Victor blinked and he was somewhere else.
He was still on the ice. But he didn’t know this rink. He blinked again as he looked around. The alphabet of the signs up around the rink told him he was in either Japan or China. He was not quite sure of the difference. He didn’t know more than a few words of either language, so it hardly mattered. There was no one else around, but music was playing from a sound system somewhere. Not the music Victor had just been skating to, preparing for his second season in the senior division - Stravinsky, Rite of Spring, because it was time to prove to his competition that he was only just getting started, that they hadn’t seen anything yet. This was a cheerful little jazzy number. Not Victor’s style: but the minute he thought that he grinned to himself. Nineteen-twenties theme: short hair, girlish pout. Next season. Just to keep them on their toes.
It was playing on repeat. Victor put his hair up into a ponytail and started skating, working it out as he went, using double jumps as placeholders. Someone else might have been worrying about where he was, or what was going on, or how on earth he’d ended up here. Victor decided it wasn’t worth it. No doubt everything would turn out to make sense eventually: and here was the ice, and music playing. Why worry?
He was proved right when someone behind him spluttered loudly and exclaimed, “Victor!”
Victor didn’t turn to look. He nearly had this step sequence, and he wanted it to be right. Light and easy syncopation: lovely. Not what anyone expected from him, either. He turned. “Hello,” he said in his best English. Most people spoke some English. “Could you tell me where I am?”
“Time travel?” said the boy in the ugly tiger sweatshirt. He’d said it three times now, in three different languages, and he kept making wet-cat faces after he’d said it. He also kept giving Victor sidelong glares. Victor smiled at him, which made him scowl harder.
“That’s what I said,” said the coach. Victor was fairly sure either he or tiger boy was named Yuri. They were talking fast so it was hard to be certain. “Victor told me - that is,” he turned to Victor, “you mentioned this was going to happen. I thought you were joking.”
“I’m a very serious person,” said Victor, smiling.
Tiger boy snorted.
The coach cleared his throat a few times. “Well, uh,” he said, “perhaps we’d all better get some food, then.”
Victor let him get ahead a few paces as he led them out of the rink so he could talk to tiger boy, who seemed to speak Russian. “I didn’t catch your name,” he said.
“You weren’t listening, you mean. I’m Yuri.”
“And your coach is -”
“You’re my coach,” said Yuri, glaring at him. Then he looked away and said, “He’s Yuri too. I’m the real Yuri, though.”
“I’m your coach?” said Victor. It was a strange idea. Of course he was not planning to die before retiring, but if he ever thought about it there seemed to be very little difference. What was there but performing, competing, winning? To be a coach seemed to him quite sad. Also, although Russian Yuri was shorter than he was, Victor was fairly sure he was older. “Why do I coach you in Japan?” he asked mildly. It felt like inquiring about someone’s distant relative. This life had nothing to do with him. “That seems strange.”
“You could have coached me in Russia like a normal person,” said Yuri. “But no, you had to marry the pig.”
“I - what?” Victor couldn’t have heard that right.
“I said,” began Yuri with a venomous look.
“Ah, here we are,” said other Yuri. Japanese Yuri. Older Yuri. He glanced at them. “Yurio, don’t try to pick fights with Victor,” he said. It had the sound of something said many times before. “Do you want to soak in the spring before dinner? I’d better tell Mari we need to, um, make up a room for Victor.”
“Don’t I have a room?” said Victor.
Japanese Yuri turned slightly red, mumbled something incomprehensible, and disappeared into the depths of the house. Victor blinked after him. A moment or two later a very elderly poodle ambled down the stairs towards him and then sat by his feet, beating her tail rhythmically on the ground. “Makkachin!” Victor said, and crouched to embrace her. Ah, it really was time travel, then. She had lots of grey around her muzzle. “Hello,” he murmured. “Hello, beautiful.”
“Of course you have a room, idiot,” said Russian Yuri. Yurio? It would probably be less confusing that way. “But he’s not going to want you in there if you’re a kid, is he?”
