Chapter 1: Irony
“Do you really believe ... that everything historians tell us about alphas – or about omegas – is actually true? You ought to consider the fact that these histories have been written by alphas, who never tell the truth except by accident.”
Moderata Fonte, The Worth of Omegas: Wherein Is Clearly Revealed their Nobility and Their Superiority to Alphas
Yuri has always hated alphas and their smell, although he’s willing to admit to some bias. If you grow up around alphas, train for much of your young life with alphas, enter high-level competitive figure skating with alphas, you’re bound to work up a distaste for them at the very least.
“All right, are we rolling? We’re rolling.”
The interviewer, sunny blond beta that she is, turns to Yuri with a smile outshone only by her perfectly coiffed bob.
“Great,” Yuri says, doing his honest best not to sound like he would rather stab himself in the eye than do this interview. He hates interviews almost as much as he hates the smell of alpha.
“Nervous?” the interviewer asks brightly. Yuri doesn’t know if this footage will be used, but either way, he says—
She laughs like he’d made a joke. Yuri resists the temptation to roll his eyes and pull out his phone to catch up on Instagram, which he’s sure would be a much more worthwhile endeavor than this.
“So, Yuri Plisetsky, three-time junior Grand Prix champion, three-time junior World champion – you come into your senior debut with quite a pedigree.”
“So they tell me.”
“Still, this is what they call the big leagues. You’re going up against some of the most accomplished skaters in the world, and even a few record-holders. How do you handle the pressure as a skater? As a beta amongst so many alphas?”
He hates alphas, and this is why.
Yuri sighs, folds his arms over his chest.
“As a skater, I thrive on the pressure,” he says. It’s true, but he’s said it so many times that it doesn’t feel true anymore. “As a beta, I look forward to holding my own against a bunch of knotheads and then skating them into the ground.”
The reporter laughs nervously. “Ah, well – that’s – do you mind doing that take one more time, without the vulgar language?”
“Whatever,” Yuri grumbles.
He hates alphas, but more than that, Yuri hates the concept of alphas. He hates how so much of his life as a professional athlete hinges around alphas – alphas and their natural athleticism, the way they are always a presumed threat to him.
And if there is a part of him that is more than a little upset that he never presented as one himself, he’s buried it deep by now.
Yuri answers the question a second time, swapping out “knotheads” with “jerks.” The reporter seems pleased.
“We’d all look forward to that, I think,” she laughs, the condescending sort of laugh that tells Yuri she considers the mere concept of any alpha actually losing to a beta hilarious, despite the fact that it has happened, thank-you-very-much, there are more than a few beta record-holders in plenty of sports. Yuri fights the urge to snarl. “Do you think you have a shot at World?”
“I will once I take gold here,” Yuri answers without missing a beat.
“Well, I admire your ambition.”
Yuri is about to say that she can take his ambition and cram it right up her ass with her journalistic integrity, but she wraps up the interview in a practiced way and ushers in the next skater waiting for the presser.
If there’s anything worse than an alpha, it’s two alphas in snuggly, mushy love.
It’s not that Yuri’s a homophobe – far from it, he’ll be the first to start swinging if anyone around him starts spewing that backwards bullshit – it’s just that Victor and Katsudon are so gross about it. Yuri can barely deal when betas get all cuddly in public, how is he supposed to tolerate it when two foul-smelling alphas start getting their nasty pheromones all over each other?
“You two are in public,” Yuri reminds them. “For God’s sake, show some restraint.”
Victor is the first to pull away from where he’d been stroking Katsudon’s hand, giggling like the school girl he most decidedly is not. “Sorry, Yurio.”
“And stop calling me Yurio.”
At least Katsudon looks appropriately embarrassed. He’s always been a little more reserved, comparatively speaking, and Yuri’s pretty sure it’s to do with his being Japanese and their thing with public displays of affection. It doesn’t get much more public than a cafe right down the street from where the Grand Prix Final will be taking place. “Sorry,” he says, “I know you’re sensitive to alpha pheromones.”
Sensitive is certainly a kinder way to describe it. Yuri feigns gagging around his English muffin to illustrate just how sensitive he is.
“Let’s change the subject,” Katsudon says when Victor squeals about how cute his sweet darling is about caring for Yuri’s needs. “How’s that quad loop coming for your free skate?”
“It’s better than it was,” he says, “but I’m still barley landing it half the time, even in practice. I might have to switch it to a triple if I don’t start progressing faster.”
“You can borrow Victor for a little while if you want,” he says. “Quad loops are his specialty.”
Victor preens, and Yuri feigns gagging again.
“Pass,” he says.
“Ooh,” Victor interjects, “you know who’s very good with quad loops? The Kazakh. What’s his name? Oh, I feel awful for not remembering…”
“Altin,” Katsudon supplies.
“Altin, that’s it! I saw him in Four Continents last year. A little artistically underwhelming, but he had one hell of a quad loop.”
“Never heard of him,” Yuri says.
“Yuri, you shared a barre with him for over a year!”
He narrows his eyes. “I did?”
“Boot camp, don’t you remember?”
Yuri does not, and Victor must see it on his face. He sighs dramatically and props his head up on one hand.
“Honestly, Yurio, it’s a miracle you memorized your short program.”
“Well, I doubt he’d want to help some kid from however many years ago that he can’t even remember anyway.”
“I seem to recall him taking quite a shine to you,” Victor says, but Yuri’s not listening anymore. He drains the rest of his tea – or what Spain calls tea, in any case – and drops the plate that at one point had his English muffin onto the cart of a passing busboy.
“I’ll manage,” Yuri says. “And by that, I mean I’ll grind you into the ice with or without the quad, Katsudon.”
“Looking forward to it,” Katsudon says with a smile that’s so frustratingly sincere that Yuri can’t even be mad at him anymore. “Just don’t expect a pushover.”
“My darling Yuri is so chivalrous!” Victor gushes, and goes right back to nuzzling Katsudon’s hand.
“Ugh,” Yuri says as the pheromones thicken up again. “You two are gross. I’m leaving.”
“Remember, dinner tonight!” Victor calls after him.
“Whatever,” Yuri answers, not the least bit interested in having dinner with other skaters three days before the Grand Prix final starts.
Well, except maybe one.
Which is strange, because Yuri can tell right away that he’s an alpha, and Yuri has not stopped hating alphas between the time he has breakfast with Victor and the time he sees this strange alpha flatly reject JJ in the hotel lobby. But while so many alphas shout their secondary sex from the rooftops with forced swagger and holier-than-thou attitudes, his is effortless. He wears his pheromones like an expensive cologne: subtle but unmistakable, accenting his natural poise and strength without compensating for them.
Yuri calls him an asshole, mostly out of force of habit, but it doesn’t seem to bother him. There in the hotel lobby they stand staring at each other for a few brief seconds that drag on for what must be hours, and when he leaves JJ huffing and pouting in the lobby, Yuri finds himself just a little bit itchy and wanting to go after him.
And this is all to say nothing of his motorcycle that turns up later that afternoon. Yuri does his best not to feel like a damsel in distress being whisked away from danger by a prince on his steed, but it’s a hard parallel not to draw.
He wonders idly as Barcelona passes in a blur why the entire concept doesn’t annoy him as much as it should. The idea of being rescued by anyone, an alpha especially, should make him shudder in revulsion. Instead, he feels oddly at peace.
“Yuri Plisetsky had the unforgettable eyes of a soldier,” he says.
“Soldier?” Yuri echoes. “Me?”
They’re high over Barcelona, and the sun is setting, washing the city golden. The wind is strong this far up, and it blows Yuri’s hair across his eyes.
“I was struck the moment I saw you in that class,” he continues. “I felt almost off-balance. You had so much grace, but also strength and determination. I wanted to talk to you but I couldn’t work up the nerve.”
Yuri frowns, not sure what to say. He seems to be hesitating on the very edge of a point.
Then, “There’s an old wives’ tale in Kazakhstan, about the last person you meet before you present. They say that person is a part of your destiny.”
“You think I’m a part of your destiny?” Yuri asks incredulously.
“I don’t know,” he answers. “All I know is that I couldn’t get your eyes out of my head for the rest of the day, and the next morning I had a knot.”
Yuri blushes furiously. He probably shouldn’t be so bothered by images of his knotted cock that suddenly surface in his mind, but then, he also probably shouldn’t have climbed onto the back of his motorcycle. He probably shouldn’t be here.
But he is.
“Well, I’m glad you got your destiny worked out, but I don’t think I ever actually met you that year.”
“Well,” he says, “now you are.”
Then he holds out his hand.
“So are we going to be friends or not?”
His name is Otabek Altin, and Yuri spends one incredibly long, surprisingly delightful evening with him before the thought of quad loops even reenters his brain.
Once they start talking, Yuri feels like they never stop. He’s never met anyone so easy to talk to in his life. They talk about skating, about Kazakhstan, about the mosque his mother took him to when he was a child, about his enduring love of gardening. They talk about Yuri’s grandfather, about his first pair of skates, about each of the three bones he’s broken and how he managed them. They talk about Barcelona and the Grand Prix, about coffee and art and their unexpectedly shared love of Rachmaninoff and Star Wars.
Then some annoying bullshit happens and suddenly their cozy little cafe conversation is intruded upon by a thoroughly unwelcome group of skaters. Yuri spends the rest of the conversation fuming. As soon as there’s a lull, Yuri pulls Otabek out by the wrist.
“Sorry about my stupid friends,” he says once they’re outside.
“I don’t mind,” Otabek answers. “I like your friends.”
“That makes one of us.”
It’s dark now, so dark that neither one of them can justify staying out any longer. Yuri sighs, feeling like he was just robbed of two more hours with his new friend.
“Let me give you my number,” Otabek says. “I’d like to keep talking.”
Yuri unlocks his phone and brings up a new contact screen for Otabek to enter the information. When he hands it back, Yuri is amused to see that even the field for nickname is filled out.
“Beka?” Yuri repeats.
“My sister came up with it,” Otabek says, smiling. “She was four at the time, but still, it stuck.”
“That is the cutest shit I’ve ever heard,” Yuri says, and Otabek laughs. “Beka it is.”
He fires off a text to send his own contact information back in turn. Within a few seconds, there’s a jingle from the pocket of Otabek’s leather jacket, but he doesn’t bother pulling it out. “Do you want a ride back to the hotel?”
“Thanks, but I have to pick up a present for my grandpa while I’m out here anyway. Thank God for Christmas hours.” He shoves his phone away. “But if I can’t find anything good, I’ll commandeer your bike tomorrow to keep looking.”
He grins at Yuri, and Yuri feels a flutter of something – more like a churning, really – low in his gut. He has never felt it before. It’s not quite an emotional reaction, nor quite a visceral one. It’s some combination of both, and it makes Yuri feel a little lightheaded.
He wonders, with a distant, creeping dread, if this is what attraction feels like.
Yuri watches as Otabek swings onto his bike, and wow, Yuri hadn’t noticed it, but Otabek’s jeans are very fitted, and the way his smell mixes with engine grease is a little bit intoxicating, and he’s got just the barest hint of stubble along the crux of his jaw.
“Looking forward to it,” he says, pulling his helmet on. “See you later, Yuri.”
“Bye,” Yuri says breathlessly, seconds before he starts up the engine and rattles off, “Beka.”
The churning gets a little stronger. Yuri’s never been attracted to alphas before, though granted he’s never really been attracted to anyone before. Not that he’s even sure this is for sure attraction. It also feels suspiciously like seasickness.
He wets his lips and looks down at his phone. Then, a moment later, he fires off a second text.
What starts as some inscrutable middle between attraction and seasickness quickly devolves.
Yuri gets sicker and sicker as the night goes on. More than once, he runs to the toilet feeling like he might vomit. He racks his mind for what he ate that day, but there wasn’t anything particularly out of the ordinary, at least not for a professional athlete’s diet.
He goes to bed around four in the morning nauseous and in agony.
He wakes up twelve hours later even worse, to the sound of his phone ringing on the table next to his bed.
Yuri feels like hot, wet garbage left to ferment in the sun. His entire body aches from the inside out, and the worst of it is in his pelvis.
He tries to roll over to get his phone, which is a mistake, because it sends whole new waves of pain radiating in every direction. He chokes on his own tongue in the process of groaning in pain, and feels something hot and slick along his thigh. He is too overwhelmed to think it through.
He grabs the phone and squints at the screen. It’s too bright in the darkness of the room, and Yuri can barely read the name on the screen – “YAKOV.”
He taps the green button to answer and, instead of saying anything, groans in the general direction of phone.
“Yuri, where the hell are you? You’re an hour late for practice.”
“Yakov,” he groans.
“Are you hung over? I told you not to drink! Just because it’s legal in Barcelona—”
“Yakov,” he says again, more urgently. “I think I’m dying.”
“It’s called a hangover, you little punk,” Yakov growls, “and if it’s kept you in bed until four o’clock in the afternoon, I assure you, you deserve it.”
“Well, I hope you’re happy about missing rink time the day before the Grand Prix starts, shit-for-brains,” Yakov says. “Drink some water and get down here. At the very least you’re doing stretches.”
Yakov hangs up before Yuri can answer, so when he shouts, “You’re a fucking asshole!” it’s at a screen that says nothing but “CALL ENDED.”
There is absolutely no way Yuri can leave this bed. Every single part of him hurts, and he’s drenched with – what is it, sweat? He reaches under the tangled sheets and presses two fingers into his thigh—
His entire leg jerks at the touch, little sparks of electricity racing up and down his thigh. His skin is hot to the touch, and the sweat—
Blood pounds along his femoral artery, through to his cock. And for a moment, he cannot even imagine—
Until he can.
Realization hits him like a truck. His entire body starts to shake. He slides his fingers down around the inside of his thighs, ignoring the surging electricity. Slick. Wet. Hot.
Heat. He’s in heat. Jesus Christ, he’s gone into heat.
“Shit,” he pants. “Shit. Fuck, shit, shit, shit, fuck.”
On the one hand, he needs to grab his phone again. He needs to call Yakov back, or at least Google what the fuck you’re supposed to do for heat because Yuri sure as shit doesn’t know, he’s never even met an omega before.
On the other hand, now that his skin is alive with electricity and his cock is filling with blood, everything that’s not being fucked by anything at all, right now seems wholly unimportant.
God, Yuri thinks without meaning to, this building is crawling with alphas, why can’t just one of them be in this room?
“Siri,” Yuri croaks. When there’s no answer, he throws his hand out and gropes for his phone. “Siri, you bitch!”
Eventually, it chimes twice in response. Yuri manages to grab it and picks it up.
“Siri, Google what do I do when I’ve gone into heat,” he croaks, and it takes a few seconds for his browser to pop up. The first link that pops up is on Yahoo! Answers, and he taps it with shaking fingers.
His fingers tighten around the phone. Fear and shame and anger all rise up in his chest at once, almost drowning out the pain. He navigates back a page before he lets him think about it too much.
Halfway down the first page of search results, there’s a link to a website called Omegist Now, with a page titled “Prothestrus and How to Survive It.” He’s never heard of Omegist Now, nor indeed is he familiar with the term prothestrus, but he knows enough Greek to put it together. He opens up the page.
Step one: don’t panic!
Odds are you and the world has known since your mother’s first ultrasound that you were an omega, but even if you didn’t, prothestrus – and the overall process of living a life as an omega at the stage of sexual maturity – is not nearly so harrowing and alarming as it seems right now. So the author duly reiterates to you step one: DON’T PANIC!
It’s way too late for step one – Yuri feels like he’s going to drop dead or catch fire any minute – so he calls it a loss and scrolls down to step two.
Step two: call a family member or friend!
Heats can last between 36 and 48 hours, depending on your own personal body chemistry. During this period, your body will be spending a lot of energy preparing itself for conception. Our omega ancestors largely relied on alphas to forage for their food for them during lapses in the heat, but in the modern world, there’s no reason to put any alpha in that position if you don’t want to. Call a friend (preferably beta and/or a family member, as they will be largely immune to the pheromones your body is emitting) and ask them to bring you some simple, easy-to-eat food and lots of water. Preferred foods include whole fruits, deli meats, nuts, cheese and crackers, granola bars, and sweets. Once you’re used to your own rhythm, you can prepare on your own!
Shit. How many other betas does he even know that can bring him food? The world of competitive sports is so dominated by alphas—
Wait, what about Phichit? Phichit is a beta, isn’t he? Yuri doesn’t know him very well, but they’re mutuals on Instagram and they’ve always been very cordial when texting.
He flips over to his contact screen and scrolls. His vision is blurry, but he taps a name that he’s pretty sure is Phichit’s and hurriedly fires off a text message (”Phichit pls come room 729 please this is an emergency”), then quickly sends it and goes right back to the article.
Step three: relax!
Generally speaking, there’s no way to preemptively end or prevent a heat cycle without drugs. Once your heat starts, it’s better to resign yourself to riding it out. Despite the panic all omegas feel on their first cycle, you CAN survive. You can even enjoy yourself!
Your body will be craving sexual stimulation, so don’t be afraid or ashamed to indulge. Orgasm will often provide lapses that will allow you gain much of your senses back, letting you think clearly and maybe even take a bath. Be kind to yourself, especially during prothestrus. Call out of work or school. You’ll be right as rain in a few days. This is not the end of the world!
Yuri swallows hard.
He’s not even sure he could masturbate if he wanted to. He’s way too nervous, tightly wound up, vibrating with ten thousand new thoughts and feelings and not to mention covered from the waist-fucking-down in slick. And call out of work? God, Yuri realizes, he’ll have to drop out of the Grand Prix!
Yuri drops his phone onto the bed and covers his face with both hands, as though hands might be able to somehow stopper the hyperventilating or the slowly spreading wave of terror. This is his worst fucking nightmare. Why didn’t he ever get the stupid blood test? Why didn’t his stupid dead mother ever get an ultrasound? It’s 2016, how is it possible he managed to stumble into his first heat completely fucking blind, never mind how it may have irreparably ruined his figure skating career, because omegas aren’t professional athletes, they just aren’t and never have been, how the fuck is he ever supposed to—
Three hard knocks on the door. The voice on the other side is muffled, but he can make out, “Yuri? Are you okay?”
Thank God. “Phichit,” he croaks. “Phichit, I need help.”
The door handle jiggles. Fuck, stupid fucking shitty electronic card locks. The same voice comes again, too muffled for him to make out. It takes everything in Yuri to pull himself out of bed. He tugs the sheet tightly around his shoulders, because he’s only in a t-shirt and boxer-briefs and he’d rather avoid showing the slick running down his legs, and he stumbles for the door.
“Phichit,” he says, collapsing against the wall near the door and pulling it open, “I—”
It’s not Phichit.
The letter P, Yuri will remember several hours later, is right next to the letter O.
And Otabek Altin is staring at him with two wide, rapidly-dilating brown eyes.
His pheromones hit Yuri all at once. If there was ever a time when they were anything less than absolutely fucking delicious, Yuri doesn’t remember it. Otabek smells perfect. He smells like sex and ash and coriander and raw alpha energy. He smells so good that Yuri’s knees actually get weak.
“Oh, God,” Yuri croaks.
Otabek stumbles back several feet, until his shoulders thump against the opposite side of the hallway.
“I have to…”
All Yuri can think about is Otabek. All he can think about is his cock, his knot, his teeth on his neck, his hands on his back. Yuri starts trembling.
“Otabek, please,” he whispers.
“No,” Otabek answers, voice cracking. “No, I – I have to – this isn’t—”
Yuri watches helplessly as he stumbles away. Yuri’s instinct is to go after him, but his arms are so weak that they can’t pull the door open any further, and his legs are shaking so badly that they give out on him and he collapses onto the floor. The door falls shut with a heavy sound.
There’s no way he can follow him. Instead he stumbles back to his bed, frantic, and grabs his phone off the bedside table.
Chapter 2: Despair
In the end, it’s Lilia who shows up, starch and staunch as ever, but with a look on her face that Yuri’s never seen which he imagines to be pity. He hates it, and he hates her.
She leaves him a twelve-pack of bottled water, a small bag of oranges, a box of crackers, chocolates, a block of cheddar cheese. She at least gives him the dignity of her silence, wordlessly placing the bag on his bedside table and leaving him to it with the quiet click of his hotel door. Yuri goes for the oranges first, though not before a few minutes of silent, angry, trembling protest.
Hours pass, sometimes glacially, sometimes instantaneously.
Yuri eats when he feels lucid enough, fucks himself on his fingers when he’s not, showers when his legs can support his own weight. The longer the heat drags on, the hollower he feels, the more exhausted. By the time it ends, he feels like a shadow.
Lilia reappears when he texts her. She arrives to a hotel room that looks like the scene of a robbery, but if she notices, she pretends not to. She pulls a chair from the wall next to the television, places it at the foot of his bed, and sits down neatly, poised, watching.
Yuri, for his part, looks like death warmed over. He changed his clothes after he texted her, but his hair is a rat’s nest and he sits hunched on the edge of the bed like he’s in pain, because he is, albeit not as much as he had been.
“Katsuki won gold,” Lilia says without preamble. “That boy of yours, the Kazakh, won bronze.”
In another situation, Yuri would be happy to hear it.
“Yakov thinks you have the flu.”
Yuri lifts his eyes to Lilia in confusion. “You didn’t tell him?”
“That’s not my place,” she answers. “Not my business.”
“Not like it makes a difference in the end,” Yuri says, eyes dropping again.
For a moment, Lilia says nothing. She glances at the door for a moment, then seems to settle on an a change of topic.
“You should find an OB/GYN sooner rather than later,” she says. “Empty heats can be rough on the body, especially if it’s the first. Not to mention the routine tests for every omega post-prothestrus.”
Yuri doubles over himself and buries his face in both hands.
“I hope you know that it will get easier, in time,” she continues. “Prothestrus, it feels worse because it catches you off guard. Once you’re psychologically prepared for it, the whole thing becomes much more bearable.”
Yuri lifts his head again. “What?”
“If you find a tolerable alpha, you might even start to like them,” she says. “I know I did.”
“You?” He sits up a little straighter. “I thought you were a beta!”
“I go rather out of my way to make sure most people think that,” she answers, crossing one leg over the other. “I found, as you’ll find, that life becomes so much easier when no one can smell you.”
“Neutralizers. They can be expensive, but in my experience they’re well worth it, especially when you spend most of your day surrounded by alphas.”
Yuri isn’t sure if he should be impressed or horrified. Surely it’s some combination of both.
“I brought you the card of a good practice in St. Petersburg,” Lilia says, snapping open her handbag and fishing it out from her wallet. She sets it neatly on the corner of his bed, where the blue cardstock stands out on the twisted white comforter. “If Dr. Lipinsky is still in employ, I recommend her, though she may have retired by now.”
He hesitantly reaches across the bed and takes the card. Never had he even considered that he might have use of a gynecological doctor.
“To be clear, Yuri,” Lilia says, “I am not going to tell anyone. I’ll stick to the story about the flu. That will give you enough time to work out an immediate course of action.”
The phrase course of action seems overly optimistic. What action could he possibly take now that he knows what he is? His entire life has been utterly upended and there’s nothing he can do about it.
“And for what it’s worth,” she continues, “whatever happens, you always have a place at my barre.”
But Yuri doesn’t want to be a ballerino, and Lilia knows that. Any appreciation Yuri has for the gesture is swallowed up by the swamp of heartache and grief in his belly. He wants to be a figure skater. It’s all he’s ever wanted.
And now he isn’t, and can’t be ever again.
Yuri leaves for St. Petersburg two days early to avoid saying goodbye to anyone, spends the entire four-hour flight from Barcelona with a surgical mask over his face and a scarf wound tightly around his neck – ostensibly to keep his flu to himself, but more realistically to avoid letting on to whatever alpha might be nearby that an unbonded omega is nearby, fresh off his first heat.
The journey is not so eventful, in any case. His grandfather, as Yuri knew he would be, is out of town visiting his little sister in Novgorod, and won’t be back until Yuri’s originally scheduled return date. He takes an Uber into town to keep the appointment he scheduled with Dr. Zielinski at Lilia’s recommend OB/GYN practice. Dr. Lipinsky had, indeed, retired some years ago.
The examination room is cold and sterile and unfriendly. The walls are made of cinderblock, the cabinets of formica. There is a rack of pamphlets with titles like “Gonorrhea: Omegas & Beta Females” and “Why Can’t I Get Pregnant During Estrus?” All of them have distressed looking white people on the covers.
Yuri is tempted to take a photo for Snapchat. There’s a shitty memelord in him somewhere dying to draw digital dicks all over it.
He jumps slightly and the exam table paper he’s sitting on crinkles loudly. Dr. Zielinski, presumably, walks in, and Yuri is on edge at once because—
“You’re an alpha?”
“I’m a doctor,” he says, like that’s supposed to make him feel better. Yuri’s not sure if the answer is meant to imply professionalism or impartiality, but either way Yuri doesn’t buy it for a second. But he’s already in the stupid paper gown, and what’s he supposed to do, demand another doctor?
“Ugh,” Yuri says. What the hell is an alpha male doing in gynecology, anyway?
“Prothestrus?” Dr. Zielinski asks, distracted, flipping through Yuri’s patient chart on an iPad.
“Two days ago.”
“Any lingering pain?”
“At first, but not anymore.”
“Feet up in the stirrups, please.”
Is that what those things are? Yuri had been trying to figure it out. As Dr. Zielinski grabs a heat-sealed baggie full of medical equipment, Yuri works out just how his feet are supposed to fit into the stirrups. By the time he’s managed it, Dr. Zielinski is sitting on the little bench at the foot of the exam table, between Yuri’s spread thighs.
Yuri already hates this.
“I’m going to give you the usual rigmarole of tests,” he says, pulling on a pair of nitrile gloves. “Blood, pap, palpation. But if you’re not in any pain or experiencing discharge, you’re likely fine.”
“Great,” Yuri answers flatly. “I wanted to ask about heat suppressants.”
“Suppressants are illegal for omegas under twenty,” he says at once.
“They alter your body chemistry quite significantly,” he says. “Studies have shown that they can interfere with natural development.”
“That’s bullshit,” Yuri says at the ceiling. “What the hell am I supposed to do for the next four years? I don’t have—Jesus fuck Christ.”
“Warn a guy, goddammit.”
“Vaginal aperture looks fine,” Dr. Zielinski says, and then the speculum, presumably, fords right into it. Yuri fights back a shout of pain and his hands grip hard at the edges of the exam table. “Cervix looks fine. The heat was empty?”
Yuri grits his teeth. “Yes.” Well, narrowly so.
“You ought to think about going to a home, if you don’t have an alpha.”
“I don’t – no, I don’t want to go to a home.” The mere thought of it makes him physically nauseous.
“Empty heats can be dangerous, you should know that.”
“I’m kind of new to the omega thing,” Yuri says through his teeth. “Up until very recently I was a top-level competitive figure skater.”
“Well, that will have to stop immediately,” Dr. Zielinski says, and Yuri feels like the words punch him in the stomach. “Professional sports is no place for an omega. How did you manage to not know right up until your first heat?”
“I…” Yuri swallows down his frustrations. “My mother never got much prenatal care, so she never had an ultrasound…”
“One quick physical exam could have found the vaginal aperture,” Dr. Zielinski says, and it sounds like he’s scolding Yuri, and Yuri grips the exam table all the tighter. “The kind they usually do at birth.”
“I don’t know the details, but I’m sure I was a home birth. My mother was beta, my grandfather’s beta,” Yuri answers. “I just assumed—”
“I’m going to scrape your cervix.”
“Aren’t you supposed to take me out to dinner first?”
Dr. Zielinski doesn’t laugh. Instead, he scrapes Yuri’s cervix. It feels very weird, but at least it doesn’t hurt like the speculum did.
Yuri hears the pop of a rubber stopper as Dr. Zielinski presumably slides a swab into a test tube. Yuri isn’t looking; he’s staring at the ceiling and trying not to think about the speculum up his ass. And apparently exposing his newly discovered cervix.
“You can’t be forced into a home anymore, at least not since they passed that law,” Dr. Zielinski says, inflecting the words that law in the same way as that bullshit. “But I can strongly recommend that you go, to avoid any unwanted complications—”
“I’m not going to an omega home!” Yuri says, perhaps a bit too shrilly.
Dr. Zielinski sighs heavily, like Yuri’s being difficult, and it makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. “At your own peril, then,” he says, and removes the speculum, which is a huge relief. “You’ll have to sign a waiver stating that you’ve been made aware of the risks of an empty heat. And absolutely no more figure skating.”
Yuri swallows, pulls his feet out of the stirrups, and curls up around himself on the exam table.
“Can I at least get neutralizers?” he asks weakly.
“Those are sold over-the-counter,” Dr. Zielinski says. “Give me your arm, I need to take a blood sample.”
On the one hand, Yuri wishes he could text him back.
On the other hand, he really doesn’t.
“An omega?” Grandfather says, not for the first time. Yuri hates the way his voice sounds in that moment – like he’s sad, or worse, disappointed. He swallows a hard knot in his throat and turns his phone over in his fingers to keep his hands busy. “You’re sure?”
“It’s hard not to be sure after going into heat and having a speculum up your ass, dedushka.”
“Yuri, language, please.”
“What the hell difference does the language make? I could say it in iambic fucking pentameter and it won’t change the fact that I’m an omega!”
Yuri watches as he sits down heavily across from him at the weathered, rickety kitchen table, under the aging glass lamp as it sways and creaks on its chain.
After an uncomfortable lapse of silence, Yuri deflates. “I didn’t mean to yell,” he says.
“When your mother insisted on a home birth, I knew it was a bad idea. I just didn’t think it would matter this far down the road, too…”
Yuri hates this. He can hear his grandfather’s heart breaking in every word, and there’s nothing Yuri can do about it. In that instant, Yuri hates himself and his fucking traitor of a body. He’s spent his whole life taking such diligent care of it, and it goes and betrays him like this by going into heat? It takes everything from him, even his grandfather’s respect?
“I’m sorry,” Yuri says, in a small voice.
“Yuratchka, don’t apologize,” he says. A warm hand grips his elbow. “It’s not like you had any say in the matter. I’m just… it hurts to see so many things taken from you…”
Yuri rubs the sleeve of his hoodie against his face, to scratch his nose and not to preemptively rub a tear out of his eye.
“God, and you can’t even get suppressants until you’re twenty years old,” he continues. “How are you meant to survive four years of empty heats?”
He looks up sharply, bitter fear flooding his mouth like blood. “Dedushka, don’t send me to a home.”
“Please, anything but a home,” he begs. “I couldn’t bear it. I’ve heard the horror stories online. I’d rather die then let them tie me up and – and—”
“Yuri, I will never send you anywhere against your will,” he says. “Surely you know that. I love you and I’d never…”
Yuri hates that his eyes burn all the hotter with tears. He hates that this is happening. He hates his body and everything it’s taking from him. He hates that he’s crying in front of his grandfather for the first time since he was eight. He buries his face in the sleeve of his hoodie, and his grandfather scoots his chair around the table to pull Yuri into his arms.
“We’ll be all right,” he says, but he’s betrayed by the quaver in his voice. “We’ll get by. We always do.”
Yuri hugs his grandfather tightly and buries his face in his cable-knit sweater and tries so, so hard to believe him.
Yuri sends The Email to the usual mailing list made up of all his rinkmates and various instructors at half-past three in the afternoon. He avoids giving a reason, because the only thing he has left to preserve is his dignity.
Within twenty minutes, the floodgates open and the all-caps responses start blowing up his inbox. Within an hour, the phone calls start.
Yuri had used email in the apparently vain effort to avoid actually going down to the rink. He only just bought his new box of neutralizers and he’s not totally sure that he’s using them right, so going out might not be the best idea. Still, based on the eighteen voice messages Yakov has left him in the last half hour, he has to go or he might be tried for manslaughter when his coach’s head explodes.
The worst part is getting dressed. Yuri has spent the last four days almost entirely in bed, burying himself in cat videos and the original Star Wars trilogy to distract himself from – well, from everything. And it had worked, to a point. But when he finally has to climb out of bed and put on real clothes, his stiff, aching muscles remind him of what he’s been missing.
In his ratty leopard print hoodie, ripped up skinny jeans, and Chuck Taylors, Yuri won’t be impressing anyone. It’s just as well, since he doesn’t feel particularly impressive. He walks the mile-and-a-half down to the rink, miserable and cold.
It takes less than thirty seconds for Mila to notice him. By the two minute mark, he is absolutely engulfed.
“What the hell, Yuratchka!”
“You can’t really be quitting, can you?”
“What’s gotten into you?”
“Just what in the fuck happened back in Barcelona?”
Yuri feels coiled like a viper, and he is absolutely ready to bite the first person who makes a sudden movement.
“Get the hell back, all of you!” thunders one voice over the rest.
Yakov Feltsman parts the group of skaters as Moses parted the Red Sea, and Yuri steels himself against the expression of quiet fury on his face.
“Yuratchka,” he growls. Then, without preamble, “Come.”
He leaves. Yuri followers.
The whispers nip at his heels all the way to the back, up the stairs, into the overfull janitorial closet Yakov insists on calling his office. Yakov sits wordlessly on the single folding chair at what might be a table under the piles of boxed files. Yuri sits on a great plastic crate full of yet-to-be-unpacked skates.
“Talk,” Yakov demands, folding his arms over his chest.
Yuri bears his teeth. “I’m not super in love with your tone, old man.”
“I don’t give a damn about what you think of my tone, boy,” he growls. “If you expected anything less when my best skater up and quits for no good damn reason—”
“I have a reason!” Yuri snaps. “It’s a medical thing.”
“What medical thing?”
“Fuck you, I don’t have to tell you if I don’t want.”
“I’m your coach!”
“Exactly. My coach, not my doctor.”
“Are you injured? Ill?”
“What part of ‘fuck you’ doesn’t get the point across?”
“Yura, I have connections to the best physical therapists and physicians all over the world!” Yakov says. “Just because whatever backwoods doctor you use says it’s a career-ender—”
“I don’t have to justify myself to you and I don’t have to explain!” Yuri roars, standing up so quickly that he knocks over a box of files. “Do you think I want this? Do you think I was chomping at the bit for a reason to quit the sport that’s defined who I am for almost half my life? Do you really think I would quit if I thought there was any fucking alternative?”
The expression on Yakov’s face has shifted, Yuri’s noticed. He’s not angry anymore. In fact, he’s starting to look just a little bit panicked.
“Yuri,” Yakov says, “are you all right?”
“I’m fucking rainbows and sunshine, Yakov, you shitbag!” Yuri bellows at him, hoping the wavering in his voice isn’t perceptible. “What do you think? I’m fucking devastated! All my life I’ve wanted to be a skater, and now I…”
Fuck, this is worse than Yuri had thought it would be, and he’d been bracing himself. He takes a few steadying breaths, for all the good it does him.
“Yuri, what’s wrong? What happened?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Yuri says, standing up and pushing out of his office.
Yakov stands up just in time to grab him by the arm before he gets too far down the hallway. Yuri growls and jerks his arm away.
“Whatever this is,” Yakov says, inserting himself between Yuri and the rest of the hallway, “it has happened in the span of less than a week. I’m not trying to make a judgment on whatever it is that’s happened, I’m just saying that it’s impossible to really understand all options for anything in five days.”
Yuri scoffs. Some part of him would love to just say it, but he hates himself too much still.
“Take a six-month hiatus,” Yakov says. “I’ll do all your paperwork. Come back in June and talk to me again. If you still want to quit, I’ll submit all the forms for you. All right?”
“Sure,” Yuri says, voice thick with sarcasm. As though a six-month hiatus is enough to change his sex. He pushes past Yakov and leaves the rink, ignoring all the shouting of his rinkmates.
Yuri goes back to bed for the next two days. He watches the original trilogy again, and then The Force Awakens. He pets his cat when she’s around, scrolls through #catsofinstagram when she’s not, and in general goes right back to what he was before his talk with Yakov. It’s not a great feeling.
Every now and then, Yuri opens his messenger app and stares at the last two texts he’d exchanged with Otabek. Despite apparently agreeing to talk, neither of them have made any move to do so. Yuri would like to think it has to do with Otabek preparing for Four Continents, but realistically, Yuri knows there’s probably more to it than that. He made an absolute fool of himself, and they both know it.
He’s caught off-guard on day three of his cat and Star Wars binge by a Skype call from Katsudon, of all people.
Yuri frowns and picks up without thinking, only realizing later that he’s on his side, in bed, with tangled hair and probably dark circles under his eyes.
Katsudon looks like he just came off practice. Yuri recognizes the locker room of Hasetsu Ice Palace in the background, and Katsudon has a towel around his neck.
“What do you want, piggy?”
Katsudon smiles good-naturedly. “Hi, Yuri. How are you feeling?”
“Awesome, that’s why I’m in bed at three o’clock in the afternoon.”
His smile stutters for a moment, and he looks down. Yuri sighs and begrudgingly throws him a bone. “I’m fine.”
“No,” Katsudon sighs, “you’re not fine. Everyone who’s anyone in the skating world knows that much now, ever since the email…”
“That was just to my St. Petersburg rinkmates,” Yuri says with a frown.
“Did you think news like that would stay there? Mila’s on that mailing list. As is Victor. There are already articles being written – haven’t you been getting emails from the press?”
“Haven’t been checking my official email,” Yuri admits. “Shit. Everyone knows?”
“Pretty much. That’s why I called. Victor left for St. Petersburg this morning.”
Yuri groans long and low and smacks his phone against his forehead a few times.
“Did you really expect him to stay in Japan after news like that? He’s really worried about you, Yuri.”
“Well, he shouldn’t be!” Yuri snaps. “This isn’t any of his goddamn business! And it’s none of yours, either!”
“He cares about you,” Katsudon says. “We both do. You know that, right?”
“I don’t recall asking either of you to care.”
“That’s how caring works, Yurio,” he says. “It’s rarely deliberate.”
Yuri glares at his phone. “Don’t call me Yurio.”
He smiles faintly. “Sorry.”
Silence, then. Yuri has a feeling they both know the next question. It’s inevitable.
“Do you want to tell me why?” Katsudon asks.
“No,” Yuri says at once. It hurts too much to even admit to himself. How is he supposed to admit it to Katsudon?
“Okay,” he answers. “Yakov said whatever it was, it was sort of sensitive. No pressure. You can call me whenever, if you change your mind.”
“Ugh,” Yuri says. “I’m not going to change my mind. And you’re not my dad.”
“I’m hanging up.”
“Skype me when Victor—”
Yuri hangs up. He drops his phone to his stomach and stares up at the ceiling of his room.
What the hell is he going to do about Victor?
Because the thing about Victor – okay, the two things about Victor – the two worst things about Victor, in his opinion, in ascending order of awfulness, are as follows:
One, Victor knows where he lives; and, two—
“Victor! How are you?”
—Grandpa loves him.
“Nikolai, it’s so good to see you!”
God, the voice is like nails on a chalkboard. Yuri glares at himself in the mirror as he reapplies the neutralizer in what he hopes is the right spot. The little diagrams on the insert are very small. Then, reluctantly, he goes downstairs, and the voices get louder.
“Congratulations on the Grand Prix! Your first season as a coach, and you get him to a gold.”
“Oh, that was all Yuri! Wasn’t he marvelous?”
“And congratulations also on the engagement!”
“Thank you so much!”
“Get out of my house!” Yuri screams by way of announcing himself.
He’s just made it into the kitchen, where Grandpa is already making him a cup of coffee, ugh. Victor turns around and smiles brightly, like Yuri hadn’t just screamed at him.
“There he is,” Victor sings. “How’s that flu?”
“Get the fuck out of my house!”
“Poor boy must still be afflicted, not recognizing his friend and rinkmate.” The smile on Victor’s face becomes just a tad more fixed, more venomous. “Perhaps this same symptom also explains his sudden departure from ice skating!”
“Victor, I swear to God—”
“Because goodness knows,” Victor continues, rising up slowly from his chair, “it could not possibly be for any lucid reason.”
Victor looms down over him, six-foot-whatever of silver-haired alpha and razor-edged smile. Yuri bares his teeth and maintains his full height, such that it is, almost entirely out of spite.
Then, Victor picks Yuri up and throws him over his shoulder.
“Hey! What the fuck!”
“Nikolai,” Victor lilts, “I’ll take that coffee in the living room.”
“All right,” Grandfather says, uncomfortable.
“Put me down, old man!” Yuri cries, thrashing, for all the good it does him. Victor carries him into the living room as though he were no heavier than a sack of potatoes. “Hey! I said put me down—!”
So Victor does, abruptly, head first onto the threadbare checkered couch by the fireplace. Yuri spends a few awkward seconds flailing, trying to right himself.
“What the hell, Victor—!”
“Yakov tells me that you abruptly ended your career due to a medical problem about which you refused to elaborate,” Victor says, and his voice hovers in that uncanny valley between jovial and sinister that makes Yuri think of a supervillain. “But I told him that he must be mistaken, because Yuri would never do something so reckless. He’d never make his rinkmates and legions of fans sick with worry and then refuse to even say why.”
“Fuck you!” Yuri says, attempting a drop kick to Victor’s hip, but the bastard side-steps it without so much as a flinch. “I don’t have to explain anything to you or anyone!”
“Oh, yes, you do,” Victor says, chuckling manically, “because if you don’t, I’m never leaving this house.”
“What? You can’t be serious! Why?”
“Because apparently you could drop dead at any moment.” Victor collapses into the armchair adjacent the couch, folding one leg over the other. “And I certainly can’t let that happen without at least being present for my darling Yurio.”
