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In the Land of the Wanderers

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Otabek remembers the first time he saw Yuri, with the sunlight bouncing off his brilliant, golden hair; he remembers the dead look in those eyes, the cold, determined glint in them as he passed over Otabek’s form and found him lacking. Otabek had just turned 12 at the time, and he remembers thinking that they looked like Grandfather’s eyes sometimes did if he was left alone for too long. Otabek keeps the moment locked away in the place where he stores his most treasured memories, and he thinks Yuri doesn’t remember it because he’d only been so young. Nine at the time. God, does Otabek even remember something from when he was nine?

The answer is no, not really. His only memory at nine years old is crying petulantly in his room while he remembered all the kids saying he was terrible at skating, and that he’d never be good enough to skate professionally. He doesn’t even remember who those kids had been, just a gaggle of faces in the shape of a semi-circle.

Here is the thing: Yuri is 15. And Otabek doesn’t—he doesn’t know what to do with this constricting feeling in his chest when Yuri shouts “DAVAI!” as he skirts across the ice. He doesn’t want to like him as much as he already does. Yuri is 15 and in his prime, and Otabek has wanted him in his life for so long he doesn’t know how to feel any other way. He’s obsessively followed Yuri’s career from the moment he broke into the Junior League and blew everyone away.

Had it really only been three years ago when he’d seen the tiny upstart and recognized those eyes, the eyes of a soldier? It had been Otabek’s last run in the junior championship, and even at 17, he’d had to fight for the gold that season. It was his hardest earned gold, and Yuri had taken the silver with only seven points separating them.

He doesn’t think he’s being clear. A bad way to begin. A little better, perhaps:

*

Otabek almost doesn't go to the gala after the Grand Prix at Barcelona. He will admit to himself in the privacy of his own mind that he’s bitterly disappointed about not placing at the Grand Prix, but he cannot find fault in either Yuri or Katsuki's performances to justify the jealousy bubbling in his chest. (He can throw as much vitriol JJ’s way, however, as they are kind of friends and therefore he’s got no problems tearing him to pieces.) He'll do better next season. He has to.

And anyway, his flight is so early in the morning that it’s easy to justify his absence tonight. Doubtful anyone but his coach would notice the faux pas. So, he’s sitting in his hotel room, packing the few belongings he’s left scattered around the floor, when a pounding at his door makes him look up.

"Hey! If I have to go to this thing, there's no way you're escaping it, Altin!"

Yuri then.

"How did you find my room number?" He calls through the door.

"I'm not having this conversation from outside your fucking room," Yuri says, and takes up pounding loudly at the door again until Otabek's picked himself up off the floor and revealed Yuri’s scowling face.

Yuri, it is important to note, looks very different when he is dressed in a well-fitting suit and his hair is pulled back so that it is no longer covering his face. On the rink, he straddles the line between a silk spun pair of wings and something closer to the whirlwind of a tornado. Now, however, the clean lines keep him grounded in a way that’s never present on the ice. Absent too, is the petulance of the Ice Tiger of Russia. He looks almost like he could pass for a well-balanced adult (the scowl gives him away, though).

He is also way too attractive in his deep blue suit than a 15-year-old has any right to be. Briefly, Otabek considers telling him this, just to see what his reaction would be.

"I see you opted out of wearing the cat ears," is what Otabek says after it is clear Yuri is just going to judge him silently while tapping his foot.

That at least gets him to go through a number of outraged expressions in a matter of seconds, so Otabek counts it as a win. At least he does until Yuri finally regains a modicum of speech back and spits out, "Yeah, well I see you opted to dress like a fucking trash fire. Are you kidding me."

Otabek looks down at himself; its true he's wearing a ratty yellow shirt that is so old it looks mostly grey, and that the neckline has stretched and misshapen after years of use so that it almost falls off his shoulder, and one time he mixed it with his reds so there are faint orange blotches in strange places. It is also true that his last remaining clean sweatpants are the extra ones he'd taken when the Khazak team had ordered one too many, never mind that they were a size too small, and that he'd rolled them so they fit more like Capri's than pants. They were pajamas anyway. His toes scrunch together in the carpeting, but he refuses to be embarrassed.

"In my defense-"

"Jesus Christ." Yuri looks like he might have an aneurysm for a moment, before he clenches his fists and pushes his way into Otabek's room. "Don't even try to tell me that you've already packed your stuff as an excuse. If your suit is actually just balled up at the bottom of your suitcase we are terminating this friendship. I mean it, Otabek."

So Otabek does him a kindness and opens the door to the tiny closet next to the bathroom, revealing three lonely hangers with his gala outfit.

"I forgot my tie," he admits.

"I cannot actually believe you."

Which all goes to mean that they show up to the gala nearly an hour and a half late, as Yuri had insisted they go back to his room and try on a number of ties until he found one that ostensibly matched Otabek’s shirt. Most everyone is already there, and definitely well on their way to trashed. Katsuki, Otabek notices, is still wearing his silver medal, and is blushing furiously while Viktor Nikiforov hangs off his neck and plays with the ribbon. Yuri spots them as well, and makes a gagging noise by his side.

"I hate them so much," he says, and Otabek just nods because after even only a day of calling this strange human his friend, he knows when to pick his battles. "And promise me you'll kill me if I agree to any dance competitions this time," he adds as they wander to the table with all the champagne glasses.

"Or maybe try not to drink yourself into making bad decisions," Otabek says lightly. "What's the legal drinking age in Spain, I wonder?"

Yuri doesn't answer him, instead opts to scowl heavily as he chugs his first flute of champagne. Otabek feels a smile tug at the corners of his mouth.

He has fun that night. Especially when he has to bodily hold down a very drunk Yuri hours later when Giacometti does indeed challenge him to a dance off much later that night.

Why are you always shirtless? he wants to snap at the other man, but instead he only leads Yuri out into the lobby to prevent a mass murder.

He thinks that very soon, Yuri will have his last growth spurt, and then all his threats will finally be taken seriously. Then he thinks about the delicate way he'd spun in his quad salchow in the short program, arms spread behind him like a pair of wings, an Angel suspended mid-movement. He's surprised at the strange sting he feels at that.

Then he thinks about the video he’d found on youtube weeks before the Grand Prix, where Yuri in full Russian-Punk-style kicks Katsuki Yuuri so hard he slides three meters into a building in Hasetsu. Wonders what would have happened if Yuri was six inches taller and had a few more kilos of muscle mass in his legs.

"Stop thinking," Yuri says, slumping against him as Otabek leads them to the nearest couch. His eyes are closed, and his bottle-green tie has come undone. "It's irritating."

"Right," Otabek says, but after a second, Yuri shifts a bit and appears to shudder into the sleep of the dead.

Half an hour later, everyone seems to mutually agree it’s time to go to sleep, and while the skaters all begin to pour out of the room, he gently nudges Yuri awake.

Yuri blinks his eyes awake, and all at once Otabek understands how people can use the word startling to describe the color. He never thought humans could actually have eyes that bright. Otabek wonders where his breath disappeared to. There are a handful of precious seconds where Yuri is not quite awake yet that seem to stretch out forever, before he pushes away from Otabek and stands. There is a blush beginning to form along the long line of his neck.

"I have to go find someone," Yuri mumbles, then staggers back into the fray.

Otabek isn't sure what just happened. He’s resigned himself to a somewhat lonely walk back to his hotel room. However, soon enough, Yuri staggers back to him wearing an annoyed-looking moue that scrunches up his nose and makes Otabek, against his better judgement, think of a small kitten.

“You have to use your Instagram more if we’re going to be friends, Altin,” Yuri warns when Otabek assumes Yuri is only waiting for Nikiforov and Katsuki to finish groping each other. “It’s no fun otherwise.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Otabek says after some consideration, which is as close to the truth as Otabek is willing to say aloud.

(The truth being: he’ll spend the hours before his flight tonight resetting his passwords and remembering how to use the app, as he hadn’t bothered to download it when he’d upgraded his phone two months back.)

“Good,” Yuri says, and then he forces Otabek to take a selfie under the terrible lighting of the hotel’s lobby. He glares at the room in general and snaps, “I’ll be waiting for you to like it,” before storming back into the lounge and yelling for the other two skaters.

Otabek thinks that he may have gotten in way over his head.

*

Here is the truth: there is no better place than Almaty. Otabek has been all over the world and has still not found a sight more beautiful to behold than his hometown at dusk, when the golden light just begins to bleed into pinks and reds, and for a moment the spiraling tips of the central city mosque look like they’re carved from gold.

The rush of cold air along the underside of his neck while he is spinning on the ice is a close second. It is complicated. If asked to choose between his home or the ice, there could be no straight answer. He will always need the scraping sound of his skates as he touches down from a jump; just like he will always need Almaty. Incomparable. But not incompatible. Otabek knows this like it’s been carved into his bones: that he will never find a place more perfect than his home.

And yet.

And yet here he is, sitting in a darkened corner of an airport terminal, just over two weeks after the Grand Prix. He’s flipping idly through the pages of his worn-out copy of Fools Crow, thinking about time zones and beavers and the faraway look his coach had worn when she’d announced she was leaving for good to look after her ailing sister. He’d hired Berna because she’d offered to coach him in his hometown, and after so long on the other side of the Atlantic, he’d been desperate to come home. Funny that only a year later he’s crossing the sea again to train in New York next.

Here is another truth, one so close to his heart that Otabek has not allowed it to slip out into the world yet: there is nothing in Almaty to hold him down, to make him stay. Otabek has a small family—as the only son of an only son—and so it had been just him, his parents, and his grandfather, until time had passed, and it was just Otabek and his mother. And while Otabek loves his mother, he doesn’t think she is enough of a reason to stay in Kazakhstan. A truth more solid than diamond: he loves his mother. Otabek had never wanted for anything growing up either, and yet to this day he can’t seem to find a way to bridge the strange gap that has grown between them.

His phone buzzes, and Otabek sees it’s his already neglected Instagram account saying yuri-plisetsky commented on your photo. Otabek lets the corner of his mouth slide up, because he’d snapped a half-hearted selfie outside the Almaty International Airport not two hours ago, when the sun was only just deciding to creep up into the sky and the cheesy caption New York City bound the only thing he’d been able to come up with. He opens the app, somewhat uncomfortable with the brooding look in his eyes. Already it’s at 600 likes (he has no idea 600 people actually cared about what he did).

yuri-plisetsky business or pleasure?

otabek-altin business.

