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a wolf amongst the sheep, gnawing at the wool over my eyes

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Last on Yuuri’s sightseeing list was the Crown World Tree, the central landmark of the floating city. Just outside its enormous canopy was the skyport in which they’d arrived, but neither had gotten a good look from within their shuttle. Viktor read from various plaques as they climbed over the massive tree’s roots, each as thick as a car, and crossed bridges over the canals that fed it.

“Yuuri! It says here that the tree is estimated to be over two thousand years old! How did they even get it up here?”

Yuuri was off in his own little world, though, and didn’t answer. Instead he simply stared upwards at the massive tree, at the leaves each larger than his face, tinted yellow at the lowest-hanging branches which were still far out of reach of any human or animal, and almost blue from what little he could see at the top. Ziplines wove in and out of the canopy, with tourists buckled in and speeding along, but Viktor had deemed it too dangerous for his athlete to participate, and he wouldn’t go on his own even if it couldn’t possibly hurt him irreparably.

“Apparently the whole root system was exposed during a catastrophic landslide, and the city’s planning committee decided to raise it all into the sky to save this tree while also promoting new growth on the land below. Yuuri!” Viktor bounced in place as he continued to read; his newly cut hair flounced around his face, shiny and smooth. “All of the trees in this city are either grown from clippings of this one, or they just grew right out of one of these roots!”

“That’s kind of symbolic,” Yuuri responded, still staring upwards. “Like how they say we’re all connected, we’re all made of the same stuff…” He trailed off, just observing quietly.

There were small homes up in the tree, little egg-shaped apartments of frosted glass and stone, that mainly housed students and faculty of the city’s single university. Each one glittered with its own light, and many slowly shifted between the full spectrum of colors. As they watched together, two apartments near one another flicked from their gradients to a soft golden-white, as students returned home from the day’s classes.

“It’s like fireflies,” Yuuri said. Even in the daylight, it was dark underneath the Crown’s thick canopy; the apartments, powered by solar panels nestled in the highest branches, provided most of the light for those who walked the paths below.

“Beautiful.” Viktor linked their hands together.

Viktor felt Yuuri move beside him, and looked over to see Yuuri set his shoulders and nod once to himself.

“Yeah,” Yuuri mumbled, “Here’s good.”

“Yuuri?”

“Vitya.” Yuuri turned, looking Viktor in the eye. He slowly took in the shape of Viktor’s face, and what all more he could now see with the return of Viktor’s short haircut. A long fringe still covered his forehead and one eye, brushing against a perfect cheekbone, but it was buzzed close at the sides and back, and Yuuri reached out to run his fingers over the shell of Viktor’s right ear.

“Vitya,” Yuuri repeated. “Will you mark me?”

Viktor froze; his cheeks warmed, and Yuuri brushed his thumb over that lovely pink flush.

“I want to bond with you. Someday. I think we’d be good together. Until then, when we’re ready, I want you to mark me.” Yuuri tugged his scarf away from his neck, and the skin over his scent glands was slightly pink and swollen, as if he’d been rubbing them all day. A nervous habit, perhaps, or maybe just an intimate awareness that they were there and this was what he wanted.

“Yuuri…”

“If you don’t want to, I understand,” Yuuri said, beginning to backtrack, but before Viktor could try to reassure him, Yuuri steeled himself once more. “But I want everyone to look at me and know that I’m yours, and you’re mine. So, if you won’t mark me, I also have--

Yuuri reached into his pocket and produced a small jewellery box.

“I know collars were still the thing in the 2010s, and we don’t use them so much anymore, but I figured you might like something that’s a little of both?”

Yuuri opened the box. Inside sat two plain gold rings, wedding bands by the looks of them, each hooked into a delicate chain.

Yuuri couldn’t seem to keep his eyes on Viktor, flicking back and forth between his face and the rings. “Please say something.”

“Yes.”

“Yes?” Yuuri’s eyes went wide as saucers, glittering with the reflection of the apartments like baubles above them.

“Yes. To everything.” Viktor reached out towards the ring box, his gloved hands enclosing Yuuri’s bare one in warmth. “Yes, I’ll mark you; yes, I’ll wear your collar. I want you to mark me too.”

“Yeah?” Yuuri’s mouth began to quirk into a smile. Viktor watched as his expression changed, as he slowly built up a belief that this was really happening.

