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Katsuki Yuuri was just six years old when it first happened. He had been minding his own business, quite happily drawing an interesting rendition of a bird perched outside his window, and had blinked only to find himself somewhere completely different.

He let out a shout of alarm - but it wasn’t his voice - and all of a sudden, feet that were far too big to be his slipped out from underneath him and he found himself lying on something very hard, and very cold.

Wincing in pain, Yuuri slowly raised his head, taking in the sights around him. He was in the middle of a giant oval of ice, encased by walls which were solid on the lower half and transparent on the upper. Judging by the strange boots on his feet with large metal blades, coupled with his surroundings, Yuuri could only come to the conclusion that he was in an ice skating rink. Though he had not seen one before, one of his best friends, Yuuko, took ice skating lessons, and she often told him all about them. She was constantly nagging him to come along, but he would always decline - why would he choose to be cold for fun? Yuuri much preferred the warm onsen his family owned.

But that wasn’t what he should be thinking about right now. A rising bubble of panic started to fill Yuuri as he frantically looked down at his hands. They were larger than his, and the fingers were much longer, possessing none of the chubbiness of Yuuri’s own. He reached up to his aching head, pressing his hands into his hair - it was short and silky-feeling, and Yuuri couldn’t see what colour it was. His clothes were plain, and fitted well to his body, but in his panic, he couldn’t even figure out if the body he was possessing belonged to a boy or a girl. His eyes began to blur with tears. Where was he -- and what was happening to him? He desperately tried to get to his feet, hoping he could move elsewhere to try and find a place to view his reflection, but Yuuri’s feet slid out from underneath him again, and he ended up a crumpled tangle of limbs back on the ice. A sob broke its way free from his throat, and it echoed across the emptiness of the rink, just moments before Yuuri heard someone else's voice.

A figure was skating across the ice towards him, yelling something at him at a rough voice. Yuuri turned his gaze towards the person from his awkward position on the ice, willing himself to calm down - surely this was all just a dream? He blinked furiously, pleading with the hot tears streaming down his cheeks to stop falling as the man neatly halted in front of him. The man said something again - and Yuuri realised this time, as he tried his best to calm down - that he couldn’t actually understand what he was saying.

The man was not talking in Japanese. Whatever language it was, Yuuri certainly didn’t know it, and the strange man seemed to be getting very frustrated at the fact he was not being given a response to whatever he was asking. Yuuri opened his mouth, tried to will himself to say something -- anything, but his voice seemed to have abandoned him, and he was left with his mouth snapping open and shut like a fish.

The man was now silent. He had scraggly grey hair that peeked out from underneath a black fedora, and he wore a long, dark coat. He was eyeing Yuuri with a steely glare, an eyebrow raised.

Yuuri tried to speak again. In slightly stuttery Japanese, he managed to get out, “I-I’m sorry, sir. I don’t understand what you are saying.” He felt a blush rising to his cheeks, and knew that combined with his tear streaked face, he must look like an utter mess. He felt humiliated.

What Yuuri wasn’t prepared for however, was the utterly baffled look that appeared across the older man’s face. It was quickly replaced by an unreadable gaze, and the older man said something that made a little more sense to Yuuri.

“Do you …. English?”

Yuuri frowned. He spoke the tiniest amount of English - there was an English class at school, but at Yuuri’s age, school focused more on the children’s Japanese.

“Very small English,” he managed to reply, in a horribly stunted manner.

The man nodded to himself absently. He extended a hand, and the sniffling Yuuri took it. He found himself being hoisted on to his feet, and this time when his feet desperately scrabbled upon the ice, firm hands on his waist stopped him from falling down. Yuuri hesitantly looked up at the older man, realising that he was already intently staring back down at him with dark eyes.

The man was asking another question, he realised, but this one was beyond his comprehension. He felt the tears begin to start again, and he squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head, willing to be anywhere but here, in this strange and foreign place.

When Yuuri opened his eyes again, he was back in his room, a purple marker dropping out of his hand. It landed upon the drawing he had been working on just moments before. However, the artwork was no longer just his own.

Next to his drawing of a bird was a picture of a fluffy looking, purple dog.

 

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Yuuri’s immediate reaction to his strange ordeal was naturally, as any six year old would, was to tell his parents all about of it. He had no idea if what had happened to him was real, or just some absurdly realistic dream, but perhaps they could help him. Yuuri desperately hoped they would believe him.

Drawing clutched to his chest, he had thundered out of his room, down the hall, and round the corner to the living area where his parents were going about their evening.

“Mama! Papa!” He skidded to a halt at the kotatsu where they sat, slamming the drawing down on the top of it. “Look, look!” Yuuri stabbed his finger at the drawing.

Yuuri’s father leant over the top of his newspaper, pushing his glasses further up his nose as he looked down at the drawing. He let out a chuckle, studying it. “This is a very nice drawing, Yuuri. Is this what you wanted to show us?”, he said, just as Yuuri’s mother emerged from the kitchen. She let out a gasp of delight when she saw the picture. “Oh Yuuri, dear, this is really very good! That dog especially! I didn’t know that you could draw so well.”

Yuuri shook his head rapidly. They didn’t understand! “No, I mean yes! It is very good! But I- I didn’t draw it! It wasn’t me!”

Almost if planned, his parents both tilted their heads to the side simultaneously. His mother was first to speak.

“But surely you must have, dear? Mari is out at a sleepover. There is nobody else here that could have drawn it!”. His father nodded in agreement.

Yuuri gulped. It was time to tell them what he had experienced.

“Ma, Da… Can I tell you something? Something kind of important.”

His parents looked taken aback by his sudden change in tone. He set down his newspaper.

“Of course, son,” said his dad. “You know you can talk to us about anything.”

Yuuri couldn’t meet his gaze. “I’m just worried you won’t believe me,” he mumbled.

His father leant forward, and put a firm hand on Yuuri’s trembling shoulder.

“You can always talk to us if you have something on your mind. I want you to remember that, always.”

Yuuri nodded weakly, and steeled himself.
“Just before.. I was drawing this picture.” He gestured down at it. “But the picture I was drawing… It was just the bird.” He took a deep breath and continued. “I looked out the window again, to get another view of the bird, and when I blinked, I.. I… I was somewhere else.” Yuuri looked meekly up at his parents, wondering what their reaction would be.

He was surprised at what he saw. Though their eyes were wide, they didn’t look as shocked or confused as Yuuri had assumed they would. They almost looked as if… perhaps they had known this would happen.

Yuuri’s father noticed his pause. He blinked rapidly, before coughing and saying, “Well, go on then son. What happened next? Where were you?”

Yuuri nodded. It was now or never. “I woke up in someone else’s body. They were a bit bigger than me. I couldn’t tell if they were a boy or a girl, I was so scared and afraid. I think… I think I might have been in an ice skating rink. There was a huge oval of ice, like the ones Yuuko talks about from her lessons - and I had these strange shoes on, with big metal blades underneath.”

His mother spoke now. “Hmm, so you think you were in a skating rink, dear? Did you see anybody else around?”

Yuuri had almost forgotten the strange, older man that had found him in a crumpled heap on the ice. “Yes, there was an older man there. Older than you or Papa. He helped me stand up on the ice, because I couldn’t get up on my own. But there was something strange about him. He spoke to me in a language that I didn’t understand. It wasn’t Japanese. I tried to talk to him in Japanese, and he realised something was wrong, so he said some stuff in English. But I didn’t really understand any of that either.” The memory of his strange and terrifying encounter was threatening to make his eyes overflow with tears again.

Yuuri’s mother noticed his distress, and immediately scooted forwards, wrapping him in her warm embrace. “It’s alright dear. I know how scary that must have felt. It’s okay if you need to cry.”

Yuuri buried his head into his mother's chest, desperately trying to stop his sniffling. He should be strong and brave, not a snivelling crybaby. After a few moments, he managed to calm his hitched breathing, and he pulled away from his mother, offering her a watery smile.

After a moment, his father broke the silence. “I think we might know what is going on, son. Do you want to take a seat at the kotatsu? This might take a while to explain.” His parents shared knowing glances, as a bewildered Yuuri looked between them. Shrugging, he moved to his favourite spot at the kotatsu, waiting for whatever explanation they had to offer. His father turned to his ma. “Hiroko, dearest, do you want to put on some tea?”

His ma smiled back at his pa. “Of course dear. I’ll get right onto it.” She started to bustle around the kitchen, while his father resettled himself down on the opposite side of the kotatsu.

Yuuri did his best not to fidget, and remained still like how his parents had taught him to. But on the inside, his mind was reeling, doing flips and cartwheels. He had expected his parents to be shocked, confused -- but they seemed to accept the ridiculous story he had just told them without complaint. Nestling into the warmth of the kotatsu, he waited for his mother to finish making the tea.

She eventually brought three steaming bowls of tea to the table, and Yuuri took his bowl in both hands appreciatively. He turned the bowl around before taking a sip, then twisted it back and set it down in front of him. Yuuri had never liked tea much, but somehow, its bitterness was growing on him. Perhaps it was because his family drank it so much. It still had nothing on katsudon, though.

Once both of his parents had taken sips of their tea, his father began to speak.

“Yuuri.. What we are about to tell you might sound a little strange, but listen carefully.” His mother nodded.

“That thing that just happened to you… It happens to everybody, at some point in their lives. We call it switching. Switching is where your consciousness randomly, and for random amounts of time, swap places with somebody else's. Their consciousness jumps into your body, and your consciousness jumps into theirs.”

Yuuri frowned. What a strange thing to happen. It was almost unbelievable. “Does it always happen with the same person?” he asked hesitantly.

His parents slowly turned towards each other, sharing a knowing smile before his mother answered him. “Yes, dearest. When you switch, it always happens with the same person. That person is the person who has been chosen to be your soulmate.”

Yuuri tilted his head in confusion, mimicking his parents action from earlier on. “What’s a soulmate?”

His father answer him this time, a smile creeping across his face. “Well… A soulmate is the person that you are destined to one day fall in love with, and spend the rest of your life with. Your ma is my soulmate, and we are the best of friends.” He reached his arm out across Hiriko’s shoulder, and she leant into him, smiling.

Yuuri stuck his tongue out. Falling in love? Yuuri thought he was much too young to be considering such ideas. He was quite content in his own company, he didn’t need some other person to kiss and cuddle! The very idea made him shudder. His mother giggled.

“It might seem a little far-fetched right now. But one day, you’ll meet your soulmate! That’s what the switching is for - so you can try and figure out who they are, so someday you can meet them. Once you’ve recognised each other as partners, the switching stops, and it won’t happen ever again.”

Yuuri frowned. “I hardly learnt anything about my soulmate when I switched before, though!” he said indignantly. “All I know is that they are probably older than me, ice skate, and don’t speak my language! I don’t even know if they are a boy or a girl!”

His mother laughed. “No need to worry, Yuuri. That’s why you have these moments of switching. So that you can learn more about your soulmate, and one day meet them! You’re almost lucky really, to have your first switch so young. Your pa and I were very surprised, they don’t normally happen at your age. But I guess now, you’ll have a long time to figure out more about them!”

Yuuri still had one worry though. “But Ma.. What if my soulmate is a boy? Usually it is a boy and a girl in a couple... If my soulmate turns out to be a boy, would that be weird?” He had seen the way that some of the girls giggled at him at school. None of the boys were like that, though. They seemed much more sensible.

She shook her head, smiling. “Not at all, sweetheart. Plenty of people have soul mates who are the same sex as them. And who are we to judge? They’re the person that has been chosen who is the best match for you in the whole wide world. What matters is what is on the inside, and nothing else.”

Yuuri sprang up from his spot by the kotatsu, and ran round to the other side, capturing his parents into the biggest hug he could muster, trying to show how much he loved them.

“I love you Ma. I love you, Pa!” he cried. His father planted a kiss on his cheek, and his mother ruffled his hair.

“We love you too, Yuuri,” smiled his mother. She glanced away for a moment, looking up at the clock on the wall, and she started in alarm. “Goodness me, dear, it is way past your bedtime! Off to bed now with you, I think. You’ve had enough excitement for one day.” His pa nodded in agreement.

Yuuri gave both his parents a kiss, then scuttled away. Just as he was about to go back down the hall he turned to his parents. He had an idea.

“Ma, Da?” he asked. “Can I take up those ice skating lessons Yuuko keeps offering?”

Chapter Text

Victor had been doing laps around the rink, warming up for his session with Yakov, when his first switch happened. One moment, he was easily skating along the ice, and the next, he was seated on a woven floor, in front of a range of art supplies.

Looking down at his small, stubby hands, a loud gasp escaped him, and a wide grin began to spread across his face. He had a soulmate! He couldn’t believe it. I mean - of course he knew he had a soulmate, everyone did - but he had been so impatient to finally find out more about them! Some of his friends had already been having their first switches, and he was always envious when he heard what various details they had picked up about their soulmates when they returned back to themselves.

“Today I learnt that my soulmate likes to read Harry Potter! Maybe I should read those books too?”
“My soulmate has a pet cat! It was so cute - it was all curled up and sleeping against me!”
“My soulmate is a super good artist! When I switched - they were totally in the middle of this huge painting, it was incredible! I hope I didn’t ruin it…”

Victor was practically a teenage girl when it came to romance. He latched onto stories of people's switches and soulmates like a tween might to a gossip magazine, and always dreamed of the moment he would first get to have his switch. What would his soulmate be like? Would they be younger, older? A boy, or a girl? What did they look like? What were their interests and passions? Victor had an endless supply of curiosities to satisfy, and now he finally had the chance to answer some of his questions. Many people didn’t have their first switch with their soulmate until much later in their lives, but Victor still felt like waiting til he was 10 for his first one had been an eternity.

Slowly, he stood up. His soulmate was a lot smaller than he was, and he stumbled a moment trying to adjust to the height change. Victor spied a mirror across the room, and his heart skipped a beat. Half of him wanted to race over there immediately and see what his future partner in crime looked like, but the other half was terrified. Victor had been waiting for this moment his entire life, and now it was finally here, he almost couldn’t contain himself. What if he didn’t like his soulmate? Oh - nonsense! This person was the one that had been chosen for him above anyone else, and Victor promised to himself at that moment, no matter who his soulmate was, that he would love them unconditionally. Taking a deep breath (which was hard considering the giant grin currently splitting his face in two), he walked across the room towards the mirror. He idly noticed, looking down at his small feet, that he was wearing slippers.

Victor gasped as he looked into the mirror.

The reflection gazing back at him was that of a young boy, Victor guessed perhaps 5 or 6 years old. He was small, and had a dark mop of black hair that hung around his face. A large pair of glasses sat askew upon his nose, magnifying the huge dark brown eyes behind them. There was a light dusting of freckles across his nose. Victor raised one small hand to adjust the glasses, and watched as the figure in the mirror did the same. He could hardly believe that he had finally met his soulmate, and that they were so positively adorable! Victor felt like the luckiest boy alive. He did a little twirl.

Turning away from the mirror, Victor scanned the room, looking for things to let him find out more about his soulmate. However, the room was relatively bare. Not an an uncosy or unfriendly way, but rather in a practical and minimalistic one. There was, however, a pile of marker pens on the floor. They were lined up neatly in the order of the rainbow, next to a piece of paper with a drawing on it. Upon further inspection, Victor realised that it was a picture of a bird. He chuckled to himself. He had no idea how long he would remain in his soulmate’s body, so he decided rather than exploring his surroundings further and potentially disorientating his dear soulmate upon their return that he would stay put.

Victor picked up one of the markers - purple, his favourite colour - and pulled the cap off with his teeth, humming to himself in thought. What could he write? He cocked his head to the side. No, maybe he wouldn’t write. There was no guarantee his soulmate would even understand Russian, and even if he did, his handwriting was atrocious. He settled that he would draw a picture instead, and set to work on drawing a companion for the bird. The poodle that Victor so desperately wanted to own slowly started to form itself on the page. He made another promise to himself - as soon as he moved out of home, he would adopt the dog of his dreams! It was the one thing he disliked about his parents - their reluctance to let him have a pet. Supposedly they thought he didn’t have a big enough attention span to hold interest in a pet, let alone care for one. That was one of the reasons Victor had initially turned to ice skating - if his parents could see how much dedication he put into that sport, maybe one day they would let him have his beloved poodle! His efforts had been futile so far, but Victor didn’t really mind; he did truly love ice skating, after all - it wasn’t like he was forcing himself to skate.

Victor finished his drawing, and leaned back to admire his handiwork, recapping the marker. The poodle was sitting, wagging its tail and smiling up at the bird. He was rather proud of it, actually. Just as Victor was uncapping the marker to add his signature to the bottom of the work, he felt a strange lurching sensation in his stomach, and next thing he knew it, he was back at the ice skating rink, staring through blurred eyes at his coach, Yakov.

He blinked rapidly, trying to orientate himself. He could feel the hot tears streaming down his cheeks, and he raised a hand slowly to touch his cheek. Had his soulmate been… crying? An awful feeling settled over Victor. It made him so sad to think that his soulmate's first experience switching had presumably been bad enough to make him cry. Victor was aware of Yakov's hands still firm on his waist, and realised that his poor soulmate must have had no idea what to do with ice skates. He pulled away from Yakov, crossing his arms and sticking out his lip.

“Yakov! What did you do to my poor soulmate to make them cry!?” He raised an eyebrow at his mentor. Yakov raised his hands in surrender, and took a step backwards.

“Apologies, Victor. I didn’t realise what was happening. I was minding my own business, waiting for you to finish your warm up, and the next thing I knew, you were sobbing on the ground! I just assumed you were messing around or something, so I yelled at you to get up, but when you didn’t, I figured something must be wrong.” He shook his head sadly. “You were crying and shaking. You couldn’t even get up.” Yakov sighed. “Was that your first switch?”

Victor nodded. Just moments ago, he had been reeling at the excitement of meeting his soulmate for the first time. Now, he was filled with anger. How could he forgive Yakov for hurting his soulmate? He was filled with such passionate feelings for someone he had only just met. Was this… what love felt like? He frowned to himself. Perhaps Yakov would have some information for him.

“Did you manage to talk to them at all?” he asked the older man. Yakov nodded.

“I… regrettably, yelled at them for a bit. When I figured out something was wrong, I stopped, and eventually, they said something to me.”

Victor did a little jump, his anger forgotten. He was never good at holding grudges, anyway. “What did they say?” he asked excitedly. His hopes were dashed when Yakov shook his head.

“I have no clue what they said to me. It was in Japanese. After that, I swapped to English, in hope they might understand that better, but I only got the smallest of responses out of them before they started to cry again, and then they were gone, and you were back.”

Victor frowned to himself, gathering what he knew.

His soulmate was a boy.
His soulmate was Japanese.
His soulmate perhaps liked to draw.
His soulmate was probably younger than him.
His soulmate was very small and very cute and Victor wanted to protect him at all costs.

“Earth to Victor? Victooooor?”
Yakov was waving a hand in his face. Victor batted it away.

“Don’t disturb me, coach! I’m a boy in love!”

Yakov rolled his eyes. “We will resume practice in 5 minutes. I expect you to be warmed up by then.” He skated away to the edge of the rink.

Victor resumed his steady laps of the rink, but his thoughts were elsewhere. He couldn’t wipe the smile off his face, and thoughts of the small, dark haired boy were all that filled his mind.

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When Victor finally got out of practice, the first thing he did was head to the library to see what books they had on Japanese. He knew his soulmate could speak some English - which was helpful - but Victor knew that if knew some Japanese when he swapped into his soulmate’s body next time, it would be a lot easier for him to start finding out more about his future partner. He hummed happily to himself.

