Katsuki Yuuri was just six years old when it first happened. He had been minding his own business, quite happily drawing an interesting rendition of a bird perched outside his window, and had blinked only to find himself somewhere completely different.
He let out a shout of alarm - but it wasn’t his voice - and all of a sudden, feet that were far too big to be his slipped out from underneath him and he found himself lying on something very hard, and very cold.
Wincing in pain, Yuuri slowly raised his head, taking in the sights around him. He was in the middle of a giant oval of ice, encased by walls which were solid on the lower half and transparent on the upper. Judging by the strange boots on his feet with large metal blades, coupled with his surroundings, Yuuri could only come to the conclusion that he was in an ice skating rink. Though he had not seen one before, one of his best friends, Yuuko, took ice skating lessons, and she often told him all about them. She was constantly nagging him to come along, but he would always decline - why would he choose to be cold for fun? Yuuri much preferred the warm onsen his family owned.
But that wasn’t what he should be thinking about right now. A rising bubble of panic started to fill Yuuri as he frantically looked down at his hands. They were larger than his, and the fingers were much longer, possessing none of the chubbiness of Yuuri’s own. He reached up to his aching head, pressing his hands into his hair - it was short and silky-feeling, and Yuuri couldn’t see what colour it was. His clothes were plain, and fitted well to his body, but in his panic, he couldn’t even figure out if the body he was possessing belonged to a boy or a girl. His eyes began to blur with tears. Where was he -- and what was happening to him? He desperately tried to get to his feet, hoping he could move elsewhere to try and find a place to view his reflection, but Yuuri’s feet slid out from underneath him again, and he ended up a crumpled tangle of limbs back on the ice. A sob broke its way free from his throat, and it echoed across the emptiness of the rink, just moments before Yuuri heard someone else's voice.
A figure was skating across the ice towards him, yelling something at him at a rough voice. Yuuri turned his gaze towards the person from his awkward position on the ice, willing himself to calm down - surely this was all just a dream? He blinked furiously, pleading with the hot tears streaming down his cheeks to stop falling as the man neatly halted in front of him. The man said something again - and Yuuri realised this time, as he tried his best to calm down - that he couldn’t actually understand what he was saying.
The man was not talking in Japanese. Whatever language it was, Yuuri certainly didn’t know it, and the strange man seemed to be getting very frustrated at the fact he was not being given a response to whatever he was asking. Yuuri opened his mouth, tried to will himself to say something -- anything, but his voice seemed to have abandoned him, and he was left with his mouth snapping open and shut like a fish.
The man was now silent. He had scraggly grey hair that peeked out from underneath a black fedora, and he wore a long, dark coat. He was eyeing Yuuri with a steely glare, an eyebrow raised.
Yuuri tried to speak again. In slightly stuttery Japanese, he managed to get out, “I-I’m sorry, sir. I don’t understand what you are saying.” He felt a blush rising to his cheeks, and knew that combined with his tear streaked face, he must look like an utter mess. He felt humiliated.
What Yuuri wasn’t prepared for however, was the utterly baffled look that appeared across the older man’s face. It was quickly replaced by an unreadable gaze, and the older man said something that made a little more sense to Yuuri.
“Do you …. English?”
Yuuri frowned. He spoke the tiniest amount of English - there was an English class at school, but at Yuuri’s age, school focused more on the children’s Japanese.
“Very small English,” he managed to reply, in a horribly stunted manner.
The man nodded to himself absently. He extended a hand, and the sniffling Yuuri took it. He found himself being hoisted on to his feet, and this time when his feet desperately scrabbled upon the ice, firm hands on his waist stopped him from falling down. Yuuri hesitantly looked up at the older man, realising that he was already intently staring back down at him with dark eyes.
The man was asking another question, he realised, but this one was beyond his comprehension. He felt the tears begin to start again, and he squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head, willing to be anywhere but here, in this strange and foreign place.
When Yuuri opened his eyes again, he was back in his room, a purple marker dropping out of his hand. It landed upon the drawing he had been working on just moments before. However, the artwork was no longer just his own.
Next to his drawing of a bird was a picture of a fluffy looking, purple dog.