“Yes. Of course.” Viktor laughed, high and breathless. He pulled Yuuri close by their joined hands, until the ring box was crushed between them and he could rest his forehead against Yuuri’s. His life and his love belonged to Yuuri and Yuuri alone; he wouldn’t have it any other way. “Did you really think I could possibly say no to you?”

“Well, I’d hope that if it was something you didn’t want --”

“Yuuri. There’s nothing you want that I don’t.”

Maybe some would think it was too soon, but Viktor knew Yuuri, knew him better than he knew himself sometimes. He’d learned Yuuri inside out, after living with him all these months, and he could already see forever laid before him. Whatever that forever meant for Viktor, he wanted it to be with Yuuri. No other future looked so bright.

“Can we do it now?” Viktor asked.

“Here?” Yuuri glanced to the side; it wasn’t crowded under the tree, per se, but there were certainly plenty of people around, and any one of them could see.

Viktor was excited, enough so that he didn’t care who saw the intimate gestures exchanged between them. Still, he wouldn’t pressure Yuuri, not if it would make him uncomfortable. “If you want, we can go back to the hotel. For privacy.”

Yuuri looked down again, at the rings still clasped in their hands. “No.” His eyes met Viktor’s, full of determination. A rainbow of glittering lights played like a halo over his shoulders, but Viktor’s vision was full of Yuuri and the desire in his gaze. “Here is perfect.”

Yuuri drew his scarf away from his neck, let it pool inside one of the shopping bags at his feet, and reached up, trailing a line over the collar of Viktor’s robes, up to the taut skin on the right side of his bare neck. His hand looped around the back, fingers brushing the freshly cut hair at Viktor’s nape, and he dipped his head forward. He kissed the skin lightly, and pulled back when he heard Viktor’s quiet gasp.

“Is this okay?” Yuuri asked, barely a whisper.

“Yes. Please, Yuuri.”

Yuuri kissed him again, lightly, then once more with lips parted. He sucked gently on the skin, then a little harder, until he was pulling it between his teeth and making little noises escape Viktor’s bitten lips.

“Yuuri, ah--” Viktor gasped and clutched at Yuuri’s sleeves when the teeth dug in a little more, not enough to break the skin and bond them, but enough to bruise, to claim.

And then the pressure was gone, and Yuuri backed away to admire the mark.

“Wow.”

Viktor breathed heavily, and knew his whole face was flushed. He couldn’t control the arousal of being marked so intimately. Part of him wanted to take Yuuri back to the hotel right now and drink every bead of sweat off his body, and another part of him wanted to parade Yuuri around the city once more, to show him and his mark off to every passing mortal.

Then Yuuri tilted his head to the left, exposing the flushed line of his neck, and Viktor had latched on before he even really knew what he was doing.

Viktor hummed as he tasted Yuuri’s skin, and then again in time with Yuuri when he rolled the skin between his teeth and released more of Yuuri’s earthy scent. His nose pressed to Yuuri’s hair, smelled the warmth of him, and he sucked harder, making Yuuri shiver into quiet, breathy moans, until Viktor was certain he’d left as dark a bruise as Yuuri had on him.

Viktor took a moment to admire the love bite, and pressed into it with his thumb. Yuuri made a strangled noise and backed away, even as his lower body jerked forward, seeking friction that it couldn’t have in public.

“We-- we shouldn’t do any more out here,” Yuuri gasped. The ring box had snapped shut, and his hand closed tight around it in a fist.

“Do you want to go back?” Viktor asked.

Yuuri shook his head. “I said I want people to see it. But first--” Yuuri opened the box again and took out the first ring. “It should be sized to you already, in case you ever decide you don’t want it on the chain anymore.” He opened the clasp, and reached around Viktor to encircle him in the collar and a warm embrace.

Viktor took the second necklace out. He looked at the ring, at the fine gold chain. There was a small engraving inside the band, and on closer inspection, Viktor saw snowflakes.

“The same thing is inscribed on yours. They fit together.”

“Oh.”

Viktor bumped his forehead against Yuuri’s again, the two of them breathing laughter into the air between them, as Viktor put on Yuuri’s collar as well. The ring sat flat at the hollow of his throat, not tight enough to choke, but not loose enough to test the ISU’s jewellery regulations.

“You’ll wear this when you skate, right?” Viktor asked.