Otabek types it out before he’s consciously decided to reply. Except, that wasn’t really right, was it? The business of figure skating, Otabek thinks it but doesn’t add it to the comment. He thinks for a moment. Adds: New trainer.

Hits the send button again before he can think better of it.

He checks again, and the photo has over 50 more likes. Several other people have added their own comments, but Otabek hardly spares a glance at them.

“Now boarding KLM flight 407, Almaty to Amsterdam,” a voice over the intercom says, and Otabek picks up his laptop bag and resigns himself to a very long time jumping from airport to airport.

Only 27 hours until he makes it to New York.

It’s not a very comforting thought.

*

Eleven hours later, while he’s eating a sad lunch in an airport that is probably somewhere in Detroit, he checks his Instagram again and finds that he’s got a direct message from one yuri-plisetsky. It’s a photo of Yuri from a high angle, wearing a blue scarf that covers most of his face but doesn’t quite manage to cover the scowl. It looks like he’s sitting in bleachers of some sort; Otabek assumes he’s at practice, then. He’s also flashing a piece sign. It’s captioned This is stupid. Text me so I we can talk like regular friends.

Also included is a long string of numbers that Otabek assumes is his phone number. Otabek replies.

otabek-altin I didn’t know you could send someone private messages on here.

yuri-plisetsky You have to send them a photo first look just do what I said

yuri-plisetsky You have whatsapp right

To which Otabek replies with a thumbs-up emoji.

He has just enough time to copy the phone number into his contacts before Yuri deletes the photo, along with their exchange. Otabek does not have whatsapp, but three minutes later, he does. All he does with it at first is send Yuri another thumbs-up emoji.

Yuri answers by sending him a series of symbols that he supposes mean to convey how annoyed he is.

About to board again, he texts, when he looks at the time and realizes he’s got five minutes to make it back to his terminal.

Otabek doesn’t get a response until he’s about to turn his phone on airplane mode. Yuri’s sent him a thumbs-up emoji in response.

He smiles as he powers off his phone (hoping he’ll have at least some battery when he flies into New York at 3 in the morning), and lets that stupid emoji keep him warm inside for hours.

He gets picked up at the airport by none other than Leo de la Iglesia once he’s finally landed what feels like years later. Iglesia waves him over happily and attempts some small talk as they head out of the airport. He looks only mildly nervous as they buckle up in a car that looks like it’s seen better days.

“I know it’s not much,” Iglesia says as he turns the ignition and fiddles with the heater for a moment. “It’s only seven years old, but my older brother wasn’t exactly the best driver in the world. Plus, we got it to New York from LA in one piece, so I’m pretty fond of it. Even if the heating doesn’t work too well all the time.”

Otabek stays silent and lets his eyes cross as Iglesia takes them on a meandering (and traffic-filled) journey to…well. Wherever it is they’re going. Iglesia talks a lot for someone who’s never said more than five or so words to Otabek before (“Congrats on the silver, Altin” at Skate America), and he says a lot that Otabek doesn’t understand, especially with about four hours of fitful sleep between flights for the past 27 hours.

He says: “You’ll need to get your metrocard asap, probably tomorrow because honestly it’ll be hell getting back at rush hour looking for a space near the apartment building. Plus, sometimes I can get this parking space that’s across the street from the front door, and let me tell you, people will kill for a space that good.”

He says: “There’s this great place in Brooklyn near 54th that serves Uzbek food. I know it’s not the same, but I know the owner and I’m sure they’ll be able to recommend a good Kazakh place for if you feel homesick.”

He says: “We’ll need to get you a map of the subways. I lost mine, and honestly that was the worst day of 2015 because hey, nothing is worse than thinking you’ve got your route memorized and then realizing instead of getting on the Blue C, you thought Orange D and now you’re in the Bronx and also late for practice.”

And: “Hey, I know you’re really tired and everything, but is it okay if we selfie really quick? It’ll only take a second and I promised Phichit I’d at least ask.”

Otabek is much too tired to put up much of a fight, so he suffers through an awkward selfie outside the door to Otabek’s new apartment, Iglesia smiling widely.

“Can I tag you in it?” he asks hopefully, handing Otabek his set of keys.

“Do what you like,” is Otabek’s response. “And thanks for the ride.” He’s going to bed. He needs at least two full days’ worth of sleep, he thinks, and now is not the time to argue about anything unless it’s life or death.

“Thanks, Altin.”

One minute later, his phone (clinging to life at 2% battery) tells him that you were tagged in a photo. When he opens it, Otabek sees his own exhausted attempt at a smile and Iglesia’s caption: @otabek-altin Can’t wait to get on the ice with this guy! #newroomie #skatersofinstagram #Manhattan #newyearnewcity

And one minute after that, a text from Yuri.

From: Yuri Plisetsky
i can’t believe youre actually rooming with Leo de la Iglesia

From: me
He was looking for a roommate, my coach said. And I can’t believe I’m still awake right now.

From: Yuri Plisetsky
Glad you made it safely

From: me
Thanks. I’m going to sleep now.

From: Yuri Plisetsky
Sure whatever Yakov is yelling now anyway

Otabek is 98% asleep when his phone buzzes again ten minutes later.

From: Yuri Plisetsky
Good night.

*

Otabek spends the next day sleeping. He wakes up at 5pm in a daze, unsure of what day of the week it is, and is awake only long enough to make himself a very sad sandwich before he is dragged back to bed.

This time when he sleeps, he dreams:

He stands on the side of a very wide road. He is alone, and the sun is setting, and it is warm enough now to brave the weather without his jacket. Trees line either side of the road, held back with black iron fences. There is a bench beside him, and a blue scarf sitting on it. He knows it’s not his scarf, and has a feeling he knows who it belongs to, but whoever that is, they are not here right now. There is a bench across the road from him too, and now that he looks there is a bench every ten or so meters away.

“I’m glad it’s not humid yet,” a voice says beside him, and when he looks, he sees that it’s Phichit Chulanont, who is standing in a tight huddle with Leo de la Iglesia and Guang Hong Ji. They all look at him, and Chulanont holds up an expensive-looking camera by the thick black strap. “Don’t forget this!”

“It’s not mine,” Otabek says, but then next to him, Yuri laughs.

“Thanks,” Yuri says, and takes the camera from Chulanot.

His hair has been pulled back into a messy bun, and Otabek gets the feeling suddenly that he knows the silky shape of the strands between his fingers. He turns back to Otabek, and he is smiling, a real smile—not like those angry grimaces he gives to reporters, or the mean upturn of his lips when he’s arguing. Just a genuine flash of teeth, his startlingly green eyes scrunched into half-moon shapes, a single crease in his cheek that could be a dimple. Otabek’s heart breaks a little.

“Yuri,” he says, more of a breath than a word.

Yuri says nothing, but he puts the camera up to his face and flashes a picture of Otabek. The flash is so bright that he scrunches his eyes closed, willing the oblong shape of it out of his vision.

He blinks once, twice, trying to focus on the shape of Yuri slowly approaching him. Otabek can make out the sway of his hips. He blinks again, hard, and when he opens his eyes—

When he opens his eyes, he is lying in his bed, with a single ray of sunlight shining into his eyes from the space between his blinds.

He takes a deep breath, willing the ache in his chest to loosen. A dream. Of course. He checks his phone, surprised to find that he’s slept through an entire day, and it is now almost 11 in the morning on a Thursday. There are also five unread messages from Yuri.

 

From: Yuri Plisetsky (4:00 ET)
OTABEK

From: Yuri Plisetsky (4:15 ET)
OTABEK

From: Yuri Plisetsky (5:02 ET)
OTABEK LISTEN HOW DO YOU NOT HAVE A PERSONAL FACEBOOK PAGE?? I SAW YOUR OFFICIAL PAGE BUT HOW DO YOU LIVE

From: Yuri Plisetsky (5:30 ET)
OTABEK ALTIN HOW DO YOU LIVE WITHOUT THE MESSENGER APP

From: Yuri Plisetsky (8:30 ET)
Sorry I forgot you moved to the other side of the planet you’re probably still trying to get over the jet-lag

From me: (10:47 ET)
I skype mostly. I figure I don’t need all those other messaging apps when one will do.

 

To which Yuri responds with what Otabek only assumes is his Skype username. Otabek takes the hint and adds REALyuri-plisetsky to his contacts, which results in a near immediate video call to come in.

“Hey,” Otabek says, the corner of his mouth turning up.

“Are you,” Yuri says, while a weird expression crosses his face. From Otabek’s phone, it looks like Yuri is slouching on a faded blue couch, but he shoots upright in a moment and seems to have trouble forming words for a second. “Are you still in bed?”

“Yeah,” Otabek replies, and tries very hard not to feel embarrassed about it. He stretches a bit, trying to keep himself in frame so that Yuri doesn’t have to look up at his ceiling. “Sorry. I didn’t really wake up until about three minutes ago.”

“You—” again Yuri pauses. A red flush has crept up the side of his neck. “I. You are actually a hobo.”

“Maybe,” Otabek’s smiling again, against his better judgement. “How are you?”

“Jesus,” Yuri mumbles, slouching back into the couch cushions. “Practice was practice. Viktor is trying to drive Yakov crazy. He moved back to Russia with Katsudon.”

“Katsudon?”

“They’re insufferable. Nobody can get any work done when they’re making a spectacle of themselves. I nearly beat in Viktor’s stupid old man face today, and it’s only the first day.”

“A tragedy,” Otabek says, thinking he should maybe at least attempt to get up.

He told his coach he’d need a few days before he could get on the ice, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t work out a bit. But then again: Yuri watches him from the other side of the world, scowling. The red flush on his face isn’t going away. He thinks about dream-Yuri’s smile, and wonders if he’s ever felt that happy in real life.

“You shouldn’t let them get to you,” Otabek finally says. He sits up at that, runs a hand through his hair. “If it makes you this angry.”

“I’m not angry,” Yuri says, but Yuri is apparently a terrible liar; Otabek can see right through it. “They are just so annoying. Irritating. Stupid.”

Yuri looks away at that, crosses his arms. Otabek hasn’t noticed how much Yuri’s hair has grown out until that moment, when it slides across his neck and forms a lush curtain that hides his face. He remembers Yuri’s hair from his dream, a messy avalanche piled on the top of his head. It’s not long enough for that, not yet, but if he doesn’t cut it for a few months…

He yanks himself forcibly into the present, and thinks about the things making Yuri angry.

“Is it because they’re affectionate, or because they’re in love?”