Yuuri’s immediate reaction to his strange ordeal was naturally, as any six year old would, was to tell his parents all about of it. He had no idea if what had happened to him was real, or just some absurdly realistic dream, but perhaps they could help him. Yuuri desperately hoped they would believe him.
Drawing clutched to his chest, he had thundered out of his room, down the hall, and round the corner to the living area where his parents were going about their evening.
“Mama! Papa!” He skidded to a halt at the kotatsu where they sat, slamming the drawing down on the top of it. “Look, look!” Yuuri stabbed his finger at the drawing.
Yuuri’s father leant over the top of his newspaper, pushing his glasses further up his nose as he looked down at the drawing. He let out a chuckle, studying it. “This is a very nice drawing, Yuuri. Is this what you wanted to show us?”, he said, just as Yuuri’s mother emerged from the kitchen. She let out a gasp of delight when she saw the picture. “Oh Yuuri, dear, this is really very good! That dog especially! I didn’t know that you could draw so well.”
Yuuri shook his head rapidly. They didn’t understand! “No, I mean yes! It is very good! But I- I didn’t draw it! It wasn’t me!”
Almost if planned, his parents both tilted their heads to the side simultaneously. His mother was first to speak.
“But surely you must have, dear? Mari is out at a sleepover. There is nobody else here that could have drawn it!”. His father nodded in agreement.
Yuuri gulped. It was time to tell them what he had experienced.
“Ma, Da… Can I tell you something? Something kind of important.”
His parents looked taken aback by his sudden change in tone. He set down his newspaper.
“Of course, son,” said his dad. “You know you can talk to us about anything.”
Yuuri couldn’t meet his gaze. “I’m just worried you won’t believe me,” he mumbled.
His father leant forward, and put a firm hand on Yuuri’s trembling shoulder.
“You can always talk to us if you have something on your mind. I want you to remember that, always.”
Yuuri nodded weakly, and steeled himself.
“Just before.. I was drawing this picture.” He gestured down at it. “But the picture I was drawing… It was just the bird.” He took a deep breath and continued. “I looked out the window again, to get another view of the bird, and when I blinked, I.. I… I was somewhere else.” Yuuri looked meekly up at his parents, wondering what their reaction would be.
He was surprised at what he saw. Though their eyes were wide, they didn’t look as shocked or confused as Yuuri had assumed they would. They almost looked as if… perhaps they had known this would happen.
Yuuri’s father noticed his pause. He blinked rapidly, before coughing and saying, “Well, go on then son. What happened next? Where were you?”
Yuuri nodded. It was now or never. “I woke up in someone else’s body. They were a bit bigger than me. I couldn’t tell if they were a boy or a girl, I was so scared and afraid. I think… I think I might have been in an ice skating rink. There was a huge oval of ice, like the ones Yuuko talks about from her lessons - and I had these strange shoes on, with big metal blades underneath.”
His mother spoke now. “Hmm, so you think you were in a skating rink, dear? Did you see anybody else around?”
Yuuri had almost forgotten the strange, older man that had found him in a crumpled heap on the ice. “Yes, there was an older man there. Older than you or Papa. He helped me stand up on the ice, because I couldn’t get up on my own. But there was something strange about him. He spoke to me in a language that I didn’t understand. It wasn’t Japanese. I tried to talk to him in Japanese, and he realised something was wrong, so he said some stuff in English. But I didn’t really understand any of that either.” The memory of his strange and terrifying encounter was threatening to make his eyes overflow with tears again.
Yuuri’s mother noticed his distress, and immediately scooted forwards, wrapping him in her warm embrace. “It’s alright dear. I know how scary that must have felt. It’s okay if you need to cry.”
Yuuri buried his head into his mother's chest, desperately trying to stop his sniffling. He should be strong and brave, not a snivelling crybaby. After a few moments, he managed to calm his hitched breathing, and he pulled away from his mother, offering her a watery smile.
After a moment, his father broke the silence. “I think we might know what is going on, son. Do you want to take a seat at the kotatsu? This might take a while to explain.” His parents shared knowing glances, as a bewildered Yuuri looked between them. Shrugging, he moved to his favourite spot at the kotatsu, waiting for whatever explanation they had to offer. His father turned to his ma. “Hiroko, dearest, do you want to put on some tea?”
