited for the Trophée de France since the assignments were announced. He’s competing against Christophe this weekend. He hasn’t gotten to see him since World’s last year.

It’ll also be the first time that Yuuri sees his programs in full. Viktor wonders if Yuuri will be able to see the pieces of himself that Viktor weaved into the choreography.

He hopes so. The only way he could be more obvious at this point is if he carved Yuuri’s name into the ice with his blades.

The day before the short program, Christophe and Yuuri drag Viktor to the hotel’s pool. He sits at the edge and dangles his feet in the water, pant legs rolled up to the knee. Christophe shamelessly strips down to his underwear and jumps in, sending waves to slosh around Viktor’s ankles. Viktor wrinkles his nose.

“It’s really too cold to be out here,” Viktor complains. “Can’t we just go back inside and watch a movie?”

“Nope! This hotel has the nicest infinity pool in all of Paris and I fully intend to take advantage of that.” Somehow, Christophe whips out his phone–– covered in a waterproof case–– and snaps a couple of pictures of the view.

Namely, Christophe himself with Paris’s skyline as an afterthought behind him.

Viktor hesitantly removes his gloves, placing them next to him. He dips a bare hand into the water, swirling it around a little.

“Yuuri?” Viktor calls over his shoulder. “Surely, you’ll agree with me. Isn’t it too cold?”

Yuuri has deposited their towels and things on a lounge chair. He shrugs, hands reaching for the edge of his shirt.

“You don’t know cold until you’ve fought your college’s entire hockey team in only jean shorts in the middle of a Detroit winter,” he answers.

“Wha––”

Christophe cuts Viktor off with a low whistle. “Damn, Yuuri. I’ve never seen those marks before.”

Viktor turns around fully to face Yuuri and sees him with his shirt half off, revealing two bright splashes of color on his abdomen.

The two marks wind around Yuuri’s waist like snakes, imprints of arms. One of them is a light green, like a fresh lime. The other is sky blue, overlapping with the green to make a cool teal color. On his right hip is a tattoo of two small crowns, surrounded by cherry blossoms.

“Whoa,” Viktor says when Yuuri finishes shedding his shirt. Christophe whistles again Viktor doesn’t bother turning around the glare. He can’t take his eyes off Yuuri.

Yuuri flushes pretty, dusty pink. It goes all the way down his neck to his chest. Viktor is in distress.

Viktor thinks about all the people in Yuuri’s life that he’s heard about and takes his best guess. “Yuuko? And…?”

“Takeshi,” Yuuri answers shyly. “My first friends.”

“Aww, Yuuri!” Christophe squeals in delight.

“What about the tattoo?”

“Ah, we were young when we got our marks. Group hug when we were toddlers,” Yuuri explains. “I had a while to think about it and by the time I was old enough for tattoos, Yuuko and Takeshi were already married and had inherited Ice Castle. So, matching crowns.”

“That’s absolutely adorable, Yuuri,” Christophe coos. He splashes around and comes up next to Viktor, careful not to touch. “Are you sure you don’t wanna swim with us Viktor? The water’s warm.”

Swimming means taking off his shirt, and taking off his shirt means revealing the ugly mark splayed down his side. Viktor’s skin burns under his shirt. He can’t, not with both Yuuri and Christophe’s marks on full display, dripping in a rainbow of saturated love. Viktor pales in comparison.

“I’m good just dipping my feet in,” Viktor answers, kicking out one of his legs to lightly splash Christophe. “Don’t want the pool chlorine to dry out my skin before the competition.”

Christophe shrugs. “Okay, if you’re sure,” he says, before promptly grabbing Yuuri and pulling him, screaming, down into the pool with him. The resulting splash soaks Viktor’s shirt, but he still doesn’t take it off.

They wrestle for a bit, laughing and yelling in such child-like joy that it warms Viktor up from the inside. He’s never seen Christophe look so carefree, so young. They don’t talk about it a lot, but both of them had been pushed to display a mature image from an early age. It’s nice to see Christophe being himself and not the ultra seductive persona he had to put on when he was younger.

Viktor grew out of the playboy image a long time ago. His PR team calls his current concept the “ideal, untouchable type” now. Christophe owns his identity now. He’s made it his own, bent it to fit him. Viktor just exchanged one mask for another.

Later, Viktor does research about cherry blossoms.

He finds a Japanese term, mono no aware, meaning transience. The awareness of passing. Ephemeral beauty. The acceptance of imperfection.

The next day, before he’s called up, Viktor thinks about Yuuri out in the stands, watching him. He thinks about lime green, and sky blue, and teal. He thinks about cherry blossoms.

Acceptance of imperfection.

Viktor takes a deep breath, and steps onto the ice.