“My name isn’t Yurio!”
“Ooh, coffee! Thank you, Nikolai!”
Grandfather had returned with two mugs of coffee in weathered, chipped mugs.
“You can’t just – you can’t just stay here forever, what about Four Continents? What about Worlds? Katsudon—”
“Oh, Yuri will understand,” Victor says jovially. “I asked him already, and he’s fine with it. He agrees that your life is much more important than his career.”
If there’s any warmth and affection bubbling up in him, it’s drowned out entirely by the overwhelming dread of Victor Nikiforov living indefinitely in his house.
Grandfather seems a little too uncomfortable to sit, but too unsure to leave. He hovers awkwardly in the archway between the kitchen and the sitting room, nursing his cup of coffee and looking between Yuri and Victor warily.
Yuri’s hands ball into fists at his sides.
“You can’t just do this,” Yuri hisses. “You can’t just force me to tell you. It’s not your fucking business.”
“No problem, then I’ll just stay forever!” Victor says. “How’s the Internet out here?”
“Victor, you don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know what you’re asking.”
The clenched hands start to tremble. His eyes start to burn. Victor sips coolly at his coffee, bright eyes steady and trained on Yuri.
“What are you angry about, Yuratchka?” he asks after a drawn-out silence, filled only with the sound of sipping. Yuri’s vision swims, and he feels hot, wet, furious, stupid fucking tears break their banks and roll down his face. “I’d understand fear, but anger? What cause is there to be—?”
“Because I’m a fucking omega, okay?” Yuri bellows.
Victor stills. Yuri screams and hurls a pillow from the couch into the wall.
“I didn’t catch the fucking flu, Victor, I went into heat! Is that what you wanted to hear?”
Slowly, Victor lowers his mug to his lap. His expression is very carefully controlled, and Yuri wants to punch him.
“I spent two fucking days locked up in that hotel room, miserable and hating myself and drenched in my own slick! And yes, I went to a doctor, and yes, he ordered me to stay off the ice because how the hell am I supposed to compete when I become a braindead fuck puppet for two days out every thirty? And yes, my career is over and I hate it! I hate this! I hate my stupid fucking body for betraying me!”
Yuri is not sure at what point the tears started coming in earnest, but they’re flowing now, down his face, splattering on his shirt. When the first traces of emotion flicker of Victor’s face, Yuri recognizes them at once, and anger surges in his chest.
“And don’t you dare fucking pity me, Nikiforov! I don’t want anyone’s pity, least of all yours! That’s why I was keeping it a secret, or at least fucking trying!”
Yuri storms for the door. Behind him, there’s a clatter, a shift of fabric and weight. Victor grabs him by the arm.
“Get your hands off me!” Yuri roars. “And get the fuck out of my house!”
He wrenches his arm free and keeps going, skipping every other step to his room, slamming the door behind him, and sliding down and down into a tight, trembling ball. Only then does he let all the angry, disconsolate sobbing catch up with him.
Chapter 3: Wounds
By day twenty-something, Yuri has devolved into lying alone in a dark bedroom while listening to sad classical music. This is the sort of thing he would mock anyone else for, and in his own defense, there has been no ideological inconsistency: he is absolutely disgusted with himself for his behavior. But the cruelest trapping of depression is a complete lack of motivation, even when faced with intense self-revulsion.
Grandpa has tried a few times to get him up and out of bed – to go grocery shopping, to come with him to Uncle Anton’s, to help make dinner. Sometimes it works. Most times it does not. The only thing Yuri really wants to do is skate, and the only rink nearby is full of his former teammates who Yuri could not bear to look in the eye.
Halfway through his sad classical music playlist (“I hate myself and everything around me” is how Yuri had titled it in iTunes), his phone rings.
Yuri’s fully prepared to ignore it – he’s been getting a lot of calls lately, from Mila and Victor mostly, and occasionally from Georgi, none of whom have anything to say that Yuri is interested in hearing – but when he looks over at the screen to check the caller ID, his heart leaps up into the back of his throat.
Beka, reads the screen, followed by the poop emoji that Otabek had added himself. Yuri feels nauseous with fear for a moment. Why now? Why without warning? What does he want to say? Can Yuri bear to hear it?
Yuri waits for what is probably too long. It takes a surprising amount of nerve to answer it, half a ring before it would have gone to voicemail. He hesitates when he lifts the phone to his ear, swallows a knot in his throat.
“Hi,” Yuri says.
“Hey,” answers the familiar voice, tone inscrutable. “Is this a bad time?”
“No,” he answers, sitting up in bed for the first time in what must be several hours now. “There’s – there isn’t really much of a bad time these days.”
“Right.” Otabek doesn’t sound happy. “That’s kind of why I called out of the blue. I just found the article…”
There follows some hesitation. Yuri wonders if he should be the one to speak first. Beka is the one that called, but Yuri’s the one who made an irrevocable ass of himself. Just as Yuri’s wetting his lips and working up the nerve to speak—
“Listen, Yuri,” he says, “if you’re quitting because of me, because of how I acted, you should know that what happened in Barcelona was inexcusable on my part, and very much not like me, and I cannot apologize enough.”
Yuri shuts his mouth again. Did he get something confused? “I… what?”
“I’m not normally like that,” Otabek continues. “I was incredibly rude, running off without a word like I did when you obviously needed help. I should have gotten you provisions at the least, I just—”
“No, sorry, hang on,” Yuri says. “Are you seriously apologizing to me for the way you behaved?”
There’s a moment of perplexed silence on the other end of the line. “I… yes, of course. You needed help, and I just ran off and told that scary ballet coach of yours instead. It was irresponsible and completely unkind.”
Yuri double checks his phone screen to make sure this isn’t actually a wrong number somehow.
And no, it’s definitely him. “Beka, what the hell are you talking about? Under the circumstances, you showed what I’m sure must have been inhuman restraint—”
“I shouldn’t need restraint,” Otabek says, sounding angry, though mostly with himself, “I’m an alpha, I’m not a pack animal. You needed my help, and instead of going out and just getting you provisions, I just – God, Yuri, I’m so sorry.”
“You’re sorry,” Yuri says. “You’re sorry? Beka, I’m sorry.”
“You have nothing to apologize for,” he answers. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You just went into heat and texted the wrong person about it.”
Yuri cannot believe he’s hearing this. If he’d been forced to list all the ways he had anticipated this conversation going, this direction would not have cracked the top 100.
Yuri swallows. “I thought you’d be disgusted with me.”
A long, crackling, sighing laugh. “Why would I ever be disgusted with you?”
Yuri hunts for an answer to Otabek’s question and comes up short. He doesn’t know why he assumed disgust as the default position – maybe because there’d been some measure of it from everyone around him since then. Maybe because it was the only thing Yuri felt for himself these days.
“Of all the things I felt, I promise, disgust was the very last. You were…”
It might be Yuri’s imagination, but he hears something like aching hunger in Otabek’s voice, and he feels a low churning in his gut, not unlike that first night when he went into heat. It’s at that moment Yuri realizes that, however hormone-induced it might have been, Otabek had wanted him. There’s an intense thrum of pleasure in his blood at the thought, even alongside the anxiety and guilt.
“Well,” Otabek continues, after a lingering silence, “it doesn’t matter what you were. My behavior was inexcusable either way.”
“It really wasn’t, I promise,” Yuri says.
“Then why are you quitting?”
Yuri frowns. “Because I’m an omega. An omega can’t be a competitive figure skater.”
“You already were,” Otabek says.
“Yeah, well now I go into heat once a month. How am I supposed to compete?”
“You can’t get suppressants?”
“They’re not legal until I’m twenty.”
“Really?” Otabek sounds surprised. “They are here.”
“In Kazakhstan. They’re legal for omegas of all ages.”
Yuri feels something swell in his chest. He tries his best to crush it back down, but hope is wont to be stubborn. “Really?”
“Really. My mom actually helped pass the bill that did it. She’s a legislator,” he explains belatedly. “And an omegist. Among other things. Do you want to…”
That stubborn swell of hope swells all the wider, despite Yuri’s best efforts.
“I mean, if you want to,” Otabek says. “I’m prepping for Four Continents here at my home rink, anyway, my mother wouldn’t mind, and my sister’s a fan, so I’m sure they’d love to host you. We could get you a prescription no problem.”
“Really?” Yuri feels like he’s said it five times already. His heart is thumping in his chest.
“Of course, it’s no big deal. I’m sure Mom won’t mind.”
Inexplicably, Yuri feels his eyes start to burn with tears. Even if it means nothing else, heat suppressants would mean freedom. They would mean he wouldn’t have to spend the next four years suffering on his own, body aching for a knot his mind doesn’t want.
“Yuri, are you… are you crying?”
“No,” Yuri croaks, wiping his eyes. “Shut up.”
“Okay,” Otabek answers, laughing softly. “So you want to visit?”
The next four days are a whirlwind.
Yuri buys a one-way ticket to Almaty because Otabek kept talking and texting him about showing him around the city and Yuri became less and less sure of when he would go back. It’s a little more expensive, buying two one-way tickets, but it’s not like Yuri doesn’t have spending money after three consecutive Junior World victories.
Grandpa had been blindsided by the whole thing – not just the trip itself, but the possibility of bringing what might technically be illegal prescription medication across international borders – but in the end, Yuri didn’t have to work too hard to convince him. Grandpa wasn’t any more eager than Yuri was to deal with four years of empty heats.
So it was that on a Thursday, Yuri took the four-hour flight from St. Petersburg to Almaty, Kazakhstan late in the evening.
He had arrived with no real expectations, but through the window of his plane he looks down and is surprised by the size. When Otabek talked about Almaty – and although they’d only spent a few hours total talking, he had talked about Almaty a lot – he’d described his family’s farm, the way the sunlight sliced over the mountains in the mornings, the mist over the pastures. Maybe Otabek lives on the outskirts?
But an airport is an airport is an airport. Yuri’s seen enough of them to know. When he gets through customs with his passport stamped, he peers around the busy terminal. There’s nary an undercut in sight. Yuri fishes his phone out of his hoodie pocket.
Yuri frowns at the response. Her? Who’s her? His mother?
As he’s deciding how to respond, there’s a high-pitched sound behind him. It might be a cat being stepped on, or maybe the sound a baby makes when you make it inhale helium and then punch it. It is very, very loud, very sudden, and Yuri spins abruptly on the heel of his sneakers.
There’s a young girl, maybe about thirteen or fourteen, with a bright pink hijab and both hands clasped over her mouth a few feet away. She is staring directly at Yuri.
Yuri knows that look. He starts searching for the nearest window to leap out of.
“Yuri Plisetsky!” she squeals, mostly. It’s kind of garbled at the end, probably because of the way she’s vibrating.
“Sorry, I think you got the wrong guy,” Yuri says, before going back to his phone with every intention of firing off something along the lines of HELP ME BEKA but she’s already at his side.
“You’re even prettier in person!”
Well, so much for the wrong-guy defense.
“Thanks,” Yuri says, even though he’s not entirely sure it’s a compliment. “Listen, I’m waiting for a friend—”
“Yes!” she squeals. “That’s me. Hi! Not me, sorry, my brother. But he’s your friend and I’m his sister which makes me kind of his friend which makes me your friend, kind of, by the transitive property of friendship!”
“That’s—” Yuri has limited brainpower after a five hour flight and decides to focus on the part of that sentence that matters. “You’re Beka’s sister?”
“Hi, I’m Evnika! But you can call me Nika, everyone does! I’m a huge fan! I run the Kazakh branch of Yuri’s Angels!”
Yuri hitherto did not know that the Angels had a Kazakhstan branch, and he is going to murder Otabek slowly for not warning him.
“Can we take a selfie? No one on tumblr is going to believe this!”
“Nika, what did I say? I said go easy on him!”
Nika isn’t listening. She’s pulling out her phone and opening Instagram.
Otabek is crossing the terminal toward them, wearing a bad-boy leather jacket over a grandpa sweater. He pulls the look off, somehow, though Yuri doesn’t think anyone else could.
“Sorry,” Otabek says. “She ran ahead.”
Nika stands up on her tip-toes and angles the phone up.
“And, you know,” Otabek continues, “just sorry in general.”
Her bright pink iPhone clicks as it snaps a photo of one very bright-eyed girl and a jet-lagged, pissed off Yuri.
“Based on your expression, I get the impression I should have warned you about the fan club thing,” Otabek says.
“Would have appreciated it,” Yuri says icily.
“I couldn’t believe it when Beka told me!” Nika says. She’s already using some weird app to add sparkles and cat ears to the picture. “I mean, he told me that he met you at the Grand Prix, but I never thought you’d come here! Beka says you’re seeing a specialist here?”
“That’s what I said,” Otabek interjects, giving Yuri a meaningful look. Yuri realizes this means that Nika doesn’t know he’s an omega, and he tries not to literally sigh with relief. He’s not even ready to tell his coach – he can’t even imagine telling the Angels and the shitstorm that would kick up.
“Yeah,” Yuri answers hesitantly.
“This is so great! Hey, do you think you could show me how to do a triple lutz?”
“I can show you how to do a triple lutz,” Otabek says as they start walking through the terminal.
“Beka, God, don’t be so pushy.”
Yuri foregoes remarking on the irony of the comment.
“Do you have any baggage to pick up?” Otabek asks. Yuri shakes his head; he’d managed to fit it all in his carry-on.
“Beka told me not to ask you about why you dropped out of the Grand Prix at the last minute,” Nika says, hovering at Yuri’s elbow. “He said it was personal and that it would be rude of me to push.”
“Uh,” Yuri says as she leans into him, staring meaningfully into his eyes. Yuri wonders if she’s trying to Jedi mind trick the answer out of him.
“Nika, please,” Otabek sighs.
“And he said I definitely shouldn’t ask about the rumors that you’re quitting.”
The airport parking lot is large and sprawling, and Yuri is surprised to find a sleek black Maserati beeping at them when Otabek squeezes the key fob. It has a leather interior and a built-in GPS system that chimes as the engine purrs to life.
“Nice fucking car,” Yuri says before he can stop himself. Then, “Shit, should I not be swearing in front of her?”
“It’s fine,” Otabek says. “Nothing she hasn’t heard before.”
“I can swear in four languages,” Nika supplies helpfully as she climbs into the back seat.
Yuri can swear in nine, but doesn’t say so (it’s a hobby). “I never really asked, but are you guys rich?”
“By some metric, I guess,” Otabek says, clicking on his seatbelt.
The drive back to the Altin house is long but not uneventful. Almaty in the winter is cool and clear and sharp with a wintry tang that not even the Maserati’s AC can filter out. Yuri watches the city as it flies by on the highway, all shades of gold and white and blue and green, shining off glass and steel and mirrored windows.
“Almaty’s gorgeous,” Yuri says when, in the course of the drive, Nika finally stops interrogating him long enough to post her selfie to Instagram.
Yuri can see Otabek’s reflection in the window as he grins. “I like to think so. I’d love to show you around, so long as you’re here.”
“I’d like that,” Yuri answers.
“Oh, my God, the selfie’s already getting likes! I tagged you, Yuri!”
“No signal on this highway,” Yuri lies.
The highway gets emptier and the sky grows darker as they leave the city proper. Yuri spends most of the trip getting interrogated by Nika, and Nika spends it getting reprimanded by Otabek. Yuri doesn’t say so, but he thinks their sibling dynamic is kind of cute. It makes Yuri wish he’d had a sister. Toward the end of the trip, he’s even willing to admit that Nika isn’t the worst person alive.
Once they’re far out of the city and driving slowly down a dark, wooded mountain road, they make a right turn that Yuri hadn’t even noticed was available to them, and suddenly they’re on a long gravel path going up a hill. Spindly, winter-bare trees can’t obscure the house at the top of the hill.
“Holy fuck,” Yuri says.
“Mi casa, su casa,” Otabek answers.
“No es una casa, es un palacio.”
Yuri would hesitate to admit it out loud, but he grew up poor. Very poor. Fourth-hand skates and athletic scholarships poor, the kind of poor that makes you clip coupons and buy off-brand for the rest of your life, no matter how many competitions you win. So when Otabek parks outside a two-car garage on the side of a three-story palace of a house bathed in the moonlight over the mountains, Yuri feels intensely out of place, somehow inadequate. What the hell is a poor kid from Who Cares, Russia doing here?
“Jesus Christ,” he mutters, mostly to himself, as Beka and Nika climb out of the car.
Yuri trails a few feet behind, the demons of his self-imposed inadequacy in tow, shoes crunching in the shallow layer of snow covering the flagstone pathway up to the door. Beka’s keys rattle as he unlocks the stately front double doors.
“Mom, we’re home!” Nika is the first to call. Then, “Ooh, something smells good.”
The inside isn’t any less fundamentally intimidating than the outside. Nika kicks off her shoes and goes running down the gleaming hardwood hallway like it’s no big deal, but Yuri doesn’t even feel like he’s worthy to touch it with his hand-me-down socks.
Beka shrugs off his jacket and hangs it up on a rack near the door. “All right?” he asks.
“It’s really nice,” Yuri says miserably.
“Thanks, I think,” Beka answers. “Come on, Mom’s been keen to meet you for a while.”
Yuri toes out of his sneakers and, after some consideration, leaves his bag by the door. He follows Otabek down the hallway, trying not to look as poor as he feels.
Down the hallway, past a curved marble staircase, around a corner and into a gleaming gray-on-white kitchen. Yuri is hit with the smell he’d been too nervous to notice before – mutton, spiced and sizzling loudly on the stove.
“There you are!”
The woman slicing vegetables on the counter island is tall and graceful and perfectly poised. Her skin is dark and smooth, her eyes shining, and her black hair is tucked neatly into a lovely patterned hijab. Even without the context clues, Yuri would know at once that she’s Otabek’s mother; she looks just like him.
“How was the airport? Not too bad, I hope.”
“No,” Otabek agrees, “not too bad.”
“Dumplings?” Nika asks when she checks on something in the fridge.
“Dumplings,” Mrs. Altin confirms. “I knew the flight was coming late so I held off on making them. Speaking of the flight…”
She comes around the counter, wiping her hands off on a small tea towel. She smiles warmly. “You must be Yuri. Beka’s told me all about you.”
She’s an omega, Yuri realizes somewhat belatedly. Belated, perhaps, because despite the obvious smell of her, she just doesn’t seem like an omega. She carries herself with easy confidence, like a queen in her castle, with nothing to prove to anyone.
At once, Yuri is both deeply awestruck and terribly jealous.
“Good things, I hope.”
She grins. Behind her, minding the mutton on the stove, Otabek clears his throat and averts his eyes.
“Good things,” she assures Yuri. “My name is Lashyn, by the way. It’s good to finally meet you.”
“I…” Yuri’s not good with rich, well-mannered people. Well, rich, well-mannered people he likes. “Thanks?”
“Oh,” she says, “Nika, dear, could you get the table ready?”
“Oh-kay,” Nika sighs, heading out to what Yuri presumes to be the dining room through an archway and out of sight.
“So how long ago did you present?” Mrs. Altin asks.
Yuri chokes. “You—?”
“Of course I know, dear. How do you think Beka talked me into this? Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.”
Yuri shifts from foot to foot, rubbing one arm with his opposite palm.
“About three weeks ago,” he mumbles.
“So you’re likely due for your second heat soon,” she says thoughtfully, and Yuri colors. “Better do it sooner rather than later, then. Tomorrow morning, if you’re not too jetlagged.”
“Sorry,” Yuri says, “tomorrow morning for what?”
“For the exam,” Mrs. Altin answers. “Heat suppressants are legal in Kazakhstan, but they do require a prescription. Just a simple blood test and pap smear to rule out the worst reactions. In and out in ten minutes.”
“I already got a – uh, an exam,” Yuri says.
“Transferring medical records across international borders takes a while. Easier to just repeat the process here. Don’t worry, I haven’t lost my touch.”
She smiles at him. Yuri frowns in confusion and looks to Otabek, hoping for answers.
“Mom was a doctor before she was a legislator,” he explains.
“You’re a doctor?” Yuri says, astonished.
“Out of practice for eight years, but yes,” she says.
“Omegas can be doctors?” Yuri asks before he can stop himself.
She smiles patiently. “Omegas are perfectly capable of anything an alpha is. Their only limitations are those society decides for them.”
“Simone de Beauvoir?” Otabek guesses.
“Not hardly,” Mrs. Altin says. “It might need coriander, by the way. Is there any left from your garden?”
“I think so,” Beka says. “Let me check.”
He lies the wooden spoon across the skillet and vanishes through a doorway leading down into a cellar, Yuri would assume. Mrs. Altin’s smile fades, but only fractionally. It tempers with something else, something that to Yuri’s eye looks a bit like sadness.
“Is it true that you’re quitting figure skating?” she asks him, once they’re alone.
Yuri realizes how effortlessly she engineered the privacy needed for this conversation and is quietly impressed.
“I hope you reconsider,” she says. “Beka showed me some of your routines. You are marvelously talented.”
Yuri squirms in his spot. “Thank you, missus – uh, Dr. Altin.”
“Call me Lashyn, dear. You’re my son’s friend, there’s no need for formality. I hope you know that there’s no law explicitly forbidding an omega from participating in professional figure skating.”
Yuri’s brow furrows. “I don’t imagine there’s any rule against puffins in professional figure skating, either. Doesn’t really mean it’s a good idea.”
Dr. Altin – Lashyn, Yuri self-corrects – laughs and perches on one of the three stools lined up at the counter. “We are not puffins, dear. We are omegas. The scars the world leaves on us run deep, and it takes some doing to train yourself out of the phantom pains. But it can be done.”
“How did you?” Yuri asks, the words tumbling out of his mouth before he’d intended them to. “How did you… I mean, you’re a doctor and a legislator? I can’t even imagine…”
“No, I suppose you couldn’t yet,” she says. “I won’t lie and say it was easy. I was fought every step of the way by self-righteous, self-important alphas who thought they knew better for me than I did. But I’ll tell you something, Yuri, the greatest feeling in the world is smiling down at them after you win.”
Something hot and frothing bubbles up in Yuri’s chest. It takes him a while to name it. In the last three weeks he’d thought he’d forgotten the taste of it – ambition. Yuri wants to win. He always has. Perhaps he just forgot how much.
It is electric and bitter and tantalizing on his tongue.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong,” Lashyn continues, “my wedding day was nice, the births of my children were wonderful, but staring down my scowling, snarling alpha university president as she was forced to hand me my diploma…”
Yuri laughs before he can stop himself. Lashyn smiles, apparently proud that she could get him to laugh after such a serious conversation.
[ DOWNLOAD AUDIO ]
“Your mom’s cool,” Yuri says as Luigi fires off a red shell.
“She’s the best,” Otabek readily agrees, shortly before Donkey Kong takes the hit, skids, and plunges to his death off the edge of Rainbow Road. “Dammit. How are you so much better at this than me?”
“Get on my level, scrublord,” Yuri answers without missing a beat. “Was she OB/GYN before she went into public service?”
“Internal medicine,” Beka answers as Donkey Kong reappears on the track. “She was in an endocrinology fellowship, I think. I was pretty young when she switched career paths.”
“So cool,” Yuri mumbles. “Don’t tell her I said that.”
“Don’t worry, she already knows exactly how cool she is.” Donkey Kong starts gaining on Luigi again with the help of a well-timed mushroom. Although they’re both stretched out on the segmented leather couch, Yuri can see tension in the way Beka’s sitting. Probably because of how severely Yuri is schooling him in Mario Kart.
Because he’s nice, Yuri slows down just a little bit just before they reach the finish line, letting Beka squeak into first.
Then, because he’s an asshole, Yuri promptly hits him with a red shell.
“You son of a bitch!”
Yuri cruises into first place cackling. Beka manages to steal second before Princess Peach.
“Is it too late to rescind my offer of friendship?” Beka mumbles.
“Don’t get angry at me just because you suck at Kart,” Yuri says, tossing his wiimote onto the couch.
“No, no, no,” he returns, throwing the wiimote back at him, “one more match.”
“Best five out of seven?” Yuri teases.
“You’re going down, Plisetsky,” he grouses, and starts up a new circuit.
“Don’t you have to be at the rink tomorrow morning?”
“Listen, I have my priorities.”
“You’ve got something,” Yuri agrees.
They play for a while in silence. They’re on the second lap before Beka speaks again.
“Do you want to come with me?”
“To the rink. I mean, not tomorrow, obviously, you’ve got the appointment, but maybe the day after?”
“You want me to come to your rink? Wouldn’t I be presumed a Russian spy?”
“I don’t think Russia needs any spies in the world of professional skating,” Beka says, taking Donkey Kong around a sharp curve. “I said I’d show you around Almaty, didn’t I? Might as well start at the rink. Maybe afterwards we can get dinner.”
Yuri looks sideways over at Otabek when they come to a straightaway. Beka is staring determinedly at the screen, fringe falling just above his eyes, jaw hard and set.
He catches Yuri staring, which sends Yuri looking forward and fighting back the heat rising along his neck.
Here’s the thing about his situation with Otabek Altin: by the way his stomach does backflips every time Yuri looks at him for too long, by the way his heady and intoxicating combination of coriander scent and alpha pheromones makes Yuri weak when they’re too close, by the way he immediately wonders if casual questions about dinner are Beka asking him on a date, Yuri is pretty sure he has developed a crush.
He’s not anyone’s definition of happy about it, but it is what it is.
But it’s still so new. That first night in Barcelona had been wonderful, but it had ended abruptly and then turned pear-shaped with Yuri’s heat.
And now there’s a thing. A thing between them that happened too soon and changed too much, too quickly. And it’s not that Beka hasn’t handled it well – all things considered, he’d handled it beautifully – but at the end of the day there was no way it could have been handled without leaving things like…
Well, like they are now.
Yuri hopes they’ll be able to forget about it, or at least move past it, in time. He feels like once they do, Yuri will find a lot more to like.
“Goddamn blue shell bullshit!”
For now, Yuri decides with a smile, he’ll take his pleasures where he can.
Chapter 4: Healing
“Take a very deep breath, hold it, and contract your pelvic floor muscles. Count to ten before you release.”
Yuri’s not really sure which muscles are his pelvic floor, but he can make an educated guess.
As he counts to ten, he considers the room. This clinic is nothing like the sterile white tomb he’d gone to in St. Petersburg. Yuri wouldn’t go so far as to call the room friendly – it is a doctor’s office, borrowed from Lashyn’s old practice – but it has a big window overlooking the city, soft yellow lights, and a padded exam table.
“One more time.”
“Should I ask why?” Yuri contracts his whatever-muscles again.
“It will make it easier to insert the speculum.”
“Well, let’s find out.”
Yuri releases. And sure enough, the speculum goes in with barely a twinge of discomfort.
“Huh,” Yuri says. It’s a little weird, getting a pelvic exam from his friend’s mom, but to be honest she’d been so forthcoming and nice about the whole thing that Yuri would almost say he felt comfortable with it. “It hurt a lot more last time.”
Lashyn clucks her tongue. “Let me guess. The doctor was an alpha?”
“It’s like you’re psychic.”
“I have the gift,” she says. “Everything looks good. You might feel some pressure from the swab.”
He does, but it’s fine. “So the heat suppressants…”
“They won’t mess with my development or anything?”
“Who told you that? No, let me guess. The alpha doctor?”
Yuri frowns. He doesn’t answer, but he doesn’t need to, apparently.
“Heat suppressants have rare and minimal side-effects,” Lashyn says, slipping the swab into a packet and gently removing the speculum. “It can cause clots in omegas with certain conditions, but that’s why I drew your blood.”
“The last guy said it could screw with my chemistry, or something like that.”
“It’s best to inure yourself now to how often and how elaborately the world is going to lie to you about your own biology, dear,” Lashyn says.
“But I mean, they’re straight-up illegal in Russia for people under twenty,” Yuri says. “They wouldn’t make something illegal just because they hate omegas.”
“Injustice is rarely borne out of spite,” Lashyn says. “You can get dressed.”
Yuri sits upright and watches as she crosses the room, bends over the counter, and scribbles something on the packet with the swab. He pauses, then ducks behind the curtain hanging from the ceiling to pull his sweats back on.
“Don’t think of prejudice in terms of straightforward hatred. That’s a fallacy that can be used against you as much as you can use it against others. Instead, think of it in terms of historical context. You were taught about the Omega Trade, right?”
Yuri frowns. “When we were bought and sold for breeding.”
“Still are, in some countries,” Lashyn sighs. Yuri tugs his hoodie over his head. “And every angry alpha who sneers at the rising tides of omegist thinking loves to parrot the fact that it was outlawed hundreds of years ago. But the practice didn’t really stop, it just changed. As soon as the Trade was shut down, the omega homes started opening up. And what were families with new omegas supposed to do? All their lives, omegas had been taken at birth to the Trade houses. They didn’t know how to cope with heats. They’d never seen them before. But the people in the homes knew just what to do. They’d been doing it for years already, in the Trade.”
Yuri is dressed, but he stays behind the curtain, staring at the floor and listening.
“So instead of being stolen from families at birth, they’re willingly given up. And instead of being sold into a life of rape and forced breeding, the wealthy and noble donate money, and are merely introduced to a few recipients of their generosity. And what else is an omega going to do when they propose marriage, when they’ve known no life outside their home?”
Yuri’s gut churns in what he recognizes is growing nausea. He knew, of course, that omegas often stayed in homes until marriage, but he’d never thought about it in context before.
“And then there arrives the miracle that is modern medicine, and suddenly there’s a cheap, effective way to cull an omega’s heat altogether. Suddenly, omegas have the option to control their own sexuality, and the entire function of an omega home is called into question. But they’re built into the economy, into society itself. Powerful, wealthy people have vested interest in their continuation. So naturally—”
“A law gets passed,” Yuri mutters, “making heat suppressants illegal.”
“Throw in a few skewed results from flawed scientific studies, and you even have a plausible reason to do it.”
Yuri leans forward, forehead-first, against the wall. Just when he’d thought he was done feeling angry about presenting as omega, too. God, why is the world so shitty? Has it always been this shitty? How had Yuri managed not to notice?
“The formula happens everywhere. Just look to the racist over-incarceration rates in America, if you need more examples. Are you all right back there?”
Yuri’s not sure if he is.
The scraping of metal on metal grates his eardrums as Lashyn pulls open the curtain. He picks himself up off the wall, but she’d seen him and the damage was done.
“Hey,” she says, voice soft and sad.
“Thanks for the exam,” Yuri answers, trying to change the subject.
“Hey,” she says again, putting a hand on his back. “I know your world is a lot worse than it was before, but hope is neither crazy nor foolish. Change is happening.”
Yuri stuff his hands into his hoodie pocket. “I know,” he says reluctantly.
“Omegas are banding together all over the world. Here in Kazakhstan, I just cut the ribbon a new omega home. A proper one, that only takes money from government funding and helps foster independence.”
And that’s good news, Yuri supposes, but it’s so abstract. The only thing that feels real to him right now is his skating career, and the knife’s edge of institutional prejudice on which it’s so precariously balanced. There’s an entire government actively trying to keep him, quite literally, fucked, and nothing past it. How is he supposed to fight against that? How could he even try? Should he bother at all? Over the past few days he’d been hesitantly trying to talk himself into going back to skating, but now…
“And as for you, you’re not even sixteen. You have no idea the heights to which you could rise. You’re going to be all right, I promise.”
She hugs him with her free arm, the arm not holding his medical file. And maybe it’s weird, but there’s some sad little part of Yuri that has been waiting for a hug and a warm reassurance that everything is going to be fine, even if he doesn’t really believe it will be.
“I always wanted an omega,” Lashyn sighs, by the sound of it to no one in particular. “But God saw fit to bless me with an alpha and beta instead. I’ve always wondered if that was His way of trying to keep me hungry for their protection.”
Yuri is dangerously close to saying I always wanted a mom. He bites his tongue instead, and settles on hugging her back.
“I’ll send the samples to the lab. Tomorrow we should be able to pick up your prescription, all right?”
Yuri nods into her shoulder.
If Yuri had to pick a place, any place, anywhere in the world, to work through his mental blocks about presenting as an omega and coming up with a sensible response, he would pick Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Or at least he would knowing what he knows now, which is that Almaty is wonderful.
There might be some part of his analysis that is colored ever-so-slightly by the fact that he is largely introduced to the city by the alpha for whom Yuri’s crush is ever and rapidly deepening, but even past that, he finds himself truly enjoying the city.
On day three, after getting his prescription for heat suppressants filled and taking his first dose (“Remember to set an alarm on your phone!” Lashyn had called after him as he and Otabek headed out the door. “You have to take it at the same time every day!”), he got to see Otabek’s home rink, which to his disappointment was not the famous Medeu but rather a fairly ordinary indoor rink in the heart of the city. He’d made Otabek promise to take him to the Medeu before the week was out.
Everyone at the rink treats Otabek like royalty (“They’re just excited about 2018,” Otabek had explained dismissively. “Kazakhstan doesn’t do too well in the winter Olympics, and there are a lot of people hoping I can medal in figure skating.”), and because Yuri is Otabek’s friend, the same courtesies are extended to him. Yuri is famous for handling adoration about as well as he handles the flu, but seeing it from the outside, with all the swooning enthusiasm pinned on reticent, taciturn Otabek, it’s kind of charming. He’s so humble with all their gushing, and it either makes Yuri lovesick or seasick, it’s hard to tell.
That afternoon they go to Ascension Cathedral, which is beautiful (“You Orthodox Christians sure do like your domed roofs,” Otabek remarked, and Yuri laughed and told him that he was barely any sort of Christian.), and then a quick drive across town to the Botanical Gardens, which are somehow even more beautiful (Yuri posts a selfie to Instagram of him and Beka sprawled together in the grass, surrounded by flowers, and tags it #almaty #botanicalgarden #gorgeous #imeanthescenery #mostly – he almost immediately gets screaming, all-caps comments from various Angels), and then they go and have dinner together in a stunning little cafe off a busy boulevard and it’s almost like a date, and Yuri is kind of disgusted with himself for getting caught up in Otabek’s eyes when he laughs and his hair when he pushes it out of his face and the five o’clock shadow that’s developed on his jaw, and they talk about everything for what feels like days, like their conversation from Barcelona never stopped.
And the day after that they go to the Central State Museum and Otabek talks in frustratingly charming detail about the cultural history of his country and it’s so obvious that he’s a patriot, and then they go to the top of the Almaty Tower and get a stunning view of the city and take a selfie with its famous golden apple (#almatytower #goldenapple #theresaphysicsjokeheresomewhere) and then they have dinner again and they talk about everything again, and Otabek is perfect again and ugh, this crush thing is so gross and exhausting and awful.
“Your sister is a menace,” Yuri says when she doesn’t answer.
It’s day six. Arrangements on Yuri’s long-term prescription haven’t quite been firmed up yet, and while he hammers out details of delivery across international borders, he’ll have to suffer through staying in a beautiful city with an impossibly intelligent, courteous, gentle-hearted alpha that Yuri has a massive crush on.
He’ll bear the weight of that burden somehow.
“You don’t have to tell me, I grew up with her.” Beka is lacing up his skates.
“She’s lucky she’s cute.”
“Exceedingly,” Beka agrees. Yuri doesn’t know if he’s implying she’s exceedingly lucky or exceedingly cute, but decides it’s true either way. He pulls his sweats down over his ankles and stands up. “So do you mind showing us?”
Yuri has already forgotten that thread of conversation. “What?”
“Your free skate,” Otabek says. “I never got to see it. I was always on a plane while you were performing.”
“Ugh,” Yuri says as they skate together out onto the ice. “Honestly, I’d rather forget everything about this season altogether.” As hard as his internal conflicts about whether he should get back into skating has been, one thing is sure – the entire ’16-’17 season thus far has already been tainted.
Yuri gains some speed and ducks into a fast camel spin. He’s always liked warming up with the camel spin, so balanced and strong. He and Otabek have most of the rink to themselves, in any case – Kazakhstan doesn’t produce many figure skaters, even in their biggest city, that are competitive enough to be Beka’s rinkmates.
“Come on, I want to see it.”
Yuri does a leap to change feet. It feels good to be on the ice. He draws his leg and arm in, relishing the rush of air as his mass is pulled in and he speeds up.
Then, abruptly, he grinds the pick of his left skate into the ice to stop himself short.
“Tell you what,” Yuri says, “I’ll show you something better.”
“I’ve been working on a different free skate.”
Beka raises both eyebrows. “For what?”
Yuri shrugs. “For me,” he answers. “Sometimes I choreograph my own routines when I feel inspired. Most of the time they never see competition. It’s just – I don’t know, it’s like what I do instead of writing poetry or some shit like that.”
Otabek doesn’t react immediately. When he does, it’s with a slow, warm smile.
Yuri would rather not look at it, so he keeps talking.
“I’ve only run through it in my head. I started it after I…” Yuri hesitates, then rephrases. “After the Grand Prix. Still, I should be able to manage it.”
“Well, all right. Can’t say no to a preface like that. Is the music on your phone?”
“Yeah, but I don’t have a dock. Do you have bluetooth headphones?”
It takes them a few minutes to work it out, but soon Yuri is skating out to the center of the rink with music that only the two of them can hear, and Beka is the one who waits for Yuri to take position before hitting play.
It’s a smooth jazz cover of Radiohead that should not work as well as it does. A smoky alto belts out the opening lyrics to Creep over a small trumpet section and tinkling piano, and Yuri sweeps into the song exactly as he’s done it in his head a thousand times.
The choreography, as it always is when Yuri is in charge of it, is impossibly difficult. It has six quads, three triples, and five spins, one of which lasts almost thirty seconds. The timing, to make it worse, is incredibly and unforgivingly precise, and halfway through the song Yuri is already sweating, mentally preparing himself for the second half jumps.
He saves the best for last. Less than a minute left in the song, and Yuri vaults into a combination jump – quad salchow, triple toe, quad lutz. It’s a combination so insane that in any regular competition he wouldn’t even get points for the final quad, because there’s no scoring system in place to accommodate it.
Across half the goddamn rink, Yuri can hear Beka’s holy fucking shit.
But he nails it, and Yuri does his best not to smirk when he lands flawlessly on one skate, then dives immediately into the sit spin that wraps up the song.
Chest heaving, sweat streaking his hair, Yuri’s heart is beating so loudly in his own ear that he can’t hear the sounds of loud, raucous applause form behind him for several seconds. All of Beka’s rinkmates are lined up along the wall and cheering. Yuri’s not sure at what pointed they started watching. Then he notices—
“Nika! When did you – are you recording?”
“No!” Nika shoves her phone away. “Maybe! I brought your skate guards!”
Yuri skates over, fully ready to snatch her phone away, when Beka interjects—
“Yura, that was incredible!” he says. “That quad-triple-quad was – how on earth did you—”
“You better not post that, brat,” Yuri says. Alas, her phone is behind her back and Yuri can’t reach it from this side of the rink wall.
“But it’s so good,” she whines. “The Angels would love to see it!”
“I don’t give a damn what the Angels want, I’m not done polishing it and it’s not ready for the Internet.”
Nika whines again.
“And send me a copy,” Yuri adds. “Apparently you have my email now.”
“I can’t believe you choreographed that yourself,” Otabek says. “Yuri, that was really good.”
Yuri grins. He really does try to act casual, but it’s hard not to preen a little bit under the effusive praise of the otherwise taciturn, withdrawn Otabek Altin.
“Thanks,” he says, hoping that the heat on his face is sweat and not a blush.
“You’re really incredible,” he continues, as if realizing it for the first time all over again.
“Duh,” Yuri answers, grabbing his water bottle and taking a long pull, hoping it masks or at least distracts from what is now incontrovertibly a blush rising on his neck.
In the evenings, they have dinner. Sometimes Lashyn cooks, but mostly it’s Otabek, and Yuri tries, earnestly, not to be fiercely turned on by an alpha happily and even enthusiastically cooking meals for his family while helping his little sister with her homework.
Still, even though Yuri couldn’t explain why if asked, the domesticity really does it for him, and when he can’t bear watching Beka sweetly and patiently explain long division over the kitchen counter anymore, he steps out onto the back porch to distract himself.
The Altin house is on a farm, as Beka had described, complete with a small crop they harvest in the spring and summer and a barn full of cows, goats, chickens, and even a horse. It’s so idyllic that Yuri has trouble believing it’s real. Even in the winter, with a cold moon rising over the mountains, it’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen, and Yuri dreads the idea of ever leaving.
“Aren’t you cold?”
Yuri looks back in time to see Lashyn arriving through the door, a shawl pulled over her shoulders.
“I’m Russian,” he says. “I don’t get cold until the gangrene sets in. Then and only then will I reluctantly start looking for a hat.”
She laughs. “If you say so.” She joins him at his side where he’s leaning on the railing overlooking the field. “I forgot to ask – how’s the medication working?”
“Hm? Oh, fine.”
“Not so far.”
“Good. Excellent.” She folds her forearms together and leans her weight onto them, releasing a long sigh as twisting, fading mist.
“This place is so beautiful,” Yuri says. “I feel like I’m getting my spirit back.”
Lashyn hums in agreement. “It does have that quality. My husband, God rest her soul, always wanted to live on a farm. I’d always quite a metropolitan omega, and I could never really see myself living in the outskirts until she took me camping for our one-year anniversary. The mountains won me over, and I spent the rest of our marriage making jokes about the wild alpha stereotype.”
Yuri grins. “Sounds like my kind of marriage.”
“Your invoice arrived, by the way.”
The grin trips and falls off Yuri’s face. “Yeah. I saw.”
