Victor dies when he is forty-two, but his death is not natural.
He is shot in the middle of the road, where he'd been tottering home with groceries and medicine for his mother. The older woman is known for being a bit soft in the head, and her son for reading stories in the city's plaza for pocket change. The man guns him down because Victor, uncharacteristically, is wearing an incredibly fine coat with a chain at the breast. It had been a gift from his mentor, and his birthday was the next day, so he figured he could wear it two days in a row and preen.
A petty thief guns him down, and Victor dies of shock and chill, blue eyes wide open as he goes.
The moment darkness creeps at the edge of his vision and Victor gives in to his fate, he blinks awake in a warm bed.
He pats his chest, which had previously burned with a pain so searing that he hadn't even been able to scream. The colors around him are all very different than what he is used to, and his skin fits very different across his limbs than it had before he'd been shot.
He clambers to the nearest window after hearing a strange sound outside.
Below, on the streets, there are carriages with horses taking people around, and when he catches a glimpse of himself in the glass, he looks at least half the age he'd been before his death.
His heart flutters and he grows immensely nervous, lost in a place with clothing that feels too heavy and no chest wound to speak of, utterly confused.
I can only do so much.
You must figure out how to make the best of things.
Are you willing to try?
There are dim lights and greasy smells all around him. Although some of the streets look somewhat familiar - the grimy alleys, the hodgepodge Cyrillic scribbled on wooden posts, old hostels with laundry lines drawn outside of the windows - most of his surroundings are unrecognizable. People are speaking a language he's supposed to understand, but he feels massively useless at even doing that.
He hurries through the unnervingly empty streets until he stumbles upon a lake at the edge of town.
It had been his favorite thing to do as a child, to strip down and swim in the water. During particularly cold winters, he would glide across it with his threadbare shoes and imitate the birds. It looks much the same as it did in his past. If anything, it is a bit crowded with old horseshoes and broken glass, but that's just a casual reminder that humanity is much the same as it always was - dirty and disrespectful to the environment.
His father died in a mineshaft a long way from home when he was ten. It was nasty work, something that only a filthy, money-mongering human would force another to do. Victor never forgets the pain of identifying his crushed face after the accident.
After sitting on the lake's banks for an hour, he wanders through town until he finds a library and sits inside of the place all day, trying to learn everything about this strange place he is in.
I cannot always watch you.
I cannot control the fickle hands of time.
Victor wakes up in a countryside home, limbs gangly. A woman who looks remarkably like his mother had is humming with a needle pinched between her fingers, a patchwork shirt cradled on her lap.
"Boy," she says softly, the sound of her threading both familiar and strange. "You are staring."
He snaps out of his trance in a daze at the words. "I'm sorry." Victor smiles at the small woman and turns his eyes to the little window overlooking a pasture.
The time he'd been in before this had almost been modern, by comparison. He'd scrabbled around town to delve into something he'd cared little for in his original time - history. For almost six months, he'd spoken with people in libraries and bars, acquired a monetary budget through less-than-ideal means, and adapted to the era.
It was uncomfortable, and oftentimes he wanted to complain about how much the world had changed. At the end of the day, he'd come no closer to discovering why he hadn't died in his original time, or why he had been transported to the past.
So, he'd kept his mouth free of complaints and kept his head down, trying his best to blend in, or at least fade into the background.
This era seems as though it will prove more difficult to hide in plain sight. "Such an airy boy. You should go outside and dream underneath the sun, at least."
Victor sighs before smiling. "Yes ma'am." He goes out and sees nothing but fields for miles and lets the breeze roll over him. Once he comes back inside, he offers to hang the laundry. His caretaker of this time clicks her tongue and sets him to tanning leather and shearing the sheep.
He works most evenings until his hands are raw, but his reward on the weekends is much the same as it is in all times. The woman frees him to roam, and he heads for water. In the fall, he sits with his toes in it. In the winter, he waits until the frost is deep in the lake before he dances over the surface.
The woman finds him a bit frivolous and a tad too graceful for a young man, but he has no heart to be frustrated with her for her lack of understanding.
Victor disappears from that time before the snow melts from the trees.
We can only meet like this.
You will find your own answers.
Victor discovers many things through his passages of time. He finds that people change very little, that he enjoys reading voraciously in his spare time, and that it is incredibly difficult to make friends when he cannot seem to stay rooted to a time for longer than six months.
He lands just before the twenty-first century after having been born in the nineteenth, breezing through the fifth BCE, eighteenth, twelfth (and what a nightmare that had been), and fifteenth. By this point, hurtling into this new century is more of a chore than anything.
