The first time he’s taken to see an ophthalmologist, he’s seven years old and he has yet to figure out how to pronounce ophthalmologist, so he and Grandpa call him the ‘eye doctor’ and leave it at that.
The eye doctor is a tall adult with black hair, round glasses and an impassive expression. Yuri dislikes him right away and says so out loud and meaningfully, but Grandpa doesn’t pay him any mind. Even though he’s a small child, just shy of the one-meter mark, Yuri is already known for disliking virtually everyone he meets. His complaints about all the weird paintings and the creepy machines in the doctor’s office are dismissed with a quick reprimand to be quiet and listen .
Yuri, unaware of how those words would later come to define him, does as he is asked without further objections.
That afternoon, he doesn’t understand a word of what the eye doctor tells them.
He tries, of course, because at seven years of age Yuri Plisetsky is already different from all the other children. He is quicker on his feet and sharper with his tongue. He is determined, above all, practically the embodiment of the word, but determination is not enough to make him comprehend all the medical jargon that enters one ear and escapes through the other in a blur of white noise.
His eyes scan the eye doctor’s office for the umpteenth time as Grandpa talks to the man. After trying out most of the machines, Yuri has concluded none of them are scary anymore. They are just things now. Yuri loves puzzles, but he always loses interest as soon as he finds the answer.
He is about to ask if there are any more machines he can see when Grandpa stands up without warning. He’s so brusque that he knocks back his chair in his haste, startling everyone in the room.
“Come, Yuri. We are leaving,” he announces.
Yuri follows him without any protests. He had been starting to grow bored anyway.
On the way home, he asks about what happened; what’s wrong with him. Grandpa shakes his head and squeezes Yuri’s hand tighter before he replies.
“Nothing. That doctor doesn’t know anything. I’m gonna take you to a better one, Yuri. I’m sorry I didn’t do it before.”
“Alright,” Yuri says because he is seven but he is not dumb.
He knows the reason why Grandpa took him to medical practice set up above a Chinese restaurant is the same reason why sometimes the heat went off in their flat for days on end. Why they ate rice with beans on most nights and used up all the bits of a chicken, including the bones, whenever they bought one.
He knows that his skating lessons, which started two years ago, eat up most of Grandpa’s pension. In essence, he knows that they were poor and that he is only making them poorer, but there isn’t anything he can do about that for now. Soon, though, Yuri is going to become the best figure skater to ever grace the ices of Russia and then he and Grandpa will never have to visit a doctor like that one again.
Until then, they just have to go forward.
“Your vision isn’t so bad, is it, Yurochka?” Grandpa asks.
Yuri shakes his head. He has trouble seeing at night, and when he moves his head too quickly, his vision blurs entirely, but they’re not big issues. He’s fine. He can see.
“Good,” Grandpa says.
Yuri wants to ask more questions, but he’s soon distracted by the promise of piroshki and his favorite movie, The King and The Skater, before he goes to bed.
His second visit to an ophthalmologist occurs five months later.
This time, he’s taken to a nice practice in the heart of Moscow, one with a waiting room bigger than their entire flat. The walls in this practice are all a remarkable shade of white, so pristine they seem to shine. One of the nurses gives Yuri a lollipop to suck on while he waits and Yuri, who was raised on the concept of ‘nobody gives anything for free’, has to look to his grandfather for guidance before he accepts the offer.
He doesn’t complain during any of the tests the doctor asks him to perform. Most are like the tests from his last visit to an eye doctor, but there are new ones as well. He has his blood drawn — just a precaution — and he gets another lollipop in return for his courage, for the way he bites his bottom lip in order to stop the tears.
Just like the first time he visited an eye doctor, he doesn’t understand any of the medical jargon coming from the man’s mouth. Only now, after he’s done explaining everything in complicated, convulsed words, the man turns to Yuri with a smile on his face and he explains everything in small words, using terms Yuri can understand.
Yuri listens. He bites down on his bottom lip and he does not cry.
The name of his condition is retinitis pigmentosa.
It’s an inherited, degenerative eye disease that causes severe vision impairment due to the progressive deterioration of the rod photoreceptor cells in the retina.
In other words: his eyes are sick, were always going to be sick and will only get sicker as time progresses. There’s no treatment for it, just glasses and maybe prayer, if you’re into that kind of stuff.
