• 24 January 2017 • Ostrava • Yuliya •
This was far from Yuliya Anetayshyn’s first skating event, but it was the first time she’d ever been invited specifically to attend a practice session before the main event. Katya had been reluctant, but when Yuliya insisted that she’d work on homework in the stands while practice was going on, Katya had relented.
Of course, she wasn’t getting much studying done. Yuri and Otabek were stretching next to her, and Victor was down on the ice, with Yuuri leaning on the rail next to Yakov, watching. Chris was somewhere, and the fact that she was now on a first name, nickname basis with all of them was still not really computing.
“Vitya. Yura. Beka. Chris,” she murmured to herself, and then asked Yuri, «What’s other-Yuuri’s nickname? Do you just call him Yuuri-san all the time? That seems very formal. I mean, you were close enough to be in the wedding party, no?»
«If I call him Yuuri-chan, he gets this weird look,» Yuri said. «I guess that’s more a girl thing? Mostly I call him as little as possible. Katsudon when I’m annoyed, Yuuri-san when he’s being okay, sometimes just his name. You can just call him his name, it’s fine.»
«It doesn’t get confusing?» she asked.
«Do you know how many Yuris I went to school with when I was small?» Yuri said. «You get over it.»
«What about Phichit?»
Yuri shrugged. «I’m not that close with him. You should ask Yuuri-san.»
«I wouldn’t want to interrupt,» Yuliya said.
«He’s not really doing anything,» Otabek said.
Yuliya looked down at Yuuri, and shook her head. «He’s completely absorbed in watching Victor. I mean, who wouldn’t be?»
«You get used to it,» Yuri said dryly.
«I don’t know if I ever could,» Yuliya said. «I mean, think how it must be for Yuuri. Does he wake up every morning going, ‘Oh my god, I’m married to The Victor Nikiforov!’?»
Yuri snorted. «Probably. But Victor’s worse. Do not get him started on his favorite subject. He will not stop.»
«How’s the…» Otabek waved a hand in the general direction of Yuri’s hip.
«Fine,» Yuri said. «Back to normal. Needed rest.»
«Are you seriously thinking about skating? You’ve barely had practice time, and you grew again,» Otabek said.
«Beka, drop it,» Yuri said. «I’ll either fall on my ass or I won’t. I’m not going to not try.»
«Will they let you skate for practice if you’re not competing?» Yuliya asked Otabek.
«Yakov booked time at a private rink. I’m doing land-work here today while they work on the ice. Phichit and Yuuri are coming with me later. But I want to see the practice today, and Yakov vouched for me.»
They returned to their stretching and Yuliya looked around the arena to see who else she recognized.
Mila, who she’d met on the plane, was there, and Sara Crispino and her brother, though they were at opposite ends of the area for once. A girl from France who had debuted as a senior at the beginning of the season: Yuliya had been watching her because she was only a year older and had won several Junior events the year before. She was not expected to win this time. For a couple years now, it had been neck and neck between Mila and Sara whenever they skated together, with few of the other ladies coming close in technical skills. At least not among the skaters eligible for Europeans.
She looked back down at Victor just in time to see him jump a perfect quad Lutz. She gasped.
Yuri sighed. «I’m not going to win this time.»
«No,» Otabek agreed. «But you’ll kick butt next year, once you put some extra muscle on.»
“Hmph,” Yuri grumbled.
«You’re looking kind of, well,» Yuliya paused, looking for the right word. “Lanky.”
«I feel like a bunch of mismatched parts that got stuck together. Like, if I’m going to be tall, fine, but do I still have to have the baby face? And could everything be proportional? I feel like I’m all knees and elbows and feet,» Yuri said.
«To be fair, you kind of are,» Otabek said, and leaned away as Yuri tried to elbow him.
«Not helping, Beka. » Yuri said.
Otabek raised his eyebrows. «You thought I was trying to help? What kind of friend would I be if I was actually nice to you all the time? You’d hate that.»
Yuri snorted. «Goddammit, Beka.»
«You know I’m right.»
Yuri looked up at Yuliya. «The most annoying fucking thing is that he actually is right.»
«All right,» Yuri said, climbing to his feet and grabbing his skates, his back to the rink. «Wish me luck.»
• Lilia •
Breakfast and Minako and dealing with the visa situation with the Japanese consulate had taken up most of Lilia Baranovskaya’s morning, and she was already frustrated when she made it out to the ice arena across the street from the hotel.
Yuri had apparently already stretched and done his land warmups, and was pulling his skates out of his bag up near the Vasilyeva girl. The child had introduced herself with her mother’s name cobbled into a near parody of a Ukrainian matronymic, but Lilia had known the girl’s father for years, had met the child when she was a toddler, and while she wasn’t about to make a point of it, she was not unaware of the girl’s father’s political ties. He and his wife been a frequent fixture at cultural events in St. Petersburg until his son had been outed.
Lilia walked with a ballerina’s controlled stride, silently, until she stood directly behind Yuri. The infuriating boy was now taller than her, but she didn’t think it had dawned on him yet.
Otabek had noticed her, but said nothing.
Yuri nearly jumped out of his skin when he turned around and found her standing there.