When he arrives in a new time, the leaves are almost always falling in Russia. It is beautiful, of course, but Victor desperately misses Springtime in St. Petersburg. He flips through ads in the paper and muses that his age this time is fairly young. He's been an old man, a young man, middle aged, and a child through his journeys. He seems doomed to begin this new adventure as a boy, much to his dismay.
It is difficult to find work for this very reason. Advertisements warn that he has to have documentation and mention age restrictions. The hassle is tremendous.
Eventually, he finds someone to support his efforts after weeks and weeks of tumbling around stealing from open-air shopping markets. The man works on organizing Victor's papers and tells him that he has to apply himself to something. Victor scours the internet for choices, for although he is highly educated, he is entirely self-taught. His intimate knowledge of war, suffering, intellect, and discovery will not win him anything immediately useful.
His eyes stop on words that are a bit strange to process. Ice Skating Competition. It costs a hundred rubles to participate, and the grand prize is thirty thousand rubles. Participants must be between ages ten to fourteen. He's danced and played on the ice his whole life, through everything, but he's sure he won't win this complex thing. He knows that it's been an officiated sport quite some time, and he figures that it is worth investigating, at least.
Victor signs up for the competition two months before it begins. He begs his benefactor for the entry fee, and then for the money to buy skates and a pass to the rink so that he can practice. The man is gruff, but he allows it, as he has no children to speak of and a surprising amount of cash to burn.
The boots are binding, heavy, and awkward. He is used to being able to lift his limbs and imitate the birds, but this provides a strange new difficulty to the act. He wobbles on the ice around his fellow children, getting used to the blades one glide at a time. After falling five times, he gets the hang of it.
He swiftly glides on the ice, and immediately begins to play. Before he notices, he is smiling, red faced, hurtling over the ice with twists and dips and little dashes, faster than he'd ever dreamed he could be. The lakes he'd played on pale by comparison. Here, in this place, he feels like he can fly.
There are other children around him, going "ooh" and "ahh" at his demonstration. He flexibly arches his back and curls his hands around his ankles in a crouch, flashing them smiles. Children are always honest in their praise and actions.
He leaves for the day with sweat dried on his skin, sitting happily in his benefactor's car.
By the time the competition rolls around, Victor has jumped and spun and watched hundreds of competition videos on tapes from the library, mimicking their moves, their expressions, and their fluidity out on the ice. Although he doesn't expect to win, there's nothing to say the he can't prepare to the best of his ability.
The rink is filled with tension and rampant emotions.
After all of the turmoil, all of the tears, scraped knees, and bloody noses, Victor comes out the event miraculously unscathed.
He is breathless, his hair is pulled back in a little rat tail, and he cannot keep a smile off of his face for the life of him.
When all is said and done, Victor comes in second place.
The judges and the parents all have praise for his form. He's a dark horse here in St. Petersburg, where ice skating is deathly competitive. His benefactor slaps him on the back.
"You could make a living out of this, Vitya," he affectionately praises him.
Victor tastes glory for the first time in his life, and it is addictive.
I have told you before, I cannot control time.
Only you can change fate.
I only promised you that you would have the chance to change it.
The past is, in a word, boring.
People are always at war, always searching for food, and heat, and shelter. It is a terrifying reality that almost all illnesses are terminal, and live birth rates are lower than the general populace's death rates.
Victor skates, of course, as often as he can, and dances through times that don't have competitive ice skating yet, making money off of his beautiful performances and charming his way into warm bedrooms.
Taverns are always full when he travels about town, and he is absolutely bored of everything they have to offer. Vodka. Stew. Companions. Filthy drinking water and the stink of the sewers. The slaughter houses.
Every night, he dreams of that wonderful half-year in the future, so far from now and so very immaterial.
If he ever finds a way back to that time, he will bargain with death itself to have just another moment of that flush of life. It had been the most alive he'd felt since he'd been shot in the chest years ago.
Technically, it is more than two centuries ahead of the current time when that happens, but he had been forty-two when this mess started, and he's lived 57 Autumns and Winters since then, making him old enough to be someone's grandfather, or even great-grandfather, in his original day.
He waits, learning more and more, polishing and improving and carving his soul into the ice, desperately hoping that it hears his cry.
Victor's dreams soon become eerily silent.
Victor lives through five more atrocious periods before his prayers are answered.
