“Victor,” he says, voice trembling, breath gasping, “Victor - ”
“That’s it, kotyenok, you’re perfect, just - ”
A choked-off moan, a quiet hum. Lips are pressed to the tender, fragile flesh of Yuuri’s jaw, in the dark hollows of his arching, writhing body.
He runs desperate, clawing hands down Victor’s back, nails tugging at skin and leaving reddening trails. There is vulnerability in this, mingled in harsh, gunfire breaths and thrusting, questing hips.
Breath catches, and Yuuri coaxes, teases, encourages. “Yes, Victor, please, god, yes, there.”
Words are staccato syllables pulled from kiss-swollen lips.
A hoarse, muffled cry, and then the weight of a body on his, heavy and pinning.
In the aftermath, the corner of Victor’s wrist cuff is askew, the numbers tauntingly, partially visible.
0y 0m 0-
He notices Yuuri looking, and tugs the cuff back into place. Presses a distracting kiss to his lips, wet and filthy.
Don’t worry about it, he’d said, back when Yuuri first broached the topic. They don’t matter. You do.
It’s too far gone now, months Yuuri’s let slip by without saying anything.
I worry, he thinks. Those zeroes are mine.
In the shower, the timer in Yuuri’s left wrist, bare of his cuff, flashes zeroes.
0y 0m 0d 0mn 0s
The numbers are faintly red under the eggshell skin, a gentle glow that seeps light through the bruising fingers he presses over to hide them from his sight. The water trickles, going slowly tepid.
St. Petersburg in the winter is freezing. In the glass shower room, steam swirls through the air, and when he steps out, his breath is a fog. He shivers so hard his teeth chatters and clacks.
By the bathroom sink, there are two toothbrushes in a single cup, a lone tube of toothpaste completing the set. His face is a blur of colours in the mirror, misted over with condensation.
Yuuri dries off. Wraps the cuff back around his wrist, pulls on his clothes, dons his armour.
Wars are not all waged on battlefields. The worst ones start with yourself.
Most days, it’s easy to forget.
Victor wears long-sleeved shirts and jumpers, suit jackets and track hoodies. The cuff is buried under layers of fabric, a plain black band over the timer, keeping it away from prying eyes.
They don’t talk about it.
It’s in the quiet, assailable moments, before and during and after sex, in the hush of the mornings by pale sunlight, in the inescapable accidents of living, that Yuuri snatches glimpses. The cuff tugged down, by passion or sleep or absentmindedness.
0y 0 -
The zeroes go all the way down to the seconds.
Yuuri knows, because his do too.
Their convergent point was Sochi, under media lights and camera flashes and a commemorative photo?
He’d been in the men’s room before, watching the numbers tick down. He’d thought, losing hurts, but it’s brought me here. I’ll meet them soon.
Yuuri’d known the exact moment his timer zeroed out.
It’d been all over the news later, anyway, an intrepid paparazzo snapping a photo of a bared wrist through a hotel window post-banquet.
STRAIGHT ZEROES FOR THE WINNER! WHO IS VICTOR NIKIFOROV’S MATCH?
It hadn’t mattered.
There wasn’t a moment where they’d both studied their wrists, only to look up to find each other. There wasn’t that joyful moment of disbelief, the anticipatory thudding of pulses on both sides, watching both timers wind down to the second.
It didn’t matter then.
It doesn’t matter now.
Victor is particular with his belongings, even if he isn’t, strictly speaking, neat.
He has a system that Yuuri observes and does his best to emulate, mindful of the temporality of his stay. Coffee mugs are washed and replaced on the shelf in precise degrees, books are borrowed and reshelved in exact places, the duplicated set of keys are always returned to the bowl by the front door.
Victor tosses his clothes onto the floor as he sheds them, leaves trails of messes in his wake, but there are things he is oddly fussy about, and so Yuuri tries to keep up.
Yuuri is a guest, passing through. This is not his home.
In the spare bedroom, his suitcase lies turned on its side in the wardrobe, his belongings carefully folded, retrieved, and replaced there. In the front pocket is his passport, in the zippered compartments are his spare chargers. The sheets of the bed are pristine and without wrinkles, the duvet flat and tucked in meticulous corners.
It looks just the way it did when Victor’d showed him in, and Yuuri is satisfied. The less his presence is felt, the less chance he has of overstaying his welcome.
His one concession to comfort is a threadbare jumper, a gift from his parents when he’d left for Detroit. It sits on the corner of the bed, carefully folded. He’s confident Victor won’t mind it.
In the solitary moments when Victor leaves to meet friends, go for interviews, and attends various social obligations, Yuuri sneaks glances at the numbers. Sometimes, in a fit of boldness, he sheds the cuff and wanders the flat with a bared wrist.
It never lasts for long. It feels wrong, somehow, for the zeroes to be exposed to a place as intimate as this is to Victor. Almost - almost a violation.
The vindication never comes. There’s no moment of this is my soulmate’s home, my zeroes are his and his are mine, and together we are infinity.
As hard as Yuuri tries, he makes mistakes.
There are days he forgets to place the butter on the right shelf of the fridge, his plates go on the wrong side of the dishwasher, the toothpaste is squeezed from the middle. Those are the days that Victor snaps, voice curt, or moves the offending item silently, or smiles and gently corrects him.
Those days are the worst.
Yuuri grew up in a full household, even if it wasn’t an overly boisterous one.