(It isn’t his highest scoring performance, but it is his best. He hasn’t felt so connected to any of his programs like he does with this one. He pops one of his jumps, much to everyone’s surprise, because he’s so caught up in the moment, the emotions.

In the kiss and cry, Yakov doesn’t even berate him for his lackluster technicals. He just quietly asks Viktor, as he always does after he skates, if he was proud of himself.

For the first time in a long time, Viktor means it when he says yes.)

 

 

 

Viktor finally gets Yuuri to agree to a movie night at his place soon after they get home from the Trophée de France. Yakov, proud of Viktor’s gold, agrees to give both him and Yuuri a couple days off before they ramp up training for the NHK Trophy.

“I know I said we’d watch some Russian classics to help you learn Russian, but how do you feel about watching a rom-com instead? I have a dubbed version of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before!”

Yuuri looks up from where he sits, sprawled across Viktor’s floor with Makkachin in his lap.

“Huh?”

Viktor suppresses the urge to coo. “Makka seems to like you a lot.”

“Vitya,” Yuuri says seriously. “I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but Makkachin is the best dog on the entire planet. Objectively.”

Viktor grins and pulls up the movie on his TV. “Oh, I’m aware.”

Yuuri looks back down at Makkachin’s fluffy face. “You are incredible. Makka, I would die for you.”

“Boof,” Makka says back. Yuuri clutches at his heart, overwhelmed.

The movie starts and Viktor makes his way to the couch, careful to step around the Yuuri-Makkachin lump in the middle of the floor. “Are you going to stay down there the entire time?

“I can’t move,” Yuuri hisses, scandalized. “That would mean moving Makka.”

Makkachin blinks slowly at Viktor. I’m getting Yuuri cuddles and you aren’t.

Viktor tries to be mad, but he just can’t. They’re too cute.

Viktor is just starting to get into the movie when Yuuri shifts on the floor, turning partially to face him.

“Vitya,” Yuuri starts cautiously, “can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“Why don’t you like to talk about soulmate marks?”

Viktor stiffens. He pretends to rearrange the blanket in his lap.

“What do you mean? I talk about soulmates all the time.”

“Yeah,” Yuuri begins, “with me. Just me. If anyone else starts talking about soulmates you clam up.”

Viktor stays silent. Yuuri’s right after all.

On screen, Lara Jean confesses to her crush in a letter that she then seals tightly in a box, never to be read. Viktor avoids looking at Yuuri.

“It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it,” Yuuri says quietly, also turning back to the screen, “but if you ever want to, you know I’m here.”

“I know,” Viktor manages to croak out.

They’re quiet for a couple minutes before Viktor speaks up.

“I’ve just never met anyone with so many,” he says out of nowhere, trusting that Yuuri will understand. “I was curious.”

“I just… love a lot,” Yuuri explains.

“I don’t really get it,” Viktor confesses. “Sorry if all my asking was making you uncomfortable. I just wanted to know. I wanted to know more about you.”

Still on the ground, Yuuri reaches for the cuffs of his jeans and rolls them up, revealing splotches of lemon yellow encircling both of his ankles.

“I don’t think I’ve ever shown you this one,” Yuuri says.

Viktor stares.

“I think you know about all my others, but this one hasn’t come up before. It’s from Celestino.”

This surprises Viktor. It must show on his face, because Yuuri continues.

“He was helping me tighten my skates, grabbed onto my ankles, and then yelled so loud I thought he’d crack the ice.” Yuuri chuckles quietly, lost in the memory. “The month after that, I won my first seniors competition and Phichit and I moved in with him.”

“Oh,” Viktor says. “I didn’t know you were so close.”

Yuuri puffs out a breath and leans back on his palms, glancing down fondly at the marks around his ankles. “Those years in Detroit, away from my family… they were tough but, I knew that was where I was meant to be. Not just for me and my skating, but for them, too.”

“That’s what the ice skate tattoo is for? And what about the tulip?”

“Yellow tulips represent hope,” Yuuri explains. “I thought it was fitting that his and Phichit’s colors match. They both gave me so much hope. I didn’t think I’d ever amount to anything, in those early days in Detroit.”

Viktor thinks about little Yuuri Katsuki, a candle of artistry in the dark of a sport that had become more and more about technical skills and less about the performance of it. He thinks about how terrified he must of been, thrown into the skating world with his only previous coach being an ex-ballerina with no experience coaching. He thinks about little Yuuri moving all the way across the world just to have half a shot at following his dream, and about that Yuuri meeting two of his soulmates there.

Serendipity.

“So, that’s it?” Viktor asks. “You have six soulmates.”

