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It’s…not easy, maintaining a friendship when they’re separated by time and distance, Otabek finds out, when he returns to Almaty after the GPF in Barcelona. His friendship with Yuri had seemed so natural and easy in the few days that they were together that Otabek somehow forgot how awkward he could be with new people.

Yuri, even if Otabek doesn’t really want to admit it, is new to him.

And this, this Skype conversation that Yuri had suggested out of the blue, is nowhere as easy as the conversation they’d been having in Barcelona, and Otabek is so thrown by it. Without the benefit of the adrenaline he was so pumped up on those few days in Barcelona, Otabek worries about how he comes off looking to Yuri — Is his pyjamas top too much? Too little? Should he have switched into the cashmere sweater his mother just gifted him before he picked up the call? Can Yuri see from this angle that his room is messy? Did he hide that poster of Yuri he usually keeps tacked to the wall away properly?

It’s uncomfortable, and from the way Yuri keeps looking away from the screen to jab at his phone, Yuri feels the same way.

Otabek swallows down the disappointment he feels. There’s obviously only one way to deal with this properly now — he needs to feign a bad connection.

He’s just about to do them both the favour of ending this very awkward Skype call when Yuri lets out a soft gasp, and says, “Is that your cat?”

“What?” Otabek asks, and turns to see the calico cat that’s so fond of trespassing into his apartment perching on his bedside table. He blinks at the cat a little, and then turns back to Yuri, who is beaming at him, clearly excited to see the cat. “Yeah,” he fucking lies. “Yeah, that’s definitely my cat.”

“Holy shit, I didn’t know you had a cat!” Yuri says. “Bring her closer? No, wait, she looks so comfortable over there. Bring me closer!”

Otabek, still reeling from the absolute horridness of his life choices, does as he says, and miraculously, the cat doesn’t 1) scratch his eyeballs out, or 2) run away.

“She’s gorgeous,” Yuri sighs. “What’s her name?”

“Uh,” Otabek says, and then blurts out the first thing that pops into his head, “Cat?”

Yuri snorts. “You named your cat Cat?”

“Well, at the very least you can’t say it’s misleading, right?” Otabek says dryly.

Yuri concedes with a shrug, and starts chattering on about how great he thinks cats are (“Very great.”) and how many cats he plans to have one day (“All the cats.”), and with every word that comes out of Yuri’s mouth, the uncomfortable feeling in Otabek’s chest eases, and it becomes so much easier to talk to Yuri.

He really doesn’t mean to lie to Yuri, but it looks like it’s just going to have to continue for a little longer.

They start talking more. Not always over Skype, because they both have pretty full schedules, but they’ve gone fifteen consecutive days without breaking their chat streak, and that’s definitely a plus in Otabek’s book.

The cat —it doesn’t have a collar, but is too well-groomed to be a stray; Otabek suspects it belongs to someone who lives in his apartment building, but the cat is so sneaky that Otabek never manages to find out which apartment it goes home to— is a very good icebreaker. It helps to lift Yuri’s spirit’s up, and ease them into having a good, non-awkward conversations.

The first time Yuri asks him for photos of Cat, and Otabek scrambles into the kitchen searching for cat-appropriate food to lure the cat back to his house so he can take about a gazillion photos of it so he’ll have enough material for Yuri when Yuri asks for photos.

It’s surprisingly difficult, trying to get the cat to do what Otabek wants it to — he doesn’t succeed in trying to lure the cat back with Weetabix soaked in milk, which is the only thing he has on hand, and ends up running down to the store for cat food, only to find that Cat came to his apartment while he was out.

He’ll never understand cats.

“C’mon, please,” Otabek murmurs, trying to coax Cat into the bright yellow nylon tent Yuri had sent over for her. “I’ve got to take a photo for Yuri.”

Cat doesn’t even look at Otabek, just continues gazing out the window from its place on the windowsill.

“Yuri is going to be disappointed if he doesn’t get a photo of you in the tent,” Otabek tries again, waving his fingers in front of Cat to get its attention. “You like Yuri, remember?”

Cat does, in fact, like Yuri.

Or, well, by Otabek’s standards, Cat seems to like Yuri, considering how she at least deigns to pay attention when Yuri is cooing over her through Skype. Conversely, Cat likes to pretend that Otabek doesn’t exist, even though Otabek is the one who feeds her and lets her run all around his apartment.

Ingrate.

Otabek sighs. “I’ll get you the good stuff for supper tonight if you get in the tent, and stay in it long enough for me to take a few photos, I promise.”

That seems to at least get Cat’s attention.

Otabek grins, and reaches to his left to tap at the top cabinet. “You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? It’ll just a few minutes of your time, how about that?”

