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All the Lonely People

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All the Lonely People

(where do they all come from?) 

 

 

 

 

Dearest Viktor,

 

It is my sincere hope that this letter finds you well. I have heard whispers of a storm raging over the sea there, common for this time of the year. But I pray that it will be quiet for your journey.

Rest assured that we have told your family nothing. They know that traveling to faraway lands to cultivate the word of God is a calling given to but few. And from what I have heard, Hasetsu is a lovely town- simple perhaps, but a balm for the soul. I trust that her citizens will give you a warm welcome when you arrive.

Please write to me as soon as you receive this. When we parted, regrettably, it was not on the best of terms. There is still much for us to discuss.

 

Yours in Christ,
Yakov Feltsman
Patriarch of Moscow

 

 

 

Viktor stares at the empty space at the end of the page. For a moment, he considers crumpling up the paper and throwing it into the water. Instead, he carefully folds it into eighths, tucks it carefully into his pocket, and watches the sea.

The sun here is too bright — much brighter than he remembers in Saint Petersburg at this time of year. It doesn’t take very long before his eyes begin to smart from watching the waves curl, the spray of white foam, and the line where the sea meets the horizon. He listens to the faraway cry of gulls: black-tailed gulls, a species entirely different from the seagulls he’s familiar with. Even the sea smells different here.

The church bells are his only solace for now. The cheerful tinkle of tiny bells, all jingling and ringing and crystalline delight; the mellow swinging and swelling of gold; the tolling of iron, rust and monody and monotone — all of these sounds from the tiny church of stone and shadows at the top of the hill sound familiar. They are the same calls to prayer, proclamations, endowments of piety and faith that ring across 14,000 nautical miles. They remind him of home in this place where nothing else does. 

Viktor clings to that.

 


 

If anyone asks him if he’s always wanted to be a priest, Viktor’s answer is always the same: ‘God’s will be done’. People nod and smile, and praise his profundity.

But the answer, as always, is more complicated than a single passage lifted from the gospel can convey. To put it plainly, he was quite dead in the womb, until Mama prayed for a miracle. At the urging of her older relatives, whom Viktor chooses to believe were acting out of love, she tempered her prayer with a bargain: if the baby were to live, she promised, she would offer the child to God.

Three months after that, or so he’s told, Viktor came into this world with his cord wound tightly around his neck. But he survived, and what was that if not grace?

The day he met Yakov Feltsman, and the day his childhood gave way to a life of piety and holiness, the Nikiforov clan held a celebration for the ages. Viktor was happy that they were happy, but as he grew older he would sometimes wonder if any of that joy was for his sake, or if he was simply the instrument for their elation. Perhaps because the Christianity that his family practices has no provisions for the concept of indulgences, they thought that having a man of the cloth among them was the next ‘safest’ way to be sure of their salvation. 

Now, he can no longer even remember what he wanted to be when he was a child. What dreams did he hold before his family sent him off to live and train with the monks, rendering those dreams invalid? Viktor tries to dig deep in the oldest, furthest corners of his mind, but he finds nothing there now. Perhaps there never was anything at all. 

(A lie, his mind whispers that night, just as he's starting to surrender to sleep. Once upon a time, he wanted to be a sailor.)

 


 

 

 

 

 

Dear Viktor,

 

Praises be unto God that you arrived safely. I would have greatly preferred to hear this from you instead of Mr. Morooka, but it is good news nonetheless and I shall content myself with it.

Is Hasetsu treating you well? How is the weather, calm? Temperamental? Have you had a chance to sample one of their famous hot springs? Such luxuries can be good for the soul, so long as they are not overdone.

I told you this before you left, but it bears repeating now: I did the best that I could, given the circumstances. This was the only way that you were going to keep your vestments. I hope you understand this now.

Whenever you are ready to talk, do not hesitate to write me. I wait eagerly for your response.

 

Yours in Christ,
Yakov Feltsman
Patriarch of Moscow

 

 

 

There’s another slip of paper in this envelope, wrinkled and of an irregular shape, as though it had been ensnared in a clutched hand and ripped forcefully from its binding. This second letter, if it can be called that, is not signed. But it does not have to be, for Viktor would recognize the rough, heavy strokes of the penmanship of one angry Yuri Plisetsky any day:  

 

 

 

 

Luke 6:37, right? Is that what you were hoping for?
I HOPE YOU BURN IN HELL

 

 

 


 

Darkness reigns absolute over his first night in Hasetsu. He underestimates it, still yearning for the endless summer days of home, and having placed too much hope in the full moon as it rose. Now it’s abandoned him, choosing to hide behind a blanket of clouds that dampens all of the starlight with it.

After finishing his evening prayers, Viktor makes his way out of the church, snuffing out the flames of the candles he passes by as he goes. He exits through the rear door, where a short, twenty-second walk takes him to the door of the tiny flat that had been built at the back of the church as an afterthought, serving as the resident priest’s quarters.

The wind howls to greet him; it’s easy to forget how much time he lost at sea, and that winter is almost upon them. Viktor pulls his coat more tightly around himself and quickens his pace, that he might cut the time for his walk in half.

There’s not much to say about the flat itself. It is certainly clean enough, and beats an austerity to its interior that is only right for its intended occupants. Earlier today, Viktor searched and searched, but he found precisely nothing left behind by the priest that had lived here before him. No discarded refuse, old clothes, or indeed any trace of anyone having lived here before him remained to satisfy his curiosity. He’s not sure what he expected; some of the good people of Hasetsu must have taken care to clean the place from top to bottom, and considered it a courtesy. He doesn’t dream of begrudging them that, but he does wish they’d left him something — notes stuffed in the wall, perhaps, or a message carved in the wood of the large desk by the window — to clue him in on why Hasestu’s last priest had simply disappeared into the night, never to be heard from again.

Oh, there are rumors, he’s sure. He may even hear some of them in the morning, though he has doubts that the elementary Japanese he was forced to learn on the voyage will help him to pick out the nuances that he needs. One day at a time, he reminds himself. His stay here has no end date on the horizon, and there are other concerns to attend to. He’s here to do a job, after all: feed His lambs, tend His sheep, feed His sheep.

(If that’s not the entire truth, well, the flock here don’t need to know that. There exists a fine line between innocence and ignorance, Viktor learned long ago, and bliss resides on both sides of it.)

A single candle placed on the desk is enough to light up the entirety of his flat. By its muted yellow glow and the faint smell of smoke, Viktor works on the beginnings of a sermon for the next day. He knows he should think about calling it a day, but having spent so much time at sea has rattled the clock in his mind, and sleep feels like an impossible dream. Writing, at least, keeps him busy — idleness is dangerous ground here, especially since Yakov’s open letter stares at him from the other end of the desk. There is much to be done, much penitence to endure.

