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In the Land of the Wanderers

Chapter Text

*

The story leaks.

Otabek has already forgotten that at the height of his Yuri-deprivation, he had subscribed to every news outlet that would offer him any bits of info on the skating world, and so the day of their scheduled flights to Worlds, Otabek gets a notification on his phone that makes his stomach drop.

Yuri Plisetsky Nervous Breakdown: The Family Finally Speaks Out

Yuri is shaking by the time they've paid their taxi driver for the trip to the airport, so much so that Otabek worries he'll drop his phone into the grey slush on the sidewalk. It’s obvious that Yuri’s found the article as well.

"That fucking bitch," Yuri says. "She sold the story. Of course, she did. What kind of mother—What a fucking—"

He inhales a shaky breath then, all but shoves his phone into Otabek 's hands as if to have him confirm Yuri’s not going crazy. It's not a long feature piece, but it does bring a lot of Yuri's private affairs into the public. It sources Yuri's mother heavily and has several quotes from unnamed sources about his private life. It isn’t until they get their luggage out of the car and start walking towards the counter that Otabek finally speaks.

"Who would talk to these people? That we actually know?" Otabek snaps, feeling the betrayal like a knife to the side.

"Who the fuck knows," Yuri mumbles darkly. “Who do we know that is an actual shit bag?”

No one, is Otabek’s initial thought, then reasons to himself that this “unnamed source” is probably just some nobody who wanted their fifteen seconds of fame. The thought is strangely comforting, and Otabek turns to tell Yuri this, only to see he’s not by Otabek’s side. Instead, he looks up and sees Yuri has stopped walking several paces behind him. He's clenching his fists and still vibrating slightly with his rage. The look in his eyes reminds Otabek of shattering glass.

"Hey," Otabek says, hurrying back to his friend's side. "Don't worry about it. "

"Don't worry about it," Yuri parrots back angrily. "How am I supposed to do that? It's no one's fucking business what happened to Dedushka ANYWAY and when I get my hands on that FUCKING reporter I'll-"

"Don’t," Otabek says. He chances laying a hand on Yuri's shoulder, nearly sighs in relief when Yuri doesn't push him away immediately. "We're about to go through really shitty security and then board a really shitty flight that will take us to that one place everyone expects you to be. It's going to suck. But right now, no one knows you're here, and we have a few hours left where things can suck less. Do you want to spend them angry?"

Yuri stares at him for what feels like forever before he growls low in his throat and picks up his luggage again.

"Fine," he says.

An hour later, while they're waiting to board, Otabek buys Yuri one of those caramel macchiato monstrosities from Starbucks because he knows what a secret pleasure it is for him. It doesn’t make up for their earlier argument, but it’s something of a peace offering that Yuri accepts. He even smiles into the cup at the first sip, a genuine albeit small thing that lets Otabek hope that maybe this can be better this time around.

*

The flight doesn't suck as much as Otabek predicts, largely because they both fall asleep curled against each other for most of it. Not being able to get online helps a lot as well; Otabek endures one selfie with Yuri just before take-off (them squished together with the armrest between them, Yuri sticking his tongue out at the camera while winking and pulling Otabek’s arm around his shoulders), and watches with a mix of trepidation and joy as Yuri posts it to Instagram. He captions it:

 

yuri-plisetsky back at it with @otabek-altin, see you soon #Helsinki #Worlds2k17 #skatersofinstagram

 

And looks up at Otabek just before hitting the post button, almost as if looking for confirmation. Otabek shrugs carefully, trying not to move so as not to bring attention to the fact that he’s still got his arm around Yuri’s shoulders.

“If you think it’s time,” is all Otabek can think of to say.

“You’re no help at all,” Yuri replies, but after a few more seconds of contemplation, he does hit the post button.

And quickly turns his phone off, as if expecting an onslaught of digital reactions. Otabek follows suit, and when he puts his phone away, Yuri snuggles more deeply into Otabek’s side, despite the annoying armrest.

It's a short reprieve before the oncoming storm.

Otabek knows that Yuri's anger is a volatile, simmering mess, knows that he's only managed to dampen it for now but that it's not dissipated, not yet. Otabek doesn’t know if this time around, he’ll be able to do anything if Yuri snaps again, but he likes to think that he can. He hopes that he’s something of a mitigating factor in all of Yuri’s decisions, selfishly wants to keep Yuri tucked into his side for as long as he can.

“You’re doing it again,” Yuri mumbles into Otabek’s armpit.

“Doing what?”

“Thinking too much,” Yuri says. He bats an arm in Otabek’s general direction. “Just shut your brain down and go to sleep or something. We’ve got to save our strength for the shit storm that’s waiting for us.”

So Otabek closes his eyes and tries not to think, which ends up being very easy when he feels one of Yuri’s hands curl into the fabric of his shirt.

*

 

From: Me
We've landed, getting a taxi now.

From: Katsuki Yuuri
Are you staying at the official hotel?

From: Me
Yes.

From: Katsuki Yuuri
Take a side entrance in. There are a lot of reporters camping outside the main entrance. We are in room 2228 if you need anything.

From: Me
You saw the article then?

From: Katsuki Yuuri
Yes. Viktor and I were very upset about it! Viktor thinks Yurio thinks we are the anonymous tipsters and thinks that's why Yurio never wants to talk to him again.

From: Me
I'm sure that never crossed his mind.

 

"Who are you texting? " Yuri asks in the taxi drive to the hotel.

Otabek, with his fingers still hovering over his screen, grimaces slightly. "Katsuki Yuuri," he admits. Hits send and watches the suspicion turn into confusion, then into outrage on Yuri’s face. "He wanted me to tell him when we landed."

"You've been talking with The Katsudon? Since when?"