«Really, Yura. Did you think I wouldn’t check?» She gestured at the stadium seat in front of her. «Bend over.»
«Not. A. Word,» Yuri said to Otabek, who simply cocked his eyebrows up in response.
Lilia worked brisk fingers along Yuri’s hamstring, watching for any flinching.
«I’m telling you, I’m fine,» Yuri said. «I’m more worried about the extra centimeters than I am about my butt.»
«Do your skates still fit? We can get new ones here if you need,» Lilia said.
He turned around. «I got a new pair right before we left. They should be fine.»
«Show me,» she said. «I’ve gone through three sets of shoes in a single performance.»
«Your shoes were made of paste and cardboard,» Yuri said. «Mine are made from thermoelastic high-tech materials.»
«Which do not give way to your growing feet at all,» Lilia said. «Show me.»
«Let me get rinkside,» Yuri said. «I don’t want to deal with the stairs in skates.»
Otabek pushed himself up to a stand, dusted his hands off on his warmup pants, and followed them down.
• Victor and Yuuri •
“I don’t see why you won’t let Yuuri practice with me. The programs fit together. I designed them that way. It doesn’t interfere,” Victor said to Yakov.
«Don’t be ridiculous. Skate your program. He will not be on the ice with you during the short program. You are wasting time arguing with me.» Yakov waved at the ISU official, who signaled the other skaters on the ice to make way for the full run-through.
It felt good to Victor, the ice under his feet, the focus on the competition. Though he could feel Yuuri’s presence like sunshine on his skin, he simply let it warm his performance.
Nearly three minutes after he’d started his short program run-through, he came to a breathless, arched halt, wishing Yuuri was out there with him so that he could bend back farther.
There was a scattering of enthusiastic applause, and he grinned as he straightened and gave an exaggerated bow and grin, and then skated over to Yuuri.
“Yeah?” he said to his husband (and oh, that would never get old.)
“Breathtaking,” Yuuri said, and leaned in to whisper, “I want you so bad right now.”
Victor blushed, kissed Yuuri’s cheek, and said, “Later.”
“Gross,” Yuri said from the rink entrance.
“Did you grow again?” Victor asked. “Wait, you have your skates on. Is Yakov actually letting you skate? I thought he withdrew you.”
Yuri’s face when white with shock and then flushed red with anger. “What? No!”
“Yakov, didn’t you tell him?” Victor asked.
Yakov frowned. «Yura, it doesn’t make sense to have you compete in this. You are in no way prepared. You haven’t hit a triple in a week or more. You were hurting so much you spent two days in bed. Best to take some time and focus on Worlds.»
“I. Am. Fine.” Yuri spat the words out like poison, took his guards off and slapped them on the rail. “It doesn’t even hurt anymore.”
“Yura, you can’t,” Yakov said. “I already withdrew you.”
“Fucking un-withdraw me,” Yuri said, his tone getting desperate. “I need to at least try.”
Victor tried for soothing. “Yurotchka, let it go for now. You have to work back into it slowly when you’re growing so fast. Every time you shoot up your balance changes.”
“Don’t fucking patronize me, Vit’ka.”
“You could really hurt yourself,” Yuuri said. “Why do you think I debuted so late?”
Yuri growled. “Because you fucking sucked, Katsudon.”
Yuuri rolled his eyes at that. “Actually, my coaches made me sit things out when I was growing too fast. They wanted me settled before I was jumping quads.”
“I’ve been jumping quads for years,” Yuri said. “I’m skating.” And he pushed out onto the ice with several other skaters, to warm up.
“Yuri!” Victor called after him, and then shrugged. “Was I this difficult, Yakov?”
Yakov stared at him, and then said, “Worse.”
Victor watched Yuri skate angrily around the rink. “I am so sorry.”
• Yuri •
Of all the blows puberty had dealt him, Yuri thought, this was definitely the cruelest. His debut year was supposed to be glorious, not some flash in the pan and then too tall to even function.
I can’t believe they’re not going to let me compete.
The ice felt fine under his skates. The nagging pain that had been so wearing and terrifying was almost completely gone. The adrenaline of the argument fueled him around the rink, the cut of the blade strong, decisive. He turned, feeling the ice, then went into a spin, feeling his balance.
Fuck them all.
They were all watching him, so he slowed a little as he approached the rail. “See, I’m fucking fine. I can skate. You just watch me.”
He could feel their eyes on him as he turned, built up speed.
Yakov called out, «Don’t you dare try anything more than a single!»
Yuri let out an inarticulate shout of rage, and launched himself into the air.
Everything felt fine setting up the jump, a toe loop.
But as he left the ice, arms pulling in, his body reflexively beginning the rotations in the air, there was a loud pop, and the worst pain he’d ever felt in his right hip.
There was a massive intake of breath, as if everyone in the rink was gasping at once. Time slowed, the ice below him no longer anything but the enemy. He tried to land the jump, but there was no way to make it work.
He couldn’t even get his ankles untangled enough to extend his now-burning leg. The left ankle buckled under him as he came back down hard, and he fell heavily to the ice, reaching out with an arm to catch himself, not that it did any good at all.