Viktor works for uncounted minutes, hours, poring over Scripture until the words start to dance on the page. He blinks. What was that — a sound? He stills his breath and lifts his hand from the page, lest the ink blot and spread when his hand freezes. He listens.

Nothing. Perhaps it was just the wind, he tells himself.

Then he hears it again. This time there is no mistaking the sound, an insistent but gentle rapping, rapping on his chamber door.

He opens it to the sight of a young man standing at the threshold of his house, carrying a wrapped parcel in his hands. The lenses of his spectacles reflect the yellow glow from the candle inside, eclipsing his own eyes. That is, until he lowers his head in a bow, and greets him in shaky Russian: “H-hello. Good evening, Priest Viktor.”

“Good evening,” Viktor returns in Japanese. His command of this language leaves much to be desired, but he needs to practice and there’s no time like the present. “The church is always unlocked for those who wish to pray, no matter the hour of the day.”

“Ah. Thank you.” The man switches to Japanese with a relieved sigh. When he straightens himself up, he takes note of Viktor’s dress and flushes. “I apologize for the late hour, I didn’t realize…”

“Not to worry, I'd not yet retired for the night.” Ah, so this visitor set out specifically to see him, then. Viktor can’t quite imagine why. “How can I help you?”

“Um, this is for you.” He lifts up the parcel in his hands. “My mother made it, not me. It’s to… to welcome you to Hasetsu.” He thrusts it out and bows again, hiding his eyes behind his hair. “Welcome.”

The parcel exudes an alluring, nearly sinful aroma, which Viktor picks up on because it’s now being held inches from his face. His appetite stirs; right, he’s had nothing but water and tea since lunch, and how long ago was that? Time passes so strangely here. “That's very kind. Please thank her on my behalf. And thank you… ah, what is your name?”

“Oh… it’s Yuuri.” His visitor stares resolutely at his shoes. “Katsuki Yuuri.”

“Well, Katsuki Yuuri, it was very nice to meet you tonight.” Viktor isn’t sure he can sustain much more of this level of Japanese conversation, but he doesn’t want to seem rude, or ungrateful for what is certainly a much-appreciated gift. He imagines the etiquette here in Hasetsu somewhat resemble the expectations back home, and so… “Did you want to come in? Can I at least offer you a drink of water?”

Or perhaps he thought wrong, as Yuuri immediately shakes his head. “G-good night! Priest Viktor.” He turns abruptly after giving one last bow.

Not even ten steps later, and before he can call out, Viktor’s already lost him to the night.  

 


 

He finds an older man waiting outside his doorstep in the morning. He introduces himself as Morooka, and Viktor remembers him as the same man who met him at the docks yesterday, and guided him from there to his new home. He speaks much more slowly than Yuuri did, conscious of Viktor’s fluency as a work in progress, and thus careful to enunciate all of his words.

He’d like to take Viktor on a tour of Hasetsu, he announces. Viktor accepts eagerly, because the sermon he’s writing is almost finished, and there are still two days to go before he has to officiate his first service here.  

The end up finishing the tour long before the sun reaches its zenith in the sky. There isn’t all that much to see or say about it: the 津, ‘tsu’, part of its name means ‘port’, Morooka explains, and that with its coastal location hints at its vital function as a trading hub between China and Korea. Viktor listens as he talks about the town’s history, but his mind is stubborn and insists to wander: the tall castle with the supposed ninja house in the center of the town is a lightning rod for his attention, but he’s also distracted by lines of fresh squid hanging in open stalls, and children fussing over half-finished paper mache floats in the middle of the street. It seems like every time he steals a glance at the water, he sees another boat moving at a crawl, but he’s never able to track any one of them to a proper end point. He looks up and they’re there; he looks away and back again, and they’ve vanished.  

He takes solace in the fact that, at the very least, he will not have to be planting seeds on rocky ground. The work to bring Christianity to Japan started well before his time. The church on the hilltop, with its pristine white stone and golden domes, about the closest thing Viktor can call ‘opulent’ in this otherwise modest town, certainly attests to that. The faithful have been eager to meet their new priest, he’s told, at the first service he’s to conduct this weekend. Viktor supposes this will be his life for the foreseeable future, sacraments and self-study, and a sanctuary by the sea.

Eventually, it’s Morooka himself who mentions out loud that this town isn’t very big at all. With a sheepish grin, he says that it’s very likely that Viktor will meet almost all of its residents this Sunday after the service, and that it wouldn’t even take him very long. Viktor laughs with him if only out of politeness, and casually mentions that he’s already met one of the other townsfolk last night: someone from the Katsuki family visited him with food. 

“Ah, the Katsuki family! Yes, they own and operate the onsen at the foot of the hill. Hiroko-san is an excellent cook. What did they bring you?” Viktor stammers through something that isn’t a sentence, stringing together the words for ‘pork’ and ‘egg’ and ‘rice’ and ‘sweet’, and Morooka laughs. “Katsudon! Her specialty. They must have wanted to impress.”  

“Well, they certainly succeeded,” Viktor chuckles.

“Who made the delivery? Was it Mari?” At Viktor’s questioning look, he explains, “Mari is their older daughter, about the same age as you, I believe.” 

“Ah, then no. It was a boy… I seem to recall his name was Yuuri?”

Morooka stops walking, and Viktor follows suit. For a moment, he swears that the temperature in the air around them, already cold from the season and the sea breeze, plummets a few more degrees.  

“Are you alright? He didn’t hurt you, did he?”

“No…?” Viktor frowns, puzzled. “Why do you ask?”

But then it’s as though a switch is flipped, and in the next second Morooka is walking again, smiling again, gushing about the Katsukis' food. Viktor follows along, and wonders if he just misheard.

 


 

So it goes. Something of a routine emerges in which Yuuri brings him his dinner almost every night, and at the end of the week, Viktor sends him back with payment to give to his parents for the week to come. Between his daily duties and self-study, added to his own admitted lack of talent in any culinary endeavors, this seemed to be a logical choice. That the Katsuki family’s onsen happens to be situated right at the foot of the hill is also a happy coincidence. Yuuri says he doesn’t mind the walk, and that it gives him time to reflect.

