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Looking So Long at These Pictures of You

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Yuri crawled out from under the bed, shaking his hair out. Dust showered down, making him sneeze.

“I guess this is what I deserve for not cleaning more often,” he muttered. He heard a sniffling sound from behind, making him turn around. Yuri’s mother was standing in his doorway, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. Yuri jumped to his feet. “Mom! Are you all right?”

His mother nodded, sniffled again, and waved her handkerchief at him. “I’m just being silly,” she said. “You were away in America for so long, and I never felt like this! But that wasn’t forever.”

Yuri patted his mother’s arm. He wasn’t good at crying people, not even his mother who knew that and didn’t care. “We’re staying in Hasetsu for half the year," he reminded her. "Victor would die without your cooking.”

His mother waved her handkerchief at him again. “I know, I know,” she said. “That’s why I said I was being silly. Get back to your packing.”

Yuri closed his door after her, leaning against the back of it as he looked all around his old bedroom, half packed away into boxes for the new apartment already. If he looked hard enough, he could make out discolored square outlines of the posters that used to hang on the walls.

+

“What?” Yuko slammed her hands onto the Ice Castle’s counter, startling Yuri and almost making him crush the cardboard tube he was holding. Almost. “That’s a limited edition, Yuri. It must have been expensive!”

Yuri nodded. “It’s okay. I saved up for it.”

The poster was a commemorative autographed exclusive, only available in Japan following Victor Nikiforov’s NHK Trophy win in his senior debut season. Yuri and Yuko had watched the NHK Trophy together on Nishigori’s big screen television. Yuko had to agree that Nishigori could take her out for ice cream afterward, and Yuri had said that wasn’t necessary, that they could just battle it out with the old men in the onsen. But Yuko went pink in the cheeks and said she didn’t mind. Nishigori and Yuko could be so weird about each other, but they mostly kept Yuri out of it, which was good. And he’d gotten to see Victor win on a big screen television without any customers changing to boxing or soccer at a crucial moment.

When Yuri got home that night, he critically surveyed his walls for the perfect spot. There were already lots of pictures of Victor on Yuri's wall, cut from magazines or freebies from the fan club, but this was the first official poster he'd ever bought. In it Victor's hair was pulled back into a ponytail, a silver river flowing behind him as he spread his arms and soared around the ice. Looking at it reminded Yuri of flying.

He put that poster next to his bed.

+

Yuri dove under the bed again and pulled out a dusty box. "What's this?" he muttered to himself. He pulled off the lid and uncovered a pile of posters, all of Victor at various points in his career. Embarrassment welled up as he remembered Victor first showing up at the house and banging on Yuri's door, demanding to be let in. And of course, Yuri did let him in, but not then. The memory of Yuri's frantic scramble to hide exactly what Victor was getting himself into made his cheeks grow hot, even now, even knowing that Victor wouldn't care. He'd think it was great, honestly; Victor always got a particularly bright look in his eyes when he was reminded how much of a superfan Yuri had been. Even so, Yuri couldn't help being embarrassed. Memory was funny that way.

The NHK Trophy poster at the top of the pile had always been his favorite, up until Victor cut his hair.

+

"It's not fair," Nishigori said. "Not fair at all."

Yuri was glued to the TV. "What's not fair?" he asked dutifully, but he wasn't really listening. Victor was in the kiss-and-cry, murmuring to his coach as he waved to the crowd and waited for his score. Yuri couldn't help notice the way Victor kept running his fingers through his hair, like he couldn't get used to how little there was now. Yuri pictured himself in Victor’s spot, waving to the crowd. Then he pictured himself in Victor’s coach’s spot, Victor at his side.

"This guy!" Nishigori said. "He looks great with long hair, he looks great with short hair, and every time he's on television, everyone I know can't look away from him." That wasn't totally true. Yuko was too busy eating peanut butter straight out of a jar to bother paying much attention to Victor this time around, but she was also seven months pregnant, and Yuri supposed that couldn't be helped. Eating for four would distract from even Victor Nikiforov’s new haircut. But Yuri was also probably doing enough staring for two.

Victor's scores were posted, and his face broke out into a smile. He'd beaten his free skate high score yet again. Yuri breathed out as Victor ran his hands through his new short hair again and blew a kiss to the cameras.