Victor couldn’t remember the last time he set foot in a library - he had never been a huge book reader, and lately, ice-skating had been consuming a whole lot of his spare time. But for his soulmate? He was willing to go the extra mile.

He ambled through the shelves, attempting to find anything to do with language. Eventually, he found the language section, and started poring through the titles, looking for anything Japanese. He dug out a few books, but upon further inspection, none were really of relevance - some were detailing the culture, which was interesting, but not what he wanted - others, were written entirely in Japanese. Some of them even had drawings in them, along with words in Japanese. They somewhat resembled comic books, and they piqued his interest. He opened one of the books randomly. The characters, so different to his own language, were very interesting to him. He traced the small lines of text with a finger, admiring the shapes of the characters. After a while though, he slammed the book shut, huffing in frustration. There was nothing among the library collection that could actually help him learn the language. He reluctantly put the book back and turned to leave.

Little did he know, Victor’s little display had caught the eye of a nearby librarian. She walked over to the young, pale haired boy, and tapped him on the shoulder.

“Hello there. Forgive me for my rudeness, but I couldn’t help but notice your frustration just now.” She smiled softly at him. “Was there a particular book you were looking for?”

Victor shook his head. “Nothing specific. I was just really hoping I could find something to help me learn some basic Japanese, but…” He gave a defeated shrug of his shoulders. He would just have to try elsewhere.

The librarian tapped a finger against her forehead thoughtfully. “I know a book that might be of use to you,” she said brightly. “Wait here a moment, please.” She hurried away, a spring in her step.

Victor watched after her with idle fascination. How someone could be so excited about books of all things, he thought. Then again, he supposed, not everybody would love ice skating like he does. And what about his soulmate? They might love books. He cursed himself for being so judgmental.

Victor was so lost in his thoughts he almost didn’t notice the return of the librarian. She held a picture book in her outstretched arms, and Victor took it.

“This is a very basic book for young children learning Japanese. I couldn’t find much else, but maybe it will help?”

Victor stared down at the book fondly. He almost felt as if he was holding a piece of his soulmate in his arms. “Yes, I am sure it will.” He flashed the librarian a smile. “Thank you very much!”

Victor checked out the book, and tucked it carefully into his backpack. He left the library with a spring in his step, and before he knew it he was running, dancing and twirling across the pavement. He felt as if his heart might burst - he had finally had his first switch!

The trip home seemed to take no time at all - he threw open the front door, yelling a quick acknowledgement to his parents that he was home, before kicking off his shoes and tearing up the stairs to his bedroom. He could tell them about his switch another time - he was sure they would be ecstatic - but there was work to be done! Victor flopped down on his bed, carefully extracting his new book from his bag so he could set to work.

Chapter Text

Following Yuuri’s first switch, he had begged his parents to begin ice skating lessons. They had easily agreed - Yuuko had been trying to convince him to accompany her for years anyway - and besides, they could tell that their son had latched onto the one thing he knew he could make a connection with his soulmate through.

He had been signed up for the children’s group sessions that ran every Saturday morning. Yuuko had her own private coach, but would often attend the Saturday sessions anyway, if only to encourage Yuuri.

There were multiple groups across the ice catering for different ages and abilities. Naturally, being young and very inexperienced, he was in the lowest group. In moments where he wasn’t being guided by his instructor or falling over, he would sneak a glance at Yuuko across the rink, where she would wave and smile encouragingly. Takeshi would only grace him with a stuck out tongue.

Yuuri tried his best not to be discouraged every time he fell. He felt like a real idiot having to wear a helmet, but considering how many times he had fallen when he jumped into his soulmate's body, he knew it was for the best.

It seemed though, that every time Yuuri fell, he only became more determined to master the art of ice skating. It had taken him little time to master the basic movements of getting around, allowing him to retire his trusty helmet and knee pads, as well as move up to the next ability group. His instructor had remarked on his perseverance a few times (perhaps they were amazed that such an unaerodynamic looking child could be so speedy) - and this always made Yuuri smile a secret little smile to himself. It made him happy that his soulmate, despite knowing next to nothing about them, had already managed to inspire him to improve himself.

 


 

A little over six months had passed since Yuuri’s first switch. This was not uncommon - many people would only have a switch once a year. In this time, his ice skating had improved considerably - and Yuuri had progressed through a fair few of the different ability groups on Saturday mornings. At school, Yuuri often found himself dream of returning to the rink (he couldn’t believe that the reason he had refused to go to lessons with Yuuko had been because he didn’t want to get cold ), and he found himself asking for his 7th birthday if he could get private lessons like Yuuko did. Only being able to skate once a week really didn’t feel like enough to him. Yuuri wanted to learn more , wanted to be able to skate like the skaters he saw on the television, who moved so gracefully he could hardly believe it was on ice.

Certainly, the small bit of knowledge he had about his soulmate was one of the reasons he kept going - but he had other reasons for ice skating now. Ice skating had really grown on him - despite the aching, blistered feet, he loved the feeling of being able to glide across the ice as freely as the birds outside his window could move through the air. And of course, skating meant he got to see his good friend Yuuko more often, even if that usually meant having to deal with the addition of her ever-permanent guardian Takeshi. He was always protective of her, which irritated both Yuuri and Yuuko sometimes, though he always seemed to mean well.

Yuuri wondered if the pair would end up being soulmates. He had learnt more about the strange phenomenon since his first and rather traumatic switch - it wasn’t uncommon for childhood friends to end up being soulmates. Yuuri thought that it must be nice in a way - the chances of the two discovering each other as partners would be much greater than if they lived far apart.

Yuuri had done his best to recall the events of his first switch, to not much success. He had hoped that he might have been able to remember any of the strange language he had heard in hope of identifying even what country his soulmate came from, but it was to no avail.

It was no matter, though. Yuuri knew that there would eventually be more switches, and he would learn more about his soulmate, even if the waiting was killing him. In the meantime though, he had been putting extra effort into his private ice skating lessons.

Yuuri had begged his instructor to make him a ‘short program’ like the ones he had seen on TV to thank Yuuko for her persistence in trying to make him take ice skating lessons. His instructor had chuckled, saying that he was far too young for anything like that, but Yuuri’s pleading ultimately paid off - his instructor devised a small program for him to skate, complete with music - and he had set about learning it in every spare moment he had on the ice.

Today was finally the day Yuuri would get to show Yuuko the culmination of his efforts. He had asked her before the beginning of the saturday group sessions if she would hang around afterwards, as he had a surprise for her.  For some reason, he felt a little anxious.

The lesson had flown by - Yuuri’s thoughts had mostly been occupied on going through every detail of his performance for Yuuko. He had zoned out multiple times - a dangerous habit for an ice skater - only to find himself subconsciously practicing his performance rather than doing what his instructor had told him to. Despite hardly being able to wait for the lesson to be over, he almost missed Yuuko’s cheerful greeting to him as he was so absorbed in his own thoughts.

“Yuuriiii! Hiya! What was it you wanted to show me?”

Yuuri turned around, startled, only to find Yuuko and the ever-present Takeshi in front of him.

“Oh! Uh.. umm.. I kind of made up a, uh.. performance to show you..” he trailed off, averting his gaze down to the ice which was suddenly very interesting. Yuuko was a dear friend to him, and he knew that she was close with Takeshi. Even so, Yuuri still felt rather awkward performing in front of people he didn’t know well. Yuuri didn’t have a lot of close friends -  he was always very shy at school. Yuuri didn’t think he would even be friends with Yuuko in the first place had she not approached him first. Despite their close relationship… he really didn’t want to have to tell her he didn’t want to skate in front of Takeshi. It would be terribly rude of him.

“Ooh, a performance? For me? That is so sweet of you!” Yuuko’s genuine enthusiasm and excitement made the corners of Yuuri’s mouth twitch up, but it wasn’t enough to tear his gaze from the ground. He scuffed one skate idly across the ice.

“Well come on then, Yuuri! I’m dying to see it!”

Looking up again, Yuuri awkwardly scratched the back of his neck.

“Well… you see… I made up this routine as a gift, just for you…” His gaze unconsciously flitted to Takeshi, and Yuuko knew Yuuri well enough to suddenly understand the reason for his hesitation.

“Ah, I get it! Takeshi, do you think you could wait outside to walk me home today? I can catch up once Yuuri has shown me his performance.”

Takeshi frowned. “What, am I not allowed to see it, too?” He crossed his arms.

Yuuko pouted. “C’mon, Takeshiiii! Yuuri’s worked so hard to improve his skating. If he only wants me to see his performance, then that’s okay! Can’t you just leave him be for once?”

Takeshi sighed. A pouting Yuuko was the way to his heart, evidently.

“Fine, fine,” he grumbled. “I don’t get the point of all this fuss, though. If he ever wants to become a pro skater, he’s gonna have to get over this eventually…”. Still grumbling, he turned, easily skating off to the edge of the rink. He turned, giving a curt nod, though Yuuri could see the little twinkle in his eyes appear when Yuuko waved back. He’d never understood why Takeshi continued to be so cold to him. Yuuri’s first switch definitely hadn’t been with Yuuko, so Takeshi hardly had a reason to be defensive of her around him still.

Yuuko jolted him back to earth.

“Sorry about that, Yuuri! You could have just told me if you’d wanted me to come alone!” She stuck out her tongue at him playfully.

Yuuri wished that thought had crossed his mind earlier. Takeshi and Yuuko were pretty much guaranteed to be found in close proximity to each other. He had been silly to assume she would be on her own, especially after an ice skating lesson where Takeshi would definitely be around.

“Eheheh.. Sorry…” Yuuri smiled bashfully. There were very few people in the rink now - children were being ushered out of the rink now the lesson was over by parents who had other places to be. He didn’t mind strangers watching his performance so much, but Takeshi intimidated the daylights out of him, and he knew he would not be able to focus with him around.

Yuuri pulled a small mp3 player out of his pocket. It wasn’t anything flash - it had a small screen and fit in the palm of his hand. It had been another gift for his 7th birthday - a reject from his elder sister, Mariko. It was a dull purple colour, but some parts were grey where the paint had worn away from use.

Even if it was a cast-off, Yuuri had still appreciated the sentiment from his sister, and had put the little device to good use. Scrolling through the songs, he found the track he was looking for, and brought it up on the screen. Yuuri fiddled with the buttons, increasing the volume to the maximum, and then handed the little device to Yuuko.

“When I say, “ready”, can you press the button for me?” he asked Yuuko.

“Sure!” she exclaimed, nodding energetically.

Yuuri smiled at her, and then turned, skating out onto the middle of the rink. He took a deep breath, steeling himself. This was his first performance, besides from his coach, of course, to somebody that had a good feel for ice skating. His nerves were not helped by the fact that Yuuko was his best friend. Yuuri desperately did not want to mess up.

He was just about to give her the cue to start the music when he felt a strange lurch in his stomach, and then he was somewhere else.

 


 

Yuuri opened his eyes in his soulmate's body. He bit back a yell of frustration - why now, of all times? This had been an important moment, a moment where he could finally show Yuuko how much of an inspiration she was to him.

He shook his head. He would have to deal with the consequences later. The anger was already fading away, being replaced with a mix of nerves and excitement. Yuuri knew he had to try and learn more about his soulmate during this switch - it could be a long time before he got the chance again. He felt much calmer this time, having the knowledge of what switching was. Last time, he had been far too shocked to think rationally.

Looking around, Yuuri took in his surroundings. He appeared to be in a bedroom. The walls were painted a pale blue, and the carpet was a light grey. It felt thick and wooly under his bare feet.

In contrast to Yuuri’s fairly minimalistic room, his soulmates room was a pigsty.

In one corner of the room, there was a double sized bed. The bed was unmade - a navy patterned duvet lied rumpled across the mattress, and the sheets were twisted and were half-falling off the bed. Yuuri was itching go and jump on it - western beds were not so common in Japan - but he knew this would be terribly rude, and instead decided that he would make the bed. Yuuri was a bit of a neat freak and he knew he wouldn’t be able to focus on anything else until it was done. He idly realised that both him and his soulmate were ‘even’ in a way now, having both seen each other's bedrooms.

Yuuri pulled off the duvet, and placed it on the floor, amongst the array of toys and other things currently decorating the ground. As the duvet slipped off the bed, a variety of stuffed animals tumbled out. Yuuri smiled, and bent down to inspect them.

All of the plushies were of various different dog breeds. Among them, Yuuri could spot a poodle, a collie, and a German Shepard, but there were a few he still couldn’t identify. His soulmate must be a dog fan. It was nice to know something else about them. He noted that the poodle plush had considerably more wear on it than the others - perhaps it was a favourite? Perhaps that was the reason for the drawing his soulmate did of a poodle during their last switch.

Yuuri tucked in the sheets, and placed the duvet back on the bed after shaking it out. He plumped up the pillow. He had found a quilt somewhere in the depths of the bed, and had put that on top of the duvet. Yuuri finished up his handiwork by carefully arranging the dog plushies by the pillow. He put the poodle in the center, and arranged the other dogs around it.

The bed was sufficiently tidy now, and he stepped back to admire it for a moment, before shaking his head quickly as if to clear it. Switches were meant to be for finding out about your soulmate, not doing household chores! He spun around quickly, looking around the room to see what other interesting things he might be able to find.

His gaze landed on a large window, and Yuuri’s jaw dropped - the entire world outside the window was white. Thick blankets of snow carpeted everything beyond the window, and snow was still falling - it glinted white against the stormy sky.

Yuuri ran to the window, and leant over the desk underneath it, pressing his face to the glass. His mouth left a small patch of condensation on the window, and he leaned back to wipe it away.

It was at that moment that Yuuri first got a glimpse of what his soulmate looked like.

Staring back at him in the reflection in the window was a boy, a bit older than himself. He looked to be perhaps 10 or 11. His hair looked to be longer than it was last time. So his soulmate was a boy, huh...

Reaching up, Yuuri pulled a strand of his fringe down. He felt himself go a little cross-eyed trying to look at it. It must be nice to have 20/20 vision all the time.

The hair was a silvery grey, and it felt soft and silky to the touch, as he remembered it being last time. The colour was strange, though. Not unpleasant, but a rather odd colour for a young boy to have. The colour would be more at home on an elderly person’s head. Yuuri wondered perhaps if his soulmate dyed his hair.

Yuuri ran his fingers through his hair, enjoying the sensation. Though the window had been what had initially drawn Yuuri’s attention, there was something else in the room that was now intriguing him: the desk underneath it.

Yuuri had said that the room was a pigsty, but this desk seemed to be the exception.

Apart from a tin holding some pens and pencils, the only thing on the desk was a large book - “Japanese for Beginners”.

Yuuri blinked, and felt a smile start to grow across his face. His chest felt warm and fuzzy.

Had his soulmate been.. learning Japanese? Because of him?

Yuuri suddenly felt very special. His soulmate had not even met Yuuri, and knew next to nothing about him, but was already putting in effort for him.

Pulling out the chair, Yuuri sat at the desk. Something was peeking out from under the textbook, and Yuuri lifted it to find a small notebook. He felt a little rude snooping - but he was dying with curiosity.

The first few pages were all filled with hirigana. As the notebook went on, Yuuri found some pages filled with simple sentences. Yuuri set about reading a few. The characters were not perfect, but Yuuri’s hirigana was good enough to understand the vast majority.

Eventually, Yuuri found a passage of great interest. It was some information about his soulmate.

“Hello. My name is Victor.”

Yuuri had to sound out the name, as it was written in English. He guessed his soulmate didn’t know any Katakana yet.

“Vi… Vic-to-ru..”

Victor. Victor. Victor.

The name was strange and hard for Yuuri to say. There weren’t really any V sounds in Japanese.

He continued to read.

“I am 11 years old. I am from Russia. I love to ice skate. I speak Russian, and I am learning some English and Japanese, too.”

“It is nice to meet you. Please be nice to me. :)”

Yuuri sat back with a sigh, the smile on his face fading a little.

He was over the moon to learn more about his soulmate, but at the same time… Russia?

The Russian and Japanese languages were as different as can be. Yuuri wondered how they would ever even find each other, let alone communicate.

He ran over what he had learned as he stared out the window, watching the fat snowflakes spiral out of the sky.

His soulmate’s name was Victor, and he was 11 years old.

Victor was a boy from Russia.

He loved to figure skate, and presumably, liked dogs.

He spoke Russian, and was learning English, as well as Japanese.

Last time Victor switched into Yuuri’s body, he had drawn a picture of a dog. Yuuri thought that perhaps he could leave a message for Victor this time.

Yuuri flipped to a fresh page in the notebook, and picked out a pen from the pencil holder nearby.

Making sure his writing was as neat as possible - he wanted Victor to be able to understand it - he quickly wrote down a short message. He didn’t know how long he had left before he went back to his own body.

“Hello. My name is Katsuki Yuuri.

I am 7 years old. I am from Japan.

I speak Japanese, and a little English.

I have started to learn to ice skate, because of you.

It is nice to meet you. I hope we can be friends.”

Yuuri put the notebook on top of the textbook, open to the page he had written in. He hoped that this way, Victor would see it soon.

Sitting back in the chair, Yuuri watched the snow fall once more. He wished he could run out and play in it. Never before had he seen snow so thick and soft looking.

It had only been a few moments before he felt that strange, uncomfortable lurch in his stomach once more.

 


 

“Yuuuuuri! Yuuri, are you okay?”

Yuuri groggily opened his eyes. He was lying on the ice. It seemed to be becoming a habit for him. His head was dully throbbing.Yuuri blindly moved an arm around, attempting to find his glasses.

Yuuko found them before he did, and handed them to him. He nodded in thanks, before sliding the glasses onto his nose. He sat up, rubbing his aching head.

“Yuuko… I’m so sorry..” he began, but she just giggled.

“No need to apologise, Yuuri! Your soulmate gave me quite the performance! You’re a lucky guy. They were incredibly good at skating.” She even had the cheek to give him a little wink.

But Yuuri was tired. He gave her a small smile, and Yuuko extended a hand, which Yuuri took. She hoisted him up off the ice.

“You look pretty tired. Maybe you should show me your program another day?”

Yuuri frowned. “I worked on this for ages, though. I really wanted to show you today!”

He was about to protest more, but Yuuko cut in gently.

“I really admire your determination, Yuuri. But I don’t want you to injure yourself because you’re tired. You can show me tomorrow after school, how about that?” She wrapped an arm around his shoulder and gave him a squeeze as they made their way off the ice.

Yuuri let out sigh. “Okay,” he muttered grudgingly.

The pair went to the changing rooms in a content silence. He knew that Yuuko was probably bursting with questions, and he had so much to tell her. Right now though, he really appreciated her not prying. He was lucky to have a friend like her.

Takeshi, as expected, was waiting just outside the rink doors.

“What took you so long?” he whined, stomping a foot impatiently.’

“Oh, nothing!” Yuuko gave Yuuri a little wink. He mentally prepared himself for a question assault at school tomorrow.

Yuuri waved them both goodbye as they left. Yuuri turned the other way, and began the walk home, his feet on autopilot. His mind was full of thoughts of the russian boy that he was proud to call his soulmate. That small, special smile crept across his face once more, a smile reserved for only Victor.


Victor. Victor. Victor.

Chapter Text

It was late, but Victor couldn’t sleep.

Tomorrow was meant to be a big day - one of his first ever figure skating competitions. It was just a local one, mind you - so there wasn’t a huge amount of pressure.

Victor loved to perform, normally. He loved being the center of attention, loved having everyone’s eyes on him, and only him.