The bathhouse always had guests, and Yu-topia always had people. He grew up with a particular consciousness of the footprint he inhabited, a vigilance that came with the knowledge that his space was not his own. But with the people came mess, and with the mess came a willingness to accept that exactitude in living was an imperfect, difficult ideal.
Victor, he knows, has no such experience.
Victor grew up solitary, remote, a lone figure in the spotlight. Sharing his territory does not come naturally, and conceding his ground takes effort. He is careless with his belongings, but careful with his space. Victor is happy to ship the entirety of his apartment to Hasetsu with little thought to the meticulousness of things, but in his own space, he has precise routines, exacting habits.
So the keys left in pockets, the books accidentally dog-eared - these are all mistakes that Yuuri inevitably, inadvertently makes, even though he tries.
Then there are the smaller things. The things that Victor doesn’t care about at all, but remind Yuuri that he is a guest; the shoes left on while Yuuri would place them in the doorway, the clothes hung from right to left where Yuuri would hang them left to right.
The idiosyncrasies of domesticity.
When Yuuri borrows a book from the shelf in Victor’s bedroom, he is careful with the pages, mindful of the spine. He reads it, and when he is done, slides it back into the empty space it left. Victor will notice, and when Yuuri isn’t looking, the book will move places, following a system he cannot fathom, jumping randomly to the beginning of the shelf, or sometimes to the middle, rarely to the end.
The sixth time this happens, Yuuri deems it best to avoid borrowing Victor’s books altogether. He charges up his Kindle, buys books off Amazon, and if Victor notices the change, he doesn’t comment on it.
Yuuri thinks Victor suspects that the numbers on his wrist are zeroed out.
He doesn’t know this with any certainty, but the way Victor’s gaze lingers too long in the direction of his left hand, the way the corners of his eyes pinch when Yuuri fidgets with his sleeves, the way Yuuri creeps into wakefulness on bleary weekend mornings, Victor tracing the lightest of fingers on the fabric of his cuff -
It’s just a suspicion.
They’re good at avoiding the topic.
Yuuri hates being drunk.
He gets wild when he’s drunk, and when he’s wild and out of control he says and does things he never means to.
It’s not that he gets drunk often, of course, but it is Yuri’s birthday, and Russian celebrations heavily feature vodka (“It’s tradition, you idiot, now drink.”) and, for reasons unknown, a great deal of pirozhki.
Yuuri has about five shots of burning, revolting spirit before he hops onto the sofa in the corner of Mila’s flat, using her coffee table as a stepping stone. The alcohol amplifies his senses, turns up the sounds, and brightens the lights. Everything is a whirl of colour. He can’t remember what the word inhibition means.
“Alright, Yuuri, come on now, you’re going to break that table, and Mila’s going to yell at us. You know how scary she gets.”
A solid arm helping him down, a suppressed laugh, a feathered kiss to his temple. His fingers curl into the pressed lines of Victor’s dress shirt, marring the fabric.
“Back?” he mumbles, the enunciation of his words distorted, his mouth cottony.
“Yes,” Victor murmurs, fighting a smile. “I’m taking you home.”
Yuuri’s shrugged into his jacket, retrieved from wherever he’d flung it to, and slowly led round to bid their hosts goodbye, Mila winking and Yuri scowling, then blinking in surprise when Otabek’s arm slips around his waist.
It’s a stupid thing. They’re in the hallway of Mila’s flat when he trips over the corner of the carpet, inebriated feet clumsy. He stumbles, flails around for leverage, tugs at the cuff at Victor’s wrist.
The zeroes go all the way down.
0y 0m 0d 0mn 0s
The second is long, hanging between them for an age, the look of horror on Victor’s face searing through the alcohol-induced fog of his mind.
The cuff is forcibly yanked back up.
Victor’s expression is blank.
“I’m so- ”
“It’s fine,” Victor says. “Let’s go.”
“Don’t you want to know who they are?”
It’s two in the morning, the world quiet around them. The shadows are long, the night heavy and thick.
“No, not really.”
In Victor’s bed, the sky inky and pitch, there’s a clawing in Yuuri’s heart. A devil on his shoulder whispering, push, keep pushing. A restless, mulish, foolish audaciousness.
“When did your timer stop?”
A huff, then the shifting of sheets, a weight lifted from the mattress. Victor’s mouth is an unhappy line.
“I don’t know - ” Irked hands run through shimmering, silver hair. “ - Sochi, I guess.” He returns to stand by the bed, a disgruntled falcon to a green falconer. “But it doesn’t matter. I’m with you, I want to be with you, whoever this person is isn’t important to me.”
It’s - he can admit it’s sweet, in a fashion.
Yuuri could be anyone. Some other youthful ingenue with the talent and time could’ve skated Victor’s programme, might have been filmed, Victor could’ve seen it -
It doesn’t matter that their timers ran down to zero at the exact same time at the lobby of the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, that whatever it is that fuels the timers thought them perfect for the other.
What matters is that Victor thinks it foolish, thinks it immaterial.
Yuuri could’ve been anyone. There’s nothing to him but the right programme in the right place at the right time.
He is interchangeable.
Yuuri is not special.
There is a line he draws for himself, marked in the slices of toast he eats, measured in the spoonfuls of sugar he allows himself to add to his tea. These are finite resources. He does not take more than he dares.