The pain was blinding.
But the humiliation was worse.
He opened his mouth, but no sound came out.
Get up, he told himself. You always get up.
Trying to get up just ended up with him flat on his back with pain seemingly everywhere.
He was dimly aware of voices around him, hands under his head. Victor, in Russian, saying, «No, don’t get up Yurotchka. Stay. Help is coming.»
Yuuri, in English, saying, “Yura, please, don’t move.”
He started to shiver, and there was a coat over him that smelled comfortingly familiar, but it didn’t warm him. A second coat, but he still shivered.
An unfamiliar voice spoke in English with an accent he couldn’t focus on enough to understand, and there were hands on his legs.
Yakov, his voice raw and brusque, asking in Russian if he could feel things, but Yuri’s voice wasn’t working.
“Can you move your legs?” Yuuri asked, and in fact, he could, and that was okay, for values of okay that included pain so bad that the world was dim.
Things were getting hazier by the second, and Lilia snapped at him, «Breathe in, you’re forgetting to breathe. Control your breath.»
It took everything he had to stop trying to scream and breathe in, and the world came back into focus, and with it, the crashing realization that he was never, ever going to live this down.
He let out a single frustrated, agonized scream, and then put all his energy into controlling his breathing as tears streaked out of the corners of his eyes and down into his hair as he lay there, head tipped back against Victor’s hands.
He wasn’t very effective at it, the air coming into his lungs in gasps and shuddering out of him again in ragged bursts, but it did serve the purpose of oxygenating his blood and distracting him from the freight train of embarrassment and rending pain barrelling down on him.
Of all the faces around him, it was Otabek’s that shocked him the most. The normally cool Kazakh skater looked completely terrified.
• Yakov •
Yakov knew that something was wrong before the noise reached his ears. The setup wasn’t for a single, though he’d never know how many rotations Yuri had actually planned. If he’d planned.
“Yura, nyet!” was already coming out of his mouth when the pop registered. He froze for a split second as the jump fell apart in the air, and was already moving before Yuri splayed out on the ice, face twisted in a silent scream.
“Yebanko,” Yakov muttered as he struggled to get his coat off, barely registering that Victor already had his hands under Yuri’s head, frustrated at the lack of traction from his street shoes. Next to him, Yuuri was already down on his knees, handing his coat over to Victor.
A balding Gallic man in a very nice camel coat joined them, saying in English with a heavy French accent, “I am a doctor of sports medicine, may I help?”
Yakov nodded. “I’m his guardian.”
The man felt the injuries and asked if Yuri could feel his touch, but Yuri didn’t respond.
Yakov repeated the question in Russian, and Yuri seemed to want to answer, but nothing came out. There was a hand on Yakov’s shoulder. Lilia, telling the boy to breathe.
Why didn’t I think of that?
Yuri screamed, and Yakov’s heart broke.
The rink medics were bringing out a stretcher, and the doctor asked if Yuri had hit his head on the way down.
The whole jump replayed in Yakov’s mind, and he winced. “Ny… Non,” he responded.
“Est-ce que vous parlez français?” the doctor asked.
“Je parle français,” Victor said. “Il parle juste un peu.”
“Right,” the doctor said, switching back to English for Yakov’s sake. “I do not think the ankle is broken. His spinal cord is working, but he needs imaging. But it sounded comme… like a fracture. When he jumped. I would need x-rays to be certain. He needs a hospital. He must not skate.”
“How long?” Yuri asked in a ragged, pained voice.
Yakov was not sure if he’d ever heard the boy sound so defeated.
“I cannot know, it could be six, eight weeks. It could be six months. Depends on whether you do what your doctor, what your coach says. Injuries like this can be of little importance to a career, or they can end it. The ones who are ruined by these things are the ones who insist they can get better tout de suite, who will not give it time to heal. If you are not stupid? You could come out of this stronger. If you are stupid? You won’t ever jump a quad again. But we must get you to a hospital.”
Yuri closed his eyes, his breathing ragged. Next to him, Otabek wrapped his fingers around Yuri’s and said, «I’ll be here with you. I’ll be following you to the hospital.»
«You’re more important,» Otabek said. «I’ll do it later.»
• Otabek •
Otabek Altin stared out the front passenger window of the cab at the winter-bleak city as Yuuri, Victor, and Mila sat squashed hip to hip in the back seat of the compact car.
Victor was muttering about the stupidity of the jump, and Yuuri was trying to calm him, while Mila sat, twisting her hands, trying not to cry.
He closed his eyes, and remembered his last argument with his mother.
“What is this boy to you? You said you wanted to settle here, to stay. You have been gone so long. And some child calls you and you just, what, you go? You’ve known him weeks! You’ve spoken more of him since December than I’ve heard you speak of anyone in your life, even family! And you decide you must move there?” They spoke in a familiar Almaty patois of Russian and Kazahk.
“He trains with the best people in the world,” Otabek had said, folding a shirt and putting it in his suitcase, but she was having none of it.
“You have trained with the best in the world. You said Russia was not for you! Weeks! You are an adult, he is not. What is this?”
“He is a friend,” Otabek said.