The routine leads to familiarity. And sometimes, contrary to how the proverb usually goes, familiarity breeds something that is quite the opposite of contempt. It starts with small talk: how is your sister, how are your parents, how is the onsen doing? Is the weather bound to get as cold as it does back home, or is this is bad as it gets? Yuuri speaks softly, which Viktor at first interprets as shyness, until a full month passes and they are certainly no longer strangers to each other, so that can’t be it. Perhaps he really is just that humble and unassuming, though behind his quiet smiles and timid glances lurks a mind that is sharper and more intriguing than a single look would have one suspect. He gently corrects mistakes in Viktor’s Japanese, helping him through some of the more difficult passages in the books he reads. He worries about Hasetsu’s future, citizens leaving for greener pastures further into the country who never return, and wonders if one day in the far future this whole town might end up just a tomb of old memories by the sea. He muses about the world, and about justice, and about free will and grace and all of these heavy, abstract truths until Viktor's food has turned cold, and Yuuri apologizes profusely for keeping him.

You are playing a dangerous game, the walls seem to whisper as he watches Yuuri make his way down the hill one night. No, he tells himself; this is different, Hasetsu is different, and he is different now. He is not so stupid as to repeat the follies of his past.

 


 

It’s not as though Viktor ever encounters Yuuri outside of these almost-nightly deliveries anyway. At no point does he ever see Yuuri in the church during services, although he does recognize the rest of the Katsuki family: they usually stay together near the doors, and they tend not to stay for the casual socializing among many of the townsfolk that ends up taking place outside of the church once the service is over. Perhaps it’s because they’re busy, Viktor surmises, as he can’t imagine running a hot springs resort to allow for much less than a full-time commitment. It’s an admirable work ethic they possess, to be sure, but it still doesn’t explain why only Yuuri does not seem to make time for church. 

He floats the question towards some of the townsfolk later on, framing it in terms of simple curiosity. Oddly enough, it appears that half of Hasetsu is just as clueless as he is. 

‘Sorry, but I don’t know anything about that. It is rather odd, now that you mention it.’

‘I believe it’s not my place to dictate how Toshiya-san and Hiroko-san choose to parent their children. That said, if it were I in their place…’

‘Perhaps he’s having a crisis of faith. You know how the youth are these days…’

‘Wait a minute… the Katsukis have a son??’

He doesn’t dare ask either of Yuuri’s parents. Mari herself says something about how her brother has some anxiety problems, and how he has trouble sitting still for too long in quiet places. Viktor isn’t sure if that sounds right, but he sees her shifting the weight on her feet and fiddling with one of her sleeves, and lets it go.

Perhaps the most telling, but also most perplexing answer that he gets is from an old fisherman plying his trade at the docks. He scowls, spits into the sea, and mutters something that Viktor has to strain his ears to hear.

“Because if he went, he'd probably burn.”

 


 

One morning, emboldened by either his curiosity or just sheer recklessness, Viktor places an order for twice as much food as usual to be delivered that night. Hiroko whips up a big batch of tonkotsu ramen to ward off the chill of the night, and indeed, when Yuuri brings it over, the parcel in his arms is much larger than it would usually be.

“Here you are. That’s a bit more than usual, are you having company tonight? Ah, if you don’t mind me asking.”

“Well, that is entirely up to you.” Viktor smiles, and gestures towards the open door behind him. “Would you like to join me? For dinner?”

“Ehhh?? What, here — n-now?” Yuuri almost drops everything to the ground in his panic. “Um… um, I don’t know. Wouldn’t it be inappropriate?” 

“Only if you are uncomfortable with the thought of eating with me.”

“No, no! I just…” Yuuri chews on his lip, and stares at Viktor’s feet. He’s hiding his eyes behind his lenses again, as he’s wont to do every now and again. “I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

“It wouldn’t be intruding at all.” Viktor opens the door wider and steps into the house, motioning for Yuuri to follow him. “Come inside, please. I insist.”

It doesn’t take much more cajoling before Yuuri steps over the threshold, murmuring something under his breath about being grateful for Viktor’s hospitality.

It’s… charming, if he had to put it in a word, to watch Yuuri when he’s not in a state of transience for once. For quite some time, Yuuri doesn’t seem to want to do much but sit and eat, so Viktor fills in the silence for the both of them, describing the gilded domes of Saint Basil’s Cathedral, the stars over Hasetsu and the sea, and everything else he can think of in between. Yuuri listens with rapt attention to his stories like he’s drinking in every word.

He takes a risk in pairing the ramen with wine. Yuuri doesn’t stop him, which Viktor interprets as a positive sign.

And if nothing else, the alcohol certainly loosens Yuuri’s tongue. He opens up, bit by bit, phrases that turn into sentences and whispers that turn into laughter, sweet and disarming like the smaller church bells. He takes a soak in the hot springs himself whenever they have slower days — Viktor should really try it sometime. He admits that his favorite food is katsudon, the very first dish he brought to welcome Viktor to Hasetsu, and that he could eat it for days without getting bored. He almost lets slip what his mother’s secret ingredient is, but manages to hold his tongue at the very last second.

He wants to travel the world, he says. He’s never set foot outside of Hasetsu in his entire life, and his wish is to one day be able to see all of the splendor that these lands and seas have to offer for himself. When Viktor asks what is stopping him, that seems to sober Yuuri up for a few seconds. It’s not meant to be, he says simply. Not in any future he can foresee, either.

“But why not?”

“I have… responsibilities that I need to take care of.” Yuuri stares morosely at the empty glass in his hand. “Say, may I ask you a hypothetical question, Father?”

Viktor has been asked enough of these questions to know that they rarely ever are hypothetical at all. “Please do.”

“Well… I suppose you might have mentioned this in a sermon before, but I don’t attend — and I’m sorry for that by the way, I mean no offense by it! I just…” Yuuri takes a deep breath, and finally seems to find his nerve. “Is it possible for someone to live, knowing that he has no hope for salvation?”

Even though he was expecting something philosophical and heavy like this, the question still surprises Viktor, though he tries not to show it. “That’s hardly something one can know for sure. There is nothing that a person can do to earn or forfeit salvation. Rather, it is a gift from God… and God is merciful to all.”

The words are familiar, they’ve been spoken thousands of times before, and they make up a core truth of his theology. Yet a stubborn voice in his head surfaces: are you telling Yuuri, or yourself? Viktor chases the interloper away with the rest of his wine.  

“Is He really?” There’s something bitter in how the words force themselves out of Yuuri’s lips, and something sad in the way his shoulders sag. “What’s the point of everything we do, then? Worship, prayer… good works… is it all the same in the end?”

Viktor shakes his head. “Man is free to reject this gift of salvation. To be saved, man must work together with God so that his entire being — his will, his effort, and his actions, — are perfectly conformed with the Divine.”