But this was different. This was a competition.

This was the first time that he was going to be judged for his skill against other people. And that made Victor terrified.

It wasn’t that he was afraid. Well, of course he was. Who wouldn’t get jitters performing in front of a large crowd? It was more, well, that he was afraid of letting the important people in his life down.

His parents, as well as his coach, poured so much time and effort into Victor’s skating. He was forever grateful for how much support they gave him, for how much faith they had in his ability. Victor was truly lucky to have such wonderful people in his life.

Victor huffed in frustration, kicking off the covers. His sleeplessness was not aided by the fact that he had been unable to find his poodle plushie that night. He knew it was rather babyish of him, but he often relied on the stuffed toy to sleep better at night. Victor had never liked being alone - he had often slipped into his parents bedroom at night when he was younger to nestle between them as they slept. He always felt more at ease, feeling their warm bodies around him and the gentle puffs of their breath.

Sometimes his mother or father would wake, eyes groggy and filled with sleep, to ask why he was yet again in their bed. Victor would make up some story about nightmares, and they would sigh, and let him stay, half-heartedly grumbling that he was old enough by now to sleep alone and that this really shouldn’t happen again.

It had been when Victor was 8 that they had finally made him break the habit, but he still missed sleeping near others greatly. He often found himself wishing he had a younger brother or sister to share a room with. He hadn’t brought it up for a long time though - the one instance where he shared his thoughts with a friend they had only laughed and said that siblings were annoying and Victor should feel blessed he didn’t have one.

Victor silently got to his feet, padding across the dark room to open the curtains.

Moonlight flooded in through the window, bathing Victor and his room in a pale glow. It made Victor’s silver hair shine in an almost ethereal way.

Outside, snow was still falling. Victor cocked his head to the side, and watched the little ice shards float down to earth, stark white against the dark sky.

Snow wasn’t anything special in Russia. It was there for the majority of the year, and life went on, snow or no snow. It made Victor amused that some schools in the southern hemisphere were closed when they only had a few centimeters of snow, yet his school would still open when the snow was well over knee high. Victor wondered if his soulmate had ever seen snow.

Absently turning away from the window, Victor tugged a hand through his hair. Worrying like this would do him no good. A lack of sleep was certainly not going to help him perform better. Resigning himself to his fate, he trudged back towards his bed.

He was just about to crawl back under the covers when he realised that he had forgotten to shut the curtains. Victor liked watching the snow fall - it was comforting, and was the reason why he had put his desk in front of the window. Still, it would do no good to leave the curtains open; Russia was especially cold at night and he hardly wanted to catch a chill.

Grumbling to himself, Victor got out of the bed. He had only taken a step when he felt a terrible sensation in his stomach, and then he was elsewhere.

 


 

Victor opened his eyes in an ice skating rink. Was he dreaming? Was tomorrows competition haunting him, even in his sleep? He held his hands out in front of himself, studying them. He flexed one experimentally. This seemed far too real to be a dream.

“Yuuri, are you okay?” A voice startled Victor out of nowhere, and he turned, only to see a young girl, clutching a purple music player.

Victor’s blanket of drowsiness suddenly lifted from him, and his eyes widened in alarm.

He had switched into his soulmate's body, again.

And he had just understood the Japanese that girl had spoken to him!

Yuuri, huh? He guessed that was his soulmate’s name.

Yuuri. Yuuri. Yuuri. Victor’s face split into a smile. What a sweet name! And so fun to say!

It was finally time to test what he had been studying so hard the last half year.

“Hello! My name is Victor! I am Yuuri’s soulmate!” He flashed the girl a charming smile, or at least what he hoped was one.

The girl’s eyes widened in surprise. She crossed her arms suspiciously. “You know Japanese?” she queried. “I thought you were from another country…” he heard her mumble.

Victor nodded. “Ah, very little! I am learning! Please be nice to me!”

Yuuko murmured something to herself, the Japanese too rapid for him to understand.

Victor waited hesitantly, waiting for the girl to say something back.

The girl seemed to suddenly realise he was waiting for her, and she clapped a hand over her mouth.

“Forgive me! I didn’t introduce myself.” She was deliberately speaking very slowly, and Victor was grateful for it. He was really only getting by in the conversation right now because it hadn’t progressed beyond ice skating or basic introductions.

“My name is Yuuko! I am one of Yuuri’s friends. It is nice to meet you!” She smiled and even gave him a little bow, which Victor rushed to return.

There was a pause.

“So, ah.. Yuuri, he ice skates?” he asked Yuuko slowly, scuffing the ice with one of his skates.

She nodded excitedly. “Yes! Since his switch with you, he started to learn. He hopes he can meet you one day.”

Victor stood, nodding for a moment as he translated the words in his head and the information sunk in. Yuuri had started to skate.. Because of him? Victor brought a hand to his chest, touched. It made him feel so, so special that his little soulmate, only seven years old, had picked up the hobby of Victor’s despite the fact his first switch was so traumatic.

He looked around at the rink. It was smaller than the one he was used to at home. Most people seemed to be leaving; Victor wondered if there had been a group session.

“You are... skating, now?” he asked in his rather broken Japanese. “Or go home now?”

“Ah, Yuuri was going to perform for me! He was worried. But then you switched here.”

Victor hummed to himself. He felt a little less scared about his performance tomorrow now, knowing that his soulmate experienced the same jitters that he did. It made the way he was feeling feel more normal, somehow.

“I perform instead?” he asked Yuuko.

She giggled. “Well, if you want to, then sure! Maybe get used to the body first, though?”

Victor nodded. “Ah, okay!” he said in English, before unsteadily taking off to do a lap of the rink.

His soulmate's body, as he had noted before, was much smaller than his own. Back home, Victor’s coach Yakov was already getting Victor do his first small jumps, such as single axels. He had the skill nailed, but he knew that it would be dangerous to attempt anything like that in a body so little. Victor used the lap to acquaint himself with the small body of his soulmate.

After his lap, he returned to Yuuko. He gestured at the music player.

“I will dance! I will do my best!” he said to her.

Yuuko giggled and pressed play on the mp3.

Immediately, an upbeat sounding piano tune came out of the music player.

Closing his eyes, he skated away from the girl. Victor let his mind go blank, letting the music guide his movements.

He didn’t dare do any jumps, but he skated to the best of his ability - swooping arcs across the ice, a few spins thrown in here and there. He even chucked in some backwards skating for good measure.  His routines for tomorrow's competition were set to vastly different music - but he found himself practicing some of the movements subconsciously. He was actually feeling glad that this switch had happened - he had gotten a chance to release some nervous energy before his competition tomorrow.

Victor was seeing a few people’s heads turn, watching him do his impromptu performance.

He felt a few nerves start to kick in, but he shook his head. He would think positive thoughts. He would not let these nerves for tomorrow's competition get the better of him.

No. I am the prince of this ice. Let them watch. Let them be astounded. I want their eyes to only be on me.

I am not being judged. This is just another day of skating, and all I can do is my best. I will not let them get the better of me today.

He put on his bravest smile, and continued to skate his heart out. This was a performance for a friend of Yuuri's, and he wouldn't let him down.

The music was fading, and Victor could feel the little body tiring. Maybe he had pushed himself too far. He skated to a final halt in front of Yuuko, posing with his arms wrapped around himself.

She burst into energetic applause, and he flashed her a winning smile.

That was just moments before his legs gave out from underneath him, and everything went black.

 


 

 

Victor came to his senses back in his own room. He immediately felt pangs of guilt. He had pushed his soulmate too hard, and ignored his limits. If the chance to skate in Yuuri’s body ever came about again, he wouldn’t exert himself so much. In the rush of skating, Victor had quickly forgotten he wasn’t in his own body.

He appeared to be sitting at his desk, watching the snow fall. The pale moonlight cast shadows across Victor’s room.

Victor noticed that his notes on Japanese had been moved. Had Yuuri seen them?

His notebook was now on top of his textbook, open to a fresh spread of pages. There was some new writing on one of them, and Victor seized the notebook eagerly. The thought to leave a message this switch hadn’t even crossed his mind. He kicked himself a little for that. Maybe he could have got Yuuko to pass something on.

Holding it up to the window, he could just make out the words.

It was strange seeing kana other than his own.

“Hello. My name is Katsuki Yuuri.”

Victor already knew Yuuri’s first name, but now he knew his surname, too. He had done a little research into Japanese culture when he first started learning the language, and had found it curious how much of the time Japanese people would use their surname when being addressed. He guessed that Yuuko must have been a close friend to be calling Yuuri by his first name. Or perhaps it was just because they were both very young.

He read on.

“I am 7 years old. I am from Japan.

I speak Japanese, and a little English.”

Both of these confirmed things that Victor already knew, but it was nice to know them anyway.

It seemed as if Yuuri might have read Victor’s practice introduction earlier in the notebook. He wondered if the young boy would try to learn any Russian now he knew where Victor was from. Victor wouldn’t blame him if he didn’t, though. Russian had a great number of sounds that were not present in Japanese - it would certainly be a tricky language to learn, especially for someone as young as Yuuri.

“I have started to learn to ice skate, because of you.”

Victor felt his smile widen again. Heck, who cared if Yuuri didn’t learn Russian?

Yuuri had picked up skating as a hobby purely because of Victor. Yakov was always saying that Victor was “one of his best pupils in years” and that “he would go on to do great things”, and of course this made Victor happy. He intended to keep skating for as long as possible, to one day be the best figure skater in the world. (His parents would have to get him a poodle eventually!)

There was no guarantee that Yuuri would ever be a competitive figure skater, though.

For all Victor knew, Yuuri could just keep skating as a hobby. Maybe he might go into pair skating, or speed skating, or ice skating. He could even become an ice hockey player.

He might not even continue to skate at all.

But it was enough for Victor that he had put the effort in to try, put in the effort to build a common interest between them. He was lucky his soulmate had gone that far for him.

He read the final line, one very familiar to him from his textbooks.

“It is nice to meet you. I hope we can be friends.”

Victor’s smile widened further, if that was even possible at this point. His beam could probably rival the brightness of the moon outside.

“I hope we can be friends too, my solnyshko . Maybe one day, even more.”

He gave the page a little kiss. Shutting the notebook, he reached up to draw the curtains. He had to try and get some sleep, after all. The room was thrown into darkness, and Victor fumbled against the wall, attempting to find the light switch. There was another light switch by his bed, so he wouldn’t have to get up again once he was settled to turn the lights off once more.

After finally finding it, the room was illuminated again. He didn’t trust himself to cross his floor right now in darkness considering there was so much stuff strewn over it. Victor turned, ready to make his way to his very messy bed but-

The bed was made.

Victor felt his jaw drop. What a little domestic goddess his soulmate was!

The sheets were tucked in neatly, a folded edge peeking out over the top of the duvet. The pillows had been fluffed and -

“Makkachin!”

Victor let out a shout of delight, before quickly stifling it, remembering his parents were sleeping in the next room down the hall. All of his dog plushies had been neatly rearranged on top of the bed, but more importantly, his soulmate had found his dear toy poodle!

Victor scooped up all the plushies off his pillow, bundling them into his arms. He placed them on the side of the bed, next to the wall, while he untucked the covers enough to wriggle in between the sheets and the mattress. He gathered up the plushies again before flicking the light switch next to his bed, plunging the room into darkness.

Victor shrugged the blanket up so it was covering his shoulders, only his head peeking out above the covers. His silver hair splayed out across the pillow.

Sighing contently, Victor cuddled Makkachin. He wriggled around in the bed to warm it up, while at the same time rearranging the rest of his stuffed animals so they formed a wall around him.

Victor felt warm, and enveloped, and safe.

Perhaps he should learn to make a bed properly, he wondered sleepily. If the sheets were all tucked in so well, it would be pretty hard for him to throw them off while he was asleep...

His fears of competing tomorrow had all but ceased. Victor’s little late night ‘practice’ with his soulmate had tired him out, and also helped him realise that tomorrow all he could do is his best.

There wasn’t much point in worrying. He didn't think his soulmate would give up when times are tough, so neither would he.

He drifted off to sleep with a little smile on his face.

Chapter Text

“Yuuri! It’s time for dinner!” Yuuri’s mother’s voice echoed down the hall.

…. Finally!

“Yes ma, coming!” Yuuri called back.

Carefully placing down his new felt tip pens, Yuuri scrambled to his feet. Throwing open the door, he tore down the hallway, eagerly racing into the living room.

His ma and pa were already sitting at the table. Mari entered the room around the same time that Yuuri did.

At each placing, a steaming bowl of katsudon sat. Yuuri jumped in excitement before bounding over to the table and plonking down at it.

Mari rolled her eyes as she slowly sat down next to him, folding her legs neatly underneath her body. “It’s just katsudon, Yuuri! Katsudon! Why are you so damn excited?”

Mama Katsuki gave Mari a look. “Mari dear, it’s Yuuri’s birthday! He’s allowed to have whatever food he wants.”

She glanced back over to where Yuuri was literally bouncing in his seat, and chuckled. “Best we don’t keep the birthday boy waiting any longer! He looks like he might explode!”

Yuuri hummed in contentment, eyes shining.

 


 

It was his eighth birthday, and as a special treat, Yuuri had been able to pick whatever food he wanted for dinner. He wasn’t really sure why his mother bothered to ask anymore - the answer had been katsudon every year since he was 4 and had first tasted the wonderful dish. Of course, his birthday wasn’t the only time of year they got to have the dish, but it was very exciting to be able to have the power to choose what food he wanted for a day! Yuuri had once lamented to his father about how he wished they could have katsudon every night, but his father had only laughed. Ah well. When Yuuri moved out of home, he could have katsudon all he liked! He would see to that.

It had been a good day, all in all. He had had yummy food for breakfast, and he had got some wonderful presents when he woke up - a new set of felt tip pens, another year of lessons with his ice skating coach, and a few other bits and pieces.

School had been fun, too. His mother had packed him an extra special bento for lunch, full of all his favourite treats. His teacher and classmates had all sung happy birthday to Yuuri, which outwardly made him very embarrassed but on the inside very happy.

Yuuri had skipped his visit to the ice skating rink that afternoon (with much reluctance), instead going home to the onsen with Takeshi and Yuuko.  His mother had invited over a few other family friends and neighbours to celebrate Yuuri’s birthday with them, but Yuuri was grateful she had kept the gathering fairly small. He wasn’t a fan of large crowds.

His mother had baked him his favourite kind of cake (vanilla), and his father had done an excellent job icing it. The eight candles were lit, and the room was plunged into darkness, so only the flickering candle lights were visible. His family and friends had sung him a very happy birthday, and Yuuri couldn’t stop smiling as he blew out the candles.

As the lights came on again, Yuuri glanced around at the family and friends surrounding him, all laughing and cheering. He shut his eyes to make a wish, still grinning.

I wish that my family and the other people I like can always be with me to celebrate on my birthday, every year.

They had all dug into the cake eagerly (though Yuuri made sure he got the first slice), and had celebrated late into the afternoon until Mama Katsuki had shooed them all away (very politely mind you) saying that if they didn’t leave soon she wouldn’t have time to make the katsudon. Poor little Yuuri was rather conflicted - he loved his friends and family, but… well, katsudon.

Yuuri had been a bit of a pest to his poor mother once the party guests left, clinging to her leg and watching her every move in the kitchen. The buzzing of kitchen appliances and his ma’s humming were intermittently interrupted with chirpy “is it ready yet?s” from Yuuri, too small to see over the kitchen counter. Her patience could only stretch so thin, and she had eventually shooed him away to his room to play with his new toys and art supplies. He had done so grudgingly, despite knowing that it was for the best.

But his patience had been rewarded! It was katsudon time!

They gave thanks for the food, and Yuuri picked up his chopsticks eagerly. He picked up a small piece, popping it into his mouth.

Mmm. It was heavenly .

He was just about to take another bite when he felt his stomach lurch strangely. Yuuri set down his chopsticks, a frown furrowing his young face. This was his favourite dish, hardly something for his stomach to be upset about, and-

Oh.

Yuuri wasn’t sitting at the dining room table anymore.

Well, not his table at least, anyway.

Yuuri had switched yet again. He should have known that he would have one soon, considering it had been over a year since his last. He honestly couldn’t feel excited though. His precious katsudon had just been abandoned, and Yuuri had no idea when he would get to switch back and eat it. What if his soulmate ate it all? He let out a large huff of frustration.

He was sitting in a high backed wooden chair, in front of a large circular table. Sitting across from him were a pair of adults. Yuuri could only come to the conclusion they were Victor’s parents.

The woman was very beautiful. She had platinum blond hair that had been plaited into a neat, thick braid that ran down her back. She was reading a newspaper, pointing at something and laughing as she glanced over at the man. She had red lipstick on.

The man was broad shouldered, and when he chuckled with the woman, his voice was deep and warm. His hair was black, with a few streaks of grey here and there. When he looked over the paper at Yuuri, his eyes were a piercing blue.

He said something to Yuuri, but all Yuuri caught of it was the name “Victor.” The language was strange to hear in person. Yuuri had done his best to try and learn more of the language and culture. He had learnt a fair bit about the customs and so of Russia, but had come to a grinding halt at the language. The sounds felt unnatural on his tongue, and he had had very little success in being able to say anything in Russian at all. It made him feel a bit guilty, considering how much Japanese his soulmate had been able to learn in the span of just a few months.

Yuuri blinked in confusion, tilting his head slightly to the side. His English was far better than his Russian. They had been learning some at school, but he had also been getting lessons at home from his parents, whose English was very good. Considering the large amount of foreign guests that came to the onsen, it was crucial for him to know some in order to help out his parents.

He figured he may as well try a greeting.

“Hello. My name is Katsuki Yuuri. I am Victor’s soulmate.” He bowed his head deeply. “It is very nice to meet you.”

Victor’s voice was a little deeper than his own. As he bowed, he felt a tickle as his hair brushed against his face. It seemed to have got even longer than last time.

The woman had looked up from her paper. She looked totally unfazed.

In accented English, she said “Hello Yuuri. We have heard much of you.”

The man spoke now. “We are Victor’s parents. My name is Sergey. My wife’s is Maria. It is nice to meet you finally. Our son simply won’t be quiet when it comes to you!”

Yuuri blinked, a little stunned at their easy acceptance of his greeting and also the sudden onslaught of English. They seemed so.. calm. On second thought, it wasn’t so unusual. It was grown-up’s jobs, after all, to know everything.

“A-ah.. Nice to meet you too,” stammered Yuuri, mentally slapping himself as he realised he had already said those exact words when he first greeted Victor’s parents. He was just glad he had kept up with the conversation so far, even if it was taking a lot of effort to process.

“I’m very impressed that you know so much English,” smiled Maria. “How old are you again? Seven?”

Yuuri felt himself blushing. “U-um.. Eight. I turn eight today. Is my birthday.”

“Happy birthday, Yuuri!” the two parents chorused in unison. They were clearly well-practiced in the ways of birthday wishes.

“Ah, thank you!” Yuuri smiled a little awkwardly, rubbing the hair at the back of his neck out of habit as he did often when he was nervous. He momentarily panicked when he found his finger twisting around a lock of long hair rather than brushing the short hairs on his nape as he was used to.

“Did you have a nice birthday?” asked Sergey, putting his elbows on the table and leaning his chin on top of his hands.

“Mhhmm. Day was good. I spend the day with my family and friends. And we had cake!”

“That does sound fun,” agreed Maria. “Did you have a nice dinner? Our Vitya always likes to pick his meals on his birthday.”

...Of all topics!