“You don’t have friends. You said you did not need them, that they were a liability.”
“Maybe I’m tired of being alone. And I have had friends, just not… not here.”
“You are not alone here. You have family here.”
“He feels like family, I don’t know. He feels… like zhanym.”
“Are you gay? Is he your lover? He is too young, no?” She sounded more shocked than angry at the idea.
“Not, no. He isn’t my lover. I don’t really want that, and I’m sure he doesn’t. I just… I’ve never met anyone like me, and he feels like a kindred soul. We talk and I find myself actually happy. And then I go to skate and there is no one who can challenge me here. I go to the club and it is superficial. I come home and no one understands what I do or what drives me. And then I talk to him and there’s someone who gets it, who can push me, challenge me. In America they had a saying, ‘He is a big fish in a small pond.’ I have found all the glory I can find here. I thought I could come back, but…”
“This is your home.”
“In figure skating, it is a very small pond.”
She sighed. “I suppose it is better to serve a hundred than lead ten.”
“I can lead the hundred, or at the least, come very close. Closer if I do this.”
She sighed. “And this boy?”
“He feels necessary. I will be a better skater for knowing him. I already am.”
“Otabek, are you okay?” Mila said, leaning forward over the back of the seat.
Otabek stared out the window and didn’t answer.
Behind him, he could hear her huff of annoyance. She said, “Fine, shut us all out. We love him, too, you know.”
He closed his eyes and then said in the direction of the glass, “I don’t know. Watching him fall…”
She reached over and put a hand on his shoulder. “Same.”
He could still hear the sickening pop of bone, hear Yuri screaming, the rush of people to get to him on the ice.
“What is he to you?”
People kept asking him that. And there weren’t good words for it, not in any language he knew. “My soul,” he’d told his mother, leaning on the family sense of zhanym. Maybe he couldn’t answer because he didn’t know. Maybe it didn’t matter. All he knew was the Yuri was important. Not for romance, not for professional interest, but because being around Yuri made Otabek feel like being himself made sense. Like he mattered for something more than his feet on the ice and his country’s flag in the air. He’d be the smallest fish in the sea if that’s what it took to matter that way.
Yuuri’s voice suddenly carried from the back seat. “It’s going to kill him if he can’t come back to the top from this.”
“We won’t know until they figure out exactly what’s wrong,” Victor said, pulling out his phone. “The hospital they took him to sounds okay.”
“I can help pay for whatever care he needs,” Otabek said, shifting in his seat to look at the occupants of the back seat. “Wherever he needs to get it.”
They stared at him. Mila, blinked, smiled, and said, “Are you rich or something?”
“He’d have to be,” Victor said. “To train where he’s trained and not worry about sponsorships.”
Otabek shrugged. “Wherever he needs to go.”
“Who was that doctor?” Yuuri asked.
“Dr. Bernard?” Mila asked. “His daughter, Mireille, just moved up to seniors this year. She’s sweet. He’s some big name at a sports medicine clinic in France.”
• • •
The waiting was the worst. Yakov, Lilia, and Dr. Bernard were somewhere with Yuri, while the other skaters were relegated to a lounge with Yuliya and Katya.
«Shouldn’t you two be gearing up for the competition?» Otabek asked Victor and Mila while Yuuri was up finding coffee.
«Fuck the competition,» Victor said.
«I know you and Yuri have a special connection,» Mila said, «but he’s family.»
«Papa will take care of whatever Yuri needs,» Yuliya said.
Victor snorted. «For as sharp as our tiger’s claws are, he has managed to surround himself with loyal lions.»
• Yakov •
In the trauma center, they were waiting. Dr. Bernard had smoothed a lot of the bumps, but he lacked privileges in the hospital. The center was dealing with a car crash and imaging was tied up.
Yakov had handed over the hard copy of his skater’s medical history—the English version he always carried to international competitions—and helped the staff load a digital version they could translate into Czech if necessary. An IV was flowing and various monitors were attached to the boy, and a nurse was in and out every ten minutes or so.
“Is this making things worse, this delay?” Lilia asked.
The doctor shook his head. “If it is what I think it is, the first course of action is enforced rest anyway. We need the imaging to know exactly what we’re dealing with, but it sounded like a fracture, and probably an avulsion fracture given what he was doing. He’s the right age for it and exactly the right kind of stupid to make it happen.”
Yuri started to say, “Fuck you,” but Lilia’s hand clamped firmly over his mouth.
She leaned over his bed and said, “He is one of the best sports medicine doctors in Europe, and if he tells you you’re stupid, you will nod and agree with him, because you know he’s right.”
“Let the boy swear,” Dr. Bernard said. “He’s in excruciating pain, and will be for some time.”
“Can they give him something?” Yakov asked.
“We need to make sure there’s nothing else going on, but I’m sure they will send him off to la la land as soon as a course of action has been decided.” To Yuri, he said, “The kind of stupid I speak of is when young athletes hurt themselves, pretend they are fine, and then try to show off. A smart athlete knows to check injuries out early, and take a small time to heal a small injury rather than risk the large injury. It is a normal kind of stupid for someone your age. I have seen much older men do the exact same thing. You knew better, no? You just didn’t want it to be that way.”
