Death by poster. Yuuri had already avoided that humiliating fate once in his life, moving faster than a bullet train to rip all his Viktor posters down before the living legend himself had bounded into his room in Hasetsu. But it seemed like Yuuri would not be able to avoid that fate twice, not with the heartfelt way that Nikolai Plisetsky stared at him now.
Yuuri glanced at the poster in Mr. Plisetsky’s hands. It was of Yuuri, taken from his free skate at Barcelona, at the Grand Prix just a few months before. He stretched across the glossy paper in a graceful Ina Bauer. Yuuri had seen the poster already, first in an attachment to a giddy email from Yuuko upon its release the month before, and then in a congratulatory Instagram post from Phichit, and then, finally, in person two weeks ago from Viktor, who had bought seven copies and made Yuuri sign them all.
The same notion seemed to grip Mr. Plisetsky now. Yuuri spotted the silver pen peeking out from his coat pocket. Dread started to slither within Yuuri at the sight, more when he looked back up at Mr. Plisetsky and saw his genuine, though small, smile.
“For Yuratchka,” he said in halting English. “For birthday. Please.”
Yuuri swallowed. He knew that tomorrow was Yuri’s birthday, his 16th, and that Mr. Plisetsky had traveled from Moscow earlier in the week to celebrate it. They were all going to dinner tonight to celebrate it, Viktor demanding one as soon as he realized what day it was, arranging everything despite, or maybe because of, Yurio’s protests.
And now this.
“Are you…” Yuuri began, only to stop, uncertain of the word ‘certain’ in Russian. Or ‘sure.’ Or ‘sane,’ Yuuri wondering for a wild moment if this was some scheme on Mr. Plisetsky’s part to get Yurio to kill him, to fulfill his prior threat of there being room enough for only one Yuri on the ice.
Mr. Plisetsky, though, seemed to understand Yuuri’s incomplete question. He nodded, released the bottom of the poster, and then pointed at Yuuri as he said, again in English, “Favorite skater.”
Yuuri flushed. Hard. “Me?”
Mr. Plisetsky nodded again. “This third poster.” He reached into his pocket for the pen and held it out to Yuuri. “Please?”
No force on the planet, not even the sure-to-be epic wrath of the Ice Tiger of Russia and Yuuri’s own subsequent demise, would allow him to say no to this loving plea. Swallowing again, Yuuri nodded. He accepted the proffered pen and then followed Mr. Plisetsky from the edge of the rink to the lobby, to the desk at reception where, with a shaking hand, Yuuri signed his own death warrant.
Death, via Mr. Plisetsky, spared Yuuri for the night. None of the presents that were piled on the table in the restaurant that Viktor had chosen for the party resembled a poster in any way, shape, or form. Perhaps Mr. Plisetsky hadn’t had time to wrap the gift since that afternoon. Or maybe he really did know his grandson after all and knew how Yurio would react to receiving such a gift in public, much less in front of Yuuri.
Oh god, Viktor. Yuuri could just picture how maniacally gleeful the news would make him. He eyed the bottle of wine, but reached instead for his water, sober Yuuri aware of how much more likely he was to spill the murderous beans if he became drunk Yuuri.
Death spared Yuuri the next day too, Yurio having demanded his birthday off from Yakov to spend it with his grandfather. It would only be a day though. The World Championships loomed at the end of the month, and Yuri was determined to repeat his performance of gold at the Grand Prix, especially since Viktor had, to his dismay, taken silver at the Russian Nationals and gold at European's and thus had qualified for World’s.
The day of Yuri’s birthday, Yuuri studiously avoided his phone, shoving it deep into the bowels of his skating bag until after practice. No venomous vow of bodily harm greeted him though when he finally drummed up the courage to peek at it, hidden in the bathroom away from Viktor and his prying eyes. There were only a few texts from Phichit, a soppy missive from Viktor himself after Yuuri had left the rink to go dance that afternoon, and nothing else.
