No one knows how to kill Yuuri, other than himself and his mother.
That’s actually how she knew he was the God of Death to follow in her footsteps—the prophet that came to his birthplace to divine Yuuri’s fatal weakness had keeled over dead seconds after telling her. Since gods only have one mortal flaw, one way to be killed, and Death itself was already protecting him, well… It assured that he would be the one to take over the family business when it came time.
Even if being the Lord of the Dead is the last thing he wanted to be doing.
There’s just no way you can escape death when it haunts you like that.
Though, Yuuri would be happy if death decided to make its move on him right then and there instead of suffering through this damn party. Sorry, celebration. It’s been who-the-hell-knows how many years since the last war between the Under- and Overworld gods had ended, and he’s managed to avoid memorial party that takes place in the mortal realm every year. Until Yakov himself sent a personal invitation to get him up here.
It makes sense that he’d eventually have to show up, considering that Yuuri himself is the one who pretty much brought on the peace, regardless of how much he regrets it. Not the peace, of course, but what he did to get them all here. Though… maybe he can’t exactly regret that either.
His eyes catch on the flash of silver on the other side of the room, as far from the corner he tucked himself into as possible. He looks away before anyone catches him staring. No, he doesn’t regret it at all.
If only they didn’t have to drag him to this stupid party. The mortal world is their neutral ground, and the place that they rented—or maybe the Overworld gods own, who knows—is nice, a wide floor for dancing in the center, small tables to stand at and drink and snack, all in all generic. Everyone’s wearing mortal clothes, too, suits and dresses expertly fitted, everything intended to draw the eye. A display of peacock feathers, and dammit, he’s one of them. He even put in his contacts for these assholes. What Yuuri wouldn’t give for the comfort of his robes, despite the dress code. Not that anyone would exactly stop the Lord of the Dead from wearing whatever the hell he wanted to a party, but he’d rather not get any more stares than he’s already garnered. Maybe he can slip off…
“Hey, asshole.” Yurio steps next to him, shoving a drink at Yuuri that he accepts with a small smile. “Stop staring.”
Yuuri sighs. Of course, of all people to catch him looking. “I wasn’t staring.”
“Good.” Yurio sips his own drink, eyes flickering around the room at all the gods talking and laughing and dancing. “‘Cause you and I both know he hates your guts, for whatever reason.”
Yuuri catches his flinch, but can’t help but suck in a shaking breath, covered up in the clamor of the noisy room. Just because it’s true doesn’t mean Yurio has to say it. He doesn’t know, though. He doesn’t get it. It was before his time. “That he does.”
“At least everyone else isn’t as much of a fuck.” Yurio pauses and meets Yuuri’s gaze. “I’ve never seen them respect people like they’re going with you.”
Well, the fact that he avoids being around other gods as much as possible probably helps lend a hand to the idea that he’s actually worthy of the title of the god of death—they don’t actually know him. That, and his accident many, many years ago was worth ending the war over. Logically, it was worth everything finally ending. The wars that the gods’ fought in their mirrored worlds raged across the, the losses on both sides for the gods themselves nothing to balk at. The way it affected the mortal realm, what it made them do had flooded the pools of the dead. But Yuuri was still a child when everything had happened, in the eyes of the others, and he barely remembered it. He hardly felt like an adult now. So he only hums in response to Yurio’s observation. “You should go and interact with them instead of hiding over here with me.”
Yurio snorts. “Why should I hang out with those dickwads?”
Yuuri shrugs. “You rarely ever get to see any of the old gods you used to know from the Overworld.”
“Good riddance.” Yurio’s fingers tighten around the stem of his glass.
Yuuri frowns, even if he’s not one to judge. He’d give anything to be able to sneak out of this crowded room, go back to the Underworld and get back to his bedroom and curl up with Makkachin. What he wouldn’t give to get her really relaxed so he can scratch every one of her three heads in the way she deserves and he knows Mila isn’t going to.
He scowls at his glass. If he had any say in it, he wouldn’t be leaving his precious pup with anyone who isn’t him, but it’s not like he can spare one of his own gods with himself gone. It was weird that Mila offered to stay back while Yurio volunteered, but at least Makka wasn’t left with an unrepentant cat person.
Yuuri sighs. Being Lord of the Underworld sucks balls again, and absolutely no one is surprised.