Yuri shrugs.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay,” Otabek says. He brings his hands up in surrender. “What do you want to talk about?”

“How about the fact that you still haven’t posted anything on Insta? After you promised me and everything. You’ve been in New York for two whole days Otabek.”

He chooses to ignore the tragic way Yuri abbreviated the word Instagram.

“I’ve been asleep,” he says instead.

“Not an excuse,” Yuri replies stubbornly, but there is a twitch in the corner of his mouth that could maybe be a smile one day, so Otabek lets it slide.

*

And so it is that Otabek’s second post to his Instagram account is a picture of the mid-morning traffic that he can spot from his window, the sky grim even for January. It’s been sleeting sluggishly since midnight, according to his weather app, which Otabek guesses is the reason for the somewhat empty sidewalks. Most of the people are crowded around the door to the Starbucks at the beginning of the block. It’s a good picture, even if it does look like a coffee ad.

He adds @yuri_plisetsky and then figures he may as well do the whole thing right, so types in Good morning #NYC before he can talk himself out of it.

Yuri is the first to like it.

The thing is, Otabek has never considered it a possibility that anyone would care enough about his personal life to broadcast it to the world. He tells reporter after reporter that he’s a very private person, and it’s true to an extent. But he also doesn’t actually do anything. People like Phichit Chulanont and Viktor Nikiforov go out into the world. They go sightseeing and shopping and out for hotpot in the middle of the night, while Otabek nine times out of 10 would rather stay in his sweats and watch The Amazing Spiderman with an English-to-Kazakh dictionary open on his phone just in case. He doubts anyone would want selfies of himself crouched in front of his laptop.

Well, maybe Yuri.

Another thing. He doesn’t think he’s ever had a friend like Yuri. He thinks maybe he’s been it doing wrong this whole time, but then, he probably hasn’t had enough friends to know what “normal” is. He thinks JJ is his friend, because JJ has his Skype and they go out to eat sometimes when they’re at the same competition. He might be friends with Leo de la Iglesia, in like a few weeks just by virtue of living together for the foreseeable future.

Yuri is different. But then, Yuri has always been different. Yuri’s arabesque has been in Otabek’s heart for five years now, but the brush of his breath against the back of Otabek’s neck while they ride a motorcycle in the cold dusk of a Barcelona winter-

That is different too.

*

He spends a week away from the ice just because he can. Because the Worlds championship is two months away, and he can afford a few days off to learn the heart of New York City. He gets a metrocard like Iglesia suggests and spends Saturday riding the subway to and from the skating rink, finding different places to eat on the walks to the subway station. He tries different coffee shops in his new neighborhood, tries to gain an appreciation for caffeine (fails at that).

He thinks about Yuri every time he pulls his phone out of his pocket, and the sound of his voice when he’d made Otabek promise to take more photos. So he explores New York City and takes a lot of pictures.

He discovers he likes taking pictures.

He goes to the Empire State building and snaps a photo from the base looking up, the great monstrosity looming over him and impossible to fit into his screen without using panorama. He takes a cab to the Brooklyn Bridge, just to be able to walk across it and get a good picture of the crisscrossing lines of aircraft cable. He goes to Central Park and takes close ups of three little ducks that watch him in a group while he sits on the grass.

Iglesia catches him sometime at it in the middle of the week.

“Have you been sightseeing?” he asks after practice one day.

He’s in the kitchen, shuffling around and opening cabinets. Otabek is suspicious almost instantly.

“Maybe,” Otabek says, unable to bring himself to lie.

He’s not the kind who sightsees normally, but he’s been wanting to see what it is like. Yuri may have started him on Instagram, but he’s rapidly filling it with all his photography. He’s not sure it’s exactly what Yuri was expecting when he told Otabek to get back on Instagram, but he’s found something he likes that isn’t ice skating, so he figures Yuri won’t mind it.

“I’ve seen your Instagram photos,” Leo says casually.

The corner of Otabek’s mouth turns up. He looks up from the book he’d been reading to study what little of Leo he can see from the kitchen.

“I didn’t know you followed me on Instagram.”

“Yeah, well I figured, we’re roommates right?” he says that like it’s a reasonable argument. Otabek doesn’t actually understand how that argument makes sense. Should he have followed Leo when he moved in? He didn’t know there were rules about this. “How are you liking it? The Sightseeing? New York?”

“It’s exhausting, honestly,” Otabek says.

He turns to his phone and uploads the last photo he’d taken today: the underside of a stairway into the subway system, hiding a nest of sleeping bags and a few crumpled pages of newspaper. After taking the photo, he’d gone to the nearest shop and bought a hot meal for the person living under the stairs. He’d tucked the Styrofoam box, wrapped tightly in its plastic bag, into the sleeping bag, half expecting someone to yell at him.

Leo hmms from the kitchen and appears in the living room with a bowl of chips.

“It’s easier with friends,” he says, still not quite looking at Otabek. He sits on the other end of the couch, a safe distance away. “I could tag-along, if you want.”

Otabek stays silent, watching Leo as he fidgets with a corn chip without looking up.

“I mean, I’ve always wanted to go to the Statue of Liberty, but you’ve got to reserve tickets and everything, and I was just thinking that the ferry to Liberty Island would be super cool too. Unless, you know. You’d rather go alone. Which is cool too. That’s super fine; I always say that you’ve got to learn how to be comfortable with yourself first. Well, actually Phichit is the one who told me that but I say it to Guang Hong all the time too.”

Otabek doesn’t think he took a breath in that whole speech. It’s actually a little impressive.

“If you’d like,” Otabek says. “I start training at the start of next week.”

“Right!” Leo says enthusiastically. “I’ll get us tickets for the weekend! It’ll be great!”

Otabek gets a great photo of the Statue of Liberty rising over the water like a beacon, which Otabek supposes was the point however many years ago. He also gets a good photo looking out over the ocean, because Leo bought them tickets that let them into the crown. Leo gets out his selfie stick on the boat ride back and they take a photo leaning against the railing of the ferry with the sun setting behind them.

Leo uploads that particular photo onto twitter, Instagram, and snapchat and fails to convince Otabek to get another social media account.

It ends up being a nice trip. Just before getting on the subway, Otabek finds a nice little souvenir shop and unearths a shirt with a fat cat dressed up like the Statue of Liberty from the clearance bin. He makes Leo try on the men’s Small and men’s Medium, then ends up getting the Woman’s Medium instead for Yuri. His shoulders aren’t as wide as Leo’s. He’ll love it. Eventually, they get back to the apartment, and Otabek doesn’t have the washed-out feeling of spending so long around so many strangers. Instead, all he feels is a soreness that begins to creep up his shoulders and calves, nothing so bad as even a light day on the ice.

“Thanks for letting me come along,” Leo says, hovering awkwardly in the space between the kitchen and the living room. “I know we’re not, like, friends. Not really. But I. Well.”

“I think we can be friends,” Otabek says, because he isn’t really the kind to mince the truth.

Leo smiles like the sun is rising, and laughs for so long Otabek starts to worry for his mental health.

“Awesome!” he says. “I think we can be friends too! I mean. I want to be friends.”

“Yeah, me too, Leo.”

Leo smiles again, mumbling about how he needs to talk to Guang Hong about this and how he absolutely won’t believe it.

Otabek sends Yuri a photo of the shirt over skype. Yuri sends him back a series of cat emojis and three of the ones with little hearts for eyes.

Overall, it’s a good day. The only thing missing really, was the presence of a scowling Russian Grand Prix Champion, but Otabek can hardly blame him for being on the other side of the planet. He settles for staring at the dumb emojis Yuri messaged him. He thinks that he is definitely in way over his head.

But then, he's been in the teetering space between love and obsession that the last little fall hardly even jostles him.

Chapter Text

He gets back on the ice the next day. He’s more than ready to get back to work. Worlds seems much closer after a week of rest. Plus, when he looks at the date, he realizes January is half over and panics a bit. He wonders if people with normal jobs can take breaks longer than a week without going stir-crazy.

Leo leaves for Missouri that Thursday, as he needs to medal at the US Nationals if he hopes to get to Worlds. Otabek doesn’t wish him good luck, but he does tell him that he expects to see him at Worlds, which Otabek hopes is enough. Leo’s lip trembles and for one embarrassing moment, Otabek thinks he’ll actually start crying. Instead, he clutches his phone to his chest.

“That means a lot to me, Otabek,” he says, and runs out the door.

He’s pretty sure he saw a few tears leak out of Leo’s eyes as he went. Otabek is left very confused, but he lets it go. While Leo is a bit strange at times, Otabek can’t say he doesn’t like putting up with it. He figures that’s what friends do; they suffer through the quirks because that’s what makes them unique.

Leo gets gold at Skate America, like Otabek knew he would. This results in him crying on and off for the days following his return.

“I’m just so relieved,” Leo says the first time Otabek catches him at it, leaning heavily against the kitchen counter as fat tears roll down his face. “I didn’t think I’d make it to Worlds this year.”

“Your routine was good,” Otabek says quietly, unsure what’s come over his roommate.

“Thank you,” Leo whispers, wiping some of the tears from his eyes. “I just wanted to make people happy. And I did. And I get to do it again at Worlds and,” he stops for a moment, seemingly overcome with feeling again. “It’s just really. Really great.”

He looks at Otabek for a long time, long enough that Otabek wonders if he’ll try to do something sappy, like hug him or proclaim that they’ll be friends forever or something. Otabek nods to him and goes back to his room before that can happen.

He avoids him for the next few days, just until he’s sure Leo won’t start bawling out of happiness again. Otabek isn’t equipped to deal with that, at the moment.

*

When Otabek finds out that he can actually have his photographs printed onto postcards, he is ashamed at how excited he becomes.

 

From: Yuri Plisetsky
Who even would you send them to?

From: Yuri Plisetsky
Also don’t you need to buy them in bulk?

From: me
My mom. My old coaches, I guess. You of course. JJ maybe

From: Yuri Plisetsky
I—

From: Yuri Plisetsky
DO NOT SEND ONE TO JJ LEROY UGH WHATS WRONG WITH YOU

From: me
Well are you going to give me your address or not?

 

So Otabek gets a stack of postcards in the mail with one of his favorite photographs to date: a pair of cats who’d sat facing each other, one on the sidewalk, one on the street in the shadow of a freight truck. One was a dark grey and the other so white he thought it couldn’t possibly be a stray. They’d stared at each other for so long Otabek had felt like they were waiting for someone to come along and take their picture. He’d rendered it in black and white for dramatic effect.