“I wanted to win,” Yuri grumbled.
“You might, still. It is, hm, less certain for this, but I was sincere when I said that this may make you stronger. I have seen athletes be, ah, very smart about learning from rehab, and they come back knowing their bodies more, er, better. And when you know your body, you can control your body. If you can control your body, the things you can accomplish are much greater than if you can’t. How long have you been in pain?”
Yuri turned his head into the rustling pillow and mumbled something.
Dr. Bernard bent close and said, “I could not hear.”
“Before Nationals,” Yuri said. “Not long after the Grand Prix Final.”
The doctor nodded. “I thought as much. Usually these kinds of things have a long, er, history. Fast growth, chronic inflammation irritating the bone and causing bone loss. The tendons grow slower than the bones sometimes, and create great strain. The body usually adapts, but the body is not normally doing giant figure skating jumps.” Where much of what he’d been saying had been halting, these words tumbled from him as if it were a lecture he’d given in English many times.
“It hurts so much.” Yuri said, clearly trying not to cry.
“Whatever it was that happened, you injured your hamstring badly. It is in a very, eh, personal place. Pain helps keep you from moving so much, no?”
Yakov sat heavily in the plastic chair next to the rolling exam table. «Lilia, if you want to head back with Mila and Victor… They need to prepare. I have not heard from Georgi either, and he was supposed to meet us at the rink in the afternoon.»
«I want Otabek,» Yuri said.
Lilia glanced at the doctor and said, in English, “I’ll see if they’ll let him come back. Your little friend and the Japanese boy are here, too.”
Yuri shrugged. “If they’ll let them.”
Yakov raised an eyebrow at her, and she made a small movement that called attention to the phone in her hand.
He pulled his out of his pocket, and shortly after she was out of the room, it vibrated in his hand.
«He will let them comfort him in ways we cannot.»
• Lilia •
The young people in the waiting room sat up straight as Lilia walked in after checking with the nurse. Well trained. She’d spoken to enough of them about their posture.
“I don’t have any news yet, except that it’s going to be a while. Yakov asked me to take Victor and Mila back to practice. He’s in pain, terrible pain, but not in immediate danger.”
“Can we see him before we go?” Victor asked.
“You and Mila go back, and then Otabek and Yuuri and Yuliya can go back when we leave.”
“I’d rather stay with my Yuuri, here,” Victor said.
Lilia sighed. “I commend your loyalty, really, I do, but we must keep him calm, and you need the practice time. The orderly will show you back. Do not stay long, or I will drag you out by your ear.”
She watched as Victor stood—only letting go of Yuuri’s hand when he had to—and held out an elbow for Mila, who looked shakier than Lilia could ever remember seeing her.
Lilia felt a hand on her arm, and looked down. “Yes, Yuliya?”
“Is he going to be okay?”
“I don’t know, child. He’s not going to die. Whether he will skate… Only time will tell.”
“Anything I can do, I will,” Yuliya said.
“Have you talked to your papa? I’m sure he’ll want to know,” Lilia asked, and then sighed. “Don’t look like that child, I’ve known him for years. You look just as your mother did at your age. I half thought they would give you to me to train.”
“I’d be terrible, I don’t have the ankles for it,” Yuliya said. “Please don’t tell anyone that you know…”
Lilia covered Yuliya’s hand with her own. “I am an old lesbian living in a homophobic country. I would not throw anyone to the Volki.”
Katya snorted. “You’re what, 40? That’s hardly old.”
Lilia smiled. “Aren’t you lovely!” She did not supply her actual age.
• Yuri •
Yuri didn’t know which was worse, seeing Victor instead of Otabek, or the look of raw worry on Victor’s face. «The fuck are you doing here? You need to go practice so you can obliterate The Pelvis.»
«I’m going, but I wanted to tell you, we’re all here for you, and we’re going to do everything we can possibly do to help you get better.» Victor took Yuri’s hand and squeezed it gently. «And don’t worry about the competition. It doesn’t matter.»
«Like hell it doesn’t,» Yuri said. «If you do anything for me at all, go win that thing since I can’t. Don’t you dare use me as an excuse to slack off. Make Yakov leave, too.»
“Yakov can’t leave until you’re stable. If you need a treatment he has to be here to sign for you,” Victor said, switching to English.
Yuri blinked. “Oh. I’m… I’m sorry.”
Victor snorted. “Apologize later, when we know how much you have to apologize for.”
Yuri closed his eyes and winced. «Have you ever felt like a complete idiot?»
«I showed up naked in Hasetsu, granting a request that Yuuri had forgotten making, and made a complete fool of myself,» Victor said. «I think it is safe to say that I have experienced that feeling.»
“That turned out okay, though,” Yuri said.
“This could, too,” Victor said. “It probably will, if you listen and follow instructions.”
Yuri whimpered. «That’s why I’m terrified.»
Mila came up near his head on the other side of the bed, and stroked his hair. «Being scared helps change what you do. That’s what it’s there for.»
Yuri closed his eyes. «I’m never nice to you.»