Grandpa doesn’t have the disease and he doesn’t know anyone in his family who does, which means Yuri got it from his father, who disappeared from the picture before Yuri was even born. Goddamn bastard.
Retinitis pigmentosa can manifest initial symptoms independent of age. This means some people only get it when they’re old and dying and they don’t even need to see anymore.
“The fact that Yuri got it at such a young age is not necessarily a bad sign,” the doctor says, but there are so many hidden lines behind his words that the statement falls flat.
The early stages of RP are compromised peripheral and dim night vision. As the disease progresses, patients experience progressive "tunnel vision”, which means they can’t see anything but what’s standing right in front of them. Yuri, who is just starting to feel firm on the ice, wonders what this means for his career. Can he even skate if he can’t see what’s around him?
Yes, his instincts tell him. He could skate with his eyes closed if he had to. Eventually, he will since the final stage of RP is blindness. Pure and total. No colors or shapes. No light. Nothing.
“Some patients never reach that stage. This is a progressive disease, which means with careful monitoring we’ll know exactly how you’re doing,” the doctor tells him.
He’s probably trying to sound reassuring, but Yuri can no longer hear him at this point. All he can hear are his own thoughts and the word blind going around his head like a nightmare.
Grandpa picks Yuri’s hand from where it’s lying by his side. He squeezes it and he does not let go, not as they try out glasses for Yuri, not as they leave the practice, not even after they get home.
“We’ll get through this,” he says. “You are strong, Yurochka. This is not your end.”
Yuri doesn’t know what to reply. He wants to cry. He wants to shout and to fight; kick, punch and bite until something bleeds. He is too young. He is afraid.
“You are strong,” his grandfather repeats, hugging Yuri close to his chest.
Yuri hugs him back with all the strength he has.
Here is what Yuri does: he throws himself into practice with all he has. He asks to be homeschooled so he has more time for skating and he loses himself to the ice. He takes gymnastics and then ballet when that proves to be not enough.
He practices with his eyes closed whenever he can, preparing himself for the future even after the doctor tells him his disease is progressing at a slow pace, meaning he still has at least ten, maybe twenty more years ahead of him before he loses his sight. He excels in every way he can, pushing his body to the point of breaking and then marching on after it does.
Since he cannot fight his condition, he decides to embrace it instead. He refuses to let his disease limit him, but he doesn’t mind it if it defines him because he knows it means he’s stronger for it. He learns to rely on his other senses and how to put all of that into his skating, turning pain and frustration into something poetic, something beautiful.
He moves to St. Petersburg by himself when he’s nine. He’s awarded a scholarship at one of the most prestigious ice academies in Russia, the one where Victor Nikiforov and other stars train.
Yuri doesn’t give a shit about any of that nonsense, but he does care about all they can teach him. He knows that with them he can fulfill his dream. He can be the best.
Going means leaving Grandpa behind in Moscow because the old man is too old to be moving cities and Yuri’s scholarship will only pay for himself. He can’t lie and say it’s a tough decision for him because it’s not even a decision. He has to go so he can improve. It’s the only way he can transcend the barriers in front of him.
Later, in St. Petersburg, some people comment on how remarkable it is for a child to grow up so quickly like he has.
He ignores their words and sneers at their awe. As cliché as it might sound, they don’t know Yuri or his story. He doesn’t tell them either.
He gets his first sponsor check when he’s thirteen, right after he premieres in the Juniors. He uses it to fill grandpa’s fridge with food and to pay the rent for the upcoming three months. He lives in St. Petersburg by himself now and he worries about his grandfather often, especially during the colder evenings. At least this way Yuri doesn’t have to wonder if the old man is staying warm and fed anymore.
For his troubles, he gets an ass whopping from his grandpa the minute his landlord — an old lady with seven cats and a gigantic beer belly — tells him Yuri stopped by earlier with a load of cash for her.
“Who do you think you are, boy, paying for my bills like I’m some kind of invalid?”
“Don’t be so stubborn, old man! I’m just doing what I should!” Yuri yells, pinching his grandfather in the arm before he makes a hasty retreat to his bedroom.
“What you need to do is focus on yourself and stop being such a brat!” Grandpa yells after him, making Yuri blow a raspberry at him before he locks the door behind him.