“Mmm,” said Victor, entirely distracted by his beautiful dog. He only got it a moment or two later. “I sleep in his room?” he said.
Yurio favoured him with another unattractive snort. “Of course you do. That’s what I said.”
“No,” said Victor, “you said I married a pig.” It had been quite confusing.
“Well, obviously -”
But the other Yuri came back in, so Victor did not find out what was so obvious. A room had been found for Victor, he said. It would be time to eat soon.
Victor observed Yuri over dinner. He had not bothered really looking at him before. He was - thirtyish, maybe? He was a little chubby; hence Yurio’s pig, no doubt. He had messy hair and glasses and a harried expression. The harried expression, Victor supposed, might have come from having his husband suddenly replaced by a teenager. But he did not look as if being less harried would make him suddenly beautiful. He was not unattractive, but he was not anything special either. He seemed quite ordinary.
Victor, who had been extraordinary since he was a child, could not imagine how he had ended up married to him.
Time travel was no reason to stop practicing. Victor assumed he’d be going back again sooner or later, since his older self had known about all this. That meant he still had a season ahead of him; and the Stravinsky routine was hard.
He shared his ice time with Yurio, who was preparing for his season. Both of them were in the same position, really; they’d both just unexpectedly lost their coach. “Don’t you try to coach me,” Yurio said to him. “I saw what a fuck-up you were at it the first time you tried.”
“I wasn’t going to,” said Victor. He had better things to do. He worked.
Sharing ice with Yurio made it obvious why Victor had chosen him for a student, though. He was quite talented. Victor even told him so.
Yurio spluttered. “I’ll quite talented you,” he said. “I can’t believe you! I beat your short program world record in my first senior season! Fuck you!”
“You should be calmer,” Victor advised him. “And pull in your elbows when you jump.”
“You’re an annoying brat,” said Yurio. “Put your hair up when you practice.”
Victor left his hair down.
The other Yuri - Japanese Yuri - Victor still found it hard to think of him as just Yuri - caught him when he came off the ice. “Please stop winding up Yurio, Victor,” he said, smiling a little. “He is stupid when he is angry. I don’t want him to give himself another injury.”
It was not much like being scolded by Yakov, but it was closer to that than anything else. The gleam of his wedding ring under the lights caught Victor’s eye. Why you? Victor wondered. Is it because you scold me? Is that what I like when I’m old?
He tried to imagine his older self. Coach Victor was still a sad picture, but now it was sadder because he had married someone just to tell him off, as if he was so used to being under Yakov’s thumb he could not manage without it.
“Are you stupid,” said Yurio, when Victor asked him about it. “And why are you telling me!”
“Who else would I tell?” said Victor.
“Um,” said Yurio. “Normally you just talk to him all the time. I don’t know. Chris?”
“Giacometti?” said Yurio, giving Victor a look like he was very stupid indeed.
“He’s thirteen,” said Victor, giving him the same look back.
“Urrrrrgh,” said Yurio. “Anyway, no! Fuck you! Victor and Yuri aren’t like that. They’re like - ugh. You’re basically disgusting all the time, okay?”
“You’re all over him,” said Yurio. “Constantly. When you’re supposed to be coaching me.”
Victor did not know what to say to that. Yuri did not seem like someone he would want to be all over. Yuri also did not seem like someone who would let him. “It seems like he coaches you too,” he said instead.
“Only because you’re so flaky! I don’t know, what do you want me to say?”
“Is he very good in bed, then?” Victor said. “Is that why I’m with him?”
Yurio went bright red. “Ask him yourself!” he spat, and stormed off.
There did not seem to be a good way to ask your future husband if he was good in bed. Victor considered doing it anyway, but that did not seem likely to get an honest answer. He was left to speculate. He looked at Yuri and looked at him. There were plenty of opportunities.
His first impression had not been wrong. Yuri was ordinary looking, really. He had the body of a former athlete who now ate too much; Victor had seen it before. His hair was always a mess. His eyes were long-lashed and dark; beautiful. He moved well. He was a former skater, Victor supposed.