The first one he sends is to Yuri. He wonders how long it’ll take to get there, thinks if he pays for extra postage, it might even reach him before he flies out to Four Continents.

And he does end up sending one to JJ, but Yuri doesn’t have to know that.

There is something thrilling about writing out something concrete into the world specifically for Yuri, and so he tosses out a handful at first because he can’t stop himself from writing out something cheesy like:

Dear Yuri,

Did you know I’ve been in love with you for five years? Good luck at 4cc.

Love, Otabek

Or

Well are we going to be boyfriends or not?

Or even, to his shame,

Dear Yuri,

Will you marry me? Check

Yes No

Otabek

 

Well. He can’t actually bring himself to throw them away. Instead, he tucks them away into the bottom of his sock drawer as if they were his diary. He eventually settles for something more neutral, all the while wondering if it would be strange to start up a written correspondence as well.

Yuri,

New York is nice this time of year. But cold.

Thinking of you,
Otabek

 

*

It goes like this: he skates; he lifts weights; he skates; he does yoga because he will never be caught in a dance studio again but needs the flexibility. He wakes up at 4:30 in the morning and goes swimming three times a week, thinking about the three surgeries his father had on his knees when he was younger and fearing it’s hereditary. He gets a lot of good-natured teasing about Eastern Europeans and the cold from Leo the few times he shows up to the skating rink with wet strands of hair. But he’s not willing to trade it for a higher-impact cardio workout. He deals with the cold the way he deals with everything: by pretending it’s not a big issue until it’s turned into the truth. He skates. He improves.

He goes home, and if he gets out early he’ll call Yuri. If he gets out after 6pm however, he’ll spend more time wandering the neighborhood looking for a good photo opportunity, as he’s learned from experience that Yuri will take his calls no matter the time, but he’ll be irritated and mean when he’s woken up after 3 in the morning. Then, sometimes it’s exactly the opposite.

Sometimes, Yuri is still awake when Otabek gets home, never mind that in Russia it’s probably well past 1 in the morning. He’ll text Otabek first to let him know it’s okay to skype, then they’ll talk while Yuri watches cartoons in his pajamas and Otabek scrounges up a meal. Together, against all odds, they find a way to fit their lives together.

January passes in a blur of quad salchows, until before he knows it, Valentine’s day is around the corner and Otabek is trying very hard not to do something stupid. He mostly succeeds, he thinks. By which he means: he buys a charm bracelet one day because all of its little charms were cat-themed, and he sticks it in his drawer with the Statue of Liberty shirt. He gets a pair of sunglasses in the shape of Hello Kitty because imagining Yuri’s outraged face has him laughing for almost ten minutes straight. And also, on a day when Leo drags him into an H&M, he can’t help but buy a leopard-printed scarf to add to the slowly growing pile.

The day after the H&M trip, Yuri tells him that he definitely needs to get a new costume for his short program.

“You look like a pirate,” is Yuri’s main grievance with the look.

“I think pirates are cool,” Otabek answers.

He’s got his phone on speaker while rummaging through his fridge, and so he has no context for the long silence he’s met with after those words. When he finally goes back to his phone, Yuri’s looking at him like. Well. Otabek’s never thought people in real life could actually look ‘gobsmacked,’ and yet, here is Yuri, with his mouth actually open in astonishment, his sandwich hanging limply in his hands, forgotten.

“Oh my God,” Yuri says slowly, as if he’s had some kind of revelation. “My best friend. He is a huge nerd. I can’t believe it. Here I was thinking you were so cool. A badass with your leather jacket and your motorcycle and your sunglasses—”

“Yes, I own all of those things,” Otabek tries, but Yuri plows on like he hasn’t heard him.

“When you’re actually just a big—big—dweeb who has tragic fashion sense 90% of the time and likes your own hideous costume because it shows off your stupid rippling muscles, probably, and—”

“Okay, yes,” Otabek says, and takes his phone and the slice of cheesecake he’d liberated from the fridge to the couch. He rolls his eyes when he sees that Yuri’s astonished expression had grown to some sort of manic glee. “I would admit—under duress—that I am not as cool as everyone thinks.”

You have no idea Otabek, oh my God,” Yuri says. He taps the screen of his laptop insistently, like he could reach across the distance and poke Otabek in the side. “Everybody on the internet thinks you are this stoic badass because you have a resting bitch face and go to the shady parts of New York to take edgy pictures of like, alleyways in dramatic lighting. If they only knew the truth.”

Otabek chews thoughtfully for a moment while Yuri finally breaks and laughs a little. Otabek hasn’t heard him laugh this way since they were sitting across from each other in a tea shop in Barcelona. He’s forgotten how nice of a sound it is.

“Resting bitch face?” Otabek repeats, and it’s worth it for the smile Yuri sends his way.

“Yeah, you know, because people are awful and think that if you’re not smiling 24/7 you obviously have to be a bitch,” Yuri says, and his mood darkens as he says it.

Yuri tosses his sandwich out of sight of the screen, scowling at its departure. Sometimes, Otabek gets emotional whiplash talking with Yuri. Then again, there’s a reason Yuri is nicknamed the Russian Punk, and it’s not just for his fashion sense. Funny, that Otabek has never stopped to consider whether or not Yuri actually likes the way the media portrays him.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Otabek asks tentatively.

“No. There’s nothing to talk about,” Yuri bites out.

But Otabek can see the way his jaw clenches and unclenches, the way he pushes his hair out of his face like it’s mortally offended him.

“Okay,” Otabek says. He takes a breath. Counts to three. Lets it out. “So, hypothetically speaking, if I were to change my short program costume, what would you prefer?”

So Yuri sends him mock-ups of some tiger-striped monstrosity that had obviously been designed for Yuri, and he almost dies of embarrassment imagining himself in the thing. However, it gets the angry scowl off of Yuri’s face, so Otabek counts that as a win.

*

otabek.A. is online

otabek.A. Will you text me when you land in South Korea?

REALyuri-plisetsky duh who else will I complain to?
Even if it’s really late tho? There’s like a 14 hr time difference bw Korea and NYC

otabek.A. Yeah definitely

REALyuri-plisetsky ok

otabek.A. You’ll do great. I promise.

REALyuri-plisetsky you cant promise me that
Sorry boarding i’ll ttyl

otabek.A. Have a safe flight. And good luck tomorrow.

REALyuri-plisetsky is offline

*

(It isn’t until after the whole mess has blown over that Otabek finds the pages and pages of online vitriol sent Yuri’s way in the weeks beforehand. The headlines that speculate he’s peaked at 15, the commentary online about his attitude during other people’s interviews. Sneaked, shaky footage of Yuri and Mila arguing on the ice; Yuri catching whoever was recording and nearly running them down like a car. The heavy frown between Katsuki Yuri’s brow when he tries to diffuse a heavily loaded question.

“No, you don’t understand, that’s not how our—”

“SHUT UP, KATSUDON,” Yuri shouts off-screen in that one particular interview, from the time before the NHK, a small competition between just the two of them, now being used months later to add validity to one correspondent’s point. “Don’t talk to them! I said NO QUESTIONS!”

Headlines peppered across the internet like pinpricks to an artery:

RUSSIAN PUNK ACCOSTS PHOTOGRAPHER

or

PLISETSKY VS THE PRESS

It’s not until after the whole mess blows over that he even thinks to search for any of it, and by then, Yuri is staunchly refusing to talk about any of it, so Otabek lets it go. He buries his anger down deep and bides his time.)

*

The whole mess:

Yuri places fourth at Four Continents, when Christophe Giacometti wins gold for once, JJ skates a shaky Free Skate and still manages to squeeze into second place, and Katsuki Yuuri beats him out by two points.

Otabek has been up since 4am going through every vid stream he can find. He tries calling Yuri three times after watching the closing ceremony, uneasy with the disappointment on his friend’s face. Otabek has seen Yuri when he is disappointed in himself, but the look now is different. There’s a mean edge to it that Otabek can’t place. So he calls him, wanting to hear some sort of reassurance. Yuri isn’t answering. Otabek is just thinking that he should have somehow gotten Nikiforov and Katsuki’s numbers too, just to get a hold of Yuri if he ever tried to pull something like this, when a text pops up on his phone.

 

From: Leo de la Iglesia
Did you see this?
http://bit.ly/2jBSb4o

 

Leo doesn’t actually text him very often, and so it’s with mild apprehension that he opens the link.

RUSSIAN PUNK CAUGHT SMASHING WINDOWS is the title of the youtube video, and already Otabek feels his stomach sink. It’s a shaky, out-of-focus video, but Otabek can make out Yuri’s cheetah print hoodie as he storms up to the—yes, that’s the entrance to the ice arena in Gangneung.

Wonderful.

Otabek stares entranced as Yuri lifts the baseball bat and swings it directly into the sliding glass doors. Once, twice, and on the third swing, the top half of the thing shatters in an explosion of glass. Yuri kicks in the remaining glass, throwing the baseball bat out of the way in the process. It spins towards the cameraman, who curses just loud enough to make Yuri freeze. He turns around, and Otabek feels more than sees the murderous rage in his eyes when he spots whoever is filming the moment. He shouts something in Russian that sounds garbled and distorted over the distance separating them, and the cameraman stands and seems to run off. The last few seconds are shaky footage of the concrete floor surrounding the complex.

For a very long time, there’s nothing in his head but an odd ringing sound. Then a single word.

Fuck.

He watches that video on loop for several long, horrible minutes, unable to look away. Then, he finds another video, an interview with Yuri after his Free Skate, where he is so angry he can hardly form sentences.

“Fuck those judges,” Yuri is growling into the camera. His eyes are bloodshot, like he’s maybe a few minutes away from crying. “None of them care about actual fucking talent. Fuck them. They just give—fucking—points to whoever they like the most. They couldn’t give a shit about technical difficulty. Fuck them. Do you hear me? Fuck Them.” And then, as he’s storming away, adds, “NO. No more questions. Get the fuck out of my way before I THROW YOU ON THE ICE.”

And then, impossibly, as if that weren’t bad enough, there is a scuffle just off-screen, the cameraman adjusting wildly to pick up the action. Yuri has wrestled a camera out of one of the reporter’s hands and launches it onto the ice. It breaks to pieces and the reporters go wild as Yuri storms away.

Yuri still doesn’t answer when Otabek tries calling him. At this point, Otabek seriously considers the possibility that Yuri might even have been arrested.

