His godmother is a priestess of the Fane, the one who first dedicates him to the temple. The boy has a talent for dancing, she says; everyone knows the gods are always looking for entertainment. Yuuri is small, no more than eleven or twelve, and the statues of the gods are giant by comparison. There are dozens of gods, but in every Fane some of the statues are larger than the others, celebrating things like dawn and summertime. And in the back of every temple, there is another god, who stands alone, his expression forever hidden by the hood kept under his spiny crown.
They call him The Stranger. God of winter, god of death.
How terrible it is, the saying goes, to love something The Stranger can touch.
Yuuri has heard all of the stories, of course, but he’s not sure he believes them. “It’s just his job,” he protests, one day, looking at the solemn figure, always alone in the back of the temple. The Daybreaker and the Summer-god have clerics who argue over who is the best and the strongest, but Yuuri knows that it must have been The Stranger who locked the titans away for good, whose reaping of the ancients has made room for the world as it is now to rise and flourish. “Why does he have to be alone forever if he’s just doing his job?”
The answers never satisfy. The winter he turns 18, Yuuri breaks with tradition, and performs a dance for The Stranger at the Fane. Into this dance, Yuuri channels his fear and his determination. He channels the indescribable longing he feels every time it snows and the sadness he feels whenever he looks at the lone figure and its cold, marble shroud. It was a beautiful dance, Minako tells him after, her voice tinged with regret. It doesn’t change the fact that the townspeople are horrified by it. They think it’s unlucky, she says, and he knows what she means is they think you are unlucky.
He leaves the temple, leaves the village, and that night the dreams begin.
At first they are vague things: a poignant, lonely melody that won’t leave his head, or a strange, cold place where he walks amongst the glittering stars. He barely remembers them at all. But in some deep part of himself something is coalescing, gathering hardness and brilliance.
He is already becoming something else. He just doesn’t know it yet.
The dreams go on for months, years even, and by then Yuuri usually wakes gasping and wanting, filled with a longing he doesn’t yet have the words for.
He grows up, he wanders. It feels a little bit like searching, though Yuuri can never tell what for. He makes his living as a traveling entertainer, going town to town, and it’s at a crowded inn by the seaside that he’s directed by an overwhelmed innkeeper to the only seat left at the end of the bar for his evening meal. The place is crowded -- one of the fishing ships has just made port -- and Yuuri bumps elbows with the man to his left as he takes his seat. “Sorry,” he mumbles, as his thoughts promptly throw themselves down several flights of stairs over the slope of the stranger’s cheekbones, the blueness of his eyes, the starlight silver of his hair, the bow of his mouth. “... Sorry,” he repeats again, uselessly, and immediately washes his embarrassment down with fully half of his mead.
“... It’s no problem,” says the man, after a pregnant pause which Yuuri entirely fails to decipher. When food and a refill of his drink arrive after, they prove to be a welcome distraction, and he uses both to work up the courage to speak.
“...‘m Yuuri,” he hums, around a piece of bread. The stew is warm and fragrant, the bread is warm and the butter soft, and the mead has a honeyed, cinnamon flavor. It reminds him of his mother’s cooking; he nearly purrs in delight. “What’s your name?”
“Victor.” The tip of Victor’s nose and the edges of his cheeks are subtly flushed; it makes him look more real, somehow, instead of something alabaster and unattainable -- something out of a memory, half-forgotten, distant.
“That’s a strange name,” Yuuri muses, as the bartender tops off his drink. Y ou’re not from around here, he thinks. Then again, neither is he. Victor inclines his head as if to agree. “How’d you come by it?”
Victor’s eyes are gem-bright, his gaze many-faceted. “... I suppose you could say I won something once,” he admits. “And then nobody let me forget it.”
“Oh.” Yuuri frowns at that; it sounds like a sadder story than he was expecting. “I’m … a bit of an exile, too,” he explains, without knowing why. It’s not the sort of story one tells a stranger. Yet Victor’s gaze is quiet and gentle, and in it Yuuri thinks he catches a whisper of melancholy, some bitterness he’s struck by a strange urge to soothe. “... I didn’t win anything, though.”
“Didn’t you?” Victor asks, with a wry smile. It crinkles the corners of his eyes, warms his whole face.
“Just the opposite. Got called unlucky.”