Another solid truth, he reminds himself. ‘For God becomes powerless before human freedom; He cannot violate it since it flows from His own omnipotence. Certainly man was created by the will of God alone, but he cannot be made Holy by it alone. A single will for creation, but two for deification. The love of God for man is so great that it cannot constrain; the Divine will always will submit itself to gropings, to detours, even to revolts of human will to bring it to a free consent.’

He wonders if the words would sound as empty to Yuuri as they did in his head just now.

“Is this something you might want to discuss more thoroughly at another time?” Viktor raises his empty glass and chuckles. “Perhaps, when our minds are no longer clouded by wine?”

Yuuri shakes his head. “For me, I’m afraid that it’s the wine that’s been doing all the talking tonight. Sorry, Father.”

And then he changes the subject to something lighter again. This time he talks about dogs, and how their love is so pure, and has Viktor met many of Hasetsu’s stray dogs yet? They’re all very friendly, he promises, and he’s come up with names for them all…

If Viktor ends up having to humor him as he talks about dogs for the rest of the hour, he doesn’t really mind it. An animated, talkative Yuuri is nothing if not pleasant company. But that question on salvation lingers in a corner of Viktor’s mind, and he doesn’t forget it even long after Yuuri has gone home.

 


 

The next night, Mari is the one who delivers his food. Viktor finds that he can’t quite read the turn of her lips, or the crease in the space between her brows as she says, "Yuuri is having a bad day today."

 


 

 

 

 

Vitya,

 

I hope that this letter finds you well — just as I have been assured by Mr. Morooka that all of my letters have, though none as of yet have been graced with a reply. I would spare you the indignity of a reminder if I could, but I would simply be remiss in my duty if I did not reiterate to you this one truth: that we can only be free from the shackles of whatever terrible afflictions and unspeakable injustices have befallen us, whether real or perceived, through forgiveness.

And to put it quite plainly, if there is any one of us involved in this unfortunate affair who should free himself from anger and resentment first, it is you! I will not pretend to be blameless in failing to notice the signs: that you were faltering in your path to spiritual perfection. All have struggled on this path, and many have stumbled along the way. But you have to understand, the gravity of it… Vitya, you were caught in the sanctuary! By an altar boy — by Yura!

You must understand: there was no way for this to end well. My hands were tied!

I will attest with God as witness that this was the very best that I could do. I hope that you will come to believe me in time.

I wish you peace. Wherever your road takes you, know that the Lord is always in your midst.  

 

Yakov

 

 

 

Viktor has scarcely finished reading the letter when he’s startled by a sudden banging on his door. 

He glances at the clock: a little past three in the morning. Hasetsu is a fishing town and trading port, and indeed Viktor has found that she awakens earlier than most. But he’s never had any visitors come to his door earlier than sunrise.

When he opens the door, he finds a tearful woman standing outside with her hands clasped tightly in front of her chest. He recognizes her — Yuuko-san, he recalls, a homemaker and the sweet mother of triplet girls. “Please, Father, you have to come quick!”

“But what is the matter?”

“I-i-it’s Yuuri-kun! He… he…”

He doesn’t trust her to ever finish the rest of that thought. But the urgency is palpable and thick in the air. Could Yuuri be ill? It must truly be grave if Yuuko is acting like this, but he doesn’t remember hearing anything about it before today. Yuuri never appeared to show any signs of it either. Did he simply not notice?

The sound of Yuuko sobbing into her hands reminds him that he doesn’t have the luxury of entertaining this train of thought, and pulls him out of it entirely. He ushers her inside to seek shelter from the bitter cold, and doesn’t bother to draw the curtain as he changes into a dress shirt. Around his neck he slips his brocade stole and the silver pectoral cross he’s carried since his ordination. He takes only the bare minimum of what he thinks he might need: a small bible, the priest’s service book, and oil in a receptacle to be blessed once he’s at Yuuri’s side.

All of his preparations take little more than a minute or so. But Yuuko looks up at him just as he’s about to leave, and purposefully stands at the door to block him.

“What are you doing?”

“With great respect, Father… this isn’t the first time I’ve come to these doors for Yuuri’s sake. Please accept this with all humility on my part, when I say that he will need something more than that.”

“I do not understand.” Now more than ever, Viktor wishes that everyone would just speak plainly with him for once. “What does Yuuri need? More prayer? More time? Tell me!”

Yuuko keeps her head low, and worries her bottom lip with her teeth. He sees the war she wages with herself from the look in her eyes. In the end, either deference to him or fear for Yuuri wins out, and she finally tells him what he wants to know.

“He’ll need something more powerful,” Yuuko whispers. “Something to fight evil, and drive it away.”

All at once, everything becomes so clear.

Viktor thanks her for her honesty, and begins preparing himself for an exorcism.

 


 

By the time Viktor arrives at the onsen, fully vested and bearing a generous amount of holy water, a number of people have gathered outside. He sees Yuuri’s parents clinging to one another, and Mari with her hand on her mother’s shoulder murmuring what he imagines to be words of comfort. Some of the onsen’s staff remain huddled around the main entrance, but eagerly part to give him a clear path.

He finds Yuuko’s husband with his back pressed against a door — one he assumes will lead to Yuuri’s room. There is a shallow cut on his face, and a much deeper gash on his arm. When Yuuko ushers him away, he’s unable to put weight on his left foot.

“We did all that we could, Father,” he says when they stop in front of him. Although this tells Viktor nothing, he recognizes the hopelessness in those words, and decides not to press on.

He tells them all to seek sanctuary in the church for the night. He waits until they are all out of sight, and then waits a few minutes more, before starting a ritual to bless the house.

“O Lord God of our salvation, Son of the Living God, Who is borne by the Cherubim, being above all dominions, principalities, authorities and powers: You are great and fearsome to all around You…”

The very first exorcism he witnessed was one performed by Yakov. That was a much more harrowing experience from the start, with the one possessed writhing and screaming bloody murder, cursing all of the priests and everyone who held him down. But Yakov was a rock, has always been a rock, and Viktor will never forget how calm he was throughout the whole endeavor, until it was over. If only he possessed a fraction of the man’s fortitude —

No. None of that, he rebukes himself. He cannot afford to doubt his constitution at a time like this.

“You are the One Who set the heavens like a vault and made the earth in Your might; Who directs the universe in Your wisdom. When earthquakes occur under heaven from the foundations, its pillars are unshaken. You speak and the sun does not shine. You sealed the stars. You forbad the seas and dried them up. Authorities and dominions hide from Your wrath, and the rock trembles before You.”

The space behind the door is quiet… almost eerily so. Viktor imagined that he should have heard some signs of resistance by now. He stands tense and alert anyway, always keeping an eye on the door as he moves.