“You’re free to go. You’ll get regular shipments of heat suppressants to St. Petersburg.”
“Not that I’m kicking you out, by any means. You’re welcome to stay. I just wonder if you wouldn’t rather be back on your home rink. Aren’t Russian Nationals coming up in a few weeks?”
Yuri stares down at his hands, clasped together and dangling over the edge of the railing.
“Have you made up your mind about whether you want to finish the season?” Lashyn prods, gently.
“No,” Yuri admits, somewhat sheepishly. “It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just – I don’t think I could bear the stigma of it, you know?”
“How do you mean?”
Yuri sighs, wonders how to phrase it. When he begins, he begins slowly. “If I started competing again as an omega, that would be the extent of my identity forever. I wouldn’t be Yuri Plisetsky, I’d be Yuri Plisetsky, omega. And I don’t know if I could handle that for the rest of my professional career. And of course this is all assuming that Russia doesn’t immediately bar me from performing altogether.”
“There have been omega skaters before.”
“Yeah, like two. And the only reason we know them is because they were omegas.”
“Sonia Bernard was a five-time French national champion.”
“And barred from the Olympics twice!”
Lashyn sighs. “Yuri…”
“It’s not that I don’t hear your unspoken points about omegism or whatever, it’s just that theory is one thing and application is another. Sonia Bernard got death threats through her best years on the ice. I hate the idea of letting my sex limit me, but I also hate the idea of subjecting myself to ten years or more of endless bullshit about it.”
“I know,” she says. “I hear you, darling. I understand, better than most. But you cannot undo your biology, and if you start trying to hide from it, it could become a habit not easily broken.”
Yuri bends forward over his arms.
“You are an omega. That is your lot. The world is never going to let you forget it, so why should you? Embrace it. It doesn’t have to be a limitation.”
“Why should I have to worry about embracing it? How many alphas worry about their secondary sex every day?”
Lashyn frowns. “Not many,” she admits.
“I don’t want to be an omegist icon, but I don’t want to kowtow to alphacentrism either. I just – I want to skate.”
It feels good to admit it. Yuri shuts his eyes against a strong gust of wind.
“I want to skate,” he says again. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
“Then skate,” Lashyn says gently. “Do you read English?”
Yuri sniffs. The cold wind is making his nose run. It’s definitely not the well of emotion in him. “What?”
“I have a book I think you should read,” she continues.
Who blames me? Many, no doubt; and I shall be called discontented. I could not help it: the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes. Then my sole relief was to walk along the corridor of the third storey, backwards and forwards, safe in the silence and solitude of the spot, and allow my mind's eye to dwell on whatever bright visions rose before it – and, certainly, they were many and glowing; to let my heart be heaved by the exultant movement, which, while it swelled it in trouble, expanded it with life; and, best of all, to open my inward ear to a tale that was never ended – a tale my imagination created, and narrated continuously; quickened with all of incident, life, fire, feeling, that I desired and had not in my actual existence.
It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Omegas are supposed to be very calm generally: but omegas feel just as alphas feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as others do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as alphas would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to raising pups and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.
Yuri sighs, shuts the book, bends forward over it into his hands. Twelve chapters in, he’s starting to understand why Lashyn wanted him to read this book.
He sees a lot of himself in Jane, in the abuses from her early childhood, in the way society holds her down. He finds himself admiring her constant search for balance – in the rejection of a secular alphacentrism, but also in the ostensible piousness of the church.
He drums his fingers on the spine, looking at his phone where it sits on the bedside table in the Altin guest suite.
Maybe, like Jane, there’s a middle ground for Yuri, too. It won’t be ideal, and it won’t be comfortable, but maybe, just maybe…
He spends a few moments trying to calculate what time it is in St. Petersburg before he gives up, unlocks his phone, and calls Yakov.
It takes four rings before he picks up.
“Yuratchka,” comes his uneasy voice. “Bit late, isn’t it?”
“Sorry,” Yuri says, but he’s not. “Yakov…”
“How are you?” he asks.
“I’m a lot of things, I guess,” Yuri answers. He climbs off the bed where he’d been reading, leaving Jane Eyre bookmarked on the pillow. “Yakov, I need to say something to you, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t say anything until I’m done.”
A pause. “All right.”
Yuri takes a deep breath.
“I want to finish the season.”
“Yakov, what the fuck did I just say? Shut up and let me finish!”
A growl, then, but no more words.
Yuri comes to a stop when he’s by the window. The moon is behind the mountains now, and the sprawling vista out behind the Altin house looks soaked through with ink. Yuri leans his head against the glass.
“I want to finish the season, but it has to be on my terms,” he continues. His voice gets slower. “I… this might be my last season, do you understand? I don’t want to tell you why, so please don’t ask, but this – this thing – this reason I nearly retired early – one day, it’s likely going to end my career for me if I don’t do it first. So I want to finish the season. I want to go to Russian Nationals and Europeans, if I can. But I want to do it my way.”
“What will that include?” Yakov asks. His voice is gruff, but not unkind. Worried, almost.
“I’ve been developing a new short program and free skate over the past few weeks.”
“What?” Now he sounds angry. “Yuratchka, Nationals are less than two weeks away! We don’t have time to polish two brand new routines in the middle of the season! It’s absolutely unheard of that…”
Yuri stops listening and, while Yakov rants, swipes over to his email app. He attaches the video Nika took of his free skate to an email without a subject line and sends it to Yakov before he even finishes shouting.
By the time Yuri tunes back in, Yakov is already going on about responsibility.
“… should be grateful that you’re still even invited to Nationals, after you dropped out of the Grand Prix, there’s no—” Yuri can hear the email alert sound from Yakov’s phone. “What—?”
“That’s my free skate,” Yuri says. “If I’m going to finish the season, it’s going to be with that. Text me once you watch it.”
He hangs up before Yakov can reply.
Yuri is going to miss Kazakhstan. He’s going to miss Beka, and Nika, and Lashyn. He’s only been here a week, but already he feels more at home here than he’s ever felt anywhere.
He looks back at his bed and wonders if Lashyn will let him take Jane Eyre with him back to St. Petersburg.
Almost exactly four minutes and forty seconds later, a text alert sends his phone buzzing in his hands. Yuri smirks to himself before he opens it.
Chapter 5: Focus
“Bye, Yuri!” Nika says into his chest. “I miss you already!”
Yuri smiles. Despite himself, Nika has wormed her way into his good graces. “Bye, brat. I’ll be back to visit eventually, I’m sure.”
“Goodbye, darling,” Lashyn says. Her hijab is bright blue today, and it looks all the brighter in the sunlight streaming through the airport window. She hugs Yuri, too, and Yuri hugs her back, perhaps more tightly than he needs to. “Please do come again. You’re always welcome in Almaty.”
“Thank you so much for everything, Lashyn,” he says. “Especially for the book.”
“I have more recommendations where that came from,” she answers, dropping a kiss on the top of his head. “Make sure Otabek gives you my Skype information.”
“Will do,” he says, smiling.
“Come on, Evnika,” Lashyn says, taking her daughter gently by one shoulder, “let’s let Otabek say goodbye alone.”
“Why?” Nika asks, but by then she’s already being steered away.
Really, Yuri shouldn’t feel weird about this. The string of not-dates Otabek has taken him on pretty much daily all over Almaty have decidedly been not-dates, because surely if they were dates, one of them would have acknowledged it by now, or at the very least Otabek would have kissed him. Right? Yuri never really gave a lot of thought to dating – he had a skating career to keep him occupied – but he’s pretty sure dates eventually start to involve kissing, and that is not something that has developed anywhere past Yuri’s increasingly frequent imagination.
Otabek, also looks a bit awkward, though not nearly so awkward as Yuri feels.
“It was good to have you here,” he says.
“Yeah,” Yuri says. “I mean, it was good to be here. Thanks so much for the invitation.”
“Anytime,” Otabek answers. “I mean that. Mom wasn’t lying, you’re always welcome in Almaty.”
Yuri fights back the butterflies in his stomach with the emotional flamethrower that is fervent, loud, internal self-chastisement. Get it together, Plisetsky, keep your head in the fucking game.
“I have a going-away present for you.”
Yuri starts. “You do?”
Beka reaches into the small messenger bag hanging off one shoulder, its weathered black leather complementing his jacket perfectly, and fishes out—
Yuri gasps, despite himself. “A Team Kazakhstan jacket?”
“I thought maybe it might keep the memory fresh,” Beka says. “Bring you back sooner rather than later.”
“You can’t give me your Team Kaz jacket,” Yuri protests. “Isn’t this the one you wore to Worlds?”
“It hasn’t fit right for the past few months,” Otabek assures him. “They’re sending me a new one. Really, it’s fine. I want you to have it.”
Yuri gnaws, hard, on his lower lip, and takes it. The moment it’s close enough—
Oh, God. It smells just like him. His pheromones are all over the fucking thing.
Somehow, Yuri wants it both more and less than before. He wants to simultaneously curl up inside it and also light it on fire. How is he supposed to just have this thing around? And how has he ever got along without it?
“I’m glad you came, Yura,” Otabek says, and steps forward to kiss Yuri on the cheek.
And yes, Yuri’s heart stops for a moment. As does the airport, and time itself. Then it all gets very, very fast, and Yuri is either about to pass out or go into heat, somehow, despite being on suppressants.
Otabek withdraws a moment later (or maybe it’s eighty years, but hey, who’s counting? Definitely not Yuri, he doesn’t at present remember how to count). His hand is still on the crux of Yuri’s neck and his shoulder, and his breath is still ghosting across his mouth.
And he is so close, and he smells like homegrown coriander and fancy shampoo and Kazakh mountain air, and against Yuri’s better judgment, he closes the gap a second time and kisses him on the mouth.
And God, this is happening, Yuri is kissing him. Beka’s lips are pleasantly firm, the fingers on his neck digging into Yuri’s skin. And Yuri keeps kissing him – really kissing him! – until common sense – oh, God, he’s really kissing him, it’s not an elaborate fantasy this time – slaps him upside the head with a sudden jolt of fear and adrenaline.
Yuri springs back.
“Oh, God,” he says. “I’m sorry, I didn’t—”
Beka cuts him off by diving forward and kissing him again.
And they were really kissing before, but now they’re really kissing, body-to-body, hands on face and arms around back, jacket on floor. He’ll pick it up later, because right now there is only one thing in the world that matters, and it is pressed flush against him with large, expressive hands carding through his hair.
“Now boarding flight 12-98B to St. Petersburg, Group A.”
Yuri pulls back, breathless, despite the fact that it’s been at most thirty seconds (probably – counting is still not his strong suit circumstances as they are). He looks to the gate, where people are standing and heading for the door, then back to Beka.
“You couldn’t have done this earlier?” Yuri asks. “We could have had more time to enjoy it.”
Beka laughs, also breathless. “I was working up the nerve,” he admits, sounding sheepish.
Yuri laughs, and Otabek tries to swallow the sound with another kiss, and oh, Yuri could get used to this. Not that he can. Why does he have to leave for St. Petersburg now?
“I have to go,” Yuri says against his mouth.
Otabek withdraws. “I know,” he says. “Text me when you make it back, all right?”
“All right,” Yuri says, picking the jacket up off the ground, kissing him one more time, because why the hell not, and then hurries for the door.
“Take care of that jacket!” Otabek shouts after him, and the moment Yuri is on the plane, he puts it on and posts a selfie to Instagram (#teamkaz #honorarykazakh #goodbyealmaty).
Things are best, Yuri decides, when they are focused.
When things are focused, they are simple. When his skating career is all about being technically perfect, there’s no room left to worry about the nonzero chance that someone could find his heat suppressants in his bag or snoop through the paper trails leading him to two separate OB/GYN practices. Those things exist only in the immaterial periphery of his laserlike focus on quad jumps and perfectly timed spins.
When things are focused, his relationship with Beka is uncomplicated and not painful. There’s no time to ache from the thousands of miles of distance that came so soon after that first ecstatic kiss in the terminal of Almaty International Airport. There’s nothing but sweet Snapchats of Nika landing her first wobbly triple lutz and texts about nothing and everything and midnight Skype calls full of whispers. There’s no missing the touch of him, the smell of him, because this is what Yuri has, and what he doesn’t have doesn’t matter.
When things are focused, everything is easier.
“You’ve changed,” Yakov says as soon as the music for his short program fades in his ears. Yuri pops one of the headphones out and skates toward the wall, taking the water bottle Yakov has stretched out to him. “Am I wrong?”
“I don’t know, I barely listen when you talk,” Yuri says, before drinking several large mouthfuls of lukewarm water.
Yakov smacks him upside the head.
“Ow! Fuck you!”
“I was trying to compliment you, you know,” he says. Behind him, Lilia approaches with a duffel bag over one shoulder. “Whatever has changed about you, it’s good. There’s a new maturity to the way you skate. I’m sure it’s what won you nationals.”
“I won nationals because I’m the best in the nation, but that’s not saying much considering the competition.” He levels a stare at his rinkmates en masse. “It’s Europeans I’m worried about.”
“If you perform like you did at Nationals, they won’t be a problem,” Yakov says.
“You’re cooling down at the barre today,” Lilia informs him. “I want to work on your flexibility more.”
“Well, when you ask so nicely.”
Lilia’s stare is unforgiving and cold. “Skates off,” she says.
“I want to run through my short one more time.”
“Well, then it’s a terrible day to be you. Skates off.”
“Best listen to her,” Yakov says. “You know how omegas can be.”
Apparently at some point Lilia had told Yakov that Yuri knew she was an omega, which had opened the floodgates to all sorts of things that Yuri would hesitate to call “jokes.” Lilia’s secondary sex is a well-kept secret, it seems, and all this time Yakov had been sitting on all sorts of grievances about it that he was barely keeping to himself.
“Don’t be sexist, Yakov,” Yuri says.
“It’s not sexist if it’s true.”
Yuri skates down the wall and hops through the door, where Lilia is waiting with his skate guards. He tugs them on before sitting down and beginning the long process of unlacing.
“I’m starting to get why you divorced him,” Yuri mumbles. “Has he always been that way?”
“Not always,” Lilia admits. “The worst of it started after estropause. It’s amazing how callous alphas can be once their omegas aren’t providing them with what they perceive as their right to your heats. It’s why we divorced, though he’ll deny it.”
The thought makes Yuri physically nauseous, but he doesn’t let on.
“You’re not going to tell him, then, that you’re an omega.”
“Keep your voice down,” Yuri snaps.
“Paranoia is not a good look on you, Yuratchka.”
“Of course I’m not going to tell him. Are you crazy? I love him, but he’s clearly got issues with omegas that I’d rather not complicate.”
“Sometimes alphas need a good complication to remind them of their humility,” Lilia says.
“Well, then leave it to someone else,” Yuri answers, tugging off his left skate and then switching to unlace the right. “His sexism isn’t my battle.”
“It is if he’s your coach. Even if he doesn’t know you’re an omega.”
“Keep your voice down.”
“Does anyone know?”
Yuri sighs heavily. “Otabek, of course. Victor. Grandpa, but he doesn’t count. Past that, it’s just you.”
“And it’s not all over the Internet yet?”
“I’m as surprised as you. He said he’d keep it to himself, though, and so far…”
“I’d get it in writing, if I were you. He’s coming back to St. Petersburg tomorrow.”
“He is? Why?”
“Oh, who knows? Maybe he’s going to elope with his fiance in Siberia. It seems like something he’d do.”
“From your lips to God’s ears. At least then I wouldn’t have to be involved in the ceremony.”
Lilia smirks, they quietly bond over their mutual disdain for people, and then they go to cool down at the barre.
Focus. Focus. Don’t let it hurt. Don’t think about how badly you want to curl up in his arms. Don’t think about kissing him. Don’t think about it.
“Is that a Team Kazakhstan jacket?”
Yuri jumps, whirls. Focuses. “What’s it to you, baldy?”
Victor frowns. “Don’t be cruel.”
“Don’t be nosy.”
“Did Otabek give you that?”
“No, I stole it. What the hell do you think?”
Victor waggles his finger knowingly. “He’s got a cru-ush on you, Yurio!”
“Don’t call me Yurio, baldy!”
Victor flips his hair indignantly. “You’re such a rude little omega. I ought to tell your grandfather on you.”
“I was rude before I presented as omega,” Yuri says. “Also, fuck you. What are you even doing here?”
The bus stop is not Victor “I Bought a Mercedes Once on a Dare” Nikiforov’s usual haunt, and it wouldn’t be Yuri’s either but for stupid Russia’s stupid insistence on a stupid 18-year-old driving age.
“I needed to come back to formally end my contract with Yakov,” Victor explains, sitting down next to him on the bench. “And grab a few things. I’ll be moving to Japan next summer.”
Yuri frowns. “Officially?”
“Officially,” Victor says. “We’re engaged, darling, what did you expect?”
“It’s not like Japan or Russia are super great with gay marriage.”
“So it won’t be legally sanctioned,” Victor says flippantly. “So what? What matters is that we declare our love for each other before God.”
“Which God? You practice different religions.”
“Are you trying to poke holes in my sunshine, Yuri?”
“Till the day I die.”
Victor sits down next to him, and his sigh swirls out as fine silvery mist. It’s too fucking cold in Russia in January, of course, and Yuri already misses Kazakhstan. He tugs the jacket closer around himself, because he’s cold, and not because it still smells like Otabek.
“Well, at least you’re more cordial about it than the press.”
Yuri frowns. He’d heard about it – how could he not? It was the biggest story in skating at the moment. Two top figure skaters don’t fall in love – especially two alphas – without drawing international attention.
“Don’t pay attention to those fuckers,” Yuri says. It’s about the only tactic he’s learned to deal with them.
“I don’t generally,” Victor answers, smiling. “But it gets harder when the death threats start.”
“Shit. Who’s been sending you death threats?”
“Not just me. Both of us. All the usual suspects online. I wouldn’t worry about it too much.”
“How am I supposed to not worry about death threats?”
“It comes with the territory of being two alphas in a relationship and in public, I’m afraid. We’ll get law enforcement involved if we have to, but I don’t think it’ll come to that.”
Still, Victor looks doubtful. Yuri wishes he had more to offer.
“You did well at nationals,” Victor says, valiantly changing the subject.
Yuri leans back against the glass of the bus stop hutch. “Of course I did. Now that your decrepit ass is out, I’m unquestionably the best skater in Russia.”
“Are you going to Europeans?”
Yuri glares at him. “What the hell does that mean? Of course I’m going to Europeans. Why wouldn’t I go to Europeans?”
Victor frowns prettily. “I was surprised you went to Nationals. I was hoping the rumors of you dropping out would be true.”
Yuri’s glare feels a lot colder.
“It’s nothing personal, dear, but how are you going to remain competitive when you go into heat once a month?”
“My body’s not your fucking business, first of all,” Yuri snarls, “and second of all, I’m on heat suppressants now, so go suck a knot.”
“Fine,” he says, “but what about when word slips? What about when someone inevitably leaks to the press about your secondary sex? How do you think that will go over with the public? With Yakov? With the Russian government, who you know is scouting for the 2018 Olympics—”
“Word isn’t going to slip,” Yuri says. “Because you’re going to keep your stupid mouth shut about it.”
“Yuri, of course I will,” Victor sighs. “But the world of competitive figure skating is not known for its privacy, and it isn’t good for omegas.”
“Oh, why, because our fragile, knot-hungry bodies can’t handle it?”
“Because sexism is still rampant,” Victor corrects.
“That’s not my problem, that’s everyone else’s fucking problem. And I’m not super in love with you talking to me about the world of competitive figure skating like I haven’t been a part of it for four years already, Nikiforov.”
“I’m just worried about you, Yuri,” Victor says with a frown.
“If you were worried about me, you’d be shouting at the system, not telling me not to keep doing what I love to do!” Yuri shouts. “I’m going to Europeans, I’m going to Worlds, and I’m going to grind your precious fucking soulbonded into the ice!”
Victor bristles defensively. “He’s not my soulbonded,” he says. “He can’t be. You know that’s impossible.”
“Shut up! I don’t care! Go fucking move to Japan and get the hell out of my life! Apparently you don’t approve of it anyway!”
“I didn’t say that—”
“You didn’t need to!”
Yuri doesn’t want to wait for the bus anymore. He stands up, suddenly overcome with the desire to walk all five miles back to his grandpa’s house.
“Yuri,” Victor calls after him, sounding wounded, “at least let me drive you.”
“Fuck off!” Yuri calls back at him, and he does not stop.
Despite his better judgment, Yuri spends most of the evening eight days before Europeans trying to time his texts to Beka so he can see him react to the text tone live on camera.
It doesn’t work, but it’s still a fun diversion.
His short program is incredible, of course. Otabek has always excelled technically. He stumbles on his free skate, but it’s not enough to keep him off the podium, in the end. He takes silver against Katsudon’s gold, and Yuri is so fucking proud of him that he feels like he could burst.
And, you know, other things.
He spends most of the evening fading in and out of lucidity, but it gets worse the later it gets. His little laptop chugs and stutters on the livestream sometimes, leaving Yuri whining and writhing on his bed and burying his face in the Team Kazakhstan jacket hugged to his chest. This whole thing would be so much easier if technology just cooperated. All he wants is to see him, smell him, hold him down, ride him…
When his phone rings after the medal ceremony, Yuri’s heart positively thrums against his ribs. He slides to answer with trembling fingers.
“Beka,” he says. “Oh, Beka, you were so amazing, congratulations.”
A breathless laugh. “Thank you, Yuri, but I got the sentiment from your eighteen text messages during my free skate.”
“But you were so amazing,” Yuri says again. God, just hearing his voice is so nice. Everything about Beka is so great. “Your quad flip was perfect. You’d have beat fucking Katsudon but for that stumble.”
“Katsuki earned it,” Beka concedes. “He was great. Are you all right?”
Yuri hums long and low. “I’m great,” he says. “You cannot understand how great I am.”
“Your voice sounds weird,” Beka observes.
“Just your imagination,” Yuri giggles. Teasing him feels like a great way to pass the time.
Unfortunately, not much time passes before he catches on. “Yuri, are you in heat?”
“You caught me,” he says, pressing his hips down into the mattress. “My first package got held up at customs. I got it straightened out, but my suppressants got delayed…”
“Oh,” Otabek says. “That sucks, Yuri, I’m sorry. I know you hate your heats.”
“You know, I hated the first one, but this one’s not so bad.” Yuri drops his voice. “I have your jacket.”
Silence. Yuri keeps going, because how can he not?
“It’s actually quite nice when I can still smell you,” he says. “I mean, I’m sure it’d be a million times better if you were actually here with me…”
“Yuri,” Beka says slowly, “I don’t…”
“Hearing your voice helps, too.” Yuri is starting to feel breathless. He prepared well, with a few towels draped over his bed, but now he feels like he might soak them through for how wet he is.
“I’m starting to think you’re not entirely lucid, Yura,” Otabek says, sounding wary.
Yuri’s not entirely sure what he said but the tone made it sound responsible and boring. “I wish you were here,” he whines, arcing off the bed, slick running down his thigh. “Beka-a-a-a, I wish you could knot me.”
Otabek mutters something in Arabic that sounds suspiciously like a divine plea for help.
“I want to feel you so badly,” Yuri whimpers, palm pressing against his inner thigh, smearing the slick. “Beka, can’t you come over?”
“I’m in Sao Paulo, Yura.”
“Then get on a plane so you can come here and fuck me.”
“That’s a fifteen-hour flight, Yuri, your heat would be over by the time I made it there,” Otabek says, voice sounding strained. “Not that I even – I’m starting to think you’re not really lucid right now. We haven’t really talked about this, I don’t feel right—”
“God, stop being so boring,” Yuri interjects.
“Yuri, omegas can’t consent to sex while they’re in heat, you know that.”
“We’re not having sex!” Yuri whines. “Much to my frustration. I just want you, Beka, so bad…”
Otabek’s sigh crackles in Yuri’s ear. “You sound pretty far gone,” he says.
His voice is deeper. It makes Yuri’s body thrum in pleasure. He slides one finger along the ring of muscle between his legs, drenched in slick.
“I doubt you’ll even remember this conversation happened tomorrow,” he continues. “Yuri…”
Yuri rolls over, hips up, left cheek pressed into the jacket. The smell of him is unbelievable.
“Can I tell you something, Yuri?”
“Mmn,” is about as much as Yuri can manage in response.
There’s the sound of a clicking door from Otabek’s end. The background noise Yuri hadn’t even notice abruptly goes away.
“That first night in Barcelona,” Beka says, “when you opened your hotel door and I saw you there…”
“Nn,” Yuri gasps, voice tighter.
“You were the most incredibly gorgeous thing I’d ever seen.”
Yuri can’t stand it. He pushes two fingers into himself, keens, rocks his hips backward. It’s so good, even better with Beka’s smell, his voice in Yuri’s ear.
“I volunteer at Mom’s nonprofit omega home, it’s not like I haven’t been around omegas in heat before,” he continues. “But I have never – Yuri, I’ve never reacted like I did in Barcelona.”
“B-Beka,” Yuri gasps, pressing his fingers deeper, heart pounding in his throat.
“The smell of you alone – God, the smell. You smell like rosewater and winter, has anyone ever told you that? One second outside your door and I felt like the only thing in the world that mattered was locking my teeth on your neck—”
Oh, God. Yuri moans high and clear, his body clenches around his fingers.
“—pinning you down onto the ground and knotting you, filling you with my pups—”
“Beka,” Yuri whimpers. “God, Beka, yes.”
“—I wanted it so bad I didn’t even have time to be disgusted with myself. Because that’s not who I am, you know? I can control myself. But you.”
Yuri’s going to come. He can feel it like a riptide. His panting tinges with throaty, desperate moaning. His fingers press all the deeper; he adds a third for good measure.
“One second outside your door and I understood all those ancient poems about alphas who went mad with wanting,” Otabek says, voice low. “I’d always thought it was artistic exaggeration until I met you.”
“Beka,” Yuri half-moans, half-sobs. “Beka, Beka…”
“Are your fucking yourself on your fingers, Yura?” A low, rumbling groan. “God, I can practically picture you.”
“Beka, need—” Yuri can’t remember how sentences work. “Beka, please. Please.”
“Keep going, Yura. I want to hear you come for me.”
Moaning strangled by sobs, gasps and chokes and desperate keening. Yuri is so close. His fingers are moving as fast as they can, which for how badly their shaking isn’t very fast at all, but he can smell him, hear him, it’s almost like he’s here, and now there are images of Otabek’s teeth sunk hard into his neck, bonding him, knot tying him, hot warmth spreading out through him yes yes yes yes yes.
“Beka – Beka—!”
His entire body spasms with the force of his orgasm. It’s all-encompassing and electric, blinding, so powerful that Yuri collapses to one side, wailing, body trembling with the pulsing waves of climax. Beka’s low, soothing voice is in his ear, but Yuri doesn’t know what he’s saying. He comes like he’s dying, shaking and spasming on the bed.
The world slowly becomes clearer. Yuri’s vision sharpens, the blood pounding in his ears starts to soften.
“Do you feel better?” asks Beka, voice gentle, but thin and trembling.
“Mmmmnnn,” Yuri hums. “Beka-a-a.”
“I’m glad,” he says. “Get some sleep, all right? I’ll see you at Worlds.”
Yuri hums again, long and slow. He hears the beeping in his ear signaling that Beka has hung up, but he’s already falling asleep.
“First off, congratulations on snagging gold in Europeans.”
“Thanks,” Yuri answers brusquely, leaning away. He hates that Yakov makes him do these stupid things. He always has some half-assed excuse about doing what’s hard because it’s hard, but Yuri has a sneaking suspicion that it’s more to do with Yakov enjoying Yuri’s suffering.
“You turned a lot of heads with your choice of music,” the interviewer says. She’s cool and clean and alpha, with a pen behind her ear and everything. It must be for decoration because Yuri hasn’t seen her take notes once. “What made you defy the norms with such a modern, alternative sound?”
“I pick music that feels relevant in my life,” Yuri says.
“So you chose a jazz cover of Radiohead’s Creep?”
“It feels relevant,” Yuri answers, leaning back in his chair and putting his feet up on the decorative coffee table between them. The interviewer either doesn’t care or pretends not to.
“This is your first formal interview since your mysterious disappearance at the Grand Prix Final,” she says. “I presume you’re still declining to answer why?”
Yuri frowns. “Medical thing.” The best lies have the benefit of being true, in Yuri’s experience.
“It must have been quite severe to keep Yuri Plisetsky out of the Grand Prix.”
“Must have been.”
“All right, message received,” she says. “Moving on. According to your Instagram feed, you spent over a week in Almaty with Kazakhstan’s Otabek Altin.”
“Sure. I mean, I did social things.”
“How’d you like the city?”
“Loved it,” Yuri says at once. Finally, a topic that isn’t shitty. “Almaty is incredible. I somehow managed to not go to the Medeu, but Beka says he’ll take me there when I come back.”
“Beka?” the interviewer asks, smirking. “So you two are on nickname bases?”
Yuri sniffs. “Whatever.” He’s not going to give them any ammunition. This whatever-it-is he has with Beka – is it a relationship? Is it automatically upgraded to a relationship when one party makes the other come via phone? – is nobody’s business but theirs, and he’s not keen on the idea of starting rumors.
“Sounds like you two are getting along rather well. You’re going to be competing against each other in Worlds in a few weeks.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Yuri says. “Otabek’s an excellent skater. He’ll keep me on my toes.”
“Are you confident about your chances?”
Yuri smirks. “Gold in Nationals, gold in Europeans, gold Junior World three years running, you tell me.”
“Statistics are floating around now that you’re the most decorated beta skater in history,” the interviewer says, consulting something on her phone. “How does that feel?”
Probably better if I were beta, Yuri doesn’t say.
“All right, I guess. I’m aiming for most decorated skater in history, period. Let me know when I break that record.”
The interviewer smirks. “Will do.”
This year Worlds are being held in Paris, a city that Yuri has always liked, if only because Parisians are usually antisocial enough to leave him alone in an otherwise breathtakingly beautiful city.
Charles de Gaulle Airport, on the other hand, is loud and cramped and full of nosy, shouting foreigners. It does nothing to settle his nerves.
Not that Yuri necessarily has anything to be nervous about. Right? It’s been almost a month since Yuri last saw Beka, and two weeks since his last heat, but it’s not like anything has changed. They still text and Skype and Snapchat each other, and if there’s something between them that neither of them are talking about, it’s entirely in Yuri’s head.
In any case, Otabek is always the easiest person to pick out in a room, even coming off a plane with eighty other people. His leather jacket is over one shoulder and his sunglasses are on his head. Despite the tension that definitely isn’t still there, Yuri feels a surge of warm affection in his chest and he vaults off the chair and directly into him.
“Oof,” Beka answers. God, he smells so good. The jacket had helped, but Yuri now knows beyond any reasonable doubt that nothing can replace the genuine article.
“It’s good to see you!” Yuri draws back a moment later, beaming. “How are you?”
“Jetlagged,” he replies, fighting back a yawn. “It’s nearly midnight back in Almaty.”
“There’s a coffee place I found last year when I was here for Trophée that you’ll like,” Yuri says. “Should be easy to get onto Paris time. Where’s your coach?”
“He’s coming on a later plane, had a family thing.” Beka hauls his rolling bag to heel as Yuri falls in step next to him and they both start heading through the airport. “When did you get in?”
“Last night,” Yuri says, opening his Uber app. “Yakov got me some early rink time, since all practices are open to the press starting tomorrow.”
Otabek grumbles accordingly. It is a fact universally acknowledged that skaters detest public practice.
“So you want to go get that coffee?” Yuri asks.
Beka slows to a stop in the middle of the terminal, leveling Yuri with a strange stare. Yuri slows, too, if only because of the inertia. He suddenly feels a mild stab of panic. Is this to do with the Thing that isn’t there, or that at the very least they aren’t talking about? Had he been misreading the situation? Is Beka upset with him?
“You’re not…” Otabek begins.
When he doesn’t finish, Yuri says, “Not what?”
He looks away, frowning mostly to himself. Yuri waits, anxious. He can’t shake the feeling that somehow calling Beka during his heat had been a bad idea. Yuri doesn’t remember it very clearly, maybe Otabek had been upset that Yuri hadn’t had more self-control.
“Nothing,” Otabek says, after a painful, lingering silence. “Never mind. Yeah, let’s go get coffee.”
“Okay,” Yuri returns, worries unabated, as they walk together out of Charles de Gaulle and onto the snowy streets of Paris to wait for the car.
Even though most of the skaters competing in Worlds had arrived days ago, even though the press have been staking out nearby hotels and restaurants for candid shots since last week, they are all still expected to go through the Kafkaesque nightmare that is Opening Night like it’s the first time they’ve gotten the chance to.
Skaters “arrive” in the lobby of the rink with their coaches in tow, where the press get their “first opportunity” to interview and photograph them. Then they all go inside and sit through the opening ceremonies and the Ladies Singles start.
Yuri would normally be happy to skip it, but it’s Mila’s first time at Worlds, and he feels some sort of ethical obligation to be there supporting her as a friend or whatever. When he and Yakov enter off the snow-dusted streets of Paris, Yuri pulls his hoodie down to avoid the worst of the camera flashes.
“Yuri, how are you feeling going into Worlds?”
“Chulanont has pegged you as the one to beat going in – thoughts?”
“How does the pressure of your first Worlds feel?”
Yakov answers for him, mostly, which is probably for the best, because Yuri doubts he could get through any answers of his own without swearing. He keeps his head low for the most part, his eyes averted, as he scans the crowd. It’s mostly the women the press are after this close to the start of the Ladies Singles. Though he looks for Mila, he ends up spotting Victor and Katsudon.
He spins on a heel, hoping it was soon enough to avoid their notice—
“Yuri!” Victor sings from behind him, and, fuck. “Yuri, there you are! Come here!”
“Suck a knot, old man!” Yuri yells back.
Victor laughs like Yuri hadn’t just insulted him. Then, before he knows it, he’s grabbed by the shoulder and hauled over to where he and Katsuki are at the rope line. All the cameras start flashing all at once, and Yuri makes his most unphotogenic face possible in an effort to prevent any of the pictures from being usable.
“We were just talking about you,” Victor says. “I was saying how disappointing it was for you to forego the short program I choreographed just for you now that we’re here at Worlds.”
Yuri shrugs out of his grasp and levels Victor with his iciest stare. “Well, I hope you get used to your waning significance.”
“So cruel,” Victor sighs. “You’re far too pretty to be so cruel.”
“Didn’t I tell you to get the hell out of my life the last time I saw you?” Yuri growls at him, hairs rising along the back of his neck.
“Yuri,” one reporter near the rope line chimes in during the gap, “the rumor mill has noticed your falling out with Mr. Nikiforov. Is it true that you don’t approve of his relationship with Mr. Katsuki?”
“What?” Yuri’s head snaps around. “No! Fuck you, I don’t give a shit about that. He has plenty of other qualities that make him an obnoxious degenerate!”
Victor chortles and tries to put his hand on Yuri’s shoulder. Yuri slaps it away.
“Don’t touch me,” he snarls. The comment finally manages to wipe that carefree joie-de-vivre off his face, if only because Yuri had said it quietly enough that the reporters couldn’t hear. In the end, he didn’t want their falling out to be public. Yuri wanted to reserve his ire specifically and solely for Victor. “I’m not interested in playing nice anymore.”
“Yuri, you’re being unreasonable,” Victor says, finally with some seriousness. “If this is about St. Petersburg, I continue to only be interested in your well-being.”
“Bullshit, you are,” Yuri growls, pushing past him and a worried Katsuki. “Take your pseudo-concern and shove it up your ass.”
It’s Katsuki this time, but Yuri doesn’t look back. He heads through to the rink, leaving Yakov and several reporters shouting after him.
The rink is already filling up, even though the opening ceremonies don’t start for the better part of an hour. The Worlds – especially the year before the Olympics – are always a hot-ticket item, and the stands are packed. France gets good representation from the locals, but Yuri notices a not insignificant contingent of Russians, Japanese, and even a handful of Thai flags and jackets.
He spends a few minutes scanning the VIP stands for Otabek but doesn’t find him. Yuri can’t blame him. If he’d had the choice, he’d have skipped it, too.
“Yuri, hang on!”
Yuri growls and turns around in time to see Katsuki pushing through the double doors. He looks smart in his Team Japan jacket, though Yuri wouldn’t admit it unless forced at gunpoint.
“Yuri, what was that? What happened? I didn’t hear anything about you having a fight with Victor.”
“It’s not your business, Katsudon,” Yuri grumbles.
“I know Victor isn’t good at saying the right thing,” Katsuki says, “and I know he’s kind of oblivious to other peoples’ feelings, but you really should know he cares about you a lot. If he said something cruel, it was probably because of me.”
Yuri narrows his eyes. “You?”
“It’s—” Katsuki sighs. “We’re having a bit of a domestic. Have been for a couple weeks now. It’s not a big deal, but he gets sour whenever I try to talk about it.”
Yuri scoffs. He barely believes it. “You two are having a fight? I thought soulbonded pairs were incapable of fighting.”
“Well, that’s the thing,” Yuri says. “He doesn’t…”
A Korean skater and her coach pass them on the way to their seats. Yuri and Katsuki both clam up until they pass.
“Come on, let’s sit,” Katsuki says and starts off. Yuri sighs. He doesn’t really want to talk to Katsuki – he doesn’t really want to talk to anyone, except maybe Beka, wherever the hell he is – but he follows him around the corner and up into the risers, sectioned off from the rest and labelled “VIP” on each seat.
The zamboni comes out just as they’re both sitting down in a quieter section of the risers.
“He doesn’t think we’re soulbonded,” Katsuki says once they’re both settled, looking doubtful.
Yuri blinks in surprise. “And you do?”
“I know it’s arrogant to assume that we are,” Katsuki hurries to add, “and I know it’s really rare, and I know that every new couple is absolutely sure they’re soulbonded, but all the signs are there. The way the distance hurts, the way we can sense unease and pain in each other. And when we—!”
Katsuki suddenly goes a bit red in the face, hesitating like he’s not sure he should be bringing this up. Yuri is already bored.
“Katsudon, I’m sixteen,” he says. “You’re not going to surprise me by acknowledging that sex exists.”
The comment only makes him redder. “When we… when we’re together, we…”
God, what is it about the Japanese and how uptight they are about sex? Or is it just Katsudon? “What? Just say it,” Yuri urges, because otherwise this conversation is never going to end.
“When we have sex, we both knot,” Katsuki whispers.
Yuri has to admit, that’s surprising to hear. “I thought alphas only knotted when they’re around omegas in heat,” he says.
“They do! Or they’re supposed to.” Katsuki rubs his face with both hands, as if hoping to wipe away the blush. “But it happens, each time it happens. And Victor explains it away by saying that we’re both just so in love, but I looked it up, and an alpha can knot out of an omega’s heat when they’re intimate with someone of high pheromone compatibility.”
Honestly, Yuri never really paid attention in biology, so he’s not the one to parse whether or not that sounds scientifically reasonable. He has at least heard of pheromone compatibility, read the occasional article on how science is using it to improve results in the online dating industry.
“And that’s the hallmark of a soulbond, isn’t it? Perfect pheromone compatibility?”
“I don’t know,” Yuri says, which is true.
“But Victor just doesn’t believe me!” Katsuki says. “I guess it has something to do with him being Russian? He just refuses to believe that it’s even possible that two alphas can be soulbonded, and he gets angry and defensive whenever I try to bring it up.”
“Russia’s a pretty homophobic country, as countries go,” Yuri admits. “And I’ve met his parents. They’re very conservative. I guess it’s not impossible that he’s got some kind of mental block about being with another alpha.”
“Do you think so?” Katsuki asks nervously.
“I mean, I’m not a fucking relationship counselor,” Yuri says, “but if I’ve ever met a soulbonded pair, it’s you two gross lovey-dovey freaks.”
Katsuki hesitates, then smiles. “Thanks, Yuri,” he says. “That’s sweet of you to say.”
“Whatever,” Yuri mutters, leaning back in his chair.
“What did Victor say?” Katsuki asks. “Like I said, if it was particularly cruel, he was probably—”
“I don’t think it had anything to do with that,” Yuri says. “Don’t worry about it, Katsudon.”
“But you seemed really upset,” Katsuki protests. “Why is Victor concerned about your wellbeing?”
“He really didn’t tell you?”
Katsuki frowns, shakes his head. Privately, Yuri is amazed. Most days, Victor is absolutely incapable of keeping his mouth shut about anything.
Yuri sighs. Then he reaches into the pocket of his Team Russia jacket – not as nice as his Team Kazakhstan jacket, if he’s going to be honest – and wordlessly passes Katsuki the small prescription bottle inside.
Yuri can’t make out the complicated scientific name of the drug of course – he’s still pretty bad at reading Cyrillic, despite having become borderline fluent in Russian – but he recognizes the branding.
“Yes,” Yuri answers shortly.
Yuri rolls his eyes. “Yes.”
“Yes! Keep your fucking voice down!” Yuri snatches it back and shoves it into his pocket again.
“I had no idea,” Katsuki breathes. “You’re still competing?”
Yuri feels his hackles rise again. “Of course I am!”
“Wow,” Katsuki says. “That’s great, Yuri! I’m so proud of you!”
“Fuck you!” Yuri says before he realizes what it is Katsuki said. Then, “Wait, what?”
“I’m really glad that you’re not letting your secondary sex hold you back,” Katsuki says, beaming. “I mean, I was glad yesterday, too, when I thought you were a beta, but I’m extra glad now.”