Otabek heads to practice, already feeling like he’s missing a limb, and it turns out to be all everyone at the skating rink can talk about. Yuri Plisetsky’s 4CC meltdown.

Leo says that #RussianPunk starts trending on Twitter. Otabek gets a crash course on social media trying to keep up with the gossip. The ESPN roundup calls it a tantrum; Yuri’s Angels go crazy online trying unearth the reason behind Yuri’s meltdown.

“He’s a sore loser,” one of the ESPN reporters is saying on Leo’s phone. Otabek, against his better judgement, is drawn to the clip. “I can tell you folks, this is the end of his career.”

“It’s probably Yakov’s fault,” their coach says during a break. “He doesn’t know how to seriously deal with anger issues. That poor kid has probably been showing warning signs for something like this to happen.”

Otabek wants to tell her that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, but he clenches his jaw and stays silent.

“He’s just lucky he can’t be tried as an adult in South Korea,” Leo says.

“Or that those reporters didn’t press charges,” one of their other rinkmates adds.

“Can we get back to work?” Otabek finally snaps, and is very careful to keep most of the irritation out of his voice. “We don’t need these kinds of distractions.”

But Otabek flubs four jumps in a row that afternoon, thinking about the set of Yuri’s shoulders when he raised up his bat, and the break in his voice when he’d all but shouted fuck them over and over into a reporter’s face.

Yuri doesn’t call. He refuses to answer when Otabek texts him too.

It’s not the best week Otabek’s had, truth be told.

*

He finally caves and gets Katsuki Yuuri’s phone number from Leo, who gets it from Phitchit. As it rings, it occurs to him if Katsuki would bother answering a call from a scary-looking Kazakh number. Maybe he should have texted him first? Katsuki is known to have social anxiety issues; Otabek should have known he wouldn’t answer—

He answers after the fifth ring, and Otabek stumbles through the motions of his very carefully scripted responses until Katsuki finally sounds like he relaxes over the phone.

“I just need to know if he is okay,” Otabek says. “He hasn’t been answering me.”

“I’m sorry, Otabek,” Katsuki’s voice sounds worn down with worry. Otabek can empathize. “We haven’t seen him since we left South Korea. We had the same flight to St. Petersburg booked, but he changed his flight last minute. Viktor thinks he might be in Moscow with his Grandfather.”

“Okay,” Otabek says, and tries to quell the ringing in his ears. He takes a deep breath. “Okay.”

“I’ll call you the second we hear anything,” Katsuki says, gentler now. “Will you be all right?”

“Yes,” Otabek says, even though it is very far from the truth. “Thank you.”

Otabek looks at his phone, and for the first time in a long while, he feels very much alone.

*

For the next three days, Otabek perpetually feels like he’s been running a marathon. He has dizzying moments where he can’t catch his breath, on and off the ice, thinking about the sound of a bat crashing through glass and the crunching sound of plastic on ice. He wakes up from short attempts at sleep with his heart racing, hoping for anything from Yuri; a sign that he’s okay, that he cares enough about Otabek to let him in.

It never comes.

He loses his quadruple loop-triple axel combination and cannot figure out how to land it properly again.

He stops taking pictures.

He wakes up one day and abruptly is consumed by an all-encompassing anger. He skips training that day and does nothing but sit-ups and push-ups in his room, hours and hours of the motions, hating everything with a violence he’s never felt before. He throws his phone into his closet and doesn’t retrieve it until the next day, and for a brief, terrible five minutes, he knows what it is to hate Yuri Plisetsky with his whole being.

The anger burns itself out eventually, and all he’s left with is a hollowed-out feeling, something between guilt and disappointment. He wonders how Yuri can stand to keep his anger stoked for so long. It’s exhausting.

When he retrieves his phone, he is still bitterly disappointed that he has nothing from Yuri. He sends him a “goodnight,” anyway, because whatever this is, whatever that anger was, he will always be the one to come back.

He only hopes Yuri knows that, too.

*

Three days after the Plisetsky Meltdown (as the press has been calling it) starts to die down, Otabek opens his front door and is greeted with a very confused looking Guang Hong Ji.

“Hello,” he says pleasantly, hiking a duffel bag higher up his shoulder. “I forgot you lived with Leo now! Is he here? He said it is an emergency.”

“He went out for salsa,” Otabek says.

Guang Hong blinks at him for a little, before smiling in a strangely serene way.

“Leo can be so silly sometimes.” After a few more moments where they look at each other in awkward silence, he asks, “Can I come in?”

“Yeah, of course.”

Except now Otabek feels obligated to hover awkwardly in the living room while Guang Hong sits primly on the couch and tries his best to imitate a statue. A very happy statue, but a statue nonetheless. Otabek thinks that Yuri would have died laughing at this situation, but then he remembers that Yuri has fallen off the face of the planet and can’t keep the scowl from bubbling up to his face.

“Would you like a glass of water?” he asks into the silence when his mother’s disapproving voice in his head gets to be too much.

“Actually, I would,” Guang Hong says, still smiling. “You’re so polite, Otabek, thank you!”

Otabek ducks into the kitchen and begs Leo to get back already. Guang Hong is still smiling when Otabek brings him a glass.

“Thank you!” he says again, draining half of it in two large gulps. “I can see why Leo likes you so much, Otabek!”

Otabek has no idea how it doesn’t exhaust him being so happy all the time.

Leo shows up after another ten minutes of forced small talk, weighed down by several bags of groceries and walking through the door backwards, like he’d used his back to push open the door.

“Protip,” he says before he’s fully entered the apartment, “Do NOT go shopping while hungry. What-Guang Hong?”

“Leo!” Guang Hong says, then leaps off the couch and throws himself to the door. Leo has to drop every bag he’s holding to steady himself. After a moment, Guang Hong pulls away; Otabek can see a bright blush already spreading over his face. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you drop everything.”

“It’s okay Guang Hong,” Leo says, “I’m just surprised you’re here.”

“Do you need help?” Otabek adds in from his spot on the couch.

He gestures to the spilled jars on the floor and raises an eyebrow. Leo looks down at the mess around him and grimaces in the way Otabek knows now means he really would like help but is too self-conscious to actually ask for it. Otabek sighs, just a little, and gets up.

“You said it was an emergency! I got here as soon as I could,” Guang Hong is saying. “What’s happened? I thought you’d been injured.”

“No, even worse,” Leo says. “We have to go to Detriot.”

Guang Hong gasps dramatically at that, as if it explains everything.

“What’s in Detroit?” Otabek can’t help but ask.

He’s gathered up some of Leo’s spilled groceries, and after a moment of silence, the other two kneel beside him and help with the rest.

“Phichit,” Leo says grimly, hugging a loaf of bread to his chest. “We have to stage an intervention.”

“He’s been depressed ever since Four Continents,” Guang Hong tells him as they all slowly migrate to the kitchen. “He’s been saying that maybe his destiny isn’t in competitive ice skating.”

“There’s an open audition for Disney! On Ice in downtown Detroit next week,” Leo takes up without missing a beat. “He’s saying it’s a sign.”

Otabek hadn’t watched Phichit’s performance at Four Continents. He’d been so worried about Yuri, and then the fiasco that had happened afterwards…He did, however, remember that Phichit finished in sixth place. A pretty tough spot after struggling to even qualify for Four Continents.

“What do you mean, stage an intervention?” Otabek asks. “If he wants to switch careers, I’m sure Disney would love to have him.”

“He doesn’t,” Leo says, and that appears to be that. He turns to Guang Hong, and his entire posture seems to soften, curl into the form beside him. “I’ve got a bag packed already. I had thought to ask you to meet me in Detroit.”

“I’m sorry,” Guang Hong says, and he looks like he really is. “I was just so worried!”

“I know,” Leo says, “I understand. I would have done the same!”

Otabek has never before encountered two people who were so earnestly nice, except for Phichit, he supposes. He’s sure Leo has never used that many exclamation points talking with him. It kind of makes him want to vomit. For a moment, he sympathizes with everything Yuri’s ever had to deal with concerning Viktor Nikiforov and his whirlwind romance. Then he remembers that Yuri isn’t talking to him and roughly pushes the thought out of his mind.

“Otabek?” Leo says, somewhat nervously.

Otabek blinks once, and realizes that they must have been saying something to him while he was lost in thought.

“I’m sorry, say again?”

“You should come with us,” Guang Hong says, looking back to Leo as if searching for support. “It’s a nine-hour drive, but I’m sure Phichit would appreciate the support.”

“Oh,” Otabek says.

He imagines it for a moment, getting into Leo’s faded green Buick with 2/3rds of the Sunshine Squad™ (the term coined by Mila and reported back to him by Yuri), maybe making a couple new friends on the way, helping Phichit Chulanont through a difficult time in his life. He almost agrees to it too, but he thinks about Yuri, about the steady, stubborn silence he’s kept for the last week and a half, his bloodshot eyes full to the brim with unshed tears.

“I can’t,” Otabek says. “I’m sorry.”

“We understand, Otabek,” Guang Hong replies readily. He smiles some more before turning back to Leo. “Leo and I will manage.”

Otabek recognizes the look in Leo’s eyes then. He’s seen it reflected on his own features one too many times in the bottom of his screen, skyping with Yuri when he manages to coax a smile out of him.

“I’m going to bed,” Otabek says while Leo and Guang Hong are busy staring into each other’s eyes. “Let me know if you need anything.”

“Thanks, Otabek,” Leo says.

He closes the door to his room with a snap, just loud enough to be heard down the hall where the others are in quiet conversation. Otabek texts Yuri because he wants to, not because he actually expects a reply. It’s become his habit now, to text Yuri updates about his day even though there is never any answer.

He wonders what would happen if he sent Yuri a text that said I love you. Maybe that would shock an answer out of him.

Yuri doesn’t answer him, and Otabek goes to sleep thinking about breaking glass and fragile things.

*

Leo and Guang Hong are gone by morning. Otabek finds a sticky note on his door that says only

See you in a week! xoxo Leo

Otabek rolls his eyes, but he leaves the note where it is and stumbles around the apartment until it’s time to catch the subway.

He texts Yuri before he leaves and doesn’t get a response again, but Otabek doesn’t let that dampen his mood. Today, he thinks, is different. It’s warmer today; not by much but just enough for Otabek to notice when he steps out the door. It’s something in the rain, he thinks, tilting his head up to catch a few of the drizzling drops on his face. Something that softens the sharp, cracked parts of his heart that he can’t quite place. Today will be a good day.