As the same Lord, the Hope of those who place their confirmation on You, and the Wall of might for those whose expectation is in You, anathematize, drive away and transform all diabolical actions and all satanic indictments, all slanders of the Adversary, and of the powers lying under this roof. Free those bearing the Sign which is awesome against demons: the Cross of Your victory, and calling upon Your gracious Name, from possession by him and from those wandering about under this roof.”

There is a presence in this place that he cannot deny. He blesses the house in its entirety, but the energy draws him back to this same door that Takeshi was guarding, and to whatever entity is lurking within.

Preserve, O Master, all who live in the house from all harm and every temptation from below, delivering them from fear of the feeble one and the arrows that fly by day, from things proceeding from the darkness and attacks by demons at midday. Let Your servants and Your children, delighting in Your help, and preserved by armies of angels, faithfully sing with one accord: ‘The Lord is my Helper and I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?’ and again, ‘I will fear no evil, for You are with me.’"

No, it isn’t just lurking. Or rather, it is, in the sense that it hasn’t thrown the door open and emerged to attack, or to flee.

Is it just… waiting? Waiting for him?

As You are my Confirmation, O God, Mighty Master, Prince of Peace, and Father of the age to come, for Your kingdom is an eternal Kingdom, to you alone is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

When Viktor finally opens the door, it yields without any resistance. And while he was not entirely sure what to expect — its occupant crawling all over the walls, perhaps, or convulsing on the floor, blood under nails and painting teeth — he’s surprised by what he does find: Yuuri lying calmly on the futon in the middle of the room. His ankles and wrists have been bound together with heavy ropes, but Viktor sees no marks on his skin that would have evidenced any kind of a struggle against them.

The only thing out of the ordinary is his eyes: free from the spectacles that he usually wears, and unobscured by his hair which he’s pushed back, with either water or pomade or something else, Yuuri’s eyes have changed from their usual hue to a deep, arresting red.

“Good evening, Father.”

Viktor slides the door closed behind him. “Yuuri?” he calls out cautiously.

“Yes, yes, I suppose I can respond to that name if it’s more convenient for you. Ah, and speaking of your convenience…” The demon smiles, and then switches effortlessly to Russian: “How’s this? Is this better?”

It’s so surreal, recognizing Yuuri’s voice and countenance, and yet finding it completely unfamiliar all at once. “You’ve caused everyone quite a bit of grief with your antics tonight.”

“Honestly.” The demon rolls his eyes. “One would think that they would be used to it by now. All things considered.”

“Indeed, I have been told that this is not the first time.”

“For everyone except you, perhaps.”

Perhaps. Viktor is almost tempted to ask if any of the priests who came here before him met their end in trying to drive this demon away. But there are other witnesses from whom he can draw that information, and while he knows that speaking with the possessed can aid in an exorcism, he doesn’t see any purpose in letting this vain chatter continue for much longer. He has to save Yuuri, after all. Nothing else matters.

“He’s very fond of you, you know?” Viktor feels the demon’s eyes tracking him as he makes his preparations. “This boy, Katsuki Yuuri… oh Father, if only you knew.”

“Knew what?”

“His thoughts, his dreams…”

He knows. Yuuri has a love for dogs and pork cutlet bowls, and wants to leave this town and explore. None of those are things that this demon should be privileged to know.

“…And the secret desires he has for you.”

Viktor falters. He comes dangerously close to spilling some of the holy water he’s trying to distribute properly on and around his subject. though he manages to save it at the last second. After his heart settles down from where it had leapt into his throat, a sickening unease remains.

“Do you want to know? These sinful thoughts about you that run rampant in this poor boy’s head?” Slowly, ever so slowly, the demon licks his lips. “Among other places, of course?”

Viktor gathers up the rest of his resolve and pretends he did not hear those words. “Lord, have mercy…”

The demon lets out a dramatic sigh, and stares at the ceiling. “I suppose we are really going to do this, then?”

“O Lord Our God, the King of the ages, almighty and all powerful, who create and alter all things by your will alone… the physician and healer of our souls; the security of those who hope in you; we pray you and beseech you: remove, drive away and banish every diabolical activity, every satanic attack and every plot, evil curiosity and injury, and the evil eye of mischievous and wicked men from your servant…”

Viktor chances a look at the demon, which is perhaps not the best idea, but the need to know compels him. Far from suffering under the words of the prayer, he simply remains lying on the futon, completely relaxed, a ghost of a smile on his face.

Is he… is he tolerating this?

Or perhaps, something worse: could it be possible that he might actually be enjoying this?

“And whether it was brought about by beauty, or bravery… or happiness, or jealousy and envy, or evil eye, do you yourself, O Lord who love mankind, stretch out your mighty hand and your powerful and lofty arm, look down on this your creature and watch over him, and send him an angel of peace, so that your supplicant may sing to you with thanksgiving: ‘The Lord is my helper, and I shall not be afraid; what can man do to me?’”

As soon as those words fall from his lips, the demon looks straight into his eyes and whispers sweetly: “I know what you did.”

Viktor freezes.

“I know what you did,” he says again, louder this time. And then: “I — know — what — you — did,” again, in a mocking sing-song.

“And again… I shall fear no evil,” Viktor forces out, “because You are with me.” 

“And because I know what you did,” the demon continues, “I find it comical how you seem to think that you, of all people, can banish me.”

No… no, it is impossible. Nobody here is supposed to know — even in Russia, only a handful of people know, and Yakov promised, he promised

Viktor finally catches himself before his train of thought devolves into a blind panic. No, of course, how careless of him! Demons are known for their cunning, and their ability to sway those who are weak of will. It would be foolish of him to let himself be led astray.

The demon’s words are lies, he tells himself. Smoke and misdirection and lies, nothing more.

With his spirit renewed, perhaps it’s about time he complete this exorcism: “For you are God my strength, the powerful ruler, the Prince of Peace, the Father of the age to come. Yes, Lord, our God, spare your creature and save your servant from every injury and brought about by the evil eye, and keep him safe above every ill. For your are our King and all things are possible to Thee, O Lord. Therefore, we ascribe glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”

He has known demons to scream and display visible suffering when banished. Many of Yakov’s exorcisms certainly ended that way. This demon, however, smiles — disturbingly, it’s the same sweet, delicate smile Yuuri reserves for when Viktor greets him at the door.

"I'll be seeing you soon, Father."

 


 

This is what he learns, when the dust clears and the day breaks, and when people finally start talking to him: that the demon he encountered the night before is indeed no stranger to this town, and that last night is likely not the last Viktor will see of him.