“Then they were uninformed,” Victor replies sharply, with so much conviction that Yuuri can almost believe him.
In the corner, several drunken sailors are already performing a jig in time with the tavern’s three-piece band. It’s absolutely nothing like the dance that got Yuuri kicked out of town and temple, but he’s thinking about it nonetheless -- the way he’d needed to do something for that one statue, all alone in the back, and the way he needs to do something else, now, to make Victor’s smile blossom more. “... Victor, do you dance?”
“It’s been a very long time.”
“Nonsense.” Tipsy like this, it’s easier to ignore the warning signs. To be brave. “Nobody forgets how to dance.”
This is how they come together, how Yuuri hears Victor laugh for the first time as he spins him across the hearthstone, how they share their first kiss and then their second, how they fumble together through the threshold of Yuuri’s room. How Yuuri slides his hands under Victor’s tunic and marvels at his skin, smooth and flawless and firm. How Victor hovers over him on the bed, studying Yuuri in the moonlight, suddenly unsure of himself until Yuuri loops his arms around his neck and pulls him down for another kiss.
Pomegranates, he thinks to himself. That’s what Victor tastes like. And though Yuuri is not inexperienced, has fumbled his way through a handful of hasty and ultimately ill-advised encounters, this is entirely different. Victor gathers Yuuri’s hands up and holds them over his head, his spindly fingers cool and firm. He takes his time lavishing wet kisses on Yuuri’s neck and along his collarbone and down his chest, unhurried and thorough, as though he intends to leave no part of Yuuri unexplored or unknown. “You’re beautiful,” Victor whispers in the dark, smoothing his hands over Yuuri’s thighs, his lips everywhere except for where Yuuri shamefully admits he wants them most.
“I’m nothing special,” Yuuri mutters, but all derision leaves his voice as Victor closes his hand around Yuuri’s aching cock and begins to stroke.
“I’ll be the judge of that,” says Victor. In the pale, silvery moonlight, his eyes flash, preternatural, dangerous.
(“You’re cold, Victor,” Yuuri mumbles, sleepily, from the cocoon he’s made from Victor’s arms. They fit together so neatly, Yuuri’s nose to Victor’s neck; Yuuri’s toes brushing his ankles. It’s more familiar than it has any right to be.
“Am I?” Victor chuckles but there’s no joy in it. “Sorry, dear one.”)
When Yuuri wakes, Victor’s standing by the window, fully outlined by the glittering light of dawn. For a moment, Yuuri imagines that he could study Victor like this forever, but he’s denied the opportunity; Victor mutters something indecipherable and disgruntled. He must hear it as Yuuri sits up onto his palms, because he turns and summons a smile which sits uneasily on his face. It wavers like a passing shadow as he reaches up to draw the curtains more tightly closed, and then sinks into a waiting chair. Doing so viciously extinguishes the dawnbreaker’s halo of sunlight surrounding him, leaving behind someone whose weariness Yuuri can still see as plainly as the day. “I have to leave,” Victor murmurs, quietly, without apology or preamble. “... Soon."
“Oh,” says Yuuri. For some reason he is not surprised. The surprise is how much it hurts, to have so swiftly fallen into the startling, perfect intimacy of the night before, and to lose it just as quickly in the stark light of morning. Amongst the gods it’s the spring-god who they say brings the dawn, youngest of them all, and today Yuuri almost resents him for what the morning’s stolen from the night. But he also sees how intently Victor is watching him, with a thousand different regrets in those beautiful blue eyes, and promptly locks away his own sadness. “Well,” he whispers, wrapping the blankets around his shoulders as he stands, prowling closer to the chair. Yuuri reflexively smiles at Victor’s sharp, unsteady inhale of breath as he sinks to his knees in front of the chair. “Let me give you something before you go.”
Something to remember me by, he thinks, because Victor is beautiful and has burst into Yuuri’s life like a shooting star, and Yuuri is ordinary, just the place Victor passed through once. And yet still he feels lucky: Victor leaves him with a mottled love-bite on his chest over his heart. It doesn’t fade like a normal bruise: instead it becomes paler than the rest of his skin, something Yuuri can look at and touch whenever he thinks he dreamed the whole thing up. He lays a hand on it as he passes through other villages, other temples; when he sings, when he dances.
It becomes the one part of his body he begins, slowly, unconsciously, to think of as sacred.