The silence, he imagined, was a prelude to an even greater doom.
On the third day, Yuuri walked into the St. Petersburg rink as a man to his impending execution. He knew Yuri would be there already, his practices scheduled early in the day and late in the afternoons to accommodate schooling. And he was there, on the far side of the rink with Yakov. But he wasn’t looking at Yakov. He was looking at the door, which meant, now, he was looking at Yuuri, who had just walked in with Viktor, who waved, gleefully, obliviously, at Yurio, as he wished him another happy birthday. Yuri, of course, ignored Viktor, staring instead at Yuuri, who stared back at him, bracing himself for doom. But Death, it seemed, had other ideas, much to Yuuri’s surprise and Viktor’s confusion and Yakov’s dismay, for rather than unleash unholy hell upon Yuuri with creative invectives, the Russian Punk, the fearsome Ice Tiger of Russia, the current gold medalist of the Grand Prix, and the future of Russian figure skating promptly turned scarlet, as red as the sun on the Japanese flag, before he spun on his heels and ran away.
At that moment, Yuuri knew three things with absolute certainty.
One, Mr. Plisetsky had given Yuri the poster.
Two, Yuuri was, as improbable as it seemed but as impossible as it was to deny, especially given that reaction, Yurio’s favorite skater.
Which meant that, three, the next time the two saw each other, Yuri would, without a shadow of a doubt, kick Yuuri in the face with both of his skates and, perhaps, depending on his mood, level of commitment, and access to the necessary materials, set him on fire before dancing his free skate on the smoldering ashes.
Death came for Yuuri that afternoon in the dance studio tucked behind the rink. Viktor was with Yakov, working on his short program, while the rest of the Russian team was with the support team, the trainer or masseuse or dietician. Yuuri had come to love this hour of his day, an hour all to himself, a time when he could stop thinking and just dance. A few times Minako-sensei had been able to join him via Skype. Once, in the most frightening, exhilarating, and exhausting hour of Yuuri’s life, he spent the time with Lilia Baranovskaya as she waited for Yuri to finish with school.
Now, Death slid into the studio on little leopard feet, Yurio clad in the special ballet shoes that Viktor and Yuuri had made for him for his birthday. Yuuri eased out his arabesque. Yuri crossed his arms over his chest. Yuuri, with perfectly steady hands, ones that didn’t tremble in the slightest at the sight of the now sixteen year old before him, paused his music and pulled his earbuds from his ears. Yuri, in mocking mimic of Yuuri’s prior arabesque, leaned forward, reared back, and then kicked the door to the studio shut with a slam so loud that Yuuri heard a faint scream down the hall. The scream did not faze Yuri. In fact, it fueled him, adding an extra murderous spring to his step as he stalked across the dance floor toward Yuuri.
“Did you tell anyone?” he asked, his tiny hands in tiny fists by his sides. “Phichit? Yuuko?”
Yuuri shook his head. “No. I didn’t even tell Viktor.”
Yurio rolled his eyes. “Obviously. I figured that out this morning when that gloating shithead didn’t say anything about it.” He stopped before Yuuri and narrowed his eyes. “You better not tell him.”
Yuuri quickly shook his head again. “No, no, no. I wouldn’t. I won’t. Viktor would probably want to see it, or he’d make me sign all his posters again, or something- something…” He waved an arm around, struggling to find the right words to express the likely grand, insane, heartfelt, and excessive gesture that would follow such a discovery on Viktor’s part. Like a dance battle between him and Yurio to be Yuuri’s official number one fan, or he and Yurio getting matching tattoos, or something equally as ridiculous.
Yuri eyed him a moment before nodding. Yuuri expected the follow-up now, the fire or the kick to the face, particularly the latter because Yurio loved kicking people, especially Yuuri, but Yuri said nothing. He did nothing. He set no one on fire. He made no move to kick Yuuri in the face.