He finally lands his quad loop, triple axel combination in practice that afternoon, and changes a few other spins in his short program to maximize the score in preparation for Worlds. The rain turns into snow sometime after lunch, and their coach says it’s the perfect time to let out early and enjoy the weather.

“There’s a cold front coming in,” she says gravely, mostly to her other students, as she’s learned that Otabek wouldn’t have an opinion on the matter. “Go on and enjoy the snow before it turns into a blizzard.”

Otabek doesn’t complain. In fact, it gives him time to scout out potential photograph locations anyway. He hasn’t done that since he first watched Yuri smash in the side of an international ice rink, and he thinks it’s time. He takes the bus this time and gets off two stops early to get a photo of a set of train tracks with a thin layer of snow glistening on the metal. He likes the way the late afternoon sun shines against the beat-up billboard to the side, as well.

It takes him a while to get home after that, but he manages it just as the sun starts to sink below he tops of the Manhattan skyscrapers. He stops for ice cream on the way home, refusing to acknowledge the faces strangers make as he wanders around in the middle of a snowy night holding an ice cream cone.

Ten minutes later, he turns the corner and notices that there’s a figure slouched on the stoop to his apartment building. He is silhouetted nicely because of the angle of the sun, and Otabek gets the sudden urge to photograph this stranger. He never takes pictures of people because it’s always seemed like a line he couldn’t cross. And he imagines it would be awful to unknowingly get your face uploaded on the internet somewhere, caught in a moment of privacy and forced to let the whole world enjoy it.

But this man’s got a whisper-thin frame that isn’t entirely hidden by his baggy hoodie, and he’s slouched delicately against the steps, his feet propped up on a piece of luggage. Against his better judgement, Otabek stops a block away and snaps an impulsive photo. He doesn’t have to post it anyway, he rationalizes to himself. The person on the steps stands after a second, and the hood slips down just a fraction and—

And all at once, the breath escapes out of Otabek in a rush. Otabek clamps down on the wild urge to run the last few feet, and instead takes a bite out of his ice cream cone, counting the steps as he goes.

“Yuri,” Otabek calls when he’s within earshot.

The person (Yuri, Yuri, it has to be Yuri) turns around, and yes, Yuri’s eyes widen and something small and vulnerable crosses his face before Yuri rushes forward and wraps his arms around Otabek’s neck.

The whole world freezes for a moment. Otabek’s free hand settles on Yuri’s waist, and he feels Yuri exhale roughly against his collarbone.

What the fuck is wrong with you? is on the tip of his tongue, and so is Why didn’t you ever answer me? and What are you doing in New York?

And also, so dizzying and cloying it almost slips out of his mouth unbidden: I love you, I love you, God, I love you so much.

But he can feel Yuri trembling ever so slightly under his fingers, so he squeezes him closer and swallows back all the frustration, resentment, loneliness, and everything else he’s been feeling these few weeks.

“Let’s go inside,” Otabek whispers.

Yuri nods against his neck, and when they separate, Otabek sees that his eyes have gone bloodshot again, and that his lips are pulled down into a frown that Otabek suspects is to hide the tremble he can see in his lower lip. Otabek wants nothing more than to pull Yuri against him again and never let go.

Instead, he tosses the last bite of his ice cream cone into the trash can nearby. Then, he grabs Yuri’s suitcase and climbs the steps up to the door of the apartment complex. He can hear Yuri’s footsteps follow him up.

Chapter Text

It’s not like Otabek expects any heartfelt confessions the second he shuts the door to his apartment. He doesn’t expect anything, really, except for Yuri to maybe collapse onto his couch from what must have been an exhausting series of flights.

He does neither of those things. Instead, he stands in the small alcove by the door, not quite committing to entering Otabek’s space. His fist is clenched around a slip of cardstock, and after a moment he straightens it and tries to smooth the crinkles out.

“I’m sorry,” Yuri says into the silence of the living room, looking down at the wrinkled paper in his hands. It's only then that Otabek realizes it’s the postcard he'd mailed what already feels like decades ago. “I’ve been lying to you.”

“Okay,” Otabek says cautiously, eyes sweeping over the tightness in Yuri’s shoulders and knowing there is so much more to this story. “So tell me now.”

Yuri does finally cross the few feet into the living room and fall onto the couch in a somewhat boneless heap, and at Otabek’s insistence, he takes off his shoes so he can sit cross-legged along the arm of the sofa, frowning and tracking Otabek’s every movement. Otabek sits down beside him and they stay like that—silent—for a long moment.

“When you ask me if I’m fine,” Yuri mumbles into the quiet. “Or if anything’s wrong. I lie. I am not fine. Everything’s wrong.”

“Okay.”

“Is that all you can say?” Yuri snaps.

There’s a flash of something in his eyes, disappointment maybe, before it’s replaced by the well-known anger.

“I’m here to listen,” Otabek answers. “And maybe offer you something to eat, if you’re hungry.”

“What?”

“Are you hungry?” he presses again. “I am. I made borscht yesterday that we can heat up.”

“You made borscht?” Yuri asks, and then, after a beat, “No. I don’t—Well. Okay, yeah. If it puts off me spilling my whole life’s pathetic ass story, then I’ll eat.”

It’s a low diversion tactic, but it gets the corners of Yuri’s mouth to tilt up. More than enough for Otabek. It also gets Yuri up off the couch again, following him aimlessly into the kitchen to keep an eye on him. Otabek doesn’t mind it.

They are silent for most of the process of Otabek heating up the leftovers, opting to pour the whole batch into a saucepan and heat it up on the stove instead of taking the easy way out and microwaving it. It gives him a few more moments to stare into the pan in silence, a few moments to be hyper-aware of Yuri standing in the doorway watching him like a predator.

“It’s probably got too much tomato,” Otabek says to fill the silence, spooning out two helpings onto different plates when it starts to simmer. “It’s been a while since I’ve made it before.”

“My grandfather had a stroke.”

Otabek pauses mid-movement at that, looks up at Yuri and tries to hold on to the small sliver of control he has left. Yuri is staring very intently at the fridge, leaning against the doorframe, obviously trying to appear as nonchalant as possible. After a second, Otabek unsticks himself and continues.

He gives off the impression that this conversation is no big deal, inwardly despairing at his friend. Of course Yuri would drop a bomb that big at the strangest moment. He feels like any movement will set his friend off, will cause him to explode. He feels, now, like he’s caught out to sea, like maybe this is no better than sitting in his room with no word from Yuri for a week. Like maybe he can’t help his friend after all.

It’s an unpleasant thought.

“Is he okay?” he asks carefully, turning away from Yuri and watching his spoon more closely than he would like.

“Yes,” Yuri says. “Mostly. He was lucky. He was having some memory problems early on, because he…When he…He fell. He hit his head. But he’s recovering now. My mother said she’d look after him.”

“Your mother,” Otabek repeats. He hadn’t even known she was still alive. Yuri has never mentioned her before.

“Yeah.”

Otabek hands him a bowl of the steaming red stew. He looks at the dark scowl on Yuri’s face and swallows down the mountain of questions on the tip of his tongue. Instead, he goes back into the living room, lets out a deep breath of relief when he hears Yuri trailing after him.

“Come on Yura,” he says. “You had best start from the beginning.”

*
To his credit, Yuri does try to start from the very beginning. He just has a problem of ghosting over facts and not wanting to deal with certain moments yet.

He doesn’t tell him everything that night, but he thinks he gets a lot of it. Probably not the most vital parts, though. He doesn’t hear about Yuri’s grandfather, or his mother for that matter, again that night. But he does get the story of his first fight with the press, over Katsuki Yuuri of all things, and the disparaging things they’d said, Yuri’s exaggerated reactions that just fueled their fire.

He gets a convoluted conspiracy-theory sounding account of something to do with racist judges and fairness. Hears about an investigative reporter who had been rooting out the story, who’d talked with Viktor Nikiforov and had accidentally insinuated that Katsuki Yuuri’s success was partially due to the skating world’s unhealthy obsession with Katsuki’s coach.

He gets the beginnings of three short-lived relationships, after he stops himself short when he gets to the Grand Prix. None of those relationships had lasted longer than a couple of weeks. He hears about how the second one (18 years old and thinking about going into finance) had sold pictures of their first date to shitty tabloids and how Yuri’s relationship with the media—already charged—had nosedived again.

“I’m never dating anyone ever again,” Yuri growls into his bowl of borscht.

But Yuri is blushing curiously as he says it, and sneaks a look up at Otabek through his bangs.

“People can be hard to figure out,” Otabek offers neutrally at that, because the silence starts to stretch out, as if Yuri is waiting for his input.

“Yeah, sure,” Yuri says, but Otabek can tell he’s said the wrong thing from the flare of frustration he can see in Yuri’s shoulders. “And Yakov said that I shouldn’t go to Worlds.”

“Because of your breakups?”

“Because I knocked in the windows at fucking Gangneung and physically assaulted the press corps.”

“Right,” Otabek answers, sheepish. He looks away, to his laptop lying just under the coffee table, thinks of all the videos he’s watched of sports broadcasts, speculating if this marked the beginning of a hiatus for him, one he might never return from. “Are you going to listen to him?”

Yuri doesn’t answer, he just shrugs one slim shoulder, staring intently at the couch cushions. Otabek knows for a fact they aren’t very interesting.

“It would make sense, from a publicity standpoint,” Otabek says carefully, testing the waters. As expected, it makes Yuri look up sharply, finally snagging eye contact. For a second, Otabek is again distracted by his eyes (arresting, he thinks), but quickly soldiers on before Yuri can respond. “But then, so would going. You know everyone loves a bad boy.”

A complicated array of emotions cross over Yuri’s face, finally settling on something vulnerable that Otabek has only ever seen break free on the ice.

“Everyone,” Yuri repeats, but he tilts it up at the end, makes it sound something like a question, something like a plea. Something Otabek doesn't have the courage to answer yet.

“The press will eat it up,” Otabek says instead. “And your fans will know that if the judges mark you down it’s because of the scandal, not your ability. Your accusations about corruption in the judging pool would be all but confirmed, too.”

“Yakov is worried about the Olympics,” Yuri says as if Otabek hasn’t answered. “He says that because they’re in South Korea too—”

“No one will care by then,” Otabek snaps. Yuri shuts his mouth abruptly, because this is probably the sharpest Otabek has spoken to him in a while. “This will blow over by June, Yuri. Running and hiding is just proving the media right.”