“Yeah. I don’t have any marks from my immediate family,” Yuuri explains. “I know most people have at least one family member, but for some reason I didn’t get one. I still love them, though. When I got my marks from Phichit and Celestino, it was like I found another family.”

Yuuri talks about them with such a gentle warmth it makes Viktor ache. Viktor can see it in his head, early morning breakfast with the three of them yelling at each other over a kitchen table, Yuuri and Phichit doing homework on the dining room table. A family forged on the ice.

Viktor doesn’t have any marks from his parents either. The difference between him and Yuuri is that Yuuri’s marks show he belongs to his found family. Viktor doesn’t belong to Yuri, Yakov, Mila, and Georgi anymore than he belongs to his parents.

All the years of skating alongside them, and he has nothing to show for it. Nothing to prove that there’s love there.

(But there is. From Viktor’s side, at least. Viktor loves them all so fiercely it scares him sometimes.)

 

 

 

The last think Viktor expected to see the night before the NHK Trophy freeskate is Yuuri in the middle of an empty ice rink, whining through facetime at––

“Are you facetiming Yura?” Viktor calls out across the rink. Yuuri startles and almost drops his phone, Yuri’s tinny voice echoing out of his phone across the abandoned rink.

“Vitya! You scared me.”

“I couldn’t sleep, so I decided to try to skate off the extra energy,” Viktor explains. He raises his voice slightly and addresses Yuuri’s phone. “Hi, Yura!”

“Katsudon is gonna wipe the floor with you tomorrow,” Yuri yells through the shitty phone connection. “I look forward to watching you fail spectacularly!”

“Yura, be nice,” Yuuri scolds softly, but he’s smiling. “Okay, I’d better go now. Don’t forget to––”

“–– do my math homework, I know!”

The three of them exchange one last round of goodbyes before Yuuri hangs up the phone. He skates to the rink’s entrance as Viktor steps onto the ice. Yuuri is ethereal, even in the low fluorescent lights of a cold, empty ice skating rink.

“Even through facetime, Yura manages to burst my eardrums with his yelling,” Yuuri chuckles, shaking his head.

“It’s a special talent. But why are you facetiming him at 2 in the morning the night before the freeskate? Yuuri, you’re supposed to be resting. ”

“I could say the same to you,” Yuuri fires back. He pockets his phone. “Besides, I needed to talk to him. Yura’s been helping me with my quad salchow.”

Quad salchow. So, Yuuri is ramping up the number of jumps from when he did his freeskate in America.

“Yuuri,” Viktor starts slowly, “how many quads can you do?”

Yuuri doesn’t answer. Instead he skates backwards, sending Viktor a teasing smile. “You’ll find out, eventually.”

Viktor pouts and skates after him. “Yuuri, that’s not fair. Why don’t you come to me for jump help?”

“You’re the competition, Vitya. I can’t come to you for advice on how to beat your program.”

“I’d give it to you,” Viktor grumbles.

Yuuri giggles and bumps their shoulders together in apology.

For a while they just skate laps around the rink, not really practicing anything. A couple times Yuuri does bits and pieces of footwork, fancy stuff that involves lots of hops and cute little half-twirls. Viktor thinks he recognizes a piece that might be from his own senior debut short program. Eventually they start to slow down.

“It’s getting late,” Yuuri says, checking the time on his phone before stuffing it back into his pocket. “We should go to bed. I have to get up extra early to get into my costume.”

“I don’t think I ever asked you, but is it actually that uncomfortable?” Viktor asks idly. “You always complain so much about it.”

“Yeah, this entire side of my body is just exposed to the rink air,” Yuuri says, gesturing to his right shoulder and arm. “I get so cold.”

“If it’s any consolation, you look good in it. It’s a beautiful costume.”

“I didn’t like it at first,” Yuuri admits. He skates with his hands stuffed in his hoodie pockets, gently gliding alongside Viktor. “I felt like it was, like, exploitative somehow. Or like I was bragging. I know I’m lucky to have so many soulmates, I didn’t want it to seem like I was rubbing it in people’s faces.”

“That’s not not how it comes off at all. It’s artistic. Besides, people love it.”

“Thanks for saying that,” Yuuri says, like he doesn’t believe him.

“They love it, Yuuri,” Viktor tries to explain. “The crowd, the judges, even your fellow skaters–– they love you. They like seeing that other people love you. It’s a unique appeal. I don’t have that kind of love.”

Yuuri frowns. “People love you, Vitya. Just because you don’t have a mark––”

“I have a mark,” Viktor admits.

Yuuri looks taken aback.

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Can I––?”

“Yeah.”

There’s no getting out of this. Viktor knew he’d have to tell Yuuri eventually, have to explain his weird obsession with other people’s soulmate marks and how he never goes anywhere without gloves and sleeves to cover up any bare skin. Why he jumps away from touch, why he’s so afraid to let anyone in too close.