It’s all worth it, of course, so he hardly cares.
With his second paycheck, he buys himself a new pair of glasses. The old ones still work fine, but they’re ugly as shit and Yuri is desperate to replace them. He can’t look cool if he goes around wearing bottle bottom glasses that look like they came from a retirement home.
He orders his new pair from a specialized company in the USA. They’re custom-made and should adapt to his condition for at least three years before Yuri has to replace them. They’re also sleek as fuck, with a sharp cut and an onyx black frame. They’re cool .
A couple of people at the rink compliment him when they see his new purchase, but nobody pays much attention. With the exception of his coach, nobody here knows about his disease. They think Yuri is just a bad-mouthed kid with shitty eyesight and a dislike for contact lenses. Yuri doesn’t correct them, since the statement is mostly true.
The only thing they get wrong is that he would wear contacts if he could, but they don’t make any for people like him.
Whatever, though, Yuri doesn’t give a shit. He doesn’t need to see when he’s on the ice and that’s all that matters. He knows the rink better than he knows himself.
The glasses are a minor thing, even if he feels much better wearing his new pair.
Victor Nikiforov sucks.
No other word best describes the man. Victor Nikiforov is a thoughtless idiot, a worm with slightly better brain capacity than other worms, a hairless ape who flies to Japan without a care for anyone else, disregarding promises and something that Yuri would only dare call friendship if he had a gun pointed to his head.
Victor Nikiforov sucks and because Yuri is an honest person, but mostly because he’s angry and wants express that anger, he flies all the way to Japan to tell him that.
“Well, someone fucking has to!” he tells Yakov when the man calls him demanding explanations. He then hangs up the call without warning and buys himself a sweatshirt with a cool tiger print because he has fuck you money now and this is what people with fuck you money and a fashion sense do.
He also uses the opportunity to yell at Victor until the ugly buffoon lives up to his words and makes him a winning choreography for next season.
Yuri detests every single second he spends in Japan. He loathes Hasetsu and its ridiculous, mind-numbing hot springs. He abhors the food, which is gonna make him gain five kilos by the time he leaves. He certainly hates the people, who all smile too much and are always too nice, as if anyone could be that pleasant without having secret intentions. Most of all, he despises Katsuki Yuuri and his fat belly, his lack of strength and the way he blushes whenever Victor so much as glances at him.
Yuri leaves Japan as soon as he can and if afterwards he spends a lot of his time on his phone, texting Yuuko, Victor and Katsudon, that’s just to remind them of how much they all suck .
For Yuri, winning is not just about proving he’s better than everyone else.
That’s part of it, obviously, but there is more to it for him, unlike some people whose name begins with ‘Jean’ and ends with ‘dumbass’.
For Yuri, winning is something to live for. It’s the path beneath his feet, the arrows giving him direction. Winning is a will, a desire, an ache beneath his skin, settled deep in his bones. Winning is something to work for, the reason why he wakes up every unholy morning with the sunrise and goes to bed far after the sun has set.
Winning justifies all his aches, and there are plenty of those, even if Yuri makes it a point to never acknowledge them out loud. He always has blisters on his feet, to the point where they become constants in his life. His joints are going to putty and he’s twisted his ankle five times, torn a muscle once. His body is a canvas, spattered with shades of vomit yellow, nauseating purple and sickly green. He is a collection of bruises, old and new, and he catalogs them all, spends hours running his fingers over where it hurts and pressing in, memorizing the pain so that he can distinguish one injury from another by touch alone.
And then there are the competitions themselves. The rush he gets from performing, the elation he feels when the crowds call his name. Figure Skating is a niche sport, but their fanbase is nothing short of ridiculous. Yuri doesn’t care for the fact that he has his own group, but he can’t deny that it’s flattering.
He has given himself to this sport. His whole life, his body and his mind — it all belongs to the ice.
Sometimes late at night, Yuri wonders for how much longer.
His eyesight gets worse, progressively, just like the doctor told him it would.
Yuri works his way around it. It’s hard to avoid dizzying movements in figure skating, so Yuri doesn’t bother. Instead, he puts his longer spins on the end of his choreographies, when it doesn’t matter if he’s two seconds away from throwing up because his vision is so bad that it made the world twist and blur before his eyes. He spends hours upon hours practicing his movements with his eyes closed to help him build up resistance, always trying to go further than the last time.