Nobody seems to know for sure when this all started. Minako, a close friend of the Katsuki family, seems to recall waking up one day and finding two-year-old Yuuri sitting on the roof of the onsen, his eyes a brilliant red, speaking in clear, perfect sentences. She shivers and wraps her arms around herself as she recounts how he pointed at the church — a place he had only been brought to once, as an infant during his baptism — and calmly said, “The man who lives there: I want him to leave.”

Since then, the demon has been a constant companion of Yuuri’s. It lies dormant for anything from weeks to months at a time, only to resurface just when everyone seems to lower their guard. The demon comes and goes as it pleases, but as for what it wants, or why it has seemed to take a liking to having Katsuki Yuuri as its permanent host, no-one can say.

There are other rumors that abound, disquieting ones. They explain why Hasetsu seems to have lost many good priests in such a short time. Three months to the day before Viktor arrived, after burying the priest that they’d found hanging from a noose fashioned out of his own belt and stole, they found the word EROS scratched and bloodied into the wood of the wall where they believe the priest was first attacked. Is it the demon’s name? A reference to the type of love that so often is corrupted into sin? Or something else entirely? Nobody is able to tell him.

“But does he hurt anyone else?” Viktor presses.

“Not exactly…” Minako exchanges an unreadable look with Mari, who simply shrugs. “He seems to reserve any actual violence for men of the cloth.”

“Which makes sense,” Mari mutters. “Considering.”

He supposes it does. “But then what else does he do? When he’s possessed?”

“He…” Minako cycles through several false starts before letting out a long, tired sigh. “It’s hard to explain. Have you ever had something, anything, hidden deep in your heart — hatred, or fear, or jealousy, something that burdens your mind with every waking hour? But you keep it locked away and safe from the world, for your sake as well as everyone else’s? He is very, very good at picking up on those, drawing them out, and turning them against you.”

Viktor feels a chill scuttling up his spine. Yuuri’s voice, low and husky, still echoes in the back of his mind: I know what you did. I know what you did. I know what you did.

“I know it might sound silly when I say it out loud like this.” Minako lets out a weak laugh. “They’re just words, after all. But, until you’ve experienced it… there is power, evil in his words, and the way he looks at you.”

“He’s driven people mad,” Mari adds quietly. “Yuuri thinks that all the people suddenly leaving Hasetsu go off to look for better lives. He’s not wrong, but… he doesn’t know that he’s the reason why they go.”

He tries not to dwell over a past conversation with ramen and wine, and how he’s been so blind all this time. And Yuuri, poor innocent Yuuri who doesn’t seem like he deserves any of this, has been suffering for so long. “How much does he know?”

“That every so often, a demon will take control of his body and voice, and say or do things that we know Yuuri himself would never allow,” Minako says. “He never remembers anything from when he’s possessed. As far as he knows, it is only lost time. It’s difficult, but we try to keep as much from him as we can. He is innocent, after all.”

Indeed, he is. Yuuri is a victim, nothing more.

Still, he understands it when Toshiya is the one who shows up at his flat later that night, bearing unadon and sake, and his thanks for the exorcism he performed. Yuuri, true to Minako’s words, remembers nothing of the night before, but is still completely mortified, and might not ever be able to face Viktor again. Understandable. Viktor throws himself into his studies, tries to find anything useful that he doesn’t already know about exorcism, and about demons from these lands, poring over texts that predate even the first Christian missions to Japan. Countless, draining hours are burned in the pursuit of something that feels always just out of his reach.

In the end, he supposes it will just be a waiting game between the demon and himself. Now that he knows that the demon has killed priests before, he wonders if Yakov knew, all this time… but no, the thought of that possibility is simply too painful for him to entertain, so he drops it.

He will handle this alone, he decides. This must be partly why he was sent here after all, no? Let this be the first step towards his redemption.

(I know what you did.)

…If only Viktor could stop thinking about him.  

He finds, to his dismay, that most of his thoughts since the exorcism now center around Yuuri and that demon. Otherwise, they linger in his mind, carving out a space for themselves in his head to lurk there, and he can’t chase them away no matter what he does. He reminds himself of what Minako warned him, that this is just what the demon does, getting under his skin with those naughty smiles and that cryptic ‘I know what you did’. And those lies it spilled, about Yuuri and his… desires…

Those were lies. They were.

They had to be.

Right?

He pays a visit to the onsen one day, on a lark. He’s not entirely sure what he wants to happen, even once he’s already there. He doesn’t run into Yuuri at any point in time during his stay either. Although, while he takes a dip alone in the hot springs, he feels — no, imagines, he corrects himself — eyes watching him from the walls, something breathing in the ceiling, a heartbeat beneath the moist, heated floorboards.

Nights without Yuuri quickly plague him with restlessness. Viktor tries valiantly to busy himself with sermons and prayers and studies, but every so often he finds his eyes being drawn away from his desk, until he’s staring at his chamber door. He wonders when he might hear that desperate rapping and banging, and when he might open it to learn that the demon has returned.

It does not happen for the first fortnight. It doesn’t happen for the next forty nights, but there is no relief to be had when every night is limbo.

But arguably the worst of it all is the dreams. The harder he tries to fight the demon intruding his thoughts during the day, the more intense are the visions that come to him with a vengeance in the night. It’s a losing battle, he comes to learn; far more often than he’d like, he awakens flushed and breathless in the middle of the night, his sheets sticky and hot, and twisted around his legs. He bites back a curse and strips his bed, and tries to forget that the Almighty sees all.

Eventually, there comes a time where he stops trying to fight his own subconscious, and pre-empts the inevitable after a short, whispered prayer for forgiveness. He takes himself in his hand and closes his eyes. When he lets his mind wander unrestrained, it brings him to vivid visions of Yuuri, not the demon with the red eyes but Yuuri, with hooded eyes like fine wine and kisses just as sweet. Sometimes he’s bound on the futon, just as the demon was on the night of the exorcism, but other times he’s free, and Viktor guides his tentative hands until they shed their reticence and eagerly seek out their own warmth. He thinks of soft, beautiful Yuuri opening up beneath him, tight and searing around him, and he hears Yuuri’s voice over the sounds he muffles desperately into his pillow, until he finishes with blasphemy on his lips.

He thinks he might be going mad.

 


  

The next time Yuuri visits him, he brings the demon in tow.

Somehow Viktor knows, long before he even sees him. He’s awake at witching hour when it happens. An inexplicable, all-encompassing sensation of dread settles over him like a shroud, but chills him to his bones. When he understands, he knows he has little time to prepare: he simply pulls his pectoral cross over his nightshirt and runs to the church as fast as he can.  