“Actually, just having dinner now…” Yuuri trailed off, staring down at his plate of… porridge? He must have interrupted breakfast.

“What did you choose for your birthday dinner, Yuuri?” asked Sergey kindly. “I don’t really know much about Japanese food.”

“Katsudon,” mumbled Yuuri.

“What was that?” chirped Maria. “I didn’t quite catch what you said.”

“Ah, katsudon.” Yuuri said it a little more clearly this time. He still wasn’t quite over being pulled away from it.

Victor’s parents still looked quizzical.

“Hmm.. In English, it is.. A pork cutlet bowl?” Yuuri really was kicking himself now. He had thought he was the katsudon master. He should know everything about them!

“Ah, I have eaten that!” exclaimed Sergey. “It is very tasty.”

Yuuri nodded feverently. “It is my best food! So wonderful!”

“Did you enjoy it?” asked Maria.

Yuuri shook his head sadly. “No, I did not eat. I come here instead. I ah.. I hope I can eat, when I back. But maybe Victor may eat instead. I.. hope not.”

He looked sadly down at the porridge stuff. A spoon lay next to the bowl.

“This is.. umm…?”

“Ah, it is buckwheat kasha! Vitya doesn’t care for it much. Maybe you’ll like it more. Go on, try some!” Sergey gave him a smile.

Well, there was no going back now. Yuuri hesitantly took a spoonful of the porridge. It was… good, actually! Not on the level of katsudon, but… it was good. He didn’t really know what he had been expecting, to be honest.

“It is nice! Victor is.. He is… silly, to not like it!” He nodded energetically, hoping to emphasize the point.

“Victor’s never been picky with his food choices,” Maria commented, reading the paper again. “But I guess everyone has a food they don’t like.”

“Mmmm.” Sergey hummed assent, getting up from the table. He pushed in his chair, and leant down, pressing a quick kiss to Maria’s cheek, murmuring something in Russian.

Her eyes crinkled in a smile, and she batted him away playfully, retorting something back in Russian.

Sergey laughed, before going to a coat stand in the corner of the room and grabbing a large overcoat from one of the hooks. He turned to Yuuri as he shrugged it on.

“I have to go to work now, Yuuri,” he said in his accented English. “But it was very nice to meet you. I hope we will meet again.”

“I hope so, too!” Yuuri replied.

Sergey gave him a little wave, and turned towards the door. His hand was just about to grab the doorknob when he paused, cocking his head to the side. Suddenly, he turned around.

“Ah, Yuuri, I almost forgot!” In a few quick steps, he strode over to Yuuri.

Yuuri recoiled a little in surprise.

“How do I say this.. In Russia, for good luck on birthdays, we pull the ears of the birthday person! It is a funny little tradition, but…”

He reached out slowly, taking hold of one of Yuuri’s earlobes. Yuuri sat still, blue eyes wide. He let out a little squeak.

Sergey gave his ear eight little tugs. They didn’t hurt, but it felt a little funny. Russia sure was a strange place.

Seemingly satisfied, Sergey leant back. “You’ll have a long life now, Yuuri! Happy birthday, once again!” He dipped his head, before turning around and ducking quickly out the front door. There was a cold rush of air as the door open and shut.

Maria sighed contentedly, watching her partner dash out the door. She murmured something in Russian, and turned to Yuuri.

“What to do with you, I wonder?” she asked Yuuri. “Vitya would normally go to school on a weekday, but I can hardly see you coping there…”

She pressed a finger across her lips, her other hand absently fiddling with the tail of her braid.

Yuuri bit his lip. What a trouble to deal with, and on his birthday, too! All he had wanted was katsudon…

“Mmm, well.. I may go back, soon. So please.. please, do not trouble!”

Maria tapped her finger against her lips. “For now, you may as well eat. If you don’t swap back soon, I’ll call Vitya’s school and say he can’t come in…”

“Hmm… I feel bad, though,” Yuuri mumbled.

“Don’t be. It’s not your fault. Besides, you shouldn’t feel bad on your birthday!” She gave him a little smile. “Now, eat up. You’ll get hungry, otherwise.” She gestured towards the porridge bowl, before neatly folding up her paper and getting up from the table. “I’m just going to go to the bathroom. I will be right back.”

Yuuri began to eat the porridge again as Maria left, savouring every bite. It really was quite nice, he thought. Maybe he could ask to go on the internet when he went back home and find a recipe to try.

He felt a little guilty eating Victor’s food, but he then remembered that Victor didn’t care for it much anyway. At least Victor would be nice and full once he came back.

As he ate, he looked around at his surroundings. Yuuri was so used to living at the bath house that he almost found it strange sometimes to be in normal homes.

The dining room he was currently in connected to two other rooms directly - the kitchen, and a living area. There were not any walls between them, so you were free to walk between them as you wished. It was all so… open! This meant that Yuuri could look right into the living room from where he sat in the dining room.

What he hadn’t been able to see before due to Maria and Sergey obstructing his view took his breath away.

Up against the wall of the living room was a huge trophy case, made of glass. It nearly brushed the ceiling, it was that tall.

Trophies and medals lined the entire inside of the case, and Yuuri had never seen so much gold in his life .

His spoon clattered to the table as he jumped down from the table, almost tripping over a chair leg as he padded towards the trophy cabinet.

Pressing his hands against the glass, he looked at the collection of awards inside.

Wow.

A vast majority of the writing on the trophies and medals were in languages Yuuri couldn’t read, but there were a few dates he could identify, written with Western numbers.

Most of the awards he could see at his eye-level were fairly old, from times well before Yuuri was born. However, there were a scattering that were newer, only from the previous year or so. Regardless of age, all the awards seemed to be well cared for. The fireplace on the other side of the room cast flickers of light across the room which danced and glinted in the polished trophy surfaces.

“Ah, I see you’ve found our family trophy cabinet!” Maria’s voice behind Yuuri made him jump. He hadn’t heard her approach.

Maria came and crouched next to him, looking inside the cabinet too.

“You have very many,” whispered Yuuri, his voice full of awe.

Maria laughed, pressing a hand to her lips. “Well, back in my day, I was quite a good ballet dancer. And Vitya has added a few to the cabinet, too.”

Yuuri frowned. “You must have been very good.”

Maria only smiled. Her gaze looked a little nostalgic. She stood up, looking back across to the dining room.

“Oh, Vitya - I mean, Yuuri, you didn’t finish your breakfast! Come on now, we can’t have that…” She tutted a little, and Yuuri sprung up from where he crouched by the cabinet. Mums were the same, wherever you went in the world, huh?

Yuuri trotted back to the table obediently, jumping back up into the tall chair. Maria was already seated across from him. He had so many questions for her!

He was just about to take another spoon of the porridge when he felt his stomach lurch uncomfortably. The spoon clattered to the table, and then Yuuri was gone.

 


 

Yuuri opened his eyes back in his own body. His family was all still seated around him. He felt himself pale a little. Goodness knows what Victor had talked to them about.

He was surprised that he actually felt a little disappointed. He had been looking forward to asking Maria more questions about Victor.

Yuuri looked down, and mentally shouted for joy when he saw that his katsudon was still fairly intact. Victor had only taken a few bites out of it. Picking up his chopsticks, he took a bite.

Still good, even if a little cold.

“Ah, Yuuri, I see you are back with us,” smiled his mother. “Vic-chan had absolutely no idea how to use chopsticks. You probably have that to thank for the fact more of your katsudon isn’t gone.”

Yuuri swallowed his mouthful of rice quickly. Vic-chan…?

“Did he say anything to you guys?” he asked excitedly, bouncing where he sat. “Yuuko said last time he spoke some Japanese to her. But I know he can speak some English, too!” The words came out in an animated rush.

“Calm down, Yuuri!” chided his father. “We don’t want you to choke!”

Yuuri bit his lip. “Sorry.” He took another bite, slower this time.

“He actually said heaps of reaalllly horrible things, Yuuri,” drawled Mari, butting into the conversation. “I couldn’t believe some of the words that came out of his mouth.”

Yuuri dropped his chopsticks in surprise, staring wide eyed at his sister. That couldn’t be true! “But-”

“Oh, Yuuri, you should see your face!” Mari burst into a fit of laughter. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding. He was very lovely, really. You’re a lucky guy.”

Those were kind words, coming from Mari. She was on the later end when it came to first switches, having only got her first switch when she was 13, around the same time Yuuri had got his. She had always been quite bitter about him getting his first, though.

“He really was very sweet,” gushed his mother. “And his Japanese was so good, too!” She pulled out a square of paper from her apron, reaching across the table to give it to Yuuri.

“He even wrote you a little letter. He told us very specifically you are to read it in private! So no peeking, alright dear?”

Yuuri took the paper square, holding it tight inside his hand.

“Yes, ma! I’ll give it a read later.”

His family continued to talk about Victor. Victor had obviously charmed them all with how good his Japanese was. Yuuri felt very warm on the inside, knowing that Victor had continued to put the effort into a language that surely wasn’t easy for a non-native speaker.

As soon as he finished his katsudon, he excused himself, bounding away from the table as soon as his father gave him permission. He knew it was a little rude for him to do so, considering it was his birthday, but he simply couldn’t wait to see what his soulmate had left for him. He’d be back soon, anyway.

Yuuri raced down the hall, his feet pattering on the floor. He practically leaped into bed, snuggling into the covers before unfurling the piece of paper clenched in his fist.

Written in messy hirigana was a short message.

“Hi Yuuri! It’s Victor here.

I just wanted to wish you a really happy birthday.

I’ve been studying Japanese hard. I hope we can meet someday soon!

Your family was very kind. I wish I had a sister like you do.

I have so much to talk to you about! So many things I wish I could ask you!

Like, do you have snow where you live? What do you do for fun?

I love to ice skate. I hear that you do, too. Please keep it up!

I don’t know how long I have, so I will finish now!

Sorry for eating your katsudon!

Love, Victor.”

Yuuri clutched the note to his chest, a big smile stretched across his face.

Forget katsudon.

This was the best birthday present ever .



Chapter Text

“Victor! It’s time to get up!” There was an aggressive knocking at his bedroom door.

“Ummmmmph.” Victor groaned, rolling back into his pillow.

“Don’t make me come in there and drag you out! You need to be up in five minutes!”

“Yes, mama,” he mumbled, burying himself further under the covers.

Victor did not like mornings. It was simple, really. Bed: warm. Outside bed: cold. Not a good time.

Well, the shower was warm, at least. But then there was the run to the shower, and the run back from it, and ah…

Life could be so hard sometimes.

He let out a disgruntled huff, resigning himself to his fate as he practically slid out of the bed, flopping pathetically onto the floor. Stumbling to his feet, he rubbed his blurry eyes, still filled with sleep. After a moment orientating himself, he padded over to the door, fumbling with the handle.

Thankfully, the bathroom was only just down the hall. Once inside (and after double-checking the door was securely shut), Victor stripped out of his pyjamas, tossing them to the other side of the bathroom. Leaning into the shower from where he stood outside it, he quickly turned on the shower head, flinching backwards as a cold jet of water shot out. Victor stood awkwardly for a few seconds, hopping from foot to foot and shivering as he waited for the water to heat up. His hand darted out occasionally into the stream of water, testing its temperature.

Victor finally deemed it warm enough, and stepped into the shower, sighing happily as the water cascaded down over him. He tipped his head back and shut his eyes, letting his hair get wet.

For his mother to have yelled at him he must have slept through his alarm again. Victor knew he didn’t have long in the shower - he still needed to have breakfast and get ready for school. If he wasn’t out in a short while, he could expect another rattling knock on the door from his mother. One particularly long shower he had forgotten to lock the door, and his mother’s knocking had forced the door open. His parents would still sometimes mimic his mortified shriek to this day to wind him up for fun.

As much as he would have liked to just stay there under the warm water, eventually Victor reached for his bodywash. It was his favourite kind - it had a citrusy smell and always managed to make him feel a little more awake in the mornings. He squeezed a dollop into his palm before washing himself. He had probably used a little more than necessary.. but Victor was rather fond of bubbles.

Once he was done, he reached for the shampoo, quickly lathering his hair and rinsing it out again. His hair was just past his chin these days. Victor’s parents had long given up on trying to make him cut it. He idly twirled a damp lock around his finger.

Victor knew he should probably be getting out of the shower soon - his parents were constantly reminding him that “it’s not good to waste water” when he returned from especially long showers, which he would meet with a sheepish grin and an apology. Victor allowed himself one more minute, counting up to sixty. When he got to fifty-nine, he chucked in a few fractions to give him a little more time. There were only so many fractions in the world though, and he eventually got to sixty, reluctantly turning off the tap.

Sliding the door open, he stepped out quickly, the hair on his arms and legs standing up at the change of air temperature. Grabbing a towel, he dried himself only to the point where he wouldn't drip all over the floor, before hastily wrapping himself up. Snatching up his bundle of clothes off the floor, he pulled the bathroom door open with his hand that wasn’t trying and failing to hold his pyjamas and towel up, before scurrying out the door and back down the hall to his bedroom. He was already starting to shiver a little.

Once he was securely back in his room, Victor let the clothes drop to the floor. He toweled himself off quickly, rubbing the towel through his hair in an attempt to dry it. This only resulted in it sticking up in a variety of different directions, and Victor sighed in defeat, throwing the towel to the floor.

Quickly scanning the room, stark naked, he attempted to find some clothes that were in an acceptable state to wear to school. He found a pair of jeans that weren’t too rumpled on top of the dresser, and pulled them on after finding some underwear. Victor also put on a long sleeved white tee before putting on his favourite maroon knitted sweater. His grandmother had knitted it for him, and he was very fond of it. He was practically wearing it every day now, with Russia going into the colder months.

Victor couldn’t be bothered putting shoes on just yet, so he donned some woolen socks before leaving the bedroom, stifling a yawn as he walked down the hall into the dining room.

His mama and papa were already at the dining table. His mama was reading the morning paper as usual, while his dad sipped a coffee.

“Morning,” yawned Victor, flopping down at the table.

“Morning!” chirped back his father brightly. Victor groaned - he knew on the inside that his father hated mornings as much as he did. At least he had coffee to help him through. Victor wasn’t allowed to drink it, for some reason. Perhaps they feared what would happen to their already hyperactive child when on caffeine.

His mother gave him a wry smile over the top of her paper. “I’m glad you finally got up. We wouldn’t have wanted a repeat of the door incident, hmm?”

Victor huffed, blowing his fringe out of his eyes. “Can’t you let that go, mama? It was just the one time. It’s not funny anymore.”

His mama only smiled. “Always so grumpy in the mornings. Just like your pa, hmm? Maybe some food will improve your mood?”

Getting up from her seat, she went into the kitchen area, returning with a bowl of kasha. Victor pulled a face.

“Ma, you know I hate that stuff.”

She shrugged, placing the bowl in front of him. “Well, me and your papa like it. It’s this or nothing. You could have fixed yourself something if you’d got up a little earlier.” Returning to her seat, she continued to read the paper.

Victor sometimes forgot how damn sassy his mother could be. A flair for dramatics seemed to run in the Nikiforov family.

Staring down at the kasha, Victor reluctantly picked up his spoon. He had skating practice after school today, so it would do him no good to skip breakfast…

He felt his stomach twist in protest, and he patted his tummy consolingly. There, there. We can get through this.

Taking a spoon of the kasha, he shut his eyes before putting into his mouth, wrinkling his nose.

...It was delicious!

Victor’s eyes flew open. “ Vkusno! Mama, what have you done to this kasha?”

The delighted grin was frozen on his face as he realised it was not his mother and father sitting at the table with him, but rather an asian family. Oh dear.

The change in location suddenly registered. He must have switched with Yuuri again! This only served to make his smile grow wider. His sleepiness was pretty much gone.

Victor’s head whipped from side to side, trying to take in his surroundings.

He seemed to be in a living room style area. Victor could see multiple sliding doors throughout the room, and a kitchen appeared to be adjacent to the room they were in now.

He was sitting on the ground, or on a cushion, more exactly. A low table was in front of him, a steaming bowl of something at his placing. It smelled incredible .

The middle-aged couple sitting across the table from him looked rather stunned at Victor’s sudden barrage of Russian. The teenage girl to his left just looked bored. The hilarity of the situation hit Victor, and he stifled a laugh with a hand pressed to his lips. What pair of parents wouldn’t be shocked seeing their child burst out suddenly in a completely different language?

“Hello! My name is Victor! It’s nice to meet you!’ said Victor in Japanese, even adding in a little bow for good measure.

Introductions weren’t difficult for Victor anymore. After all, it had been one of the first things he had learnt when he decided to himself he would start learning Japanese.

The textbook the kind librarian had given him could only teach him so much, though. Victor knew no matter how many characters he wrote, no matter how many conversations he had with his plush dogs, what he really needed to be able to do was practice. Sadly, Victor didn’t know any Japanese people, or anybody else who had learned the language.

He had lamented about this to his mother once over dinner, a cold night when his father hadn’t been able to come home from work due to the sheer amount of snow which had decided to make an appearance. He had expected a consoling reply from his mother, but she had only chewed her food thoughtfully.

After dinner, she had risen, going over to the huge bookcase in their living room, pouring through the books, searching for something. An old album had eventually been found, and his mama had flipped to the section containing various old photos of back when she was still a world-class ballet dancer, touring all over the globe with the most prestigious of ballet companies.

His mama pointed to a photo in particular. It was a younger version of herself, arm slung over a petite asian woman. They were both laughing.

“That’s my old friend Kanade,” his mama had said. “She was one of the best dancers in Japan. We toured all over the world together! We’re still in touch. Maybe she can help you.”

Victor practically knocked the breath out of his mama’s lungs when he hugged her.

That had been the story of how Victor found his first language partner. He was allowed to call Kanade twice a week (his papa said any more would get too expensive), and they would have conversations mostly in Japanese. Kanade’s English was fairly good, and she would gently correct him in English if she was unable to get her message across in Japanese, but their lessons had been continuing a while now and Victor had improved greatly. Speaking with an actual Japanese person had really helped Victor with his pronunciation, and it was interesting to see how Kanade structured her sentences. His vocabulary wasn’t huge, but it was growing, and his sentences were no longer entirely textbook scripted quotes.

That was why felt fairly confident with the situation he was in right now.

“Hello Victor!” said the older lady. “My name is Katsuki Hiriko. This is my husband, Toshiya. Next to you is our daughter Mari. I’m very impressed with how good your Japanese sounds!”

Mari stuck out her tongue. “I can introduce myself, you know!”

Hiriko ignored the outburst, smiling as if nothing had happened, and continued on, Mari quietly seething in the corner of Victor’s eye. Victor simply beamed at the praise he had been given.

“We were just having our dinner. Would you like to try some?”

Victor nodded vigorously. The smell was so good! One hundred times better than the kasha back home. “If that is alright?”

When Yuuri’s parents nodded assent, Victor looked down at the bowl of food before him once more, curious.

There was a whole mix of things in the bowl. It was still steaming hot, and barely touched - poor Yuuri must have hardly got to eat any of this delicious smelling thing.

It was unlike any food Victor had ever seen before. At the base of the bowl, there were large amounts of rice. Mixed through the rice was a golden looking sauce, and… egg, perhaps?

The most impressive thing in the bowl had to be the meat, though. Crumbed in golden breadcrumbs, Victor couldn’t tell what kind it was. The pieces of meat sat piled high upon the rice, taking center stage in the middle of the bowl. His was mouth was watering already, and he had only had a tiny bite so far!

Glancing around his placing, he looked for some cutlery. All he found, however, were a pair of thin, wooden sticks.