"Since you stopped answering me after Four continents." He doesn't mean for it to come out as accusatory as it does. However, from the look Yuri sends him, he’s said the wrong thing again. He can tell this is going to be an argument. "I told you I'd contacted him when I was trying to reach you. "

"The one time!" he hisses. "I didn't expect you'd send him real time updates about every fucking thing I did! I can't believe you'd–"

"That's not what I've been doing. "

"So what then? You just became best friends or something while I was in Moscow trying to get my Dedushka to remember how to get to the fucking grocery store? It didn't take long for you to replace me, I guess."

"Viktor Nikiforov thinks you're never going to talk to him again," Otabek says instead of taking the bait Yuri's leaving for him. "Katsuki was worried. He's a good guy. "

"I know that!" Yuri shouts. “I know he’s a good fucking guy!”

The taxi driver jumps at the sound of angry Russian, and Otabek mumbles an apology (in butchered Quebecois because their taxi driver speaks four languages, but Otabek’s French is informal at best and he’s been told his accent is atrocious) and assures her that everything is all right before turning back to Yuri.

"We're not friends," Otabek says, but the second the words leave his mouth they feel like a lie. "Not really anyway. And he could never replace you. No one could."

“Whatever,” Yuri growls dismissively.

However, when Otabek really looks he sees Yuri’s blushing again, so he takes a chance and pulls his arm around him.

“You can go up to their room while I check in,” Otabek offers in something like a peace offering.

“I guess that wouldn’t suck,” Yuri finally hedges, which is all the answer Otabek needs before he’s texting Katsuki to let him know the plan. “You’ll come up to get me, right?” he asks after scowling down at Otabek’s phone.

“If that’s what you want.”

“It is.”

“Okay,” Otabek says, and tells their cab driver that they’d like to be taken around through to the back of the hotel, if at all possible.

Yuri slouches down further in his chair for the last few minutes of the drive, leans into Otabek’s side when he gives his shoulder a comforting squeeze.

Viktor Nikiforov just happens to be standing oh-so-nonchalantly by the back gate when the taxi pulls up to the mostly abandoned parking lot. He has the decency to not be wearing his easily recognizable Russian Olympics jacket, although even in that somber grey he still manages to stand out. Luckily, there doesn’t seem to be a reporter in sight, which Otabek counts as a small mercy. Viktor is on his phone and (at least, to Otabek) looks like he is trying very hard to appear completely relaxed. Sometime between them getting into the taxi and pulling up to the hotel, it started snowing lazily. There’s a small flurry that settles around Viktor; they settle on his trench coat in a gentle dusting. His head snaps up when the side door opens, mouth open as if about to call out, before he snaps it shut again. Otabek is thankful he doesn’t disturb the quiet stillness of the moment.

“Should have known,” Yuri mumbles. He takes a deep breath, closing his eyes as he does so. Otabek lets him pull away. “Don’t forget to come get me after you’ve dealt with everything.”

“I promise,” Otabek says, watches something soft and vulnerable pass over Yuri’s face before he pushes his way out of the car.

Otabek watches Yuri’s approach until Viktor’s control seems to snap, and he all but throws himself into a hug, arms wrapped so tightly around Yuri’s neck he’s sure Yuri is mumbling about breathing issues. He sees Viktor’s lips move, watches the ramrod set to Yuri’s spine until he nods and tentatively pulls his arms up around Viktor’s waist.

Otabek has a moment where he thinks Yuri hugs people like he thinks he’s not really allowed to; enough time to let that sting in his heart and promise himself that he’ll change Yuri’s mind about that one day, before he forces his gaze away and asks the cab driver if they can pull up to the front now.

 

*

On the other side of the hotel, it’s almost like a completely different world. Otabek unloads the taxi of his and Yuri’s luggage and sees that Christophe Giacometti and JJ are holding court in the lobby with the bulk of the reporters. JJ catches sight of him and winks as he approaches, but other than that, it’s like he’s invisible. He makes it all the way through checking in to his room and to the elevators before a gaggle of Yuri’s Angels recognize him and corner him.

Otabek is waylaid for nearly forty-five minutes as the small group of girls all but beg for any news of Yuri. He suffers through several rounds of photos and, finally, grudgingly admits that Yuri is here in Helsinki, and no, he doesn’t know where he is right now. He learns that there’s been some speculation that Yuri has been in New York since Four Continents, and Otabek can truthfully deny that claim, never-mind that he’s splitting hairs. He explains that no, even though they were sitting together in that Instagram photo (now up to 150,000 likes) on the plane, they aren’t here together (a lie).

He’s just getting through telling them that no, that leopard print luggage is not Yuri’s and he is not staying in Otabek’s hotel room (more lies), when Leo saunters up to him, grinning in a sly, conspiratorial manner and throws an arm over Otabek’s shoulder.

“Otabek,” he says pulling him away from the now-curious girls. “How was your trip? Let’s go up to our room, and I’ll tell you all about Detroit.”

He winks at the girls for good measure, and Otabek is about to ask just who this is and what they’ve done with the real Leo de la Iglesia, when the elevator doors ding open and they step inside. The second the doors slide shut, Leo sighs heavily and the cocky persona drops. He smiles sheepishly.

“It looked like you needed some help,” Leo says. “JJ said it’s best to pretend like you know what’s best for everyone in those situations, that way no one will think to question you.”

“Since when are you friends with JJ Leroy?” is the only thing that Otabek can think of to say.

Leo shrugs.

“Since I got here this morning, I guess,” Leo says. “He’s your friend too, right? I thought it would be nice to get to know him. It would be nice if all of our friends got along.”

“Sure,” Otabek replies, because Leo is doing the weird thing where he looks at the floor like he’s wishing it would swallow him up. “Thanks, Leo.”

The doors to the elevator swing open on the 13th floor, and Leo hops out like there’s fire at his heels.

“No problem!” he says. “Let’s hang out while we’re here, if you want. I can fill you in on everything that’s up with Phichit!”

Otabek gives him a thumbs-up as the doors are closing again, and he has a second where he stands in an unmoving elevator before he thinks to hit the button for the 22nd floor.