The first photoshoot of Victor with his new haircut, wearing his free skate costume and sitting on a throne, was an import that Yuri had to order from a Russian language website. He didn't really think he'd done the rate conversion right, but when he was smoothing it out on his wall, right above his pillow, he didn't care how much it cost. He didn't think he'd care about anything other than that poster ever again.

+

"Helloooo," Victor said, throwing open the door to Yuri's room. Yuri made a choking sound and tried covering up his box of posters before Victor could see it, but it was too late. "What's that?"

"Nothing!" Yuri said. He sat on the box. "Just stupid kid stuff. There's so much junk in here, it’s probably hazardous!”

Victor narrowed his eyes briefly like he wasn’t quite buying what Yuri was selling, but then he shrugged and helped Yuri to his feet. "Okay," he said easily, kissing Yuri's cheek. "Can I help?"

Yuri nodded. "I have to go through my closet still. Will you start on that side?”

Victor helping clean out Yuri's closet was not particularly helpful. Every time he pulled out shirts Yuri outgrew ten years ago, or an art project from middle school, or an ancient skating trophy, he'd exclaim about how cute it was for about ten minutes before moving onto the next thing and doing it all over again. Yuri thought he should be annoyed, but really he just wanted to kiss Victor. So he did.

Five minutes later, Yuri had his hands pushed up inside Victor's sweater and Victor was flat on his back on Yuri's floor. Victor propped himself up onto his elbows and said, "Yuri, please have mercy on an old man. Can we get onto the bed?"

Yuri nodded, already lust-stupid and open to whatever Victor wanted. Victor used the box on the floor to help pull himself up, accidentally pushing the lid away. Victor froze, looking down, and Yuri finally pushed through his haze to realize what had happened.

"Victor, I can explain," said Yuri, who couldn't.

"Yuri! That's me!" Victor exclaimed. He started flipping through the stack of posters, marveling at how big the pile was. "That's all me! This is so cute!"

+

Yuri rubbed the back of his neck, and stood in the middle of his room awkwardly. Tonight had been strange. He supposed finishing high school was making some of his classmates brave, the uncertainty of the future making everyone a little more reckless. Yuri already knew he was flying off to America to train with Coach Celestino and take university correspondence classes online. There was a strange mix of uncertainty and relief that Yuri felt, and even though he’d never had many friends from his classes, he knew he wasn’t the only one who’d felt that way.

“I was kissed tonight,” Yuri said, out loud, no one but Vicchan and his posters around to hear. The words sounded odd. I was kissed, as though he hadn’t participated, which he supposed he hadn’t. Akari had been in his grade since primary school, but Yuri didn’t think he’d exchanged more than two words with her. Yuri knelt on his bed and shuffled over to Victor sitting on his throne. “She did this,” Yuri said, pressing his lips to the poster, Victor’s frozen smiling face imprinted on shiny paper against his mouth. A wave of embarrassment washed over him and he flopped backward onto his bed. “And I did what you just did.”

Yuri was a piece of paper, unresponsive, his reactions all wrong for a person. Was it just that Akari wasn’t someone Yuri wanted to kiss? He didn’t know. If the real Victor Nikiforov appeared in his room, wanting to kiss him, maybe he’d do the same thing. Maybe he’d stand so still and silent that Victor would apologize quickly and leave, too. Yuri covered his face with his pillow.

+

Victor kissed Yuri again and again, his face split into a delighted smile every time he let Yuri up for air. “Shall we hang them on the wall at home?” Victor asked. “Maybe we’ll frame some posters of you and some of me and they can be together so they won’t be lonely.”

Yuri felt his face heating up, some mixture of embarrassment and pleasure. “Do you think posters can get lonely?”

Victor seemed to contemplate this seriously. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “But do you want to take the chance?” He nudged Yuri’s box of posters with his foot. “After all, my poor face has been hidden away all this time with only me to keep myself company. Real me has been keeping all the Yuri for myself.”

“I like it that way,” Yuri said, sitting on the edge of his bed. “But I suppose I can spare some goodnight kisses for my posters, just like old times.”

Victor laughed and then gasped, wide-eyed. “You didn’t really do that, did you?”

Yuri didn’t answer, just tugged Victor down onto the bed.