He quickly finds a new caretaker, a rather modern woman, and settles into his new look. There are thankfully still records of his previous dash into the twenty-first century, so there is not much for him to do other than collect his prize money for coming in second place at the children's competition from his old benefactor and begin his quest.
There is excited chatter about his return to the ice after a two year period of hearing nothing about the boy who had come from nowhere and swept the competition out of the park. Victor skates every single day, until he has bruises on all of his joints and a near-permanent flush from chill painted over his cheeks.
He is thirteen and seventy-three and tired down to his bones, but the thrill of flittering about on the ice burns hot in his veins. Every month, he enters a competition, garnering funds from sponsors after the third gold medal.
Victor sweats, bleeds, and cries. He decides to grow his hair out on a whim, watching it begin to curl around his chin.
Month six comes far too soon, and Victor looks up to the moon, wishing for something to change. Anything. He needs this.
As though the skies had been watching him and listening to his prayers, a nondescript creature appears on the ledge and holds out a long, thin limb. "Hello, Victor," a voice says. Victor's ice blue eyes study the figure with a racing heart. "How do you like this chance?"
Victor's mouth moves, but no words come out. After a few minutes, he stutters until he manages to whisper, "Chance?"
"I've spoken to you before, in dreams, but I always erase those memories," the shadowed figure says, sounding a bit sad. "You wanted a chance, all those years ago. A chance to do something. A chance to live. A chance to prove to your mother that you were more than a cheap storyteller in the streets of your village." Playful, tree-like tendrils creep from many feet away to caress Victor's boyishly soft face. "I provided this chance, but it came with many caveats. In many times, you felt as though you had failed. For reasons out of my control, I left you alone for a time, and for that, I am sorry." With a pause, the creature does something similar to laughing. "It's been a while since I've seen you so young."
"But I am...awake, am I not?" Victor pinches his cheek to double check, and it hurts.
"It is part of my amends," the shadow breezily whispers. "To help you. To remove some of those constraints."
Victor's eyes are growing hot with the threat of tears. "You are too kind to me. What have I ever done to deserve this?"
"Possibly nothing. Perhaps everything. Whimsy is thrillingly unpredictable, you see." The creature creates a soft glow about Victor and half-laughs again. "You always surprise me. Let us discuss the terms."
After a pause, the creature speaks again. "You will stay rooted in this time forever, I'm afraid. You are considered deceased in your original time." Victor nods easily. He's no longer attached to anything there. His mother has probably been dead for ages, and there is no need to frighten her from beyond the grave by coming back to life unnaturally. "You will age from this point on. The most I can do is tether your soul and this body to this time. You will become like a typical resident of this time in all ways." Victor knows this adolescent body is an annoyance, but it's one that he'll happily live with. "And finally, you will continue to seek that same goal of proving your worth to the most important person in your life. Our terms are being revised, not erased, so I have to keep some part our agreement the same."
Victor's face falls just slightly. "Alright. I am unsure how, exactly, I will manage this, but I will try my best."
"Until you find some way to do so, and find peace with your method, you will not be granted the right to die a natural death, nor will you find happiness."
His blue eyes grow wide, but he sucks in a gasp. "Okay." The creature drops the glow and fades back into the shadows before Victor can blink.
Within weeks, Victor lives to see the Spring creep over St. Petersburg, and he cries.
What does worth mean to you, Victor?
Victor is bodily sixteen, and he has boxes full to bursting with accolades for his ice skating. There are medals, lavish praises in the papers and on the television screen. He searches for meaning in each victory, feeling truly alive out on the ice, and yet something is missing from his life.
He knows that his mother would be proud of him. He's living on his own now, fully supporting his lifestyle with his sponsorship money and monetary awards from competitions. He's on top of the world in the junior division. He's come far, far away from scrounging to live off of scraps from polishing shoes and telling stories in the square.
As he approaches her grave just outside of town, he places a hand on his chest and pledges to take the next level by storm. Ice skating becomes his reason for living. He glances past the flimsy ties to others around him and looks up to the moon, thankful for his current existence. Every beat of his heart in this era grants him peace. Knowing that every day will continue moving forward in a linear fashion keeps his hopes up.
Sometimes, he wakes up in a sweat, sure that he's going to be sent to war, or holding moonlight vigils for dying children. Then, he checks his computer, scrolls through web pages, and indulges himself by reading the hundreds of letters he's received from his coaches, peers, and fans.
The twenty-first century is real, and he sweeps into the World Championship of figure skating with a long ponytail and a fervent passion for his career, seeking glory in every gulp of air, in every twist and spin.