*

He’s a little ashamed to admit that he spends nearly five minutes staring at the little plaque outside of room 2228, trying to decide if he should go inside or let Yuri talk out his problems with Katsuki and Viktor Nikiforov. It isn’t until his phone buzzes with a text from Yuri that he feels better about knocking on the door.

 

From: Yuri Plisetsky
Where are you??

 

Katsuki Yuuri answers the door. His face goes from suspicious to ecstatic in the blink of an eye. Before he really knows what’s happening, he’s pulled into a brief hug and into the hotel room.

“Thank you for bringing him to us,” Katsuki says under his breath. Then, as if announcing it to the whole room, adds, “Look who is at the door! Otabek Altin, how curious.”

Yuri is sitting cross-legged on the couch, scowling at his phone, but he looks up at that and a smile quickly replaces the expression.

“Finally,” he says. “I thought you’d forgotten about me.”

“Never,” Otabek says without thinking. “I was caught by a group of your fans.”

“Us too,” Katsuki chimes in helpfully.

“What did you tell them?” Yuri asks suspiciously.

“Lies,” is Otabek’s response, which at least gets a laugh out of Katsuki.

A moment later, Viktor Nikiforov saunters into the room with a plate piled high with pizza slices.

“Otabek Altin,” he says, which reminds him that this is the first time they’ve actually talked since trading a few polite words at the grand prix in 2015. “We ordered pizza. Would you like to eat with us?”

“That would be great,” Otabek replies, sneaking a glance at Yuri, who has already stolen a slice off of Viktor’s plate.

“Sit with me, Otabek,” Yuri says around a mouthful of pizza, so Otabek pointedly ignores the faces both Katsuki and Viktor are making and wanders over to sit beside him.

He notices that there is a small pile of used tissues sitting on the coffee table next to the infamous poodle tissue-box (now empty), and that Yuri’s nose and the corners of his eyes still look a little pink. He wonders what sort of heart-to-heart he must have had to get that soft, trembling smile on his face.

“Just bring all the boxes, Viktor,” Katsuki says from behind him.

Viktor makes a startled gasping sound at that, and says “I could never! They’ll leave grease stains everywhere!” while Yuri rolls his eyes, and Otabek thinks that whatever happened between these three is their own business. As long as it keeps Yuri smiling, it’s okay with him.

*

Yuri’s short program the next day is the most beautiful thing Otabek thinks he’s ever seen. He’s fifth to perform, which always made Otabek nervous. He feels there is always more pressure to perform better when he’s already heard most everyone’s scores. Otabek watches him like a hawk, wishes briefly he’d brought a pair of binoculars, or was maybe brave enough to elbow his way to Yuri’s side for this moment.

He’s obviously nervous about it by what Otabek can tell, but Yakov and Lillia are there talking quietly beside him, Viktor and Katsuki following close behind. It must be reassuring to have such a large support system. Otabek sits in the front row with his skates still on and can’t help but shout out, “Yuri! Udachi!” as he skates by. Yuri’s eyes roam the stands at his voice, and for a second their eyes lock, a flicker of electric current that thrums between them.

“Yuri Plisetsky’s Short Program, On Love: Agape, is dedicated to his grandfather, Nikolai Plisetsky, who has recently been hospitalized. We all hope he makes a quick recovery,” the woman over the loudspeakers is saying, and a rush of applause follows the words before Yuri gets into position and the whole building goes silent.

Otabek doesn’t know how to describe Yuri’s performance. It feels like burrowing into a pile of pillows after a bad day, something soft with a sharp, trembling core. It feels like Yuri’s heart is cut open and bleeding all over the ice, like he’s leaving delicate trails of his own pain in his wake.

It feels like falling in love with him all over again, watching the tender press of his arms during his camel spin. He’s not close enough to make out Yuri’s expression, but by chance the big screens catch him just before his first quad, and the blotchy red marks high on his cheeks are easy to make out, along with the tear tracks that bisect them. He has always thought that Yuri skates with something angelic in his bones, but never has the thought occurred to him moreso than today. He skates with an innocence and purity that has never been present before, and Otabek thinks, yes, this is agape. This is unconditional love.

Viktor is obviously in tears on the other side of the rink, and when Yuri finally finishes, his arms raised in a silent supplication, his lips move and Otabek doesn’t have a doubt that the shape of them are whispering “Nikolai.”

Katsuki is last to perform that day, and when they pass each other, Yuri nods to him and Katsuki places a hand on his shoulder. If anything is spoken between them, Otabek does not hear it from his seat.

Sometime after Yuri’s score gets announced (108.86) and the first chords of Katsuki’s short program, Otabek finds himself wandering the backstage areas for any sign of Yuri. He finds him eventually, long after Katsuki’s program has finished, slouching against the wall nearest the emergency exit, the hood of his sweat jacket pulled low so that it renders most of Yuri’s face in shadow. There are a lot of things that immediately come to mind when Otabek spots him, all sorts of dramatic things that would surely embarrass them both and which, if Otabek were a braver man, he might enjoy. Instead, he slouches against the wall to Yuri’s right and stuffs his hands into his own sweater’s pockets.

“You over rotated your tripel axel,” Otabek says into the silence.

Yuri doesn’t look at him for a second, before he scoffs a little and pulls his hood down.

“Finally, someone fucking mentions it,” Yuri says with a mean smile. “All I’ve been hearing is how great my performance was and how my Dedushka should be proud, never-mind that he’s probably not even watching.”

“I am sure he was watching live,” Otabek says. He tilts his head and thinks about time zones for a second. “Definitely.”

“Shut up,” Yuri replies, but he’s smiling as he says it. “Let’s go before the press catch us.”

Which is an impossible goal, because the press is all but lying in wait outside. However, once they leave the overall safety of the waiting area, Viktor and Katsuki all but manifest by Yuri’s side.

“Yurio!” Viktor says cheerily, waving at the press who are all snapping pictures and asking a lot of extremely personal questions. “Come out to eat with us! You can bring Otabek too!”

“It will be fun, Yurio,” Katsuki pipes in; Otabek has never noticed how disarming Katsuki’s smile is. He can feel Yuri’s defenses slipping as he scowls.