“Yeah. For good luck.”

“Then I’ll give you a prayer for it.” Viktor wasn’t sure if he believed in prayers, but he did believe in Yuuri, and that was enough. “Show me the skating that you enjoy most. Skate from your heart. That’s the only route to a gold medal I’ve ever known.”

“Thank you, Viktor.”

Once, Viktor might have been confused by the return to his given name, rather than the more familiar nickname, but he understood this time. There was so much weight to the name Viktor, for Yuuri, that it only seemed right to thank him in that way. It was the name of his hero, and also the name of the man he fell in love with. The two halves of him, Viktor Nikiforov and Vitya, overlapped in Viktor.

“Thank you for everything.”

---

A romantic walk took Yuuri and Viktor around the almost magical glow of the Crown World Tree, through the stained glass tunnels of the arts quarter, and down the bank of a wide canal filled with gondolas. Many people stopped and stared, if they could see the marks on their necks or the rings that hung from necklace chains. They ogled the newly claimed couple, who pretended not to notice even as they preened inwardly from the attention given to their paired bliss.

“Are you hungry?” Viktor asked after a while. There were a few cafes around them, with canopies draped over their open balconies to keep out the cold.

“I am, a bit. I think I just want something light, though; I don’t want to sleep too heavy before the Final and wake up groggy.” Yuuri’s wristwatch lit up just then with a notification from Mari, who’d gone out earlier with Minako to see the city sights. “Huh. That’s good timing,” Yuuri said as he read the message. “Apparently Minako is trying to get a bunch of the skaters together for dinner.”

“That sounds like something she’d like. Should we join them?”

Yuuri looked up at Viktor, and at the love bite perfectly in his line of sight. “Yeah. Let’s go.”

They met up at a nearby cafe; its tent had a small fire pit in the center, around which were arranged rows of tables. Phichit waved from one of the largest, around which six people already sat, with two chairs left open for Viktor and Yuuri.

Most of the skaters from the Final were there -- Phichit sat beside Chris, across from Yuri and, surprisingly, Otabek Altin. Both of them were usually such loners. Minako and Mari sat across from Yuuri and Viktor, and made noises over his short hair. Only J.J. was missing, and it wasn’t as if Viktor was going to bring him up, lest he be subjected to his presence more than absolutely necessary.

Yuuri took the seat beside his best friend, hoping to finally make good on his promise to spend time together, which left Viktor sharing a corner with Otabek. They’d met before, years earlier, when Viktor had extended the offer of a contract to him. Even at age six, Otabek could not be swayed; he rejected Viktor outright, and gave no reason for it before turning his back. Given what little Viktor could sense coming from Yuri’s particular brand of hive-mind-radio-static, he’d been rejected just the same only hours before.

Curious, Viktor thought, that Yuri had even offered. Viktor hadn’t known him to make a contract in all the time they’d known one another. Unlike most who bore the code, Yuri seemed perfectly content to remain forever fifteen years old.

Viktor liked Otabek, from what little he knew of him. He seemed genuine, if standoffish, and immensely skilled in his unique, aggressive style of figure skating. He had a drive that Yuri could likely relate to. Maybe they’d make good friends. Maybe Otabek could help smooth out some of Yuri’s rough edges; the whole immortal community would benefit from that, for sure.

Viktor tuned back into the conversations around him when someone mentioned rings. He looked up to see Chris smiling at him, devious instead of his usual sultry; around him, Phichit, Minako, and Mari seemed to have just looked up from something on Phichit’s camera screen, and from Yuuri’s beet-red face, Viktor guessed it had something to do with those pole dance classes Yuuri had once told him about.

“Um…” Yuuri stammered, touching his own ring, revealing more of his neck when he pressed down on his robe’s neckline.

“They’re a pair,” Viktor said, showing off his own, and the marks he and Yuuri bore.

Just then, Phichit slammed his hands on the table and stood up. Viktor startled, expecting some sort of friendship-fuelled shovel talk, but instead Pichit called for a round of applause from the whole restaurant, announcing that his best friend had gotten married, and wow! That was moving a little too fast.

“You have the wrong idea!” Yuuri said, waving his hands.

“They’re engagement rings,” Viktor explained, and Yuuri nodded along with him. Viktor supposed it still warranted applause, but it wouldn’t do to have everyone jumping the gun. “We’ll get married after Yuuri gets a gold medal at the Grand Prix Final.”