“The piggy’s a three times Japanese national champion and a former Grand Prix gold medallist,” said Yurio. “He’s not just a ‘former skater’. You’re underestimating him.”
“Do you have a crush on him?” Victor asked.
“I hate you so much,” said Yurio. He puffed out an angry breath. “Fine, I used to, okay? Kid stuff. Not any more.”
“Why did you like him?”
Yurio stared at him. “It’s Yuri,” he said.
“He’s ordinary,” said Victor.
“Wow,” said Yurio, “you actually are stupid.”
Yurio was really not very much use. Victor went back to using his imagination. He was good at that. He could skate anything because he could feel anything he needed to, pull the emotion out of the music, substituting art for experience. He took his future self’s laptop and went looking for Japanese Yuri - his husband Yuri - on the Internet.
Forty-five minutes later many things made more sense, and Victor’s imagination had a lot more to work with.
“Eros, hmm,” he said.
When he looked at Yuri after that he could see glimpses of it. Yuri was not just chubby; under the layer of softness he was solidly built and muscular. His eyes really were beautiful. He moved like a dancer. Victor watched him on the ice, watched him coaching Yurio - it was very clear, no matter what Yurio said, that Yuri was as much his coach as future-Victor was - and wondered. It fit into the Rite of Spring anyway: primaeval power, fertility -
“Oh my god stop mooning,” said Yurio. “You’re almost as bad as - as you. He’s too old for you.”
“He’s my husband, after all,” said Victor. He was almost sure now that it was about sex between future-him and Yuri Katsuki; well, sex and skating, but neither of them competed anymore, so it must be sex. He was almost sure the sex was fantastic. Yuri was avoiding talking to him, or being alone with him; no doubt it was awkward for him, since Victor was sixteen. Victor respected that. But he could look, and imagine, and -
“Please stop telling me what you’re thinking,” said Yurio, pulling his cat-eared hood down over his face. “I never want you to talk to me again. I hate that you think we’re friends.”
“Are we not friends?” said Victor.
Yurio peeked out from under the hood to glare at him. “Don’t go all pathetic on me.” After a moment he said, “Obviously we’re friends. But you’re not my best friend. I already have a best friend.”
“Okay!” said Victor. “I’ll take it!”
“Smile less,” said Yurio. “It’s not a big deal, okay.”
“I don’t really have friends,” said Victor. “People are either jealous or intimidated. This is nice!”
Yurio looked at him with an odd twist to his mouth. “I used to be like that,” he said after a moment. He added, “You’re not like that anymore, you know.”
“Because I have you for a student?” said Victor.
“No,” said Yurio. “Well, yes, but also you have Yuri.”
“Yuri, Yuri,” said Victor. He tucked his hair behind his ear. “I think he must be very good in bed.”
“You haven’t even talked to him properly, have you,” said Yurio, disgusted.
Victor shrugged. “He is too old for me. Just as you said.”
“This is so weird.”
“It’s also weird for me!” Victor pointed out.
“He’s not normally this down,” said Yurio. “I think he misses older you.”
“Is he down?” said Victor. Japanese Yuri seemed so calm all the time. Victor had not realised he was sad.
Yurio laughed. “Yeah,” he said.
“Should I do something?”
“Tch,” said Yurio. “I’m going back to practice. You should too. Your step sequence is sloppy.”
“It is not,” said Victor.
He followed Yurio back to the rink. He was still thinking about older Victor, coach Victor. It was not quite as sad a picture as he had thought. There was lots of amazing sex in his future, probably. And students like Yurio. That was not so bad at all.
Victor eventually went to Japanese Yuri and asked for help with the step sequence. Yuri was flustered, and stammered, and could not look at Victor directly. He fidgeted with his wedding ring. But he nodded when Victor explained that Yurio had seen a problem, and then he watched, and his advice afterwards was good. He demonstrated what he meant and then ran through the second half of Rite of Spring with Victor, skating it near flawlessly, though his jumps were weak. “My old man knees,” he said with a little smile when he saw Victor looking.