In the lambent light of dawn, Victor is beautiful. His hair fans out around him, mercury on milky white sheets, and the pale gleam of the morning paints him in watercolours, a Turner masterpiece called to flesh.
On these mornings, Yuuri is grateful. He can run soft hands down the smooth plane of Victor’s back, trace the skin of his body, the tributaries of his veins. Victor is a land unconquered, a wildness untameable.
When he wakes, roused by Yuuri’s curious hands, his kiss is a benediction, his touch pure worship, spreading reverent across the shadows of his neck, the shallows of his hips.
The pads of his fingers press prayers of pleasure into the peaks of his nipples, the tip of his tongue tracing the quiet tempo of their morning mass for two.
And when he slides between Yuuri’s thighs and reclaims territory long surrendered, every moan Victor draws from his lips is the sweetest, gentlest sin.
There’s another party - because there always is, when you’re with Victor Nikiforov. The Embassy is glitzy and glamorous, Yuuri drab and dull, picking at the hem of his suit jacket.
“You look wonderful,” Victor assures him, whisking them to the entrance with a toss of his car keys and a grin that has the valet blushing. Their invitations - envelope gilt-edged, card stock heavy and smooth - don’t even need to be presented, the staff by the door welcoming Victor with familiar smiles and curious looks at Yuuri.
This is what Yuuri remembers of Hasetsu: warm, aged wood, weathered furniture and linens, the sighing of the boughs of the trees in the garden, the quiet trickle of water.
In many ways, he never left. In many ways, Hasetsu made him: forming him as a toddler, moulding him as a child, refining him as a youth, and settling into his bones as a man. In many ways, he is his home.
The Embassy around them displays Victor at his finest - the cultured metropolitan, the quintessential urbane gentleman. His bespoke suit is the finest Italian wool, his tie spun silk. The arch of his wrist is precise, the tip of his champagne glass worldly.
This is what Yuuri knows of Victor’s flat: smooth, sleek calf leather, granite countertops, gleaming marble floors, Egyptian cotton sheets, the muted sounds of St. Petersburg forty floors below.
In many ways, Yuuri doesn’t belong. In many ways, Victor’s flat unmakes him: chipping at his self-worth, cracking his walls, unravelling his resolve, and shattering his heart.
A glass of wine, red and lush, and Victor tucks Yuuri’s hand into the crook of his elbow. They make the rounds. This, here, is a prince holding court. This, here, is a master in his house. Endless streams of people make for Victor, eager to bask in his presence. Booming, guffawing businessmen; tittering, glittering socialites; austere, reluctantly charmed grande dames.
The conversation flows, rapid and spirited and Russian, and barely a glance is turned Yuuri’s way. Victor does his best to include him, but the adoring masses want the star of the show, not the two-bit side act. Yuuri understands; he doesn’t begrudge them. He’d rather talk to Victor too.
At nine, after slightly over an hour at Victor’s side, Yuuri disengages in search of the men’s room. When he returns, there’s a greying man shaking Victor’s hand, clapping him soundly on the back.
“Ah, this must be him, no?” The stranger beams in his direction, clasping Yuuri’s hands in his and pumping furiously.
Victor’s smile is stiff. “Well, Sergei,” he says, tone jovial enough to fool the man, “If I told you all my secrets there wouldn’t be any mystery left, and we know I hate to disappoint the press.”
Sergei laughs, full-bodied and not entirely sober. “Victor, Victor, you cheeky bastard.” With a pat to his shoulder, he wanders off, winking. “Have fun with the pretty thing.”
Awkward, unsure of how to react, Yuuri worries a thumb and forefinger together. “What was that about?”
“Nothing important,” Victor says, trying for a smile that edges on forced. “He assumed we were soulmates.”
Victor sighs, keeping the strained smile on his face for their onlookers. “I fended him off. I don’t think anyone would believe we were, anyway.”
There are many ways to ruin someone.
Yuuri thinks that Victor, for all his worldliness, does not know this.
Victor is often cruel, but never for its sake alone; often selfish, but absently so; often unkind, but rarely deliberately.
The thing about cruelty, selfishness, and unkindness is this: intention rarely matters.
A cruel word still bites, a selfish act still stings, an unkind remark still burns.
Intention doesn’t stop it hurting.
Intention just makes it easier to forgive.
Yuuri breathes in once, deep and long.
Smiles up at Victor.
Takes his hand.
“You know,” he says, “You did promise me a dance.”
(Intention doesn’t make it easier to forget.)
The injury comes somewhere in the middle of their third careful month of cohabitation, a simple, unlucky fall that lands Yuuri with a concussion, sprained wrist and twisted ankle.
It’s off-season, so it’s not a big deal, but Victor frets.
Drowsy from pain medication and exhausted from the trip to the A&E, Yuuri lets himself be guided to a bed, dreamless sleep overcoming him as soon as he hits the pillow.
When he wakes, it’s dark out. He cranes his neck, and can make out the shape of Victor’s plant on the bedside table, the indent of Makkachin resting on the unoccupied side of the bed.
He’s in Victor’s room, in Victor’s bed.
The clock on the table glows. It’s 10.13pm.
With wincing effort, Yuuri slides from the mattress, his foot and wrist protesting at the movement. He’ll move to the spare bedroom, out of Victor’s way.