Suddenly, silence at their table, while the applause died out around them. Viktor could hear Yuuri sucking in a deep breath beside him, and mutterings from Phichit and Otabek about gold medals and mine, while Yuri scoffed loud enough to wake his ancestors all the way back from when dinosaurs walked the earth.

Chris broke through it, though. He’d won enough gold medals to cast a toilet seat, and was more concerned with the lovers’ celebrations; he could motivate himself later. “I’m glad to see you two finally found each other, after all this time.”

“Well, it was inevitable, really,” Viktor said. “Yuuri’s idolized me all his life.” He caught Phichit’s eyes, slightly confused but no less happy for his friend.

“Hmm.” Chris picked up the transparent glass of his phone from the table, thumbed through to his photos. “You know, I always did wonder about how much you really forgot. Now I know for sure.” He put the phone down and slid it across the table to Viktor.

The photo was grainy, in a way that no modern camera would or could be, artefacted from countless cloud backups of out-of-date file types. But there was no mistaking the figures in the photo; Viktor himself, the last time his hair matched this style, laughing and smiling in the arms of someone who looked far too much like Yuuri.

“What…?” Yuuri said, breathless, peering over Viktor’s shoulder. He picked up the phone, gingerly between his fingers to see the photo better, which also allowed everyone else at the table to see it in reverse. “That’s me. That’s us. When did this happen?”

Mari was the next to move, plucking the phone out of Yuuri’s grasp. Her hands shook as she brought it up to her face, and one shot out to grip Viktor’s shoulder. He felt the cold press of her little finger on the back of his neck, and then the radio static of the code swirled into something loud and overwhelming. He saw a scar like his own, curving over Mari’s hip and onto her belly, and too-loud he heard I knew you’d make me believe in soulmates.

“Viktor?” Yuuri called. “What-- what is this? Did you know about this?”

Viktor shook his head, still reeling from Mari pulling him into her world. He hadn’t known, hadn’t even an inkling, that Mari was like him. He was struck with a silence he couldn’t break through, his throat closed up, choked with emotions he couldn’t understand, as Mari pushed at him I knew him too. I remember him. I remember losing him. I didn’t know— how could I have known?

“I-I-I,” Viktor stammered, and Mari lifted her hand away, turning this way and that, not sure what to do with the phone in her hands.

Phichit, who probably understood the least of anyone at the table what was happening, reached for it, but was completely baffled when he got a good look. “Yuuri… what the hell…?”

“I don’t remember. I don’t…” Viktor stood up abruptly. He’d learned not to care about his life, nor what he’d lost. He’d learned to put it in the past, to honor it without letting it hurt. But this was different. For the first time, Viktor wished he’d allowed himself to remember the past.

“Vitya?” Yuuri touched his arm. The gentle pressure through Viktor’s coat was enough to shake him.

“Let’s… We should go. Talk about this.” Viktor took Yuuri’s hand in his, clutched tight as if afraid that Yuuri would let go. No, scratch that -- he was afraid. Very much so afraid. He’d lost Yuuri before, hadn’t he? Isn’t that what the photo meant? So, so, oh… he could very well lose Yuuri again. That thought had never been so present, so terrifyingly real as now.

“I’m sorry,” Chris said, and he really did look it. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“No, it’s, it’s fine.” It wasn’t fine, not at all. Viktor’s whole world had been turned upside-down, and he could feel himself crumbling inside as he floundered, completely overwhelmed. But on some level Viktor knew he needed to hear it, he and Yuuri both.

They headed for the hotel in a daze. Yuuri steered Viktor onto a gondola and gave instructions to their guide in halting, hastily translated French.

For Viktor, the time flew by. He clutched Yuuri’s hand and retreated into the world inside his mind, that too-white, too-smooth world that held all the secrets of the universe if he only dared to look hard enough. And look he dared, for those memories he’d never before bothered to recover. If there was even a chance he could understand what Yuuri had meant to him back then, it might help him to understand what brought them both here, now, and where they could possibly go from this.

“Vitya?” Yuuri whispered. The gondola pressed on smoothly forward, their guide tirelessly weaving through the channel. “Are you okay?”

Viktor only held on tighter. No, but I will be, his mind urged through their touch.