If anything, Viktor’s glad it’s Yuuri. He’s glad he can share a part of himself, no matter how ugly it is. Slowly, he lifts up his shirt, baring his skin to the cool rink air and Yuuri’s gaze.

“Oh,” Yuuri gasps. His eyes travel along the light blue wash spilling across Viktor’s side, over his ribcage and down his hip. It’s so pale it’s almost invisible against his skin. “It’s–– I’ve never seen a mark that big. Who––?”

“Not who,” Viktor corrects, smiling sarcastically. “What.”

Yuuri frowns. “What?”

“The ice.”

“The… ice?”

“I fell, once,” Viktor says. He chuckles a little. “I’ve fallen many, many times. Anyway! I fell when I was, maybe eight? Nine? I was at the rink, alone–– don’t try to lecture me about skating without supervision, I know how you get–– and I fell. I was trying to spin too fast and my shirt rode up and I fell onto the ice.”

“Vitya,” Yuuri murmurs.

“Ah, I was okay. But after the swelling and redness went down, I noticed the mark. That’s when I knew. I’d always belong to the ice. And I’ve never gotten another mark since.”

Yuuri stays quiet. Viktor can’t look at him, can’t stop the constant thrum of want-want-hope-want-please, God, let it be him, please that courses through his veins.

“I don’t know what it’s like to belong to someone else like that,” Viktor says, nodding at Yuuri’s hands, arms, his entire color-soaked being, “but I know what it’s like the belong to the ice. It’s very… lonely.”

“Vitya,” Yuuri says again. He shuffles closer and offers a mitten-clad hand to him. Viktor takes it–– hates the thin layer of fabric between them. “I didn’t even know you could be marked by anything except a person.”

“Apparently, it’s happened before. My doctor said there’s a man in America who has a mark from a calculator. He’s a world renowned mathematician or something. I guess it’s just anything that impacts your life enough.”

Yuuri is quiet for a long time. They both stand in the middle of the rink, holding hands quietly.

Eventually, it’s time to get back to their respective hotel rooms. Before they part ways, Yuuri tugs at his hand hesitantly. Like he’s afraid of letting go.

“Vitya, is this why… why you won’t let anyone… .”

“It’s not that I’m afraid they’ll mark me,” Viktor answers quietly. “It’s that I’m afraid they won’t and all I’ll have left is….”

“The ice,” Yuuri finishes for him.

Viktor smiles sadly. “The ice.”

 

 

5. a love you can’t design

 

“You are not as sneaky as you think you are.”

Viktor looks up from where he’s lacing up his skates to see Yuri standing in front of him, hands on his hips.

Viktor sighs and goes back to tying his laces. “And what do you think I am trying to be sneaky about, Yura?”

Yuri huffs.”Don’t play dumb with me. I’m on to you! I saw your freeskate. You have a crush on Katsudon!”

“I mean, what gave it away,” Viktor drawls, “the way I’ve been flirting with him for months? Or maybe it’s because I’m always asking him to hang out? Or the fact that I have literally said the sentence ‘I have a crush on Yuuri’ to you?”

Yuri scowls. “Okay, maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but it’s not my fault you talk so much. Tuning you out is self-preservation.”

“Good to know you appreciate our talks, Yura.”

“Shut up! That’s not the point. The point is that I saw what you did with your freeskate. You think you can just copy Katsudon’s signature and skate to a sappy love song and no one would notice?”

“No,” Viktor said slowly, “that’s exactly what I wanted.”

Yuri stops. “Hah?!”

Viktor gets to his feet and moves towards the rink entrance. “I want people to know I’m emulating Yuuri’s style. More specifically, I want Yuuri to know.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Ah, Yura.” Viktor reaches out to ruffle Yuri’s hair, ignoring his indignant shrieks. “It’s like… what’s the word? Courting? I’m courting him.”

Yuri looks at him like he’s an alien. “And you think stealing first place from him with a skate that is obviously directed at him is your idea of...courting?”

“I don’t really know how to flirt,” Viktor confesses.

“Clearly.” Yuri blinks. “Well, I came over here to yell at you for trying to steal my rival for your own selfish romantic needs, but hearing your game plan makes me think that you aren’t a threat anymore. Katsudon is never going to figure it out, so good luck.”

With that Yuri goes, leaving Viktor standing half in the ice rink wondering if that was Yuri’s funny little way of delivering a shovel talk.

 

 

 

It’s like it happens in slow motion.