Ah. Chopsticks.

Victor had seen them in pictures before, but had never actually used a pair before. Looking across the table, Yuuri’s parents were quietly eating again. They held the chopsticks neatly in one hand as if it were the easiest thing in the world.

Frowning slightly, he attempted to copy them. The gesture felt strange and foreign to him. Why were his fingers shaking now, of all times?

Slowly lifting his hand, he moved it to above the bowl. He moved one of his fingers the smallest amount, aiming to pick up a piece of the meat on top of the bowl.

Luck did not appear to be on his side, and the chopsticks both almost immediately fell out of his hand, clattering noisily against the side of the ceramic bowl. All three of the Katsuki family looked up in alarm.

Victor clapped his hands to his mouth. Whoops!

“Ah, sorry, sorry!” He shook his head. “I have not used chopsticks before, you see…”

Mari snorted. “It’s probably good that you can’t. That’s Yuuri’s favourite food, I think he would be quite upset if you ate it all!”

Victor looked down at the bowl again. His soulmates favourite food, huh?

“What is it called?” he asked curiously.

“Katsudon. It’s rice with egg and pork cutlets,” Mari said briskly, before returning back to her meal.

Katsudon! What an odd name! Victor would have to look it up once he went back home again.

Hiriko interrupted his musings. “Would you like me to get you some cutlery, Vic-chan? It might be easier for you.”

Victor cocked his head to the side. The katsudon smelt wonderful, and he was sorely tempted, but-

“No, no, it’s okay! But thanks!” He shook his head from side to side. “I will keep trying!” Victor knew that one day he would meet his soulmate, and considering Yuuri was from Japan, there was a very high probability Victor would have to spend some time there. He’d have to learn how to use chopsticks eventually . He may as well make a start now.

Hiriko only smiled. “Well, if you change your mind, let me know!”

Victor gave her a big grin back, trying to show that her offer had not gone to waste. He knew the Japanese prided themselves on their hospitality.

It was time for round two. Mimicking Yuuri’s parents once more, Victor picked up the chopsticks to the best of his ability. Lips pursed in concentration, he lifted his hand over the bowl of katsudon, lowering it slightly. He began to move his fingers, and the chopsticks started to move apart, honing in on the piece of meat. He was almost there-!

And, nope. Dropped them again. He let out a little huff of frustration. He could feel Mari’s eyes boring into the side of his head.

On attempt number five, Mari set her chopsticks down on top of her bowl. “Do you want some help, Victor?” she asked a little slyly.

Victor wasn’t intimidated by Mari, or anything. Totally not intimidated at all in the slightest- okay, maybe a little. He had always imagined Yuuri as being sweet and mild (though to be fair he had no way of actually knowing that), but his sister, well.. she was a bit scary!

“Um.. yes, please,” he mumbled, accepting his defeat as he held out the chopsticks to her.

She took them, pressing them together and lining them up. “Are you left handed, or right handed?” she asked.

“Left,” he said quietly.

Mari raised an eyebrow, and took his outstretched hand, folding his fingers gently around the base of the chopsticks.

“Now, this is a little tricky to explain, so I’ll just show you.” She proceeded to move his fingers around the chopsticks til they were sitting in a rather odd position.

“That’s how you hold them.” She picked up her own chopsticks easily, holding them in front of Victor. She then proceeded to move the fingers holding the chopsticks slowly, making the chopsticks move open and closed from each over.

“This is how you move them, see?” Mari showed him again. “You try now.”

Victor hesitantly moved his fingers, attempting to copy her movements. He felt like he was having to concentrate so hard! “You make it look so easy!” he complained, slowly moving the chopsticks around. One slipped from his grasp, and it fell to the table. He hastily picked it up again in time to see Mari shrug.

“Eh. I’ve used them my whole life. It just takes practice.” She glanced over at Victor, who was attempting to hold the chopsticks again.

She nodded approvingly. “That form looks good.Trying eating now, yeah? Food’s getting cold.” She turned back to her bowl.

“Thanks, Mari!” said Victor, shuffling on his knees back to his placing. He could have sworn he saw a little smile on the older girl's face, just for a fraction of a second. She wasn’t so scary after all, huh.

Using his newfound knowledge, Victor attempted to pick up a piece of meat for the 6th time, and-

Success!

He popped it into his mouth, chewing slowly, trying to savour every mouthful.

“This is delicious!” he exclaimed, after swallowing his food. “Do you have this every day?” he asked excitedly.

Toshiyo laughed, shaking his head. “No, no. This is a special treat. It’s for Yuuri’s birthday.”

Victor’s jaw dropped, the chopsticks clattering back into the bowl once more.

“Wow! A birthday? How old is he today? Eight, right? Please tell him I said happy birthday!” The words came out in an excited rush, and Hiriko laughed.

“Yes, yes, he’s eight today. And I will, I promise. This was the food he picked for a birthday treat.”

Victor all of a sudden felt rather guilty. He gave the bowl of katsudon a forlorn glance, before pushing it away from where he sat.

“I can’t keep eating this! I don’t want him to miss out.” He lined the chopsticks neatly up on top of the bowl.

Mari shrugged. “It’s okay. If you want to keep eating, he can always have mine. I don’t mind, since it’s his birthday”

But Victor shook his head. “No, no, it’s okay! I want you to all enjoy your food!”

He sighed a little sadly, slouching. “I wish I could get him a present or something, though.”

Hiriko smiled. “Yuuri’s never been one for material things, really. Maybe you could write him a birthday card? I’m sure that he would love that.”

Victor visibly perked up, his eyes shining in delight. He clapped his hands excitedly.

“Oooh! What a wonderful idea! Do you have any paper? And a pen?”

Toshiya neatly unfolded his legs from underneath him, getting up from the low table. “We sure do. I’ll get you some. Be right back, Victor!” The short man trotted out of the room.

Victor fidgeted in his seat. A birthday card! What could he write? What language would he even write in? His written Japanese was nowhere near as good as his spoken. He had a fairly good grasp of English, too, and he knew that Yuuri’s was excellent for his age.

As Toshiya returned with a few sheets of white cardstock and some pens, Victor decided he would do his very best to write in Japanese. He had pretty much only been learning the language for Yuuri’s sake, anyway. It seemed silly to not take the opportunity.

Toshiya put the materials in front of Victor. “Here you are, son. Have fun!” He returned back to his placing, where his bowl of katsudon was nearly finished.

Victor picked up a felt tip pen, and uncapped it. He stuck out his tongue as he started to write his card.

“Hi Yuuri! It’s Victor here.

I just wanted to wish you a really happy birthday.”

Victor cocked his head to the side. Hmm. It was a good start. But it was hardly very personal! He needed to add more. He added another line.

“I’ve been studying Japanese hard. I hope we can meet someday soon!”

Both of these things were true. For starters, he had been having his long conversations with Kanade every week. He had also convinced his parents to get him some more advanced Japanese textbooks to work on. They had happily agreed - Victor didn’t really ask for much from them usually (apart from his constant pleas for a puppy).

Victor’s day usually consisted of school, then ice skating practice, then home. Practice would often run til late, and by the time he had eaten dinner and done his school homework, there was usually very little time left for Japanese study. But he always endeavoured to fit some in, whether it be 10 minutes or 2 hours. Sometimes when he felt particularly inspired he would stay up late, buried under the covers with a flashlight in hand, muttering soft words to himself in Japanese to try and ingrain them into his mind. Nights like these were probably one of the reasons he hated mornings so much.

He really did hope that they could meet someday soon, though. Victor didn’t know when or how that would happen, but he desperately hoped that they could. Every Christmas (which was incidentally also his birthday), he would shut his eyes and blow out the candles, wishing the same wish after year - that he and Yuuri could meet.

Victor wondered what Yuuri would be like in person. Well, he already knew that he was very little and cute. But his personality! Victor really didn’t have any inkling at all as to how Yuuri actually behaved when Victor wasn’t in his body. Was he quiet? Loud? Relaxed, or boisterous? Victor was dying to know.

He continued writing.

“Your family was very kind. I wish I had a sister like you do.”

And it was true, he really did. Victor had grown up an only child, but he had always desperately wished for a sibling, a playmate, someone to talk to when mama and papa were being grumpy or mean. Mari had come off a little scary, but she had helped Victor all the same with his chopsticks. She seemed like she had a very kind heart. He was rather envious of Yuuri.

His pen started moving again, almost on its own.

“I have so much to talk to you about! So many things I wish I could ask you!

Like, do you have snow where you live? What do you do for fun?

I love to ice skate. I hear that you do, too. Please keep it up!”

Victor looked down at his writing, leaning his head against his free hand. Yes, it looked good. He was secretly quite proud of how far his writing had come, even if it wasn’t amazing.

Victor let out another little sigh. Back home, he always raved about Yuuri to everyone with what limited knowledge he had of his soulmate. But now, when he actually had the chance to talk to Yuuri… well, he was a little speechless! How frustrating.

He decided to wrap up the card. It was shorter than he would have liked, but it was better than nothing.

“I don’t know how long I have, so I will finish now!

Sorry for eating your katsudon!”

He paused slightly before writing the last line.

“Love, Victor.”

He felt a little silly, saying ‘love.’ They hadn’t even met. Victor knew he was a hopeless romantic, but there was no guarantee that Yuuri would feel the same way he did when they eventually met. Besides, not all soulmate bonds ended up romantic. Many soulmates would meet, only to find themselves better as close friends, while others would find a partner in someone they were not bonded to, leaving their bonded soulmate to fend for themself. It wasn’t unheard of. But it was conventional for most people to at least try and identify their soulmate, even if just to stop the switches from occurring.

Victor recapped the pen, neatly folding the paper up into a little square. He reached out across the table to Hiriko.

“When I leave, can you pass this to Yuuri for me, please? Tell him to read it on his own.”

Yuuri’s mother gave him a smile. “Of course, Vic-chan. I’m sure he will be overjoyed.” She tucked the paper into the pocket of her apron. “In the meantime, I do insist you have some more katsudon. I really don’t think Yuuri will mind.”

Victor was a little skeptical about that. He certainly knew if anybody tried to eat his favourite food that he would not be a very happy Victor. But.. it smelt oh-so-delightful… and mother knows best, right?

He pulled the bowl back towards him, attempting to hold the chopsticks the way Mari had showed him earlier. It felt a little easier this time.

Victor had just managed to finally pick up a piece of the tantalizing looking pork before the uncomfortable feeling in his stomach told him that he was just going to have to settle for kasha. And school.

Damnit. It had been nice while it lasted.

 

Chapter Text

“Yuuuuuuri! You’re going to be late for school!” There was a fervent knocking at the door.

Yuuri groaned, burrowing deeper under his duvet, pretending not to hear his sister. The knocking only intensified.

“Come out, Katsudon!! I know you’re awake in there! Or do I have to come in and get you myself?”

Yuuri stuck his head under the pillow, waiting for the inevitable. It was October 13th and he really did not want to go to school. Mari would have to drag him out of bed if she wanted him to.

The inevitable didn’t take long, and Yuuri whined pathetically as Mari stormed into his room and threw off the futon. He latched onto his pillow as she pulled at the back of his shirt.

“Leave me alone, sis,” Yuuri mumbled into his pillow. “I think I’m too sick to go to school…” He feigned a cough for good measure, and Mari released her hold on his pyjama top. Turning over weakly,  he saw Mari scowling, hands on her hips.

“This is about Health and Sports day, isn’t it?” She snorted. “Come on Yuuri, it isn’t that bad! It was way more fun at elementary school, you should enjoy it while it lasts!”

“But Mari.. You know what happened last year...”

Mari sighed, reaching out a hand to muss Yuuri’s hair.  “I know, kiddo. It makes me mad that that still gets you down! If those boys try anything again, I’ll beat them up for sure! Your skating and ballet is awesome, it’s not like you’re unfit!” She turned to leave. “If we leave now, we can still get to school on time. I’ll wait ten minutes.” With that, she strode out, slamming the door behind her.

Yuuri let out a defeated huff. Tough love, huh. Sitting up, he swung his legs off the side of the bed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. After patting his hand around the nightstand to find his glasses and putting them on, he wearily stood up and set across the room to find his uniform.

Yuuri had always loved sports day when he was younger. There were so many fun activities to do - sack races, the egg-and-spoon race, and relays galore. It had been a day he had always looked forward to - a morning of exciting activities was something he would take any day over sitting in a classroom.

But that had all flipped upside down last year. Yuuri had always been a fairly petite child, but earlier the previous year he had started gaining weight. It hadn’t really bothered Yuuri, kids had better things to worry about than that, and he was growing constantly anyway. His parents weren’t the slimmest of people, and Yuuri knew he kept fit through his skating.

Oh, and he had ballet now, too. He had started lessons when Mari had decided that she didn’t want to bother with the hobby anymore, and his mother had thought it a shame to give up the lesson slot with such a prestigious teacher. His ice skating coach had thought it a great idea too, saying that the skills Yuuri learned at ballet would definitely complement his skating.

Yet despite all that, Yuuri still let that incident from last year get him down.

He had been competing in a 100m sprint heat against some of the other boys in his year group. The firing gun had shot, and-- bang! They were off.

Yuuri remembered sprinting for his life. He focused on running as fast as he could, and nothing else. His arms were churning, his feet were flying. 100m wasn’t far, he could see the finish line, he was going to win, and then--

A foot.

Yuuri had tripped, falling spectacularly into the dirt on his face. He had looked up through cracked glasses lenses only to see the other boys speeding across the finish line, chortling and laughing at him over their shoulder.

“Piggy!”

“Fatty!”

“Go run in the girls races, dancing piggy!”

“Yeah! We don’t want you here!”

Yuuri had slowly gotten to his feet, clutching his shattered glasses. It hadn’t taken long for his teacher to race over to him, but by that point, hot tears were already carving paths down the grime on his cheeks.

He had hardly heard his teacher comforting him as she had lead him away from the race to the first aid tent. The boys’ insults were the only thing that filled his mind.

Piggy. Fatty. Piggy. Fatty. Piggyfattypiggyfattygirlywedon’twantyouhere

Yuuri loved his dancing and skating. He wouldn’t give them up for anything.

It just hurt to know that there were people out there which didn’t like his hobbies. He couldn’t understand why. What he did for fun didn’t hurt them, so why should they care?

He couldn’t stop the tears from falling as the nurse cleaned his scraped knees. He was inconsolable. Even a lollipop and thoughts of the fun events to come like the tug of war couldn’t cheer him up, and eventually the nurse had rung up the inn and quietly told his parents to take him home.

Yuuri had fallen straight into his mama’s arms once he got out of the car with his dad, and she had rocked him gently while he cried, like back when he was just a baby. It had taken about an hour and a few cups of tea until Yuuri was ready to talk, and it had all come out in an upset and sniffly rush.

His parents were upset too. They assured him his weight was fine, his hobbies were awesome. They wanted to ring the school and make sure that the boys got a punishment for what they had done. But Yuuri hadn’t wanted a fuss. He had just wanted to go to sleep.

Yuuri shook his head, feeling his tie slip out of his hand. This was no time to space out! Mari was waiting for him! Dropping to his knees, he picked up his tie, crudely tying it around his neck. It would have to do for now, Yuuri thought, searching for his shorts.

He wasn’t honestly sure why the thought of the athletics day still bothered him so. The boys’ that had tripped him over hadn’t bothered him much since - his teacher had given them a fierce scolding, and on days he wasn’t walking to the rink with Takeshi or Yuuko, Mari would do her best to meet him at the school gate if she had no club activities.

Yuuri knew he was fit. He knew he could do fine at the sports day. He knew he should be relaxed and looking forward to the day. But he just couldn’t. How sad it was that those mean comments stuck in his mind more than all the kind ones he had ever received.

Yuuri pulled on his sweater, socks, and shoes, stuffing his PE uniform into his backpack. Hoisting it onto his shoulder, he cast one more forlorn glance at the bed before pushing his way out of his room

Mari was waiting by the front door of the inn, necktie ruffled as Yuuri had always come to expect it to. She was tossing an apple in her hand, which she threw to Yuuri. He clumsily caught it, catching it against his chest.

“No time for a proper brekkie today, kiddo. But you gotta eat something, at least. Otherwise you’ll have no energy for sports.” She opened the door, turning back towards the hall “We’re leaving!”

Yuuri heard a pattering of feet, and seconds later his mother and father had Yuuri and his sister tackled in a hug. “Take care, take care!” gushed his mama. “You’ll be amazing at the sports day!”

Mari rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah…”

“I-I’ll do my best,” stuttered Yuuri, pinned in place by his parents’ embraces but still clutching the apple. They pulled away almost reluctantly. His mama pulled out a large box from the pocket in her apron.

“You almost forgot your bento, sweetheart! I made a special one just for today to wish you good luck! The rice balls are your favourite!”

Yuuri took the bento gratefully, shrugging his bag off his shoulder to put the lunch inside. “Thank you so much, Mama. You really didn’t have to, though…”

She only tutted. “Nonsense! Only the best for my superstar boy!” She gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I know you’ll do great today. Go out there and get em and don’t let those other kids get you down!” His father gave him an affectionate shoulder clap as he resettled his bag on his shoulders.

“Thank you mama, papa--” was all Yuuri got out before his sister dragged him out the doorway, screeching that they were going to be late. His parents had waved until Yuuri and Mari turned the corner and could no longer see them.

Yuuri had been mostly quiet on the way to school, in part due to nerves and in part due to him nibbling away at his apple breakfast. He felt nervous. Mari filled the silence rambling about school friends and assignments and the fact that Yuuri should be very glad he isn’t seventeen and ‘grown up’ like her yet.

Maari walked him to the school gate despite Yuuri’s insistence that she would be late for her own classes, but she only shrugged, playfully messing up Yuuri’s already uncombed hair even more. “Anything for my little bro! Good luck out there, kiddo! I know you can do it!”

Homeroom had passed in a blur, and it wasn’t long before Yuuri found himself out on the school field in PE gear surrounded by the entire rest of the school, marching round the field for the annual parade.

The events order was done by age, and so the youngest children had their races first. Yuuri sat a little way from his classmates on a grassy mound while doing his stretches. The sun was warm and the sky was blue; it was a perfect day for a sports day really. Yet, as Yuuri watched the younger children’s races, he sourly thought that he would rather be anywhere else.

A familiar voice jolted him out of his stupor. “Yuuri!”

Yuuko was crouched in front of him, concern in her eyes. Her hair was tied up with a red ribbon.

Yuuri shook his head. “Oh, hi Yuuko.  Sorry, I was just thinking about something else…”

Yuuko frowned. “I hope you aren’t stressing too much about today! It’s meant to be a fun day, remember!”

Yuuri sighed. “I’m trying not to. I just can’t seem to help it.”

Yuuko gave him a fond glance, pulling him into a hug. “You’re gonna do great today, I just know it! Takeshi and I will be cheering for you, okay?” She pulled away, firmly clapping his shoulder. “I’m not meant to be here right now, so I gotta run! Good luck today!” She scampered away before Yuuri could get another word in, and Yuuri sighed, a small smile creeping onto his face despite itself. He was lucky to have a friend like her.

Leaning back on the grass, Yuuri watched the clouds drift across the sky. An alarm sounded - the 6 and 7 year old races must be over. Yuuri felt a knot twist in his stomach. Why on earth did the track events have to be first? He would prefer to do the fun stuff first. But instead, he had to suffer through the sprints and relays before he could do any of that enjoyable stuff. The fear he would be tripped again felt like a dark rain cloud hovering inside his mind, and Yuuri felt his stomach lurch again. He wearily put his hands on his tummy. Now’s not the time to get sick. Come on. You can do this. Deep breaths.