That seemed to be enough for Yuuri, who fell quiet at his side. He too was troubled by the revelation, but he trusted Viktor enough to stay calm, at least for now.

Viktor brought Yuuri’s hand to his lips, kissed the third knuckle. Thank you.

---

“I remember now,” Was the first thing Viktor said, when Yuuri let them into their hotel room. He sat on the bed, still in his coat and shoes, and Yuuri sat with him.

“What do you remember?”

“Not everything.” Viktor breathed deeply. There had been a lot, not all of it pleasant, but Yuuri deserved to know the truth. “But I remember you.”

He’d not met Yuuri the first time they skated in the same competition, nor the second or third… Only when they shared a spot in a Grand Prix Final, in 2013, did Viktor notice him. Yuuri had been nervous, clearly, and Viktor tried to reach out to the slight, jittery man he thought was fresh out of Juniors from the lack of confidence with which he held himself, but Yuuri had run away. But he’d skated beautifully, and had been in third place after the short program. In the free, his nerves overtook him, and he fell, and fell, and fell to last place. Viktor tried to reach out again, but Yuuri brushed him off again, seeming sad and lost and, somehow, insulted.

And then Yuuri showed up at the banquet, drank himself out of his misery, and lit up Viktor’s world with the absolute joy of dancing with someone who could match him for every step and then some.

Viktor had tried to ask Yuuri out the next morning — apparently scared him out of his mind, as Yuuri remembered nothing of the night before, but he believed Viktor, and he’d gone along with it. He postponed his flight out at Viktor’s request, and Viktor showed him around Sochi. It had been romantic, and lively, and when he found out the reason for Yuuri’s self-destruction, he’d comforted him the only way he knew how: with food. It worked spectacularly well; Yuuri ate until he was ready to burst, and Viktor had ogled the press of his bloated belly against his sweater in a way that made Viktor blush as he recounted it.

Yuuri had then followed him to further historic sites — a museum, a garden, and then a church.

They’d been greeted by a candle-lighter, a young child in all-white robes, who showed them around to each of the stained glass windows, explaining their stories. The child told a history that sounded like no religion Viktor or Yuuri had ever known, of immortals walking the Earth among humans, giving them miraculous abilities, and then tricking them, foisting godhood upon them so that the cycle may continue. They spoke of eyes as the window to the soul, of albatrosses carrying those souls to the afterlife, revealed a scar across their face in the same curving shape that graced so many windows.

And finally, the child had climbed the steps to the altar, took up a ceremonial knife, and thrust it through Yuuri’s heart.

Yuuri had died in Viktor’s arms, and Viktor had made a contract then and there. His only wish was that Yuuri be returned to him; the child’s wish was to die. As they bled out from the throat before him, they gave him one piece of advice:

When you make a wish, it helps to be very specific.

Yuuri didn’t wake up. Yuuri didn’t wake up, and Viktor was immortal, and all he could do was walk away with tears soaking his face while the church burned down behind him.

The power he’d gotten from the contract, and only used once, was success. Simple, and so overwhelmingly powerful in its simplicity that it had manifested fully and permanently in both eyes just from that one use.

Pity it didn’t work on anyone who balanced on the edge of a knife between life and death -- not on anyone who held the code, and not on anyone caught up in a contract’s wish. Viktor became immortal without seeing the fruits of his desperate wish, and then forgot it had ever happened.

It took a hundred years, but finally, quietly and without fanfare, Yuuri came back to him, just as lovely as the day they first met so long ago.

“Are you sure we’re the same person?” Yuuri asked, as soon as Viktor ended his story. “It could be a coincidence.”

Viktor nodded. “You’re the same. I know it. I feel it.” He couldn’t explain it, but it was like Yuuri had been a part of him all along, but only now did he have the words to explain it. Mari’s revelation helped, but Viktor couldn’t see it any other way. Just as Vitya and Viktor Nikiforov were two sides of the same person, this Yuuri and the Yuuri of a century past were one and the same.

“So, what does this mean? Are we… soulmates? Is that it?”

“I don’t know. Maybe we are. All I know is that I chose your life over my freedom then, and I would do it again. I know that I fell in love with you now without knowing I’d loved you before.” Viktor took Yuuri’s hands between his own, waited for his cold, shaking fingers to settle and warm within his grasp. “If that makes us soulmates, then I’m proud to call you mine.”