Years later he returns to the same village, not sure what he’s hoping to find there, and then he boards one of the ships on a whim. He tells himself it’s not because he’s looking for Victor, but even Yuuri knows that’s probably a lie. When a storm takes the ship and he’s plunged into the cold water, Yuuri thinks he hears Victor’s voice, stricken by panic -- No. Nonono — Hang on, Yuuri, it’s too soon, you can’t — I’ll get you to the surface —
It is Victor, Yuuri thinks, with relief. He’s finally found him.
He’s been looking for this kiss for so long; he opens his arms and his mouth to the sea and welcomes it — No! Yuuri —
How terrible it is, they always say, to love something The Stranger can touch.
Awareness and memory return to him slowly, like the give and take of sand at the shoreline, pushed and pulled by the tides. Yuuri is his name, he thinks, though there are others that stand out to him as he reflects on the thing that was his life, once. One of them in particular strikes him with resonance and meaning, as though the name were a hammer and his whole being a bell: Victor.
This name gives him the impetus to gather himself, to move, to seek. Yuuri’s limbs feel coltish and new, and he explores them with surprise, studying his hands, getting to his feet. And then he walks, leaving behind an empty stone pavilion to explore a garden seized mid-bloom by the fury of winter. Everywhere there are crystalline blue roses, frozen over and withered with a frost that must have captured the entire garden at the height of its bloom, and he scoops a fallen blossom up from the ground as he wanders.
Yuuri does not know exactly where he is going, but he knows he’s going to find something terribly important when he gets there. Ahead looms a palace sculpted out of black marble with veins of gold and silver; he climbs the steps, hardly noticing that his footprints leave a trail outlined in glittering garnet behind. It is cold here, and dark, although the stars overhead are more numerous and bright and close than he remembers; the constellations stand out all the clearer for it. He thinks it may perhaps be the real night sky, truer than anything he ever knew before.
At the same time, it feels familiar, like a place he’s already been.
Before. Whatever he was before was a smaller thing than whatever he is now; his senses are alive with something new, something different. The air is still and fragrant, and it’s strange to think of it in shades of blue, or to perceive the static hum of magic, even amidst the stark and frozen silence of this place. As he walks he gathers a robe to himself, weaving it out of the thin, still air: scarlet silk with cranes taking flight over his shoulders, and the blossoms of plums at his feet. He ties the luxurious fabric around himself, knotting the bolt of silk in the front with an ironic smile. People used to assign meaning to such silly things, Yuuri remembers. It amuses him, for some reason, to do so now.
He finds Victor alone at the end of a room like a cathedral, turning a crown over and over again in his hands. It's an unpleasant, ancient looking thing, wrought from shards of precious metals and ice. He is Victor, but not Victor as he ought to be, Yuuri thinks. Victor is not meant to be wrapped up in a shroud like this, hooden and hidden, pale and wan. This is the Victor the mortals call The Stranger, the one everyone but Yuuri fears. He is a creature of mourning and loss and death, a being of only endings.
“... Hello,” he offers. The single word shatters the silence, making Victor startle and look up. He's let his hair go long and stringy, a dirty, mournful platinum, but his eyes are still striking: rendered a pale, frozen blue. He's sick with grief, Yuuri thinks, sensing Victor's sadness as though it were a note on the air, the feeling as tangible to him as his own. Indeed, there are trails of tears on Victor's wan cheekbones.
Victor stares at him, mouth slightly open with shock. "Yuuri?" He asks, and then shakes his head. He says nothing, but his thoughts are plain as day: I'm dreaming again. You're dead and it's my fault. It's always my fault.
"I did die, I think," Yuuri admits. Because you went looking for me, he hears Victor think, the other man’s feelings as plain to him as the blue of his eyes or, now, a very faint and floral scent. I should never have come for you. It makes Yuuri shake his head, stepping closer to climb the stairs that lead to a throne of stone and ice. "If I can die,” he amends, because he’s not really sure. “I don't think I'm dead now," he declares.
Indeed, whatever he is now is the very opposite of death.