If Yuri is staring at him in amazement and confusion, he feels like it’s only fair.
“What?” Yuri says again.
“What-what?” Katsuki replies, canting his head to one side.
“You’re… you’re happy for me?”
“Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Because Victor gave me this patronizing rant about how the world was too mean for a fragile little omega, or some shit.”
“Did he?” Katsuki sighs. “That does sound like him. I’m sorry, Yuri, he can still be pretty backwards, can’t he? Your assessment wasn’t wrong.”
Yuri keeps staring. He’s not sure how Katsuki managed it, but somehow in the span of a single conversation, he had gone from annoying and anecdotal to – well, Yuri’s not sure. Something else, assuredly.
“Well, you gave me some insight about him, so let me return the favor,” Katsuki says. “Victor is the kind of person who needs to be shown as much as told. You can’t tell him one thing and expect him to internalize it. You’ve got to scream it at him until he’s really listening, and then you have to prove it.”
“How am I supposed to prove it?” Yuri asks.
“Well,” Katsuki says, looking out at the rink where the zamboni is finishing up on the ice, “you can start by winning Worlds.”
Yuri grins. “Is that all?”
“Next time Victor wants to say something to me, make sure he sends you instead,” Yuri says, and Katsuki’s chuckling graduates to a full-blown laugh.
Yuri could have told Otabek that Parisian coffee was the best in the world, but it catches him by surprise anyway. The little cafe just down the road from the rink that Yuri had discovered last year serves him an Americano that Beka likes so much he ends up going back the next day for another.
Yuri had decided that there’s definitely a Thing. It’s quiet and unobtrusive, but certainly there. Yuri notices it whenever there’s a lapse of silence that lasts too long, whenever Yuri smiles at him or sidles up next to him in some wordless plea for affirmation. He feels as though he has to address it and also that he can’t risk it.
The coffee, at least, acts as something of a social lubricant. It’s easy to talk about Parisian coffee if only because of how good it is. And the city itself, thrumming and muted and full, helps to fill the silences.
Yuri knows that eventually he’ll have to talk about it, that he’ll have to face what will certainly be a very unpleasant Thing head-on. He supposes that the best he can hope for is that it’s not too damaging, that this new relationship, or whatever, isn’t so young and new that it can’t survive on its own—
“You’re all right, aren’t you?”
Yuri looks up from his own coffee (latte) in surprise.
“What?” he asks. “Me?”
“Yeah.” Otabek is walking next to him, closer to the street, as they take the long way back to the hotel. “I mean… do you even remember? You might not remember.”
Yuri frowns. “Remember what?”
Otabek sighs. Yuri is finally able to name the emotion that’s been chewing at the edges of him, of this Thing – guilt.
“When you went into heat,” he says. “Back during Four Continents. Do you remember calling me?”
Yuri blushes, rather without meaning to. He wants to scold Beka for not keeping his voice down, but honestly there’s no one really around to overhear them, especially not when they speak Russian.
“Of course I remember,” he mumbles. He had a feeling that’s what this is about.
“And you’re okay?” Beka asks again.
“What do you mean?”
“I should have had more self-control,” Beka mumbles. “You weren’t lucid, we’d never even talked about it, it was only your second heat – Yuri, I hope you know I didn’t mean to take advantage of your situation.”
Yuri stares at him. In his head, he’s remembering the last time Otabek apologized to him. It had been startling that time, too.
“Beka…” Yuri says, laughter bubbling up through his stomach.
“It just caught me off guard, and you sounded so desperate, and I—”
“Beka,” Yuri interjects. “Are you seriously trying to apologize to me for that? You have a bad habit of apologizing for things you really don’t need to be sorry for.”
“Beka, you didn’t take advantage of me. We weren’t even on the same continent. I was desperate and in heat and you helped me through it in the only way you could.”
“You couldn’t consent,” Otabek says, frowning.
“To what?” Yuri laughs. “Nothing happened that I didn’t do to myself. And I’m not about to make you apologize for a shattering orgasm.”
Beka laughs, startled.
“I think it might have abbreviated my heat, too. I looked it up – something about alpha pheromones plus a powerful orgasm, tricks the body into thinking it’s been bred. The whole thing only lasted about eighteen hours, by my math.”
Otabek doesn’t seem to know what to say to that, though Yuri is pleased to see that he no longer looks quite as guilty as he had. Yuri bumps up against his arm.
“Is that really why you’ve been so weird lately?” Yuri asks.
“What can I say? I’m a worrier,” Beka answers.
Yuri grins at him, switches his coffee to his right hand, and threads his newly-freed left hand through Beka’s.
“Well, you can stop,” Yuri says. “Because you have nothing to worry about.”
Otabek smiles down at him. It’s soft and it’s warm and it does wholly unacceptable things to Yuri’s stomach. Really, Paris in the snow, hot coffee, it’s all a little much.
Not that Yuri’s complaining, necessarily.
“Well,” Beka says, “good.”
“Good,” Yuri returns.
“I missed you,” Beka says.
Yuri beams like some stupid lovesick kid, and is willing to admit that maybe he is. He leans his head on Beka’s shoulder. “I missed you, too.”
“We should probably do the responsible thing at some point and talk about sex, if only to avoid anything like this in the future.”
Yuri’s glad his head is on Beka’s shoulder so he can’t see the heat rising on his neck. “Well, we can be a little more in-depth later, maybe, when we’re not on the streets of Paris, less than a day away from Worlds.”
“Agreed,” Beka laughs.
“But for now… well, I didn’t mind that call much at all.”
Otabek doesn’t say anything, but Yuri can all but feel the heat of his grin. When Yuri looks up, his eyes are smiling and his mouth is parted.
“I never got to kiss you hello last night,” he says suddenly.
“Well,” Yuri says, and leans up.
Before the contact, Yuri hears a very familiar sound from his left – the click-whir of a camera. Yuri stops short.
“Fuck,” he mutters. “Reporters.”
Otabek leans back and scans the street. Sure enough—
“Ugh,” he says. “Ten o’clock.”
“I see him,” Yuri grumbles.
“Let’s go back to the hotel. We can finish our coffee in the lobby. Just ignore him.”
“Hey, paparazzo!” Yuri yells, switching to French. “Go fuck yourself!”
“Or you could yell,” Otabek sighs. “Come on, don’t pick fights, that’ll just egg him on. The hotel’s right there.”
Beka uses his grip on Yuri’s hand to gently urge him away. Yuri glowers, but feels a small thrum of panic. How much had the reporter seen? How much had he heard? He’s at least twenty yards away and looks French – there’s no way he speaks Russian, let alone was close enough to hear Yuri talking about his heat.
“You know where your blocks are,” Yakov says, keeping his grip firm on Yuri’s ankle as he hyperextends the standing split. “You know where your weaknesses are. Center yourself going into it. Don’t overthink it.”
“Don’t overthink it,” Yuri repeats.
He’s not nervous, despite what others might think. Sure, this is his very first Worlds, and he’s working with two very new routines, and he’s barely sixteen, and he’s secretly an omega, but this is fine. The only thing on the line is the highest honor afforded any figure skater short of an Olympic medal, his secret status as an omega, and possibly his livelihood.
Don’t overthink it. Don’t overthink it. Don’t think about the paparazzi and what he may or may not have heard. The only thing that matters now is the performance.
Yuri drops his leg and steps through to the other side of the rink wall, facing Yakov.
“Don’t get too into your own head, Yuratchka,” he says. “You’re at your best when you become an extension of the music.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” says the announcer over the intercom in French, “representing Russia, Yuri Plisetsky!”
The cheer that erupts is thunderous. Yuri pushes off the wall and glides toward the center of the rink, arms extended, the white ruffles of Victor’s old costume fluttering around his wrists and shoulders.
Don’t overthink it. Don’t overthink it. Don’t get in your own head.
As he takes his place at the center of the rink, he turns his head toward the source of the sound.
Otabek, who had moments ago finished his short program with an impressive 98.21, is pressed to the outer edge of the rink.
Is it stupid, Yuri wonders, for that one stupid comment to be the thing that brings him back from the edge? Is it some sort of internalized sexism that makes him feel so much better, now that his alpha is here to cheer him on?
Yuri winks at Otabek. The camera must catch it, because Yuri hears a large contingent of screaming Angels squeal in response.
The music picks up, and Yuri sweeps into the sound.
[ DOWNLOAD AUDIO ]
Yuri knows why he chose this song. He’ll avoid saying so to the face of any reporter who asks, but Yuri is fully aware of how perfect a reflection it is of his own internal drama. For all the progress he’s made, for all the ways Lashyn and Jane Eyre have helped him to accept his secondary sex, there is still a part of him wondering what the hell he’s doing here. There’s no need to hunt for agape this time. He knows what he’s performing. His anxiety pours out of every movement.
First jump, combination. Quad salchow, triple toe. The audience roars, but Yuri can’t hear it.
Jumping down Victor’s throat for doubting him had been easy if only because Victor was a simpler target than himself. Sexism and fear are easy when they’re in other people, but impossible in the self.
Flying spin, switching feet. A bent back, a straight leg. Keep the free leg tight. Don’t overthink it.
Yuri is the best skater here. He knows that. To some extent, he has always known that. And still, and still, that nagging voice harps in the back of his head, telling him he doesn’t belong. That he’s one slipped word, one misplaced prescription bottle away from ruin, from an omega home, from that stiller, colder doom.
Oh, God, why am I here?
The step sequence through the bridge, a convoluted tangle of limbs, desperate and anxious. Quad flip.
How long can he realistically keep up the charade? When it’s over, what then? Will his medals be withdrawn? Will he be scrubbed from history like Sonia Bernard was? If he manages to keep it a secret, what real mark will he have left if his biggest struggle is never revealed?
Quad lutz, triple salchow. Camel spin. The audience is thundering their applause as the song draws to its fading end, and Yuri feels hollow.
He knows the score before he sees it. He broke a record. How could he not? If art is measured by how much of the artist’s soul is inside it, then Yuri broke the scale, because he feels like there’s nothing left to give.
118.81, reads the Jumbotron screen when he’s sat at the kiss and cry afterwards. Yakov and Lilia leap to their feet, and Yuri sits quietly, wanting to go home.
The music in this chapter was (a slightly edited version of) Alessia Cara's song, "Here."
Yuri has spent the past hour and a half on his phone, running down his battery and using up his data because the rink doesn’t have good wi-fi, scanning all the figure skating newsblogs and RSS feeds. It’s not what he’d call a favored endeavor, but under the circumstances…
“Yura, are you listening?”
“What?” He looks up. “Oh. Yes. I mean, of course I’m listening.”
Otabek doesn’t seem to buy it. Yuri clears his throat. He doesn’t put his phone away, but he does let it drop down to dangle between his knees.
“Not for nothing, but this is kind of important.”
“I know,” Yuri says. He doesn’t remember what it is or why it’s important, but he believes Beka.
“Okay,” he says. “I think we should wait.”
Yuri remembers, then, a moment later. They came to the locker room together, abandoned at this time of day because every other skater is practicing, to talk about sex.
More specifically, having sex. Or as the case may be, not having sex.
“We’re both young and, let’s face it, married to our careers,” Otabek says. “And while I very much am looking forward to it in an abstract sense, I don’t want to rush in. Going too fast can screw things up pretty easily.”
Yuri considers this sentiment for a while and finds it to be mostly true for him, as well. He’s only sixteen, and certainly not in a tearing hurry to lose his virginity. “Agreed,” he says after a moment. “Though I feel like I’d be fine with other stuff.”
Beka grins. “Like phone sex during heats?”
Yuri laughs and smack’s Beka’s arm to distract from his blush. Otabek laughs.
“Like that, for example, yes,” Yuri says. “Like kissing, making out… maybe second base, if I’m feeling it.”
Otabek smirks at first, then takes on a thoughtful look. “Wait, which one’s second base? I’m not good with English metaphors.”
“Handjobs, I’m pretty sure,” Yuri says. “Third is oral, I think.”
Beka pushes off the lockers he’d been leaning against and sits down next to Yuri on the bench. He leans back on outspread arms, one of which crosses Yuri’s back and sends little thrums of pleasure up and down his spine.
“Yeah,” he says, “I think I’d be okay with that, too.”
Yuri grins cattishly.
“The key is to just not do what we aren’t comfortable with,” Otabek says. “Right now, we’re comfortable with kissing and phone sex and maybe second base. Later down the line, when it feels like the right time, maybe we’ll be comfortable with more.”
“I don’t picture it taking too long,” Yuri admits, doing his damndest to fight down the rising heat in his neck. “You know what I haven’t been able to stop thinking about?”
“Well, now I have to know,” Beka says, and Yuri believes him.
“Sharing a heat with you,” Yuri admits, in a bit of a rush. “Not over the phone, I mean.”
Otabek seems both surprised and, to Yuri’s eye, a bit turned on at the same time. “Really?”
“Yeah,” Yuri says, tucking one leg under the other to turn more fully toward Beka. “The first time it happened, I hated it, I was miserable, but after last time…”
Yuri chews at his lower lip. Beka shifts a half-inch closer.
“I don’t know, it just didn’t seem so bad. Just the opposite. I’ve heard so many horror stories about heat, but Lilia told me that if you find an alpha you like, you can start to enjoy them.”
“They are evolutionarily designed that way,” Otabek says. “You wouldn’t mind going off your suppressants?”
“Not for a month or two,” Yuri says. “We’d have to do it in the off-season, and I guess I’d have to get some kind of birth control—”
“We can both find some,” Beka assures him.
“—but, I mean, I don’t know,” he continues. “I just… I like the idea of spending a heat with you. Maybe losing my virginity like that.”
Yuri is only worried about saying too much a split second after he’s said it. He can feel his face go scarlet, but Otabek looks transfixed, almost spellbound.
Without a word, Beka leans in and kisses him. Yuri’s heart stammers against his ribs, and his fingertips curl at the fringe of Otabek’s t-shirt.
God, how did Yuri survive so long without kissing Otabek? Every time it’s happened Yuri has felt like a drowning man gasping for air, like he’d been dying without it and hadn’t even noticed. Yuri loops one arm around Beka’s neck, and Beka’s hands glide down the sides of his ribs, and oh…
Yuri’s phone buzzes in the hand not around Otabek’s neck, and it is perhaps the only thing in the world that could draw him away. He pulls back sharply and looks at his phone screen.
EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS FROM PARIS WORLDS, YURI PLISET… runs the headline, before it’s cut off at the margin of his phone.
Yuri’s heart sinks. “Hang on,” he says.
“Do we have to?” Beka mutters, kissing Yuri’s jaw now that his face is turned away.
Yuri swipes right and pulls up the article linked from the notification. The picture that comes up is immediately recognizable: a snowy Paris street, Yuri and Otabek each with cups of coffee and warm smiles. Yuri fights back as best he can a wave of abject terror and scrolls down to the article.
EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS FROM PARIS WORLDS
YURI PLISETSKY & OTABEK ALTIN: ARE THE FAIRY OF RUSSIA AND THE HERO OF KAZAKHSTAN BISEXUAL?
Skaters making friends is hardly considered news; it happens all the time and has often lead to great things, whether it’s friendly rivalries that improve both parties or some of the best pair skating duos on history. But what happens when two skaters become more than friends?
Perhaps following in the footsteps of his friend and mentor Victor Nikiforov (alpha, 28), Yuri Plisetsky (beta, 16) seems to be pursuing a romantic relationship with an alpha – more specifically, with bronze World medalist and hero of Kazakhstan, Otabek Altin (alpha, 18). The duo was spotted last Tuesday before the official start of Worlds, hand-in-hand on the wintry streets of Paris.
The Ice Network journalist who captured the photos, Roman St-Clair, described the scene as “cozy” and “intimate” upon handing over the pictures, and at first brush the photos seem to agree. Earlier in the season before the Grand Prix Final, the two were spotted riding away from fans on a motorcycle together, but not until now has the context of their unexpected friendship been speculated to be romantic.
Both skaters come from countries with a deep history of bigotry against non-heteronormative, non-breeding bonded pairs, and based on reaction from the Russian government and sponsors to Nikiforov’s homosexual tryst with Yuri Katsuki (alpha, 24), any further development could cause waves.
“Oh, God,” Yuri says miserably. He’d been expecting rumors about him being an omega, but this?
“Is it so important? Because I would really like to go back to the kissing…”
“Beka,” he mutters, “Ice Network just put out… there’s a picture of us…”
“There’s bound to be, this is Worlds,” he says, kisses trailing lower across Yuri’s neck.
“No, you don’t understand. From two days ago, outside Cafe Leche.”
Beka draws back, brow furrowed. “Did they hear our conversation?”
“Even worse,” Yuri says, “they didn’t. They still think I’m a beta. They’re spreading rumors that you’re bisexual.”
Otabek rolls his eyes. “I’ll live,” he says. “Don’t worry about it. What matters is that you’re not outed.”
“Beka, this is serious!” Yuri answers, perhaps a bit too shrilly. “You know what Victor and Katsuki have been going through, I don’t want that to happen to you!”
“Yuri, I promise you it’s fine.”
“I’ve got to find Phichit,” Yuri says, standing up and flipping over to his Messenger app. “If anyone can put a lid on this—”
“Yura, please, I said it’s not a big deal. There’s nothing wrong with being bisexual in the first place, nor indeed is there anything wrong with being romantically associated with you. Yura—!”
But Yuri is already scrambling for the locker room door and firing off a text to Phichit as fast as his fingers allow.
Yuri spends a frustrating half an hour desperately looking for Phichit to no avail, which is mystifying to Yuri if only because up until very recently, Phichit was everywhere, all at once, Instagramming every minute of it. Of course, of course, the moment he actually needs him, he won’t answer his fucking phone.
The rink is packed with skaters, but the stands are empty. That the voice comes from behind Yuri would tell him enough, even if he hadn’t recognized the voice. He spins on a heel.
“Yakov! Have you seen Phichit?”
“What? Who? The Thai?”
“Yes, Phichit Chulanont! Reigning Queen of Instagram? I need to talk to him! Do you—”
“Never mind that,” Yakov says. “Yuratchka, we need to talk.”
“Can it wait? I really need to find Phichit and I don’t think you understand how badly—”
“Yura, there are new photos of you out.”
The only thing that can still the frantic rush of panic, in Yuri’s experience, is the potent paralytic of fear.
Yakov holds up his phone, stony-faced. Its browser is open to the same article Yuri had been looking at less than an hour ago.
“Is there something you want to tell me?” he asks, in that telling tone of voice that lets Yuri know that what he says in response is all but irrelevant.
Yuri swallows. “Yakov—”
“Dammit, boy, do you think this is what your career needs right now? Swirling rumors of bisexuality?”
“Yakov, I can explain.”
“Why do you think I force you to do interviews? Why do you think I drag you to rope lines? It’s not because I like torturing you, it’s because optics matter.”
“How people see you matters. How you act in public matters! What the hell are you doing getting tangled with an alpha, and why do I have to hear about it from Ice Network?”
“We were just getting coffee!” Yuri says. “We didn’t know there was a journalist!”
Yakov looms down over him, seeming so much taller. “You forgot the part where you deny having a relationship with him, Yuratchka.”
God, the look in Yakov’s eyes. What is he supposed to do? He could deny the relationship, but would that be fair to Otabek? He could defend being bisexual, but how many lies can he keep straight in his head? He could tell him the truth, but…
Yuri shudders, folds his arms over his chest. He can’t tell him the truth.
“Yura,” Yakov growls, “it’s one thing for a flighty sixteen-year-old beta to start going through these… these phases—”
“Phichit will be able to help,” Yuri says, glaring down at his feet, hating that he’s on the verge of tears. “He’ll know what to do. He’s dealt with shit like this before.”
“—but you can’t go dragging Otabek Altin into this! He’s an alpha, Yuratchka, a Kazakh alpha, a hero to his country! If you start dragging him down, God help you when Russia starts pruning choices for 2018!”
“You think I don’t know that, Yakov, you shitbag?” Yuri bellows, suddenly. The burning in his eyes gets stronger and the wet heat threatens to spill over. “You think I don’t know, that I haven’t seen what this is doing to Vitya and Katsuki?”
“Then fix this!” Yakov barks. “Stay the hell out of public, or better yet, get over this disgusting phase altogether and find some beta girl!”
God, Yuri wants to scream. He wants to scream and scream and never stop screaming. He hates this, everything about it. Why does who he’s dating have to matter? It’s not anyone’s fucking business, not even Yakov’s!
“That’s enough, Yakov Feltsman,” says a voice from behind. Yuri spins on a heel, and through tear-blurred vision—
“Lilia,” Yakov grumbles, “stay out of this.”
“Absolutely not,” Lilia says, striding forward. Her hair is pulled into her usual severe bun, her long sweater covering her leotard. “I’m not going to sit here and let you berate a boy for going on a date.”
“With an alpha!” Yakov thunders.
“He could have gone on a date with a horse, Yakov, for all it should matter to you,” Lilia answers coolly, putting one arm around Yuri’s shoulders and steering him away. “Leave the boy alone. This way, Yuratchka.”
“One more word and I’ll make you into borscht, Yakov,” she growls, and Yuri is dragged away, away from the rink full of staring alpha skaters, away from whatever press were lucky enough to be in earshot, but it’s not fast enough to outrun the tears that come pouring down his face.
“I want to go back to my room,” Yuri says, barely, once they’re in the hall and far enough away to be out of earshot.
“Yuri,” Lilia says, tone gentle.
“I want to go back—” he chokes, trying to pull away. Lilia catches him by the wrist, however, and pulls him right back over, into a bruisingly tight hug.
And with that, it doesn’t take long for the dam to break and the sobbing to start. Yuri’s hands fist in Lilia’s sweater and he buries his face in her chest. Lilia sits him down on a bench by the wall, stroking a hand through his hair.
“Yakov is a Neanderthal,” Lilia says as Yuri sobs, furious and heartbroken and impotent. “The man acts like we all still live under the Czar.”
Yuri still wants to scream, but now he’s too busy sobbing. God, he hates this. He hates everything about it.
“Listen to me, Yura,” she says, “Free skate is in less than six hours. You’re not going to resolve this with him before then. You’ve got to learn the skill we omegas have spent generations mastering – sitting on your anger and your grief so you can do what needs doing.”
Yuri knows she’s right. Obviously she’s right. He pulls away and draws in stuttering breaths, willing himself to calm down, calm down.
“You are the best damned skater in this building,” Lilia tells him urgently. “You know it, I know it. Hell, Yakov knows it. All that matters now is that you prove it.”
“I don’t know how much longer I can take this, Lilia,” Yuri says. “It’s so exhausting.” And he’s so tired. Tired of lying, tired of having to keep his mouth shut to make other people feel better. Tired of feeling guilty and scared just because he found an alpha he likes. He wishes he could just go home back to Moscow, back to Grandpa and his piroshki. He wishes he’d never presented at all.
“Can you manage eight more hours?”
Yuri rubs vainly at his face with the sleeve of his Team Russia jacket. “Probably.”
“Then manage them. I’ll talk to Yakov. You won’t have to do your presser afterwards, even when you win.”
Yuri manages something like a smile.
“And I have friends in Ice Network,” she continues. “I’ll get them to put a lid on the story for now, though I’ve got no control over social media.”
“You can do that?”
“We’re omega, my dear,” she says, smiling and dabbing at the corner of Yuri’s eye with a handkerchief pulled from her purse. “We look out for our own.”
That is a comforting thought, Yuri has to admit.
All things considered, his free skate song selection is the perfect way to end the season, win or lose.
“Well, hello, pretty miss,” Jean-Jacques chuckles at him as Yuri passes through the rink doors and between the stands leading up to the rink. He’s leaning against the door, smirking like the sleazy alpha dirtbag he is, and Yuri keeps his eyes trained forward. “So glad to hear that you found yourself an alpha. About time.”
Yuri doesn’t answer.
“I’m afraid he can’t hear you over the sound of the gold medal he’s about to win, Mr. Leroy,” Lilia says curtly.
“Get out of your own head, Yuratchka,” Yakov mutters.
But Yuri is beginning to think that in his own head is exactly where he needs to be for this. Yakov would agree, Yuri thinks, if he knew the whole story.
The final strains of Katsuki’s free skate boom through the rink. The applause that answers the sudden silence is thunderous. Victor, of course, is practically vibrating at the rink door, bouncing on his heels and throwing his arms out for him.
“Don’t be fooled by Vitya’s enthusiasm,” Lilia says. “Katsuki fell once and over-rotated on a quad.”
“But he’ll get a high component score to compensate,” Yakov reasons. “So don’t get cocky.”
“Yuri, you did so well!” Victor says, as Katsuki falls into his arms.
“Yurio, davai!” Katsuki says when he sees him over Victor’s shoulders. “I’ll be rooting for you.”
“Thanks,” Yuri says, hoarse.
“Davai!” Victor adds, turning and beaming.
“Suck a knot, Victor.” Even half-dead and on the edge of a meltdown, Yuri has to keep up his standards.
“Yurio!” Victor pouts.
“Leave it, Victor,” Katsuki says, tugging him off to the kiss and cry by the elbow. “Good luck, Yurio!”
Lilia helps Yuri with a few last-minute stretches. When the final score comes up a few moments later—
Yakov whistles low. “303.18,” he says. “Damn near broke Vitya’s old record.”
“Ready?” Lilia asks.
Yuri nods wordlessly. He’s in his own head, because there’s no better place to be under the circumstances. He shrugs off his jacket and tugs off his skate guards. Lilia takes them both.
“Season ends in five minutes,” she says.
“Ladies and gentlemen, representing Russia, Yuri Plisetsky!”
“Make sure Victor watches this,” Yuri tells her. “Let me know what his face looks like when I break the world record.”
She grins. Yuri pushes off the wall and glides into the middle of the rink to screaming applause.
Yuri does not hear it.
Center, center. He chose this music because it felt like it was pulled directly out of his own head. Yakov doesn’t know; Yakov can’t know. Yuri will nail this by staying where he is, right in his own head, burning up in his own anxieties.
[ DOWNLOAD AUDIO ]
Yuri has always liked Creep, and most of Radiohead’s discography in general, but it wasn’t until he listened to it on the plane out of Barcelona that he really started to understand it.
Creep hides behind the flimsy veneer of a love song, but it has nothing to do with love. Fundamentally, it’s a song about self-doubt – even self-hatred. The “you” in the song is almost incidental in its relevance; really, it serves more as a point of contrast for the self-directed inadequacies.
I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul.
Quad flip, triple axel. Yuri can’t hear the crowd over the music.
If there is a god – and Yuri is becoming increasingly sure there is not – then He has a sick sense of humor, or else is wildly incompetent. At the core of all his insecurities is the simple fact that he hates what he’s become. Yuri can scarcely help it; he was raised in a society that trained him to look down on omegas, to measure them by their capacity to carry children. Presenting as one had been the worst whiplash he’d ever experienced, and it seems to be taking the rest of his life down with it.
You’re so very special, I wish I was special.
His vision blurs into the spin.
Yuri misses the way he was, uncomplicated. Betas have their own struggles of course, but at least he could navigate them with familiarity. Now he’s stuck at the center of an awful web – a coach he has to lie to, who’s starting to resent him; a former friend and mentor thinking less of him; an alpha who he adores but who he has to keep lying about; a shitty fucking press who won’t stop making everything worse—
Quad salchow, triple toe, quad lutz – the show-stopper. Yuri hears the applause as a distant, humming rumble.
He had to jump through fire just to keep doing what he loves to do, and still the world insists on punishing him regardless of how fucking careful is. Even hiding his secondary sex, even trying so hard to do it all right…
I don’t belong here.
He holds his finishing pose as long as he can before his knees start to wobble and he capitulates. If anyone’s applauding, he can’t hear it.
Beka wants to come over and congratulate him, Yuri can tell. But with so many press around them, snapping photos and shouting mostly unanswered questions, Yuri has to shake his head. He can’t risk it, not here. The season is so close to over. He doesn’t even have to do the presser, per Lilia’s promise. If he can just make it out of this lobby alive…
Otabek looks good with the heavy bronze medal around his neck, though. Mostly, he’s glad he kept fucking JJ off the podium.
“Congratulations, Yura,” comes an all-too-familiar voice. Yuri fights back the kneejerk reaction to groan and turns. “Stunning free skate. Finally decided to break that quad-triple-quad out for competition?”
Yuri narrows his eyes.
Victor sighs daintily. “Now you’re just being childish.”
And then, something very thin and fragile in Yuri snaps.
“You know what, Victor?” he says. “I am so sick to death your alphacentric quasi-concern I could puke of your Jimmy Choo shoes.”
Victor huffs. “Yura—”
“I won Worlds. I beat your record. I completed a never-before-done jump sequence knowing I couldn’t get points for a third of it, just because I fucking could. And now I have to spend an entire offseason dealing with fallout from a relationship that’s not anyone’s goddamn business but my own, and you just sit there and sigh, like I’m being unreasonable because I won’t just sit my little omega ass down.”
Yuri bites his lip when he realizes he’d been talking a bit too loud. He storms off, away from the lobby. Predictably, Victor follows.
“If anything,” Victor says as they exit to an abandoned hallway veering away from the lobby, “this whole fiasco with Otabek is proof that I was right! That the world of professional skating is ruthless and cruel—”
“If you gave a single fuck about how cruel the professional figure skating world is, Vitya, you’d be pulling out your precious soulbonded the moment you both started getting death threats!”
Victor straightens. “That’s different,” he says.
“Fucking how?” Yuri bellows. “Admit it! You just expect less of me, when you didn’t before, because now you know I’m an omega!”
“That’s not true.”
“Oh, it’s true, it’s just not comfortable. You don’t like admitting to your own fucking hypocrisy!”
Victor’s eyes are narrowed, but he’s shut up, which is a nice change of pace in Yuri’s book.
“I – beat – your – record,” Yuri hisses. “I am one of the youngest World champions in history. I completed an insane jump combo just for the fuck of it. You don’t get to tell me what I’m capable of or what I can handle! I have spent every moment after the Grand Prix questioning myself and my abilities and I don’t need any fucking help from you, Victor! Can’t you see that I’m – God, Victor, I’m barely hanging on as it is! Why are you trying so hard to make it worse?”
Still, Victor doesn’t say anything. Yuri stands across from him, panting and shaking from the abrupt outpouring of – what was it, rage? Anguish? Yuri’s not even sure anymore. He just wants this season to be over.
After a while, Victor lifts two fingers to his chin and glances to the side, looking thoughtful.
“You were impressive,” Victor admits pensively. “Of course, if I’d been competing, I’m sure I’d have still taken gold.”
Yuri scoffs once, folds his arms over his chest. “So fucking arrogant,” he says, but he feels somehow defused. He’s used to the arrogance.
And then, all at once, it occurs to him.
“2018,” Yuri says.
“Helsinki 2018,” Yuri continues. “The Winter Olympics.”
Victor pauses, cants his head to the side. “Do you want to compete against me, Yuratchka?”
“Every day,” Yuri says.
A grin tugs at the corner of Victor’s mouth.
“And if I win – when I win – I want you to cut it the fuck out with this alphacentric bullshit. When I take gold, you shut your goddamn mouth about what I can handle forever. There’s no better platform to prove exactly what this omega can handle.”
“You think Russia’s going to enlist you for 2018?”
“I became a World Champion and record holder at sixteen years old,” Yuri says, lifting up his medal demonstrably. “They’d be fucking stupid not to.”
“You’re not wrong,” Victor says, and Yuri smirks.
The music in this chapter was Radiohead's "Creep" as covered by Postmodern Jukebox. They're an independent musical group so be sure to check them out on YouTube!
Chapter 8: Perspective
“So Victor Nikiforov is officially coming out of retirement, huh?”
“All thanks to me.” Yuri feels like he should be happier about it – after all, the only thing he’d ever wanted since he was a kid was the chance to compete, to really compete, against Victor Nikiforov. But things had changed since then. “And just in time for the Olympics. I feel the hatred of the whole skating world bearing down on me.”
“You’re overthinking it.”
“He’s taken gold three times in men’s singles. Half the world was waiting for him to retire and give everyone else a chance.”
“It’s really not as bad as all that,” Otabek says. Yuri pushes off the bed and walks to the window. Winter’s finally over in Moscow, and the pond at the foot of the hill a mile down the way from his grandfather’s house is still swollen with snowmelt. “Honestly, I’m looking forward to it. Russia has always been the one to beat. If it wasn’t Nikiforov, it would have been you. Still is, to some degree.”
“I guess we’ll find out once and for all,” Yuri mutters. “A not insignificant part of me feels like I only won Worlds because Victor wasn’t competing. Not to mention I feel like I may have wagered the dignity and worth of all omegas when I challenged him.”
“And you still haven’t told Yakov about that, have you?”
Yuri groans long and low.
“I thought you said you’d tell him over the off-season.”
“I did! I meant to,” Yuri says. “I keep trying to write the email, but I just can’t bring myself to hit ‘send.’ He’s such a sexist, and who knows who he’d tell? What if it hurt my chances of going to Helsinki? I haven’t been officially picked yet.”
“Do you really think you could keep up the ruse through the Olympics, Yura? It’s the biggest spotlight there is.”
“Yes,” Yuri says stubbornly. Then, “Maybe. Fuck, I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. There have been omegas in the Olympics before, haven’t there?”
“Three,” Otabek admits, slowly. “But never in figure skating.”
Yuri drops his forehead against the window. “I don’t know what to do,” he admits.
“I feel like it’s a decision you’re going to have to make on your own.”
“Yeah, I have a track record of good decision-making.”
Otabek chuckles in his ear. Yuri grips his phone a bit tighter and feels a lovely-painful twist in his stomach.
“I miss you, Beka,” he says before he can stop himself.
“I miss you, too. I can’t believe it’s only been two months.”
Yuri can’t help but agree. Eight weeks has felt like eighty. The separation hurts, and the hurt seems to intensify as Beka’s pheromones fade from his Team Kazakhstan jacket. Yuri has been wearing it almost constantly for weeks now, and his scent has been harder and harder to detect.
“I miss you so much I’ve been talking to you on the phone for almost an hour and we haven’t had phone sex once,” Yuri says.
Otabek laughs harder. “You sentimental fool,” he teases.
Yuri smiles. “How’s your off-season going?” he asks.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to call it an off-season,” Otabek answers. “The government already has me prepping for Helsinki.”
“So soon? Russia hasn’t even started.”
“It’s somewhat at my coach’s behest, and honestly, I don’t mind too much. If we can medal in skating this year, it will unlock a lot of resources for us.”
“I guess they don’t have to spend a lot of time figuring out who’s going. It’s pretty much just you, isn’t it?”
“In fairness, we’re competing in a lot of sports, but in terms of medaling, most hopes are pinned on me.”
“No pressure,” Yuri grins.
“None whatsoever,” Beka sighs.
“God, I miss Kazakhstan,” Yuri says, collapsing on his bed again. “Is that weird? Like, I miss you, of course, and Lashyn, and even Nika a little bit, but I feel like I also miss Almaty. I miss the city, the mountains. There are no mountains in my shitty corner of Moscow.”
“I’m not going to tell you it’s weird, I love Almaty,” Otabek laughs. “But I’m biased.”
“Do you want to—?”
“Yes,” Yuri interrupts.
“You didn’t even let me finish my question. I was going to ask if you want to spend Eid here.”
“Eid?” It takes Yuri a minute; he’s not as familiar with Islam as perhaps he should be, dating a Muslim alpha. “Oh, right. The Sacrifice Feast, right?”
“Eid al-Adha,” Otabek confirms. “It’s at the end of August, beginning of September this year. Used to be, Dad cooked a feast big enough for an army and then invited half the city. Since she died, though, it’s been me cooking more reasonable sized portions and just close friends and family.”
“I do love your cooking,” Yuri admits. Maybe it’s because he associates being cooked for with being loved – his mother, when she was alive, had never lifted a finger for him, and it was his grandpa’s cooking that Yuri had come to associate with his affection, just as unexpected and wonderful – but it might also be because Otabek is just a really good cook.
“You never got to see our mosque, anyway. And God knows Mom has not stopped asking about you for a second since you left. I think in her head we’re already pairbonded and married and on our third pup.”
Yuri laughs without meaning to, mostly because it’s funny to imagine Lashyn so desperate for grandkids, but also a little bit because the image – Otabek’s bond bite on his neck, a ring on his finger, his belly swollen with a third child – makes him feel kind of warm inside.
“That sounds really good,” Yuri says. Then, stuttering, “The – uh, the trip – the trip sounds good. Not that the other thing doesn’t – uh—”
Otabek bursts into laughter. Yuri huffs.
“Shut up,” he says.
“You’re so cute when you’re flustered,” Otabek teases.
“I think you need this, anyway,” Otabek says. “You need to get out of Russia for a while, and stop thinking about your career and your secondary sex.”
Yuri sighs. He has a hard time disagreeing.
Weeks pass as though they were months, months like years. The distance is the worst of it. Separation feels like a knife wound that gets deeper every day he’s not near Otabek. In another situation he’d be grossed out by himself and his own infatuation, but he misses him too much to care. Skyping and – yes – phone sex help, but not as much as they used to.
Spring turns to summer, and even though Yuri had spent the better part of four months away from the ice, he’s called back to it one unremarkable June day with a short email from Yakov.
He heads to the rink without much pretense – after all, they don’t usually reconnect until September, but June isn’t unheard of – so he’s surprised to see a small cadre of reporters waiting just outside his home rink.
“Mr. Plisetsky!” they all seem to shout at once the moment he climbs out of the Uber, and Yuri sneers at them. He’d been doing a good job of ignoring them, if only because none of them knew where he lived, but perhaps it was a bit short-sighted to assume the new World Champion could avoid them forever.
In any case, they’re all talking over each other to the point where any one question is lost among all the others.
“Fuck off,” he snarls, pushing his way through them and into the rink. This time of year, it’s mostly reserved for rich kids who take three months of lessons and then get bored – not that Yuri has anything against that system, necessarily, since it does keep the bills paid.
He pushes his sunglasses into his hoodie pocket once he’s inside and searches the foyer for Yakov. It’s not until he makes it into the rink proper that he finds him, running through drills with a small group of eight-to-twelve-year-olds.
He turns. “There’s my World Champion!”
Yuri frowns. Maybe Yakov forgot their argument about Otabek, but Yuri certainly hasn’t. The group of kids wobbling around on the ice stop, stare, and then start to mutter among themselves.
“How are you, Yuratchka?”
“Super,” he answers flatly. “What do you want?”
“I’ve got good news. Let’s talk in my office. Kids, keep running those single loops!”
Yuri follows him out of the rink and up to his office, still an office only under the loosest definition. As soon as Yuri lets the door fall shut behind him, Yakov waves a massive envelope in his face. It’s cream-colored, opened, and emblazoned with some official-looking governmental seal.
“You know what this is?”
“No,” Yuri says warily.
Yakov huffs. “Let me make it easier, then.”
He pulls out the thick sheaf of papers from inside. The first thing Yuri sees is the Olympic logo emblazoned across the letterhead.
Suddenly, Yuri’s heart is beating very fast.
“They want you, Yuri.”
“The Olympic committee!” Yakov says. “They’ve chosen not one, but three of my pupils for the Olympics this year. And you’re one of them!”
Realistically, Yuri knew this was coming. When a Russian wins Worlds, it’s all but a foregone conclusion that they’ll be invited to the Olympics the next year. Still, seeing the Olympic rings, glossy and bright on the official letter – it’s another thing entirely.
“Wow,” is all Yuri can manage.
“That’s right, wow. Congratulations, Yuri. You’ve earned this, you really have.”
Yuri tries to swallow the knot of something in his throat, to middling success.
“You’ve got to sign some stuff, of course,” Yakov says, heading over to his desk, still stacked high with boxed files and detritus. “And we’ll have to set up a few appointments with various officials, but right now what’s important is that we lay the foundation for the season.”
“Right…” Yuri’s head is still swimming. It hasn’t quite hit him, perhaps, that his government has singled him out to represent the country as the best athlete in his sport, to compete on the biggest stage there is.
Yakov sits and motions Yuri to do the same. Yuri sinks, weak-kneed, onto an unopened crate full of ice skates.
“You won’t be competing in anything else this season, of course,” Yakov says. “I want you completely focused on the Olympics. The Grand Prix, Europeans, Worlds… they’re peanuts to an Olympic medal.”
He’s not wrong.
“So the season, such as it is, will be nothing but preparation for that,” Yakov says. “And the most important part is going to be coming up with routines designed to win.”
God, his routines. How do you even start choreographing routines for the Winter Olympics? How do you even try?
“And if there’s anything I learned from last season, it’s to trust your instincts in that department. So tell me, Yuratchka – where do we start?”
Last season, his instincts had come up with two routines that, while challenging and artistically ambitious, were at their core intensely self-critical, almost painful every time he performed them. They were powerful because they were meaningful, and they were meaningful because Yuri had been drowning in self-hatred, and he’d used his routines to express it.
Yuri swallows. The silence between them draws too long.
“Yuri?” Yakov prompts.
He has to tell him. Doesn’t he? Now would be the time, if there ever was a time for such a discussion. Yakov, I’m an omega. Surely it would be better to tell him now, to say it now, before circumstance did it for him.
“Yuri, are you all right?” Yakov asks.
What is he supposed to do? Yuri has dreamed about being an Olympian since he was a child. He wants this, more than he’s ever wanted anything, and saying it now could put that at risk. But can he really survive another season living under that ten-mile-long shadow? Last time he tried it had reduced him to tears on the ice in front of God and everyone.