Cat meows at him, and Otabek takes that as permission to gather Cat in his arms.

“How is Cat today?” is how Yuri opens their conversation one late afternoon.

Otabek honestly wouldn’t know, considering Cat hasn’t been by today at all yet.

“She’s great,” is what Otabek ends up saying. “She’s not here today, though,” he continues, preempting Yuri’s question, and then straightaway curses himself for saying that. He should’ve gone with hiding somewhere. Now he has to make up a reason why Cat isn’t here. Did he just use the vet excuse recently? “Uh, Aziza came by, and I let her borrow Cat.”

“That’s so nice of you,” Yuri says. “Mila tried to borrow Potya once so she could impress this chick who works in a pet store. I said no, because ha, like hell I’m going to let Potya be a prop in her weird courtship rituals.”

The smile on Otabek’s face doesn’t slip, but it’s a pretty close thing.

He should tell Yuri, he really should just admit that he’s been lying about Cat being his, and then start begging for Yuri’s forgiveness-

Yuri sits up very suddenly. “Oh! I listened to the playlist you made me!” he says.

The previous thought flies out of Otabek’s head.

He beams. “Did you like it?”

“Loved it,” Yuri tells him. “Do you have more stuff?”

“I’ll start compiling a new playlist for you now,” Otabek says, as if he hasn’t already made at least three playlists thinking about Yuri over the past twenty-four hours, and their conversation moves on to the set Otabek played at the club last night.

He doesn’t get a chance to even think about confessing to his lies before Yuri falls asleep on his four hours into the conversation.

She looks like she’s put on some weight. You’ve been feeding her well.

Otabek snorts at Yuri’s text.

Cat is probably putting on weight because she’s getting double dinners now, one from her owner, and one from Otabek.

Otabek would stop, but he kind of doesn’t want to get on her bad side.

It’s nice now that Cat sometimes sits with him, and even lets him pet her as he flicks through the channels on the television, instead of just ignoring him.

He scratches under Cat’s chin, and she purrs at him.

“Oh, do that again,” Otabek murmurs at Cat. “I’ll send a video to Yuri.”

“Wait! Can you take three steps back?”

“Huh?” Otabek asks, even as he does as Yuri says.

“That shop there, is that a cat cafe?” Yuri, well, screeches.

Otabek looks up, and oh, yep, it’s definitely a cat cafe. He angles his phone up so Yuri can have a proper look.

“You need to bring me there when I finally have the time to go visit you,” Yuri tells him.

Otabek laughs. “Of course.”

Yuri grins at him. “We could bring Cat!” Yuri suggests. “It’ll be so awesome!”

“Yeah,” Otabek says, and he’s definitely going to blame it on poor connection if Yuri picks up the slight cracking in his voice. “We’ll definitely bring Cat along.”

Having the cat around as a prop is all well and good, until it starts to occur to Otabek that it might be a bigger problem than he thinks it is.

The cat is now basically the cornerstone of their friendship, and Yuri doesn’t even know it’s not Otabek’s cat.

Otabek regularly wants to suffocate himself with a pillow just thinking about this. Maybe if he dies, he’ll never have to find out how big of a jerk Yuri is going to think he is when Yuri finds out.

The actual problem starts two and a half months into this ginormous lie, when Yuri announces to Otabek that Yakov finally agreed to let him take two weeks off from practise to have a vacation.

AND GUESS WHERE I WANT TO GO, Yuri texts him.

The horror hasn’t even had the chance to set in yet when Yuri’s next text flashes on his screen.

HINT: I’M BUYING MY FUCKING PLANE TICKET NOW TO GO VISIT YOU AND CAT. T-23 DAYS TILL I’M IN ALMATY!

Otabek goes through practise robotically, not paying enough attention to make any significant improvements, but not doing badly enough that his coach wants him to stay to talk about it. The moment he gets dismissed, he pulls up directions for the closest animal shelter.

He’s not freaking out.

“You’re definitely freaking out,” Aziza tells him over the phone. “You’ve been to how many pet stores now?”

A few. Not enough, though, since he hasn’t found a calico he can suitably pass off as Cat yet.

“You need to-”

Kidnap Cat.

“-calm down, and maybe just talk to Yuri. I’m sure he won’t be too upset if you explain things properly. I mean, I thought it was pretty funny.”

“You think everything is funny,” Otabek grumbles. “Pass the phone to Damira. I need to talk to someone with some sense.”

Aziza snorts. “This is rich coming from the person who is pretending to own a cat so he can impress his crush,” she says in parting before she hands the phone over.

“First things first, you’re not kidnapping the cat,” Damira tells Otabek, even before he’s able to say anything.

He hears Aziza say, “Shit, why didn’t I think he would pull something that?”