2015 - Part I.
Victor is, truthfully, growing impatient.
Many weekends, after he finishes his daily routine on the ice, he goes to visit his mother's grave and whispers to her. "What else am I supposed to, Mama?"
He doesn't hang his medals, because he's not overly proud of them. If they are not enough to instill a change, to make him feel as old as his heart is, to truly make him feel like he is aging as he's supposed to, what else can he do? Victor has proven that he's so much more than a poor boy from a poor town over and over and over again.
Headlines and newscasters sing his praises as easily as breathing. He just wants to have a true taste of life. His face has filled out, and his smile is polished for the television screen. He invests himself in his social media, scouring for new things to try, accomplishing anything he puts his mind to. After all, he has more life experience than most eighty year olds, although his body is just twenty-seven.
He's become flighty, forgetful, unapologetic, and crass in his old age. Fellow skaters flock to him, but he keeps his life outside of the rink terribly private, not wanting to invite anyone into the mess his mind truly holds.
Every day becomes a larger challenge. His body is no longer rising to the level that he's been pushing it to for over a decade. He's only naturally lived to this age once, in a much different time, and it is far more difficult to age gracefully when he has a reputation to maintain, and a certain degree of flexibility and wellness he has to keep up to do so.
He feels a bit desperate for something to hit him, to have an ah-ha! moment and realize what his dead mother would have wanted to see in him, all those years ago.
Instead of his mother's soft, raspy voice coming up from her crypt, a rink-mate sends him a video.
What he has to do becomes so clear as soon as the video is finished.
2015 - Part II.
Yuuri Katsuki steals his breath away with every glance. The Japanese man is horribly twitchy, nervous around Victor the point of being adorable. Victor toys with him, finds him graceful and beautiful, a distraction of a sort he has not enjoyed for some time. He'd thought himself too bitter and tired to try again, and yet, flirting with Yuuri comes so naturally.
Much to his own surprise, he finds pleasure in Yuuri's success. He watches the young man open up and bloom under the attention, turning coy and seductive and it flusters Victor like he's a child again.
His heart lurches. He's far too broken to touch a person so purely driven as Yuuri. Perhaps he's really only twenty-seven, as he's been reborn dozens of times, but his soul is made up of many fragmented pieces. Victor would hate to explain everything to him. He encourages Yuuri to open up, but he says nothing in response, only granting him physical closeness. He knows Yuuri wants more, can read the raw hunger in his dark eyes and he finds himself floored that he wants to tell him.
But what can he tell him? The truth?
It's unbelievable. If someone told him that it had been a fever dream while he'd been knocked unconscious after falling on the ice, he would have more readily believed that than what he knew to be his own experience.
He wished, vainly, that the creature might reappear and tell him that their deal was off, and that he'd be whisked back to some dark era where whale blubber was still being used for fuel.
Every tournament brings them closer and closer. Victor's breath leaves him after the Japanese regional qualifiers, and he feels as though his heart might fly out of his chest.
As the Cup of China creeps closer, Yuuri's voice is so soft and sweet, his smiles tender and blushes telling. Victor knows that he has to tell him everything.
He's fallen in love, something he's never done before, and the sensation takes him so horribly off guard that he wants to leave the rink and scream.
2015 - Part III.
Victor times it so that Yuuri has several weeks before the big competition to digest the news and, hopefully, to push him away as the madman he knows himself to be. Yuuri sits in the tub with Victor quietly, letting Victor run his hands through his hair while he speaks.
"The thing that none of those fancy stories tell you about time travel is that it's unbelievably lonely." Victor's words are scathing and airy. "To receive a quest with no discernible end is not noble - it is infuriating. Tumbling through eras is jarring and unfortunate. To feel out of touch with your own age is terrible." His hands fall to his sides, trembling, and Yuuri gazes into his glossy blue eyes with a patient air. "I just don't know what to do any more. I haven't lived a normal life in what feels like eons, and I don't even know if I ever will." Yuuri pulls him closer as Victor begins to cry, much to his own dismay. "I don't know what is right or wrong. I don't know how to make my mother proud. What else can I try? I'm just a disgrace, out of place no matter what I do. Maybe I will never find a time that's right for me. Maybe I don't deserve to die."
Yuuri pulls Victor into his arms and threads his fingers through Victor's increasingly thinning silvery hair. "I don't think that's true." Yuuri ignores the fact that they're naked, soaking wet in the hot springs, and in plain sight of anyone from his parents' inn who might need to come out and wash. "You're amazing. I'm sure your mother's ecstatic with your efforts, and I think that creature is just testing you. You have to change fate, right?"