Before Yuri even has a chance to answer, Viktor has him by the shoulder and is steering him towards the exit. Otabek watches him blow a kiss towards the press corps as they walk by. Katsuki smiles sheepishly, and together, they follow the other two out.

*

It turns out that neither Katsuki nor Viktor had any real plans to eat out, which leads to a short argument from Yuri.

“Why did you ask if you have no idea where you want to go then?”

“Obviously so we could get out of there,” Viktor says without looking up from his phone. “We could get Vietnamese?”

“No, I think I want something heavier,” Katsuki says as if Yuri isn’t scowling at both of them. “If we have Vietnamese, I’ll just get hungry again.”

“It’s not my problem if you never stop eating, Katsudon,” Yuri snaps.

“See, Yuuri, Yurio wants Vietnamese!” Viktor says happily.

“No I don’t!”

So they bat around the idea of going out versus ordering room service back and forth before Otabek feels his pocket vibrate.

 

From: JJ Leroy
Let’s hang out tonight! There’s this nice bar I know close to the hotel. I’ll invite your friend Leo too!

 

Otabek frowns down at his phone and doesn’t realize he’s stopped walking until he looks up and three sets of curious eyes are watching him intently.

“What is it, Otabek?” Katsuki asks mildly.

“Some friends want to hang out,” Otabek answers. He looks at Yuri, thinks about his angry snarl directed at JJ this afternoon. Takes a breath and decides to just say it. “JJ invited me and Leo to come along to a bar he likes.”

“Leo de la Iglesia?” Viktor asks with a frown. He turns to Yuri and tilts his head, like he’s trying to work something out. “I didn’t think you two were—”

“Viktor!” Yuri snaps, looking at anything but Otabek. “You can go if you want to, Otabek. I know it’s lame, hanging out with these two.”

Yuri motions to Viktor and Katsuki, neither of whom have the grace to look upset by the words.

“I like to hang out with you,” Otabek says.

“You haven’t talked to JJ in ages,” Yuri snaps. “I’m sure you’ll have fun.”

When he finally meets Otabek’s eyes, there’s very thin layer of resentment that he’s trying hard to hide. If Otabek had not spent the last few months watching every movement of Yuri’s face over skype, he almost would have missed it. An invitation for Yuri is on the tip of his tongue, but he knows Yuri doesn’t like JJ, and anyway, JJ wants to go to a bar. Otabek could maybe convince them to go somewhere that isn’t 18 and over, but he doubts JJ would let them live it down the whole night. Not the best way to get Yuri and JJ on friendly terms. Otabek looks between the three of them, frozen with indecision, when Katsuki takes a step forward.

“It’s okay, Otabek,” Katsuki says with a smile. “We’ll take care of Yuri. Have fun.”

It sounds as much as a dismissal as it does permission, and Otabek feels a little obligated at that point to nod.

“I’ll text you,” he says to Yuri, who pulls his hood up over his head and nods in a noncommittal way that isn’t exactly encouraging.

 

From: Me
Okay. I’ll meet you there. Send me the address.

 

*

Otabek goes back to the hotel to change quickly, pointedly does not mention Yuri’s increasing prickliness as they walk together the last few minutes. He abruptly announces outside the hotel that he wants Thai food, and drags Viktor and Katsuki away without so much as a goodbye. Otabek lets him go, thinks Yuri’s probably jealous that he’s going to a bar without him.

Maybe in two years Otabek will take him to a bar in St. Petersburg to make up for it.

He changes into his black jeans and his favorite leather boots (with the four-centimeter heel because Leo and JJ are both taller than him, and he doesn’t want to hear about it for the whole night). He thinks that Yuri’s somewhat regrettable fashion choices are starting to rub off on him when he realizes that the softest shirt he’s brought with him is the one with the embroidered catspaw along the side. He pulls a button down on over it (just a shade or two darker than Yuri’s eyes), and grabs his leather jacket when he checks the weather on his phone.

He’s in and out of the hotel in under thirty minutes, but still when he reaches the address JJ had sent him, he finds Leo sprawled across a barstool grinning like a loon and JJ up on stage, singing.

“Otabek!” Leo calls when he sees him. He staggers over to Otabek and honestly, he’s never seen Leo looking quite so drunk. “I’m so glad you came tonight!”

“Me too, Leo,” Otabek says when he’s close enough that he doesn’t have to shout.

He slings an arm over Otabek’s shoulder right as JJ finishes his karaoke version of—is that Coldplay?

“If you could see it then you’d understand,” JJ howls into the microphone, and yes, JJ Leroy is definitely singing a synthed-up karaoke version of Coldplay.

“It’s JJ style!” he crows over the fading instrumental, and the crowd that has gathered around the stage bursts out into cheers.

Otabek rolls his eyes. When JJ at last spots them, he points his microphone in their direction.

“Otabek Altin, everyone!” he booms. “Now it’s a party!” And he proceeds to leap off the stage like he’s in the middle of his routine. “I’ll buy your first round Otabek!” he shouts over the din, and Otabek thinks as he watches JJ trip over a gaggle of his fans, that it’s a bad omen for how the rest of the night will go.

There is a lot of evidence left on the internet about the night. JJ is the undisputed king of Twitter, and he’s apparently picked up Instagram as well. With Leo being just as bad with Snapchat and Instagram, Otabek can hardly go ten minutes without one of them aiming their phones in his direction for a photo or video.

After four shots and three rounds of drinks, Otabek stops minding it. He even willingly gets his own phone out and snaps a single selfie of the three of them standing arm-in-arm by the bar (where the lighting is the best, the burgeoning photographer in his brain helpfully supplies).

“What have you two been tagging your photos with?” he makes the mistake of asking.

“Worlds2k17,” Leo says immediately. After a moment adds, “Helsinki or downtownHelsinki, I keep going between those two, skatersofinstagram, baddecisions2k17, barcrawlswithskates—JJ and I came up with that one—”

“Hashtag JJstyle!” JJ adds helpfully, which, of course; Otabek should have known. He nudges Otabek in the ribs, “And tag us both in it, Otabek; no one believes me when I tell them we’re great friends.”