He struggles to the short hallway, crossing the threshold out of Victor’s bedroom, vaguely aware of the sounds of puttering coming from the direction of the kitchen. Teeth gritted, he nudges the door to the guest bedroom open, the creaking of the hinges high and loud. The sounds from the kitchen stop, and Victor’s shadow falls across him.
“Oh, you shouldn’t be out of bed, what are you doing up?” Tender hands clasp Yuuri’s forearm, easing some of his weight off his bad foot.
Peering into the blackness of the guest room, Victor’s lips are pursed. “Where were you going? Did you need something from your room? You should have called for me, I could’ve retrieved it for you.”
“No,” Yuuri says, voice tight with discomfort and pain. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to trouble you. I was just returning to the guest bed.”
There’s a long pause. Victor’s hand on his forearm slackens, then tightens, verging on painful, before letting go completely. “You could’ve stayed put. I don’t mind.”
His hand returns, settling on the small of Yuuri’s back.
With a start, Yuuri realises that his wrist is bare, the zeroes at the end of his timer peeking out from under his sweatshirt.
- - - mn 0s
He glances at Victor, wondering if he’s noticed.
Victor’s determinedly looking everywhere else. It’s all the confirmation he needs. Mortified, embarrassed, and uncertain, Yuuri surreptitiously tugs his sleeve down.
Victor’s jaw tightens.
Heart in his throat, Yuuri tries for words. “I’ll be fine. Sorry. You should return to - ” he flaps a hesitant hand at the kitchen.
Wordlessly, Victor helps him to the bed of the guest room, settling him down before wandering out.
Minutes pass, and then the sounds of movement start up again.
Yuuri's always guessed that Victor suspected that the numbers on his wrist were zeroed out.
He thinks this is a confirmation Victor never wanted.
They have bad days, like anyone else.
Tuesday evening sees Victor return with dinner, stumbling over Yuuri’s shoes tucked by the doorway.
“Oh, damn,” Victor hisses, barely avoiding falling completely over. “Can you not - ” a heaved breath, and Victor contains himself. “Do you think you could move your shoes away from the front door in the future? I don’t care where, but by the door they’re just hazardous. I know I’ve mentioned this before.”
Yuuri jumps from the sofa, guilty and ashamed. His shoes are tucked into the wardrobe of the spare bedroom, far out of Victor’s sight. While in the room, he notes that the sheets are slightly rumpled, and moves to yank them straight.
A muttered curse from the kitchen, and the audible slamming of the cupboard door. Yuuri winces, fingers curling to dig crescents into his palm. When he returns, Victor is brandishing the teaspoon he’d left by the corner of the sink, used to stir his tea.
“This - ” he waves the spoon, “ - Don’t leave this out, just put it straight into the dishwasher.”
Yuuri bites his lip, then frowns. “Ah, I was going to make another mug of tea, so I didn’t want to use another teaspoon if I didn’t have to.”
Victor sighs, frustrated. “Yes, but look - ” there’s a small stain where Yuuri’d clearly dripped some tea onto the counter, “ - that’s what happens when you leave it out, I know you know this. And - ” he jabs a finger at the other end of the counter, by the toaster, “ - that, that’s what, jam?”
Irritated, Yuuri snaps a sheet of kitchen towel from the roll and wipes at the scar of strawberry jam left over from this morning. “You’re in a black mood,” he reasons, struggling to curb his annoyance.
Victor pinches the bridge of his nose. “Jam and stains on the counter don’t help.”
Chucking the kitchen towel into the bin, Yuuri sets his jaw. “Right, because the way you leave the bar of soap in the tub or leave your receipts lying around everywhere is so easy to live with.”
At their feet, Makkachin whimpers, and the sound shatters their stand-off.
Victor makes a noise of frustration, then turns to storm off to his bedroom, shutting the door behind him with force. Makkachin trails after him, and Yuuri is left standing alone in the kitchen, the heat of tears building behind his eyes.
Breath shaky, Yuuri retreats to the guest room, nudging the door shut with a foot.
He slides the wardrobe open, retrieving shirts from his suitcase to shake out and refold. Six dress shirts, then four jumpers, five pairs of socks, seven pairs of boxers, two pairs of jeans, two hoodies, and three t-shirts. The coat and suit hanging lonely on the rod are slid off their hangers, brushed down, and hung up again.
The routine calms him, the motions of laying flat and folding and neatening soothing the vise around his heart.
They have bad days, like anyone else. Victor picks and needles and Yuuri pushes back, and they fall to their respective corners to burn their annoyance out.
But because it’s them - because this bad day isn’t something on an intellectual level, because this is something Yuuri feels, right here and right now, pressure in his throat and discouragement souring the pit of his stomach - it’s worse.
The thing about secrets, Yuuri knows, is that the longer you keep one, the harder it becomes to share it. It becomes muscle memory glued to your tongue, basic instinct hard-wired into your veins. You guard it, hoard it, and think yourself special for it.
In the beginning, it’d been denial. Meeting at the lobby of the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi followed by glasses of champagne and blank spaces of memory at the banquet post-Final, waking up with a pounding hangover and bile in his throat. It can’t be.
He’d gone back to Detroit, hands pressed to lips, fingers worrying at wrists. Then it’d hardened to anger. Of all the people, why me?
The fury carried him through his return to Hasetsu, a stoked flame that burned, low and steady. Then as winter gave way to brimming spring, the bargaining came. There has to be someone else. Not me.