His ma smiled back at his pa. “Of course dear. I’ll get right onto it.” She started to bustle around the kitchen, while his father resettled himself down on the opposite side of the kotatsu.
Yuuri did his best not to fidget, and remained still like how his parents had taught him to. But on the inside, his mind was reeling, doing flips and cartwheels. He had expected his parents to be shocked, confused -- but they seemed to accept the ridiculous story he had just told them without complaint. Nestling into the warmth of the kotatsu, he waited for his mother to finish making the tea.
She eventually brought three steaming bowls of tea to the table, and Yuuri took his bowl in both hands appreciatively. He turned the bowl around before taking a sip, then twisted it back and set it down in front of him. Yuuri had never liked tea much, but somehow, its bitterness was growing on him. Perhaps it was because his family drank it so much. It still had nothing on katsudon, though.
Once both of his parents had taken sips of their tea, his father began to speak.
“Yuuri.. What we are about to tell you might sound a little strange, but listen carefully.” His mother nodded.
“That thing that just happened to you… It happens to everybody, at some point in their lives. We call it switching. Switching is where your consciousness randomly, and for random amounts of time, swap places with somebody else's. Their consciousness jumps into your body, and your consciousness jumps into theirs.”
Yuuri frowned. What a strange thing to happen. It was almost unbelievable. “Does it always happen with the same person?” he asked hesitantly.
His parents slowly turned towards each other, sharing a knowing smile before his mother answered him. “Yes, dearest. When you switch, it always happens with the same person. That person is the person who has been chosen to be your soulmate.”
Yuuri tilted his head in confusion, mimicking his parents action from earlier on. “What’s a soulmate?”
His father answer him this time, a smile creeping across his face. “Well… A soulmate is the person that you are destined to one day fall in love with, and spend the rest of your life with. Your ma is my soulmate, and we are the best of friends.” He reached his arm out across Hiriko’s shoulder, and she leant into him, smiling.
Yuuri stuck his tongue out. Falling in love? Yuuri thought he was much too young to be considering such ideas. He was quite content in his own company, he didn’t need some other person to kiss and cuddle! The very idea made him shudder. His mother giggled.
“It might seem a little far-fetched right now. But one day, you’ll meet your soulmate! That’s what the switching is for - so you can try and figure out who they are, so someday you can meet them. Once you’ve recognised each other as partners, the switching stops, and it won’t happen ever again.”
Yuuri frowned. “I hardly learnt anything about my soulmate when I switched before, though!” he said indignantly. “All I know is that they are probably older than me, ice skate, and don’t speak my language! I don’t even know if they are a boy or a girl!”
His mother laughed. “No need to worry, Yuuri. That’s why you have these moments of switching. So that you can learn more about your soulmate, and one day meet them! You’re almost lucky really, to have your first switch so young. Your pa and I were very surprised, they don’t normally happen at your age. But I guess now, you’ll have a long time to figure out more about them!”
Yuuri still had one worry though. “But Ma.. What if my soulmate is a boy? Usually it is a boy and a girl in a couple... If my soulmate turns out to be a boy, would that be weird?” He had seen the way that some of the girls giggled at him at school. None of the boys were like that, though. They seemed much more sensible.
She shook her head, smiling. “Not at all, sweetheart. Plenty of people have soul mates who are the same sex as them. And who are we to judge? They’re the person that has been chosen who is the best match for you in the whole wide world. What matters is what is on the inside, and nothing else.”
Yuuri sprang up from his spot by the kotatsu, and ran round to the other side, capturing his parents into the biggest hug he could muster, trying to show how much he loved them.
“I love you Ma. I love you, Pa!” he cried. His father planted a kiss on his cheek, and his mother ruffled his hair.
“We love you too, Yuuri,” smiled his mother. She glanced away for a moment, looking up at the clock on the wall, and she started in alarm. “Goodness me, dear, it is way past your bedtime! Off to bed now with you, I think. You’ve had enough excitement for one day.” His pa nodded in agreement.
Yuuri gave both his parents a kiss, then scuttled away. Just as he was about to go back down the hall he turned to his parents. He had an idea.
“Ma, Da?” he asked. “Can I take up those ice skating lessons Yuuko keeps offering?”