Viktor is talking to Yuuri, taking a short break from drilling jumps. They stand on the ice, tucked close to the boards so they’re not in the way. Yuuri is arching up into a stretch, popping his spine and twisting around in a way that causes his shirt to ride up. His leggings are slung low, the jut of his hip exposed.

Viktor sees as Yuri skates up behind Yuuri, speeding up. In a fluid motion, Yuri knocks into him, hip checking him and intending to send Yuuri stumbling.

Instead, a sliver of Yuri’s skin brushes against Yuuri’s hip and erupts in an explosion of red, a soulmark burning its way onto both of their sides.

The two of them stumble and fall over, hitting the ice side by side. For a moment, both of them just sit on the ice, blinking at each other. Then the whole rink bursts into a flurry of noise.

Holy fuck––

“Yura, we’re––”

“Katsuki! Yurochka! Quit––”

“Are you two okay––?!”

“Oh my god.” The last one comes from Mila, who skates over. “You two are soulmates!”

She then promptly bursts into laughter.

“This was… unexpected.” Yuuri says. Then he reaches over and ruffles Yuri’s hair playfully. “Hey, we’re soulmates!”

Soulmates!” Yuri shrieks. He bats at Yuuri’s hand. “I knew it!”

“What do you mean you knew it?!” calls Yakov’s voice from across the rink. He is promptly ignored.

“It’s because I’m destined to compete against you and win!” Yuri declares. “Take that, Katsudon! Even the universe knows we’re rivals!”

Yuuri laughs, full of wonder and joy. “Okay, you’re right! Stop yelling, Yakov will make us do more laps.”

“I bet I can skate the laps faster than you!” Yuri smirks. He spins fast on his skate, shirt riding up again with his hip flashing red, and then he’s speeding across the rink.

Yuuri watches him do the lap–– “A victory lap,” Viktor explains, “he’s loud but we all know he’s secretly thrilled,” –– and leans back against the boards, smiling lazily.

“I guess I made the right decision, then.”

“Hmm? What decision?” Viktor asks. He’s still reeling a little from seeing the bloom of a new soulmate mark right in front of his eyes.

“When I retire––” Yuuri starts, and Viktor’s throat closes up in panic. He tamps it down and listens. “I asked Yakov to take me on as a teaching apprentice. I want to learn how to teach other skaters.”

Viktor is surprised. “He agreed? Yakov would never allow anyone but him to teach under this rink’s roof in a million years, how did you convince him?”

Yuuri shrugs. “I just asked. And I asked if I could help coach Yura, too.”

Viktor blinks, stunned. And then he bursts into laughter.

“What?” Yuuri frowns.

“Nothing! Nothing, it’s just––” Viktor giggles and wipes tears from his eyes. “Did you know that Yura was a fan? Don’t tell him I’m telling you, but he used to make me buy Katsuki Yuuri official posters whenever I was in Japan. I’m pretty sure he still has some.”

“I–– okay? That’s… sweet, I think.”

“He’s been dreaming about being your rival for years, Yuuri! And now you are going to retire and coach him! I don’t know if he’s going to be upset or incredibly happy, but it will definitely be funny when you tell him.”

Yuuri rolls his eyes. “I won’t retire for a while, you know?”

Viktor snaps his gaze to Yuuri’s face, hope ballooning in his chest. “Really?”

“Really.” Yuuri smiles. Yuri screeches as he skates past them. “The three of us have a couple more seasons to fight over the podium.”

Viktor almost joins Yuri in his victory lap. “You’re really staying. What changed your mind?”

Yuuri tilts his head playfully. “I have two excellent rivals who reminded me how fun competing was.”

And then he’s off, skating away quickly and catching up to Yuri, playfully hip checking him. Yuri yells and launches himself at Yuuri, who laughs and dances out of the way. Viktor grins fondly, he loves the both of them so much.

He loves them both so much.

And yet––

Viktor shakes himself, trying not to think about his lack of marks.

Still, he can’t help but wonder. If he pulled both of them aside right now and asked for their hands, would he get a mark too? Are they soulmates? What about Yakov? No one’s influenced Viktor’s life more, and Yakov found him at the exact time in Viktor’s life that he needed him. If that’s not fate, what is? They must be soulmates.

But what if they’re not?

Yuuri would be nice about it, Viktor knows this at least. He’d pat Viktor’s backs sympathetically and reassure them that they can still be friends. He’d probably say something about how soulmates aren’t even that great. Yakov would do the same, in his own loving gruff way. Yuri would probably look at him with pity and that’s something Viktor can’t have.

No. He’d rather not know. If he never tries it, he can never be disappointed.

(But, what if––)

Viktor abruptly stops skating and tears across the ice to the rink exit.

“Vitya?”

“Viktor Nikiforov, get back here, you aren’t done––”

“Hey! Where are you going?”