He’d skated at the Ice Castle, sheared lines with sharpened blades, etched emotion into unforgiving ice. Then spring yielded to the richness of summer, and the depression settled. Of course he didn’t notice you, you’re nobody.
And then Victor, discontent with remaining in any mould ever set out to shape him, had appeared, exuberantly enigmatic, zeroes on his wrist. Summer faded to brittle autumn, and Yuuri stood and watched the leaves fall, the trees turn, and he’d accepted. I can live with this. This is not the worst thing in the world.
So the world moved on, and Yuuri keeps his secret, and each passing day buries it further, a smooth pebble sinking slowly to the bottom of a placid, cool lake.
Yuuri’s always been a romantic at heart. He’s never denied it.
He always wanted that romcom soulmate reveal, standing in the rain, wrists bared, professing love to each other. He always wanted that shy coffeeshop introduction, a casual bump that winds matching timers down to zero, slow smiles shared over steaming drinks. He always wanted that perfect love story.
He’s not going to lie: he still does.
Logically, Yuuri knows that he could tell Victor they’re soulmates. He could throw the die, show his hand, see where the cards fall and how the chips land.
The problem with that metaphor - and he knows he’s mixing all his metaphors -
It’s a gamble.
Yuuri’s never been a gambler. His heart is too soft, his hands too unsteady. He prefers games like Monopoly and Scrabble, played with fake currency and plastic tiles.
Games like poker and blackjack and love and war, betting fast and loose with money and favours and hearts and the highest stakes -
He’s not made for that.
He’s not smooth or suave or rakish or confident, and maybe this is the best he can do do, this half-life of being-with-his-soulmate-but-not, and why is that such a bad thing?
Why shouldn’t this be enough?
(Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.)
The doctors declare him back to full fitness, and his wrist and ankle heal.
The guest room bed remains perfectly made more days than it’s slept in, the slow migration to Victor’s bed evident in the Kindle that ends up on Victor’s nightstand, his phone charger plugged to the wall by what's slowly becoming Yuuri's side of the bed.
It’s a creeping presence that sets Yuuri on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop. He Skypes his parents, texts Phichit, likes a few of his Instagram posts. The days are endless and short.
The more his presence is felt, the more Yuuri winces. There are impressions he gets of Victor, fleeting and branding - lips thinning, quietly tidying, surreptitiously rearranging.
Yuuri’s skin feels too tight on his bones.
On Wednesday, he spends the morning lazing on Victor’s bed, reading his worn copy of Murakami’s 1Q84. They go out for lunch at one of the cafes that dot the neighbourhood, and when they get back, Yuuri leaves to indulge in his first run in weeks.
His book isn’t where he left it when he returns, the bedside table bereft of the tome. He checks the guest room, certain that Victor must’ve placed it back with the rest of his belongings. When his search there proves fruitless, he moves on to the lounge, then the kitchen, and in a burst of desperation, he even looks under the bed in Victor’s room.
Conceding defeat, he approaches Victor, teeth worrying at his lip. “Have you seen my book?”
Victor replies, curious, “Which one?”
“1Q84,” Yuuri says. “It has - ” he makes a circular motion with his forefinger, “ - this Q on the cover, in green.”
Puzzled, Victor cocks his head, his fringe fluttering with the motion. “It’s on the shelf in the room, didn’t you see it?”
Yuuri doesn’t know why the answer shakes him, sends skitters of uncertainty spiralling up his spine. “Ah - right. Yes. I’ll check. Sorry.”
He leaves Victor standing in the kitchen, and he finds the book tucked neatly between Victor’s copies of Miller’s The Song of Achilles and Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. With unsure, faltering hands, he tilts the book from its place, the weight of it solid. The heft of the book presses into the curves and ridges of his palm, and there’s an added significance to this, he knows, even if he can’t yet put a name to it.
With a sigh, he traces a lone finger along the spine, nail catching on the cracks. Glancing at his Kindle left lying on the bedside table, he worries at the inside of his cheek.
Lips pursed together, the book almost clamorous in his hand, he places it next to his Kindle, adjusting the corner to a precise angle.
Yuuri presses hard fingers to his mouth, then exhales.
He leaves the room, and the book left behind sits innocuously in its place, the sliver of light that spills in from the crack of the door falling over it in an accusatory, disquieted line.
Loneliness, Yuuri knows, is not the same as solitude, even if he sometimes finds it hard to distinguish between the two. The former is a state of being he is intimately familiar with; the latter is an ideal he has been chasing with a profound vehemence.
In these quiet moments of contemplation, his fingers tap a tattoo on the fabric of the band wrapped around his wrist. He fancies that the tapping perfectly aligns with the slow, incremental blinking of the zeroes. His mouth slashes into a frown, too cowardly to check.
The shower shuts off, and in minutes, Victor emerges from the en suite, entirely nude but for his band, towelling vigorously at his hair. The casual nudity catches Yuuri unawares, leaves him breathless and fiercely, achingly wanting.
With a hard swallow, he averts his gaze, and the heat of a blush stains his cheeks rosy.
Victor pulls on a jersey shirt and tugs on a pair of boxers, retrieving the day’s copy of Verchernyaya Moskva from from the dresser before settling in next to Yuuri on the bed. Hair dripping faintly, skin damp from his shower, Victor thumbs through the broadsheet with absent flicks of an effortlessly graceful hand.