"You should be a shade," Victor replies, disbelieving. "Mortals always are. An echo until it's time for reb—" He leaves the last word unfinished, too startled to speak: Yuuri has taken his hands, which are thin and cold, to warm them in his own, with a huff of breath that crystallizes in the cold air. Color creeps back into Victor's fingertips, and Yuuri sifts through his feelings of despair and doubt, reaching for something that is small and glittering and bright underneath those layers of sadness. Impossible, Victor thinks, but that feeling is gathering brilliance and shine; Yuuri nurtures it, encourages it to grow. Around them both the scent of roses grows stronger. "You ... You ..."
"Tell me about your dreams," Yuuri insists, adamant, as he reaches and folds Victor's hood back, and combs his fingers through the tangles in Victor's long hair until it begins to regain its shine and shimmer.
Victor tells him about the boy who once danced for him in a remote village temple, and how, once his attention had drifted there, he'd been unable to look away. "It was like you knew me," he whispers, disbelieving fingers curling around Yuuri's, and then sliding to the bones of his wrists. Real. But it's impossible; only the gods are real here … Other figures dance through Victor’s thoughts, spring and summer and harvest. His peers, in a way, Yuri and Jean-Jacques and Christophe. Except that Victor is also peerless. Alone. Not anymore, Yuuri thinks. "I told myself I'd stay away, but I kept thinking about it. About you. We don't need sleep, but there are dreams, trances, and it was always you, spinning just out of my reach."
"I think I remember," Yuuri admits. At least, he remembers having strange dreams, too big to bear alone. Was I with you, then, he wonders, but Victor gives no sign of hearing him, and does not answer. “At least, I remember having strange dreams. I remember that I couldn’t remember them well, but I’d always wake up …”
“You were mortal,” Victor manages, but it’s all he manages; Yuuri has summoned up the echo of those feelings, every morning he woke alone, head still swimming with an unremembered desire, and he’s sharing it with Victor now as he dips one finger under his chin. An idea is coalescing: that feelings and thoughts are his domain, that he can sense and share them as readily as Victor can freeze oceans or sift through lives. He sees how affected Victor is by it already, eyes dilated and dark, a thin and glacial ring around a black sea. Without preamble, Yuuri climbs over his lap and smiles languidly as Victor's trembling palms rest on the silk over his hips. "Is that why you came to me at the seaside?"
"I thought if I met you once ..." Victor trails off. It's a ridiculous premise. His fingers tremble with the memory of it: one perfect night, shattered by impetuous dawn. You can’t stay here, Yuri had insisted. What do you think you’re gonna do, Victor? Grow old and die with him?
"You could go back to an eternity like this?" Yuuri asks, tilting his head towards the empty hall. He closes his eyes, and when he opens them again, hundreds of silk lanterns have lit and waft gracefully towards the ceiling. It’s as easily done as breathing: he wishes for more light, more warmth, and the world around him reacts to the mere thought. "Alone? Self-exiled?"
"I defeated the Titans," Victor points out, voice level. Under Yuuri's fingertips, his shoulders feel stronger, more dangerous, defiant. It makes Yuuri want to purr with satisfaction; he wants all of Victor, even his deadliest pieces. "The others are afraid of me." It’s two-thirds truth and one-third lie; of them all Autumn comes the closest to understanding him, but Christophe has his own mysteries to oversee, rituals of harvest and fertility for which he is still worshipped by an adoring public. None of them know what it is to be feared.
And Victor hasn’t really known what it is to be loved, Yuuri thinks. All this time.
"Still," Yuuri hums. He remembers that one impossible night in an inn by the sea; gathers up how he'd felt, fingers raking helplessly into the sheets as Victor pressed rich, filthy kisses into the meat of his ass and opened him up with his tongue, and pushes that feeling back into Victor. He’s rewarded with a sudden gasp that makes his smile grow wider. "I think not, don’t you?"
Just like that, Yuuri stands up, leaving Victor alone to sit in the pool of arousal he's created. What are you? Victor wonders. Yuuri smiles at him, achingly fond, and presses a hand to Victor's chest. He thinks he'll leave a mark there later, ruby-red. Then they'll match. "An answer to a question you asked, I think," he decides, leaning in to kiss Victor's forehead. Yuuri thinks that the word love is too small for them, for this feeling, but it's the only word he has. He gathers it up again and lets it seep into Victor's aura like sunshine on sand, and then walks towards an arched doorway.
Back on the throne, Victor is flushed, cheeks rosy-pink, eyes sapphire-bright. "W... Where are you going?"