The rear door leads to a short, narrow passage that opens to the nave. Viktor bolts it locked, struggling against the rust and disuse. Not trusting that to hold up at all, he lights just enough candles in his path until he finds one of the church’s two sacred fans: round metal likenesses of seraphs with six wings, affixed to the ends of long poles. He tests the heft of it in his hands, and uses it to barricade the door.

He uses the other fan to reinforce the main doors that lead into the narthex. No sooner has the threaded the pole through the handles of the doors than a gust of wind howls, battering at the the wood from outside. Viktor stares at his handiwork, heart pounding, and takes a cautious step back.

Another.

Another.

He makes his way around the church, lighting every single candle he can find, desperately willing his hands to stop shaking. He feels it again, the same unnerving sensation that clung to him during his short stay at the Katsuki’s onsen : the walls are watching him. Literally watching him, he thinks as he runs out of candles to light, and faces the wall of icons. Christ, to the right of the gate. John the Baptist. Moses. Noah. Theotokos, the Mother of God. Even the doors themselves contain images of the archangels, and they stare, they stare, they all stare down upon him from their lofty places on the wall.

I know what you did, he hears them say.

I know what you did, he hears the demon say.

His skin feels as though it’s on fire, and Viktor can take it no longer. He slips through one of the side doors, suffering through the disapproving gaze of the angel Gabriel as he does, and locks himself in the sanctuary.

There are more icons on the walls here, but the smaller space helps him to feel less exposed. The altar table, draped in red for the season of repentance, resembles a pool of blood in the dim candlelight.

Repentance. Yes. Is that what this was all about, then?

“God, my good and loving Lord,” he whispers, “I acknowledge all the sins which I have committed every day in my life, whether in thought, word or deed.”

There are other prayers he can utter, others whose words have been seared into the core of his mind from years and years ago. Prayers for protection, prayers for times of trouble. For times of need. And there are other prayers still: prayers specifically written to fight demonic influence, their words strong and steadfast and brave.

Yet somehow, this is the only one that feels right. “I ask for forgiveness from the depths of my heart, for offending You and others, and repent of my old ways. Help me by Your grace to change, to sin no more and to walk in the way of righteousness, and to praise and glorify Your Name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”  

His hands tremble with a chill he cannot seem to fight. Even though the prayer leaves him in a whisper, he thinks his voice sounds entirely too loud. Perhaps it’s because the church is so silent.

Perhaps it’s because of something else.

“O Lord my God, I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word and deed. I have also omitted to do what Your holy law requires of me.”

And at some point, the prayer unravels, into mere words. Because words are only elevated if you mean them, and Viktor… Viktor thinks that, if he peels away the layers and layers of guilt and shame that threaten to crush him from without, Viktor might… know a part of himself that actually wants to see the demon again. 

“But now with repentance and contrition I turn again to Your love and mercy…“ Because these are vain, pretty, empty words. “I entreat You to forgive me all my transgressions, and to cleanse me from all my sins…”

Because scarcely a year ago, in what was then as well a season of repentance on the other side of the world, Viktor gave into temptation and brought into the sanctuary the most beautiful man he’d ever laid eyes on, with golden curls and eyes like evergreen, lashes that left sin on Viktor’s cheeks.

That is why he was exiled. And that, perhaps, is why that sanctuary — why all sanctuaries the world over, including this one, are forever tainted for him.

“Lord… fill my heart with the light of Your truth. Strengthen my will by Your grace.”

“Teach me both to desire and to do only what pleases You.” It's Yuuri's voice, in his ear, that finishes the prayer he was trying to say. “Amen.”

He draws back, but the demon is faster. In the blink of an eye, he’s shoved against the wall with Yuuri’s lips and tongue claiming his, robbing him of breath. And it’s utterly different from what his mind conjured up during many a sinful fantasy: where he might have imagined shy, soft lips parting open to meet him halfway, what he gets is torrid and relentless, a plundering of his mouth that leaves him unable to react. Unable to think.

A sharp pain draws out a cry from his throat. When the demon pulls back, faint tinges of red stain his smile. “Why, you are absolutely intoxicating, Father.”

Viktor shoves him back with all of the strength he can muster, and runs.

Yuuri — no, the demon — gives chase. Perhaps it’s testament to the fact that he’s being possessed by an entity not of this world that Viktor scarcely makes it three steps into the narthex before he’s pounced upon again.

He’s strong — impossibly strong. Viktor struggles, but all of his efforts yield a pathetic attempt as the demon manhandles him back into the sanctuary, humming an old folk song along the way. Holding Viktor down with one hand, he sweeps the altar table clear of all the religious artifacts that had been laid upon it.

Before the last one hits the floor, the demon shoves Viktor down onto the table, on his back. He yanks off the pectoral cross around Viktor’s neck, snapping the chain, and uses it to bind Viktor’s wrists above his head.

Viktor barely registers any of it. The only reason he even notices the knife in the demon’s hand is because its blade catches the light, and shines.

“Go on, then,” he rasps. It’s difficult to find any real resolve in his voice when he’s had the wind knocked out of him, and his eyes refuse to focus just yet. “I am not afraid to die.”

“All of the others who came before you proclaimed the exact same thing.” The demon hums for a moment, as though in thought. “But you… you are different.”

“Why? You think I'm lying?”

“Not at all. In fact, I believe this is one of the truest things to ever fall from your lips.” He suddenly leans forward, presses their foreheads together, and stares deeply into Viktor’s eyes. “You are different, because I don't want to kill you.”

Finally, his knife hand moves. Viktor braces himself for the pain, but all he hears is the tearing of cloth.

“W-wait.” He feels the cold of the steel against his skin as the demon bares his chest, and fails to suppress a shiver. “No, wait — !”

The rest of his outcry is smothered by a kiss.

For all that it is worth, the demon is… surprisingly gentle, as he prepares him. He takes his time exploring Viktor’s lips, his neck, his chest. Marking them with his teeth, leaving spots of red that burn under his lips and promise to linger after he moves on. His fingertips leave fire in their wake, tease him until he’s breathless, keen, aching for it. In a moment of delirium, the flames of Hell no longer seem so terrifying.  

There’s a part of him that tries to fight it, still. He tries to steel himself against the demon’s ministrations, to think of justice or the sea, anything that isn’t how those treacherous lips and hands are worshipping their way up and down his body. How the knife is making ribbons of the rest of his clothes, until he finds himself laid bare before the icons painted on the walls, trembling under the judgment in their eyes. The demon climbs onto the table with impossible grace, straddling him with his arms braced on either side of Viktor’s head. And when he rolls his hips down, slowly, maddeningly, Viktor lets out a broken cry and feels as though he’s betraying the entire world.

“Shhhh. You don’t have to keep fighting it, Father.” There’s a hint of mocking tenderness in the demon’s voice as he grinds against him. “It is far too late for that now. Just give in.”