Yakov thinks he’s insane, but Yuri doesn’t give a shit. As long as the old man continues to train him, he can think whatever he wants.
Without Victor there, Yuri feels compelled to take his place. He knows doing so is foolish. Victor is older and more experienced, plus trying to fit his role is exactly what people expect Yuri to do, but again, he doesn’t care about any of that rubbish.
All he knows is that his time is limited. He will not waste it.
Meeting Otabek is unexpected, befriending him even more so.
Yuri has never had a proper friend. He has family and rink mates, with the two groups sometimes blending into one. He has people like Yakov and Victor, who guide him on the ice. He has a lot of people he dislikes, some he would even dare call enemies.
But he doesn’t have a real friend. He’s never wanted one either, too afraid to get attached to people when he knows they’re bound to disappoint him sooner or later. Yet, when Otabek extends his hand to him and says, “you have the eyes of a soldier,” it hits something inside of Yuri, resonating deep within.
Yuri thinks that if anyone will understand him, it’s the quiet skater from Kazakhstan. The press calls him a hero. How heavy a weight that must be.
And to think Otabek remembers him, from so long ago. Back then Yuri had been nothing but an assortment of expectations. Now he’s still that but bigger, sharper.
He says yes when Otabek asks if he would like some coffee because he knows he’ll regret it later if he refuses.
The coffeeshop Otabek takes him to is near the city center, but so late in the day there aren’t many people there. They talk for over two hours before they’re interrupted by Annoying, Annoying 2.0 and the rest of the Holy Fucking Shit You’re Annoying gang. Yuri may or may not spend ten minutes mentally yelling at everyone until Otabek puts a hand on his knee and smiles at him like he just knows Yuri is currently berating at everyone inside his head.
Yuri doesn’t know what does it for him, if it’s the hand or the smile or the fact that he genuinely enjoyed talking to another human being for two whole hours, but something about Otabek does the trick and calms him down.
This inner sense of peace is short-lived, but it’s still a nice change from Yuri’s usual mood, which is composed of varying degrees of anger.
Otabek doesn’t take his hand off Yuri’s knee, preventing him from rising from his chair and throwing around a couple of punches when Victor and Katsuki announce they’re fucking engaged but will only do something about it if Katsuki wins gold. What a bunch of self-righteous dickheads. From Victor, Yuri always expected stupid like this. But for Katsudon to go along with it? They really were meant for each other.
Still. “They’re such dickheads,” he comments.
“They’re in love,” Otabek says. Yuri glares at him, but that only makes Otabek smile. His hand doesn’t budge from Yuri’s knee.
“Whatever.” Yuri huffs, crossing his arms over his chest.
Later that night, Otabek takes him back to their hotel on his rental bike. Both of them ignore Victor’s catcalls (fucking dickhead) and Christophe’s whistling (more predictable, but just as much of a dickhead in Yuri’s opinion). Otabek even goes as far as walking Yuri back to Yuri’s hotel room.
For a fleeting moment, Yuri entertains the thought of asking Otabek into his room, but he discards the idea in the blink of an eye. For all his self-proclaimed maturity, he still feels too young for something like that and anyway, he doesn’t even know if Otabek is interested.
Then again, Otabek just spent the past four hours protecting Yuri, driving him around and talking to him. Who would do that, if they weren’t the least bit interested?
Yuri, with his limited notions on friendship and romance gathered from all the crappy romance movies Mila has forced him to watch, struggles to find a good answer for that question.
“I’ve had a lovely evening. See you tomorrow, Yuri.”
Yuri nods, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “See ya,” he says. He doesn’t plan on saying anything else, but then Otabek doesn’t go anywhere, just stands there in front of Yuri’s open door with a look of pure intent on his face and Yuri feels compelled to fill the silence before someone does something stupid. “Good luck,” he adds and then he hugs Otabek, moving without thinking before he dashes inside his room in a hasty escape.
“I had a lovely night too!” he yells through the door after he’s closed it, leaning his back against the cold surface.
From the hallway outside the hotel room, he hears Otabek chuckle before he walks away.