Victor miserably nods against his shoulder.
"Well, look at me," Yuuri says quietly, fingers tracing Victor's jawline. "You've changed my fate plenty, haven't you?"
Ice blue eyes widen at the words, and suddenly the world feels as though it's tilted in the best way.
2016 - Part I.
Victor sits in his hotel, emotions bursting at the seams. Yuuri keeps treating him like a person, like he's allowed to be a screw up and behave like a child. He lets him take naps in his lap, roll around on the sheets, yell his name and lie over Yuuri's shoulders at any given opportunity.
He's teetering on the edge of a life where he feels like he's living. He feels conflicted because he's unsure whether he should be on the ice proving himself or just give into whatever life has in store for him while he's with Yuuri.
When he stands under that garage and Yuuri yells about his true feelings regarding his performance and Victor's faith in him as a skater - as a person - Victor is floored. He's immediately humbled.
Yuuri messes with the top of his scalp before he goes out and astounds the audience. Victor brightens every moment he watches him, enthralled and just so enraptured he cannot believe it. As the performance transitions into his last rotations, Victor's blue eyes momentarily flick to a figure that no one else seems to see. It blinks in and out of existence across the rink, and Victor almost does not notice because he's so busy watching Yuuri.
Still, the words are as clear as if the shadow had been whispering less than an inch away from Victor. "You're free, Victor. How does it feel to dream?"
Then, the creature dissipates, and Victor's mind empties. He's not sure what has changed within himself other than the fact that he's willing to give everything he has to Yuuri, and he's not sure he truly cares at the moment. He flies across the rink to the Kiss-and-Cry, flinging himself at Yuuri after the fantastic sight of his signature move at the end of his program.
"I love you," Victor breathes over Yuuri's lips. "I love you."
Yuuri ruffles the back of his hair and smiles softly. "I love you too."
"Vitya." The sound of his mother's tired, sickly voice makes him turn around and look up from his desk. "Come here, please."
He fears that her vision is failing, so he grasps her hands tightly and hopes that his voice is level. "Mama, I'm here."
She breathes shallowly from her bed. "You know that I love you."
"Always," he says, slightly horrified that she might pass in front of his eyes if he blinks.
"You work all the time, so very hard, for me. I know how you help the men in town to get my medicine."
Victor shakes his head and brushes her wiry hair out of her eyes. "It is no trouble, Mama. I do it because I love you."
"I want you to rest sometimes, boy," she chides him, slapping his forehead with a small smile. "Do not always be so fussy over your mother. Go find someone who keeps you happy when I am gone."
"Don't say that," Victor nearly cries, clutching her hands tightly. "You're going to be well again, Mama. I promise. There's no need for me to worry about such things until you're well."
"Please, Vitya," she begs him with tears in her eyes. "Please promise me that you will. You don't need to tell stories. You don't need to steal. You just need to search for your happiness."
Victor promises, but only because she is sick. He's determined to go to the pharmacy tomorrow and get her a new drug, a stronger one, to bring her health back. Once she falls asleep, he whispers, "I'll help you. You'll be well, and strong, and happy."
She wakes the next morning to find her son gone, sorry that she can never seem to find the right words to get through to him.
2016 - Part II.
Yuuri and Victor lie in bed lazily, just drinking in each other's presence. Victor curls his hands tightly around Yuuri's waist while he's drowsy, drinking in the scent of his lavender shampoo and musky scent. "I'm only going downstairs, Victor. I'll be right back."
He kisses Victor's temple as he slips out from underneath the covers. Victor kisses him on the lips in response.
After he wrangles away from him, he pads down the steps and opens the door to the backyard. He kneels and lets dark, tree-like tendrils creep out of his shadow, murmuring softly. A voice from afar asks him if he has any regrets in making this pact with Victor, in settling into this human skin; if he's fine with atoning for the mistake of reaching out to a human and failing to kill him over and over and over again.
If he's fine with seeing him only in dreams, and then later after he screws up, if he enjoys standing by the human's side.
He gives up immortality for a beautiful man who he could no longer stand to watch suffer, who he's put through horrible things.
One day, he'll tell Victor all of this, and he can only hope that Victor accepts him as he is, terribly in love and foolishly human at his core.
For now, he finishes giving his thanks to the heavens above, to hell below, and he creeps back into bed, closing his eyes in the warmth of Victor's arms.