“You’re very good,” said Victor. “With a routine you don’t know -”
“Oh, ah, I know this one, more or less,” Yuri said. “That is, I watched you skate it in competition the first time round. And you have been practicing here for a little while now, so.”
There was a world of difference between watching someone skate and doing it. "You’re very good,“ said Victor again.
Yuri laughed. His real laugh was different from the way he normally sounded, and different too from his usual polite smile. It made his beautiful eyes crinkle at the corners. There were lines around them, Victor saw. “Somewhere my childhood self is over the moon and he doesn’t know why,” Yuri said. “Thank you. Shall we take it from the top?”
Skating and sex and the way he laughs, Victor thought. That must be what it is between us.
The days went by. The hot springs were very nice. The food was very good. The old couple who ran the place were kind. It took Victor quite a long time to work out that they were, in fact, his future in-laws. Yurio laughed at him and called him an oblivious asshole. Victor supposed he should have guessed it when Yuri’s mother pinched his cheek: but lots of older ladies liked to pinch his cheeks, because of how pretty he was. Hasestsu was sleepy and slow, but Victor found he did not mind that very much. It was a comfortable sort of way to live. If he itched inside his skin, it was not Hasetsu’s fault.
Yurio’s competitive season would be starting soon. Victor was beginning to wonder when the time travel was going to reverse itself. He did not want to be stuck here watching his rinkmate skate and unable to lay his own challenge. He had avoided looking up his own skates on the Internet, not wanting to kill his performances with the staleness of certainty, but he knew he was capable of great things. Besides, Yurio was less entertaining now he was truly focused. Makkachin walked in a slow thoughtful amble instead of her proper bounce, and slept nearly all day. The cries of the seagulls reminded Victor of home.
"Victor?” said Yuri once.
“What is it?”
Yuri was frowning at him. “Are you okay?”
Victor smiled wide. “Of course!” he said.
He meant it. He was glad he had his dog. She slept in his bed with him every night, just like at home.
One morning he woke up before sunrise and she was not there. Victor sat up in bed and ran his hands through his hair. “Makkachin?” he called. The room was very still and quiet. Hasetsu had no traffic: it was quiet all the time. Victor got up and padded through the house. “Makkachin?” he called softly, over and over.
He nearly went and woke Yurio, even though he knew now from experience that waking Yurio too early led to getting savaged. But he felt too unsettled to find that funny: and he wanted his dog. Where would she go?
Victor had not been into Yuri’s room - the room Yuri shared with future-Victor - before. It was bigger than most of the other rooms here, and it was full of stuff. Victor looked around at it all: overstuffed wardrobes, a designer suit hanging on the door, a dressing table that he knew instantly belonged to future-him because Yuri clearly did not own a comb, dog toys and a vase of flowers on the table and a big double bed and posters on the walls and skates that were clearly Victor’s skates, there in the corner under the shelf with the matryoshka dolls on display, and so many frames for photographs -
No Makkachin. No Yuri, either. But the big bed was rumpled. Victor went and sat down on the edge, and put his hand out. The dip in the covers was the shape of a big sleepy poodle. He pictured Yuri lying here with Makkachin under his arm. Just like Victor did. So this was where his dog had gone.
How odd that it was so surprising. Future-Victor had married Yuri, he knew that! But that seemed very different, and much less real, than thinking of his dog creeping out from under his arm in the middle of the night to jump up on Yuri’s bed and huff her warm breath into his face before going back to sleep.
He picked up the photograph on Yuri’s bedside table and frowned at it in the half-light. He was expecting it to be of them. It would have made sense if it was of them. But it was just a landscape. Victor blinked at it and then recognised it: a bridge in St Petersburg. There had to be a story, if it was beside Yuri’s bed. He could tell from Yuri’s skating, from the way he moved, that he thought in stories.
Victor shook his head hard in the dark. He just wanted his dog.