Rather, he looked away and blushed.
Yuuri gawked at the sight. He couldn’t help it. He felt like he was back under that waterfall in Hasetsu, seeing a side to Yurio that he wasn’t meant to see. Before he could look away, Yuri glanced back at him. He shot Yuuri another glare when they locked eyes, but he didn’t turn and stomp from the room, or demand for Yuuri to leave, the room or the country, either. Instead, Yuri lifted his chin and, glaring, blushing still, demanded, “What does it say?”
Yuuri blinked at him. “What?”
“What you wrote, dumbass. I can’t read Japanese.”
Yuri threw his head back and looked about three seconds from stuffing his ballet shoe down Yuuri’s throat. “Then why’d you write it in Japanese?”
“I panicked, okay? I didn’t know when your grandfather would give it to you. What if he gave it to you at the party? In front of people. In front of Viktor. If I put something on it that he could read, he’d either pout until I wrote the same on his posters, or- or coo about how precious it was and make us take a picture together, his Yuris, and I couldn’t do that to me, much less you. You were already going to kick my ass for knowing-” Yuuri snapped his mouth shut, his brain finally overtaking his panic and realizing the danger of the last few words he was about to say.
Yuri narrowed his eyes at him again. “Knowing what?”
The blush, it seemed, had faded from Yurio’s face so it could color Yuuri’s. He looked away, cheeks flaming, and mumbled, “That you… liked my skating.” Yuuri left it there. He was honest, but he wasn’t suicidal. If he even mentioned that Mr. Plisetsky told him about how he was Yuri’s favorite skater or how Yuri had other posters of him, presumably in his room… Yuuri shuddered at the revenge-fueled possibilities.
Glancing up, he found Yuri still assessing him carefully, on the brink of pressing the issue. “The last two are my name,” he said quickly. “The last two kanji. On the poster. The rest… The rest are, well… They’re…” His throat closed on the words. Why hadn’t he written something safe? Or just signed his name? Closing his eyes, Yuuri rubbed a hand over his face. Maybe he could make something up to tell Yurio, say he wrote something bland and basic on the poster, like ‘Happy Birthday.’ That was nice. That was fine. Why hadn’t he just written that?
Oh, right. Panic, Yuuri’s emotional bread and butter.
“Fucking hell,” Yuri said, breaking into his panic. “You wrote something nice, didn’t you?”
Yuuri lowered his head, miserable. “Yes.”
To this, Yuri said nothing. The silence stretched between them a few moments, and then for a few moments more, and then, barely audible, Yuuri heard him whisper, “Shit. Shit.”
Looking up, Yuuri found Yuri bent over, his head now between his knees. He breathed fast and shallow, and the knuckles of his hands, where they gripped his knees, were white. Eyes going wide, Yuuri said, “Are you-”
“I said shut it, katsudon. I swear to your pork cutlet god, if you don’t tell me what you wrote right fucking now, I’ll-”
“Thank you for inspiring me. That’s what it says. Thank you for inspiring me to keep skating. Because you did. I was going to stop. After Sochi. After Nationals. I couldn’t do it anymore. Skate. But then I saw you. There was a video of you training that they showed during World’s last year. And I saw it, I saw you, jumping, and it was…” Yuuri stopped and shook his head, unable to properly articulate the range and rush of emotions that ran through him back then as he watched Yuri Plisetsky jump like gravity had no hold over him. Gravity had always gripped Yuuri with two greedy hands, wrenching him back down to the ice any time he’d dared to jump off it. And here was this pipsqueak, this punk who had yelled at him in a bathroom at Sochi, gliding from ice to air and back again with glorious ease.