“I’m just gonna take a quick break,” Viktor throws over his shoulder. He just–– He can’t be here right now. He can’t look at Yuuri and Yuri’s fresh soulmate marks. He can’t look at Yakov and Mila and Georgi.

He stumbles his way to the locker room, dazed and upset. He pulls off his skates, knocking into the lockers in the process and causing a loud bang. Viktor ignores it.

The Grand Prix Final is in less than two weeks. He doesn’t have time to sit here and have a breakdown. He thought he processed all these emotions already. He made peace with his lack of soulmates years ago.

Before he met Yuuri. Before he saw what love could do to someone.

Before he fell in––

“Vitya?” calls Yuuri’s voice hesitantly.

Distantly, Viktor hears the sound of the locker room door closing and footsteps approaching. It’s such an odd mirror to their first real meeting, with the two of them awkwardly fumbling their way into friendship. Viktor quickly turns his back so Yuuri doesn’t have to see his carefully constructed mask crack.

“Vitya? Are you in here?”

Yuuri appears at the end of the rows of lockers. Viktor is so used to the way Yuuri takes up space near him that he can tell without looking. What has he gotten himself into?

“Yeah, I’m not feeling too well,” Viktor lies. “I think I’m gonna just head home. Can you tell Yakov for me?”

“What’s wrong?” Yuuri comes forward, perching cautiously on the bench next to Viktor.

There is so much space in between them.

“Nothing.”

Yuuri levels him with a look. Viktor tries not to visibly squirm.

“Look, if you don’t want to talk––”

“Do you think we’re soulmates?” Viktor asks, before he can think about it.

Yuuri squeaks,

“Sorry.” Viktor backpedals. “Sorry, I don’t know why I–– sorry. You don’t have to answer––”

“Yes,” Yuuri says suddenly, with conviction.

Viktor blinks at him, stunned. “What? But how do you––”

“I just know,” Yuuri says firmly. “Is that what all this is about, Vitya? You think we’re not?”

“I don’t know what to think,” Viktor huffs, frustrated. He feels half wild with the knowledge that Yuuri, at least, thinks they’re soulmates. “I don’t know. About you, about anyone. I just don’t know.”

Yuuri gets very quiet and Viktor worries that he changed his mind. Or that he didn’t mean it in the first place. Viktor is barely holding it together, more myth than man at this point. Yuuri already has so many amazing, caring soulmates. There’s no way the universe would curse him with such a burden like being Viktor’s soulmate.

“You just have to trust, Vitya,” Yuuri answers.

“But how do you know? How do you just trust?”

“You just do,” Yuuri says emphatically. He leans forward, into the no man’s land between them, cutting through Viktor’s walls easily. He’s so close Viktor could touch him if he wanted to. “Like me. I just trust.”

“I’m not like you, Yuuri!” Viktor exclaims, voice echoing around the empty locker room. “I can’t just get soulmate marks by existing. The universe didn’t give me a million people to love like you. It doesn’t work like that for me!”

Yuuri frowns at him for a second before his face smoothes out.

“Can I tell you a secret, Vitya?”

Viktor’s breath catches in his chest. Vitya. Even in the face of all of Viktor’s ugly frustration, Yuuri is achingly gentle with him. “W-What?”

“You don’t get soulmate marks because the universe just arbitrarily decides that someone is going to be in your life forever,” Yuuri says slowly. “You get the mark because you chose them.”

Viktor shakes his head minutely. “I don’t understand.”

“I chose all of them,” Yuuri says, nodding down at himself to indicate the rainbow of marks on his body. “Every single one of them. I chose to love them, and I choose everyday to keep loving them. Even the ones I don’t see as often, like Celestino or Minako-sensei. I still love them, and everyday I chose to do that.”

Viktor’s eyebrows furrow. “How do you just… choose to love someone? Yuuri, I don’t understand.”

Yuuri throws his hands up a little. “It’s like–– ! Like, um… let’s say Yakov. He frustrates you, right? And sometimes you fight, right? If you didn’t care about him or his opinion, it would be easier to be his student, right?”

Viktor frowns. “I suppose.”

“But you love him anyway. Even though it would be easier to stop caring, you don’t stop. You choose to keep loving him.”

“Oh,” Viktor says absently, thinking about how much Yakov’s opinion matters to him, how anxious he used to get as a child back when he thought Yakov didn’t care for him at all. “That… I think I get it.”

Yuuri smiles encouragingly. “See? It’s not some great cosmic force, Vitya. It’s you. It’s all you. I guess there might be some greater plan out there, but I believe it’s a choice. Half of it is just wanting.”