“I’m not running,” Yuri snarls. He sets his mostly empty bowl down on the tiny coffee table with a clatter, so hard that some borscht falls out the side of it. “I’m not hiding.”

“Yes you are,” Otabek says before he can temper himself. He thinks about the weeks he’s spent in limbo, seemingly stuck in time, watching Yuri’s fall and being helpless to stop it. “You don’t avoid someone for weeks if you’re not hiding.”

“I wasn’t—”

“Bullshit, Yuri,” Otabek says, and surprises even himself with the intensity he hears there. Not anger, but something like desperation. He blushes a little at the sound of his voice, but doesn’t take it back. “I had to call Katsuki Yuuri to find out what happened to you.”

“I didn’t tell him,” Yuri answers after a moment, his voice gone quiet. “I didn’t tell anyone where I went after Four Continents.”

“I know. None of us knew where you were, or what happened to you,” Otabek says, and doesn’t mean for it to sound as aggressive as it does. He runs a hand through his hair, exhaling out any lingering frustration. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to lecture you. I don’t mean to be this—”

“I fucked up, Beka,” Yuri says abruptly. He reaches out suddenly, across the few inches that separate them, and takes hold of Otabek’s hand like a lifeline. “I know I did. And look. I should have told you. I get it if you don’t—if you. Can’t trust me anymore or whatever. I should have told you everything. You were my friend and I didn’t trust you with any of it and. I—I’m sorry.”

There is a furrow in Yuri’s brow that is very tempting to smooth away with his thumb. Instead, Otabek turns his hand so he can lace his fingers with Yuri’s and squeezes them tight.

“I am your friend,” Otabek says, something sharp in his chest finally easing, watching the way the corners of Yuri’s mouth tug up again, just for a second. “No past tense. Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Yuri says, his voice soft around it, like he’s saying something infinitely more intimate.

“So, just trust me now.”

Yuri is silent for a very long time at that, his eyes drift away from Otabek’s and look down to the couch again. He squeezes Yuri’s hand once, experimentally, and gets a squeeze back in reply. His lips twitch at the corner, like he wants to smile.

“Okay,” he whispers.

Otabek wants to wrap him in a hug again, wants to bury his face in Yuri’s hair. He wants a lot of things. He wants to say all the unspoken things that hang in the air between them, wants to drag his fingers along the miserable line of Yuri’s shoulders until they relax into something softer. He wants—he wants—he wants everything, he realizes. Everything he is willing to give. Instead, he tugs on Yuri’s hand and stands, pulling him up as he goes.

“Come on,” he says, tugging Yuri into his bedroom. “You should sleep.”

*

Otabek opts to sleep on his couch, Yuri having no trouble collapsing onto his bed without even taking off his jacket. He doesn’t ask where Otabek will be sleeping, and he counts it as the long journey finally catching up with him that he falls asleep with only the smallest of objections. Otabek turns out the lights and closes the door to his room, watching Yuri turn onto his side and curl somewhat into himself.

After a few minutes of contemplation, which Otabek spends cleaning up his living room and pulling a set of sheets from the closet in his bathroom, he sends Katsuki the photo of Yuri leaning against his stoop. It takes a while for Katsuki to respond, long enough for Otabek to realize it’s almost 11pm in New York, and to look up the time difference to Japan.

Long enough for Otabek to remember that Katsuki isn’t in Japan anymore, and that instead, the other man was probably busy practicing by now in St. Petersburg.

 

From: Katsuki Yuuri
良かった!!!

From: Katsuki Yuuri
Sorry. I mean thank you! This is so great! That we know where he is, I mean.

From: Me
I don’t think he wants to see anyone right now.

From: Katsuki Yuuri
Okay. Take care of him for us.

From: Me
I will.

From: Katsuki Yuuri
Thank you Otabek! I won’t tell Viktor where he is, I promise. Just that he’s okay.

From: Katsuki Yuuri
He’s lucky to have you as a friend.

 

It’s not until well after midnight that he finally succumbs to sleep, unwilling to admit how long he’s been staring at Katsuki’s messages, wondering if he’d done the right thing in letting them know where Yuri was. Eventually, he thinks he’ll go crazy wondering about all the what-ifs in his life, so he shuts his phone off and throws it under his coffee table by the laptop.

He doesn’t quite fit all the way on the couch, and has to push his knees up until he’s in an uncomfortable comma shape to keep his legs from dangling off the edge, but it’s worth it. Because Yuri is safe in his room, warm and alive and not really whole, but something that can get there.

Otabek sleeps better than he has in weeks.

*

He wakes up the next morning to the sound of someone pacing up and down the short hallway to the bathroom repeatedly. He takes a minute to think about the soreness in his neck and shoulders before really unpacking his plan to move forward.

Here is the truth: under perfect circumstances, Otabek would stand up and wrap his arms around Yuri’s waist; he would say: “We’ll figure this out, together,” and Yuri might blush and scowl, but he’d agree. And maybe, he’d even push himself just a little bit closer to Otabek, rest enough of his weight against him to know that Otabek would always be there to catch him. In a perfect world, where Otabek’s feelings were reciprocated and everything always had a happy ending.

As it stands, he knows that the best thing for Yuri right now is to come to Otabek when he’s ready, wherever and whenever that might be. Otabek is desperate to get the whole story from him, wants to sit him down and force Yuri to tell him everything so they can start looking for ways to fix it. But Yuri would fight that every step of the way, and there is something fragile and scared within him now when he thinks about the empty silence that had surrounded him for the last two and a half weeks.

He doesn’t want Yuri to run away again.

“Good morning,” Otabek calls from his spot on the couch.

Silence for a few seconds, before he all but storms to Otabek’s side.

“I would have taken the couch if you had said anything,” Yuri says, equal parts irritated and embarrassed. “You shouldn’t have let me—”

“Happy birthday,” is Otabek’s answer instead.

Which has the desired result of completely blindsiding Yuri, who stares at him for a very long time, slowly turning a very nice shade of pink.

“I didn’t think you’d remember.”

“I have it saved onto my phone.”

“Shut up,” Yuri says, finally breaking into a smile, “You didn’t even charge your phone, I bet, because I was the one using your lonely charger last night.” After a beat, he adds, “I’m hungry.”

“What do you want?” Otabek asks.

There’s a long pause at that. He suddenly feels self-conscious, hyper-aware of the fact that he’d pulled off his shirt last night when the heating came on and that Yuri is standing over him, tilting his head to the side and narrowing his eyes in a predatory manner. He takes a seat just on the edge of the couch, brushing up against Otabek’s thigh. He imagines every answer to his question Yuri might give him.

“Onsen tamago.”

“I don’t know what that is,” Otabek responds almost automatically.

Yuri grins at him, something sharp and precise that Otabek hasn’t seen in a very long time.

“I’ll google Japanese places around us while you go put clothes on,” he says. “You’ll love it.”

Otabek stares at him some more, at the carefree set to his shoulders, and wonders where this relaxed Yuri has been hiding for the past month.

“I’ll just. Go put clothes on then,” he parrots back dumbly, and goes to do just that.

*

Yuri finds a place that has four stars on Yelp and that is only a fifteen-minute walk from the apartment. It's a tiny shop with black brick facing, sandwiched in between a pizza place and a slightly dilapidated shop with a “for lease” sign along the side. If Otabek didn’t have his maps open on his phone showing him they were at their destination, he would have walked right passed it. But Yuri walks in and leads them into the tiny bar area as if he's been here dozens of times.

Onsen tamago turns out to be some sort of poached egg, that Yuri eats in a bowl with some uni. The catch of the day is a mackerel that is served in bite sized portions and little bowls of miso soup. It is all delicious, and they spend a very long time pointedly not talking about anything important while they watch the little restaurant fill up with people around them.

"It's lucky we were able to be seated right away," Otabek says when they pay for the meal and see a crowd has begun to gather along the sidewalk out front.

"The comments on Yelp said they text you when there's a space ready," Yuri says with a shrug. "I thought if there was a long wait we could wander around the block like shitty tourists."

"We could still do that," he responds carefully.

Yuri shrugs again and looks down at his feet.

"If you want to be a shitty tourist,” Yuri mumbles. “Whatever you want to do."

"What if I wanted to go swimming?"

Yuri looks up, outrage quickly replacing whatever weird mood has started settling on him.

"I forgot you are actually a crazy person," he says, then turns on his heel to walk back the way they'd come from. He grabs Otabek by the wrist and tugs him along, a warmth he feels burn all along his right side. "Come on, you're taking me shopping now."

Which is how they spend the rest of the afternoon slowly making their way through shopping centers, taking the most convoluted routes to parts of the city Otabek has never set foot on. Yuri takes roughly 400 selfies, with and without Otabek in them, but refuses to post any on social media. Otabek takes three photos and is bullied into posting each of them to his own Instagram account.

"You haven't posted anything in days," Yuri says, mock serious (which is not exactly true). "Think of your followers. They'll be worried."

Otabek does not say how wildly hypocritical that statement is. Instead, he says, "I doubt people care much about my silly pictures."

Yuri stops in the middle of the intersection at that, stares at him blatantly until some cars start honking, and he rushes to the sidewalk again.

"You do realize you've gained like 2000 followers since you started taking those photos?"

Otabek had not realized that. It must show on his face because Yuri mumbles something under his breath that sounds suspiciously like --with an idiot before brushing past him again.

"Just post the dumb pictures. Even the ones with my macchiato in them, just don't tag me."

Which he does, moments later, trying very hard not to notice Yuri's smug face when he opens the app and finds that almost 6,000 people liked his last photo from yesterday.

"I guess it's a good thing that I turned off notifications," he says a bit meekly, and Yuri straight up laughs at him.

All in all, it's a good day, even if Otabek ends up spending way too much money on a tiger striped leather jacket when Yuri stares at it for almost five minutes out the window of a small, upscale shop. They go in against Otabek’s better judgement. There is only one left, and it fits Yuri like a dream, and Otabek comes out of the store unable to believe he’d spent the equivalent of 24,000 ₽ on a jacket Yuri is cradling like a newborn child.

“Thank you,” Yuri whispers with a hint of reverence in his voice, and Otabek blushes fiercely and has to look away at that.

Neither of them mention the sporadic texts Otabek has gotten from his coach asking for him, or the calls Yuri ignores every time he pulls his phone out.

Yuri refuses to let Otabek give up his bed again that night, and he also refuses to sleep in Leo’s room; even though Otabek is very sure he would not mind in the least. He grudgingly lets him take the couch and thinks that maybe tomorrow after practice they can go looking for an inflatable mattress.