But before he could think anything else about his aching stomach, everything went black, and Yuuri found himself somewhere else.

Specifically, in front of a adorable brooding blonde child in cat onesie who looked like he wasn’t very impressed.

Oh, crap.

The child was looking at Yuuri almost expectantly, and Yuuri’s mind had chosen this moment to go completely blank. He kicked himself for not trying to learn more Russian. He hadn’t got much further than the very bare basics. He could only hope this kid wasn’t speaking much yet. He looked to only be around 2 or so.

“Uhm.. Hello?” he tried hesitantly. He started a little at how deep his voice was comparatively to his own. He sometimes forgot that Victor had a few years on him.

The kid only frowned, instead deciding to intently stare at the couch.

“My name is..  Yuuri,” he tried in shaky Russian. Well, he was Victor right now, really. But for whatever reason, the child turned to him, tilting his head to the side.

“Yuuri,” repeated Yuuri. The child pointed at himself.

“Argh.. No..”  Yuuri mumbled in Japanese. Settling his hands firmly on his hips, he decided to try again. “My name is Yuuri,” he enunciated, pointing to himself.

The kid frowned. “But I’m Yuri!” he insisted, tacking something on the end of his sentence in Russian that Yuuri wasn’t able to catch.

It seemed like too much of a coincidence that this child would be his namesake, so Yuuri just decided to roll with whatever made the kid happy. He wondered who he was in relation to Victor. A younger brother? A cousin? He shrugged. He had bigger things to worry about.

‘Yuri’ was tugging at his sleeve now, pointing at the television with his free hand. “Watch tv?” he questioned.

Yuuri quickly scanned the room. There were heaps of interesting things to see - his eye caught on a towering trophy case that glinted in the corner of the room. He didn’t have time to go and investigate though; Yuuri knew a kid Yuri’s age needed constant monitoring to not get into trouble.

He couldn’t see any kids toys or anything else kid-appropriate to occupy Yuri’s interest, so he let out a sigh. “Okay,” he answered in shaky Russian. At that, Yuri darted over to the couch with surprising speed, and began attempting to climb on top of it. He was far too short however to ever have a chance at making it, so Yuuri hooked his hands under the young boy’s armpits and hoised him up.

Yuri spun round, sticking out his tongue at Yuuri and crossing his arms in an almost indignant manner before blurting out “I can do it!” He then proceeded to grab the throw draped over the back of the couch, pulling it over himself and nestling underneath it until only his small hooded face was visible, still pouting.

Yuuri shook his head, bemused, and turned back to the television. It was fairly large; not as big as Yuuri’s one back home, but to be fair Yuuri’s family only had such a large television because of their inn. They would often display sports games on it during evenings for the patrons.

After fiddling with the buttons for a few seconds, he managed to turn the screen on. Some news channel roared to life, a serious looking newscaster churning out words too fast for Yuuri to ever have a hope at catching any. He pressed the channel change buttons quickly, hoping to find something acceptable for a toddler to watch, eventually finding some bright coloured show that looked kid friendly.

He turned back to Yuri. “Is this okay?” he asked, pointing at the TV screen.

Yuri scowled. “Don’t like that one.”

Yuuri bit back a sigh. “Let’s keep looking, then,” he murmured to himself in Japanese, continuing to press through the channels. A music channel. Some reality TV channel. Another news show. A documentary channel--

“That one!”

There was a high pitched squeal from behind Yuuri, and Yuuri let out a gasp, clutching his chest in fright. For God’s sake. He needed to stop being so jumpy all the time. He shuffled backwards, taking in a better look at what was actually on the screen.

A family of tigers appeared to be grooming each other. He had no idea what the narrator was saying, but when he spun back round to Yuri, he was leaning forward, eyes shining. He looked totally enraptured.  He seemed to jolt out of his daze when he realised Yuuri was looking at him, and he pointed to the ears on his kigurumi. “I’m a tiger! Me too!” He even gave a roar for good measure.

Yuuri only chuckled, hopping back up onto the couch and quietly sliding himself underneath the throw with Yuri. Yuri didn’t seem to notice the disturbance - he was now sitting bolt upright, eyes transfixed on the tigers.

Yuuri took the chance to lean back on the couch, running a hair through his hair-- oh. Victor’s hair was even longer than before, if that was even possible. It felt strange to have hair long enough to tie up. Fumbling at the back of his head, he brought the thick braid over his shoulder. It was such a beautiful silvery colour. Fascinated, he rang his fingers over the dips where the strands of hair crossed over one another.

It felt really nice.

As he fiddled absently with the braid, he looked over at Yuri once more. He still looked just as absorbed as before. Yuuri thought of leaving him to do his own thing, but thought better of it. Who knows what a kid could manage to get into without supervision.

It was annoying, though. Switches were far and few between for Victor and Yuuri. And now, he was finally having one, only to be stuck… babysitting.

Ah well. Anything was better than sports day. He hoped Victor wasn’t having a hard time.

The two Yuri’s sat in comfortable silence, occasionally punctured by gasps of wonder from Yuri when the big cats did something exciting and responding chuckles from his older namesake.

He wasn’t sure how long it had been when Yuri’s eyes had started to droop. One moment he was upright and attentive, and the next he had been slowly swaying from side to side. Yuuri, who had been almost dozing himself, jolted alert with a start. “Yuri, are you okay?”

“Sleepy,”  was all the little Yuri managed, before pulling the blanket further up his chest. Before he had any time to react, the young blonde had nestled against his side, pinning Yuuri to the couch. Yuuri dared not move. In his experience, a sleeping baby was better than a crying one.

It had only been a few minutes before the toddler’s breathing slowed, indicating to Yuuri that he was asleep. With his free hand, Yuuri fumbled with the remote, turning down the sound on the television. The documentary had now moved on to tropical birds.

Yuuri looked down at Yuri, an amused smile playing on his lips. What a sweet kid. He couldn’t be too mad at him, for stealing his valuable switch time.

After all, there would always be other occasions.

At some point, Yuri’s onesie hood had fallen down. His long blonde fringe fell messily over his forehead, and Yuuri found himself absently stroking the toddler’s hair.

Yuuri had hardly slept last night from nerves about sports day. He was pretty tired himself, come to think of it...

 


 

“Yuuri! Oh my god! You totally aced those guys!” Yuuko let out an excited squeal, clutching Yuuri to her chest. “I knew you had it in you! You are so awesome!”

Yuuri blinked warily. He was face to face with a very hyper Yuuko, and most definitely not a sleeping blonde child. He must have swapped back to his own body while dozing.

“Eh? What did I do?”

Yuuko pulled away, hands firmly on his shoulders still. “Must be the shock of winning, huh? Aw man, Yuuri! You were crazy out there! You totally just won the 100m finals for your age group! And I even saw you stand up to those boys! I’m soooo proud of you!” She affectionately rustled his hair.

Yuuri was still stunned. Had Victor gone and… won his race for him? No, multiple races. Yuuko had said this was a final. He touched his chest, above his heart. It was still pounding.

“Aww.. thank you, Yuuko,” he murmured weakly, rubbing the back of his neck. She gave his shoulders a squeeze.

“You should go have a drink, rest up!! I think your grade’s class relays are next, right? From memory I don’t think you were in that, even though you totally should have been!”

Yuuri gave her an airy nod. “Okay, Yuuko. I’ll see you later. Thanks for cheering for me, I really appreciate it.”

She gave him a big grin before flouncing away, ribbons in her hair fluttering. “I’ll see you on the podium later I hope!” she called over her shoulder as she ran.

Yuuri slowly went and walked back over to the grassy hill where his class was sitting. A few people came and congratulated him, which Yuuri politely replied to. All he really wanted was to be alone and process things for a bit.

It didn’t seem that he was to be granted that luxury, though. The gang of boys that had taunted him for the past year or so were approaching. Yuuri braced himself for the worst.

The four of them finally reached him, their ‘leader’ Tatsuya at the front. He scuffed a shoe in the dirt in front of where Yuuri sat.

“So,  Katsuki…”  He trailed off, looking almost awkward. “We just wanted to say.. Congrats. You did really well out there. You were super fast. We.. we shouldn’t have said the stuff we did. This year, or last year. We’re… sorry.”

The three boys behind Tatsuya wouldn’t meet his eyes, but Tatsuya did, and Yuuri was grateful for it. “It’s okay. I accept your apology.” He was going to be the bigger person. He knew that Victor had probably stuck up for him during his switch. Yuuri was going to try and remain confident, like he knew his soulmate would have wanted him to be.

“Ah..um..” Tatsuya looked almost bashful, as if he hadn’t expected it to be that easy. “Well, thanks. See you round, I guess. We have to go do the relay now, so…”

Yuuri gave a small understanding smile. “It’s okay. I get it. Good luck.”

Tatsuya gave him a nod, before him and his cronies scampered away.

Yuuri flopped back onto the grass, watching the clouds amble across the sky.

Thank you, Victor, he silently said to the sky. I’m lucky to have a soulmate like you.

The rest of the day continued without issues, and Yuuri found himself… actually enjoying himself, for once. He got a few personal bests in some of the field events, and helped his class win the tug of war. He cheered as hard as he could for Yuuko and Takeshi when they competed.

He felt a little guilty when he felt the weight of the gold medal around his neck that afternoon, though. It hadn’t really been him that won that race. He comforted himself in the fact that at least, well, Victor hadn’t really cheated. He didn’t bring any running superpowers with him during his switch; he had won those races based off Yuuri’s fitness ability alone. It wasn’t like a test or exam where Victor could have had extra knowledge to skew his results.

Victor had obviously brought a superior mindset with him, though. Yuuri would have got far too flustered and nervous to perform very well.

He’d have to talk to Mari about it later. He knew that she had some kind of device that allowed her to stop switching when important or dangerous things were happening, like if she was driving or doing an exam. She hated to wear it, though, always kicking up a humongous fuss when she had to. Mari actually avoided driving so she didn’t have to wear it. Yuuri wondered what could really be so bad about it. It was just a bracelet, right? Maybe Yuuri needed to get one.

It wasn’t an ice skating day that day, which Yuuri was glad for. He was much too tuckered out from the sports day. Mari met him at the school gate, as she had promised she would. He had stuffed his medal into his backpack - he didn’t want a fuss. They exchanged greetings and started walking. He obviously hadn’t done a very good job at hiding his medal, for no sooner had they started walking there was an exclamation from Mari.

“Ooooo, kiddo! What’s that hanging out of your bag?”

Yuuri tried to shy away, stammering an excuse, but Mari was already upon him, tutting like a mother hen.

“Kiddo, you gotta put your stuff more securely in your bag! Otherwise you’re gonna lose it!” She hooked the lanyard of the medal, pulling it out of his rucksack. Dangling it in front of her face, for once Mari looked a little lost for words. “Is this yours?” she asked, surprise evident in her voice.

Yuuri snatched the medal back, slinging his bag off his shoulders to stuff it inside more securely this time.

“Of course it’s mine. You know I’m not a thief.” He raised an eyebrow at her, clambering to his feet and hoisting the backpack back onto his shoulders.

She shook her head. “I-I know. I’m sorry!” She playfully punched his shoulder. “I just can’t believe you did it! Won something! After what happened last year and all… I’m so proud of you! What was it for?”

“Naw, thanks sis. It was for the 100m race.” Yuuri could feel himself blushing a little. It was nice to bathe in the praise. But… a part of him knew he had to tell the truth. He didn’t really earn that medal. His sister was someone he knew he could trust.

As they walked, his sister talked about her own school sports day. School was stressful at Mari’s age, Yuuri knew, and sports day came as a welcome respite from study.

Mari had always been a keen sportswoman. She had done ballet from a young age, but also played a huge variety of other sports over the years, including baseball, volleyball and archery. It came to no surprise  to Yuuri that she had won a few more titles this year, but he congratulated her warmly like he always did, because he really was happy for her. That and he knew that even if Mari was dismissive of her achievements, it always made her happy on the inside to receive praise.

“Y’know, sis…” Yuri trailed off, kicking a stone idly along in front of him. “I ah...  have something I need to tell you.”

Mari reached over and rustled his hair affectionately. “Don’t sound so glum. It can’t be that bad. Go on, kiddo. You know you can tell me anything.”

Yuuri sighed. “Well… the thing is, it wasn’t really me that won that race today. I had a switch… Victor did it for me.” He kicked the rock away. “Does that count as cheating? I feel really guilty.”

Mari gave him a small smile. “I wouldn’t worry, champ. It wasn’t like you were sitting a test or something.”

Yuuri frowned, glancing over at his sister. “I still feel a bit bad, though.  Victor would have really been put on the spot… Isn’t there some kind of thing you can wear to stop switches from happening?”

When Mari met his eyes, they were sad. He’d never seen a gaze like that before. She sighed, shaking her head.

“Yeah, there is. But they really suck. You should enjoy your switches while you don’t have to wear one.”

“But--”

“Kiddo. Do you want your switches to stop?”

Yuuri blinked. “W-well, no, not really--”

Mari huffed. “Good. You’ll learn one day. For now, you’re better off not knowing. With your skating, you’ll probably have to get a bracelet soon anyway.”

Quietly, almost to herself, she murmured, “How on earth has Victor evaded his for so long?”

Her tone of voice clearly indicated End Of Topic, so Yuuri let it drop.

But he couldn’t help but keep wondering what his sister had said in her cryptic message.

He was going to have to do some research.

Chapter Text

Victor was 14 now, and his life was already busier than most of his peers. Most of his friends would wake up, spend the day at school, go home. Spend their evening doing teenagery things - sleeping, gaming, saying they were doing homework but really just wasting time on the internet.

Victor didn’t have the luxury of the free time his classmates did. But that was his choice, and he didn’t really mind - he wouldn’t have it any other way. Victor liked being busy.

Most days, he would go to the local ice rink to practice after school. He had sessions with his coach three times a week, but he would often go down to the rink when he didn’t have lessons on just for the sake of it.

On days he didn’t skate, however, Victor would usually just head straight home, often with his friend Georgi. He would plow through homework, do a bit of Japanese revision, talk to Kanade if she was around. Sleep and repeat.

The one thing Victor was probably most jealous about when it came to his non-skating friends was the fact that some of them had the time to have part time jobs. Between school and skating, Victor had hardly had the time to even consider the prospect.

Victor did quite like the idea of getting a job, though. Though he had no idea what his parents income was, one thing he did know was that a large amount of it got spent on letting Victor pursue his love of skating. He always felt a little guilty about that, especially when he had to ask for money, even if it was just for buying essential things or paying for bills at school. A part-time job meant that he would be able to have a little money to support himself. It meant he could buy books, or videogames, or music, if he wanted to, without the pangs of guilt he currently got.

It also meant that Victor might be able to one day save enough money to visit Japan. To visit Yuuri. Victor smiled wistfully. If he could have one wish right this moment, he knew what he would choose in a heartbeat.

His skating had already let him travel a fair amount, but there was no guarantee how far he would be able to go with his skating professionally, and hence couldn’t pin any hopes of travel on it.

Still. Victor was only 14. Even if he had the time to find a job, there was no guarantee anybody would hire him. He was barely just a teenager. He seemed to have hordes of admirers at school, but sadly the amount of girls (and even a few boys) fawning over him was not a good indicator of his employability. They were of no interest to him - he was always polite and friendly to his admirers, but Victor had every intention of saving himself for his soulmate, if that was Yuuri wanted of course. For various reasons, many people did date others before meeting their soulmate, and while Victor didn’t judge anybody who did, he personally felt it wrong and would never do it himself.

This particular day, Victor didn’t have a lesson, and was walking home alone. Georgi had had some errands to run that afternoon.

Victor let out a sigh, his breath misting in the crisp air. He couldn’t wait to get home and warm up.

As he rounded the last corner before he arrived home, Victor was greeted with a flurry of noise and movement.

A large moving van was parked outside his house, moving men constantly ducking in and out of the rear of the vehicle, boxes and crates in their arms. A young couple stood in the driveway of the house next door to Victor’s. The man appeared to be directing the moving men, whilst the woman was bouncing a toddler in her arms.

Ah. The new neighbours!

Victor had not had much to do with his previous neighbours. They were an older couple, and had auctioned off their house once their last child moved out of home, saying that the house was too big and empty for just two. Victor had been hoping that the new neighbours might have a child close to his own age. It would have been nice to make a new friend.

Victor knew his parents wouldn’t be home from work yet, so he decided to take it upon himself to be the first of the Nikiforov family to do an introduction. Giving himself a determined nod, he picked up the pace a little, crossing over the road to where the new family were.

“Yes, into the lounge, that’s fine, thank you!” The man directed yet another moving man into the house. He turned to Victor. “Oh, can you please take that crate to-- wait, you’re not a mover! My bad.” He ran a hand through his hair, giving Victor a quizzical onceover. “My bad. It’s a stressful time for all of us. To whom do I owe the pleasure?”

Victor was used to the stares. His silver hair was well past his shoulders these days, and his build was still very slim and lithe. Many people couldn’t pick that Victor was male until he spoke. It didn’t bother him, though.

“Victor Nikiforov. I live with my parents next door. It’s nice to meet you.” He gave the tired-looking man a smile.

The man extended a hand to Victor, and Victor hastily removed his glove before shaking it. “I’m Andrei. Andrei Plisetsky. It’s very nice to meet you too, Victor.”

Andrei glanced over his shoulder, to where his partner was standing talking to a mover. “Larisa, dear, come meet our new neighbour!”

She looked up from her conversation, and gave him a nod, before giving a brief word to the mover and trotting over to Andrei, toddler still perched in her arms.

She awkwardly extended the hand that wasn’t holding the child up to Victor, and he shook hands once more. “Hi there! I’m Larisa. I guess you’ve already met my husband, Andrei. This is our son, Yuri.” Larisa turned to her child, a fond expression in her eyes. “Yuri, do you wanna say hi to our new neighbour?”

The small boy peeked out from a long blonde fringe, blue eyes large and curious. He met Victor’s gaze for a brief moment before glancing away again.

Victor grinned. “It’s nice to meet you, Larisa. You too, Yuri. I’m Victor Nikiforov.”

Yuri only blinked at him with large owl eyes, before wrinkling his nose slightly and burying his head into the crook of his mother’s neck. The cat ears on his onesie hood were promptly smooshed.

Larisa gave him a smile. “Sorry. Yuri’s a little shy. He doesn’t say much yet. But we’re getting there!” She shifted the child’s weight onto her shoulder. “Sorry though, did you just say Nikiforov before?”

Victor nodded.

Larisa tilted her head questioningly. “I know it's not an uncommon surname, but you wouldn’t happen to be Sergey’s son, would you?”

Victor was momentarily stunned. This woman knew his father? “Yes, that’s right. How do you know him?”

Larisa smiled, a faraway look in her eyes. “We were good friends in high school but sort of lost contact with each other. He was a few years older than me. What a coincidence that we are going to meet again like this! You look so much like he did when he was younger.”

Victor grinned. “That’s so cool! I bet he will be happy to see you again. So, have you moved from very far away?” asked Victor conversationally, leaning on the picket fence that divided their houses.

Andrei was the one to respond. “Not really. Our old house was still in this city. This house is a little closer to Larisa’s new job, though, and we wanted to get a house with a few more rooms now that Yuri has gotten bigger.”

“Ah, that’s nice! What do you do, Larisa? If you don’t mind my asking.” Victor tucked a long lock of silver hair out of his face.