“Morning,” said Yuri’s sister Mari as he made his way downstairs. “Looking for Yuri? He’ll be at the rink again.”
“Again?” said Victor.
“He hasn’t been sleeping,” said Mari. She took a drag off her cigarette. She looked Victor up and down. “You were a cute kid,” she said.
Victor gave her his most dazzling smile. He was used to this sort of thing. “Thank you!”
Mari breathed out a stream of smoke and tilted her head towards the door. “Haven’t seen you do that in a while,” she said. “Go on. I’ve got to start work soon.”
“Do what?” said Victor, but she was leaving.
There was a breeze coming off the sea as he walked to Ice Castle. It blew his hair into his face. Victor brushed it away and listened for the seagulls.
He found Makkachin lying on the front seat of the stands at the rink, thumping her tail occasionally to show she was awake. Victor slipped into a seat beside her and scratched her ears. She turned her head into his palm but did not otherwise move. She seemed happy.
Yuri was skating.
Victor watched him. It was surely all right to watch your husband skate - your future husband. He had thought it must be mostly sex between them, now that neither of them competed, but looking at him now - maybe not. Maybe not. Yuri still moved like he loved the ice. He had his headphones in, so Victor did not know what he was listening to. He was not doing anything particularly interesting: only a series of figures, over and over. He was frowning a little. Eventually that seemed to lose its charm for him - Victor was not sure what the charm had been in the first place - and he began to run through a routine. Victor wondered what the music was. He had not seen this one on the Internet, so maybe it was new. For Yurio? It seemed too thoughtful for Yurio. Victor leaned forward in his seat.
Outside the light was changing as the sun began to rise. Victor saw the moment someone else joined Yuri on the ice. It did not matter that the second skater was not there. Victor could see him in the spaces Yuri left, in the way his body moved, in the gestures of his hands. His body was music, singing a love song - no, singing half a love song. As the shape of it drew to a climax Yuri swept himself up into a jump. Triple axel, perfectly landed despite his old man knees.
Victor was on his feet.
He heard Yuri laugh softly to himself when he finished the routine. It was not the laugh Victor had liked, that had made him think maybe. It was a sad laugh. Suddenly it seemed very urgent that Yuri should not be sad.
“Ah - Victor!” said Yuri, when he saw Victor at the barrier. “Sorry! Was I ignoring you? Did you want to practice?” He winced suddenly. “Oh, no, I’m sorry - Makkachin wanted a walk, and then we were here, so -”
“That was beautiful,” said Victor. “That was amazing! But you are so -”
“Please, please,” Yuri was saying, “it was hardly worth making a fuss over -”
“You’re so - are you okay?” Victor said.
There was a long moment of quiet. Quiet always seemed quieter when you stood in the cool whiteness of a rink. Yuri looked at Victor, for a moment, with genuine startlement.
Then he smiled.
“Honestly, Victor,” he said, and he did not sound like an adult man talking to a teenager, but like someone speaking to a friend. It was different. “What are you going to do if I say no?”
“I -” A host of possibilities went through Victor’s head. Say something romantic. Skate for you. Make you a promise. I don’t know. Maybe I should just kiss you -
Yuri was still looking at him, and his expression said he knew every single thing Victor had just thought of, and he was amused. Not in an unkind way: just that he understood how Victor’s mind worked, and it pleased him. Victor felt himself turn pink. “I don’t need any of that,” Yuri said.
“You know me so well,” blurted Victor. He looked away from Yuri’s face after he said it. He pushed his hair behind his ear. What a foolish thing to say.
"Well, I did marry you,” said Yuri. His smile was fond. Victor could take that expression and put it in a program, he thought. He could skate love and break a dozen audiences’ hearts with it. After all, he was brilliant. He could imagine anything, anything at all -
Sex and skating and the way he laughs: but Yuri’s smile crinkled his eyes at the corners. Victor sensed something enormous and unimaginable unspoken in the air, something he could not have skated if he tried. Something Yuri probably could. How was it possible? Yuri was so ordinary, at heart: with his nice parents and his gentle smiles and the way he watched over Yurio. He was a nice, sweet, ordinary man, living a small and comfortable life in a quiet country town. What was it, this huge incomprehensible thing that Victor did not know?