Otabek wouldn’t call them ‘great’ friends, but he does as he’s told. Almost immediately, he sees Yuri like the photo. Feeling brave, Otabek takes another selfie, just of himself, smiling shyly and making sure to tilt his head so the light hits the right angles of his face, and sends it to Yuri as a direct message.

 

yuri-plisetskyYou look like youre having fun

otabek-altinCould be having more. You could be here.

yuri-plisetskyoh my god. You are so trashed

otabek-altinprobably

yuri-plisetskyI can’t believe you let those two drag you up to sing that stupid rock song

otabek-altinQueen is not stupid

yuri-plisetskyyou didn’t see Leo’s snaps about it

 

Otabek is smiling like a loon at his phone, has just typed out fair point when JJ grabs him by the arm and says, “Last call, Otabek! One more round before we leave!”

 

From: Me
I’ll be back soon. Wait up for me?

From: Yuri
Sure, whatever

From: Me
<3 <3 <3

 

*

Otabek didn’t expect to have as much fun out with JJ and Leo as he does, but it pales in comparison to opening his hotel door and finding Yuri sitting on the couch going through his phone. Otabek knows that he is still drunk, and that it’s already late and they should get to bed soon. He knows that there is a whole mountain of reasons why Otabek shouldn’t be thinking about pressing Yuri down into the couch and kissing him breathless, starting with Yuri’s age and ending with their free skates in just a handful of hours. But still, he watches Yuri, and thinks that maybe, in another life, it would have all been so much easier. If they had different circumstances, maybe, and less responsibility as teenagers, and maybe if Otabek lived a life that made him into a braver man, if—if—if—

“God, even when you’re shitfaced, you still think too much,” Yuri says when he finally looks up.

“I’m not shitfaced,” Otabek responds.

Yuri huffs a little and sets his phone down.

“Sure.”

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Otabek says before he can really think about it.

Yuri blushes and gets up to wander into the kitchen.

“I told you I would be.”

“No,” Otabek says, and thinks about the two terrible weeks of silence, thinks about the way his twelve-year-old heart had ached when watching the shine in Yuri’s hair, and how it never really learned how to stop. “I’m glad you’re here,” he says again, hoping Yuri understands.

“You’re such a sap,” Yuri says, and hands him a glass of water. “Don’t you dare be hung over tomorrow. I’ll never forgive you if you fuck up your free skate because of this.”

“Okay,” Otabek says obediently, taking the glass and draining it in five seconds flat. Yuri watches him expectantly, and Otabek thinks, I could do it now. I could reach out and take him by the hand, and I could say everything I’ve been feeling for years. He even gets as far as saying, “Yuri, I—”

Before Yuri cuts him off with a hand on his wrist.

“Shut up,” he says sharply. “Go to bed. We’ve got like five hours before we need to be at the stadium.”

“But Yuri,” Otabek says, and is surprised by the sharp whine he hears in his voice. “I want to say—”

“Tell me tomorrow,” Yuri snaps. He takes a deep breath, and his shoulders drop, just a bit. Just enough. “If you still want to, I’ll be listening.”

So Otabek sets his empty glass down and crosses the few feet to one of the two twin beds. He collapses down into it.

“You’ll stay, won’t you?” Otabek asks into his pillow.

Yuri is silent for so long that Otabek nearly falls asleep waiting for the response. Finally, he hears Yuri’s voice somewhere near the other bed.

“Of course,” Yuri all but breathes into the silence, quietly, like he thinks Otabek’s already asleep. And then, so softly it hurts, says “Otabek,” just once, like he can’t help it.

Otabek wants to say something, anything to get the wistful sound out of Yuri’s voice, but at last the alcohol is starting to catch up with him. Even with his eyes closed, he can feel the world spinning ever so slightly. All he can manage is a sigh before the heaviness in his limbs drags him into unconsciousness.

*

The free skate is an ordeal the next day. Otabek wakes up running late to find that he’s alone in his hotel. He takes about five minutes to get ready and manages to catch the last shuttle driving up to the skating rink. He only manages to make it there with about an hour before the warm-up skate begins, then discovers that Leo and JJ are pretty much surrounded by press as he tries to get in unnoticed.

“Otabek!” Leo calls from the middle, his eyes a little wide from all the flashing lights, and waves a hand cheerily.

There is a minute where Otabek regrets every choice he’s made up until this moment, before the press all round on him like one bloodthirsty school of fish.

It takes forever for them to get through all sorts of strange and annoyingly personal questions about last night. Otabek thinks it’s a bit much honestly, but then wonders when there was a group of skaters who made quite an impression on Helsinki last. He thinks it would probably have involved Christophe Giacometti and Viktor Nikiforov back when they were both reckless teenagers as well.

At least, Otabek thinks as he impresses on the group how him and Leo are just friends for the fifth time (which, what?), that at least they are turning their attention on him and his over-the-top friends instead of Yuri’s home life.

After what feels like forever but is really more like fifteen minutes, Otabek escapes the press’ clutches and bolts into the backstage area, never more grateful when he spots Yuri sitting in a tight group with Viktor Nikiforov, Katsuki Yuuri, and Christophe Giacometti. He makes a beeline for them, watches Yuri’s expression soften when he looks up and they lock eyes.

“Otabek,” Katsuki says on a smile. “We were wondering when you’d be in.”

“Chris thought you wouldn’t show up entirely,” Viktor says.

Christophe, who rolls his eyes and hands a crisp 20€ to Viktor, says, “I remember my first Grand Prix when I was old enough to drink. I didn’t get out of bed until ten minutes before my Short Program.”

“Some people have self-control, Giacometti,” Yuri cuts in, but he is happily ignored by the older man.

“Who needs self-control!” Viktor pipes up. Otabek watches Katsuki’s mortification as he slowly drops his head in his hands.