“Ah, Yuuri! I wasn’t sure you’d be able to make it.” Someone emerges from the crowd leaving careful distance between them, cloaked in the shadows of the dimly-lit room—if someone thought that Yuuri might be more comfortable in a dark and creepy room, they’d obviously never been to his family’s mansion in the Underworld.
Well, when you’re nearly threatened by the God of Life because you’ve avoided directly coming to any and all other summons from the Overworld, you show up. But instead of saying all that, he gives a slight bow. “Of course, it’s my pleasure.”
Then the person steps closer, and Yuuri blinks. And blinks again, a smile spreading across his lips. “Phichit! It’s been… wow, years.”
Phichit smiles, but it’s not the smile that Yuuri remembers from when they were kids. He shouldn’t expect anything different, of course—he was another casualty caught in the crossfires of Yuuri’s half-thought-through choices. “It’s good to see you’re doing well, Yuuri. I was wondering if you’d died, it’s been, like, five years since you responded to my last text.”
Heat spreads across Yuuri’s cheeks, and he takes it back his earlier thoughts about the room—thank the cosmos for the dumb lighting hiding his blush.
“You should check your cell phone for fucking once,” Yurio hisses at him.
“Ah, I’m sorry. I just… forget about it.” On purpose. He’s too tired to pretend to not be a failure any longer than he has to. And talking to Phichit reminds him of the past, and the uncomfortable pricking on guilt builds in his stomach, and…
Phichit laughs, but again, something’s off. The exuberance that the god used to seem to breathe is muffled, hidden beneath something else. “Well, I imagine you’re busy. Rumor has it that you haven’t taken on a single apprentice since Minami left.”
Yuuri shrugs. “Well, I suppose he’s the last person that wanted to work with me.”
Yurio shoots him a glare.
Yuuri levels a gaze back at him—here and now isn’t the place for a debate on whether or not anyone wants to be around Yuuri, other than Yurio who seems to hang around out of some misplaced, highly aggressive pity.
“Oh!” Phichit nearly jumps out of his skin, grabbing at his own cell phone. “Ah, looks like I’ve got to go. Nice to see you guys!” And he hurries away.
“Something was off with him.” Yurio scowls after Phichit.
“Do you think so?” Yuuri tilts his head, considering. “I haven’t seen him in years. People change.”
“Well I had to see him when you avoided this shitty party last year, and… I dunno.” Yurio’s eyes narrow. “Something’s off. He’s up to something.”
“Did you develop some fortune-telling powers?” Yuuri lifts an eyebrow. “Because last time I checked, you didn’t have the patience for anything other than causing trouble.”
“Shut up, Katsudon.” He growls the words, but his shoulders relax just a tad bit. “I’m not the god of trouble, thank fuck.”
“You should probably stop swearing so much when we’re supposed to make a good impression.” Yuuri bites the inside of his cheek against a grin.
And Yurio takes the bait, snorting. “Make me.”
Yuuri shrugs again. Technically, Yuuri is his superior, even if he doesn’t rule over him with the same iron grip as any of the Underworld gods. But he would never force Yurio to do anything and they both know it.
Just as he opens his mouth to suggest that Yurio seriously leave him alone any annoy someone more interesting, the room falls into a hush. A light turns on across the room over a small stage, not the glow and buzz of electric, but obviously magic and stronger than it should be.
“Damn, here comes the speech.” Yurio groans. “I hope you’re ready to resist the urge to sleep on your feet for an hour.”
Yuuri pinches Yurio’s shoulder to get him to shut up—which he does, with a glare.
A man walks onto the stage, his hair receded much more than Yuuri remembers it last time he saw it, though he holds himself straight and firm. A tall woman stands next to him—Yakov and Lilia have remained a united front even after their… romantic relations fell by the wayside a century or two ago.
“Greetings, all who have gathered to celebrate this wonderful night.” Yakov addresses the room with the fakest smile that Yuuri’s ever seen. It’s more like someone’s cracked his face open with a chisel.
Yuuri wonders if he should get the both of them out of there before Yurio punches a man or he himself dies of boredom, whichever happens first.
“Before I make my annual speech, could Lord Yuuri Katsuki come to the front of the room?”
All eyes, as a whole, move to look toward Yuuri.