“Oh, Otabek,” Yuri says after he’s curled himself up on the couch and is staring up at the ceiling. Otabek stops where he’d been about to cross into his room. “Thanks. For today. It was a good birthday.”

“I’m glad,” he replies. “Get some sleep. We’re skating tomorrow.”

Yuri smiles, a sharp slash of his mouth that shows the tips of his incisors.

“Awesome.”

Two minutes after he crawls into bed, his phone chimes. He grabs it and unlocks it without opening his eyes.

 

From: Yuri Plisetsky
Goodnight

 

Otabek sends back the zzz emoji, trying to quell the stubborn bubble of hope that expands in his chest. He’s spent the whole day with Yuri, but even so, there’s something about getting a reply after weeks of silence that loosens something tensely coiled inside of him. Otabek goes to sleep smiling.

*

He gets the rest of the story out of Yuri in stops and starts over the course of the next few days. Yuri will start in on an event and ramble on until he stops abruptly, fuming and pacing the living room like a wild animal. He refuses to continue at random intervals, and Otabek lets him drop the subject, offers instead to do some yoga exercises instead, or go for a walk to look for photo opportunities.

For instance:

“Dedushka didn’t remember my name, when I got to Moscow,” Yuri says the next morning, staring at his shoes intently. “The first time. Before the whole mess in South Korea. I told Viktor and Yakov what had happened, and they let me spend the week before Four Continents with him.”

They are sitting on a low bench at a subway station, Otabek’s duffle bag pleasantly over-full while housing Yuri’s pair of skates as well. Yuri is absently kicking the ground, silent like he’s been since this morning, when he had woken him up after letting him skip Otabek’s yoga routine to get a full eight hours of sleep.

“I’m sorry, Yuri.”

Yuri shakes his head at that, rubs his palm along his cheek as if to wipe away phantom tears.

“Don’t be,” he says roughly. “The doctors said it isn’t uncommon at his age. He remembered my mother’s name.”

“Oh,” Otabek says, because he really has no idea what to say to that.

“She’s not even his daughter,” Yuri mumbles bitterly. “She’s not related to him. She’s not even his In-law! My parents were never married; she only stuck around because they were living with Dedushka when my dad had fucked off and—” He stops there for a moment, exhales roughly, shrugs one of his shoulders like he’s trying to push something off of it. “Sorry, you probably don’t want to hear all this fucked up bullshit."

“I want to hear all of your fucked-up bullshit,” Otabek says before he can think better of it. Yuri blushes a furious shade of red and looks down at the bench. Otabek skootches closer and bumps his shoulders against Yuri’s. “I mean it, Yuri. You’re important to me. I want to—”

“Okay, okay, fuck, just stop talking,” Yuri says, still beet red. “You are so lame.”

The subway train rattles to a halt in front of them then, and when they board, Yuri slouches so far that his feet almost reach to the other seats, and he angles his body so his shoulder is pressed against Otabek. Otabek smiles to himself, watches Yuri pull out his phone and stare at the unanswered messages from Yakov.

“You should let him know you’re okay,” Otabek says as casually as he can.

He feels Yuri stiffen for a second beside him, before he relaxes again.

“It’s become such a big deal,” Yuri says. “I can’t just say whatever, you know?”

They’d picked seats in a somewhat empty car, which Otabek is thankful for in that moment, because it’s easier to be honest when he doesn’t have to worry about eavesdroppers. He thinks that maybe this is true for Yuri as well.

“I think anything you tell him will be better than silence,” he says carefully. He winces, not wanting to make this about him again, but unsure how else to make his point. “Not knowing if you’re safe or not is…well. It’s pretty shitty.”

“Yeah,” Yuri says, his fingers hovering over his screen.

After a moment, he sends out a quick Hey. I’m staying with a friend until worlds. I’m okay. before immediately shoving it back into his pocket.

“There,” he says, scowling. “You happy now?”

Yes, Otabek thinks to himself when Yuri goes back to slouching and leans his head against Otabek’s shoulder. As a matter of fact, he is very happy.

*

It is a good thing that no one except Leo ever bothers to talk to him at the skating rink, because Yuri’s presence causes a bit of a scene. Whispers follow them in, and it’s only Otabek’s grimness (or possibly Yuri’s death glare) that keeps everyone at bay. Otabek has a quick word with his coach, but otherwise that’s the extent of his contact with his rinkmates.

Yuri skates that day like he’s running from something. He spends the first few hours after warm up over-rotating his triple axels before nearly shouting “Fuck it!” and switching to quad axels for the rest of the practice. Otabek tries to give him space for a while and pretends very hard that he’s not watching Yuri’s form obsessively.

Yuri says, “Are you just gonna stand there and watch everyone all day? Or are you going to skate with me already?” and so Otabek has no choice but to skate over to Yuri’s side and shadow his movements, half a second slower.

“My mom left sometime during that summer camp with Yakov,” Yuri says after a few lazy rounds around the rink. “Dedushka never said why. I just came back, and she was gone.”

"I. I'm sorry."

"For what? " Yuri scoffs. Scrapes to a stop and turns to glare at one of the rink entrances. "She was a shit mom."

“Did you talk with her at all, when she was in Moscow?”

“Sort of,” Yuri says, does a quick step sequence and ends up skating backwards, watching Otabek intently. “It’s hard. I don’t want to give a shit about her.”

“But you do,” Otabek guesses, and is rewarded with a scowl and Yuri sliding into the space between his skates, arms outstretched to match Otabek’s.

“Yeah.” Yuri takes a deep breath; at this distance, Otabek can see the rise and fall of his chest. “I think we might have figured our shit out. It only took my Dedushka nearly fucking—well. You know. To get her to show the fuck up again.”

Otabek wants to say he’s sorry, but already knows from the way Yuri’s jaw is set that he’ll consider it a pity. Instead, he just keeps skating by Yuri’s side, tweaking bits of his routines here and there. Yuri does the same, never seeming to leave Otabek’s orbit.

“The shit at Gangneung,” he says towards the end of the day. “All of the other shit had just piled up, you know? It was the last straw. I wanted to dedicate my skate to Dedushka, but there was some mix up somewhere, and the announcers never mentioned it. And I skated—I skated badly. I deserved fucking fourth.”

“Yuri—”Otabek starts, but Yuri shakes his head sharply, puts a hand up to silence him.

“I know I was distracted,” he says. “The whole fucking time there I just kept thinking, I should be back in Moscow with Dedushka. I shouldn’t be here. I know it showed.”

“Is that why you were thinking about missing Worlds?” Otabek asks.

Yuri shrugs, a dusting of pink creeping up to his cheeks.

“Maybe,” he hedges. “I keep feeling like every day I’m not there, something bad might happen. I know it’s not rational or whatever.”

A whistle sounds over the speaker system, signaling the beginning of the public skate, so Yuri and Otabek begin to make their way towards an exit.

“It’s normal to be worried,” Otabek says as they pull off their skates. “But it shouldn’t keep you from doing the things you love.”

“Yeah,” Yuri says, but there’s a small frown on his face as he says it. “Yeah, that’s what my Mom said. Come on. Let’s get Indian food. I’m starving.”

*

Otabek wakes up in the middle of the night to take a piss and hears a soft voice in the living room.

“I’m glad, Dedushka,” Yuri is saying quietly into his phone.

He takes a few quiet steps into the living room, hovers his foot over the spot on the carpeting that he remembers always creaks, listens to the small chuckle that escapes Yuri after a moment of silence.

“Yeah,” Yuri says. When Otabek chances a look into the room, he doesn’t see Yuri’s silhouette anywhere, but the sound of his deep breathing comes from the other side of the couch. “Yeah, I’m safe, I promise. Is…Is Maya still there?”

Otabek takes a chance and inches closer. There’s enough light pollution spilling in from the window that he can more or less wind his way through the small piles of clothes and shoes that stand in his way.

“Okay,” Yuri says. Otabek hears him take a deep breath. “That’s—that’s good. I’m glad she’s not…I mean. I’m glad she’s sticking around.” Another pause here; he hears a muffled voice on the other end of the line, but can’t make out what they might be saying. “If you say so…..After Worlds, Dedushka. I promise. I’ll spend the whole summer there……Yeah. Yeah okay. I have to go now, Dedushka. It’s getting kind of late over here. Thank you. I love you too.”

Then there is a very long silence. Otabek wonders if he should head back to his room when he hears Yuri’s breathing hitch and his voice call out into the darkness.

“You may as well get over here, you creep,” Yuri says, but his voice is trembling.

It takes four strides for Otabek to cross to the other end of the couch and kneel beside Yuri. Yuri has his back to the couch, his knees drawn up to his chest and his head resting in the space between his hands. His phone is still clutched tightly in his right hand. If Otabek looks very closely, he can see the faint tremors there.

“I am not having a panic attack,” Yuri says in a somewhat reasonable tone of voice, if not for the way it wobbles over some of the words.

“Okay,” Otabek answers.

“I just finished talking with him,” he continues like he hasn’t even heard. “He isn’t dead.”

“That’s true.”

“He isn’t dead,” Yuri says again, like saying it will keep it true.

Yuri takes several deep breaths, but they keep hitching half-way through, like he’s been crying, or is maybe just about to. His eyes are shut tight. A single tear manages to squeeze through and slowly drips down the side of his face.

“How can I help?” Otabek asks, and isn’t ashamed to admit to the obvious desperation in his voice.

“I don’t know,” Yuri says, so Otabek does the only thing he can think of, he inches as close as he can and wraps his arms around Yuri’s rigid frame. It’s awkward; Yuri’s knees are still drawn up and in the way, but after a second Yuri’s breathing evens out. “Yeah. Okay,” he says, and shifts so he’s sitting more on his hip, his legs splayed out to the side, and grabs hold of Otabek’s ratty shirt.

They stay like that for a very long time, and in the morning neither of them mentions the aches they’ve both acquired from sleeping on the floor.

*

 

From: Katsuki Yuuri
Will he be at Worlds?

From: Me
Yes.

From: Katsuki Yuuri
Okay. Yakov and Viktor are not so sure.

From: Me
He hasn’t officially announced he’s dropped, has he? He’ll be there.

From: Katsuki Yuuri
Will you let me know when you are both in Helsinki?

From: Me
Only if you don’t make a big deal about it

From: Katsuki Yuuri
I promise! I’ll make Viktor behave too!

From: Me
Okay.

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.