Viktor knows how to want. Viktor has enough want to fill a rink. Some of it must show on his face, because Yuuri’s gaze softens. He shifts closer on the bed, only an inch away but feeling so far.

(Half of it is just wanting. Maybe, not so far after all.)

“What do you want, Vitya?” Yuuri asks gently.

“I want––.” You.

The word gets stuck in his throat.

(Yuuri just smiles at him again and pats his gloved hand softly as he stands to leave Viktor to his thoughts. Viktor thinks he understood anyway.)

 

 

 

The Grand Prix Final sneaks up on them.

You would think, with all the vigorous training and last minute program adjustments, that Viktor would be acutely aware of the date of the final creeping up, but you’d be wrong. After that day in the locker room, Viktor doubles down on training to try to keep himself for thinking too long about Yuuri. One day Viktor wakes up and realizes that they’re flying out to Marseille already, a full week before the competition. Yakov’s logic was that the longer their bodies had to adjust to the time and altitude difference, the better they will perform in the final.

Well, Viktor isn’t complaining. This means he has a couple days to explore Marseille with Yuuri. Plus, Christophe and Phichit should already be there.

They decide to completely waste an entire day at the beach. Their small corner of Marseille decides to ignore all typical winter weather patterns and lets the sun shine through, bright and warm on the sand.

The water is freezing, but the company is good. Phichit has brought along his polaroid camera. Between him and Christophe, they’ve gone through three film packs. For a couple hours, they aren’t competing figure skaters only a day away from one of the biggest events of the year. They’re just four friends on a beach in France, messing around with a camera and throwing small bits of food at each other.

Yuuri is — he is beautiful. But not because of the way the sunlight paints his face gold, or the way the light wind ruffles his hair. There’s something internal, something that shines from Yuuri’s very core that makes him beautiful. It’s the way that Viktor looks at his face and can see the love there, in the way that his eyes soften around the edges while he lifts the camera to his face to snap a picture of Phichit and Christophe. Yuuri carries love beautifully, physically, tangibly. It’s in his face and in this arms and his chest and his entire body, until it’s spilling from his pores and lighting him up from the inside.

Viktor’s breath catches in his throat.

Christophe picks Phichit up and hoists him over his shoulder. Phichit screeches, kicking and laughing with wild abandon. Yuuri laughs and continues snapping pictures, ignoring Phichit’s pleas for help.

There’s a moment–– when Yuuri is lowering the camera, wind tangled in his inky black hair–– that he catches Viktor’s eye. It’s too late to hide the naked adoration Viktor knows is painted on his face, but he wouldn’t want to hide anyway. Not from Yuuri.

There’s a moment–– with their two best friends’ laughter echoing in the background, with a bag full of polaroids to capture their euphoria, with Viktor’s love an open book–– when Yuuri sees just how much Viktor has fallen in love with him. There’s an understanding in his eyes as he lowers the camera fully and just looks at Viktor.

And then Yuuri smiles and it’s like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. It’s like dipping your feet into a cool spring in the middle of an untouched forest. It’s like driving fast down a highway and rolling all the windows down.

“Phichit, I swear on my life I will pick you up and drop you into the ocean!”

“I’d like to see you try!”

Yuuri turns away from him to yell something at Phichit and Christophe, but the moment is still there.

Viktor knows in that moment that Yuuri was right all along. He knows what he needs to do.

Later, close to sunset, they’re all sprawled on the one tiny beach towel they brought, limbs entangled. Viktor is careful not to let his bare skin brush any of them.

Not yet.

“Do you think,” Yuuri drawls, a little sun drunk and high on love, “that in an alternate universe, we’d be friends?”

“Yes,” Christophe, Phichit, and Viktor answer immediately.

“But what if we didn’t remember each other?”

“I would remember,” Viktor says quickly. “I’d know something was missing and I’d look for you.”

Viktor is looking at Yuuri, but he means all three of them. They are so precious to him he almost gets choked up with it. Even Phichit, who he hasn’t known for that long, has woven himself into the fabric of Viktor’s soul.

The look Yuuri gives him is overflowing with love, so thick it’s like Viktor can feel it in between his fingers. Suddenly, his hands feel suffocated inside his gloves. He doesn’t take them off.

It’s not the time yet.

But soon.

 

 

 

Viktor shifts the car into park and kills the engine. They sit in the quiet dark, breathing, just existing in each others’ space.

They’re sitting in the parking garage of their hotel, Phichit and Christophe already safely deposited back at their respective hotels. It’s a content kind of silence, the kind that wraps itself around you like a blanket. Cradling, never smothering.

Viktor wants the exist like this for the rest of his life. He wants more days on the beach with Yuuri, wants more perfect afternoons getting coffee, wants more life. He wants to make new friends and cherish the ones he has. He wants to wear his love on the surface like Yuuri does.