Well, maybe he could just die of embarrassment instead. He almost wishes that was his one weakness, what would slay him at the end of his days. Then he wouldn’t have to go and talk to the God of Life, who’s been alive since… who even knows.
But, alas, that isn’t his weakness. So with a sigh, he hands his glass to Yurio despite the thin line that the young god’s mouth is pressed into, and strides through the crowd.
They all part as if touching him would be all it takes to kill them, and it takes every bit of Yuuri’s restraint and training not to curl his shoulders in, hunch down and keep his eyes on his feet. It’s times like these, when his hands get sweaty and his heart races painfully in his chest, that he feels he must somehow be a mortal, mistaken for a god.
Something catches his sleeve.
He turns, eyes catching on blonde hair, a tuft of red at the center. He blinks. “Minami?”
“Don’t do it.” Big brown eyes stare up at him through Minami’s bangs, almost as conniving as Makka. “They don’t know, it’s—”
“Is there a problem here?” Someone emerges from the crowd, much taller than Minami, blonde hair a little curled.
“Ah, Chris.” Minami… wilts?
What the hell is going on here? Yeah, Yuuri avoids social gatherings like the plague, but he knows this isn’t normal. He’s met Lord Christophe in passing before—gods of fertility and sex don’t have a lot to do with death after all—but he’s talking in an awfully familiar way. Yuuri frowns at them. “No, there are no issues here.”
“Yeah, I was just saying hi.” Minami perks up a little, waving a hand like he wasn’t just trying to… warn Yuuri?
“You wanted to say hello to the Lord of the Dead on his way to confer with Yakov?” Chris arches an eyebrow.
Yuuri shrugs. “Minami and I used to know one another—and he’s always been a little enthusiastic.” Even if enthusiasm isn’t exactly what Minami tried to communicate, maybe even the opposite. “We can catch up later, Minami.”
The young god stiffens again, Chris’s arm tightening around his shoulders. “Y-yeah, I guess.”
What the hell? Yuuri almost opens his mouth to ask more questions, insist that he talk to Minami now, but he can feel all the eyes on him—including Yakov’s. So instead, he steps forward, parting the crowd and stepping up onto the stage.
“Lord Katsuki.” Yakov nods as he holds out his hand.
Yuuri takes it, giving it a firm shake and a bow. “Lord Yakov.” Then he repeats the action with the woman next to him. “Lady Lilia.”
“Well, let’s not beat around the bush.” Yakov gestures for Lilia to walk forward, talk to the audience while he starts to move away. “Follow me, please.”
Yuuri can’t help but let out a small sigh. All he wanted was to hide in a corner, put in his decades-late appearance at these cursed gatherings, then get home. But no. Everyone’s acting weird, and the Overworld seems to be plotting something. Again.
Still, he follows Yakov, knowing full well all attention is on the two of them and not Lilia before they slip into a small room off to the side.
It’s nice and quiet in the room—not that it isn’t near silent out there, but there’s a difference between the silence of a hundred people, and the silence of two. Even if one of them is the most intimidating god Yuuri’s ever known.
There’s a couple of armchairs set around a small coffee table, and Yakov sits down in one, waving his hand at the other so that Yuuri takes a seat.
“Is everything all right?” Yuuri asks, figuring he might as well get to it. Whatever Yakov wants to say is probably the reason why he insisted Yuuri show up, practically twisted his arm into it.
“Oh, everything is perfectly fine.” Yakov chuckles, startling Yuuri. “We aren’t going to be talking about another war here, don’t worry. So long as you’re down there maintaining the dead and managing your gods as well as you have been, I think we’ll be fine.”
Yuuri frowns, ignoring the overly generous compliment. “Then why am I here?”
Yakov takes a deep breath. “Well, there’s a little turmoil over the gods that are stuck in the Underworld or Overworld from our peace treaty. It was a fair trade at the time, but now that we’re at peace… it’s unnecessary for them to be separated from their family and friends.”
Yuuri nods, even as his gut sinks. It’s selfish—when peace was established, higher gods went as ambassadors, captives really, to the opposite side to reside there for a while. The time limit was never established, but… Yurio and Mila would be going home, then. Yurio might be a pain in the ass, and Mila might sometimes be a little over the top, but they filled the hole that was left when his friends were taken away by the negotiations. Of course, this would mean Phichit and Minami would come back, too, but…
“I agree.” Yuuri gives a smile, even if he’s not sure he feels it. “I’m sure that they’re anxious to be getting home. We might be immortal, but we still feel the passage of time.”