He sits silent, mouth half-open, and can’t manage a single word.
The thought of Eid, of going back to Kazakhstan and seeing Beka and Nika and Lashyn and Almaty again, keeps him going for three more months. It makes his schoolwork easier, makes his daily strength and cardio training less monotonous. It even makes his continued inability to just email Yakov with Hey I’m an omega btw feel less shameful.
When summer starts its long goodbye, when August draws to an end, Yuri packs his bags and flies out to Almaty. What surprises him the most is after making it through customs, after heading out into the terminal, being hit by Nika in a flying tackle, being embraced by Otabek, having his head peppered with kisses by Lashyn – it all feels less like going somewhere, and more like coming home.
“Darling, it’s so good to see you!” Lashyn says, hugging him tightly. “Beka told me about your selection by the Olympic committee – congratulations!”
Yuri smiles into her shoulder. “Thanks,” he mutters.
“I never had any doubt in you for a second. You and Otabek are going to be keeping each other on your toes!”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Beka says.
“Let’s take a selfie!” Nika volunteers, and before anyone can say anything to the contrary, she pulls out her phone. It ends up being a cute one, in any case, all of them crushed together into the too-small frame, smiling.
“Where’s your bag?”
“I had to gate-check it,” Yuri says. “It should be on the carousel.”
“I’ll get it!” Nika volunteers at once, before bounding off.
“Nika!” Lashyn calls, going after her.
Yuri grins as he watches, then looks back to Beka.
“Eid mubarak,” he says.
Otabek smiles. “Eid mubarak,” he answers. “I missed you desperately,” he continues, and pulls Yuri forward with two arms around his waist to kiss him.
Oh, Yuri’s mind answers at once. Somehow, he had nearly forgotten that kissing Otabek was like breathing.
Yuri’s arms move up around Beka’s shoulders, and Beka’s hands on his hips draw him in closer. Homegrown coriander and fancy shampoo, sharp aftershave, subtle alpha pheromones, God. Yuri’s whole body thrums in Otabek’s arms as he opens his mouth into the kiss and presses into him. It is the easiest thing in the world for him to forget the near-physical pain he’d been in over the past five months, being so far away from him.
The kiss eventually ends, but only so Otabek can bury his nose in Yuri’s hair and breathe deeply. “We should have budgeted more time than a week,” he says.
“Preparations—” Yuri begins, but Otabek cuts him off.
“I know, I know.” He withdraws, ghosts his fingertips around the back of Yuri’s neck. “Still.”
“Yuri,” calls Lashyn from a distance, “if you don’t want Nika rifling through your things and posting them on Instagram—”
Yuri laughs because he knows she’s joking, but leaves anyway because he’s not sure to what degree. In any case, he keeps his fingers threaded through Otabek’s all the way out of the airport.
They barely have time to drop Yuri’s things off at home and get changed before they go driving back into the city. It is Eid, after all, and before they can get to the feasting part (Otabek already had something delectable smelling roasting in the oven that Yuri noticed when he passed the kitchen), custom demands a trip to the mosque.
In their case, the Central Mosque, and Yuri hadn’t really been prepared for how beautiful it was.
“Wow,” is Yuri’s first reaction. “Beka, you should have taken me here last time! This place is gorgeous.”
“It’s not our usual mosque,” Otabek explains. “We usually attend one a little closer to home, but for the big holidays… well, Mom is an MP, and this is the biggest mosque not in the capitol.”
There’s an imam by the door, greeting people as they file through the tall double doors, slowly due to sheer volume. As Yuri is poised to ask for last-minute etiquette tips (he did some Googling before he arrived, but better safe than sorry), Lashyn makes a quiet sound of surprise behind him.
“Ah! Omar, hello.”
“Hello, Mrs. Altin. Eid mubarak.”
“Eid mubarak! How’s your family?”
“Very well. Would you be opposed to a picture?”
Yuri turns around. He hadn’t even noticed, but there are several reporters lined up along the side of the steps leading up to the front. Perhaps Yuri hadn’t noticed them because none of them are shouting questions or shoving their cameras in anyone’s face.
“I suppose a few would be all right. We do have a guest, so be gentle with him. Yuri, do you mind?”
“I – uh, I guess not,” Yuri says.
“Sorry, dear,” she says, ushering him forward. “This shouldn’t take too long.”
He and the Altin family stand for a few pictures by most of the press. Yuri finds it strange, he slowly realizes, because they’re all being so polite.
“I’m not used to the press asking for permission to take photos,” he says, to no one in particular.
“Who’s your guest, Mrs. Altin?” one of the reporters asks.
“This is Yuri Plisetsky. He’s a friend of my son’s.”
“Yuri Plisetsky, who took gold at Worlds this March?”
The cameras go off a few more times, this time more focused on Yuri. And yes, it’s not just Yuri, they’re all very polite. It’s kind of disorienting.
“Eid mubarak, Yuri. What brings you to Kazakhstan?” asks one of the other reporters, not Omar this time.
“I was invited for Eid,” he answers. He’s not used to being nice to reporters, but then, he’s not used to them being nice to him. “The Altins are like a second family to me.”
The reporters seem various shades of surprised and delighted by the news. A few of them start recording on their phones.
“I think the prayer is starting,” Nika says.
“Goodness, I didn’t realize we were that late. Thank you all, but we should get inside.”
“Yuri, would you be opposed to a more extended interview with the Caravan?”
“I’ll give him your card if he’s interested, Omar, don’t be pushy!” Lashyn says good naturedly, before ushering Yuri and her two children through into the mosque. Once they’re inside (and wow, Yuri scarcely has time to notice, the inside is just as beautiful as the outside), she adds, “I’m sorry about that.”
“No, no, no, it’s fine,” he assures her. “I’m not used to reporters being so polite.”
“They love Beka,” Nika says, “so they’re always super nice to him.”
“The Hero of Kazakhstan,” Lashyn croons, and Otabek groans. “It even makes my job as a member of the opposition party easier, somehow.”
Yuri looks back through the mosque doors, thinking that perhaps he might do that extended interview after all, if everyone’s so nice about it.
“It’s out behind the mosque,” Beka says. “You can just stay toward the back, Yuri, it shouldn’t take long.”
Yuri can already hear the distant, melodic prayer echoing through the mosque, and he walks back out into the sunshine after the sound.
“It’s an Eid tradition,” Lashyn insists.
“I don’t think it can be a tradition if it’s the first year,” Nika says.
Omegists are made, not born, Yuri reads, head leaned against the window of the Maserati. One does not become an advocate of omegist politics simply by having the privilege of having been born omega. Like all political positions, one becomes a believer in omegist politics through choice and action.
“Well, then it’s going to become an Eid tradition,” Lashyn says. “I think there’s no better time of year for it. This is what the holiday is about, isn’t it?”
“Eid is about omega homes?” Nika returns.
“Charity and sharing, Nika, thank you for your input,” Lashyn says, rumpling her hijab.
When omegas first organized in groups to talk together about the issue of sexism and alpha domination, they were clear that omegas were socialized to believe sexist thinking and values as alphas, the difference being simply that alphas benefitted from sexism more than omegas and were as a consequence less likely to want to surrender patriarchal privilege.
“Besides, I think it’s important that we’re all involved in it. This omega home is going to be remembered as our family’s legacy. And I think in general it’s enlightening.”
Before omegas could change patriarchy, we had to change ourselves; we had to raise our consciousness.
“Don’t you think so, Yuri?”
“Hm?” He looks up. “What? Sorry. I was…”
“How are you liking bell hooks?” Lashyn asks, smiling at him from the rear-view mirror.
“Definitely interesting,” Yuri mutters, trying to find where he’d left off on the page.
“You can keep that one, too,” she says. “But you may want to earmark the page; we’re just about there.”
“That’s my favorite of hers,” Otabek says next to him. Yuri smiles at him.
They make a right turn onto a crunching gravel road up a hill. Yuri can see it through the trees, large and stately, with a small parking lot off to the side, and a big sign out front: ALTIN OMEGA HOME. Yuri wets his lips and tucks the book into his hoodie pocket.
“Can I play ping-pong?” It’s the first thing Nika asks when they park and climb out of the car.
“No more tournaments this time,” Lashyn says. Nika beams and hurries toward the door. “And no betting pools either!”
“Didn’t you say you’d been here before, Beka?” Yuri asks, eyeing the building. The shingles are weathered but well-kept, and the windows are all lit.
“Yeah, a few times. Usually in the off-season.”
“These omegas,” Yuri says as they climb up to a bright red front door, “if they have access to heat suppressants, why do they still come to an omega home?”
“Well, in the first case, not all of them do,” Lashyn explains. “Some can’t afford to take them regularly. Others have adverse reactions. Some are ideologically opposed. Some don’t have anywhere else to go, heat suppressants or not. In any case, it’s not really the place of an omega home to question their motivations.”
The inside is homier than Yuri had expected it to be. The front desk, such that it is, is small and mahogany, staffed by a beta nurse with a pen through her bun, tapping at a laptop.
“Hello, Lashyn. I saw your daughter run past.”
“Don’t let her take any money. If you hear her asking for bets—”
“We have new rules in place around betting,” Saya assures her.
“I rely on your expertise,” Lashyn says. “Come on, Yuri, let me show you around.”
Yuri tears his eyes away from the newly reupholstered furniture in the lobby to the double doors leading into a large lounge. He follows her inside, where bright sunlight is streaming in through a bay window and a few people – omegas, Yuri can only presume – are scattered through the room, watching TV, tapping at computers and phones, reading, chatting. Nika is already at the ping-pong table in the corner trying to find an opponent (“We all remember last time, Evnika Altin!”).
“You know why I took you here, I hope,” Lashyn says.
“Looking for a new recruit?”
Lashyn chuckles. “I’m afraid, without citizenship, you don’t qualify,” she says. “I took you here because I think it’s important for you to understand why omega homes exist, understand the history and context.”
“I think I know more than I care to about the history of omega homes,” Yuri mutters.
“It’s true, they haven’t always been this,” Lashyn says. “Most places in the world, they very much are not like this. I know Russia has stubbornly been clinging to the bottom of the list for omegas’ general welfare. But this is what progress looks like. I want you to understand that there are reasons to be hopeful.”
They walk through to some kind of mess hall, where scattered omegas are having lunch in the sunlight pouring in through two French doors.
“Two years ago, the best a Kazakh omega could have hoped for was to be born into enough money to marry someone they love, instead of whatever rich alpha donated enough to their home,” Lashyn says. “And it’s not like the Kazakh government didn’t fight me every step of the way. This is a government with deep, deep flaws. But through blood, sweat, tears, and persistence, the laws once restricting us were changed to help us. We offer education, employment training, scholarships, resources…”
“Are you saying I should get political?”
Lashyn smiles patiently. “Yuri, your mere existence is political. Your being an omega in a world that values alphas is political. What I want for you is to know that if anything is going to change, it’s going to be because of omegas like you doing things like this.”
She gestures to the mess hall. A pair of omegas pass with plates full of food, laughing at a joke one of them told.
“And things like this can happen. They do. But not because we hid from ourselves and the rest of the world.”
Yuri’s eyes fall. “You think I should tell people I’m an omega,” he says. It’s not really a question.
“I don’t think you should do anything you aren’t comfortable with,” Lashyn says. “But I also think it’s important that you understand the source of your discomfort. That’s why I gave you bell hooks.”
“I just don’t want to risk everything,” Yuri says. “I see – I get it, I understand your point, Lashyn, but I’ve worked so hard to get where I am, and I’m so close to reaching the apex. I’m about to compete in the Olympics! If I out myself now, if I get pulled, all my years of work, what will they have been worth?”
“What will they have been worth if you keep your secret forever? If your victories only reflect a part of who you are?” she asks, voice sad.
Yuri swallows. It was the same question that had been nagging at him for months.
“You kept that secret last season and you ended it by breaking down into tears on the ice. You may not be happy after you’ve outed yourself, but you’re clearly not happy now, either.”
Yuri rubs resentfully at his eye with the sleeve of his hoodie.
Lashyn pulls him into her arms, and Yuri gladly buries his face in her shoulder.
“Getting political doesn’t mean being an MP for the opposition and opening up an omega home,” she says. “It can be as simple as being who you are while being the best at what you do. There’s more power in that than I think you know.”
“Mom?” comes Beka’s voice from behind. “I, uh… I don’t want to interrupt, but I think Nika is running books on ping-pong again.”
Yuri laughs wetly and Lashyn sighs.
“My daughter the entrepreneur,” she laments. “Are you going to be all right, dear?”
Yuri wishes he knew.
Sucks that we missed our goodbyes to your practice, but I didn’t want to leave you empty-handed.
When you gave me your Team Kaz jacket, I didn’t anticipate that it would be quite as helpful as it ended up being. The smell of you made the distance hurt less.
I wore this for three months without neutralizers, so there shouldn’t be any dilution. Don’t even think about complaining about the print. You know leopard print is awesome.
If Nika asks, it’s my Eid present to you. If I ever see a photo of you wearing it in public, I know you’ll be thinking of me.
Chapter 9: Politics
TRIGGER WARNING: This chapter comes with a non-explicit but fairly emotionally intense depiction of what is effectively rape by instrumentation. If it makes you uncomfortable, you should be able to skip the scene to the section break without missing anything.
In the end, it’s some virulent combination of curiosity and paranoia that sends Yuri on a day trip to Vasilyev’s Home for Omegas, and there is some part of him that regrets coming the moment he rolls up in the Uber.
“Gaming for a wife, buddy?” asks the driver, craning around the front seat and grinning lecherously. “I hear they charge extra for betas.”
Yuri doesn’t answer, silently deciding not to give him a shitty review on the app.
When the beat-up Volkswagen rattles back down the weed-splintered asphalt on which it arrived, Yuri is left standing in front of a shitty, dilapidated what-used-to-be-a-sanitarium, alone on a hill surrounded by desiccated conifer trees. The roof is missing shingles, and more than a few of the front windows are cracked or broken altogether. Even from outside and several yards away, Yuri can hear the muffled sound of screaming from inside.
He can’t just go back. He’s thirty miles from home, and in any case, he doesn’t want to get back in the car with Captain Shit-Eater.
Yuri wrings his hand around his phone, takes a steadying breath, and heads up the path leading to the wide double doors, which open automatically with a squeal of metal on metal.
The lobby is tile and aging paisley paint and is so dirty that it awakens Yuri’s inner germophobe. There’s a young man – alpha, by the smell, and very young, not much older than Yuri – behind a long front desk with a pair of oversized headphones on. There are chairs lined up along the walls, though most of them don’t look like they’d hold up to a stiff breeze, let alone a human body. One fluorescent light over Yuri’s head flickers and buzzes.
Yuri wonders how many degrees of separation kept him out of a place like this, and slowly heads up to the desk.
The receptionist doesn’t notice him.
Yuri clears his throat.
Yuri’s thin and fragile patience snaps abruptly and he yanks the stupid Beats By Dre headphones right off his ears, letting them clatter onto the desk.
“If I’d been a fucking rapist, I could have wandered right past you, jackass,” Yuri says.
“Watch the fucking merchandise,” the receptionist answers, unhappily. “Jesus. Name and appointment time?”
“I don’t have an appointment.”
“Well, I hope you’re not asking for an under-the-table deal after you nearly busted my 5000 ruble headphones.”
Yuri’s chest feels as though it floods with cold water. “What under-the-table deal?”
“The same deal all you shitty sex-starved betas are after, don’t play dumb,” he says, mild annoyance flaring into outright antagonism. “It’s not the same for betas, you know. You’ve got to be an alpha to really appreciate a heat. Trust me, I know.”
Yuri stares at him, dumbfounded. “Are you telling me that you pimp out and rape these omegas, and it happens so frequently that you’re just willing to fucking admit it to whatever asshole wanders in?”
“Well excuse me, precious,” the receptionist jeers. “Shall we also have a sit-down about where your childhood dog went, too? It wasn’t to the farm.”
“This is a government-run facility!” Yuri says. “You could lose your funding and be shut down! Hell, you could go to jail!”
“I’m shaking in my boots.” He sits back in his chair, scoffing. “Don’t you have to not be gagging for a knot for it to be rape?”
There are a lot of things happening in Yuri’s head all at once.
First and foremost, he’s angry. He’s furious, actually, that it took him all of twenty seconds to uncover a massive sex slavery ring tacitly sanctioned by his own government. He’s furious that there could be alphas in this place, right now, actively raping omegas who are too heat-drunk to consent.
Beyond the anger, he feels absolutely disconsolate. This is what happens, what really happens? What could have happened to him, if his mother had bothered to get an ultrasound? All those horrifying rumors on the Internet were understatements all this time?
Underneath the anger and the grief, there’s a cold knot of nausea.
His eyes trail down to the aging plastic name tag pinned to his scrub top. Wordlessly, Yuri rips it off his shirt and heads for the door leading further into the facility.
“Hey!” the alpha shouts after him. “You can’t just go in there!”
Yuri stops in the door, turns slowly, and stares him down.
“I don’t think I gave you my name. You did ask for it, didn’t you?”
The alpha narrows his eyes.
“My name is Yuri Plisetsky. Six months ago, I became a World Champion competitive figure skater and as a result was fingered to compete in the upcoming Winter Olympics. In less than three weeks I’m going to be meeting the President face-to-face so he can congratulate me, and do you want to guess what I’m going to bring up when that happens—” (Yuri looks down at the name tag still in his hand) “—Iliya Petrov?”
Yuri feels a savage, visceral satisfaction in the way the blood drops from his face.
“Good to meet you,” he growls, and storms inside.
His hands are shaking, but he holds the name tag tight, keeps his eyes forward. He doesn’t even know why he’s continuing on. He got the answers he wanted, didn’t he? What conditions are Russian omegas living in? Answer: shitty ones. Are the rumors of them being raped for graft true? Answer: yes. What more is Yuri looking for? Maybe to catch some wayward alpha in the act and beat the shit out of him? The idea is not wholly unappealing, though Yuri doubts he’s a match for a rutting alpha.
He doesn’t need to look too hard to find the hallway of heat rooms, in any case. All he has to do is follow the sound of sobbing moans and loud, whirring machinery. The rooms seem to be repurposed isolation chambers, probably for the lunatics this building used to house. Yuri can see the padded walls through the open doors, and inside—
Yuri stops halfway down the hall when the scent of heat hits him. Inside one rather unremarkable room—
—(Yuri covers his mouth and has to close his eyes, the nausea is no longer primarily emotional, it’s physical, and he feels vomit creeping up the back of his throat)—
—scratch-covered padding, a metal bed frame with a threadbare mattress; a young omega, no older than 13, tied face down on the bed – while the machine, built into the wall—
—he’s screaming, sobbing, Yuri turns away, he covers his face with both hands, God, no, please no. It’s worse than anything he’d pictured – the straps, the pistoning of the machine, the filth-soaked sheets—
Yuri barely makes it to the bathroom down the hall before he vomits his lunch.
Throat burning with tears and bile, eyes blurred, Yuri collapses against the cracked tile wall and tries to remember how to breathe.
It takes him a moment to find his voice. “Lashyn, is this a bad time?”
“I can call back later if you want.”
On the other end of the line, Yuri can hear papers shuffling. “I can clear out a few minutes. Parliament’s in session, but we’ve gone into recess. Is something wrong?”
Yuri forces himself to smile so there’s nothing too obvious in his voice. “Nothing’s wrong,” he lies. “I just wanted to call. I miss Almaty already.”
“So do I, darling. It’s always the worst part about being an MP, all that travel,” she sighs, clucks her tongue. “How are preparations for the Olympics going?”
“Not really started,” Yuri says. Smalltalk is hard, but Yuri feels like he desperately needs the sense of normality. He curls his legs up to his chest and rests his chin on his knees, dragging folds of bedsheets with the movement. “Yakov wants me to come up with a theme for the season. I’m having trouble.”
“If your last season was anything to go by, I’m sure you’ll manage it in the end. Are you sure you’re all right, dear? Your voice sounds…”
He had been trying, in his defense. He’d thought it would be comforting just to hear her voice after everything, and to some degree it is. Just not comforting enough, apparently. No amount of motherly warmth can get the memories out of his mind.
“Yuri? Are you still there?”
“I… yes. I just, I…”
“You’re starting to worry me,” Lashyn says.
Yuri swallows. “I went to an omega home.”
“Just to see,” he says. “I had on neutralizers. I just wanted to see what it was like there. There’s one about a half hour from where I live, and I…”
The silence on Lashyn’s end says far more than any amount of words could.
Yuri swallows and hugs his knees all the closer to his chest. “I mean, I don’t know what I was expecting, but somehow it was worse.”
“Yuri,” she says gently, “I could have told you that. I hope you didn’t see any alphas…?”
“No, no alphas,” Yuri whispers. “Just the machines.”
“Right,” Lashyn says, voice pained. “I’m familiar.”
The mere suggestion that Lashyn, his Lashyn, the closest thing Yuri has ever had to a mother, was ever in a place like that makes Yuri viscerally sick. “Lashyn – God, I never even—”
“It’s all right, darling. I was one of the luckier ones, as luck goes among omegas,” she says. “I’m sure it wasn’t easy seeing it.”
Yuri’s throat closes up.
“But you have seen it now. And once you’ve seen it, you are confronted with the most important question you’re ever going to ask yourself. What now?”
“I don’t know,” Yuri chokes. “Is this the change of consciousness bell hooks talked about? Because it fucking sucks and I hate it.”
“I know,” Lashyn answers, voice gentle. “You change your consciousness, but the world doesn’t change with it. The only difference seems to be that you see the world for exactly what it is, and how very little is within your power to change. But you are going to measure yourself for the rest of your life by what you choose to do from this point on, do you understand? Even as it feels like there’s nothing you can do.”
“You told me that there was power in just being myself, but after…” Yuri shudders, forces the memories back down. “It’s not enough. That’s not enough for me anymore.”
“Then do more,” she says.
A pause. Yuri listens desperately, hoping for any answer at all that will, if nothing else, let him navigate out of this feeling of eclipsing hopelessness.
“Do you still have that card I gave you?”
He doesn’t sleep well for a while. Calling the number on that card feels less like an act of charity and more like a desperate bid for self-preservation. The meeting is set up for the week after, at an unduly sunny cafe in St. Petersburg.
“Omar?” Yuri says when he walks up to his table.
“The same,” he answers. “I’m surprised you called me.”
“I’m surprised you came all the way to St. Petersburg.”
Omar grins. He sets down his large Nikon camera case on the table and sits down across from Yuri, who’s already halfway done with his cafe latte. “Caravan has an office in St. Petersburg. I was here anyway when I got your call.”
Yuri pauses, nods. “That’s why I chose yours over other publications. Wider distribution.”
“Well, twist my arm,” he says. “You’ve become quite popular in Kazakhstan, you know. The fastest way to gain notoriety in Almaty is to get in with the Altins. You said it was okay for me to take pictures?”
“Yeah, sure.” Yuri doesn’t feel particularly photogenic at the moment, but then, he never really does. He finishes off his coffee while Omar snaps on the fancy lens; the first few pictures he takes are of Yuri drinking his latte.
“You can ask some other questions if you like, but I’d like to focus as much as possible on the charity,” Yuri continues, once Omar looks like he’s done.
“I’ll try to keep the focus,” he says, setting down the camera and producing his phone, where Yuri supposes he’s opening up an app to record the conversation. “I guess let’s start with an introduction for readers who might not be familiar with you and your connections to Kazakhstan. Can you give us a run-down of your skating pedigree?”
It takes Yuri a while to come up with a list that’s relevant but not too long. It’s not an easy balance to strike. He’s won a lot.
“Three-time Junior World champion,” he begins, “and in my first senior season I took gold in Russian Nationals, Europeans, and Worlds. Fingered for 2018 Olympics as of a few weeks ago.”
“When did you meet Otabek Altin? He’s a bit of a local hero in Kazakhstan.”
“The Grand Prix last season,” Yuri says.
“And you hit it off?”
Memories of Yuri’s prothestrus flash vividly in his mind.
“Better than I think either of us anticipated,” he answers slowly.
“Would it be imprudent to ask for comment on the rumors of bisexuality?”
Yuri sips his drink en lieu of answering.
“Okay, fair enough,” Omar says gently. “Word is you also got along with the Altin matriarch, Lashyn Altin, MP.”
“Famously,” Yuri says. “She spent much of my first visit to Almaty blowing my mind, and much of the second expanding it. I owe all ensuing charitable efforts to her entirely.”
“Wow,” Omar says. “I don’t know how familiar you are with Kazakh politics, but that’s pretty big news. Lashyn Altin is the only member of her party elected to Parliament, and has been dogged in social reform efforts that haven’t always gone over well with the major party. She’s received a lot of political backlash, and many speculate that it’s only due to her son that she…”
Yuri waits for Omar to finish the point, but he doesn’t. Yuri can’t blame him. He’s gotten to know Kazakhstan better and better these past few months, and he knows that its government isn’t much better off than Russia’s. Enemies of the ruling party don’t last long in either country most times.
“I don’t want to comment too much on the state of your political system,” Yuri says, “if only because it’s not really my place to do so, as a noncitizen. But I’ll say this much – I trust and adore Lashyn Altin, and have come to profoundly respect her sense of political and social justice. If it weren’t ethically dubious for me to do so, I’d endorse her for her next election. I never had a mother growing up, but if I…”
Yuri fades. Maybe that’s a bit too personal.
Omar writes something down on a small pad of paper, smiling to himself.
“Let’s move on to your charity drive,” Omar says. “You’ve donated your winnings from the World Figure Skating Championships to the Omegist Political Action Fund. Tell us a little bit about it.”
“It’s a nonprofit charity and political organization campaign that works to forward disenfranchised omegas all over the world, but particularly in Central and Southeastern Asia,” Yuri says. “I’m starting up a crowdsourced charity drive next week, and I’ll match the donation pool up to 200,000 rubles.”
“Wow. What made you choose OPAF over comparable organizations?”
“I’ve spent the past week reaching out to several organizations, doing vetting research. OPAF struck me as the worthiest. They have the biggest reach and are doing the most desperate work. In Asian countries, including Russia, eight out of ten omegas are raped in their lifetimes under the definitions set out by international law. The work to fix it will be immeasurable, but it starts with groups like OPAF.”
Omar scribbles something else down. “You’re very passionate about omegas’ rights. Was this MP Altin’s doing?”
“She certainly got the ball rolling,” Yuri admits, “but I recently had the dubious distinction of going to a Russian omega home not far from where I live. What I saw…”
If Yuri keeps thinking about it, he’s going to vomit. Again. He takes a steadying sip of coffee, now mostly gone.
“An omega cannot consent to sex while they are in heat, full stop,” Yuri says. “And if there’s anyone out there who honestly thinks they aren’t being prostituted against their will in omega homes, they’re either lying to themselves or aren’t paying attention. Omegas should have the right to bodily autonomy, and the fact that this needs to be said in 2017 is mystifying to me.”
Omar turns around in his chair and asks the barista for two more coffees. He turns around again while she heads off to the grinder.
“Let’s talk about omega homes,” Omar says, and settles in.
The thing about professional athletes is that they usually start young. And the thing about being a professional anything when you’re that young – in my case, only eleven – is that in some ways you grow up way too fast, and in some areas you don’t grow up at all.
The point I’m trying to make is that this whole thing might be extremely delayed teenage angst. I’m told this is a thing that happens – a young teenager realizes for the first time that the world isn’t perfect after all, and then immediately decides that it must be complete garbage, and then they start shopping at Hot Topic and listening to My Chemical Romance or whatever.
Well, I’m sixteen now, seventeen in a few months. I don’t have a lot of teenager left in me, chronologically speaking. But I spent most my teenage years mastering quadruple jumps and training at the barre, so I never really had time to notice that the world was shitty until the shittiness came to me.
But that’s a story for another day. Maybe.
I’m doing my best to forego the eyeliner and septum piercings, though, and am trying to dive right into the adult response of social responsibility. Okay, the world is shitty. I have the power to make it less shitty, more than most. I have a platform, I have an audience, I have 150,000 followers on Twitter. I can use that to my advantage.
Hi, I’m Yuri Plisetsky, World Champion figure skater, and an omegist. There are a lot of problems in this world, and the fact that omegas are raped at rates triple that of any other demographic is only one of them. I might get to the other stuff later, but for now, I’m starting a charity drive for the Omegist Political Action Fund. Link down below. I’m going to match up to 200,000 rubles.
Welcome to my new blog.
The reporters are shouting different things than normal, a fact that Yuri only notices because they are also much louder than normal. Still, with his earbuds in, it all just sounds like white noise.
Yakov is waiting for him in the lobby, looking sour. Yuri frowns and closes out of iTunes.
“What’s up your butt?”
“Why am I the last person to find out that you did an article for Caravan?” he asks, arms folded over his chest.
Yuri rolls his eyes. “You’d have found out earlier if you knew how to use Twitter, old man.”
“I’m your coach, Yuri. You’re supposed to run this kind of thing by me before you do it. And since when the hell have you gotten political?”
“My mere existence is political,” Yuri says, before realizing he’s quoting Lashyn.
“And you had to start showing it now?”
Together, they start walking down the hall. Yuri would be more awed and impressed by the stately golden halls of the Kremlin, but honestly, he’s already seen it on TV, and he hasn’t been feeling super patriotic lately.
“Yuratchka, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Russia is about to be on the world stage in a big way. They’re likely not going to take kindly to a sixteen-year-old’s brand new outspoken omegist rhetoric.”
“Well, then it sucks to be them. That reminds me, Yakov, I have something to tell you later.”
“At least do your best not to embarrass us here, of all places.”
Mila waves at him from a small sitting area outside a pair of massive double doors. Yuri’s about to wave back when Victor exits, looking bemused, flanked by two businesslike alphas in suits.
“They’re taking you in one-by-one,” Yakov explains belatedly. “Some of the details they need from you are private, so—”
“Oy, Victor,” Yuri calls.
Victor looks over, still distracted.
“I saw that tweet teasing the quad axel, you asshole. Put up or shut up, no one believes you.”
Victor is looking at him, but seems to be staring through him. Yuri’s mouth twists.
“What’s up with you?”
“I…” He’s silent for a moment. “I think my government just told me to break up with my fiancé.”
It was not the answer Yuri had been expecting. “What?”
“Mr. Plisetsky? We’re ready for you.”
It’s one of the two alphas in bespoke suits that just escorted Victor out. Yuri looks from Victor – confused, heartbroken – to Yakov – uncomfortable, distressed – and then to the two alphas waiting outside the double doors. Yakov grabs him by one shoulder and steers him forward when Yuri spends too long staring.
“What the hell?” Yuri says immediately when the doors close. “Did you just tell Victor to break off his engagement?”
The two alphas, one male, one female, were just sitting down at a long mahogany table. It’s the woman who speaks first.
“We’re not at liberty to discuss that, I’m afraid,” she says. “Are you excited to meet the president this afternoon?”
“No, no, no, no,” Yuri says, “you’re not getting out of this. Did you just fucking tell my friend he has to break up with his fiancé or didn’t you?”
“Yuratchka,” Yakov warns.
“Don’t you fucking start, you caveman,” Yuri says, rounding on Yakov. “It’s bad enough you treat your ex-wife like a punchline and your best student like a freak of nature, I’m not going to just sit down and shut up about this. You can’t just tell people to break up because it makes your shitty government look bad!”
“This must be the newly political Yuri Plisetsky we’ve been seeing all over Twitter lately,” says the alpha male, with a false amiability that makes Yuri hate him immediately.
“You’re fucking right it is. Now go back out there and say you’re sorry for being a homophobic shit-for-brains!”
“Yuratchka!” Yakov repeats, louder.
“Mr. Plisetsky, Russia does not need two competitors in men’s singles,” the woman chimes in suddenly. “We were given two slots as a result of your good performance at Worlds this year, but our country will be well-represented with or without you.”
It takes Yuri a moment, but only a moment.
“Are you threatening me?” he asks. Then, “Did you threaten Victor like that? Do as we say or get your slot pulled?”
“Yuratchka, stop,” Yakov growls.
“Not a fucking chance,” Yuri growls back.
“We have been asked by the powers that be to impart upon you the gravity of your recently taken political ideologies,” the woman says, neatly opening up a small laptop. “Our stance has always been and continues to be that athletes representing Russia on the world stage should be apolitical.”
“Oh, yeah, I’m sure you’d be just as upset with me if I were heaping praise on the Kremlin instead of calling it out on its shitty, homophobic, sexist practices!”
“Yuratchka Plisetsky,” Yakov snarls, grabbing him by the arm and wrenching him around, “are you actively trying to get yourself thrown out of the Olympics?”
“Get the fuck off me,” Yuri snaps, pulling sharply out of his grasp.
“Mr. Nikiforov was instructed to break off his engagement because marriage between two alphas is illegal in Russia,” says the man. “And it is for that same reason that we are instructing you to stop endorsing omegist organizations and instigating political agitation.”
Yuri laughs, loud, cold, humorless.
“Is that what you’re calling it now? The resistance of an entire sex to their government-sponsored inprisonment and rape is now political agitation? In some circles, they call that human rights activism!”
“If you’re unwilling to acquiesce to your government’s instructions—”
“I was right there in an omega home! I saw what happens! If you motherfuckers think for a second—”
“Yuratchka, why are you doing this?” Yakov bellows.
“Because I’m an omega!” Yuri thunders, at him, at the two alphas, at the whole world for all it matters now.
The silence ensuing is deafening. Yuri stands shaking, panting, vision wash in red.
“Because I’m an omega!” he repeats. “Me! The Ice Tiger of Russia, objectively the best skater in this country! I didn’t catch the flu in Barcelona, Yakov, I went into heat! And trust me, I was just as surprised as you are now!”
Yakov does look stunned, to his credit, mouth open, eyes wide.
“And I hated myself, because of course I did, because motherfuckers like you have been training it into me since the day I was born!” Yuri continues. The alphas are staring back at him, looking just as astonished as Yakov. “But guess what? I’ve learned to direct that hatred to more productive places. And now your best shot at a gold in men’s singles is an angry ball of political agitation, so take it or leave it!”
Yuri’s entire body is trembling, he notices belatedly. And he’s scared – of course he is, he just shouted his secondary sex to a room full of people who would hate him for it – but somehow, it is still the most cathartic experience of Yuri’s life. He had almost forgotten how sick he was of hiding it.
The two alphas at the table look to each other, then to their laptops, as if hoping to find an answer for this in the bylaws of the Russian Olympic Committee, somehow.
“We…” begins the woman.
“The rules set out…” falters the man.
Yuri bares his teeth and goes storming out the doors from which he entered. They clatter loudly against the walls. Mila and Victor, huddled on two adjacent chairs in the waiting area, jump.
“Yuri—” Victor begins.
“Yuri!” Yakov calls after him. “Where are you going?”
Yuri stops only long enough to rip off his Team Russia jacket and throw it onto the polished marble floor.
“Home!” he answers, loudly. “If they won’t let Victor compete without breaking up with his fiancé, I don’t expect them to let me compete while being an omega! And honestly, at this point, I’m not sure I’d even want to!”
There are taxis waiting just outside. Yuri saw them coming in. There are also reporter there, cameras poised to catch him as he leaves without his jacket, dying to know why.
Chapter 10: Bite
I’ve been working on this free skate for a couple weeks now, but since apparently I’m not going to be competing in the fucking Olympics anymore, or I guess even the regular fucking season, I’m not going to be using it. Plus it’s a little over-the-top even for me, but since ridiculous has never stopped you, you can have it.
I’ve attached the outline, video, and music file. Use it for whatever.
Suck a knot (in a mostly friendly, entirely literal way),
PS: Still don’t believe you about the quad axel, pix or it didn’t happen
PPS: I guess this technically calls off our wager
For Yuri, the weirdest part about the whole thing is waking up at his usual seven o’clock only to realize that he has nowhere to be. No strength conditioning or cardio, no stretches, no trip to the rink. He is left to his own devices for the first time in ages, and he feels absolutely lost.
Sometimes he goes back to sleep. Sometimes he rolls out of bed and makes breakfast for Grandpa, for a change. Most of the time, though, he scrolls through Instagram until he can smell the eggs cooking, or until the abusive messages get too much for him to handle.
He texts and calls Beka several times over those few days after the news dropped, usually when he gets a particular vile Twitter DM or repulsive Facebook message. He can never seem to get a hold of him, and it pisses Yuri off as much as it makes him sad and worried.
Three days later, Yakov shows up, which seems to be as surprising to him as it does to Yuri, by the face Yakov makes when Yuri comes down the stairs and around the corner into the living room.
“I was just about to get you, Yura,” Grandpa says. He’s got a mug of coffee in either hand. “Your coach…”
“Not my coach anymore,” Yuri says, frowning. Yakov frowns back, accepting one of the mugs. “What are you doing here, Yakov?”
“Ah. Well, I brought some papers for you to sign… apparently because I receive government stipends, I’m not legally permitted to coach an omega, so I’ve been asked to immediately and officially drop you…”
Yuri glares, first at Yakov, and then at the pile of papers to which he’d gestured sitting on the coffee table.
“I’ve highlighted all the places you need to sign,” he offers unhelpfully.
“Good to see you put up a fight for me.”
“Listen, don’t take it personally.”
“How am I not supposed to take this personally?” he growls. “Get fucked, Yakov.”
Yakov doesn’t take his response very well. “What, am I supposed to be sympathetic? You lied to me.”
Yuri bares his teeth. “Like there’s even a chance the lying is what you care about.”
“I’m your coach! I had a right to know!”
“First off, no, you didn’t – my body is nobody’s fucking business but mine – and second off, this has got nothing to do with me and everything to do with you. You don’t think I’m what an omega should be and it pisses you off.”
“Don’t preach to me about what I think, boy,” Yakov says, voice dark. “I married an omega, you know.”
“I guarantee you that’s true of most sexist shitbag alphas in the world,” Yuri counters. “You can care for an omega without ever caring about them as a sex.”
“I don’t know when you got so damn political, Yuratchka,” snarls Yakov, rising up from the couch, coffee untouched on the endtable, “but it’s not a good look on you.”
Yuri narrows his eyes. “I suppose I’d be better off keeping my pretty little mouth shut, would I?”
“You know, when I first heard the rumors about you and the Kazakh, I was furious,” he says. “But thinking back on it, I’m relieved.”
“Oh, of course. I may be an omega, but at least I’m straight! Dodged that bullet!”
Yakov growls in anger. “Maybe he can teach you a lesson about the natural order of things.”
If Yuri had been making any attempt to reign in his anger, it evaporates like water on a hot skillet at the insinuation. “Oh, get fucked, Yakov! Enlightenment doesn’t come from the tip of an alpha’s cock! If a good knotting was all it took to make us pipe down, we wouldn’t have had first- and second-wave omegism!”
“What would you have had me do, anyway? Keep it a fucking secret for the rest of my life?”
“Well, it doesn’t matter now, does it? Congratulations. Your omegist purism remains intact, and your only shot at the Olympics is gone. I’ll get everyone at the rink to chip in for a cake with ‘was it worth it’ written in frosting!”
That one hurts, more than perhaps it should. Yuri does his best to keep his face steely. Yakov storms past him, right through the foyer and out the front door, slamming it behind him.
For a while, the house is silent. Yuri pulls his phone from his hoodie pocket and double checks, but there’s still no text back from Otabek, damn it. Where the hell is he?
“I didn’t realize he was such a sexist,” Grandpa says quietly from across the room.
Yuri sniffs and wipes his cheek with the back of his hand. “That’s the thing about privilege,” he mutters. “Neither did I.”
It may just be Yuri’s imagination, but the abuse seems to be getting worse.
It probably has something to do with the fact that Yakov went ahead and confirmed the rumors for RT, and from there the news spread like wildfire. While Yuri had found a few positive opinion pieces tweeted at him, mostly the reaction had been people telling him where to put various knots, interspersed with outright death and rape threats.
Worst of all, by day five, he’s really starting to think Beka is mad at him. He hasn’t answered anything – not texts, not calls, not Snapchats – not even as they get increasingly desperate. Why the hell is he not answering? Yuri is having the shittiest week of his life, and all he wants is some comfort from his boyfriend.
Anything, anything that makes his phone chime with something other than another threat of being raped.
When Lilia shows up, it’s on an unremarkable evening, and she’s wearing a soft-looking Cashmere sweater and leggings, hair braided elaborately. Yuri, not used to seeing her so casual, almost doesn’t recognize her standing in the doorway.
“Yuratchka,” she says. “May I come in?”
Wordlessly, Yuri steps aside.
She enters, shrugging off her coat. “I just resigned as Yakov’s ballet instructor en residence,” she says without preamble. “Can I trouble you for some tea?”
“You – what?”
“It felt an awful lot like I was divorcing him again,” she says ponderously, “only this time I was the one who got to break his heart. Not an entirely unsatisfactory feeling, looking back on it.”
“You quit? But what about the season? Georgi and Mila and…”
Yuri trails off. Lilia looks at him in silence for a moment, as though trying to come up with a good response.
“You know, I have spent the great majority of my life compartmentalizing my sex from everything else,” she says. “And to a certain extent, it has worked to my benefit. I managed to become a prima ballerina and coach to a world champion figure skater, after all. But watching you these past few months has been… edifying.”
Yuri stares at her in confusion.
“You were miserable hiding your secret, so miserable that you couldn’t keep it up for longer than a few months. And at first, I couldn’t imagine why, but now I do. It’s because, in the end, you couldn’t be ashamed of who you were.”