 

 

   

priest

  

 

 

No, he wants to say. The last time this happened, he did give in, and where did that get him?

But then the demon scoots back, and lowers his head to take him into his mouth. Viktor promptly runs out of words.

When the demon finally, finally takes him, it’s when his reserve of gentleness seems to run out. He hooks Viktor’s legs over his shoulders and drives in, pushing hard. Threatening to tear him apart. Viktor screams. He tries to arch up against the table, but the demon has pulled him closer and lifted his hips up off the table, taking away his leverage. The touches sear and sully him, everywhere, and no matter how much he strains against his bindings — his own cross, of all things — he can’t break free. He can’t fight. He can barely even move.

There is a fine, fine line between ravishing and ravaging. The demon treads that line and crosses from one side to another with gleeful abandon. One minute his strokes are slow, measured, punctuated by light kisses on Viktor’s cheek, his temple, his ear. The next, he’s slamming into him with a fury that drives Viktor to madness. It hurts. He can’t think. It hurts.

It feels… so much better than any of his fantasies.

He loses track of time completely. He no longer remembers his voice turning hoarse, or running out of sensation in his legs. The demon whispers flatteries along the line of his breastbone as he strokes him in time with his thrusts. Viktor keens, and tries in vain to free his arms. It isn’t fair. He wants to be able to run his hands through that silken hair, trace the naughty curve of Yuuri’s smile. But he can’t, and he’s close. His toes curl. He’s gone.

“Beautiful,” the demon whispers. To Viktor’s tired, ringing ears, it sounds almost like reverence.

The demon has his way with him for hours, and hours, and hours. At some point, Viktor musters up enough strength and breath to ask, “Why? Why… are you doing this?”

“What a question.” The demon laughs into his shoulder. “Why does anyone do anything, I suppose? What purpose does any one mortal’s actions, or very existence, serve in the end?”

Viktor hesitates. In that time, the demon licks a slow, wandering stripe up the side of Viktor’s neck that has him tilting his head back with a shaky gasp, unwittingly exposing his throat. The demon’s lips and teeth are quick to take advantage.

“You understand now, don't you? It is because not all of us are meant to be one with the Divine.” Viktor feels the words more than he hears them, whispered into the underside of his jaw. “Accepting that truth will not win you salvation, Father.” He takes hold of his chin and forces Viktor to meet his eyes. “But perhaps, if you surrender to it… it might… at last… grant you peace.”

He doesn’t know what to say — it’s so hard to think about anything other the demon’s warmth, and his wandering hands. Is this really what it is, then? Is this how it’s supposed to end? He thinks of that prayer of repentance, useless in the end. Perhaps it really is too late for him… but he thought that maybe, if he clung to the hope of continuing God's work, maybe… he might still be able to grant others salvation. Even if he can no longer gain it for himself.

“Oh dear, you still have hope. That is precious of you… so precious.” The demon laughs at the despair on his face. “Surely you realize by now that the same God that allowed an innocent baby boy to be plagued by a demon all his life, and did nothing, nothing to save him, is not going to give a second thought to your noble intentions.”

“That… that’s not true. God is merciful… God is kind.”

“And God is all powerful, yes?” The demon’s tongue burns along the shell of his ear. His breath is fire and damnation on his cheek. “God knows all, and sees all, and yet…” A very tender kiss, over his eyelid, seals his fate. “And yet. Here we are.”

Later, much later — long after the pain has dissolved into numbness, and just as he thinks he sees dawn leaking through the stained glass of the window, Viktor murmurs, “You should leave.”

“Hmmm?”

“You should leave,” he says again. “Go, and leave him in peace. Of the people here in this sanctuary right now, only one of us has done something worthy of condemnation, and it’s…” He swallows. “It’s not Yuuri. You know this.”

The demon hums again, as though in thought. Viktor starts to wonder if he might actually be considering it.

“And what do I gain,” he purrs, wrapping his arms tighter around Viktor’s waist, “if I do?”

 


 

 

 

 

Dear Yakov,

 

Please accept my humblest apologies for not having written to you sooner. It is as you said: I was proud, and angry, and held a resentment in my heart that I now look back with shame to see was very close to hatred. I understand completely now. What had felt like a cruel punishment, being exiled to this far-flung place on the other side of the world, I now see as great kindness on your part. Words are not enough to thank you for granting me that kindness.

The truth is, I now believe that I was brought to this land as an act of providence, and that in any other life I would have found myself on these shores just the same. Regrettably, I must confess to you that in my sojourn through my days in Hasetsu, steeped in penance for my earlier sin, I have found myself forced to commit another, graver transgression…

  

 


Candlelight casts flickering shadows over the surface of the ancient desk. Viktor doesn’t know how much more time he has to write this. He wants to finish it tonight if he can. 

Half a year has passed since the demon last terrorized Hasetsu. As far as the town’s residents know, one night in the middle of Lent, Priest Viktor trapped the demon with him in the sanctuary of the church, and performed an exorcism to drive him out for good. They hail him as a hero.

And Yuuri calls him a hero. He goes back to bringing Viktor his food every night, and sometimes he even visits him during the day: just to talk, and to share each other’s company. Even though there is a distance between them that Yuuri will never breach — one of them is a priest, after all, and some things are simply not proper — Viktor treasures all of these moments, and holds them as precious.

 

 

 

 

Their kind, as he said to me once, thrives on the darkness that we all hold in ourselves. No single man who has walked this earth is of pure light but for Christ. In that spirit, then, the pact that I made with the demon is this: since he will not relinquish Yuuri as his host, he will at least leave him in peace while daylight reigns, from now until forever. And in exchange, I am his whenever he so desires, from dusk to sunrise.

I am not writing this to try to justify what I have done. Nor will I ask you to spare me from judgment, just as I will not hide from His Judgment when the day comes. My only hope — and what is hope if not the dust from which prayers are born? — is that in His infinite Mercy, he may yet count a part of what I’ve done as righteousness. For if, even at the forfeiture of my own salvation, I am able to save a single innocent soul… surely, that must be worth something in the end?

This may be the last letter that I write for a long time — perhaps, even forever. If it is fated that these are the last words that you receive from me, know that I am forever grateful for the guidance and protection you have given me. You are the greatest mentor and confidant, and indeed one of the best men that I have ever known. No matter what happens to me, I pray that God bless you eternally, and may Christ always walk in your midst.

 

Yours truly,
Viktor Nikiforov

 

 

 

Not long after he finishes sealing the letter, the candle on his table flickers dead, and he feels warm, warm hands sliding up his back. 

“Good evening, Father.”