Why did I marry you?
Yuri Katsuki would know if anyone did. Why did I marry you, Victor thought again, and he opened his mouth and he said, “Why did you marry me?”
Yuri tilted his head to the side.
No. Stupid! Wrong question! You wasted it! Victor thought all at once, even while he was making himself laugh. “Whoops, that was nonsense! I’ll find out one day, won’t I?” Oh, he was gabbling. Slow it down, don’t forget to smile: media training. Victor kept talking and thought about that instead of thinking about what he had actually said. After all it was obvious why Yuri Katsuki had married Victor. Who wouldn’t want to marry him? He was charming and brilliant and extremely pretty, and on top of that he had a cute dog -
“Victor,“ said Yuri. He leaned across the barrier and tugged Victor into his arms.
Victor stopped talking.
Yuri smelled very nice. His arms were strong. He was very solid, and very warm too. Victor had never blushed this hard before. Yuri was shorter than him, even with skates on; but his hand fit nicely around the back of Victor’s head, and Victor could feel his smile against Victor’s cheek. "Normally you do this for me,” Yuri said. “Is it all right? Please tell me if I’m making you uncomfortable.”
Victor put his arms around Yuri too. An experiment, he told himself. He also thought that it really would be quite easy to kiss Yuri right now. He would have done it, if not for the thought of Yuri gently pushing him away and reminding him how old he was, who he wasn’t yet. In a tremendous feat of self-restraint, he let go of Yuri instead. “I don’t want to make you uncomfortable,” he said. “Thank you for being so kind!”
Yuri was looking at him seriously. “So young,” he said, but it seemed that was mostly to himself.
Victor tried a sheepish look. “I am a very emotional person,” he said.
“Anyway, I will take my dog and -”
“Victor,” said Yuri, “do you want to know why I married you?” It was not really a question. Yuri kept that serious look fixed on him, and kept speaking. “Because the truth is, really, I had to,” he said. “ For me, you are surprise after surprise, The time travel is a new one, but - with you, every day is wonderful, is astonishing. You’re a miracle that doesn’t end.”
“I - oh,” said Victor.
So he was wrong, and there was nothing unimaginable here at all. It was only surprise. He knew the power of that.
But Yuri was shaking his head at whatever was on Victor’s face. “Not because of anything you do,” he said. “Of course not. It’s just who you are.”
Victor breathed out. That did not sound real.
“Wait and see,” Yuri said. He held out his arms again. “Ah, if you like - you seem like you could use another hug." Victor wasn’t going to say no to Yuri’s warm, solid hug, even with the heavy boring block of the barrier in the way. Don’t kiss him this time either, he thought as hard as he possibly could. It wouldn’t surprise him at all. But he thought he could get away with putting his nose into the crook of Yuri’s neck. Yuri still smelled very, very good.
"You have so much hair at this age,” murmured Yuri, petting it.
“What?” he said. “I don’t go bald - do I? Yuri! Tell me I don’t go bald!”
Yuri started laughing. He was still laughing when Victor pulled back in horror and outrage to stare at him, and then Victor blinked -
- and he was somewhere else.
The memory faded like a dream. Victor thought it probably was a dream, one of the long half-asleep daydreamy ones that came on when you were skirting the edge of working yourself into a collapse. Such a silly dream.
The Rite of Spring was beautiful, iconic, and made him national champion and world champion, as he had known it would. Already at the start of the competitive season Victor was dissatisfied with it. He tried to make it more interesting by varying the jumps, extending the difficulty, pushing his technical scores as high as they would go. Boring. Boring, boring, boring: but the next season, the new programs, they would be different. They would say something extraordinary, and fill the audience with that sense of awe that came from being face to face with something they had never even imagined -
The next season’s routines did not quite do it either. But Victor felt sure he would manage it in the end.