Yuri starts. “Lilia…”
“If anyone had asked me, I’d have said I kept my sex a secret for the sake of convenience, but I always knew that was never the whole truth. It took seeing your misery to help me understand my own.” She pauses, smiles slyly. “So if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to learn by example. Tea?”
Wordlessly, Yuri shows her into the kitchen.
Thanks, Yurio, but I’m going to be taking the music Yakov assigns me for the Olympic season this year.
Yuri has to read the email several times over.
There’s no way. There’s no way.
“Siri, call dipshit fuckhead.”
“Calling Victor Nikiforov,” Siri answers, and Yuri stands up and heads for his bedroom window, where the reception is best.
It takes him a few rings, but eventually Victor picks up.
“Yuri,” he sighs, “you shouldn’t—”
“You’re actually doing it?” Yuri interrupts. “You’re actually going to compete in the fucking Olympics?”
“Yuri, my government is asking me to represent it on the world stage. How am I supposed to say no?”
“I can think of plenty of ways to say no, many of them involving physical assault!” Yuri roars into the phone. “What about Katsuki?”
The silence says more than Victor ever could.
“Jesus Christ, Vitya! You can’t be serious!”
“It’s probably for the best,” Victor answers, voice trembling.
“For the best? You two are a soulbonded pair!”
“We’re not soulbonded!” Victor bellows, suddenly, so loud that it rings painfully in Yuri’s ear. He’s loud, and he’s trying to sound angry, but Yuri can see right through it. “We can’t be. It’s not possible for two alphas to be soulbonded, and it’s better for the both of us if we just accept it!”
Yuri can’t believe what he’s hearing. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“I am answering my country’s call—!”
“You already won Russia two fucking Olympic golds, Victor, so don’t even try to pretend this is all about patriotism! You’re just fucking scared, and you’re taking it out on the man who loves you more than life itself!”
“You don’t fucking know, Yura,” Victor chokes, voice edged with angry tears, “and don’t fucking pretend like you do!”
“I know he loves you, Victor, though honestly at the moment I can’t imagine why! Soulbonded or not, he’d walk through fire for you, and you’re just – just—”
“I am not going to take life advice from an omega who just publicly shamed his government on the world stage and got himself barred from the Olympics,” Victor roars.
Yuri takes a deep breath. “You are so lucky I like Katsuki, Vitya, or you have no idea how hard I would drop your ungrateful ass—”
His phone beeps three times in his ear. Horrified, Yuri realizes that Victor has hung up on him. Victor.
All at once, rage boils over. Yuri screams and throws his phone at the window. The window rattles precariously, but his phone, tucked in its case, bounces harmlessly to the ground.
He leans his forehead against the glass and draws hissing breaths through his teeth.
Then he drops to his knees and grabs his phone again up off the floor, from where it had tumbled under the bed. “Siri, call hot piece of Kazakh.”
“Calling Otabek Altin,” Siri chirps, and of course, as it has been, it goes right to his voicemail.
“Hey, it’s Beka, I can’t answer the phone. I can promise to listen to your message but I can’t promise to give a shit about it.” Beep.
“Beka, where the fuck are you?” Yuri sobs into his phone. “I lost my slot in the Olympics and I keep getting death threats and Vitya and Katsuki are breaking up so I guess love isn’t real anymore! Where the fuck are you? I just—”
Yuri screws his eyes shut and hangs up.
This isn’t how it was supposed to go.
This isn’t how it was supposed to go.
Yuri slides down the wall, knotting his hands in his hair and trying to hold together all the rapidly fragmenting shards of himself.
By day six, Yuri turns off notifications from Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook as a defensive measure. After a sixteen-part DM describing in vivid detail how he would be raped and impregnated, enough was finally enough.
The articles about him get worse, too. Yuri tries not to read them, but he wants to keep up with his friends’ progress, and Ice Network is one of the only ways to do it, circumstances as they are. Where the initial reaction had been positive, the tide starts to turn. Opinion pieces get more judgmental. Old Russian gold medalists start writing snarling think pieces about the omegist agenda corrupting the sport. Photos of him at the corner store with rumpled hoodies and tired eyes go viral, with captions like Yuri Plisetsky fresh off heat? Rumors of omega home circulate!
Some days Yuri wants to throw his phone out the window, and the entire concept of the Internet out with it. Most days, though, he just gradually starts to go numb.
On a Friday, someone once again turns up to visit, this time knocking loudly and urgently on the door. Yuri’s perfectly content to let Grandpa answer it, but it takes another sequence of knocks, even louder, to remind him that Grandpa went out shopping. He sighs and rolls off his bed, thumping down the stairs.
When he pulls the door open, before he even sees who it is, he’s hit abruptly with 200-some pounds of lean muscle and alpha pheromones—
“Yuri, God, I’m so sorry,” he says immediately, face buried in his hair, but yes, it’s definitely Otabek. “I’m so, so sorry. I tried to call you from the airport but I couldn’t get signal, and then the Uber arrived—”
“Beka!” Yuri pulls back, feeling a lot of things at the sight of him, but mostly surprise. “What are you doing here? How—?”
“I literally just got off the plane from Almaty,” he says.
“Where the hell have you been?” Yuri demands. “I haven’t heard a word – not from you, not from Lashyn, not even from Nika, and she never stops texting me—”
“I had to put an embargo on it all, and I’m so sorry, I should have thought it through better, but Yuri—”
“Beka, I’ve been getting fucking death threats! I needed you! Why the fuck would you put an embargo – what does that even mean—!”
“I know, I know, Yuri, I’m so sorry,” he says, and pulls Yuri into his arms again, and as much as Yuri wants to hate him – and he does – it’s not easy to do. Yuri missed him so fucking much that it had physically hurt, and being buried in the smell of coriander and fancy shampoo is like sinking into a warm bath. “I’m so sorry, but I had to. Let me explain myself, please. I brought…”
Beka has a messenger bag over one shoulder, which he shoves one hand into to produce a sheaf of parchments.
“Let me explain,” he says again. “Come on.”
Beka grabs him by the wrist and pulls him into the dining room, such that it is, crammed into the front end of the living area. He dumps the papers on the table, and they all fall over each other. At first brush, Yuri can’t recognize them, but he does notice the seal of Kazakhstan on the letterhead.
“When I heard that Russia pulled your slot from the Olympics, I knew what I had to do,” he says. “I had to pull a lot of strings and I may have violated some confidentiality bylaws in the process, but I managed it.”
“Beka,” Yuri says, frowning, “what the hell are you talking about?”
“I had a suspicion, and I was right – I checked, the slot that you won to compete in the Olympics doesn’t go to Russia, Yuri, it goes to you. And it follows you.”
“What? Follows me where?”
“One of my mother’s friends from Parliament sits on the Olympic Oversight Committee, and we were able to hurry it along,” he says, in a rush. “The long of the short of it is that bonded mates of Kazakh citizens are eligible for special citizenship rights, and I know we’re not bonded yet, but like I said, I violated some confidentiality bylaws and sort of lied about it, but it’s fine, because—”
“Beka!” Yuri says, loud enough to finally stop him talking. “What are you talking about? You keep saying words but it feels like you’re saying them in the wrong order!”
Otabek stares at him then, over long, catching his breath and looking, to Yuri’s eye, just a little bit nervous, though he cannot imagine why.
“Yuri,” he says, and suddenly Yuri’s hands are clasped in Beka’s. “I had to keep you out of the loop because I didn’t want you involved if it went south, but it didn’t. I’ve spent the last week fighting with immigration and the Olympic Committee so you could compete for Kazakhstan.”
Time dilates outward through the room. “What?” Yuri repeats, voice faint.
“Come compete for Kazakhstan,” he says, jarringly quiet after so much excitement, “with me. I have tickets back to Almaty tomorrow. The government’s offering you special citizenship.”
It takes a while for Yuri to really hear the words. His eyes get misty before his brain can catch up to the reason why.
“Yuri,” Beka says, frowning in concern.
“You did that for me?” Yuri asks, words splintering with emotion.
“Of course I did,” Beka answers at once, “I love you.”
They both seem to realize what he said at the same time. Otabek takes on a look of sudden, muted terror. Yuri experiences what he can only term as lightheaded joy.
Otabek loves him. He went through a week of hell to let him compete in the Olympics and he loves him.
“Shit,” Beka mutters. “I said that out loud, didn’t I? I was going to wait—”
Yuri grabs him by the front of his jacket and kisses him bruisingly, throwing his arms around Otabek’s neck and steering him with a thump into the wall of the dining room.
“Mmn,” Beka grunts into his mouth, then kisses him back, tugging him closer by the waist.
“I love you,” Yuri says against his lips. “Beka, I love you so much. Thank you. I can’t believe you did this. I can’t—”
Otabek tries to swallow the rest of Yuri’s words with a deeper kiss, and Yuri melts into it. Beka is white-hot against him, thrumming heartbeat under Yuri’s fingertips, and – wow, Yuri’s hazy mind supplies – absolutely saturating the air with ever-intensifying pheromones. Yuri gasps, hisses against the kiss, pulls him all the closer.
“Beka,” Yuri whines.
“God, you smell good,” he says. “We should stop. We should really stop now. You smell amazing.”
“Beka, bite me,” he mewls.
“What?” Then, “What?” He withdraws. “Yuri—”
“Bite me,” Yuri repeats, nuzzling into the crux of Otabek’s neck where the smell is strongest (and God, yes, every heartbeat makes it thicker, Yuri cannot get enough). “Bite me. Fuck me. I want your bond mark.”
Otabek groans, low and soft in the back of his throat. “Yuri, I thought we were waiting,” he says, but his hands don’t leave Yuri’s waist – in fact, they seem to tighten as Yuri rolls his body against him.
“We have been waiting,” Yuri whines, “six months of waiting. I don’t want to wait anymore. I want your bond bite. I want you. Beka, please.”
“We – Yuri, just because you’re not in heat doesn’t mean you can’t – there’s still a chance and – we don’t have any protection or—”
“Jesus, Beka, I have some condoms.” Unwillingly, Yuri lifts his head and looks up at him. “If you’re just not ready, tell me, because otherwise, I want your teeth in my neck and your cock in m—”
Beka spins him around suddenly and presses him into a wall for another kiss, one that sends Yuri’s head spinning with the intensity. Open mouths, hot hands up his sides, and God, the smell of Otabek in that moment – if Yuri didn’t know any better—
“Beka, are you rutting?” Yuri wouldn’t know from experience, but everything he’s read says that an omega can usually tell this sort of thing – not that it makes any sense; alphas only rut in response to heat, and Yuri’s definitely not in heat.
“Where,” Beka growls into Yuri’s mouth. His voice sounds a half-octave deeper than it had been, and Yuri shudders in the sudden surge of arousal it drags out of him.
“Bedroom,” Yuri whimpers, as Beka’s teeth graze the front of his throat. “Nightstand drawer.”
And then, Otabek lifts him up and throws him over one shoulder. Yuri lets out what is surely an entirely undignified squeak as Beka carries him up the stairs.
This has got to be rutting. Doesn’t it? It definitely smells like rutting, to Yuri’s admittedly untrained nose, and by the way Yuri’s entire body feels like it’s on fire, it also definitely feels like rutting, or at least what he’d imagine rutting to feel like.
They do not so much fall onto the bed as crash onto it, and Beka seems to eclipse Yuri with his body, and when Yuri arches his hips up off the bed, he feels a not-inconsiderable hard swell meeting him. Yuri groans shudderingly.
“Where should I bite you?” Beka rumbles into the skin of Yuri’s throat, voice dark and possessive. “Below the ear, where everyone can see? Where everyone can know you’re mine?”
Jesus, Yuri’s mind supplies weakly. This has got to be rutting. Hot as it is – and it definitely is, by the way Yuri’s cock pulses firmly with blood and beads of slick start to run down his thigh – this is definitely rutting talk. Yuri’s seen enough porn to know it when he hears it. Otabek’s hands slide up under Yuri’s hoodie, and Yuri whines, arching his back and desperately trying to help tug it over his head.
“Above your collarbone, where every time your shirt rides up in the mirror you’ll think of me?”
“Jesus, Beka, the first bite never lasts very long anyway, I just – God, please, I want it so badly—”
Otabek sits up, tosses his jacket aside, tugs his shirt over his head and, fuck. Yuri had not emotionally prepared himself for the sight of a shirtless Otabek Altin. He looks incredible, all whipcord muscles and olive skin. Quite without realizing it, he’s reaching up and raking his fingernails down his sides hungrily as Beka’s hands slide down Yuri’s stomach.
“Maybe just under your hairline on the back of your neck,” he continues, and Yuri mewls desperately, writhing as Beka’s hands trail all the lower, down the shallow V of Yuri’s pelvis, “and when we’re out in public I can put my hand there, and no one would know I’m tracing your bond bite with my fingertips…”
Beka’s hand had pressed past the hem of Yuri’s loose-fitting sweatpants, down across the length of his cock, already white-hot and full against his stomach. Yuri feels electric and wound taut, and Otabek’s hands trail lower, down the thighs…
“Please,” Yuri gasps, hips bucking. “Beka.”
God, Yuri’s soaking wet already. Yuri didn’t even know he could get so wet outside of heat, but as Beka’s fingers circle his entrance, he shudders at the touch as more slick leaks out.
Otabek growls through his teeth and pulls his hand away, reaching at once for the night stand, where tucked into the drawer are several of the complimentary condoms Lashyn’s old practice had in bowls around the waiting room. Yuri watches hungrily as Beka straightens and opens the front of his jeans, where between Yuri’s spread thighs he can see—
It’s not as if alphas don’t usually have more to work with than betas, on average, but still. This almost seems excessive.
Not that Yuri is anything other than absolutely gagging for it. His patience is tested more than Yuri can recall as he watches Beka tear open the condom with his teeth and roll it down the shaft.
“Shoulder,” Yuri mutters.
Beka looks up at him. Yuri meets his gaze unflinchingly.
“I want to feel the tug of scar tissue every time I move my arm,” he continues.
Otabek’s eyes darken with lust. He leans forward over Yuri again, the heavy – God, and thick – length nudges against the back of Yuri’s thigh. His sweatpants are pulled down slightly, but only just – just barely enough space, that when Beka shifts his hips just so—
“Fuck,” Yuri breaths out in a shudder. The swollen head of Otabek’s cock grazes his entrance, and Yuri is about ready to fall to pieces.
Then Beka sinks his teeth suddenly into the skin of Yuri’s right shoulder.
It hurts. It hurts more than Yuri had expected it to hurt. Beka’s teeth go deep, and Yuri can feel his jaw locking in place as his instinct takes over. Yuri’s eyes sting with sudden tears, because fuck, that really hurts.
Then Beka reaches one hand up, braces it on the headboard, and with the other hand lines himself up and drives his cock straight into Yuri’s wet, pliant body.
It would be an understatement to say that Yuri forgets the pain. He also forgets most major bodily functions, notably talking and breathing.
Otabek feels incredible. Long and thick and spearing him open; he should be uncomfortably big, considering the size disparity, but he doesn’t. He feels perfect. He feels like he’s filling parts of Yuri that Yuri hadn’t even realized were empty. In an instant Yuri is walking a razor wire of impending orgasm.
“Fuck,” he gasps, his hands fumbling for purchase along the muscles of Otabek’s back. “F-fuck. Beka, that…”
He starts to rock his hips, and Yuri comes.
He comes so hard that Yuri can’t even see, let alone moan. His entire body shudders with it, cock pulsing, striping his stomach.
In his ear, Otabek growls ferally, locks his teeth all the harder, and starts fucking him deeper.
Yuri comes a second time. At least he’s pretty sure he does. It’s getting kind of hard to tell in the overwhelming onslaught of sensation. In a clearer state, he’d be trying to recall vague memories of omegas and their propensity for shotgun orgasms while under a rutting alpha, but circumstances as they are, the most coherent thought he can string together is—
“God, fuck, Bekaaaaaaaannnn. Nnnm, yes. Yes. G-God, please…”
Another growl. Otabek’s free arm slides around Yuri’s waist, hauls his hips up sharply, and with the new angle driving all the deeper into him.
Yuri comes a third time. This time around, he has enough voice in him to howl in pleasure. Even the bite is starting to feel good. He’s pretty sure that last orgasm was dry, but there’s still quite a lot of come on his stomach, rolling downward now that Beka has Yuri’s legs around his waist and his hips at such an angle that—
“Fuck!” Yuri holds onto Beka with both hands. His thrusting gets shallower. Something in him is expanding, pushing his body to its limits.
Otabek is knotting, Yuri realizes, though not with enough clarity to draw anything from it beyond, “Yes. Yes. Fuck. Nnn— B-Beka, knot me – give me your knot, God—”
The knot expands. Yuri’s body locks around it and he comes for a fourth – fifth? – time, sobbing from the sensation. Beka keeps his jaw locked on his shoulder, and his shallow thrusts become more erratic, until they start to stutter.
Beka’s body shudders over him, and Yuri can feel a subtle pulsing, timed to the harsh breath on his shoulder. At some point Yuri’s own breath had turned to shallow wheezing, and he bites down hard on his lower lip as Beka rides out his own orgasm.
A few moments pass before Otabek, rather abruptly, extricates his teeth from Yuri’s shoulder.
“Ow,” Yuri croaks.
Beka gently tries to pull out of Yuri, but – no, the knot’s still swollen. Yuri whines at the sensation.
“Try not to move too much,” he whimpers. “I do not think I can physically handle coming again, and if you keep that up I absolutely will.”
Beka laughs once, shallowly, and rests his forehead on Yuri’s. “My jaw hurts,” he says.
Yuri laughs with him, louder. “My fucking shoulder hurts, asshole.”
They laugh together for a while, delirious and sex-hazy. Beka kisses him well and deeply, and Yuri can taste traces of his own blood as a sharp, bitter tang.
Strangely, it’s not the worst thing he’s ever tasted.
Twenty minutes later, Beka’s knot has deflated and Yuri has his hoodie back on, because it’s Russia in October which means it’s already the middle of winter and his room has shitty insulation.
“It doesn’t hurt too bad?” Beka asks, concerned.
Yuri turns his head to one side and smiles at Beka from where he’s lying next to him on his stomach. Beka has yet to put his own shirt back on, though Yuri certainly doesn’t mind the view it allows him.
“Not too bad,” he assures him. “I like it. And now we don’t have to lie to the government about being a bonded pair.”
Beka chuckles, cards two fingers through Yuri’s hair. Yuri closes his eyes and nuzzles into the gesture.
“I’m not entirely sure why I knotted,” Otabek admits hesitantly. “I’m not supposed to do that if you’re not in heat.”
Yuri turns his head forward again.
“I don’t know, either,” he mutters, not mentioning that he has a couple theories.
Chapter 11: Bond
Temper Your Expectations: the Scientific Criteria of a Soulbond
I should begin by saying that if you looked up this article because you just started a new relationship and are looking for validation of your feelings, there is, statistically speaking, a 96.29% chance that you and your new partner are not soulbonded. Sorry.
Soulbonding has been romanticized over the years as some sort of an ideal to aspire to, rather than acknowledged for what it is, which is high compatibility and reactivity between two people’s hormones and pheromones. Despite thousands of years of idealization, studies have shown time and again that non-soulbonded pairs can and do have relationships that are just as emotionally fulfilling…
Yuri scrolls past several paragraphs of it’s okay if you’re not soulbonded that thoroughly do not interest him. He knows that already. He finds what he’s looking for halfway down the page.
That said, here are the scientific criteria of what is commonly called a soulbond:
- A hormone/pheromone compatibility score of 85% or higher, on average; this is something that can only be medically verified by a doctor, and all other signs of soulbonding originate from this symptom.
- Rutting during non-estral intercourse; the author notes that true rutting is not merely passionate, but necessitates knotting.
- Bond bites that last six to eight times longer than their non-soulbonded counterparts; soulbonded marks can often last months or years without the need to refresh.
- Separation anxiety across long distance.
- In young soulbonded pairs, presentation of secondary sex will often occur 8-16 hours after first meeting.
Yuri shuts his laptop and looks down at Otabek, sleeping next to him. Grandpa had freaked out (though to his credit, only a little bit) when Yuri had invited him to stay the night, but at least he hadn’t worked out that Yuri had, rather explosively, already lost his virginity to him hours earlier.
Yuri’s eyes then move to the purpling bond bite on his shoulder. He’d washed it, but had foregone bandaging it. He likes seeing it, likes the memory of getting it, likes lying in bed next to the alpha who gave it to him.
Despite the signs, Yuri really, really doesn’t want to jump to conclusions.
Yuri and Otabek leave for Almaty the next morning. Grandpa hugs Yuri tightly and gives Otabek the obligatory I’m-watching-you stink eye upon dropping them both off at the airport.
Yuri thinks about bringing up the article a lot on the plane but chickens out each time. He allows himself endless arrogance when it comes to his skating career, but that’s only because he knows he earns it. This, though – this is something else entirely. Yuri doesn’t feel like he’s earned this arrogance. After all, what did he do to deserve a soulbonded mate – especially one as perfect and wonderful as Otabek Altin?
If nothing else, it feels good to be back in Almaty. Now that he’s officially a Kazakh citizen – or will be, depending on how far along the paperwork is – he feels a more pronounced kinship with the country, warts and all.
Not that they’ll have long to enjoy it, in all probability. Parliament is still in session, which means Lashyn is still in Astana, which in turn means they have to take an Uber from the airport to do their best to sleep off the jetlag. Unfortunately, as soon as they open the door, Yuri is hit with a flying tackle to the midsection and goes toppling backward.
Yuri lands hard on the flagstone path. “Ow! Jesus fucking Christ, Nika—”
“I missed you! I’m sorry I didn’t text you! Beka told me not to but I wanted to every day and I’m so glad it worked out!”
She is fully on top of him, and Yuri surrenders to the fact that he’s not going to be getting up until she decides he can. “Nika, you’re sitting on my liver.”
“But you’re going to be competing for Kazakhstan!” she says, as though that’s some kind of justification for kneeling on his internal organs. She hugs him tighter. “The Kazakh Angels are going crazy!”
“Nika, come on, you’re going to break his ribs,” Beka says, and hauls her up. Nika takes this as invitation to pull him into an organ-crushing vise of a hug, and Otabek laughs. “Okay, okay, I missed you, too.”
“Is it true you two are pairbonded now?” she asks a moment later, pulling back and looking between them.
Yuri slowly pulls himself up off the ground, dusting off the back of his jeans.
“Uh,” Otabek begins.
“I guess we’re skipping the part where I’m an omega,” Yuri says.
“Who cares about that?” Nika demands. “Am I going to be Yuri Plisetsky’s sister-in-law or not?”
“Nika,” Beka sighs, “we’re bonded, we’re not married.”
“So you are bonded!”
But it’s too late. She’s doing the high-pitched squeal thing again, vibrating with such intensity that her hijab half falls off.
“No one on Instagram is going to believe this!” she shrieks, and runs back inside, presumably to get her phone.
Yuri watches her go, then looks to Beka, who’s shaking his head and laughing under his breath.
“Welcome home,” he says.
Yuri tries to fight off the surge of warmth he feels at the words. He smiles, nods, slides his hand into Beka’s.
“No place like it.”
They don’t have long to relax. In fact, they barely have long enough to pass out for a few hours before Nika shakes them awake and tells them that they have to get downtown, where several members of the Olympic Oversight Committee are waiting for them.
They take the family Maserati into town, to the building that Yuri is willing to bet used to be one of the halls of Parliament. They end up fording past a surprising number of reporters, shouting unusual questions at them as they pass in Russian and Kazakh. But once they make it to the room where they’re supposed to be, the first person Yuri sees, picking her out immediately in a room full of people—
He sprints across the room and hits her full-force in a hug. She nearly loses her balance, but manages to catch herself on a fancy mahogany chair.
“Goodness, Yuri,” she chides.
“I’m so glad you actually came!” he says, hugging her tightly around the middle. “I know I can’t do this without you.”
“Well, the die has been cast,” she answers. When Yuri pulls back and looks up at her, she’s frowning. “I was… informed, let’s call it, in no uncertain terms, that following you to Kazakhstan would be seen as treason.”
Yuri stares. “Treason?”
“Our Russian ambassador has been livid all week,” says an alpha behind her, one of many in the room, all of them in suits. “Your new citizenship is causing not insignificant political unrest. Hello, by the way. Mohammad Omarov, MP. I don’t think we’ve met.”
Yuri shakes his hand, and then several other hands, as Otabek peers through an internal window at the press pool gathered just outside the doors.
“Suffice it to say, Yuri, that it might be best for you to stay in Kazakhstan for a while, or at least out of Russia,” Lilia says. “Doesn’t your grandfather have a brother in Turkey?”
Yuri feels a cold rush of fear down his chest. “You don’t think he’s in danger, do you?”
“It’s unlikely,” Mr. Omarov says, “but it’s also better to be safe than sorry. Your government does have a bit of a track record when it comes to the Olympics. We all remember 2014.”
Yuri immediately pulls out his phone and starts texting him.
“That explains the press,” Otabek says as Yuri taps at his phone. “Those aren’t sports reporters out there.”
“Like I said,” Mr. Omarov says, frowning. “Political unrest.”
“You let us worry about that,” says a second alpha, whose name Yuri can’t quite remember (he’d been introduced to nearly twenty just moments ago). “For now you can rest assured that the Kazakh government stands behind you. You’re a citizen now, after all.”
It doesn’t make Yuri feel much better.
“We need to start talking about your new coach,” says Mr. Omarov, gesturing to the stately table in the center of the room. Yuri finishes up his text, and they all go to sit down at it together. “Not that Mr. Altin’s current coach hasn’t been serviceable, but Kazakhstan is on the world stage in a bigger way than ever before, and we want to maximize our chances of medaling in Helsinki. Ms. Baranovskaya has agreed to stay on as your ballet coach, of course, but she’s not a figure skater.”
“About that,” Lilia interjects, sitting neatly down on Yuri’s left as Otabek sits on his right, “I have a suggestion about who should fill the role of coach proper. I’ve already called her and she’s confirmed that she’s willing to drop her current contract to coach for the Olympic season.”
Mr. Omarov looked surprised. “Have we heard of her?”
“It depends on how well you know your figure skating history, I suppose,” she says. “Does the name Sonia Bernard ring a bell?”
Yuri gasps, rather without meaning to. Otabek sits up in his chair. The bureaucrats mostly seem perplexed.
“Sonia Bernard?” Otabek asks. “The Sonia Bernard?”
“Yes, Mr. Altin, the Sonia Bernard. She’s coaching out of Minneapolis at the moment, but showed considerable interest in coaching you, Yuri, when I brought you up.”
“How do you know Sonia Bernard?” Yuri can’t help but ask.
“Mutual acquaintance,” she answers ambiguously. “Would you be interested in—?”
“Yes,” Otabek interjects.
“Absolutely yes! Are you kidding?” Yuri adds.
“Who’s Sonia Bernard?” Mr. Omarov asks, as several of the other MP’s start tapping at their laptops and phones.
“She’s a legend,” Otabek insists. “Her heyday was in the eighties. She completed the first triple axel in ladies singles, she was a five-time French national champion, and not to mention—”
“The move,” Yuri gushes. “I’ve seen it on YouTube a thousand times. It is the stuff of skating legend.”
“She’s incredible,” Otabek agrees. “She should have gone to the Olympics, but, well, it was 1984…”
“And she was an omega,” Lilia supplies, looking sharply at the bureaucrats across the table. “A black omega, at that. I trust that won’t be a problem?”
The MP’s look amongst each other. Yuri is reminded that, as much as he’d like to believe otherwise, Russia and Kazakhstan aren’t so different. The inherent omegist statement in taking on Yuri to represent them in the Olympics is somewhat undercut by the fact that they are, apparently, quite desperate to medal in a new sport, and to promote themselves on the world stage. It’s interesting to watch the conflict on their faces.
“I suppose not,” Mr. Omarov says, slowly, “so long as she can take on both of them and her fees are reasonable…”
“She’s Sonia Bernard!” Yuri insists. “She can charge me my firstborn child if she wants to!”
“She’s willing to be reasonable, however,” Lilia adds. “But we don’t have a lot of time. It’s already October. If we want to really prepare for the Olympics, we have to put them on a plane to Minnesota as soon as possible to start preparing their programs.”
“Well,” says Mr. Omarov, heaving a great sigh, “let’s give her a call.”
And so, just as abruptly as they arrived, they leave.
There’s no direct flight between Almaty and Minneapolis, of course, but there is one with layover in Amsterdam. In all, it’s fourteen hours in the air, and they handle it varying degrees of passably. Otabek ends up collapsing face-down on Yuri’s lap, asleep stretched out over five sectional airport seats. Yuri mainlines three shots of espresso directly into his brachial artery. Lilia, cold mechanical ballet machine that she is, seems entirely unaffected by the voyage, and takes a brisk walking tour of Amsterdam’s airport while they wait for their connecting flight.
Yuri spends a while blocking the worst of his harassers on Twitter and Instagram before he finally has time to catch up on his texts and voicemails. Once he’s done that, he looks down at his lap, where Beka is still snoring softly.
He smiles faintly, licks his lips nervously, and opens up an old text conversation. There’s one person he didn’t get the opportunity to talk to in Almaty, and if he knows her, she’s likely still awake.
When Yuri suddenly has trouble seeing the screen of his phone, he realizes only belatedly that it’s because he’s crying.
To be sure, those three little texts – those last three words, especially – tug at something deeper than Yuri had expected they would. Yuri’s own mother had only earned the title in the most superficial sense. She’d had the good decency to die before her fast and loose playgirl lifestyle took her remaining family down with her. For all intents and purposes, Yuri has never had a mother.
And then there was Lashyn. And all the old wounds he didn’t know were still open were being slowly, meticulously sealed back up, one by one. Yuri wonders if she knew how desperate he’d been for any shred of motherly affection, if she even realizes how much gestures like this mean to him, even when he’d never realized it himself.
Yuri swallows hard, rubs his sleeve against his face. God, he’s ugly crying in the middle of an airport over a text message. Fucking embarrassing.
He sniffs and, despite what is perhaps his better judgment, texts her back.
His heart aches pleasantly.
Then he sends her a picture of Otabek asleep on his thigh to make himself feel less ridiculous.
Minneapolis is a lot like Russia, insofar as it snows in October and everyone seems to resent it. In every other way, though, it is nothing like Russia.
Yuri has only been to the U.S. a few times, once for a Junior World competition, and once for Skate America. He doesn’t think he’ll ever really get used to it. Everyone’s so friendly and loud and aggressive about feeding you. It’s weird to think that he’ll be spending several months here.
At least Yuri has his bearings when it comes to the rink. A rink is a rink is a rink, in Yuri’s experience. And after sleeping off the worst of his jetlag, Lilia drives him and Otabek in her rented car down to that nondescript little rink in the Minneapolis suburb, where inside, stretching at the edge of the rink, is a tall, muscular, dark-skinned omega and Yuri does not freak out a little, he’s completely calm about meeting the woman who is more legend than athlete and who will be his coach for the Olympic season, he is not freaking out.
“Sonia! Good to see you again!”
She turns around and Yuri freaks out.
It’s really her. It’s Sonia Bernard. Yuri grew up watching grainy videos of her stuttering on his clunky DSL connection. God, did he remember to comb his hair? He should not have worn this hoodie.
“Yura,” Otabek says next to him, “you all right?”
“Shut up,” Yuri squeaks.
“Lilia Baranovskaya,” she says. She has a lovely French lilt in her voice, despite speaking flawless Russian. “You age like wine.”
They embrace, and Yuri immediately can tell that Lilia’s story about them having a “mutual acquaintance” is bullshit, and he’d call her out on it but apparently his voice is too squeaky right now, so.
“And these are the boys of the hour,” Sonia says, and Sonia Bernard is talking to him. “Yuri Plisetsky and Otabek Altin. I saw you both at Worlds. Well done.”
Otabek smiles mildly. Yuri stands there like an idiot and doesn’t say anything.
“How are they, Lilia? Physically.”
“Yuri has been training under me in ballet for over a year now,” she says. “His flexibility has improved significantly, but he needs more strength training.”
“And you, Otabek?”
“Flexibility’s not my strong suit,” he admits. “But according to my last coach, I have good strength.”
“So, theoretically,” Sonia says, “if we fuse the two of you together, we’d have the perfect skater. You two ever think of having kids?”
Yuri exchanges a brief look with Beka.
“We’re more focused on the Olympics for now,” Otabek says.
Sonia grins. “Good answer,” she returns, then looks to Yuri. “Cat got your tongue?”
Yuri tries to say something, he really does. All that ends up coming out, however, is a sort of quiet squeaking mumble.
“Okay, good,” Sonia says, unfazed. “Well, then, let’s make the obvious division of labor. Otabek, since you need to work on flexibility, we’ll spend the first few weeks getting you trained up in ballet with Lilia. Yuri, since you need strength training, you’ll be with me working on gymnastics. I want both of you to have concrete ideas for your programs by the end of the month, at which point we’ll start choreography. Sound good?”
“So did you actually manage to say something to her?”
The Kazakhstan government took out a six-month lease for the three of them, at the last minute apparently, for a furnished apartment in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. It’s far from the biggest city Yuri’s ever been in, nor is it particularly interesting in Yuri’s opinion, but the apartment had come with two well-decorated bedrooms, a spacious kitchen – and the couch they’re sitting at, Yuri on the ground between Otabek’s knees, is in front of a big picture window with one hell of a view.
“Yes,” Yuri says, stubbornly.
“God is watching, Yuratchka,” Beka says, pulling a new tress of hair into the braid.
“No,” Yuri sighs. “God, she’s so cool. Why does she have to be so cool?”
“You are so cute when you’re a fanboy,” Otabek says.
“Shut up!” Yuri insists. “She’s my coach now, I have to be able to speak when I’m around her!”
“You’ll get past it in time,” Beka assures him, twisting Yuri’s hair into the rest of the braid. “You’ve only known her a day, so right now she’s more of an idea than a person. Eventually you’ll remember she’s human and you’ll train yourself out of that hilarious squeaky voice you get around her.”
“She’s got me doing floor routines,” Yuri mutters. “Gymnastics is way harder than ballet.”
“I’d trade you if I could, I’m awful at ballet,” Otabek says, tying off the braid at the base of Yuri’s neck. “And don’t tell her I said this, but Lilia is a drill sergeant.”
“Don’t worry, she’d take that as a compliment.”
“Have you thought about what you want your theme to be? What kind of music?”
“Yeah, actually,” Yuri says. Now that Otabek’s done braiding his hair, he turns around and folds his arms over Beka’s left leg and rests his chin there. “Last season, I think I was too personal. I laid it all out to not insignificant emotional toll. But this is the Olympics, and I need music that will let me win.”
Beka absently draws his fingers through the loose fringe falling in front of Yuri’s eyes. It’s a nice feeling. “Such as?”
“For the short, I’m thinking Mozart. The Vengeance Aria.”
“God, that nightmare of a song?”
“And for the free, Verdi. The Sequentia from his Requiem Mass.”
Otabek squints at him a moment. Then, “So, wait. You’re going to swear vengeance on them with your short program, and then you’re going to condemn them all to God’s fiery judgment with Dies Irae?”
Yuri sniffs. “Well, if you want to look at it like that.”
“I thought you weren’t getting personal this season.”
“I’m not,” Yuri insists, turning back toward the window. “They’re excellent, complex pieces of music that will allow for a lot of jumps and spins.”
“And if they just so happen to serve as a musical middle finger to Russia,” Otabek adds.
“That’s just icing on the cake.”
“If you ever give up figure skating, I think you could have a fruitful career as a supervillain.”
Yuri grins. “What about you? What music are you thinking?”
Otabek opens his mouth to answer, but right at that moment, Lilia enters the flat with two large brown bags full of groceries and her phone sandwiched between her ear and her shoulder.
“Boys,” she says, and they both climb up to help.
They spend a while putting away cans of soup, breads, bags of vegetables (some out of season, what a weird place America is), spices – and if Yuri’s not mistaken, the makings of pirozhki. As they work, Lilia stands near the entranceway of the apartment, speaking in quiet, urgent Russian, just soft enough that Yuri can’t make it out.
By the time they’ve finished putting the groceries away, in any case, she’s set her phone down on the counter and is looking at the pair of them with gentle urgency.
“Yuri,” she says before either of them can ask, “your grandfather – did he end up agreeing to go see his brother in Turkey?”
Yuri frowns. He doesn’t like how this conversation has opened. “Yes,” he says slowly.
She sighs. “Good,” she says, although it doesn’t sound good. “I have news about Russia.”
Hey, blog. How’ve you been? Excited about the upcoming Olympics? I know I am.
I’ve been all right. Not for nothing, but I’m noticing a direct correlation between how cool my life is and how many omegas I surround myself with. Now that I’m officially competing for Kazakhstan, Beka and I have been relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where we’re being coached by the legendary Sonia Bernard, who is exactly as cool as you want her to be. I just recently worked up the nerve to actually say things in her presence, so that’s a step in the right direction.
Let’s see, what else? Oh, right – I’ve been labeled a social dissident by my country’s government, so that’s super great. Apparently my treatment by the Kremlin has sparked waves of omegist protests across Russia, and in an effort to find a scapegoat for it, my status has been upgraded from political agitator to dissident, and the Duma is apparently working on passing an anti-omegist propaganda bill, reminiscent of the one they passed that has made the lives of LGBT Russians so dangerous these past few years.
I’ve been advised that I should not return to Russia, as my safety cannot be guaranteed. My grandpa is safe in Ankara, for those wondering, as is my cat. I’ve recently been in contact with Masha Gessen, who apart from being an incredible badass and fellow political dissident not really safe in her own country is also an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights and a critic of the Kremlin.
On a totally unrelated note, I’m going to be starting another crowdsourced charity campaign! This time, I’ll be matching up to 500,000 rubles for RUSA LGBT, an international network providing support and asylum for LGBT individuals in Russia and the central east. The two biggest donors will get free tickets to Minnesota, where you’ll get a sneak peek at my and Beka’s Olympic programs! Awesome, right?
Hey, since I’m already a political dissident and surely have not much further to fall: FUCK THE KREMLIN
Links below! ;)
The weeks pass slowly, and by the time the mystifying holiday that is Thanksgiving comes and goes, there are three major differences in Yuri’s life:
First, he can now do six consecutive back handsprings in a row. He could probably do more but the room Sonia has him doing gymnastics in isn’t very big, and it’s really more a proof of concept anyway.
Second, he can now talk to Sonia in complete sentences. He can even hold something like a normal conversation with her. She seems to be mostly aware of Yuri’s embarrassing hero worship, though, and tends to keep things professional, which is probably for the best.
Third, his bond bite scars over and does not fade.
If Beka has noticed, he hasn’t brought it up. They don’t have a lot of time for each other lately (though in fairness, neither of them had expected Olympic prep to be anything other than exhausting), but they do regularly take off-nights to indulge in pizza, Mario Kart, and sex, and though Otabek had dragged his tongue across the bite once or twice, to Yuri’s shuddering, gasping delight, he’d never refreshed it.
By everything Yuri knows from sex ed and the Internet, a first bond bite is not supposed to last more than a few weeks, especially if the recipient is still a teenager. It’s such common knowledge that it’s almost boring to think about. But it’s been over a month now, way past the most generous estimates of when it should be gone, and it is not gone.
The bigger problem, of course, is that his English isn’t good enough to ask a doctor in Minneapolis, and there’s really only one other person he’d be comfortable talking to about it with – or who might even know.
“Yuri! How are you? How’s Minnesota?”
Katsuki looks like shit, even by the standards of Skype’s shitty connection. There’s really no kinder way to say it. Yuri was sure to line up the call for it to be in the middle of the afternoon in Japan, and there’s no reason he should look this shitty.
“It’s all right,” Yuri says. “Apparently Americans have an entire holiday dedicated to eating too much food.”
“I spent over a year in Detroit,” Katsuki chuckles, sounding tired. “I remember. It’s kind of weird, but you get used to it.”
“How’s your new coach?” Yuri asks.
“She’s all right.” Katsuki looks down. He seems uncomfortable. “She’s very competent, but she’s not…”
He trails off. Yuri knows how he wants to end that sentence. She’s not Victor.
“Well, never mind,” he says. “What’s up? Your text message mentioned you wanted to ask me something.”
God, he looks so sad. They haven’t even brought up Victor properly and he looks sad. Yuri feels like he should backpedal out of it, but it seems too late.
“I, uh,” Yuri says, rubbing the back of his neck. He double checks the bedroom door – still shut tight. Lilia should still be asleep, and Beka just got in the shower. “I have kind of a personal question. And I swear to God, if you tell anyone—”
“I won’t tell,” Katsuki assures him. “Is something wrong?”
“Not as such,” Yuri mutters. “I’m just… a few weeks ago, Beka and I…”
“Oh! How are things with him?” Katsuki asks. “It must be so nice to be living with him full-time, even if it is in Minnesota.”
“Yeah, it’s great. Listen, a few weeks ago, he gave me his bond bite.”
Katsuki smiles, with a not insignificant trace of sadness. “I heard through the grapevine,” he says.
“And it still hasn’t faded,” Yuri continues.
The smile flickers slightly. “Oh? That’s strange.”
“It really should have faded by now, by all accounts,” Yuri says. “I guess it could be some scarring disorder or something, but I…”
They both seem to know where this conversation is going, and neither of them look ready for it.
“I hate to ask this,” Yuri says, “but did you and Victor…?”