«Yeah, but you’re family, so we don’t take it personally,» Mila said. «You should let Yuuri or Yuliya do your hair, so it won’t tangle. There’s enough to be miserable about without dealing with matted hair.»
Yuri raised the arm that didn’t have an IV in it, intending to feel his hair, and yelped as a new hurt made itself known. Dr. Bernard was at his side immediately, feeling at his shoulder.
“Don’t tell me I fucked up my arm,” Yuri said.
“Probably not much,” Dr. Bernard said. “You hit the ice hard. We will look.”
“Uggghhhh,” Yuri said.
“Truer words were never spoken,” Victor said. «Yakov, please call me if something changes. I’ll be back when I’m done with practice.»
Yuri said, «Make Katsudon and Otabek practice, too. I want to see him cream JJ at 4CC.»
«They’ll go this evening, when the ice is booked,» Victor said.
• • •
Otabek came in moments after Victor and Mila left, followed by Yuuri and Yuliya.
“I’m supposed to ask you to do my hair,” Yuri said.
“No metal clips or decorations,” Dr. Bernard said. “If they’ll let us use their MRI, those would interfere.”
“Waxed thread?” Yuliya asked.
“Perfect,” the doctor said.
• • •
A few minutes later, they’d organized themselves so that Yuuri was on Yuri’s left, Otabek on Yuri’s right, and Yuliya up near the head of the bed, picking out the tangles that had already started to form.
Every ounce of his willpower was going into not showing how much pain he was in. The blood pressure cuff on his increasingly sore arm kept going off and making everything harder to cope with.
Dr. Bernard looked at him through narrowed eyes. “It is better for you to be as relaxed as you can be, even if that means you are crying. Fighting can pull things farther out of alignment and muscle tension can reduce blood circulation. They will be putting you on pain medications so that you will not hold tension there, as you need all the blood flow you can get to heal. Hold your friends’ hands. Squeeze if you need to. This thing you are doing… I can see the sweat on your brow, hear your breathing. You cannot hide that you suffer when it hurts this badly. Breathe. Keep breathing. Don’t knot yourself up around the pain, you’ll only make it worse.”
Yuri took a deep, shuddering breath, closed his eyes, and felt hands wrap around his hands. “I can’t get away from it.”
Yakov’s voice, surprisingly gentle. «Breathe in. Imagine the pain is a ball of fire, and every time you blow out, it cools the flame, and makes the ball smaller and farther away. Come on, Yurotchka. In. Out.»
«I want my grandfather.»
«I know. I called him. You will see him soon enough, but he cannot travel here right now.»
Yuri sobbed. «It hurts. I feel so stupid. Will you forgive me?»
A large, firm pressure on his upper arm, Yakov’s hand, and then, «Yurotchka, there is nothing to forgive. I should have told you before we landed. I should have pushed. I failed you. You didn’t fail me. Keeping you safe is my job. Don’t make extra pain by worrying about anything but getting better.»
Through gritted teeth, Yuri said, «Lilia threatened you if you yelled at me, didn’t she.»
«Of course she did. Terrifying. I am far more scared of her than I am mad at you.»
Yuri laughed and then gasped with pain. «Ow. Funny hurts.»
• • •
They had been there an interminable amount of time when the harried staff doctor finally came in. He stared for a long moment at Doctor Bernard, blinked, and then said in heavily accented but competent English, “They said a French specialist was here, but I never imagined…” He shook himself and said, “Where are my manners? I am so honored to meet you, Docteur Bernard. I am Doctor Janak. I have seen your seminars online, they were very useful. What is your opinion here?”
“I would like for young Mr. Plisetsky to have an MRI as soon as possible, looking especially at the right hip, left knee and ankle, and left shoulder and arm. I’m most concerned about his pelvis. We will need to look very carefully for avulsion fractures. I was there when it happened, and it sounded like a fracture.”
“Is it not easier to simply do the whole body? And you prefer an MRI to CT?”
“I prefer to avoid the excess radiation in someone his age, and if he tolerates the machine and you have the time available, certainly.” Dr. Bernard looked at Yakov. “He has no metal implants?”
“No,” Yakov said. “Nothing.”
“I think we can make time. I understand he is an athlete?”
“He won the Grand Prix of Figure Skating,” Yakov said. “If he heals well, he could be on the podium at the next Olympics.”
Dr. Janak’s eyebrows rose. “Well, then, we shall attempt to help that to happen. What do you think, Dr. Bernard?”
“I think we should give the boy some pain medicine and get him into imaging as soon as we can.”
Dr. Janak picked up the chart. “I see that his stats are stable. You don’t suspect an internal bleed?”
“I suspect a simple avulsion fracture, probably of the ischial tuberosity. Plus several more minor injuries, possibly chronic. I’m more concerned about some underlying etiology than I am about hemorrhage at this point. He would already have decompensated.”
“How much pain are you in?” Dr. Janak asked Yuri. “You look like you are coping well.”
Yuri opened his mouth and then closed it again without saying anything.
“On a scale of one to ten, where one is something you barely notice and ten is you are about to faint and it is the worst pain you can imagine?”
“It is worse than I’ve ever had before. I don’t know,” Yuri said.