Larisa shook her head. “Not at all. I work as a vet. Well, I did before Yuri was born. This is the first time I’m going back to work since he was born. It’s very exciting! I’ve missed my job. But I’m going to miss being home with Yuri all the time, too.” She glanced fondly at Yuri, who was beginning to wriggle in her grasp.

Larisa seemed to notice the large backpack on Victor’s back for the first time. “Oh, forgive me! You’ve probably just come home from school, and here we are blabbing away. You’ve probably got places to be.”

Victor shook his head. “No, you’re quite alright! I’m in no rush today. And don’t apologise, I was the one who came and interrupted you.”

Yuri was beginning to grumble, flailing his arms in Victor’s direction. Victor tilted his head to the side.

“Is there anything I could help you with? You all seem very busy.”

Larisa resumed her bouncing of Yuri. “Oh no no, really, we’re alright. I couldn’t possibly ask someone we have just met to help us out. It’d be terribly rude.”

Victor shrugged. “Really, it’s no trouble. I don’t have anywhere to be. Neighbours help each other out, right? If you need anything, I’m free for a bit.”

Andrei looked skeptical, but Larisa’s face split into a grin. “Well, in that case, thank you so much! We’d really appreciate that,” she gushed. “Would you watching Yuri for a little while? He got so restless being cooped up in the car the whole drive here. And I can’t really let him run around now, he’d just trip over one of the moving men…” Larisa gave up on holding the fidgeting child, placing him on the ground where he wobbled slightly on his tiny feet. “It’s so hard trying to direct all these moving men while keeping my eyes on him too.”

“Yeah, I don’t mind.” Victor looked down at Yuri, giving him a smile. He only got a blank stare in response, so Victor looked back up to the parents.

“Is there a room where the men are done moving things in that I could sit him in?”

Andrei crossed his arms. “Larisa, I’m really not sure about this. We’ve only just met the boy, and for all we know he could be lying.”

Larisa gave Victor another once over. “Well, he definitely looks like Sergey. I trust what he’s saying.”
Andrei did not look pleased. “He is a stranger to us! How can we entrust him with our son? You being friends with his father however many damn years ago doesn’t mean jack. Victor could be completely different from his father!”

Victor began to back away. “I don’t want to cause any trouble here. I can just head home, if that would be best?”

Andrei’s eyes darted to his wife’s momentarily. She was holding a steady gaze, Yuri clinging to her leg. He let out a deep sigh,before slowly turning back to Victor. “I see that I can’t win here, but I still don’t like it. If Larisa trusts you, then I’ll do my best to do the same. They’ve finished moving things into the master bedroom now. It’s out of the way of the other rooms in the house so you should be relatively undisturbed I would think... Hang on for a second, I’ll go and grab you some of Yuri’s things from the car.”

Victor dipped his head in response, a bit shaken, and Andrei turned, walking over to a car which he hadn’t noticed before. He guessed that the family must have followed the moving van in their own vehicle.

It didn’t take Andrei long to return, a backpack slung over one shoulder and a blanket in his other arm.

“If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you where the master is. Please, do come in. Larisa, are you able to bring Yuri?”

Larisa nodded, scooping up the child much to his very vocal discontent and following her partner. Victor hurried after them, following them into the entrance of the house after pulling off his shoes. At one point he nearly cut off one of the moving men, to which he muttered a quick apology before darting into the room Larisa and Andrei had disappeared into.

Stacks of cardboard boxes littered the room, along with a metal frame for what looked like a disassembled bed. Andrei dumped the backpack on the ground along with the blanket, while Larisa gently put down Yuri. He rose to his feet, turning to Victor.

“Now, you take good care of our boy, hear? He got fed on the journey so he shouldn’t get hungry. Some of his favourite toys are in the backpack.” Andrei still looked on edge, and Larisa padded over to him, reaching an arm out and rubbing his shoulder.

“He’ll be fine, love. I’m sure we can trust him.”

Andrei let out a noncommittal grunt, muttering something incomprehensible, before shouldering his way out of the room. Victor stared after him a little warily. Being the extrovert he was, Victor was quite often able to charm and connect with anybody he spoke to. Andrei’s brusqueness had thrown him off.

Larisa sighed, reaching down to stroke Yuri’s hair. “Sorry Victor. He isn’t usually so curt. Andrei’s normally very easy going, but I think the move has seriously stressed him out. He’s really overprotective of Yuri too, ever since…” She bit her lip.

Victor didn’t have to ask to know something bad had happened. “It’s okay,” he said quickly. “I don’t want me being here to worry him even more. I can go, if you’d prefer that. Really.”

Larisa shook her head. “No, no, I’d love you to say! I’m a vet, I can tell that someone has a good heart when I see ‘em, really. And Sergey was a good man. I don’t think you’re any threat to our son. Besides, you’re doing us a massive favour by taking us off our hands for a while.”

There was a holler from down the hall, and Larisa glanced over her shoulder. “Ah, they need me to keep assisting. You’ll be alright here with him?”

Victor nodded, looking over at the small blonde, who was staring at a box with fascination. “It should be fine.”

Larisa smiled brightly, the grin lighting up her otherwise weary face. “Great! I’ll leave you two to it then. Yell if you need anything. I’ll come and check on you in a bit.” She turned to her child. “Yuri, this is our new neighbour, Victor. He’s going to look after you for a little while, okay? I’ll be right down the hall, so don’t worry about me. Be good, my kotyonok.” She pressed a kiss to the top of Yuri’s head, and with that, rose to her feet and hopped out the doorway, shutting the door softly behind her.

Victor blinked at the now shut door for a moment, before turning around to face Yuri. He was still fiddling with the same box as before and didn’t seem as distressed as Victor thought he would be considering that he was only two and had just been left alone in a room with a stranger.

Yuri seemed to be attempting to open the box, but judging by the thick strip of packing tape sealing it closed, Victor doubted he would be successful any time soon.

Shrugging his own backpack off, Victor diverted his attention to the other backpack Andrei had given him. Opening it, Victor found a variety of toys that he assumed had been used to entertain Yuri on the journey. Victor began to take them out, lining them up in a row along the floor. All the toys were fairly small with no missing parts to lose - probably sensible choices for an extended amount of time inside a car. There were a whole range of things -- plastic animals, cars, blocks, stuffed animals too.

“Yuri,” Victor called softly, “I’ve got some of your toys out for you.”

The little blonde turned from where he was standing by the cardboard box, eyes peeking out from under his long blonde fringe. Yuri seemed to ponder the toys for a moment, before looking back to his box with a resolute “nah”.

Victor bit back a sigh. Of course this couldn’t be easy.

Getting to his feet, Victor padded over to the toddler, flicking his braid over his shoulder.

Victor had always liked kids - perhaps it was because of his desire to have a younger sibling growing up. However, his experience actually working with children was limited to the encounters with his friends’ brothers and sisters, or at places like the park and library. This meant that he didn’t really, well… actually have much idea of what to do when it came to babysitting a toddler. He was going to have to wing it.

Squatting next to Yuri, Victor looked at the cardboard box. “What are you up to, Yuri?” he asked kindly, even though he could already see what he was doing.

Yuri didn’t look at him, and kept picking at the tape with his small hands. “Want open,” he mumbled as he fiddled.

Victor bit his lip. “Hmm. Do you think that’s a good idea? I’m sure your parents would like to unpack their own things.”

Yuri sat down stubbornly, still picking at the edges of the tape. “Hmmph.”

Victor pushed his hands up off his knees, coming back to a standing position. Surveying the room, Victor had a sudden idea. While Yuri continued to pout at his box, Victor quickly gathered up all the toys he had laid out before. There was a small cardboard box Victor had spotted by the door which had already been emptied, and Victor dumped the toys inside, loosely smoothing the remains of the tape across the opening.

“Hey Yuri,” called Victor as he picked up the box and moved it to the middle of the room, “I found a box that you can unpack, if you want to.”

Yuri’s attention was piqued almost instantly, and he tore his gaze away from the box, wandering over to where Victor was sitting cross-legged on the ground. Yuri grabbed the box from in front of Victor, pulling the duct dape that Victor had half-heartedly stuck across the top off in a few quick motions. It stuck to his hand, and he shook it aggressively, attempting to get rid of it.

Victor reached out a hand. “Here, can I help you?”

Yuri snatched his hand away. “I can do it,” he grumbled.

Victor shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

After about a minute of frustrated noises, Yuri extended his hand back to Victor, pouting. “Help, please.”

Chuckling, Victor pulled the tape off his hand. “There you are.”

Yuri met his gaze for a moment, before turning to the now open box and tearing into it eagerly. Fishing inside, he pulled out a plastic figurine of a tiger. His eyes lit up, and he carefully placed it beside himself. He continued to pull each toy out of the box and line them up, clearly taking interest in some of them more than others.

Yuri had pulled all the toys out of the box now, and his hand met thin air when he reached in for another. He almost seemed to shrug before pushing the box away and looking back at his row of toys. Most of them were animal figurines, but there were a few odd cars and other items in the row. Yuri picked up the tiger again, thrusting it out to Victor suddenly. “Roar!”

Feigning surprise, Victor held his hands up in the air, flinching away from the tiger’s open maw. “Argh! Don’t eat me, please!”

Yuri burst into a fit of giggles, leaning forward with the tiger even further and backing Victor into the corner of the room. Victor cowered, hiding his face in his hands and curling up on himself. “Oh, this is the end! Goodbye, cruel world!” he cried dramatically.

More giggles ensued as Victor was “attacked” by the tiger figurine. After enduring it for a while, Victor flopped to the ground, eyes shut and tongue sticking out. “Oh, I’ve been slain!”

There was a gasp, then there were small hands on his shoulders, shaking him. “Wake up!”

Pretending to quake with effort, Victor slowly opened his eyes, wearily pushing himself up off the ground. “What, I’m still alive? What miracle might this be?”

No sooner had Victor got himself propped upright, Yuri was back in his face, this time holding out another figurine to him - a lion. This one didn’t seem to be ‘attacking’ him, so Victor assumed that Yuri wanted him to have it. Tentatively, he took the figurine, sitting it on the palm of his hand.

Yuri still had his tiger figurine clutched tightly in his other hand. Dropping to his knees, he dramatically slammed it down on the carpet with another roar.

Victor quirked an eyebrow. “Oh? Is that a challenge?”. Falling to his own knees, he placed his lion in front of him.

Yuri obviously didn’t intend for them to start on a level playing field, for as soon as Victor’s lion was on the ground he was tackling it with the tiger, letting out battle cries that sounded more cute than scary.

The squabbling battles between the figurines continued for quite some time, and Victor found that he was enjoying playing with Yuri despite feeling like a bit of a wally. Though it would have been quite easy to win all of the ‘fights’, Victor let Yuri take the majority of the victories and this seemed to make him quite pleased. He was aware of the gentle open and close of the door at least twice -- probably Larisa checking up on them.

Victor had lost track of time when Yuri’s mother tiptoed back into the room for the third time. They had played with the animals most of the session, but had eventually moved on to the cars and some building blocks. Yuri, tuckered out from his playtime and travels, had fallen asleep against Victor’s side where he had been sitting to catch his breath. His head lolled gently to the side, soft blonde wisps of hair floating around his head like a halo. Victor had been too scared to move him in fear that he may wake up. As much as he liked children, he didn’t know much about them. He did know, however, that a sleeping child was usually better than a grumpy one. He had sent a one handed text to his parents to let them know where he was, and had otherwise occupied his time by attempting to braid his hair one-handed.

A fond smile spread across Larisa’s face as she saw the pair, and she quietly crouched down, scooping her arms expertly under the toddler and in one smooth movement bracing the child against her shoulder and standing up again. She jerked her chin towards the door before padding out of the bedroom, and Victor hurriedly got to his feet. He stumbled somewhat awkwardly after her after grabbing his backpack, the pins and needles in his feet making them feel numb and prickly.

By the time they got partway down the hall, Victor was regaining some feeling in his feet. They turned into another room; this one a fair bit smaller than the one they had just been in. The room was full of various crates and bags, though amongst the clutter a large cot had been set up with some bedding and stuffed animals inside. A small nightstand was next to the cot, a little device that Victor could only assume was a baby monitor crackling next to it. Larisa gently lowered Yuri into the cot, pulling the blanket up over his shoulders. She bent down and gave him a quick kiss on the forehead, before pulling away and gesturing back out to the hallway. Victor followed her outside, and Larisa crooked the door so it was just ajar before leaning back against the hallway wall with a sigh. Locking eyes with Victor, she fixed him with a brilliant yet tired smile.

“We’ve just moved in the last boxes now. Andrei’s signing things off with the movers. Thank you so much for looking after Yuri for us, even when you really didn’t have to. It was a really big help, knowing that we didn’t have to worry about where he was or anything. I really appreciate what you did, and Andrei might not look like he did, but I know he feels the same.” Still smiling, she continued. “You two looked really cute in there. I almost didn’t want to come and steal him back, but I know you’ve probably got places to be.”

Victor smiled back. “Ah, don’t worry. I’m not in any rush. And it was my pleasure. We’re neighbours, right? We have to help each other out when we can.”

Larisa laughed. “You’re already a lot friendlier than our last neighbours were. I’m looking forward to meeting the rest of your family.” Digging in the back pocket of her jeans, Larisas produced a cell phone, flipping up the lid. She pressed a few buttons before offering it to Victor. The screen showed the menu for inputting a new contact. “I was wondering if you’d like to exchange numbers? Yuri seemed to take a liking to you. I know my own kid, and he probably wouldn’t have fallen asleep no matter how tired he was if he didn’t like you somewhat. We might need a babysitter again sometime. I’m sorry if it's a little sudden, but we don’t really know anyone in this area…”

Victor had already taken the phone, and was punching in his mobile number. He had got his first phone for his 13th birthday to stay in touch with his parents when he was out late at practices. Victor was quite pleased that he had finally managed to memorise the number. He added a smiley face next to his name before hitting save and handing it back. “It’s no worry all. I’d love to come and help out with Yuri again sometime.”

Larisa tucked the phone back in her pocket. “That’s great news! I was hoping you’d say that. Actually, before I forget…”, she stuck her hand into her other pocket, bringing it back out with a few notes in her outspread hand. “Here you are. For your help today. We really put you on the spot and you didn’t have to help us, but you did. That was really kind of you.”

Victor’s gaze flitted between the notes and Larisa’s face. He waved both hands in front of himself. “Oh no, no, it’s okay! I wasn’t expecting payment or anything. It wouldn’t be right for me to take this…” He trailed off weakly as she grabbed his wrist and pressed the bills firmly into his hand, folding his fingers around them.

“It’s okay, Victor. We wouldn’t pay you if we didn’t want to. You’ve earned that money. Yuri can be a wee nightmare sometimes.”

A little awed, Victor pocketed the money. It was a sizeable emount considering he hadn’t been with Yuri for more than 2 hours, but considering that he was only 14, any amount of money seemed like a lot to Victor. The only money Victor usually ever got was at birthdays and the occasional pocket money. He bowed his head. “Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.”

Larisa punched his arm playfully. “Come on now, no need to be so formal. My husband might be a bit of a grump, but I promise he doesn’t bite! He should be about finished now with the movers. I’d offer you some tea or something, but nothing’s really set up here yet…”

She continued to chatter as they walked out to the front steps. The moving truck had just trundled away. Andrei turned from the driveway to where Larisa and Victor stood on the steps. He frowned. “Where’s Yuri?”

“He fell asleep on Victor, so I’ve put him down for a nap. Everything fine with the moving men?” She trotted down the steps to him, leaning against his shoulder.

Andei touched his forehead to hers briefly. “Yeah. They’re all good. We’re finally in our new home.” Raising his eyes, he met Victor’s gaze for a few seconds, eyes guarded. Then, he sighed. “Thanks for looking after Yuri, kid. I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge you.”

Victor shrugged. “It’s alright. It’s always hard moving to new places, and I was a stranger to you. I’d probably have acted the same in your position, especially if a child was involved.”

Andrei put an arm around Larisa. “Yeah. I’m glad you understand. Sorry again, though. You’d probably best be heading home. Your parents might be wondering where you are.”

Victor had texted his parents to say where he would be, but he took Andrei’s words as a cue to make his leave. “Yeah, I’ll be heading off then. It was lovely to meet you three. Keep in touch?”

“That would be great, Victor. Take care now.” Larisa sent him off with a wave, and Victor cheerfully returned it before sliding on his shoes and darting down the steps to the footpath that would lead to his own house.

Once he arrived at his front door, Victor kicked off his shoes unceremoniously. Fumbling in his pocket, he found his house key (somehow he hadn’t managed to lose this one) and got it into the keyhole on the second go. He was quite thankful for the rush of warmth that enveloped him once he stepped inside - it was starting to get chillier these days.

Wandering upstairs to his room, Victor dumped his schoolbag on the floor and flopped down on top of his bed. He pulled his hair tie out from the bottom of his braid and ran a hand through his hair to loosen it. Staring up at the ceiling, Victor looked at the assortment of things he had stuck on it - a current chart of Kanji he was learning, a few skating posters, and numerous glow in the dark stars.

What a day it had been. Victor would have never been able to guess yesterday that today he would be finishing up the day with new friends and potentially even a new job.

He was one lucky guy.

 


 

It had been around two weeks before Victor and the Plisetsky’s had proper contact again. He would sometimes see them in the driveway or the garden and would always say hello, but their conversations never amounted to much.

He had been lying on his belly on top of his bed, reading through his geography homework, when his phone had vibrated with a text. Curiously, he flicked on the display, expecting the message to be from a school friend.

[7:07pm] Hi Victor. We’ve been invited to a work dinner next week and were wondering if you would like to babysit Yuri for us? No pressure, of course, but we would love to hear from you soon. Many thanks, Larisa and Andrei

Victor’s eyes lit up, taking the phone in both hands and rolling over onto his side. Fridays were normally games nights at his home, but he was sure that his parents wouldn’t mind him doing some babysitting instead.

[7:09pm] Hi Larisa and Andrei! YES I would love to! :) Just me know the details. Thanks, Victor x

It had only been another few minutes before his phone buzzed again, and a message had arrived expressing the gratitude of the Plisetsky’s and the details of their event.

Quietly smiling to himself, Victor flopped back onto his back. He was rather looking forward to seeing Yuri again.

If he was entirely honest with himself though, it wasn’t that Yuri that he really wanted to see.

He hadn’t switched with his Yuuri for what felt like an eternity, and it was killing him.

Victor had searched “Katsuki Yuuri” on the internet multiple times, but all the search results had come back either with nothing or in Kanji he had no hope of reading or translating easily. He had really been kicking himself for not leaving a phone number or address last time they switched, but in all honesty, the excitement of switching usually drove any rational thought from his mind pretty quick.

His eyes flitted for a brief moment to his bedside table, where he knew (as much as he would like to forget) his switch preventer lay stuffed in the back of his drawer inside a pair of gloves.

Some countries had set rules on when a switch preventer had to be obtained. For example, in Japan, Victor knew that every child received one on their 12th birthday if they had not had to get one earlier due to doing high risk activities. Other countries had no “set” age as such when a child had to get their first preventer, but usually it was by the early teens around 13 or 14 at the latest when things such as examinations and tests would start to be seriously compromised by a soulmate swapping in. Often it was such that if you were not wearing a preventer, you would actually be denied entry to these kinds of exams.

Preventers were required for many other situations, too. You could get very serious fines when driving if you were caught not wearing your preventer. People in high risk jobs, such as pilots or surgeons, were required to wear a preventer at all times if they had not yet met their soulmate.