Katsuki tries to keep a brave face, he really does. He intensifies his smile in the way only a man on the verge of angry tears can. “Yeah,” he says, voice cracking almost imperceptibly. “Yeah, we did. Both of us.”
“Did yours… I mean, is yours – has it—?”
Katsuki’s eyes drop. His hand lifts and rubs at a very specific spot near where his neck meets his shoulder. A look of intense pain falls over his face, and all at once, Yuri regrets asking.
“Look – Katsuki, never mind, it’s not important—”
“It hasn’t,” he says. “It’s still there. It’s been months and it’s…”
Yuri feels like he shouldn’t be seeing this. This pain is way too personal for him to observe. What’s he supposed to do? Yuri isn’t good at this, he’s not cuddly like Victor, he doesn’t know how to make people feel better. The only thing he can think to do at this particular moment is to beat the shit out of Vitya, but with a 15-hour plane ride each way, it seems impractical.
“Do you think you and Otabek might be soulbonded?” Katsuki asks, smiling too widely. He’s on the verge of tears.
“Katsuki,” Yuri says, frowning.
“That’s really great, Yuri,” he says, and his face starts to crumble around the edges. “I’m happy for you.”
“I shouldn’t have called,” Yuri mutters. “This was a bad idea.”
“I’m afraid I don’t have much advice for you… maybe you could ask Lilia, but…”
“I’m sorry,” Yuri says softly.
Katsuki turns away, face out of frame. Yuri feels like garbage. He’d only wanted to ask for the sake of comparison. He should have known it would dredge up memories.
“Listen, Katsuki, Victor isn’t—”
“Sorry, I need to get back on the rink,” Katsuki says in a rush. “I’ll text you later, okay?”
Skype blips and the image dies. Yuri is left staring at his reflection in a black screen, sighs, and wishes that he could do more – or at the very least, that he hadn’t done this.
Chapter 12: Turn
The best thing about working with Sonia Bernard is definitely that she’s Sonia Bernard. Interestingly, it’s also the worst thing about working with her.
Yuri didn’t know what he expected, being coached by one of the most technically accomplished figure skaters alive, but her standards for him are sky-high. She hadn’t even let him on the ice until he could likely medal in Olympic floor gymnastics as soon as figure skating, and then once he was on the ice, she had him running his new choreography until he thought his legs would fall off.
“Keep your back bent!” she barks into Yuri’s final free skate spin. “Arms up, don’t let that free leg get sloppy!”
When the music finally ends, Yuri hunches forward over himself and gasps hoarsely, trying to catch up with his breath.
“Well, that was better than last time,” she says from where she’s standing at the edge of the rink, leaning back against the wall.
“I think my lungs are going to collapse,” Yuri wheezes.
“Water,” she says shortly. Yuri skates weakly over and thumps into the edge of the rink, grabbing the water bottle waiting by the iPod dock and taking a long pull. “You’re improving quickly, but I don’t want you to get too complacent. I want you preparing for this like the world is out to get you.”
Yuri empties half the bottle before he has to stop drinking just so he can go back to panting.
Sonia watches from his left. “I’ve been going back lately, watching all your programs from previous seasons.”
Yuri gives her a sidelong look.
“You’re about as technically skilled as you can be every time, but I can always see what you’re thinking.”
“I don’t follow.”
“In your first junior season, I could see the math behind your eyes at every minute, see you planning for every jump and spin.”
“I won Junior Worlds that year, so I must have been doing something right.”
“But you were unquestionably better last season. There wasn’t any math, just emotion. You were miserable, but that misery poured into your performance. It was effortless.”
“Be more miserable, got it.” Yuri dumps the remaining water through his hair, where it all but sizzles on his skin.
“Don’t be miserable, be authentic. You chose this music for a reason. Let it come through in your performance.”
“I chose the music out of spite,” he reminds her.
She grins at him. “I won’t say a word against spite. Spite is a great motivator. It won me Europeans three years in a row.”
Yuri laughs. It’s December now, and whatever nerves he once had about talking to her fizzled out once the real training started. You can really only be so starstruck by someone working you like a dog eight hours a day, six days a week.
She hasn’t stopped being awesome, though.
“Cool down stretches. Come on, I’ll hold your ankle.”
Yuri sets the water bottle down and bends forward over the rink wall, lifting his right leg up and over his head. Sonia holds his ankle and hyperextends his leg in a slow, deliberate stretch.
“I hope you know why I’m working you so hard.”
“Sadism?” Yuri guesses.
She grins. “No,” she says. “It’s because you’re going into the most important competition of your life as an omega.”
“I was an omega last season,” Yuri says. “And every season before and since, come to it.” He bends further forward as the stretch lengthens and relaxes.
“Yes, but now you’re not the only one who knows it,” she says. “Take it from me, Yuri. Omegas have to work twice as hard to get half as far as alphas at this level. You can’t just be the best, you have to be so far past the best that anyone who denies it would have to be the stupidest motherfucker alive.”
“Motherfucker” sounds weird in a French accent, Yuri decides. She releases his grip on his right ankle and Yuri swaps it for his left.
“You know,” she continues as they repeat the process on the other side, “my old coach told me once that I’d have taken gold the Olympics if I’d been an alpha. I always though privately that I could have managed if it I’d just been white.”
Yuri doesn’t doubt it for a moment.
“Well, I’m glad to help you prove it,” he says. “Are you going to teach me the move?”
She cocks an eyebrow. “What move?”
“The move! Come on, 1982 Worlds? How do you not know the move? It’s your move!”
It takes her a moment. “Oh, that? You want to add it into your program? Why?”
Yuri is dumbfounded that she even needs a reason. Stretch done, he drops both feet to the ice. “Because it’s awesome!”
“You can’t get points for it,” she says. “In fact, I’m pretty sure they technically made a rule against using it in competition once I pulled it off.”
“Fuck that!” Yuri says at once.
Sonia laughs, loud and clear. “I like your chutzpah,” she says. “Chutzpah” is another word that sounds weird with a French accent.
“So you’ll teach me how to do it?”
She stops laughing eventually, and instead gives Yuri a long, measuring look.
“Like you said,” Yuri continues, “twice as good to get half as far. I can’t think of a better way to run up the score.”
She drums her fingers on the rink wall for a moment.
Then, “All right.”
“But that means more gymnastics.”
“More gymnastics it is, then,” Yuri says, and the door on the edge of the rink squeals open. Yuri glances over in time to see Lilia approaching, pointe shoes over one shoulder, large envelope in her hand, loose-knit sweater falling around her knees.
“Is it Otabek’s turn already?” Sonia asks, checking her wristwatch.
“Not quite,” Lilia answers. “He’s getting on his skates and should be out for his session soon. I just wanted to let you know that the designer stopped by. He brought his sketches for their competition outfits for review.”
“Oh, good!” Sonia says. Lilia stops on the opposite side of the rink wall and carefully tugs out several large sketch pad-sized papers, thick with cloth swatches. “Lilia, is that a new perfume?”
“Careful,” Lilia answers.
Yuri glances between them a moment, wondering if he’s imagining things.
“These look lovely,” she continues, once the papers are laid flat. Yuri looks back down.
“Wow,” Yuri says. “So this one’s for the short?” he asks, tapping the drawing on the left.
“You’re meant to be the Queen of the Night,” Lilia says by way of answering.
“Cool,” he decides.
“Thus endeth the review,” Sonia says. “They look good. Let’s get Otabek to approve his sketches so we can get the designer down here to take their measurements by next week.”
“It never feels real until you get the costume,” Yuri says. “Are we done for the day?”
“Finish your cool downs at the barre,” Sonia says, and Yuri gratefully steps off the ice.
King Arthur and Guinevere, Napoleon and Josephine, Romeo and Juliet, Justinian and Theodora – the great soulbonded pairs of history and fiction scarcely need introduction. The intense interpersonal connection and near-supernatural mutual empathy of a soulbond has inspired humanity’s greatest pieces of art, toppled kingdoms, and ended epochs.
But in a more modern context, a soulbonded pair is often thrust into roles that are quite different.
Miranda Laramie, 36, and her wife, Raoul, for one example, are local celebrities in their quiet hometown of Bedfordshire, England.
“I knew at once I loved him,” Miranda says, smiling fondly. She is tall, thin, with a professorial look about her. It’s an aesthetic that fits in nicely with their flat, overstuffed with books and decorated with maps and historical memorabilia. “I could smell him from the far side of the library. He was beautiful.”
Out of some combination of curiosity and passion, they had their pheromone compatibility score checked. They were entered into the registry of soulbonded pairs in fall of 2004 – a holdover from World War II still used in many countries.
They’ve been on the local news three times now – once when they moved from Essex; once when Raoul gave birth to their daughter, Isabelle; and once when they celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary.
“It always seemed so prosaic to us,” Miranda recalls. “Not that these events weren’t major milestones for us as a couple, but they hardly seemed worth the fanfare they got.”
“We got baby shower gifts from as far away as Kent,” Raoul says with a laugh.
But since they don’t expect any more major milestones – they’ve agreed that one child is more than enough, and be hitting twenty years until 2025 – they’ve settled in as local celebrities, and also as reluctant relationship counselors.
“It’s surreal,” Miranda readily admits. “Friends, coworkers, acquaintances, even strangers – they come to me with problems of the heart, and I want to say – look, I’m a mathematics professor! I don’t know!”
“We didn’t build the soulbond, the soulbond happened,” Raoul says. “We built the relationship, and it was considerably easier to do so because of it. We don’t have any special insight.”
They laugh about it, but when pressed, they admit that it leads to deeper problems.
“I worry about the message it sends,” Raoul admits, bouncing now two-year-old Isabelle on his knee. “A soulbond is a quirk of nature, it’s not something to strive for. But how do you explain that to young kids who’ve so romanticized it that anything less seems unfulfilling? How do I explain it to Izzy, when she starts dating, that there’s a ninety-some-percent chance her relationship won’t be like mummy and daddy’s?”
“And that’s foregoing how invasive it is,” Miranda says. Raoul nods passionately in agreement. “It seems to give people the idea that they have a license to interrogate us about intimate details of our lives, our sex lives especially.”
“People get angry when we don’t talk about these things with them,” Raoul says. “They get even angrier when when we do, and when it doesn’t line up with what they think a perfect relationship should be.”
“We’ve been thinking of moving again,” Miranda admits hesitantly. “We don’t like the spotlight. And we certainly don’t want Izzy in it, either.”
“Victor’s free skate about to start!” Otabek calls from the living room.
“Hang on!” Yuri answers. Then, “Shit, who wanted milk in their coffee?”
All three of them shout their coffee-related requests at once.
“One at a time, goddammit!”
“Just bring them with you, Christophe is already in the kiss and cry!” Lilia says.
Yuri sighs and reenters the living room with two mugs of coffee in each hand, a bag of sugar under his arm, and the creamer tucked beneath his chin.
“Good score,” Sonia says when it pops up. On the screen, Christophe beams and hugs his boyfriend – fiance? Yuri hasn’t been keeping up with Instagram lately – who throws his arms around his neck.
“He did better last year,” Yuri says once he sees the screen. “I can’t believe he and Vitya are both still competing in the regular season.”
It’s four in the afternoon in Pyeongchang, which means in Minneapolis it’s half past fuck-this-shit o’clock, and they all mutter grateful things about coffee once they get their mugs. They’re playing the livestream through a complicated combination of laptops and HDMI cables, because no sane sports network would air anything live at this hour.
“Turn it up,” Beka requests, and Yuri taps the corresponding button on the laptop.
“… retired last season, but returned this year as though nothing had changed,” says the male announcer. Victor is skating out onto the ice, dressed in loose black with great slashes of silver. On the surface, he looks great – good shape, well-coiffed – but Yuri knows him well enough to know—
“He looks like shit.” More specifically, he looks like he doesn’t want to be here.
“Victor Nikiforov has still got it, clearly,” the female announcer agrees. “He’ll be skating to Scheherazade.”
“Jesus, Victor, Rimsky-Korsakov?” Yuri groans. “Why not just skate to the Russian national anthem?”
“I remember hearing Yakov say that his music was chosen for him,” Lilia says doubtfully.
“I thought he got all his music specially composed?” Otabek asks, but before anyone can answer, his free program starts.
It’s easy for Yuri to talk shit from the other side of the world, but it’s also easy to forget that Victor is a fucking superb skater. Even with the look of a man who would rather be anywhere else in the world, he sweeps into the music like he wrote it himself.
“Is that the same Yakov from Paris?” Sonia asks, apropos Lilia’s last remark.
“The same,” Lilia answers.
“Beautiful quad lutz there,” the announcer interjects.
“This performance,” Beka says doubtfully. “Does it seem…?”
“Kind of soulless,” Yuri agrees. Yuri knows Victor would never willingly choose extant music, let alone by a composer like Rimsky-Korsakov. There’s something he’s missing, clearly.
“You’re still with that boorish alpha brute?” Sonia asks.
“With him? Sonia, you and I haven’t seen each other in fifteen years. I had time to marry and divorce him.”
The sad fact of the matter is that Victor doesn’t need a soul to be one of the best skaters in the world. His execution is flawless, and his component score shouldn’t be too shabby either, based on the way things are going. Yuri watches as the free skate continues with increasing dread.
God, he can’t believe he actually made a wager with Victor Nikiforov. What had he been thinking?
“So if you divorced him,” Sonia says, “does that mean you’ll say yes if I ask you out this time around?”
If there was any remark that could have pulled Yuri out of Victor’s performance, it would have been that. Beka seems to notice it, too. The two of them, seated on the floor at the coffee table, turn around to stare at the two older women on the couch.
Sonia is grinning at Lilia. Lilia is glaring at the pair of them.
“That man on the screen is going to be your biggest competition going into Helsinki,” she tells them severely. “I’d pay attention if I were you.”
They turn back around again.
Oh, my God, Beka mouths at him.
Right? Yuri mouths back.
“Quad flip, triple toe combination,” the male announcer says. “Excellent execution. Going into the second half now.”
Yuri tries to focus.
Okay, so Victor, despite taking a year off, is still almost impossibly talented. But so is Yuri. Right? If there’s anyone in the world who can keep Victor Nikiforov off the Olympic podium, it’s him. And come to it, Beka’s not that bad either. Surely if they both keep focusing…
“Wow! That was a—”
“Unbelievable!” the male announcer gushes. “That was a quad axel! The first quad axel in ISU history!”
Yuri feels a strong surge of twitching rage all the way up his spine.
“Fuck,” he hisses.
“Language, Yuratchka,” Lilia chides behind him.
“I didn’t even know quad axels were possible,” Beka says.
“He’s been teasing it on Twitter for months,” Yuri says. “Fuck! I can’t believe he can actually do a quad axel!”
“Yuratchka Plisetsky, I said watch your tongue.”
“We’ll figure it out,” Sonia assures him. “If he can pull it off, there’s no reason either of you can’t.”
“Well, we have to now,” Beka says, and he’s not wrong. The moment a top-tier figure skater unveils a never-before-done jump, in the run-up to the Olympics no less, there’s always a mad dash to match him, lest the rest of them start falling behind in technical score.
“This is just the GPF,” Sonia says. “We have time.”
But it’s getting harder and harder for Yuri to maintain optimism. He knows he’s good, but is he quad axel good? Can he be? How is he supposed to go into the Olympics, expected to pull off a brand new jump?
And what the hell is he supposed to do if he can’t?
Over the next few months, Yuri vacillates constantly between nauseous fear and burning drive with very little emotional middle ground.
He gets better – objectively, he gets better – and although he manages to land his first quad axel in mid-January, it’s very shaky.
By late February, with the Olympics looming, Yuri has settled decidedly on the “nauseous fear” end of the spectrum.
“My quad axel isn’t good enough,” he says, slamming the locker door.
“Relax,” Beka says behind him, pulling out his phone as he sits down on the bench. “Even if you can’t manage it, every other jump is solid.”
“It’s the principle of the thing!” Yuri insists, ruffling the sweat out of his hair with a towel. “Victor can do a quad axel, so I have to do it, too! Otherwise what the hell is the point of me?”
“What the hell?”
“Come on, you know I’m right.”
“No, not that,” Beka says. “I have thirty-two text messages and eighteen voicemails.”
“What?” Yuri turns around. “We’ve only been on the rink four hours. What happened?”
Beka doesn’t answer, but as he scrolls through his phone, the blood starts to drain from his face.
Yuri can practically feel it on him. Otabek is suddenly and eclipsingly terrified, and now Yuri is, too. Something very, very bad has happened.
“Beka, what’s wrong?”
“The—” he begins, but falters. “Oh, God.”
“Beka!” Yuri sits down next to him and looks at his phone.
“Oh, my God,” Yuri whispers, stomach lurching in sudden terror.
“I—” He stands up. His hands are shaking. “I’ve got to call her back—”
“Yeah,” Yuri says. “Yes. Now. Go now. I’ll find Lilia and Sonia, we’ll take the first plane out—”
Otabek is already rushing out of the locker room, where the signal’s too weak to make calls. Yuri heads in the opposite direction, stumbling into a run, head spinning, trying desperately not to ask the obvious questions.
That trip between Minneapolis and Astana is the longest one of Yuri’s life.
The two hours after they land are the shortest.
They arrive at an airport in chaos, with armed soldiers shouting over crowds that all flights bound out of the capital are cancelled until further notice.
They’re met outside by what looks to Yuri’s untrained eye to be an entire battalion of soldiers blocking the way, and only when Otabek tearfully shouts at them that he’s the son of MP Altin do they check his ID, call someone, and put them both in a military issue car.
Yuri had spent much of the ride to and time in the Minneapolis airport checking the news, despite his better judgment. They’re already using the dreaded T-word – terrorist attack. It’s so early that they can’t calculate death tolls, but the fact that there is a death toll at all makes him numb with fear.
In contrast to what is surely Yuri’s frenetic, shuddering terror, Otabek goes stone solid, staring through what must be bulletproof glass as a stoic, silent soldier drives them into the chaotic capital of Kazakhstan.
And to a hospital.
The soldiers hadn’t really said where it was they were taking them, but somehow this is the worst place they could have gone. The soldier is stopped in the lobby and consults with a frantic beta nurse behind a desk before—
Yuri turns in time to see a bright pink hijab bob upward through the bedlam that is the main hospital lobby.
Otabek shoves past several orderlies and sprints to his sister, just as she scrambles up and out of the chair, into his arms.
“Beka,” she sobs into his chest, and quickly becomes incoherent. Yuri hurries over as Otabek capitulates onto his knees, hugging her tightly.
“Nika, where’s Mom?” he asks. “What happened?”
Nika is sobbing frantically and almost completely incomprehensible. Yuri is only just able to make out the word surgery.
Nika is nearly fifteen, but Beka picks her up in both arms like she’s five and carries her back over to the row of seats from whence she’d ran, setting her down next to him and kissing the side of her head.
“It’s okay,” he tells her, “Nika, hush, it’s going to be okay, I’m here, we’re going to be fine.”
Yuri doesn’t know what to do. Kazakhstan is in chaos. Lashyn is in surgery. He has almost no idea what happened.
He goes and shouts for a doctor, a nurse, someone who knows what’s going on, someone who can give them answers.
“From what I’ve been told,” the doctor says, “Mrs. Altin’s office was just below the explosion. She was found on the other side of her heavy office door, which likely saved her life.”
Nika sobs harder into Otabek’s chest. Yuri keeps his arms folded across his stomach, because they shouldn’t have to be strong right now, so he will be for them.
“When will she be out of surgery?” he asks.
“It’s hard to say,” the doctor answers, frowning. “A few hours, hopefully. But you should know, even when she does get out, she’ll likely be comatose. The damage to her brain…”
Nika wails, and Otabek strokes her back and hushes her even as his hands shake.
“Try to eat,” Yuri says.
“I’m not hungry,” Otabek replies.
“You haven’t eaten in almost a day,” Yuri insists. “It’s just chips and water.”
Nika is curled up half in her brother’s lap. Beka is staring at the bottle in Yuri’s outstretched hand as though he can’t quite see it.
“Why aren’t they telling us anything?” Otabek asks.
“Please eat,” Yuri whispers, fighting back the welling emotion.
Heart monitors don’t sound like they do in movies. It’s not nearly so cold and mechanical, but rather a sort of organic double-chirp a few times per second. This must be a newer model.
“… now confirming the total number of dead has reached forty-three,” the news anchor says on the television mounted at the upper corner of the hospital room. “Authorities continue to refuse confirming it as a domestic terrorist attack.”
“She looks like she’s already dead,” Beka whispers next to him, so he won’t wake Nika, who’s now sleeping next to Lashyn on the bed.
“She’s not,” Yuri replies.
Otabek doesn’t answer.
“Beka, look at me,” Yuri says, putting a hand on his knee. Otabek doesn’t look at Yuri, but does look down at the hand. “Whatever happens, we’re going to be okay. We’re going to look out for each other.”
Yuri watches as Otabek takes a half-hearted sip of water, plastic crinkling under his fingertips.
“I love you,” Yuri says.
“I love you, too,” Otabek answers, and lifts Yuri’s hand to kiss it.
They stay that way for a while, hands clasped.
“Someone should have told us something by now,” he says.
Yuri leans on his shoulder. They listen to the sound of the chirping heart monitor like they hope it will put them to sleep.
“I’m not here as a reporter,” is the first thing Omar says when Yuri sees him in the door.
“See, I don’t even have a camera. Just a visitor’s pass. I heard that Mrs. Altin was here and I…”
It’s been almost two days now. Yuri has been surviving on vending machine food, bottled water, and ibuprofen. He needs a shower and a good night’s sleep. He’ll likely get neither until Lashyn wakes up.
“It’s okay,” Otabek says from behind him. “Hi, Omar.”
“Hi, Otabek.” Omar looks at Nika, still curled up next to her mother’s unconscious body. “How’s she doing? Off the record, of course, obviously, like I said—”
“About as good as can be expected, under the circumstances,” Otabek interjects. “She’s been in a coma for about eighteen hours now. But her surgery seems to have stopped the worst of the brain hemorrhaging.”
“That’s good,” Omar says, even though everyone knows that nothing about this situation is good.
“Omar, do you know anything?” Yuri asks. “No one has told us a damn thing. We’ve just been watching the news.”
“Is it true the bomb was right under her office?” Yuri presses.
“I’m not sure I should…”
“Please,” Yuri says.
Omar hesitates for a moment, then slowly closes the hospital room door.
“This comes with a big caveat, you understand?”
Otabek sits up. Yuri nods fervently. “Of course.”
“This is a developing situation. Facts are changing rapidly. My only source from the military is insisting on anonymity. But from what she’s told me…”
Omar pulls his phone out from his jacket pocket, unlocks it, and starts scrolling though what Yuri would bet are his text messages. He starts reading off from them:
“‘My C.O. says the bomb is way too sophisticated for a home-grown terrorist,’” he begins, “‘and that the structure and mechanics of the device that they’ve been able to piece together are reminiscent of late Soviet-era explosives.’”
“Soviet-era?” Yuri repeats, frowning.
“‘Right now, the running theory is that this is not domestic,’” Omar continues, voice grave, “‘although with the forged visitor’s logs and the security footage we found would suggest that someone was trying very hard to make it seem like it was. The specific placement of the explosive makes us think this is political. Top of the list of suspects right now is Russia.’”
“Not that Kazakhstan doesn’t have a spotty history of killing its own opposition party members, but I’m tempted to agree,” Omar says, shoving his phone away. “Mrs. Altin has the highest approval rating of any MP within her own district, let alone nationally. She’s the mother of an bronze medalist athlete and responsible for some of the most popular social reforms in recent history. The Kazakh government would have to be stupid to kill her, especially like this.”
“But why Russia?” Yuri asks.
Omar levels him with a sad look.
“What?” Yuri demands, finding himself increasingly frantic. “What?”
“Oh,” Otabek says behind him.
“Yuri, do you really not get it?” Omar asks.
It takes him a moment, but eventually he does. The realization is the worst thing he’s ever felt.
“Me?” he whispers. “They did this because of me?”
“It aligns with early theories,” Omar says slowly. “What better way to send a message about disloyalty?”
Yuri starts to tremble – from anger, from fear, he doesn’t know.
“It’s just the fucking Olympics!” he bellows.
“No, Yuri, it’s not just the Olympics,” Omar says, “it’s you. It’s you, spurring omegist, anti-government protests across Russia. It’s you, whipping up anger against the Kremlin in an autocratic government. It’s you forcing a former Soviet state to align themselves against Russia by virtue of your participation in the highest international tournament there is. This isn’t about the Olympics anymore. It never really was.”
Yuri collapses onto the nearby chair because his legs give out from under him. He doubles forward over himself, nauseous.
“Then I’ll drop out,” Yuri says. He lifts his head and looks to Omar, vision blurred with tears. “I’ll drop out of the Olympics. I’ll do whatever they want! I never wanted this to happen!”
“It’s not that simple, Yuri,” Beka says softly. “The contracts we signed with the IOC are legally binding. Unless we’re on death’s door, we have to be in Helsinki at the end of the month.”
A sob rips its way out of Yuri’s throat. Tears pour down his face. “Beka, I’m so sorry.”
Otabek swallows. “Yuri…”
“I’m so sorry,” he sobs, as Otabek crosses the room toward him. “I didn’t mean for it to go this far. Lashyn’s in a coma, your country’s Parliament is half-destroyed, and it’s all my fault—”
Otabek sinks down in front of Yuri and pulls him forward into a tight embrace.
“What did you say to me last night?” he whispers into Yuri’s ear. “Whatever happens, we’re going to be okay.”
“Beka,” Yuri sobs into his shoulder.
“We’re going to look out for each other,” he says, voice shaking. “We’re a bonded pair now, we’re family. Do you hear me? We’re going to be okay. Maybe not today, but some day we are.”
Yuri does not believe him, but desperately wants to. He holds on tight to Beka like he is the last thing keeping him anchored, and maybe he is.
I don’t talk about this much, but I grew up effectively motherless.
Although she didn’t die until I was ten, she might as well have died in childbirth for all I saw her. She’d always been more interested in hedonism and slow suicide by alcohol. Grandpa did what he could, and it was more than I could have ever asked, but he had to work well into his sixties to support my new skating career. Motherly affection was something I learned to go without. Mothers were for other people.
And then, one day, there was Lashyn Altin.
I don’t know if I would call her a mother to me, if only because I don’t know what it feels like to have one. But I know this: she is kind, she is generous, she is brilliant, and she has taught me more about myself than I ever thought I’d know. If she’s not a mother to me, she’s the next best thing, and right now she’s in the hospital because my country planted a bomb under her office at Parliament.
I don’t want to get political. I don’t want to preach about the cold lack of humanity required to plan an attack like this. Presumably you know that already.
I just want you to know that they are still pulling bodies out from the rubble. I want you to know that the death count keeps rising. I want you to know that there are people in Astana right now who desperately need help.
So if you can, give blood. If you can’t give blood, give money to the Red Cross, here on the ground in Kazakhstan. If you can’t give money, then please pray. People have died. The woman who is the nearest thing to a mother I’ve ever had is in the hospital. Kazakhstan will survive, but right now she is bleeding.
“We’ve rescheduled your flights to Helsinki,” Mr. Omarov says. He brought flowers with him. A lot of Lashyn’s fellow MP’s did. Yuri knows it’s not because she’s the most popular member of Parliament. He knows her hard left-of-center policies made her a lot of unfriendly acquaintances within the majority party. He wonders if this outpouring of support from them has to do with Lashyn or some response to collective trauma or both.
Either way, one wall of her hospital room has become dominated by flowers and cards and teddy bears wearing Team Kazakhstan jackets and Olympic medals.
Mr. Omarov sets his vase down with the others when neither Yuri, nor Otabek, nor Nika answer him.
“We originally wanted to fly you both out early to maximize your time to settle into the Olympic Village, but under the circumstances…”
Yuri doesn’t know where Otabek’s cold silence comes from, but he knows it for his own. It’s not that Yuri is angry at Mr. Omarov specifically – so far, he has been nothing but kind and courteous, if a little stilted – it’s that he’s angry at what Mr. Omarov represents. It was a party like his, dubiously elected and authoritarian, from a country like Russia, under a flimsy veneer of democracy, that started this. Yuri just has a hard time ignoring that for the sake of cordiality while Lashyn lies comatose a few feet away.
“We’ll fly you out at the latest date permitted by the IOC,” Mr. Omarov continues, “which is four days before the first events. You can leave right from Astana. Hopefully by then, she’ll…”
“So you aren’t throwing my bonded mate under the bus,” Otabek interjects, nothing but venom.
Mr. Omarov steels his face. He’d been expecting anger, clearly. “No,” he says, “of course not. Yuri is not his government.”
“What refreshing clarity,” Beka continues, cold. “Let’s hope it stays that way, because make no mistake – if he goes, I go.”
Yuri looks back at him. It’s the most he’s heard Otabek say in the week-and-a-half since they arrived in Astana.
“Strictly speaking, neither of you can legally go. The papers are signed, and the games—”
“You know what I mean,” Beka says.
“Yes,” Mr. Omarov sighs, “I know what you mean.”
Yuri smiles, or manages something that is nearly a smile. “Should I make a joke about overprotective alphas?” he asks.
Beka looks at him, and the hard, sharp edges of his anger soften marginally. He reaches out one hand and grips firmly at Yuri’s shoulder – right over his bond bite.
Yuri only just manages to suppress a shiver at the feeling.
“If you like,” he says. “You wouldn’t be entirely wrong.”
“I don’t think you have to worry,” Yuri says. “Apparently they really, really want to medal this year.”
She doesn’t wake up from her coma before he and Beka have to leave for Helsinki. Yuri and Otabek fly together out of Astana, feeling like they’re leaving pieces of themselves behind.
From everything Victor and Georgi have told him about the Olympics, he is supposed to feel an eclipsing sense of awe his first time. He’s supposed to be electric with anticipation, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
He’s not. Mostly he’s just tired.
On the day of the opening ceremonies, where all the teams from all the competing nations line up to start the parade and procession at the lighting of the Olympic torch, Team Kazakhstan is dressed in black instead of their country’s yellow and pale blue.
In all, there are only ten of them, and in what is either a cruel twist of fate or an act of misguided bureaucratic peacemaking, they end up right behind Team Russia, whose numbers are exponentially larger.
“I heard about what happened, Yuri,” Victor says, approaching despite Yuri’s Berlin Wall of body language between them. He still looks like shit, Yuri notices with a savage sort of Schadenfreude. He looks tired and stressed and like he didn’t sleep last night. “I’m so sorry. How is she?”
“Suck a knot, Victor,” Yuri answers at once.
“Please,” Victor says, “I’m just trying to help. I know she was like family to you.”
“You’re fucking right she’s like family,” Yuri growls, “and she’s in a coma because of the government whose ass you’re kissing.”
Victor doesn’t look angry, he doesn’t look indignant – he doesn’t even have the decency to look ashamed. He just looks sad. Sad and tired and miserable.
“Words can’t express how much it hurts to have seen this happen,” Victor says. “I can only imagine it’s a thousand times worse for you. I don’t know if there’s anything…”
Yuri’s hands ball into fists, but he stays silent.
Victor wets his lips, rubs the heel of his palm into his eye, and then reaches into his jacket, producing – of all things – a small present, wrapped in glossy violet paper.
“Happy birthday, Yura,” he says.
Yuri’s so surprised by the gesture that he takes it from Victor’s outstretched hand out of instinct. The gift is small and light, the size and dimensions of a CD.
“My birthday’s not until Thursday,” Yuri says as Victor starts to walk away.
“I know,” Victor says, neither turning around nor stopping, “but I doubt you’ll agree to talk to me again.”
It’s Otabek, from behind, in his black jacket, watching Victor as he returns to the large pool that is Team Russia, preparing to walk.
“What was that?”
“I don’t know,” Yuri says, and he doesn’t.
The Olympic Village in Helsinki is idyllic. Yuri didn’t know what he’d been expecting, but somehow any expectation is exceeded.
It’s a massive, beautiful street of modern apartments nestled in recent snowfall. The furnishings are sleek and clean but decadent – Yuri is particularly pleased to see a whirlpool bathtub – and the view out the back window looks out over a sprawling, snow-drenched forest.
Yuri takes lots of pictures and texts them all to Lashyn, despite himself.
As soon as they drop off their bags after the opening ceremony, the first thing they do is sleep like they were dead. Then, that evening, they go exploring as best as IOC security will let them. The Village is locked down tight, and they can only wander so far.
One of the first people Yuri runs into is Katsuki, who’s chatting with a young woman that Yuri recognizes from the Rostelecom last season.
“Katsuki,” he says, “konbanwa.”
Katsuki turns and smiles. They’re both bundled up against the evening air, Katsuki with his fluffy earmuffs, Yuri with his long purple scarf tucked into his hoodie.
“Your Japanese is getting better,” Katsuki says, and they hug. “It’s good to see you again, Yuri. How are you?”
“Been better,” he admits, and once they break apart he gratefully shoves his hands back into his hoodie pocket. “Been worse, too, I suppose.”
Katsuki nods slowly. “How’s Otabek’s mom?”
Yuri sighs. “Still not out of the coma,” he says. “I’ve threatened her doctor under pain of death to call us the minute she’s awake, but…”
“Yeah,” Katsuki agrees, and Yuri suspects that no more need be said on the matter. The other Japanese figure skater gets a call and excuses herself. Katsuki smiles and nods as she heads off. “I’m looking forward to seeing your programs this year,” he says. “You’ve been so secretive about them. Normally they’re all over Instagram.”
“They’re a surprise this year,” Yuri says. “Although truthfully, I’m starting to get nervous.”
“It’s the Olympics,” Katsuki laughs. “If you’re not nervous, you’re lying to yourself.”
“That’s not what I mean. It’s not Olympic jitters. It’s…”
It’s that Yuri’s choice of music is a giant “fuck you” to the country that nearly killed Lashyn, and now he’s nervous it will somehow generate further retaliation, and it’s way too late to change it.
“Never mind,” he sighs, and they walk back down the sidewalk. “What about yours? You’ve been tight-lipped, too.”
Katsuki looks down at his boots as he walks, crunching in the snow.
“I’m nervous, too,” he says, smiling valiantly. “My new coach encouraged me to pour everything I’ve been feeling these past few months into them, and in the privacy of my home rink, that’s easy, but…”
“They’re about Victor?” Yuri asks.
Katsuki cringes at the name, rubs the crux of his neck and shoulder. “Yeah…”
“Well, good. Your coach is right about one thing, you’re best when you’re authentic.”
The comment draws as much of a grin as Katsuki can muster. “This from the early gold favorite?”
“Hey, if I’m not getting complacent, you can’t, either,” Yuri says. “I expect you to make me work for it. I don’t like admitting to this, but there aren’t very many skaters who could conceivably keep me off the podium. You’re one of them.”
Katsuki smiles. “Then it’s agreed,” he says. “We’ll both do our best.”
“And may the best omega win,” Yuri returns. Katsuki laughs. “And for what it’s worth, after what Victor’s done to you, I look forward to watching your routines make him feel like trash.”
The look on Katsuki’s face is inscrutable at that moment – halfway between happy and sad, with a dash of fear.
“Did you see there was a pond?” Katsuki asks, rather than reply. Yuri knows a deliberate subject change when he hears one. “They actually ran a zamboni over it for the skaters. Can you imagine?”
“He still loves you, you know.”
“Yuri, please,” Katsuki mutters.
“He does. I mean, I’m not convinced he deserves you, but he’s clearly miserable without you.”
A pause. Katsuki hesitates on the edge of his next question for nearly ten seconds before he manages, “He is?”
“Distraught,” Yuri assures him. “It’s hilarious. Or it would be, if it weren’t so gross.”
“I miss him, too,” Katsuki says. He’s not smiling, but there is something new on his face that wasn’t there before. “The idea of bearing my soul on the ice for him makes me nervous, but… I skate my best when I skate for him.”
“God, you’re both gross,” Yuri says, and Katsuki laughs. Yuri finds himself pleased that he was able to lighten the mood, and together they go check out the zambonied lake.
“This is your first Olympic season,” the interviewer says.
“It is, yes,” Otabek answers, and even though Yuri avoids press contact like communicable disease, he decides that it’s interesting to watch other skaters do it. Otabek, unsurprisingly, is taciturn and polite, if a little businesslike. He does seem to get softer when the interviewer is from Kazakhstan, though – and this one is from Caravan. She’s not Omar, but he’s not really a sports reporter anyway.
“Early odds and speculation are giving you a pretty good chance at the podium,” the interviewer says, as the tech behind the camera gestures to a production assistant. “It would be pretty historic if you did. Kazakhstan has never medaled in figure skating.”
“I hope I don’t disappoint,” Otabek says with a small smile. Despite his best efforts not to, Yuri melts a little bit. God, he really lucked out, snagging Otabek as a bonded mate.
“Of course, you’re going into this on the back of a national tragedy,” the interviewer says, as the tone shifts. “The Parliament bombing death toll has reached 54 now, and your own mother remains in the hospital.”
“Yes,” Beka returns, looking down.
“How do you think this effects you as an athlete? Or even on a personal level?”
Otabek is silent for a while. Then for a while longer.
The interviewer adds, “We can skip this question, if you want,” in a soft voice not meant for the microphone on her lapel.
“No,” Beka says slowly, “that’s all right. I just…”
Yuri frowns. He understands the hesitance.
“I just don’t know how I’m feeling,” he says. “It seems disingenuous to just say I’m heartbroken. Of course I’m heartbroken, but it’s more than just that. I…”
“Your theme this year is love,” the interviewer prompts. “Love for your bonded mate? Your family? Country?”
“I don’t know,” Otabek says. “I’m sorry, I think I will skip this question after all. I don’t…”
“That’s perfectly fine,” the interviewer assures him. “Let’s move on.”
When the night of the short programs finally arrives, it arrives like a sucker punch: abruptly, unexpectedly, leaving Yuri breathless and nauseous. Somehow despite having worked toward this for months, and despite having dreamed about it for years, Yuri is still caught off-guard when he wakes up and realizes what day it is.
What’s most surprising is the size of the whole operation, though perhaps it shouldn’t be. The roster is only a few slots bigger than the average ISU tournament, but the turnout is immense. Yuri has never seen a stadium so packed before. And that’s to say nothing of the handler he’s given to follow him around, presumably to make sure he doesn’t take a last-minute hit of steroids or fake his urine test or whatever.
For the short, the men’s singles do the digital equivalent of draw straws to determine order, and Yuri ends up in the middle of the pack. Unlike in ISU events, where they could more or less wander freely through the back halls of the rink, the Olympic skaters are all corralled into one large room. One corner has a gymnastics mat and some basic gym equipment. One corner has a table, couch, and a few armchairs. One corner has a TV, tuned to ESPN International, which in turn is focused on the rink 200 feet away from where they’re all waiting.
Where Yuri is watching Victor skate the best short program he’s ever seen.
“Don’t let him psyche you out,” Beka says next to him. “Switch.”
Yuri switches his leg. They’re helping each other stretch, and it’s Yuri’s turn. Beka bends it upward for him, over his back, hyperextending the standing split.
“He’s not psyching me out,” Yuri lies.
“Unbelievable!” one announcer interjects. “A quad axel thrown in off the cuff!”
“We’re past the half-minute mark,” the other adds, “that will be worth a massive amount of points.”
Fuck, Yuri’s answers, though only in his mind.
Best as Yuri can tell, the television has a delay of about two minutes, which means the sudden thunderous, rumbling applause above their heads is an indication that the rest of his program went just as well, and his score was excellent.
“You’re getting psyched out,” Beka says gravely.
“I said I’m not,” Yuri answers, but Beka drops Yuri’s leg and spins him around by the waist, until his hips are pressed into the edge of the table they’d been standing at.
“You’re going to be okay,” Otabek tells him, voice low and serious. “Politics of everything aside, you know you’d hate it even more if he went easy on you.”
Yuri frowns, supposing he’s right. Otabek kisses him then, which helps a lot.
“Mr. Altin? You’re needed in the wing,” says Otabek’s handler.
They withdraw reluctantly. Yuri looks over. “I thought Katsuki was up next,” he says.
“He is,” the handler says, “but Mr. Altin is after him, so he needs to do the last-minutes in the wing.”
It’s all so rigorously scheduled. Yuri sighs and looks back at Otabek. “Don’t you get psyched out, either,” Yuri warns him. “I’d be just as pissed at you if you were at anything less than your best, hear me?”
Otabek smiles faintly. “Don’t worry,” he says, “I’m not letting you off easy.”
They kiss one more time, and then Otabek follows his handler out – just as Victor enters.
It’s not what Yuri would call an ideal replacement, but still.
Victor has his Team Russia jacket back on and a towel around his neck.
“I think I missed the score,” Yuri says, looking at the screen in time to see Katsuki skating out onto the ice. His costume looks great, all softly shimmering silver, fading into gold.
Victor doesn’t answer. When Yuri looks back at him, Victor is staring straight at the screen like it’s the worst thing he’s ever had to look at.
“I don’t…” Victor swallows, turns his head away. “I think I’ll head back to the Village—”
“Hey,” Yuri says, stopping him before he reaches for the doorknob. “About that birthday present you gave me.”
In the background, Katsuki’s music starts up, soft and slow. He’d chosen a piano ballad, and Yuri wants to watch, but more than that, he wants Victor to watch.
Can’t run fast enough or get far enough away
Everywhere I go, you’re there
There’s got to be someplace
Where I can give my heart a break
But you are up and down, all around, like air
“Yuri, can we talk about it later?” Victor asks, voice pained.