“He is a skater and a dancer,” Yakov said. “He has pain most of the time and does not complain.”
Dr. Bernard said, “His physical symptoms indicate extreme pain, and he was screaming earlier.”
“What would you do?”
“I would give opiate and ketorolac now, with an anxiolytic, before the scan. If I am correct, we can consider epidural placement while he is still medicated, to reduce the need for opiate and keep him immobile.”
“What does that mean?” Yuri asked.
“Which part?” Dr. Bernard asked.
“Um. All of it.”
Dr. Janak said, “We will give you some immediate relief from the pain, something to make you sleepy and relaxed during the scan, and if there is a fracture of the hip, we will place a thin catheter near your spine to put medication only where you need it, so that you do not feel, hm… loopy,” he twirled a finger near his head, “for any longer than you must. It will also remove the temptation to fidget, and if it is a minor break, will help prevent further damage. Most likely you will fall asleep, sleep through the scan, and wake up with little pain.”
“You can just fix it?” Yuri said, looking back and forth between the two doctors.
Dr. Janak shook his head. “I said no pain, not that it would be fixed. Rest is our first cure for the kind of fracture Dr. Bernard suspects. The epidural will not allow you to get up. But we do not want you to get up just yet.”
“I just want it to stop hurting and heal right,” Yuri said. “It hurts so much.”
Dr. Janak looked at the nurse who had been quietly monitoring vitals, and spoke quickly in Czech. She nodded, and walked out.
When she returned a minute later, she walked over to the side of the bed where the IV was, and picked up the tubing, finding a port. “Easy,” she said. “Makes you…” She mimed falling asleep.
“Please,” Yuri said, his eyes desperate, and then gave a small nod.
She injected three medications into the IV tubing.
“How fast will it work?” Yuri asked.
“Well, we are not knocking you out,” Dr. Janak said. “But you should be feeling quite good in a few minutes. It’s okay to go to sleep, if you can, it will make everything much faster. I will leave you in Dr. Bernard’s most capable hands, and they will be down shortly to take you to imaging.”
Yuri looked down at the IV. “My arm is cold.”
“That’s the medicine,” Dr. Bernard said. “You should feel much less pain, soon. I must caution against thinking no pain means no injury. They are turning off the pain to ease you, but you could make everything much worse if you pretend you are not hurt.”
Yuri nodded, and then his eyes widened as his head swam. “Woah. I think moving my head might be a mistake.” He yawned, and Yuliya, who had been working on his hair the whole time, grumbled at the motion.
“Don’t you have to go back to the rink?” Yuri asked Dr. Bernard, his words slowing.
“Mimi would kill me if I didn’t stick by you until we know the full situation. She’s one of your, what do they call them… Angels? She’s the same age, and has been following your career for some time.”
Yuri made a series of strange faces, consternation and puzzlement, and then he yawned again.
“How is your pain?” the doctor asked.
“Oh, god, better.” Yuri said. “Spasiba.” He yawned again, and closed his eyes. “Sonnyy.”
“He says thank you, and he’s sleepy,” Yuliya said.
“Merci,” Dr. Bernard said.
“De rien,” she answered with a smile.
“You speak French?” he asked.
She smiled. “Fluently, but my mother told me always to speak the language the most people understand.”
“Good advice,” he said. “I may ask for your help a little later if things get complicated. There are some things I know in French but not in English, and I have no Russian.”
“I lived in Russia and England and we travel to France and Switzerland often,” Yuliya said. “But I don’t know medical terms.”
Yuri mumbled something about Switzerland and frowned.
Otabek leaned forward, “I didn’t catch that.”
Yuri muttered something in Russian and Otabek picked up “Christophe” and “asshole” and laughed.
“I think he’s getting loopy,” Otabek said.
“I think I would like to go sit down,” Yuuri said. “If he’s not needing immediate support.”
“You could go back to the rink,” Yakov said. “I wouldn’t mind.”
“Victor actually wants me here,” Yuuri said. “But I don’t need to be in the room every moment.”
• • •
Things were a fragmented blur for a while. Yuri was vaguely aware of someone speaking to him in Czech, and then Russian, and then being wheeled into a dark room with an ominous looking camera. His mind kept trying to turn it into something else, but he couldn’t focus hard enough to figure out what. Someone was positioning a hand, and they moved him, and it hurt.
Then it was still, and there was a beep, then they moved the strange camera, and more beeps, and again, and then they were wheeling him to a brightly lit room and sliding him, bedding and all, onto a narrow table.
A face swum above him, and something was covering his ears, and he frowned and started to try to move, and then another cold thing flowed into his arm and he drifted.
• • •
For a long time, one of Beka’s playlists echoed in his head, but it felt like a surprisingly poorly mixed dance beat, because the drums were like machine guns in the distance. He tried to tease Beka about it, but the words came out incoherent, and Yakov’s voice was in his ears so loud and close that he wanted to look around, but his body just wasn’t really responding.
«Don’t move. They have to get good pictures. The noise is the machine, not the music.»
He stopped fighting to move, and almost fell asleep to the staccato beat in the strange cocoon of the MRI machine.
There was a flurry of voices, and someone was explaining something but it didn’t make sense.