Yuuri’s fingers curl into the fabric of the Egyptian cotton duvet, tongue pressed hard to the roof of his mouth. He’s struck by the intense domesticity of this tableau, the sheer regularity of their coupled actions terrifying. His mind leaps to the caprices of wild imagination, stretching and conjuring scenes of their entwined futures in the yawning void of his foolish, suffering hope.
Unnerved, he turns to reach for his Kindle on the bedside table, and the sudden, jolting arc of his hand hits the mug left next to it, sending it flying into the wall, coffee spraying. There’s a moment where his brain freezes, and then Victor’s up and rounding the bed to help with the mess, and Yuuri’s dashing into the bathroom for tissues and towels, and the white sheets of the bed are a foregone cause.
The mug lies shattered three feet from the table, broken into two. It’s an expensive bone china, Wedgwood affair, silver-rimmed and delicate and beautiful, and Yuuri bites the inside of his cheek until he tastes blood.
There’s a tightness to Victor’s expression, a line that’s creased in the corner of his eyes, but he’s smiling, assuring. “It’s fine, Yuuri, don’t worry about it.” There are coffee stains on Victor’s fingers, used tissues in his hands.
“I’m sorry, I’m so clumsy, this is my - ”
“It’s fine,” Victor repeats. “It’s an accident, it happens.”
Yuuri stoops to pick up the shards of the broken mug, holding the halves with uncertain hands. Behind him, Victor throws the tissues in the bin by the dresser and goes to tug the sheets off the bed, leaving to dump them in the washing machine. There’s a growing sense of finality that presses into Yuuri’s chest, sand in an hourglass streaming quick and fleeting.
He wraps the jagged pieces in an old sheet of paper and tosses that into the bin, and with a jerky, wrenching start, yanks his phone charger from the wall by the side of the bed where he’d been sleeping, snatching up his Kindle and book and spare pair of glasses as he goes.
Crossing the hallway to the guest room, Yuuri’s in the midst of rearranging his belongings in the spartan room when Victor’s shadow darkens the doorway, hand braced on the frame.
“What are you doing?” Victor asks, and there’s an edge to his tone that makes Yuuri wince.
“I’ve been cluttering up your room, I know you don’t like it,” Yuuri says, gesturing helplessly. “The coffee mug - I know that was expensive, I shouldn’t have left it there.”
It’s not what he wants to say at all, but the words are difficult for him to find, difficult for him to express in a language foreign to him. His words scratch the surface of the things he wishes he could explain - how he doesn’t mean to take more than his due, how he’s content to stay in the confines of whatever they are, how he’s encroaching and he doesn’t mean to, not really.
If his English is a river, his Japanese is a vast, endless ocean, and he’d set the sails of his boat on the wilder waters if he could. As it is, their disparate cultures are a dam, and language is a poor bridge.
Victor pinches his forehead and shifts on his feet, an unhappy, tense movement. “This isn’t about the mug, is it,” he says, and they both know it’s not a question. His hand comes down to pick at the edge of the band around the timer on his wrist, and Yuuri’s eyes follow. He doesn’t think Victor’s action is intentional.
Flicking his gaze back to Victor’s glacier eyes, Yuuri swallows, then shakes his head. “You’ve been so generous, letting me stay here, and I don’t want to - ” he begins, then falters. Nails carve curved welts into palms, breath shakes, and sourness blooms in his throat. “I know you’re not used to sharing your space, and the last thing I want is to make you come to resent me over this.”
There’s a slow incline of Victor’s head, his expression clouded, eyes hooded. “That’s a poor excuse,” he says, words flat. “You don’t need to placate me. If you’re so eager to go, you can just leave. I’d understand, I know we’re not - ” Victor waves a frustrated hand at their wrists. “I get that you want to look for your soulmate.” His mouth is a moue, as if the word itself leaves a bitter taste on his tongue.
Shocked, Yuuri gapes. “What? No, that’s not what I meant at all!” His words have the opposite effect, his quick jump to deny Victor’s assumption twisting and embedding the knife.
Victor’s arms are folded tightly in front of him now, crossed over his chest. “Did you think I wouldn’t notice? The way it’s been months and you still live out of your suitcase,” he snaps, jerking his chin in the direction of the wardrobe. “The way you move everything back here, the way you tread on eggshells like a guest.” He sighs, a sharp sound. “I know you see this as temporary, but the least you can do is own up to it to my face.”
The months of frustration, the crushing disappointment and anguish, the choking anger - all of it rears its ugly head. “Soulmate?” Yuuri hisses. “You’re talking to me about my soulmate? You know you have a soulmate out there but you’re willing to toss them over, unwilling to even look for them.”
Victor’s eyes flash in the dim light of the room, biting, icy frost. “And why should they matter? Why should I let some device implanted into my arm at birth dictate who I spend the rest of my life with?” He snorts at Yuuri, tone dripping with disdain. “Don’t throw stones in your glass house, Yuuri, not when you were only too eager to forget about your soulmate when the great Victor Nikiforov showed up at your door.”
Yuuri’s moving before he registers it, and the force of the slap turns Victor’s head entirely to the left, the flat, gunshot sound of his palm hitting Victor’s cheek deafening. Yuuri’s hands are balled, his entire body trembling with hurt and rage and devastation, and how is it humanly possible to feel this raw?