Otabek groans.

He avoids talking to Yuri the next day, too weighed down with guilt and panic, citing extended practise hours.

Yuri texts him “hahaha that’s fine, go work hard! we’re going to be spending heaps of time together in 19 days anyway”, which doesn’t help to calm him down at all.

He keeps his windows shut over the next few days, trying to make it Cat Trespass-Proof. He doesn’t think he can look at Cat without thinking about how much trouble he’s gotten himself into, and surely if he doesn’t see Cat for a few days, he can at least pretend that the problem doesn’t exist?

“Hey, you’ve been pretty weird recently, is everything okay?” Yuri asks one night.

“I’m fine,” Otabek lies. Funny how he keeps lying to Yuri, even though it’s the lying that’s gotten him into all this trouble now. “I’m just tired. Coach went a little harder on me than usual.”

“Ah.” Yuri nods. “Remind me to kick his ass for you when I get there.”

When Yuri gets here to find that Otabek has been lying to him about Cat the entire time, Yuri probably won’t even want to be his friend, much less want to kick his coach’s ass for him.

He forces himself to smile. “He’s my coach, Yuri,” he says. “You can’t kick my coach’s ass just because he’s trying to help me improve.”

“I can, and I will in about two weeks, just watch me.”

Two weeks. Fourteen days. The remaining number of days that Otabek will still have Yuri as a friend for.

He sighs.

“Okay, that’s it,” Yuri says, voice clipped, and it startles Otabek. “You’ve been acting weird since I told you about coming over to Almaty. If you’re not cool with me visiting you, then say something. I don’t want to be there if you don’t want me there.”

“That’s not- Of course I want you-”

“Save it,” Yuri cuts in, and he’s visibly upset about this.

Otabek thinks about the countless texts he’s been ignoring because he’s too busy worrying about what to do about the Cat situation, and how hard Yuri has been trying to maintain a conversation with him over the past few days; he’s fucked up, again.

“I’m going to cancel the flights now,” Yuri is saying. “I’ll talk to you- Well, not soon, I suppose, considering how busy you’ve been recently. Bye-”

“The cat isn’t mine,” Otabek blurts out.

Yuri freezes from where he’s obviously reaching out to end the call. “What?”

“I don’t have a cat,” Otabek says. “She belongs to a neighbour. I don’t even know which neighbour.” He swallows. “I’m…sorry.”

Yuri blinks at him. “Wait,” he says. “You’re saying that Cat doesn’t belong to you.”

“Her name probably isn’t Cat either,” Otabek says, voice small.

“I don’t get it,” Yuri says. “Why did you pretend you had a cat?”

“I…” Otabek scrubs a hand over his face. “I don’t know. It was weird talking over Skype that first time, we were both being awkward, and then you just…looked so happy to see Cat, and it just happened. And once it did, I didn’t know how to fix the situation without appearing like a liar so I just kept…”

“Lying,” Yuri finishes for him.

Otabek nods, and looks away from Yuri to stare down at his own hands. “Sorry.”

Yuri doesn’t say anything for a long moment. Otabek’s eyes are already prickling slightly at the thought of how mad Yuri must be when he hears the first peal of laughter.

He looks up, and sure enough, Yuri is bent over on his bed, cracking up.

“Jesus fucking Christ, Otabek Altin,” he says, when he’s finally calmed down enough to speak, “you’re a real piece of work.”

Otabek winces. “Sorry.”

“Any other big secrets you want to share with me?” Yuri asks. “Do you, like, secretly hate cats?”

“No, of course not,” Otabek says quickly. “I like cats, and I liked having Cat around. I just don’t own one.”

“Okay, good, because that would’ve been a friendship deal-breaker for me.”

It takes an embarrassingly long time for it to click for Otabek.

“But…this isn’t?”

Yuri snorts. “No,” he says simply, shrugging. “I mean, I’m not cool with you lying to me again from now on, and you should definitely never lie to me about important shit, but,” he cracks a smile, “this was pretty funny.”

At this, Otabek sighs in relief. “I won’t lie to you again, Yura, I promise.”

Yuri nods at that, satisfied.

Otabek considers his options for a little, and then decides that since he’s made a promise, he needs to show Yuri that he’s going to keep it.

“In the interest of full disclosure…”

Yuri’s eyes narrow.

“I really hate that tiger sweatshirt you’re wearing right now,” Otabek finishes, finally allowing himself to grin at Yuri.

Yuri hangs up on him.

Yuri is wearing the tiger sweatshirt when Otabek picks him up from the airport, because of course he is.

“I got you a matching one,” Yuri says in lieu of a greeting, grinning as he throws a wrapped package at Otabek.

Otabek rolls his eyes, but puts it on all the same.