There were a dozen hands on him, gently lifting him, curling him forward. He found himself with his head against Yakov’s shoulder, his coach telling him something, his body obeying though his mind could not parse it.
There was a strange pinch in his back, and then pressure, and he tried to pay attention, he did, but the last of the nagging pain was fading into an almost pleasant buzzing numbness, and then even that was gone, and then, so was he.
Yakov sat with Otabek and Dr. Bernard outside the magnetic resonance imaging chamber as the machine fired what sounded a volley of blanks and then hummed into a new position.
“I like your music,” the tech said from a nearby computer station. “Is soothing. Can we keep?”
Otabek nodded. He’d picked a techno, mostly instrumental dance list of the sort people liked when they were in an altered state, slow and throbbing, and sometimes lining up pretty well with the machine, sometimes not. «Strangest gig I’ve ever done,» he said.
«Was that an actual joke?» Yakov said.
Otabek quirked up an eyebrow and said nothing more.
“I have images coming in for you, Dr. Bernard,” the tech said.
The doctor moved over to stand behind the machine, and sighed. “He has a stress fracture in one of the small bones of his ankle. It looks… not fresh. Older. Hmm. Three, four weeks perhaps? There’s also inflammation around his achilles, tendonitis, possibly. He may also have a sprain, but that’s harder to see so soon, with so much swelling generalized.”
“He said his knee hurt on that side, too, days ago,” Otabek said.
“You didn’t say,” Yakov said, his tone more accusing than he intended.
“You knew he was hurting enough to ask me to keep him off the ice,” Otabek said. “He begged me not to tell you, and Lilia came anyway. He doesn’t trust very many people, I’d like him to be able to trust me.”
Yakov sighed. “I knew. I just didn’t want… I didn’t think it was so bad.”
“Most skaters and dancers have things like this they just skate through even though it makes things, hmmm, more difficult, longer, than simply taking time to heal,” Dr. Bernard said.
The machine in the other room thundered and then hummed as Yuri slid deeper into it.
“Merde,” Dr. Bernard said. “I hate being right some days. You see here?” He pointed at a spot on the MRI at the base of Yuri’s pelvis, at his right sit bone. “This should not be like this. The good news is that it appears to be a simple break, and it may heal just fine with rest, but he could get back on it sooner and lose less muscle if he had surgery.”
“Surgery,” Yakov said, his eyes widening. He let out his breath in a shocked sigh.
“I need to see this from other angles when the test is done. We might give it a few days to see if it starts to heal in the correct alignment. Sometimes they do. Sometimes the ligament does not help.”
“Isn’t it better to get it lined up first?” Otabek asked.
“With large breaks, yes. We don’t like them starting to heal wrong as we perhaps need then to break the bone again. But this, the bone was maybe a little weak to start, and the ligament is short, and if we go in and operate immediately it may break worse. I would like to give him some days to let his body start to heal the bone, and if it does not grow together, when it is operated on they will simply make the surfaces fit correctly. Com… Like the Lego.”
“They would shape it?” Otabek asked.
Dr. Bernard nodded. “If he came to my clinic in France, I would recommend a new treatment we are using, where we take bone marrow and filter it, and use the fluid to help the bone heal very quickly. This could give him a better result, faster. But they cannot do it here.”
“Where can they do it?” Yakov asked.
“Not Russia. Hm, I believe they are using this technique in experimental centers in the US, Colombia, and Australia. But who knows if the Americans can even do it after last week. But I learned from a doctor in Japan.”
“We have actually been discussing moving to Japan. Because of Yuuri-san and Victor, St. Petersburg has become less safe,” Yakov said.
“Yura would love that,” Otabek said. “I would need a visa if we were all going and I would continue training.”
“We had talked about Hasetsu,” Yakov said. “Where is this doctor located?”
“Dr. Nakajima was in Kyoto, last I knew, but she is in great demand at many schools of medicine. I can contact her and ask her what she would recommend. Where is Hasetsu?”
“Yuuri-san could tell you more,” Yakov said. “I think it is near… ah, I can’t remember the name, I just know it had an airport and I was going to go get Yuri from it when he ran away to Japan last year.”
“Fukuoka?” Otabek asked. “I think he said it’s an hour from Yuuri’s parents?”
“That one,” Yakov agreed.
• • •
Holding Yuri for the epidural placement was surreal for Yakov. The boy curled into him like a child, quiet and compliant and completely out of it. He’d grown so used to the constant battle that was Yuri Plisetsky that it was more terrifying to have him quietly obedient. Not to mention that the great gangling boy’s arms dangled impossibly far. He’d been growing so fast. Up close it was impossible to ignore. He’d been with Yuri for a decade, and could still remember the boy crawling into his lap in the early days, completely contained in the space between Yakov’s shoulder and his knees. And now, his head against Yakov’s shoulder again, he curled and gangled and seemed impossible to contain.
«Steady, Yurotchka,» Yakov murmured. «This will be over soon.»
That felt like a lie. Yuri’s season was certainly completely over. The question now was whether they could get him through the healing process and help him get back to the ice. It was going to be a long, difficult spring.