Yakov gives a stiff nod. “Agreed. However… when it was brought up with my council, it was agreed that we’d want to have a sign of peace remain.”
So much for not beating around the bush. Yuuri arches an eyebrow. “And that would be?”
“We’d like to arrange a marriage between a high-ranking god from both worlds.” Yakov sighs, like it’s a relief to finally get the words out. “We’ve already decided on a suitor from our world—there was a competition for the position in fact. Fencing. Oh don’t look at me like that, I thought it was odd too, but the younger gods do what they want, you’d know that as one yourself. Still, we’ll need a candidate from your side. If you need to defer, I understand, but the sooner we decide and announce it, the better. It may not be a cause for conflict yet, but it will be.”
Yuuri glances down, clenching his jaw. The Underworld is smaller in numbers, if just as powerful, as the Overworld, there aren’t an abundance of gods in Yuuri’s inner circle, who help him run the Underworld and help the dead along their journey. They can’t be spared, and unless he himself gets married, there would be negotiations as to where the couple would live. And above that, they’re all his friends. He can’t subject them to this, even if marriages between gods hardly ever last their entire lives—he knows his parents are rare in that. The bond can be broken, even if he hears it’s a bit painful. He can’t sacrifice anyone for this, but if it’s already been spoken about and decided in the Overworld—which isn’t exactly fair, but it is what it is—it has to be done.
So… “I’ll do it.”
Yakov blinks. “You can’t be serious.”
Yuuri shrugs, leaning back and trying to seem casual even as his heart races in his chest. “I am. Though I’m not thrilled that I’ve been told about these plans involving my gods after it’s already been decided.”
Much to Yuuri’s absolute shock and slight horror, a pink tinge spreads along Yakov’s cheeks. “Believe me, I was planning on this talk being a negotiation instead of an ultimatum. Unfortunately, a certain…” His face grows downright red, and Yuuri nearly lets out a relieved breath, realizing Yakov’s furious and not ashamed. “Someone, who has been punished thoroughly, instigated this arrangement into being public and finalized before the anniversary of the peace treaty.”
“Hmm.” Yuuri tilts his head. “I suppose it would be fitting for this wedding to be around the peace treaty.”
“Unfortunately, that was his logic.” Yakov straightens his jacket, almost tearing it off as his face becomes a frightening shade of purple. “I promise that the Overworld will make this up to you.”
“Good.” He should probably ask who the “he” behind this scheme is, but he can’t bring himself to care enough about that. He’s getting married. Soon. And he doesn’t even know to who. Screw being a responsible Lord of the Dead, Yuuri could desperately use a drink. Or five. Or ten. Preferably more. “Now, who am I… marrying?”
The word chokes up his throat, and reality smacks him in the face. He just agreed to bind his remaining days and his powers to a stranger. Who is going to live in his mansion, and eat at his table, and… Please, please, please, they’d better not expect him to do more.
Yakov rises. “Well, you might as well come and meet him—though you already know each other well enough.”
Yuuri’s brow furrows. He doesn’t really know many gods from the Overworld, after… Well, after he accidentally caused peace between the two. But still, he follows Yakov back out, barely hiding his wince as all the eyes turn back toward him. At least he’s more worried about being married to an absolute stranger at the moment?
Who the hell could he even know from the Overworld?
Lilia’s voice drones on in the back of his head, and then he and Yakov re-join her up in the spotlight of everyone’s focus. Yakov starts talking, explaining the situation with no new details that Yuuri has to pay attention to. Instead, he keeps glancing through the crowd, trying to recognize anyone without meeting any eyes. Who is it? What kind of god are they? Are they as afraid to marry a stranger as Yuuri is? But… no, of course not. They apparently fought to win the hand of a higher lord of the Underworld, someone they don’t even know. Will they be glad they caught Death himself? Are they going to try and use him?
“And Lord Yuuri Katsuki has agreed to this great alliance himself, uniting the Over- and Underworld in more than just peace,” Yakov takes a step back, Lilia following so that Yuuri’s stranded alone on the small stage. “And, everyone from the Overworld—and probably some from the Underworld as well—are aware of his groom-to-be.”