“Yurio’s right, Viktor,” Katsuki says. “Self-control is very important.”

“Sit with us, Otabek!” Viktor interrupts with a dazzling smile. “The warm-up skate should be starting soon.”

“I really should stretch,” Otabek hedges.

But then three different sets of smiles are turned towards him, and the addition of Yuri’s carefully hopeful expression has him finding space between Yuri and Katsuki on the short couch.

“Did you know there’s a fight between Yuri’s and Leo’s fans?” Christophe asks after a beat of silence.

“Not this again,” Yuri mumbles under his breath.

“Why?”

“They can’t decide who you’re dating!” Chris says happily.

“What?” Otabek asks incredulously. “I’m not dating anybody.”

He almost adds that he’s actually never been on a single date before, just to add another layer onto everyone’s surprised faces, but keeps his mouth shut.

“Very interesting,” Christophe says, and turns to his phone. “That is sure to upset many fans.”

“But what about all those date pics of you and Leo?” Viktor asks, frowning. “You’ve been together since that time you went to see the Statue of Liberty.”

“No,” Otabek says, and tries to stamp down the flush of embarrassment he feels.

“It was the most romantic photo of 2017,” Christophe agrees.

“So far,” Vikto adds.

“I’m not dating Leo.”

Otabek doesn’t know where to begin with that whole issue. He could start with the weird threesome he suspects Leo, Guang Hong, and Phichit have fallen into or the fact that he’s been head over heels in love with Yuri since before he knew what love really meant. However, instead he lets the silence stretch on just long enough to be uncomfortable.

“Otabek is too old for Yurio anyway,” Katsuki says mildly, which earns an outraged noise from Yuri.

“What? No, he’s not!” Yuri shouts, and Katsuki blinks.

“He’s nineteen, Yurio.”

“So? I’m sixteen. That’s not so bad!”

“What’s the age difference between you and Viktor?” Otabek can’t help but add in, not meeting Katsuki’s eyes.

“Four years,” Viktor pipes in helpfully, which makes Yuri and Katsuki both turn and scowl at him.

“That’s different, Viktor,” Katsuki mumbles, frowning. “We were already adults when we became a couple. Yurio’s still a kid.”

“No, I’m not!” Yuri says, and jumps up.

The red is high on his cheekbones, as he scowls down at everyone furiously.

“Let’s go, Otabek,” he says, and storms away.

Otabek follows after him, trying hard not to hear Christophe in the background saying, like he’s had a revelation, “So you are dating Yurio!”

“No one’s dating anyone,” he hears Katsuki say, and rounds a corner before he can hear the rest of the conversation.

“Hey,” Otabek says when he finally catches up to Yuri, brooding out by the kiss-and-cry. “Are you okay?”

“Do you think I’m still just a stupid kid, Otabek?” Yuri asks, neatly avoiding Otabek’s question.

“Of course not,” he says.

“Then, why don’t you?”

“Why don’t I what?”

Yuri waves his arms around, just a little wildly.

“Date me?” he finally grinds out between clenched teeth. “Is it because I’m an immature brat or whatever? Because I throw temper tantrums and break shit? Because—”

“I don’t think you’re immature,” Otabek says, and when Yuri only scoffs at that, adds, “Yuri, I don’t.”

“You keep bringing up the shit I pulled at Four Continents like I’m a kid that disappointed you,” Yuri says bitterly. “Like you don’t think I’ve learned my lesson or something.”

“Because it was a shitty thing to do to me,” Otabek can’t help but snap back. He shakes his head when Yuri frowns and opens his mouth to argue. “But, okay. You’re right. I already forgave you, and it’s shitty that I kept doing that. I’m sorry. I’ll stop.”

Yuri then does this weird thing with his face where he looks a little like a fish gaping out of water; it would be funnier under different circumstances. As it is, it’s hopelessly endearing.

“You’ll stop?” he says incredulously. “Just like that?”

“Yeah,” Otabek says. He takes a cautious step forward, just a little into Yuri’s personal bubble, and is heartened when Yuri makes no move to pull away. “It was selfish of me. And I don’t want to be a father-figure or older-brother figure to you, Yuri.”

“What do you want to be?”

Yuri crosses his arms, a little defiantly, like he’s calling Otabek’s bluff. Otabek thinks he’s got absolutely nothing left to lose, so he takes a deep breath and reaches for Yuri’s hand. He laces their fingers together, emboldened by the tiny gasp he hears from Yuri, and tugs him closer.

“Yuri Plisetsky!” A woman’s voice calls out from somewhere behind them. Otabek turns, and sees the imposing figure of Lillia Baranovskaya marching towards them. Yuri pulls away from Otabek and crosses his arms. The ground feels like it drops away from his feet when Lillia crosses her arms. “We’ve been looking for you! The warm-up is about to start. Get over here; Yakov and I need to speak with you!”

“I’m coming!” Yuri snarls in her direction. “Give me like, five seconds!”

“Look,” Yuri says, turning back and piercing Otabek with his stare again. “You better fucking find me after your Free Skate. Okay? Because I swear I am not doing another two months of this fucking—fucking—”

“Yuri!”

“I’m coming!” Yuri calls over his shoulder. “And for the record? That photo you took with Leo looking out into the water with the stupid purple and pink sunset in New York? That was the sappiest, most romantic looking, trashy shit in the history of Instagram. Chris and Viktor are right for once in their stupid lives. You can’t just drop a bombshell like that and not expect everyone to assume things, and—”

“Yurochka!”

“I’m coming, fuck!” Yuri yells. “And good luck today,” he mumbles, then has to visibly shake himself before he turns on his heel and rushes over to where Lillia is frowning.

Otabek can’t watch him leave.

Well. That could have probably gone a lot worse. It could also have gone a little better, Otabek thinks to himself ruefully. Better as in: he presses Yuri up against the side of the unfortunately puce wall and presses kiss after kiss onto him. But then again, Otabek has never been the kind of person who is quite that bold. It’s part of the reason why he’s never been in an actual relationship before—that and the fact that he’s never really been interested in anyone except for a certain Ice Tiger of Russia, and even that has only ever been a sweetly platonic sort of aching until recently.