Naturally, people who had already met and confirmed their soulmate connection were exempt from this, as switching would stop upon their union and proper recognition of each other. A card from the government, in Russia at least, would be issued to both members of the soulmate pair to prove that their switching had stopped. Policemen and some other groups also had a piece of advanced technology that was able to scan the brain and pick up on if someone's switches had ceased or not, which meant that less people could get away with lying about their switching status.

Victor had got his preventer when he was around 13 upon Yakov’s insistence. Though the only instance so far where Yuuri had been exposed to Victor’s ice skating was during their very first switch, Yakov had been concerned that an untimely switch from Yuuri now would put a dent into Victor’s promising skating career.

Well, that was what Yakov said, anyway. It didn’t mean that Victor actually listened.

His argument didn’t have any faults, as such. Sports had different policies on switches to things like exams - during a switch, it was not as if the person's physical body was changing, so while preventers were always recommended, not all sports would require you to wear one as switching if anything would usually give you a disadvantage.

Figure skating was one sport where preventers were not required. This was mostly due to the fact that even if hypothetically the skater’s soulmate happened to be an excellent figure skater, a) there was no reliable method of predicting when switches would happen for it to be of advantage, and b) the sudden jump into another body was a very disorientating experience - even if a soulmate could adjust quickly to their partner's body, they would have to somehow know the partners routine and be able to pick up where in the routine their soulmate had left off. All in all, a switch was far more likely to ruin a competitor's chances at gold than improve them. Skaters that choose to forgo the bracelets would do so at their own risk - unless it happened to be a person’s first switch, competition organisers would not be responsible or liable for any switches affecting a competitor's performance.

Victor knew the risks that came with him refusing to wear his preventer. He could lose a title or medal, or even get an injury that could cripple him forever. Though he knew his mentor’s advice was sensible, Victor was far too stubborn (and maybe just a little stupid) to ever listen to it.

Victor hated the sensation of wearing his bracelet. The only times he had ever worn it was when he was getting it fitted initially, and once for his high school entrance exam out of necessity. He could only describe the feeling as being like a dark, stormy cloud being over his head.

Victor didn’t exactly know the specific science behind it all, but he did know that researchers had poured countless hours into researching soulmate connections, and the switch preventer had been made when new research revealed a small area in the brain linked directly to switches. Supposedly, the almost “depressive” feeling that most bracelet wearers experienced was linked to the temporary severing of the soulmate connection from that particular part of the brain. It wasn’t enough of a terrible feeling to get in the way of everyday life when worn sparingly, but certainly with prolonged or constant wear could put a person in a very bad place.

This was one of two main reasons Victor avoided wearing his preventer like the plague. His preventer made him feel miserable, and when he was miserable, he couldn’t skate. Victor poured his heart and soul into every performance he made, and he couldn’t do it without feeling 100%.

The other reason was that Victor was not by nature a selfish person. If he was the only one affected by the bracelet, perhaps he would give into Yakov's demands sometimes for the old man’s sanity.

Sadly, that wasn’t the way it was. In simple terms, preventers would sever the connection for both soulmates in the pair even if only one of them was wearing the bracelet - so the soulmate without a bracelet would still experience the same symptoms as the one who was wearing one.

It was a bit of an endless cycle, really. Preventers were worn to prevent switches from happening, which in turn lead to both parties feeling miserable… but since no switches were occurring, the soulmates were no closer to finding each other and therefore were left feeling depressed for longer.

Scientists were constantly on the search for new and less intrusive ways of switch control, but little progress had been made since the breakthrough of preventers a few years before Victor was born. Right now, it was either preventers or nothing - so Victor chose not to wear his, as he didn’t want to put Yuuri, whom he knew was younger than he was, through any unnecessary suffering. There was medication that you could take to alleviate the symptoms if you or your soulmate had to wear their preventer for an extended period of time, but it wasn’t really an ideal solution. It was huge problem worldwide - mental illness rates were climbing higher and higher every day.

Victor knew he was being a little dramatic - sparing use of bracelets was really a necessity and he understood that. But, for the options he did have a choice in, Victor would make sure to always choose the option that wouldn’t pain his soulmate.

Sighing, Victor rolled back onto his side. His homework stared smugly back at him, and his cellphone had no new notifications.

He hoped he would get to meet Yuuri soon, Victor thought to himself, as he reluctantly started back on his work.

 


 

Friday rolled around quicker than Victor expected it to - perhaps because he had been actually quite looking forward to seeing Yuri again.

Yuri was to come to the Nikiforov’s house for the evening so that Victor’s parents would be quickly available if there was an emergency. Though the Plisetsky’s were only going to be a phone call away if something happened, they decided that for Victor’s first proper babysitting session it might be best to do it with some other adults around for support.

Victor had been half-heartedly reading a book in his room, waiting for the Plisetsky’s to drop Yuri around. He had spent most of the afternoon tidying up the lounge to make sure that there was nothing a toddler could get into or injure themselves on.

Upon hearing a rapping at the door, Victor lept out of bed, pattering down the hall to open the front door.

He threw it open with a big smile to the faces of the Plisetsky family. Both the adults were dressed up - Larisa in a nice dress and Andrei in a smart looking button-up - so Victor could only assume the place they were going for tea would be quite nice. Yuri was in Larisa’s arms, while Andrei had Yuri’s rucksack in his, presumably full of the toddler’s things.

“Hi there! You all look great. Please, do come in.” Victor stepped aside from the doorway to allow his neighbours to come in.

The Plisetsky’s came inside the entranceway. Larisa gently deposited Yuri on the ground, while Andrei held out the rucksack to Victor, which he took.

“Thanks again for doing this for us, Victor,” smiled Larisa. “It’s really handy having someone so close by that we can trust with Yuri.”

Victor felt a small swell of pride. “Aw, it’s no trouble at all. Anything to help.”

Andrei looked at his watch. ‘We’d probably best be off. You have our numbers if you need anything, okay? Everything Yuri should need is in his backpack, and remember that if he wants food the heating instructions are on the pack, there’s a spare change of clothes in there too, and--”

“Sweetheart, he’s going to be fine. I’m sure Victor will do a great job.” Larisa wrapped an arm around her husband and gave him a squeeze.

Victor nodded, running a hand through his hair. “Yeah, I got it. I hope you have a great time tonight. I’ll see you in a few hours?”

Andrei nodded, before crouching down to Yuri, who had been watching the conversation with mild interest. “Be good for Victor, alright?” He pressed a kiss to Yuri’s head. “Ma and Da are going to leave now. We’ll see you very soon, love.” With that, he stood up again, giving Yuri a final hair ruffle.

Larisa did a similar routine with Yuri before giving Victor a smile and turning back towards the door. “Thanks again Victor! We’ll try to be back for around 10:30 to get Yuri off to bed.” Larisa gave him a wave as she left, Andrei following his wife quietly.

Once Victor couldn’t see them anymore, he gently pulled the door shut. Yuri stood by his feet, looking forlornly at the door.

“Gone,” he said sadly.

Victor crouched down to meet Yuri’s gaze. “Just for a little while! We’re going to have lots of fun tonight, okay? They’ll be back before you know it.”

Yuri looked at him doubtfully, letting out a noncommittal hum. Victor took his hand.

“Come on, let’s go into the lounge.” Getting to his feet, he guided Yuri gently into the next room, Yuri’s backpack in his other hand.

Plopping the backpack on the ground, he let go of the toddler’s hand. “So, what would you like to do first?”

Yuri said nothing, instead looking around the lounge in interest. It wasn’t really anything flash, but Victor supposed that it would look quite huge through the eyes of a toddler.

He was just about to try and prompt Yuri again when there was a splitting pain in his side, and Victor gasped, clutching his ribs. He squeezed his eyes shut, feeling nauseous.

When he opened his eyes again, he was met with a cloudless blue sky and warm sun tickling his skin.

Victor let out a delighted shriek, lifting his hands in front of his face to examine them. They were still much smaller than his own.

The delightedness disappeared as quickly as it came as Victor realised that his little soulmate was now going to be stuck babysitting a toddler for god knows how long, potentially not even speaking a word of Russian.

Hopefully Yuuri would be alright. Victor’s parents were just around the corner if something were to happen, anyway.

Glancing around the area, Victor took in his surroundings. Everyone seemed to be dressed in sports gear. He was sitting on a grassy bank which overlooked a large oval-shaped running track. Down on the track, children appeared to be getting ready for running races. In the middle of the oval, other sports activities were happening. Victor could see an area set up for high jump and another for shot-put near him, but there were many more spread out through the rest of the central oval.

A group of students numbering 20 or so sat near Victor. A stressed looking older woman with a clipboard was flitting between them. Maybe Yuuri’s teacher?

The woman had just finished speaking with a small group of boys, and was getting up to move away from them. One of the boys saw Victor staring, and leaned over to whisper into his friend's ear before giggling.

Victor frowned. What was their problem?

Before he had any more time to think, the boys were on his feet and running over to him. There were four in total.

One of the boys, the tallest of the bunch, stuck his tongue out at Victor. “Hey, Piglet. Ready to take a nice trip again this year?”

Victor’s eyebrows drew together, partially in confusion, partially in anger, partially in result of the effort going into interpreting the informal language. Piglet? “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Another one of the boys jeered now. “Surely you can’t have forgotten? Sports day last year.” He made a clucking noise with his tongue. “Aha. I get it. You’re so chicken that you don’t even wanna remember it happened!”

Victor could only assume that something had happened to Yuuri during the last sports day. He couldn’t help but think that the boys in front of him had probably had something to do with it.

Victor was naturally defensive of people that he cared about, and he couldn’t suppress the rising feeling of anger growing in his belly. However, he did his best to keep calm. For all he knew, these boys could just be trying to rile him up. Victor hadn’t assumed Yuuri to be an aggressive person and didn’t want to do anything out of character for him. In that moment, it hit him how little he actually knew about his soulmate. He looked down at his hands, fiddling with a tuft of grass.

“I don’t really think about what happened last year anymore. This year is a new year.”

“Pftt.” The ringleader of the boys blew a raspberry. “Well, I’d still watch your back, Katsuki.” He almost comically pointed two fingers at his eyes before flipping his hand round to point at Victor’s. “Otherwise, you might end up in the nurse’s tent again.”

Victor had almost forgotten what primary school drama was like. If it was him that the threats were directed at, Victor would have probably even been amused. However, right now he was in Yuuri’s shoes, and anything stupid he said right now could stick with Yuuri for the rest of his schooling.

He decided to bluff and hope for the best. “You guys got told off for what you did last year. The same thing’s gonna happen if you do it again.”

The ringleader only faltered for a moment. “Yeah, well, who cares! Taking away your medal was so funny that it was worth it.”

Victor blinked once before raising his head from his knees where he had been fiddling with the grass. Forcing all the venom he could muster into his gaze, he locked eyes with the outspoken boy.

Quietly, but forcefully, he said, “If you lay one finger on Yu- me, in the races, there’s going to be trouble.”

He turned back to his grass. “What have I ever done to you, anyway?”

One of the other boys spoke this time after a pregnant pause. “Well, you do girly stuff! You dance, and you skate, and--”

Victor’s head shot up again, meeting the new speaker in the eyes. “So? So what if I do. It’s not like I’m making you do it. It doesn’t affect you. Why do you have to bully me about it?”

Alarm flashed in the other boys eyes. “Bully!? We -- we aren’t bullying you! Just…”

Victor cocked his head to the side. “It’s not bullying? Tell me what it is, then.”

The boys seemed lost for words. The smallest one who had said little so far finally piped up with a hesitant “....teasing?”

Victor crossed his arms and said nothing, continuing to meet the boys’ gazes steadily. They shifted uncomfortably.

Just then, the intercom crackled and came to life.

“The grade 4 track events for boys and girls are now complete. Grade 4 boys, please make your way down to the center oval for the beginning of your field events. Grade 5 boys, please make your way down to the track for your first track race. Thank you.”

Victor could see the boys a little way way down the hill from him getting to their feet, and Victor took the cue that he should also be getting a move on. His four interrogators had used the moment to flee down to the oval themselves.

Pushing himself to his feet, Victor carefully stepped down the grassy hill. Everyone seemed to be lining up in their classes. He could see the four boys who were taunting him just before grouped together with some of the other boys from the hill behind a man holding up a sign with what Victor assumed must be his class’ name. Quickly making his way over the running track, Victor joined the end of the line.

There were probably 15 or so of them all together - just the boys from Yuuri’s class. Two other lines were forming alongside theirs, both of similar lengths. It amazed Victor that class sizes were so large in Japan - the boys here only made up half of the class and yet their numbers were nearly already as many as there would have been in a full class of boys and girls at Victor’s primary school.

Everybody seemed to be all lined up now. A man was going along the groups and assigning everyone a number from one to five. Victor was given the number five.

“Now, everyone, please go and line up in your number groups.”

Victor went over to the line where the boy in the front was holding up a number five sign. Two of the boys who had given him grief earlier were also there. What luck.

The loud man moved a few people around to even out the numbers, before beginning to give them all instructions.

It was in their numbered groups that they would run their initial heats. The top three from each heat would make it into a semifinal heat, and then the top three from the semifinal heats would run once more in the final. From what Victor could gather, they’d only be running 100 metres or so for this race. It seemed like there would be some longer races, but not until later on in the day.

Victor’s heat was the last one to go, being number five. He sat with the other boys in his group in the middle of the oval, watching the first few groups run. It seemed fairly straightforward - you took your place in one of the lanes of the running track, a gun to signal the start of the race would fire, and then you’d run your little heart out.

He could feel the eyes of the boys who had confronted him earlier burning into the back of his head, but he paid them no mind. He didn’t want to give them any attention now, if he could help it. They didn’t deserve it if they were bullying his Yuuri.

After a couple of minutes, they were up to Victor’s heat. The boys which had got a top three placing so far grouped back down in the central oval area, whilst the boys who had not went back to their class groups on the grassy hill overlooking the running track.

Victor made sure to place himself between two boys who were unfamiliar to him. That way, hopefully no ‘incidents’ would occur during the race. He could still feel the eyes boring into the sides of his head, but Victor stayed focused, staring ahead down the running track.

He was sure that he had a decent shot at doing well. If Victor had kept track of their ages correctly, Yuuri must have been 10 years old by now. He flexed a hand experimentally. Yuuri was certainly shorter than Victor had been at his age - but that was to be expected considering that Asian people were often petite and also that Victor’s parents were taller than average. If the nasty boys’ words were anything to go by, it seemed like Yuuri still danced and skated - which as well as making Victor’s heart swell with pride also probably meant that Yuuri was quite fit for his age.

He was shaken out of his thoughts when a loud voice began to count down. “Three…”

“Two…” Victor put both hands down on the ground, one knee touching the earth with the other stretched out behind him.

“One…” He narrowed his eyes, felt the tension building in his legs, coiled and ready to strike.

The signal gun blasted into the air, and Victor was off, his legs pushing him into motion and his arms churning at his sides.

Victor had always been one for a good race, but today, with Yuuri’s success on the line, he felt like he was flying. His eyes were only for the finish line, and Victor pumped his arms as fast as he could, never looking down.

100m seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, and Victor found himself at the finish line, exhilarated and a little bit breathless. He turned to see the last of the boys finishing their sprint - he was pleased to see one of the boys from earlier hadn’t made it through. It was one less thing to worry about, anyway.

The facilitator of the race took him and the other two boys aside, and congratulated them briefly before taking them over to the group of other boys who had made it into the next races. Half the group was then taken away for the first semi final, so Victor took the moment of respite as a chance to lie back and enjoy the warm sun on his skin. It had been a long time since they had had similar weather in Russia. He shut his eyes.

There was a shuffling next to Victor, and he was aware someone had just sat down next to him.

“So, Katsuki, you won your heat, huh?”

Victor made a small noise of affirmation, not bothering to open his eyes.

The boy scoffed. “Don’t get cocky just because you won one race. You’re not going to be so lucky next time.”

Victor sat up, opening his eyes to fix the boy with a challenging glare. Being older than Yuuri, he was far above this petty bullying from his peers. “What is your problem? How does tripping me up in a race make you feel good? You’re only going to get in trouble again.” Try as he might, Victor could barely conceal the venom sneaking into his voice. Despite being a master performer on the ice, his acting skills seemed to succumb to his emotions when it came to Yuuri.

The boy shrugged. “It’s funny. That’s why.”

Victor let out a low exhale. "I have already told you. Leave. Me. Alone. I am not going to tolerate your bullying anymore. Understand?"

VIctor was just about to give the boy a full-on verbal hiding when -- for the better or worse, who knows -- the man co-ordinating the races was shouting for those in the second semi final to assume their positions.

Biting back his words, Victor got to his feet, brushing the loose grass off his shorts. He paid the mean boy who was just next to him no mind as he walked over to the running oval. The teacher in charge ushered Victor into a lane. He was roughly in the middle, and the boy currently to his left wasn’t one he recognised. Good.

Sadly, that luck was short lived, for no sooner than Victor had counted himself lucky he found the lane to his right being filled by the very boy who had just been sending jibes at him. Victor could see said boy sticking out his tongue at Victor from the corner of his eye, but Victor paid him no heed, staring solidly ahead instead. Maybe the boy hadn't taken him seriously.

Everyone was now lined up, and Victor could hear the announcer beginning his countdown.

“Three… Two… One….”

Victor was crouched close to the ground, muscles taut and ready to spring. When the signal gun fired, he was off like a rocket.

As he ran, Victor paid more attention to his feet this time. He was painfully aware of the boy next to him matching his pace, and sure enough - - the next thing he knew, the boy stuck out his leg into Victor’s lane.

Victor had been bracing himself for something like this though, and leaped, neatly sailing over the leg and landing on the other side. A few more seconds and he was at the finish line; the boy who had just tried to trip him left in the dust after losing his momentum.

Victor was congratulated briefly and given a moment to catch his breath again, then ushered back to the start line for the final. He could see that none of the four boys who had harassed him had made it to the final, and Victor tilted his head, silently grateful. The runners who hadn’t made it into the final were making their way back to their class groups on the grass. The boy which had stuck his leg out had been picked up on by a teacher and was standing off to the side with her. Victor couldn’t catch what they were saying, but the teacher looked less than pleased. Victor hoped that something would come of it so that Yuuri wouldn’t come to harm again.

The countdown was repeated once more, and at the boom of the signal gun, Victor was off. This race was probably the closest of the three he’d been in -- all the less athletic people had been weaned out to leave only those who did pack some speed.

This time, he didn’t watch his feet. He was too busy focusing on the finish line, on the churning of his arms and the beating of his heart as he tore across the grass to the finish line. For Yuuri, he would win. For Yuuri, he’d do anything.

The moment he crossed the finish line to the cheers of the watching students felt incredible. Taking in deep breaths, hands on his knees, Victor looked up, a big smile spreading across his face. He’d done it!

In the few seconds after his victory, Victor felt that familiar, queasy feeling in his stomach again, like an elevator going up, and he knew his time in Yuuri’s world was done.

Shutting his eyes, Victor smiled, knowing he could be proud of what he had accomplished. He had won his races, and hopefully deterred the boys a little from giving Yuuri a hard time again.

 


 

 

When he opened his eyes again, they were fuzzy. Rubbing his eyes, slowly his living room came back into view.

Little Yuri was curled up next to Victor, nestled in against his side and pinning him to the couch’s armrest. His were shut and his breathing was even. He must have been tuckered out.

Letting his head flop back onto the couch, Victor smiled, absently reaching up to stroke Yuri’s hair.
What a day it had been.