Eyes shaded by the fringe of his hair, Victor’s hand comes up to cup at his left cheek, blooming faintly pink with the force of Yuuri’s hit.
With short, jerky movements, Yuuri undoes the strap of fabric around his left wrist, the shedding of the velcro loud in the echoing silence. When the fabric loosens enough, he yanks his wrist through and crushes the cuff in his fist, hand held up.
0y 0m 0d 0mn 0s
The numbers on his wrist blink, glaring and accusatory and branding.
“The difference between us, Victor,” Yuuri seethes, “Is that I know who my soulmate is. I waited, I wanted, I felt my numbers count down. I didn’t toss my soulmate aside because I didn’t know when it happened and didn’t bother to search.”
Eyes steady, nearly sick with the force of his emotions, Yuuri holds Victor’s gaze. “The Iceberg Skating Palace, Imeretinsky Valley, Sochi, 9 December 2015, 7.23pm. I met my soulmate outside the entrance to the rink. He was wearing the Russian team’s red and white tracksuit, pulling this suitcase behind him. He had sunglasses on to deal with the flash of press cameras. I’d just come dead last in the Grand Prix Finals. He walked straight past me, noticed me staring, and he asked if I wanted a photo. A commemorative photo. So I left.”
With a rough, quick motion, he tugs the cuff back on, the zeroes abruptly obscured from view. Anger in his throat, fury draped across his shoulders, he straightens. Takes in Victor’s dumbstruck expression, contrite and guilty and agonised.
“I left then,” Yuuri repeats. “I’m leaving now.”
Phone in his pocket, wallet in the other, he sweeps out the front door, letting it shut behind him with an unquiet, uneasy snap.
In the hallway of Victor’s block, he slumps against the wall by the stairwell, a choked noise escaping his throat. Searing tears blur his vision, and the pressure of the heels of his hands pressed to his eyes do nothing to relieve the oppressive, heavy weight building in his chest.
In increments, he puts - pulls - himself back together, piece by fractured piece. With quivering, deliberately careful fingers, he does up the buttons of his coat, one two three, and bends to retie the laces of his shoes, knot and through and loop. He pulls up his collar, adjusts his sleeves, rotates his watch.
In increments, he dons his armour, settles into his bones. It’s a familiar routine.
(Wars are not all waged on battlefields. The worst ones start with yourself.)
It’s nearly four in the morning when Yuuri turns back onto the street of Victor’s apartment block, the St. Petersburg sky black and brisk, the city a silent, reproachful mausoleum.
There’s an unread text on his phone, a simply worded I’m sorry, and Yuuri’d glanced at the preview on his lock screen and flicked it away with a thumb.
In Hasetsu, when he’d needed space to think, he’d gone to the Ice Castle. Here, in Russia, he walks, but it’s hardly the same. There are no answers to be found in the lamplit streets of St. Petersburg, no solutions to distill from the exertion of his body.
At the entrance to Victor’s block, he glances up at the chrome and steel facade, and he imagines he can work out which amber squares of light are Victor’s.
Yuuri’s not ready.
He’s not ready to enter, he’s not ready to leave. He stands at the entrance, at an oscillating impasse. In the broken mirror of his mind’s eye, reflected shards of futures spiral from this single moment, a thousand outcomes splintering.
If he goes in - if he goes up to Victor’s flat -
He takes a step back from the doors, anxiety fluttering.
He’s not ready.
There’s a breeze caressing his cheek; his breath fogs the air before him; the leaves rustle and shiver on the trees.
There’s the sound of a step behind, the sharp intake of air.
The universe, not content to see him idle, forces his hand.
“Yuuri,” Victor says, clasping his forearms. Relief paints his face gentle, lingering hurt shadows it somber. “There you are.”
The moment crystallises, futures collapsing to one. The grimness of being set on a path tightens his nerves, winds up the anticipation rolling steadily in his gut, waves crashing forcefully to shore.
“Yes,” Yuuri replies. “Here I am.”
They walk, side by side, in the stillness of the stygian twilight hours. Early seagulls call overhead, plaintive and true, and Yuuri is tugged back to the memory of them both on a faraway beach in a distant time, the weight of all - this - not yet calcified between them.
Yuuri’s fingers drum a beat on the cuff around his wrist, cradled to the vulnerable curve of his stomach.
Next to him, Victor walks with a precise, deliberate tread. His Burberry coat swings with every step; the arch of the delicate bone of his wrist glares pale from under the hem of his sleeve.
Their pace is unhurried, destination unknown.
Finally, at a junction between two streets, Victor huffs a quiet breath, the morning chill curling it to mist.
“You’re right,” he says, voice low. “I didn’t know when my timer wound down to zero. I knew it was coming, of course.” He flicks at lint on his coat, face pensive. “But between the Finals and the press and the fans, it slipped my mind. When I next looked, all I saw were zeroes. Life and love - I ignored both for twenty years and never even knew I did.”
The lights at the junction change to green, and they cross the street shoulder to shoulder.
“I used to equate everything on the ice to love.” He shakes his head, rueful. “And why not? I loved what I did, and people loved what I did. There was nothing on the ice I couldn’t do, no record or barrier I couldn’t overcome.”
With a fluid move, Victor folds the sleeve of his coat up, baring his uncuffed wrist to the St. Petersburg morning.