“Otabek?” Leo’s voice asks somewhat tentatively. Otabek snaps out of his head, suddenly unsure of how much time has passed, and sees Leo standing a few feet to his right, a pair of skates dangling from his hand. “The warm-up’s starting in like, five minutes. Everyone’s been wondering where you were. I saw you still hadn’t even put your skates on and thought, well.”

He shrugs, and offers Otabek’s skates out. Otabek takes them and looks at the mess of laces.

“Thanks.”

And then, later:

“Leo,” he says when they begin their slow trek to the other side of the rink. “You’re not like, into me, are you?”

“What?” Leo asks, flicking his wrist dismissively. “No way, man.”

“Okay,” Otabek says, and feels a flicker of relief rinse over him. “There’s been speculation about it.”

“Yeah, Phichit would not stop badgering me about that all last week,” Leo laughs. “The internet has been going through all of these rumors since you moved to New York. Can you believe it?” He stops suddenly, bites his lip and furrows his brow. “I mean, you’re not into me, are you? I mean, I always just thought that the thing with Yuri was, like, your thing. I mean he’s the only person I have ever seen you skype and one of like three people you text regularly so I guess I just assumed it. Or whatever.”

“No,” Otabek says when Leo takes a breath. He can’t help the small smile that tugs up the corner of his mouth at the strangeness of this exchange. “I don’t have feelings for you, Leo.”

“That’s a relief,” Leo says. They reach the benches by the nearest rink entrance, and he all but melts onto a bench under the pretense of retying the laces of his skates. “Yuri’s not jealous of our friendship, is he?”

“I have no idea,” Otabek replies, although the more he thinks about it, the more he thinks that maybe he does have an idea. “Yuri and I aren’t together.”

“That sounds like there’s a ‘yet’ at the end of it,” Leo whispers. He gets up and waddles the last few feet to the rink. “Well, I’m rooting for you, Otabek. See you the ice,” he adds before seconds later, he’s halfway across the rink.

Otabek gets on the ice and thinks: yes, maybe Yuri and him aren’t together yet, but there’s still an entire championship to win; the possibilities are endless. He reasons that maybe, if he finishes today with a medal around his neck, it might just be enough to help him finally talk to Yuri. At any rate, it’s enough of a motivator to focus on his routine again like the professional he’s supposed to be.

He doesn’t watch Yuri out of the corner of his eye, no matter how much he wants to. Instead, he focuses on cleaning up his step sequence, and doesn’t listen to the quiet groans from the audience when Katsuki Yuuri flubs his first practice jump.

*

Otabek is third, so he doesn’t watch JJ or Chris’s performances. Instead he sits in the common room and tries not to listen to the announcer’s voice from the TV on the other side of the room. He doesn’t see Yuri again, not even when he’s taking his place center-stage. But he does hear him, unmistakably, calling out his name and shouting “Good luck! Otabek! Good luck!”

But then the music starts, and for once, Otabek’s mind stills, and he thinks of absolutely nothing until his program is over. Then suddenly, as if doused in cold water, he’s standing there, panting like he’s run a marathon with no memory of his program. Like the volume has been switched back on, Otabek shakes his head and the roaring of the crowds hit him in a rush. Over the intercom, the announcer is saying something, but it’s garbled over the noise from the stands. In a daze, he skates to where his coach is watching him with a smile on her face. Otabek grabs one of the bears in his path and distantly thinks that he never even checked in with her when he first arrived. Wonders if the inscrutable look on her face has something to do with that.

“Good job, Otabek,” she says, and hands him a pair of skate guards.

“Thank you,” he says, and sends a thumbs-up to Leo waiting anxiously beside her.

Yuri finds him eventually, after his own skate puts him in first place with only Katsuki left to contend with. Otabek’s been hiding, somewhere the press and the noise and the furious roar of the audience can’t reach him. He thinks he’s safe here in the parking garage for a few minutes, but then he hears the shuffle of awkward footsteps. When he looks up, he sees Yuri hasn’t even bothered to take off his skates before coming to find him.

“I don’t get why you’re being so broody,” he says lightly. Otabek watches the self-assured expression on Yuri’s face as he crosses further into the room, the shadows from the weak overhead lights casting a wicked gleam across him. Otabek exhales sharply. “I mean,” Yuri continues, heedless of Otabek’s reaction, “You’re definitely medaling today. All that matters is if Katsudon remembers how to skate today, to see if it’s a silver or bronze.”

“I know,” Otabek breathes, watching Yuri’s slow approach.

He agrees that he should definitely be feeling any mixture of happy, excited, and anxious, but all he feels is a strange pool of anticipation begin to swirl in his stomach. Yuri is almost at eye level with his skates, and Otabek feels something warm in his belly unfurl when he has to look up just a fraction to meet Yuri’s eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Otabek starts, thinking that it’s always good to start a difficult conversation off with that.

“Sorry for what?” Yuri asks with a shrug. “For being the only person not to treat me like a child with anger problems? For listening to my sad bullshit drama all last week? Otabek, you are one of the last people on the planet that needs to apologize to me right now.”

“I don’t want you to think I underestimate you,” Otabek says.

Yuri blinks at him, his mouth partially open, seemingly stunned into silence.

“How do you always do that?”

“What?”

“Say the stupidest, lamest, sappiest shit and look like you mean it?”

“I do mean it,” Otabek insists, and grabs Yuri’s hand before he has a chance to cross his arms. “Look,” he says, taking a deep breath to find the courage to continue, “I really like being friends with you, Yuri. I like talking with you, and spending time with you, and I think—”

“Holy shit,” Yuri says softly, and then whatever the look on his face slips away, slowly replaced with an incredulous looking grin. He squeezes Otabek’s hand, hard, and says in a voice that trembles, “Are you saying you want to be boyfriends?