From the opposite side of the stage, a man steps up. Taller than Yuuri, hair silver and shining in the dim light, and eyes of a blue that had enraptured Yuuri as much as a kid as they do now.
Oh… Oh no.
“Yakov, I—” he starts, but his voice is barely a whisper past his own lips, and Yakov either doesn’t hear, or doesn’t care.
“How fitting that the God of Spring, the start of life, Victor Nikiforov, would be united with the end of life, Lord Yuuri Katsuki.”
Cold chills tickle beneath Yuuri’s skin, his skin breaking out in a cold sweat as Victor steps forward and smiles at him.
No. Yuuri shakes out of his own thoughts enough to really look at Victor, at the cruel twist to his smile, how his eyes narrow as they land on Yuuri. He knows he shouldn’t expect anything else, but of course Victor still loathes him. Yuuri had hurt him. He meant to do the opposite, but intentions can only bring you so far out of a grave you dug yourself.
“What a pleasant surprise!” Victor manages to chirp, despite the cold seething through his expression. “I never expected that I’d be marrying you, but I suppose this works out for the best.” He sips a glass of champagne, holding a full one in his other hand.
For the best? Yuuri barely holds back a scoff. “You don’t have to lie. You hate me,” Yuuri murmurs, clenching his hands into fists so that he doesn’t cower, he doesn’t run. Whoever thought he was strong enough to lead an entire faction of gods was wrong, he can barely hold himself together on good days, much less now. “I’m sure if you wanted to give your position up to the runner-up of your ridiculous competition, no one would blame you.”
“Oh!” Victor taps his lips, grin downright vicious. “But I fought so hard for this opportunity. And, well, you know what they say.” He leans in, lips brushing Yuuri’s ear and Yuuri can only just barely keep his shiver under control. “Keep your friends close, and keep your enemies closer.”
That is what they are, isn’t it? Enemies. Even if it’s one-sided.
He bites back a strangled sob, clearing his throat instead and raising his voice enough that those around them can hear. “Ah, don’t get too handsy. We aren’t married yet, after all.”
There are some chuckles from the gods near the stage, and Victor gives out a bark of laughter.
Victor steps away, but holds out the glass of champagne in his other hand. “Hanging onto your purity? Well, how about a toast to our future happiness, then?”
Yuuri never thought that “happiness” could be a word spit with venom, but tonight seems to be a night filled with the impossible. Still, he takes the glass—and freezes.
Being Death incarnate comes with a few perks. Yuuri has everyone’s respect regardless of whether or not he’s earned it since he can innately sense every god’s mortal weakness, though it’s something he’d rather not pay attention to. He’s also sensitive to dangerous situations that would kill mortals, like… poison.
“As I said,” Victor winks, keeping his voice low, “keep your enemies closer.”
Yuuri frowns at the glass, careful to keep his hand from shaking. “You do understand that if you can’t find the way to kill me, you’ll be trapped in the Underworld forever in this agreement?” He leaves out the, “with me,” the largest frustration and disappointment of the equation, since it really doesn’t need to be said. They can’t get divorced as easily as another married couple, what with peace and all that riding on his shoulders.
“You say that as if it’s one-sided.” Victor’s grin only grows. Pleased at the challenge, presumably. “You won’t be trying to kill me?”
“Oh no.” Yuuri smirks, lips curling without a shred of humor as he tries to hide the gaping wound growing in his chest. “Haven’t you heard what they’ve said about my domain?” Because Yuuri knows what they say hides beneath the mellow sky of the Underworld, and deep within the pools of the dead. Regardless of what rumors are true and which are false, they paint a horrifying picture of him and his home. “You’re as good as dead already.”
And finally, that damn smile on Victor’s face breaks.
Yuuri’s stomach shouldn’t clench to see it go, but it does. His smirk falls, and he hides it by turning to the audience, raising his glass. “Cheers!”
Knowing beyond a doubt that this won’t kill him, even if it does make him feel like crap in the long run—though can he really feel worse?—Yuuri takes a sip of his poisoned drink. “Hmm.” He swirls the liquid, desperate to not have to look at Victor. “Adds a pleasant almond flavor.”
And before Victor can get out another word, Yuuri strides away.