0y 0m 0d 0mn 0s
“Then I won at Sochi, and my timer counted down, and the one thing left I couldn’t achieve on my own slipped out of my grasp because I was too caught up with the ice and with skating.”
They come to a stop on a bridge by the river Neva. Below, the water ripples languidly, and the sky fades to ash grey with the coming of dawn.
“At the banquet,” Victor continues, forearms braced against the rail, “I saw you, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off you, and I wished, hope against all hope. There was a - ” Victor makes an aborted movement, a halting gesture with his hand, “ - a moment where I saw your wrist, and I glimpsed a zero. But you never said a thing, so I let it go.”
Yuuri rubs a hand across his face, mind humming with a background fatigue. He turns to mirror Victor, forearms set against the rail, their shoulders bumping and pressed against each other. “I don’t remember much of the banquet,” he confesses.
Smile rueful, Victor inclines his head. “So Christophe mentioned in Barcelona.”
“What I do remember,” Yuuri forges on, “Is drinking thirteen glasses of champagne because I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing you and knowing you would never know who I was.”
At his side, Victor grabs his hand, lacing their fingers together. In profile, his expression is fervent, eyes intent. “I knew,” he says. “I know.”
Yuuri tilts his head, smile tinged with bitterness. “But you never looked, did you? You saw me in that video, decided to go to Hasetsu, and you decided that your soulmate could wait, if they’d ever find you at all.”
Frustrated, Victor sighs. “But you are my soulmate, Yuuri.”
Language, he’s said -
Language is a poor bridge. Right now, it’s an impenetrable, unassailable wall, fording all the things he means to - wants to - say but lacks the words to do so.
Irritation pulls a noise from his throat, and he yanks his hand from Victor’s to grip at the cold metal of the railing.
In Japanese, he says, “But you didn’t know it was me, and even though I know it’s ended up that I am your soulmate, I can’t stop feeling spurned that you never stopped to search for me, that you - you decided I wasn’t worth it without even meeting me to go to Hasetsu on nothing more than a whim and a drunken request.”
Victor’s watching him, wary and confused, uncomprehending.
Swallowing, Yuuri breathes in deep, then switches to English. “I am your soulmate, yes, but you didn’t know that when you showed up at Hasetsu. I’m glad you did, but I - ” he struggles to articulate his thoughts, “ - I could have been anyone, and if it hadn’t been me, would you have ever searched for me at all?”
Turning to him, Victor gathers him in his arms, the embrace warm and soft and nearly too much.
“Ah, Yuuri,” he murmurs. “I wish I could - ” he says, then cuts himself off, and draws back so their eyes meet. “The truth is that I don’t know. Do I like to think I would have? Yes. But I can’t say for sure, and for me to pretend otherwise would be unfair to you.”
Leaning back in, he presses their lips together, a tender, hushed kiss that floods Yuuri’s soul with a quiet, kindled warmth. When they part, a hair’s breadth from each other, Victor clasps his hand in his, delicately nudging at the cuff wrapped around his wrist until Yuuri’s timer is bared.
In the charted circle of the map of their bodies, their timers blink zeroes in silent tandem.
“I have realised,” Victor says, voice muted, as if cautious of breaking the fragile moment. He brings Yuuri’s hand to his mouth, feathering a kiss over his ring finger. “That there are some places I can’t reach on my own. That there are dreams too large for me to bear alone.” He glances down to their joined hands. “That is, if you’ll have me?”
The seagulls cry high above, plangent and wistful. St. Petersburg breaks into morning, the sun spilling from behind clouds, pouring gold across the river.
Yuuri overflows with the weight of things that have been said, trembles with what remains.
Their shared zeroes flicker in time, the early morning light muting the red glow to faint numbers. In the amber dawn, an idol is only just a man.
“I will,” he says. “Now I’m ready.”
Sometime in the future
It’s not perfect.
Of course it isn’t; that isn’t what being soulmates is about.
It’s about the push and pull of give and take, the tides and ebbs of the good and bad, the rise and fall and everything in between.
Victor makes his comeback; medals three more times at consecutive Grand Prix Finals - silver, silver, then gold - before retiring at thirty to coach, splitting his time between Japan and Russia.
Yuuri racks up an array of medals at the Japanese Nationals, Asian Winter Games, Four Continents, and Worlds, and he ascends the podium twice more at the Grand Prix Finals - gold, then silver - before he retires at twenty-seven to study Sports Psychology, enrolling at Waseda University’s online school.
There are spilled coffee mugs, scars of butter left on the counter, bars of soap left in the bath.
They don’t wears their cuffs any more, their zeroes flashing proud for the world to see.
At interviews, they’re often asked if Victor’s surprise move to Hasetsu was prompted by their soulmate revelation. In earlier years, the question has Yuuri shifting uncomfortably, smile turning awkward. Now, all the question gets is an easy laugh from the both of them, the shared glance of a warm cadence between familiar, comfortable souls.
“I’m afraid we didn’t discover that until later on,” Victor will confess, and Yuuri will nod along.
Intrigued, the reporter will ask for more details, and Yuuri will step in. “It’s not complicated,” he’ll say. “We both just weren’t ready. We needed time to become the right person for each other.”
“What about now?” they’ll be asked.
“Now?” Victor will reply, and the smile they both share is secret and sure. “Now, he meets me where I am.”
(I hear a voice crying in the distance
Perhaps you were abandoned too)
(Now I’m ready)