“If you want,” Otabek replies, then nearly kicks himself at how terrible that sounds. “I mean yes. I.” He runs a hand through his hair. “That came out sounding all wrong. Just. Yuri Plisetsky, will you date me?”

“Yes! You stupid—you fucking—”

But he doesn’t bother to finish his sentence, choosing instead to pull Otabek the single step separating them and wrap his arms around his neck. Otabek feels a little like he’s dreaming when he tentatively does the same; he feels Yuri trembling slightly, remembers in that moment the other night when he’d held a trembling Yuri beside his sofa until they fell asleep from the weight of Yuri’s grief. Now, however, the trembling resolves into a quiet sort of laughter. Otabek feels it start in Yuri’s ribs and spill, uncontrollably, into the air around them. He doesn’t think he’s ever wanted to kiss Yuri more.

So then, he does, marveling at how he has permission to. Knowing that Yuri would welcome it. He pulls away just a fraction, just enough for a glimpse of the seldom-seen smile on his face, before he leans in and presses his lips to Yuri’s. Soft, he thinks, coaxing, like a wild animal; not to lure, but to gain trust.

The vibration of Yuri’s phone is a startling reminder of where they are, and Otabek pulls away before he is tempted to deepen the kiss. Yuri looks at him with wide eyes. When he licks his lips, Otabek watches the sharp pink of his tongue.

“Your phone,” Otabek says in apology.

“Who gives a shit about my phone,” Yuri snaps, but he’s already pulling it out of his pocket and unlocking it. His eyes scan the message in an instant, then snap back up to Otabek. “Viktor just sent me Katsudon’s score. 196.52.”

Otabek forgets how to breathe for a second. He does the math in his head, hardly daring to believe it.

“That would mean his final total is—”

“TWO whole points under yours!” Yuri nearly shouts. He jumps up, out of Otabek’s embrace, punching the air as he goes. “Eat it, Katsudon! Otabek, you know what that means?”

“That we should get to the ice for the awards ceremony?” Otabek asks weakly.

“FUCKING SILVER, OTABEK!” Yuri howls, then launches himself back into a hug. “I knew you’d do it! This is perfect, you beat Katsudon. This is the single greatest thing that’s happened since the Grand Prix. Come on, put your skates back on, we have to get to the awards ceremony. Otabek. Otabek, come on.”

Otabek lets a laughing Yuri tug him back into reality, still not daring to believe what’s just happened.

*

When they finally get back to the ice, the heft of the silver medal around his neck is grounding in a way no other thing has been today. However, Yuri’s hand, tight around his own as he raises them into the air in victory? That’s something else entirely.

*

“I’ll visit you in St. Petersburg,” Otabek says at the airport two days later, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with Yuri on the floor next to a charging outlet and pretending to care about his Instagram feed.

The small box in his coat pocket is burning a hole through his jacket pocket, and he even rethinks the gift for a moment before Yuri scoffs at him.

“There’s nothing to do out there,” Yuri dismisses, casts a brief glance to Otabek before quickly looking down at his phone again. “It would probably be lame.”

“You’ll be there,” is Otabek’s response, and is rewarded with a bright blush that starts high on Yuri’s cheeks and slowly seeps down his neck. Otabek sticks his hand in his pocket and wraps his fingers around the cardboard box. “I have something for you.”

That gets Yuri to look up from his phone entirely, a small frown between his brows. Otabek thinks I love you, and swallows the words back down into his chest. Too soon, he thinks; not yet. Instead, he pulls the small box out of his pocket and holds it out to Yuri, balanced easily in his palm. Yuri looks down at it, then back up at Otabek.

“If you got me jewelry—”

“Just take it,” Otabek says.

Yuri plucks the box out of his hand and opens it with fingers that hardly even tremble; Otabek wouldn’t have caught it if he wasn’t so practiced at watching Yuri (his boyfriend, his brain supplies unhelpfully, and he feels a flutter in his belly again). Yuri looks down at the opened gift and frowns.

“Keys,” he says.

“They’re to my motorbike in Almaty,” Otabek says. Yuri’s gaze snaps up to him, and Otabek’s grasp of language is completely demolished by the intensity there. “I. It’s um. Cheaper to send it to St. Petersburg than it is to get it all the way to the U.S. I thought, you could look after it while you’re taking care of your grandfather. Maybe get your license, if you have the time.”

“You’re giving me your bike,” Yuri says slowly, and now Otabek can’t tell what the look on his face is. Otabek feels himself blushing. “You’re giving me, Yuri Plisetsky, the guy who has the biggest temper on the planet and can’t deal with the consequences of his actions, a motorcycle.”

“You shouldn’t believe your own press, Yura,” Otabek says, and finally, is rewarded with a smile. “And, no. I’m lending my boyfriend my motorbike. For safekeeping.”

“Oh my god,” Yuri says, and lunges at Otabek for a bone-crushing hug. “Your boyfriend, huh?”

“Yeah,” Otabek says, and indulges himself by running his fingers through Yuri’s hair.

He feels Yuri shudder a little into the movement, and tightens his grip. The words are still so new that he thinks both of them get a thrill out of hearing it aloud. Eventually, Yuri pulls away and says, with a mischievous smirk on his face:

“How can I trust we’re really dating? I mean, it’s not even Facebook Official, Otabek.”

Which is how Otabek’s most popular Instagram photo to date is one of him and Yuri sitting crouched on the hard airport floor, Yuri’s arms wrapped around Otabek’s neck and smiling like a dream. The corner of Otabek’s mouth is tilted up, and he is looking at Yuri while his arms stretch out to take the photo.

The caption reads:

@yuri-plisetsky can’t wait to see you in St. Petersburg

And at Yuri’s insistence, he adds the tags: #bae, #yeswearedating, #mysterysolved, #sorryallyouleobekshippers

Otabek is almost late for his own flight seeing Yuri off, but it’s worth it for the way his lips tingle from their kiss, and Otabek holds the sound of Yuri’s laughter in his heart for the long flight back to New York.