Drawing in a breath, Yuuri continued, “I decided then and there that, somehow, I was going to skate again, that I was going to make it back to the Grand Prix. Which was good,” he added after a beat, his lips twisting in a wry little smile, “because the triplets had just uploaded that stupid video of me to the Internet and, well, you know the rest…”
Yuuri looked around the studio then, at the rest, at Yuri himself, the rink and St. Petersburg, at Viktor and the Grand Prix, at Eros and Agape and Onsen on Ice, at everything that had occurred in the whirlwind of the past year, and none of it would have been possible for Yuuri if it hadn’t been for Viktor and for Yuri.
Yuuri turned back to Yurio now. He still hunched over his knees, but he stared up at Yuuri, his eyes wide and face slack with shock.
Emboldened, Yuuri continued, “You did it again at the Grand Prix. I was going to stop. Retire. But your free skate… It was tremendous, Yuri. And I realized… I realized as I watched you that I wanted to skate with Viktor, but I wanted to skate against you.” Yuuri paused then, the wry smile tugging at his lips once more. “So you have only you to thank for me being here and, as you say every morning, hogging all the space on the ice.”
Yuuri stilled. “What?”
Composing himself, Yuri straightened and made good on the promise of Death murdering Yuuri and dancing, gleeful, over his smoldering ashes. “Viktor told me you were thinking about retiring right before my free skate. He said that he couldn’t convince you to stay, but that maybe I could.”
A faint smirk appeared on Yuri’s face. “Onsen on Ice, just at the Grand Prix.” The smirk shifted into a scowl then as Yuri shook his head. “That asshole knew we would motivate each other. And then he’d be inspired, or whatever shit he needed to get back on the ice.” He paused and moved closer to Yuuri, his tiny hands closing once more into tiny fists by his sides. “But it’s not going to work because we’re going to kick his ass at World’s, okay? That shithead is going to reap what he fucking sowed with us, and that’s bronze. No,” he said after a moment. “Beka gets bronze.”
Yuri’s mouth went flat. Yuuri, in contrast, because he could be just as much of a shit as Yuri or Viktor could when he wanted to be, lifted an inquiring brow.
“Fine,” Yuri ground out after a few seconds. “Beka or Phichit get bronze. Viktor gets nothing. We get gold and silver.”
The smile came despite Yuuri’s efforts. “We?”
“Yes, we, katsudon. We owe him for all the ridiculous shit he put us through this past year.”
Yuuri huffed out a small laugh. “Yeah. It was a lot. But I’m glad it happened. I-”
“Nyet. No. No more.” Yuri held up both his hands and waved them in Yuuri’s face. “We are done talking about feelings, okay? We’re going to stop talking now and you’re going to help me with my arm placement in my spins.”
Yuri nodded and moved to unzip his jacket. “Yes. And then we’re going back out to the ice after that, and I’m going to show you again how to land a goddamn quad Salchow because you keep messing it up, even though you’ve done it before, and we’re never going to talk about this again. Got it?”
Yuuri tried to squash his smile. “Yes. Got it.”
“Good. And thank you,” he muttered before he spun around and stalked over to the side of the studio to drop his jacket on the floor beside Yuuri’s.
Yuuri stared after him, the words ‘thank you' bounding and rebounding in his brain. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Yuri had thanked him. Yuri had thanked him. Yuri Plisetsky had thanked him, Katsuki Yuuri, with words. Actual words. Out loud. “You’re welcome,” Yuuri said, and the words were nearly steady and almost calm and they certainly didn’t quaver in warm and fuzzy joy. “Happy birthday, Yuri.”
Yuuri went absolutely still. He stared at Yuri, at Yura, still facing away from him as he did a few preliminary stretches, and he felt his throat start to swell and the first hot prick of tears in his eyes. Yuuri sniffed once, twice.
“I swear to god, if I turn around and you’re fucking crying, I will punch you in the face.”
Yuuri laughed, a stilted gasp of a laugh. Yura glanced back over his shoulder, the edge of a smile just visible on his face. Death, it seemed, had spared Yuuri a most glossy and ignominious fate that afternoon, choosing to bestow upon him, instead, something infinitely superior.