"I imagine you must have a bedroom here somewhere," Yuuri hums, thoughtfully. I thought I'd go put it to use. Plum blossoms drift off of his robe, leaving petals in the wake of his footsteps. The kimono slips low over his neck as he casts a glance over his shoulder. "You're not planning on coming like that , I hope."
When Victor rises, ice and shadow slip off of him like a discarded cloak; he shines like a diamond in the pale moonlight. The mourner is forgotten, replaced by the beauty of winter and the seas and the stars. "Be careful what you wish for," he murmurs, flashing a brief, biting grin.
"Oh," Yuuri assures him, studying the mottled aura that surrounds Victor until he finds desire and pulls , makes it race over Victor's skin until he shudders, eyes sapphire-dark, intent. "I intend to." Aren't you also a hunter, he thinks. That’s what they always said in the Fane. Catch me if you can.
Victor does catch him. He crowds Yuuri up against the cold walls of the palace as the stars sparkle overhead, shining through a ceiling made of glass. He gathers Yuuri up, legs around his waist, red silk pooling over his strong arms, their mouths crushed together in a one biting kiss after another. Victor carries him back to a platform of pillows and silks, and lays him down there, dispenses with Yuuri's obi and marvels . They move together mindlessly in their pleasure, but as the desperate urgency of it begins to wane, as Victor moves his hands over Yuuri's limbs again and again, reassuring himself that he's real, his kisses soften and settle into airy, soft things dropped over Yuuri's brow, and then his eyelids, his cheeks, the corner of his mouth. Victor cradles Yuuri’s face like it's the most precious thing he'll ever hold between his hands. "You know," he says, quietly, uncovering a revelation, "I think you could hurt me if you made up your mind to do it."
What he means is: you might be the only one who could. Yuuri smooths his hands over Victor's broad shoulders and considers it. "I could," he agrees. He thinks love has that power, demands a certain sacrifice of self. Its existence guarantees the possibility of pain. "... but it would also hurt me." It makes Yuuri sad to think of it, and so he sinks, once more, into the fragrant field of Victor’s emotions and lets himself be comforted by the adoration and desire he finds there; strums along them both until Victor’s vibrating with them, an instrument Yuuri’s yanked into tune and which he intends to play. "Is this too much?"
Victor gives the question the consideration it's due. "No," he says, and slots their lips together once more. You can go further, he thinks.
Yuuri meets with no resistance when he rolls them over and makes love sing between them a second time.
He does not know how much time passes--it's irrelevant, they will have all of eternity to have each other in every possible permutation; they are re-making the word--before someone bursts into Victor's halls. It’s another god. This one is strong and impatient, with eyes as blue as lakes, smelling of green grass and as brash as the summer sun. Yuuri studies him from where he sits, half-dressed, debauched and disheveled, on Victor's lap. He’s been idly feeding him white cherries, partly because that’s what Victor’s told him he thinks Yuuri’s kisses taste like, now, and also because it’s as good a way to pass the time as any while he keeps Victor’s cock warm, sheathed as it still is inside of Yuuri’s body until he decides to make good on a promise he’s made to make Victor come so loudly that it accidentally summons the hounds which guard the underworld to their throne room.
"Who the hell are you?" demands the Summer-god. All things considered, Yuuri thinks, that’s a rude turn of phrase. That anyone ever thought that about this place, Victor’s domain, shows just how little anyone knows. Yuuri, who knows him best, understands differently: this is paradise. Jean-Jacques, he remembers, giving their intruder a leisurely study. He sifts through the summer god’s memories like he’s passing his hand over a field of wheat. Impetuous. Recently married. Equal parts aroused and confused by what he’s just walked in on.
Evidently it’s the sort of thing Jean-Jacques had come to expect of Christophe, whose legends of harvest season orgies are apparently not a myth at all. Yuuri suspects they’ll get along just fine. But as for now:
"The god of love," Yuuri retorts, shifting pointedly in Victor's lap, fingers skimming over his hips. He feels Victor smirk into his shoulders as Yuuri lets loose his gift, and watches as Jean-Jacques staggers backwards with the force of it. "If you want to stay married," he hums, licking the taste of cherries off his lips, "I suggest you leave us alone for a while."
I love you, Victor thinks. And for the first time, Yuuri realizes how right he is.
Yes. You were meant to.
We were, Victor agrees, and seals it with another cherry-pomegranate kiss.