There’s no turning back, if Viktor asks this of Yuuri. Viktor thinks about what he’ll do if he takes Yuuri’s hand and nothing happens, and finds that he knows he’ll be okay. It doesn’t matter if they have a mark or not, because Viktor will wake up every day and still chose him. Viktor has chosen Yuuri and no splash of color on skin can change that.

Viktor is Yuuri’s already, since the beginning really, marked or not.

“Yuuri.” Viktor breaks the silence, his voice even and sure and full of so much love.

In his peripheral, Viktor sees Yuuri turn to him fully, body twisting in the passenger seat. Viktor can’t bring himself to look at him yet, so he looks down at his hands, still around the steering wheel.

“Yes, Vitya?”

Viktor smiles and, as soft as he can, he asks, “can I hold your hand?”

There’s a pause. Viktor risks a glance and sees Yuuri beaming at him, lighting up the car in the dark, so radiantly happy it makes Viktor’s heart pound. Yuuri understands immediately what Viktor is asking for, has maybe known since that moment on the beach.

“Which hand?”

“Both of them,” Viktor answers, hoping that he’s not asking for too much.

Impossibly, Yuuri’s smile gets brighter.

“Of course,” he says gently. Yuuri holds his hands out to Viktor, palms facing him.

Viktor lets out a shaky breath and pulls off his gloves. He holds up his hands to Yuuri’s, trembling slightly out of anticipation.

(In this life, it’s rare to know that your life is changing in the moment. It’s easy to look back at a moment–– a place, a person, a feeling –– and see how things unfurled. It’s easy to follow the path backwards and see. Viktor, knows that this moment will change him for good.)

Viktor chooses joy.

The first press of their fingertips together steals Viktor’s breath away. It’s warm–– like the brilliance of the setting sun on his face earlier that day, like the hot glow of a campfire, like the cosiness of rising steam from a cup of tea. Viktor feels it more than he sees it. It drips, sweet and slow like honey, in between his fingers where Yuuri’s hands are intertwined with his and all the way down to almost his elbows. In the lowlight of the car Viktor sees it–– his first soulmate mark–– a wash of bright blue, like a watercolor painting blooming down the skin of his arms. He sees it mirrored on Yuuri’s arms, pink and brilliant and alive. A heart on his sleeve. Viktor’s heart on his sleeve.

“Oh, Vitya,” Yuuri whispers. He squeezes Viktor’s hands.

Viktor, high off the adrenaline and happiness, laughs. He tips his head forward and presses their joined hands to his forehead.

Beautiful,” Viktor whispers in Russian. It’s okay, Yuuri will understand.

Yuuri giggles wetly, and Viktor realises that he’s crying. Then Viktor realises that he’s crying, too.

“What will you get for me, love?” Viktor asks, looking up. “What will you tattoo over our marks?”

Yuuri doesn’t hesitate when he answers, like he had it planned out ahead of time. Like he’s already thought about it, weighed different options, and has already decided. “A medal. And honeysuckle.”

“And what does honeysuckle mean?”

“Devoted love.”

Viktor’s breath is knocked right out of his chest. He has a feeling this will be a reoccuring theme in his and Yuuri’s relationship.

“And the medal?”

“To remind me that the other medals don’t matter anymore. I have you.”

“Oh, Yuuri,” Viktor sighs, tipping forward for a kiss, hands still tangled with Yuuri’s, “you’ve always had me.”

 

 

 

Happiness begins, for Viktor Nikiforov, on a Sunday night in Marseille, France, on top of the podium for his sixth Grand Prix Final medal, his first silver.

The lights flash and reflect off the ice, but all Viktor can see is Yuuri smiling above him, the gold medal resting delicate over his chest, the edges of Viktor’s marks on him visible through the cuffs of his freeskate costume. He looks down at his own, on full display with his sleeves rolled up. He’d caused quite a stir when he first stepped onto the ice, gliding out with his arms outstretched and brilliantly blue.

The marks don’t matter. Viktor doesn’t need to see footage of his skate to know that his love was visible through his program more than through the colors on his skin. He has a silver medal, just half a point shy of gold, to prove it.

In the next coming weeks, Viktor will reach out to the ones he loves and collect more marks. He’ll choose joy, over and over again, and he will continue choosing joy for the rest of his life. But for now, he only has Yuuri’s watercolor wash of blue.

“Vitya,” Yuuri calls softly, barely audible above the cacophony of cheers and camera shutters.

Viktor smiles up at him, deliriously happy. “Yuuri.”

Yuuri leans down and Viktor leans up, bodies drawn together like magnets.

Their lips touch, and happiness begins.