“No, we really can’t,” Yuri answers at once. “You’re not getting out of this, Victor. You owe him this.”
All I really need is a little bit of distance
But here you are again, breaking down my resistance
Victor’s eyes are transfixed on the screen. The music is heartbreaking.
“An interesting choice, that birthday gift,” Yuri says. “The original Broadway cast recording of Chess. I’ve been trying to dissect your meaning from it.”
Stop my heart
From holding on to someone
I should never have believed in
Stop my hands from reaching
“And then it occurred to me last night,” Yuri says, folding his arms over his chest, as Victor’s pale blue eyes get misty watching the screen, “Russia was willing to blow up a building to punish me, punish Kazakhstan, for standing against them. And I felt like an idiot – because why would they not also do the same for anyone else?”
Stop my tears
From rolling like a river on a rainy day
Someone stop the bleeding
Victor has the look of a man walking to his own execution as he watches Katsuki skate. He folds one arm over his middle, puts the other hand over his mouth.
“Victor,” Yuri says, “did the government threaten you?”
“He’s doing such a good job,” Victor croaks. “God, look at him.”
“Quad lutz, triple toe,” the announcer adds.
“When did he learn the quad lutz!” Victor laughs, rubbing one eye.
“Victor,” Yuri says.
“I couldn’t just tell him,” Victor answers, voice tight. “How was I supposed to tell him? It would have made the targets on his family’s back all the bigger. And they’ve been so good to me, I couldn’t bear the thought of frightening them…”
God. Yuri feels an intense tug of guilt for all the shit-talking he’d been doing this season. Of course they wouldn’t threaten Victor with his own life, they’d threaten him with the lives of Katsuki’s family.
“I love him so much, I couldn’t bear the idea of… It just seemed easier to deny everything, to hide behind my own self-loathing than to confront…”
“Victor, you should have told me,” Yuri says. “I could have…”
Yuri doesn’t know. Something, assuredly.
The door behind Victor opens. It’s Yuri’s handler, who frowns first at the shaking, weeping Victor, then hesitantly looks over at Yuri.
“You’re up next,” she says.
Yuri feels like he shouldn’t be leaving Victor alone like this. But what choice does he have?
“A little technically limited,” one announcer says, “but Katsuki is known for sky-high component scores, and I don’t expect that to be different this time around. What a performance.”
“So emotional,” the other announcer agrees. “You could feel it in the room.”
Yuri’s not good at this. He puts a hand on Victor’s shoulder.
“He did so well,” Victor whispers.
Yuri sighs, swallows, and walks out into the hall.
The intervening four minutes between when Yuri leaves that back room and skates out onto the ice are just enough for Yuri to think himself into a terrified tangle.
“Representing Kazakhstan, Yuri Plisetsky!”
The world, at the moment he grinds to a stop on top of the Olympic rings, goes quiet.
Not quiet like peaceful – not even quiet like focused – but quiet like dead. Yuri’s heart is thundering silently in his chest.
If Russia was willing to blackmail their best skater, to blow up the Parliament of their ostensible allies, what makes Yuri think that they wouldn't do far worse? There are so many ways they could still hurt him. Vitya, Katsuki, Otabek – Lashyn—
What the hell is he doing? The Russian government would kill all of them if it meant showing him up. In that moment, he is certain – he is certain – that skating this program will put them all in danger. What the hell is he doing? These programs were designed specifically to insult his home country. What the hell is he doing?
The word hits him like lightning from a clear, blue sky. He looks up. Beka is pressed to the railing, despite the way his handler is trying to pull him away.
Focus. Focus. Focus.
His heart is pounding. His hands are shaking. The music starts.
[ DOWNLOAD AUDIO ]
And then, it stops.
There’s a rumbling coming up through his skates, up his legs and rattling his knees. Applause, he wonders? Or his own trembling?
Yuri realizes he’s not breathing when he gets lightheaded.
He stumbles, topples forward.
He’s trying, but he feels like no matter how hard he tries, he can’t breathe. Yuri feels like he’s suffocating, like something is holding shut his windpipe. His arms shake. He can’t move. Is he going to die?
Sneakers squeak on the ice. Someone is rushing toward him, pulling him up by the arms. Yuri recognizes the hands. He tries to say Sonia, but he can’t speak. He can’t breathe. He can’t move.
“Yuri, come on. Off the ice. Come on.”
She pulls him forward. The picks of his skates catch and stutter his movements. He holds onto her arm as she pulls him back to the edge of the rink. Yuri keeps wheezing, keeps gasping. Why can’t he breathe? Why can’t he breathe?
“Yuri, you’re having a panic attack,” Sonia mutters to him as she lifts his left skate to put on his skate guard. “Can you hear me? Try to focus on my voice.”
Panic attack? Is he panicking? His mind feels too empty to panic.
Until it’s not.
Oh, God. What has he done? They’re all going to die because of him.
“Yuri!” Lilia grabs him by the other arm.
“Get him to the kiss and cry,” Sonia says urgently.
“Yuri, you did so well!” Lilia says. “It’s okay, you were wonderful! Yuri, can you hear me?”
He can’t, though. Not really.
Yuri will forget the next few minutes of his life.
He will forget the score that comes up on the JumboTron. He will forget Lilia and Sonia on either side, rubbing his back, whispering encouragements. He will forget Beka, screaming at the security guards, fighting his way back rinkside, carrying Yuri out while the cameras aren’t looking.
He’ll forget lying trembling on the floor in the back room, curled up against Beka’s chest, skates on, sweat streaking his face.
The only thing he will remember is how he is sure, he is sure, that he just got everyone he loves killed, and how it is all his fault.
The music in this chapter was the Vengeance Aria, from Mozart's opera "The Magic Flute," as performed by the incomparable Rita Shane.
“Talk to me about other things,” Yuri whispers that night, when they’re both curled up together in the shared apartment allotted them by the IOC. The lamp by the bed is still on, even though it’s well past midnight; they’re both awake, even though they should both be asleep.
“What would you like to talk about?” Otabek whispers back, fingers following gentle patterns through Yuri’s hair.
Yuri shifts, adjusting his position draped against Otabek’s chest. “Anything,” he decides after a while. He keeps his voice low, though there’s no one around to hear them. “Anything that’s not this. Not here.”
“Okay,” Otabek answers, and then falls silent for a while in thought. “I’m becoming a fan of your blog.”
Yuri laughs breathily.
“I’m serious,” Beka says, and Yuri can hear the smile in his voice. “You’re becoming a very good writer. And when you really get into it, your political commentary is always really insightful and witty.”
“I should give up on this whole figure skating thing and become a full-time blogger,” Yuri decides.
“That’s where the real money is, I bet,” Otabek replies. “But I think my favorite entries are the personal ones. I like finding the little bits and pieces of you in unexpected places. The post you wrote about Mom nearly had me in tears.”
Yuri looks down.
“Sorry,” Beka says after a pause, “is that too close to what we’re not talking about?”
“No, it’s all right,” Yuri mutters. “I know I don’t talk about that stuff often. My childhood was pretty lonely. I hated it.”
Otabek says nothing, instead continuing to trace the slow patterns through Yuri’s hair with his fingertips. Yuri fusses with the collar of Otabek’s t-shirt.
“Lots of nights tucking myself in when Grandpa had to work, lots of making myself dinner, of getting stuck on homework and not having anyone to ask.”
“That does sound lonely,” Otabek concedes.
“I told myself that when I had kids, I’d have at least a half-dozen,” Yuri says. “I wanted to raise a house full of people, so none of them would ever have to learn what it means to be that crushingly, painfully alone.”
“Six kids?” Beka says, sounding surprised. Yuri realizes, belatedly, that perhaps that particular fact wasn’t best sprung on his bonded mate when they’re seventeen and nineteen, strong as the breeding instinct tends to be between alphas and omegas.
“Uh,” Yuri says, flustered, “I mean, that’s not… I don’t mean to say that – I’m not trying to make this into a thing, I just… it was just a comment, I didn’t mean—”
“Yuri,” Otabek says, and Yuri reluctantly lifts his head to look up, worried. But Beka is smiling at him, fingers having stilled in his hair. “That sounds like paradise.”
There’s a simple but profound sincerity in Otabek’s voice that makes something warm twist and twine around Yuri’s heart.
“It does?” he asks, despite himself.
“It really does,” he answers, and leans down to kiss Yuri, first on the forehead, then the temple, the cheekbone, down along to the crux of his jaw. Yuri’s eyes flutter shut, his heart starts thumping. “A big house with a whole litter of pups with your eyes, my mother’s hair…”
Yuri whimpers. Otabek shifts, speaking through the kisses that keep trailing lower, down his neck, toward his collarbone, the hands gliding down along his back.
“And all of them with your attitude, I’m sure,” he continues, sly.
Yuri laughs, but it’s breathy and tight with growing arousal. Beka always seems to know just where to kiss him. “You should be so lucky.”
“And I would be.” He nudges his nose against the thin cotton shirt covering Yuri’s shoulder, against the bond bite. Yuri swallows hard. “You’d be so fucking beautiful with child,” he growls, and Yuri’s spine suddenly jolts with a strong surge of arousal.
“God, Beka,” Yuri pants. “We should really stop talking about this. We cannot afford to be sore two days before the Olympic free skates, and if you start to rut—”
“Agreed,” Otabek interjects, “no penetrative sex this close to the free.”
He uses his grip around Yuri’s back to drop him down onto the bed, then shifts himself up so he’s looming over Yuri, grinning.
“Keen to eat you out right now, though,” he adds.
They should really, really be sleeping. It’s nearly one o’clock in the morning. Still—
“Fuck yes,” Yuri gasps, and Beka immediately vanishes down Yuri’s body.
Sex tends to make things feel better, even when they objectively stay the same. He’s still by and large an anxious wreck, but now he’s an anxious wreck who had a recent shattering orgasm while receiving oral sex from his bonded mate.
They have a full day and change between the short program and free skate; the day between is reserved for the ladies’ free and ice dance short. It’s hard to get any meaningful practice in on a small, iced-over pond (zambonied though it may be), so Yuri spends much of his day doing his usual routine of cardio, then gymnastics, then ballet, then strength training.
But once the ice dance couples have cleared the stadium, along with most of the crowds, the IOC lets everyone onto the rink for a blessedly press-free practice. Yuri take the opportunity to practice his quads and step sequence a few times.
He finds himself not as distracted by it as he’d hoped he would be. Time was he’d gain a pleasant single-minded focus when working out and practicing. He doesn’t really need to wonder what makes this time different.
He grinds his pick and stops. A skater from Brazil deftly spins to avoid running into him.
On the outer wall, serious and glowering as ever—
He waves Yuri over. Memories of their last encounter are running through Yuri’s head, of Yakov snarling at Yuri about the natural order of things. An unpleasant taste floods his mouth, but he skates over warily. He’s getting thirsty anyway, he tells himself.
To Yuri’s surprise, Yakov hands him his skate guards.
“Got a moment?”
Yuri hesitates, then eventually takes the skate guards and steps through the nearby door, tugging them on.
“This shouldn’t take too long,” Yakov assures him.
“I was pretty much done anyway,” Yuri says, which is true. He needed to start cool down stretches.
Yakov nods slowly. Yuri sits down on a bench, secluded next to a riser and a janitor’s closet.
“Your short program was extraordinary,” Yakov says.
Yuri watches Yakov guardedly. “Thanks,” he answers, voice curt.
“Congratulations on breaking the record.”
“Thanks,” he says again, tone unchanged.
Yakov pauses. “How’s Lilia?”
“Apparently fucking Sonia now,” Yuri volunteers readily.
The expression of pain on Yakov’s face is one that Yuri takes some measured amount of pleasure in seeing. He tugs at his skate’s laces.
“Well,” he says, “that’s… something.”
“They make a good couple, from what I’ve seen. Is that why you wanted to talk to me?”
“No,” Yakov says. “I was recently… that is to say, Victor informed me that…”
Yuri pulls his skates off and tucks them into their bag, but he waits to pull on his tennis shoes. He has a feeling he knows where this is going, and he wants to catch every subtlety of Yakov’s face when he says it.
“Victor told me about what happened to your alpha’s mother,” he says eventually, expression pained. “When I told him I didn’t believe him, he showed me some articles. And he also mentioned that he was… forcibly coerced into competing this year against his will.”
Yuri keeps silent, keeps his face unreadable. He wants to make this as uncomfortable as possible for Yakov. He wants to make him mean it.
“My own preconceptions about omegas and such aside,” he continues, and every word looks like it hurts, “there’s nothing either of you could have done to deserve this kind of treatment.”
“I’ve been getting death and rape threats the moment I was outed as an omega, Yakov,” Yuri reminds him coldly. “It’s a reality of my life now. The only difference was that the Russian government had the means to act on it.”
Yakov’s mouth twists.
“You do understand that, right?” Yuri says. “The same preconceptions you have about what omegas – what people in gay relationships like Victor – should and should not do, those have real-world consequences.”
“I’m starting to,” Yakov admits. “I suppose it took something extreme for me to see it, but…”
Yuri frowns and starts pulling on his street shoes.
“I’m a product of a different generation, Yuratchka. I’m just now starting to see how all these entrenched things may hurt people, but I’m hoping you’ll forgive me if it takes me a while to unlearn.”
“Honestly, Yakov, I’ve got bigger problems to deal with than my sexist ex-coach,” Yuri says, standing. “I’ve got an Olympic free skate to worry about, a vengeful government who may or may not go Tonya Harding on me at any moment, and increasingly frequent panic attacks.”
Yakov pales. “You don’t think Russia would actually—?”
“I don’t know, Yakov. I didn’t think they’d blow up the Kazakh Parliament, but apparently they’re wont to be unpredictable. The point is that…”
Yuri sighs, throws his skate bag over his shoulder.
“The point is that I forgive you, okay? But don’t fucking think I’m not going to call you out on any further bullshit.”
Yakov nods slowly. When Yuri heads toward the rink exit, Yakov falls in step beside him.
“Your short really was incredible,” he says after a lapse of silence. “Did you really choreograph it yourself?”
“Sonia helped,” Yuri admits.
“Have you given much thought to what you want to do after you retire? Because you might make a good coach.”
“Right now, Yakov, I just want to get out of this season alive,” Yuri says, and Yakov pats his back as reassuringly as he can manage.
“Your component score wasn’t as high as we would have liked,” Sonia says.
Yuri turns his bottle full of banana-strawberry-pineapple smoothie over in his hands a few times, keeping his finger over the lid to prevent it from spilling. “I know,” he says.
“If Victor hadn’t been off his game so badly, he probably would have beat your score,” she continues.
“I know,” he says again.
“As it stands, you only outscored him by – what was it? Two points?”
It’s three, but Yuri feels like he shouldn’t correct her.
Sonia sighs, sets down her legal pad full of notes on the table. They’re in Yuri and Otabek’s shared apartment, at a table by the bay window, where dinner ended about twenty minutes ago.
“I figure we can chock up the lackluster component score to the fact that you were on the verge of having a panic attack,” she says.
Only in Sonia’s brain could a component score like Yuri’s be considered lackluster. It got him to first place, didn’t it? True, Yuri has done better, and true, his technical score did most of the heavy lifting, but still.
“We can’t count on Victor Nikiforov being off his game, though,” Sonia says. “And we don’t really have time for the usual remedies for panic attacks. I don’t think the IOC keeps a therapist on staff.”
“Sonia, that’s not funny,” Otabek says.
“I’m not laughing,” Sonia answers. “I’m serious. When he gets out of here, I want him to at least talk to a therapist. Most seventeen-year-olds don’t have to live through geopolitical terrorism.”
Yuri says nothing, continuing to roll the smoothie between his hands.
“But for now…” Sonia says, fades, then sighs. “I don’t know. There isn’t an easy fix. Is there something you need, Yuri, that can get you through tomorrow unscathed?”
Yuri doesn’t answer. He doesn’t know.
“Right,” Sonia continues. “Well. Otabek, let’s talk about your short. Fourth isn’t bad, but you’re in the same boat as Yuri for different reasons. We talked about the emotion of the piece, but I don’t think you really tapped into it like you needed to—”
There’s a knock at the door.
“I’ll get it,” Yuri says. Sonia’s done with him for the moment, anyway. He sets his smoothie down on the table and heads around the corner for the front door, which, when pulled open—
The first thing Yuri notices is that he looks a little spooked. He’s looking over his shoulder like he’s expecting to be tailed.
“Can I come in?” he asks, and Yuri frowns, wordlessly stepping aside.
“Sorry,” he says, heading in. “I recently discovered a bug in my suitcase.”
“Shit,” Yuri says, closing the door. “Russia’s?”
“I can’t think of who else would bug me,” he continues. “And I definitely don’t want anyone listening in on what I’m about to say.”
“Yuri, who is it?” Sonia calls from around the corner.
“It’s Vitya,” he answers, then turns back. “What’s up?”
“Two things,” Victor says, then pauses. “Okay, three things. But thing two leads into thing three. They’re interconnected, so – two-and-a-half things?”
“The point, Victor, before we all die of old age.”
“The first thing is that it occurs to me that I never apologized.”
Yuri stares at him in confused silence.
Victor sighs, looking guilty. “About a lot of things, in hindsight. I had it recently pointed out to me that I shouldn’t have been making judgments about your competence, or made you feel like other people’s prejudices were your problem to fix. It… it took me a while to understand, but I think I get it now.”
Yuri has to admit – he’s surprised. “Who pointed that out to you?” And more relevantly, how did they get him to believe it?
Victor swallows. “That’s thing two,” he says. “I want to make it up to Yuuri.”
Yuri’s first reaction is loud and immediate. “Thank God,” he says.
The look of surprise on Victor’s face makes him regret it. Yuri twists his mouth, looks away.
“Life doesn’t make sense if you two aren’t together,” Yuri admits, reluctantly. “I don’t like it.”
After a moment, Victor smiles. Yuri feels the immediate, pressing need to defuse the situation before it becomes mushy.
“Not that you aren’t both still gross, because you definitely are,” he says, but it’s too late. Victor sweeps down and pulls Yuri into his arms.
“Ugh, come on,” Yuri groans, trying to squirm away. “Don’t be so sappy!”
“Thank you, Yuri,” Victor says, pulling back, but still keeping both hands on Yuri’s shoulders. “That means a lot.”
“I swear to God, Vitya, I’m going to punch you in the teeth if you keep this up—”
“I want to make it up to him,” Victor continues, “but when I tried to talk to him, it didn’t work out so well. I have to prove to him I’m sincere without telling him about Russia. I don’t want him to worry about that.”
Yuri frowns. “Do you have something in mind?”
“Yes,” Victor says, “but I need your help. Do you know anything about audio equipment?”
“Yuri?” It’s Beka, from behind. “Something wrong?”
Yuri looks back briefly, then forward again.
“I don’t,” Yuri says, “but I happen to know someone who does.”
The short explanation is that they have to sneak out in the middle of the night and break into the rink’s tech booth.
It doesn’t go great.
“Keep it down!” Yuri hisses when Victor knocks over a chair. “Do you want to alert literally everyone that we’re here?”
“I’m not good at sneaking,” Victor whines.
Otabek rights the chair as Yuri sinks down to his knees and pulls out his lockpicks. It’s a mystery to him how he’s managed to get them through customs and security so often, but he’s not one to question it.
The hallway into which they’re tucked is dark and echoing, but empty. The nearest security guard just went to patrol the other side of the rink, which gives them fifteen minutes tops to get this done.
“Are you really a DJ, Otabek?” Victor asks as Yuri works at the lock, voice low.
“It’s a hobby,” he answers.
“He gardens, too,” Yuri adds. “And cooks. And he’s great at oral sex.”
Otabek chokes. “Yura!” he hisses.
“We’re in,” Yuri says, the door swinging open.
“You can’t just say shit like that,” Beka mutters, but Yuri is already heading inside.
“Don’t worry, Otabek, an alpha should be good at oral sex,” Victor assures him.
“Oh, my God,” Beka says.
“What do you make of it?” Yuri asks as they follow him inside. He doesn’t turn on the light, just in case (there is one rather large window overlooking the rink, after all), but the large, sprawling panel is lit up with green, red, and yellow lights, and the monitor next to it has a twirling, twisting screen saver up.
“Standard audio mixer,” he says, still looking flustered. “But we shouldn’t need the mixer… they’re likely keeping all the files on the computer, so if we just…”
He taps the keyboard to wake the computer up and pulls open a few windows.
Yuri leans against the wall by the door to listen for anyone that might come down the hall.
“You’re a little young to be having sex,” Victor says after a lapse of silence.
“Oh, my God,” Beka says from the computer.
“Fuck off, Vitya, I’m seventeen.”
“Well, I hope you’re using protection.”
“Of course we are! I’m not an idiot.”
“I swear to God, I will turn this audio mixer around!”
“Do you still have the thumb drive?” Yuri asks, mostly for Beka’s sake. Victor pats his jacket pocket. “Good. If Beka’s right, it should be as simple as swapping the new file in for the old one.”
“I can’t believe you talked me into this,” Otabek mutters. “And I can’t believe I have to listen to you talk about our sex life while I do it. Here, I found it. Thumb drive.”
Victor drops it into his palm. “I really can’t thank you enough,” he says.
“Make it up to us by making it up to Katsuki,” Yuri says.
Victor breathes deeply. “I’m hoping to,” he says, as Beka starts the file transfer.
The men’s free skate isn’t until six o’clock that evening, and he and Beka sleep in to make up for how late they had to stay up. When asked why, they decline to answer.
The fervor of a night full of subterfuge had served as a distraction, but throughout the next day, as the free draws closer and closer, Yuri starts feeling once again that heavy, existential dread.
Despite his best efforts to avoid it, he scrolls through his Twitter feed and finds more death threats, more articles berating his “veiled insult” of a short program, more condemnation from Russian autocrats.
And more news stories about omegist protests and riots in St. Petersburg. More people arrested, beaten in the streets. At least three dead.
Three people dead, Yuri reads again and again. Three people dead because of him.
He has another panic attack, coiled tightly around himself, shaking and wheezing, this time in the privacy of his bedroom.
And then it’s six o’clock, and Yuri is huddled into that same back room he was in two days ago. Because his score was the highest in the short, he gets to go last in the free, which is either great or terrible, depending on how Yuri’s addled, anxiety-ridden brain is feeling at any particular moment.
“Mr. Altin, you’re up next. Into the hallway, please.”
Otabek was fourth in the short, a hair higher than Christophe.
“Are you going to be all right?” Beka asks him, before he stands up.
Yuri forces what hopefully resembles a smile.
Beka frowns in concern. “Watch me, okay?” he says. “After everything that’s happened, I don’t know if my free skate means quite the same thing it did before, but I originally put it together with you in mind.”
Yuri didn’t know that, and feels like it would bring him more comfort in another situation. Otabek leans down and kisses him, once, gently, on the temple, then follows his handler out into the hallway.
He tries to do a few more stretches while distantly paying attention to Christophe’s free skate. It doesn’t really work. He feels stiff, and it has nothing to do with his muscles.
When Otabek’s phone starts buzzing on the table, it takes him a moment to realize what it is. He must have forgotten it when he left. Yuri picks it up. On the screen, over the picture of he and Beka lying next to each other in the Almaty Botanical Gardens, are the words “Lil Sister!!!” along with a string of emojis. Nika definitely programmed her own name into Beka’s phone, too.
He picks up. “Hi, Nika,” he says, then quickly adds, “it’s Yuri, Beka’s in quarantine right now, about to go on, so he can’t—”
Yuri’s mouth goes suddenly dry, and his breath leaves his body. “What?”
“She’s awake,” Nika says, and Yuri realizes she’s crying. “Yuri, Mom’s awake.”
“Oh, my God,” he says, standing up. “I can’t – Beka’s not allowed to talk to anyone until after he’s off the ice. Is she—?”
“She’s fine,” Nika sobs. “She’s talking, she’s moving. She’s—”
Voices in the background. Yuri’s heart twists. Lashyn’s voice.
“Hang on—” Nika says, and there’s a shuffling sound. The phone is being passed.
Yuri isn’t really ready to hear it, but he hears it anyway:
He claps a hand over his mouth, eyes suddenly burning with tears. Through his fingers, “Lashyn?”
“It’s good to hear your voice, darling.”
Yuri capitulates, collapsing onto his knees against the wall he’d been stretching at. Across the room, Katsuki eyes him uncertainly. He looks like he’s about to come over and ask if he’s okay, when his handler suddenly pulls him away (“You’re up next, Mr. Katsuki, Mr. Altin’s going on now”).
“Is Otabek about to start?” she asks. “Nika tells me I missed the short program…”
“He is,” Yuri croaks. “I’m sorry, I’d find him if I could, but…”
“I’ll talk to him afterwards,” Lashyn assures him. “Yuri, I got your texts.”
Yuri swallows. “You did?”
“It was quite a lot of reading,” she says, laughing softly. Her voice sounds a little hoarse. Yuri imagines it probably has something to do with the tube she had down her throat for several days. “Yuri, I know you’re minutes away from the most important moment of your life, so I’ll try to keep this brief, because I think you need to hear this very badly right now.”
“What has happened in Russia,” she says, “in Kazakhstan, the protests all over the world, none of that is your fault.”
Yuri feels his throat close up.
On the television, the strains of Otabek’s free program music swell. He dips into the music soul-first.
May it be an evening star
Shines down upon you
May it be when darkness falls
Your heart will be true
Otabek is skating better than Yuri has ever seen.
“Do you understand me, darling?” she continues. “Being the catalyst of political turmoil is quite different from being the cause of it. In fact, there’s a badge of honor to be found in it.”
“People are dead,” Yuri says, barely. “Lashyn, people are dying right now, rioting in St. Petersburg because of me.”
You walk a lonely road
Oh! How far you are from home
“People are dying because they’re standing up for what you inspired in them,” Lashyn says. “Your story was powerful enough to anger compassionate hearts across the world and terrify a violent autocracy.”
Yuri can’t take his eyes off the television screen, even as tears blur his vision. Otabek’s skating is exquisite. He’s been criticized in the past for being stiff and mechanical, but there’s none of that in this performance. His heart is in every movement, and he looks incredible.
“Of course they had to plant a bomb in the Kazakh Parliament,” she says. “Of course they had to try and silence you. Because the words you were saying, the ideas you were bringing forward, were strong enough to topple a nation. Don’t you understand?”
Believe and you will find a way
A promise lives within you now
“The deaths they caused are on them. You didn’t kill anyone, but you gave some of them something worth dying for.”
A sob rips out of Yuri’s throat; tears spill down his face. He doesn’t know what he’s feeling at that moment. Some catalyst of relief and sadness and righteous anger, all wrapped up in love.
“Lashyn,” he chokes.
“Mr. Nikiforov, you’re needed in the hallway. Mr. Katsuki is about to start.”
“I don’t have long,” he says, through his own gasping breaths.
May it be the shadow’s call
Will fly away
May it be your journey on
To light the day
“Otabek is doing so well, isn’t he?” Lashyn says.
“I’ve never seen him better,” Yuri whispers.
When the night is overcome
You may rise to find the sun
“How are you feeling?” Sonia asks him when he comes into the hallway.
Yuri hands her Otabek’s phone without an answer. He wouldn’t know what to say, in any case. Sonia frowns, takes it, tucks it into her jacket pocket.
“Yuri,” Lilia says, “if you’re not feeling up to it—”
Katsuki had just entered the hallway when Victor had called his name.
“Mr. Nikiforov—” It’s a frantic security guard. “—you’re not allowed back there! You’ll get a penalty if you’re not on the ice—!”
But Victor doesn’t listen. Katsuki turns, and is startled to find Victor rushing toward him, grabbing him by both wrists.
“Don’t take your eyes off me,” Victor whispers.
Victor leans forward, presses his forehead to Katsuki’s.
“Not for a second,” he says. “I want my soulbonded’s eyes on me the whole time.”
Katsuki swallows. “Victor—”
Victor kisses him, once, briefly, before Katsuki can tell him otherwise. Then he runs back out of the hallway, pulls off his skate guards, and glides onto the ice just as the announcer booms his name:
“Representing Russia, Victor Nikiforov!”
The whole rink rumbles. Katsuki, on the other hand, looks like he was just punched in the stomach. Lilia and Sonia are trying to talk to Yuri, but he can’t hear them. He sidles up next to Katsuki instead.
“He’s right about at least one thing, you know,” Yuri tells him. “You’re going to want to watch this.”
“He called me…” Katsuki begins.
“He did,” Yuri says. “About time, right?”
The music starts, echoing piano through the ice. The muttering follows almost immediately.
“This isn’t Victor’s free skate music,” Yuri says, but they can see him through the open doors – he’s already skating to it.
“That’s because this isn’t his free skate. Not the listed one, anyway,” Yuri says. “He asked for my help last night to break into the booth and change it.”
Katsuki stares, wide-eyed, as Victor completes his first quad axel.
No man nor madness
Though their sad power may prevail
Can possess, conquer my country’s heart
They rise to fail
“I actually choreographed this,” Yuri adds, but Katsuki is stone still, staring through the open doors like a man who’s been shot. “I sent him the notes ages ago, but he turned it down. I didn’t expect him to have been practicing it this whole time.” Yuri sighs. “So fucking extra.”
She is eternal
Long before nation’s lines were drawn
Where no flags flew, where no armies stood
My land was born
“Have you seen Chess?” Yuri asks. Katsuki still doesn’t answer, of course. “I originally choreographed this for myself, but decided a song about defecting from the USSR was a little on the nose. But since over-the-top has never stopped Victor, I gave it to him.”
Katsuki covers his mouth with one hand.
And you ask my why I love her
Through wars, death, and despair
She is the constant
We who don’t care
“Besides,” Yuri continues, voice softer, “the song isn’t just about Russia, is it? In the musical, it’s a metaphor for his lover.”
And you ask me will I leave her
I cross over border but I’m still there now
When Katsuki still doesn’t say anything, Yuri decides it’s best if he stops talking. He steps back, letting him watch in silence, and leans against the wall.
How can I leave her?
Where would I start?
Let man’s petty nations tear themselves apart
What a long, strange trip this has been. For a while, he stands there against the cinderblock wall, staring up at the buzzing fluorescent lights, hands in the pockets of his Team Kazakhstan jacket.
Beside him, Sonia looks Yuri over.
“Yuri,” she says, “this is important. I need you to tell me how you feel. And I need you to be honest.”
My land’s only borders lie around my heart
Yuri looks to her, briefly. When the song ends, the sound of the crowds is near deafening; the entire rink vibrates with the sound of it. Yuri watches, smiling smally, as Katsuki shoves past the security guards, runs to the edge of the rink. Victor meets him halfway, and when they kiss, the applause somehow gets even louder.
“How do I feel?” Yuri repeats. “I feel like I’m about to win a gold medal.”
When he looks back at Sonia, she’s staring. Yuri grins, and winks, and walks out toward the rink.
He doesn’t know how he feels about everything. He’s not sure to what degree he is and isn’t okay with the tenuous geopolitical balance and his role in it. He’s not even sure if he’ll ever see his home country again.
But there’s one thing he does know, that he is sure of more than anything else: he is not afraid anymore.
[ DOWNLOAD AUDIO ]
The music in this chapter was the Sequentia from Verdi's Requiem, as performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Chapter 15: After
“Ladies and gentlemen, representing Kazakhstan, your Olympic bronze medalist in men’s figure skating, Otabek Altin!”
Yuri watches with a surge of warm pride as Otabek steps through and glides onto the ice to thunderous applause. Yuri knows he has earned this. He knows how hard Otabek has worked over these past six months, and he absolutely deserves his accolade.
Then he feels embarrassed for himself for being so mushy about it and straightens his face.
Victor, beside him, nudges an elbow against his ribs. Yuri swats him away, to no avail. He watches as Otabek ducks his head and the medal is dropped around his neck.
“You’re allowed to be proud of your boyfriend,” Victor teases.
“Suck a knot, Victor.”
“Even if he did keep mine off the podium,” he sighs, folding his arms over his chest. “At least they both did their best.”
When the announcer hands Otabek the microphone, he takes it gladly.
“To my mother and sister,” he says, in Kazakh, and the translators belatedly echo it in several languages across the stadium, “to my bonded mate,” he continues, and Yuri’s face burns, “to all those who were murdered last month in Astana, this medal is yours as much as mine. Thank you.”
Yuri’s face is still hot, but he can’t look away. Beka takes one more loop around the podium, waving and bowing to those screaming his name, then hops up onto the third place podium.
“My first time as a silver medalist Olympian,” Victor bemoans. “I suppose it is time to retire after all.”
“Representing Russia, your Olympic silver medalist in men’s figure skating, Victor Nikiforov!”
More cheering, louder than before. Victor breezes through the door and onto the ice, raising both hands and smiling beatifically out at the crowd. Despite his best efforts, Yuri’s proud of him, too. He has to admit, Victor made the best of an awful situation, and was rewarded well for his efforts.
After the medal hits his chest, he accepts the microphone. “To my love, my soulbonded, to my coach, to all those who have supported me along the way, thank you. I am honored to accept this in your name.”
A surprisingly humble speech, considering. Yuri takes a breath.
“Ready?” Lilia asks, beside him.
“Never in a million years,” Yuri answers honestly.
“And finally, representing Kazakhstan, your Olympic gold medalist in men’s figure skating—” (the applause begins, deafening, before the announcer can even begin his name) “—Yuri Plisetsky!”
One last breath, and he skates out onto the ice.
It is not quite like Yuri had always fantasized, which is to say it is far more surreal. The Olympic banner hangs high over the arena, the crowd thunders, and when he ducks his head, a gold medal hits his chest with a heavy thud.
He lifts his head to accept the microphone, but for a moment is lost for words. The crowd settles, marginally. He swallows his breath.
“I was told to limit this speech to a few sentences,” he says, “but I hope the IOC can forgive me for going a bit longer.”
Yuri looks down at his medal. He can still hardly believe it’s there, after everything in the world tried to keep it away.
“I do thank my coaches, of course,” he says, “two incredible omegas in their own right, for their effort and patience. My bonded mate, and his family, for their seemingly unending support and love. My grandfather, for working so hard for so long. But most of all…”
God, he just has to get through this without crying. He really could not handle crying in front of the whole world.
“Most of all, to Kazakhstan,” he says, throat tight, “for taking me in like a stray when I felt like I had no country of my own. I can never thank you enough for your faith in me, for your support of me when all the world tried to punish you for it. Thank you, Kazakhstan. This medal is yours.”
He hands the microphone back, lifts the medal to kiss it, and the rink explodes with the sound it evokes. He skates around the podium and steps up onto that uppermost podium, and his heart swells with the music that comes bellowing over the cheering.
Beside him, fingers thread through his. He looks down and sees Otabek smiling up at him.
Yuri smiles back, fighting away as best he can the tears.
“It feels good to stand here with you,” Yuri shouts, and he can still hardly hear himself over the sound.
Otabek squeezes his hand. “It feels good to be anywhere with my soulbonded,” he answers.
Yuri swallows hard, and damn it all, he is going to cry after all. “You knew?”
He laughs, once. “Yura,” he answers, “I knew the moment I saw you.”
Beka takes Yuri’s medal and kisses it. Yuri leans down and kisses him, instead.
The cheering does not get quieter.
A year later, Yuri gives Nika the best news of her still young life when he finally takes her and Lashyn over to Japan for Hanami.
Then he ruins it with the news that he’s retiring.
“Noooo!” she wails. “What? Why!”
“Yuri, are you sure?” Katsuki says, surprised, leaning over the chabudai. “You’re only nineteen! You could go back to the next Olympics if you wanted to!”
“But that’s the thing,” Yuri says, “I don’t want to.”
Nika falls impotently to the floor, still wailing.
Beside him, Otabek smiles patiently. He’d told him first, of course.
“My application got accepted,” Yuri continues.
Lashyn is the first to gasp.
“Application?” Victor says, puzzled. “What application?”
“My university application, stupid,” Yuri laughs. “I’m going to Cambridge.”
“Oh, Yuri!” Lashyn says, and suddenly Yuri is pulled tightly into her arms. “Congratulations, darling! I knew you would get in!”
“Cambridge?” Lilia says, surprised. “In England? I didn’t know you spoke English.”
“He’s been practicing,” Yuri’s grandpa assures them. “He’s getting very good.”
“I’m going to be majoring in political science, minoring in journalism,” Yuri says, as best he can while still crushed to Lashyn’s chest.
“But what about your skating career!” Nika sobs, pulling herself up limply with the edge of the table. “Do you have any idea how many hearts you’re breaking!”
“That reminds me,” Yuri says. “When I first signed with Sonia, the contract was for three years. It seems a bit of a shame to leave that last year to go to waste.”
Sonia, across the table, raises both eyebrows at Nika.
If nothing else, Nika stops wailing. “What?”
“Yuri’s showed me a few videos,” she says. “You’ve got a pretty good triple axel these days.”
“Huh?” she says. “Me?”
“I’ve already worked it out with her, darling,” Lashyn assures her.
“But I’m not – what would I do with a professional coach? I’m already sixteen, I can’t—”
“I didn’t start skating professionally until I was seventeen,” Sonia reminds her.
“You’re better than you think you are, Nika,” Otabek assures her. “I’m not saying you have to, but you could if you wanted to.”
Nika stares at them, eyes moving rapidly between Beka, Sonia, Lashyn, Yuri – and it isn’t until the rest of the Katsuki family enters with the meal that the noise starts up again.
With the screen doors open to the crisp spring air, the smell of katsudon and pirozhki saturating the room, with a setting sun and just enough alcohol to get Victor silly drunk, it’s a good evening. Sonia and Nika talk for a while about where and how they might theoretically start coaching, Yakov works up the alcohol-fueled nerve to ask Lashyn on a date (and Yuri’s still not quite sure how he feels about that), and Lilia bonds with Minako and Yuuko over ballet. It’s big, and it’s loud, and it gets increasingly R-rated the more alcohol Victor gets in him, but it’s good.
“No regrets?” Beka asks after a while, still next to him. “You could still go back to the rink if you wanted.”
Yuri shakes his head. “Nah. It’s not that I stopped caring about it – I haven’t – it’s just that I’ve come to realize I care about other things more.”
Otabek smiles, pours Yuri a small glass of sake. “Well, I guess I’ll have to find a coach based in England, then.”
Yuri can’t hide his surprise. “Beka, are you sure? You know you don’t have to follow me.”
“I want to,” Otabek says. “How are we supposed to be married and having kids in less than three years per my mother’s schedule if we spend months apart every year?”
Yuri laughs louder than he’d intended. When Beka finishes filling his own cup, Yuri lifts his. “Kanpai,” he says.
“Kanpai!” several others echo, and then more food is brought out.
“Yuri?” Beka asks, voice muffled through the heavy wooden door of their rented Arbury flatshare. “Have you seen my hoodie?”
Yuri doesn’t look up from his laptop. He’s on a roll. “Which one?”
A pause. “Any of them?”
“Probably in here.”
Yuri’s end-of-term paper’s third draft is nearing completion, but he’s been having trouble maintaining focus lately. Luckily, their bed feels very comfortable and safe at the moment, and he’s really making progress. If he can get through the next four pages before he has to leave for his evening class, he can probably—
“Whoa,” Otabek says the moment he comes into the bedroom.
“Uh, Yuri, I don’t want to alarm you, but I think you’re nesting for heat.”
“What?” Yuri looks up. “No, I’m not.”
He gestures behind Yuri, sat cross-legged at the foot. The pillows and headboard are piled high with Otabek’s hoodies and sweaters, but—
“I’m just procrastinating on laundry,” Yuri insists.
“No, this is definitely nesting,” Beka says. “I can smell it. Can’t you?”
“Well, I can’t be nesting,” Yuri says, grabbing his phone from the corner of the bed and unlocking it with a swipe, “because I have a heat tracker app, and it says that I shouldn’t be due until—” (he opens the app) “—yesterday. Fuck.” He should really set this thing to give him reminders.
“It was probably a bad idea for you to go off suppressants this soon before the end of term,” Beka says slowly. “In retrospect, it was kind of tempting fate.”
“I don’t have time for this right now, body,” Yuri groans, slamming shut his laptop and climbing off the bed. “I have to finish my paper! Where’s my textbook? I just have a few more pages to go!”
He starts rummaging through the mountainous pile of disaster debris that is his desk, and the longer he can’t find his textbook, the more anxious he gets, because he wants to be back on the bed damn it, it was nice there, and it’s not nice out here where it’s cold and not blankets and doesn’t smell enough like Otabek—
From behind, two arms around his front. Instantaneously, Yuri relaxes. Then he gets tense again, for other reasons. He nestles back aggressively against Otabek’s chest, nuzzling his head up against the underside of his chin.
“I like the way you smell when you’re nesting,” he says into Yuri’s ear, and Yuri whines in reply. “I’ve never seen you nest before, come to think of it. I like that your body has decided it wants my pups.”
Yuri whines again, louder. Slick heat wells up along the backs of his thighs.
Beka must be able to smell it, because he grips Yuri all the tighter, grinds his hips forward into him. “I’m going to need at least three very good reasons not to breed you over the desk right now,” he says.
“Money, space, and time?” Not that it doesn’t sound great. Because it does. It sounds great. But they’ve talked about this – a lot. Yuri only stopped his suppressants for an end-of-term celebration. They’ve talked about how they’re going to wait until the start of the first season after Yuri graduates to get pregnant, so Yuri will be in late term by the time the off-season starts. Because that’s what makes the most sense, personally, professionally, financially. And that’s foregoing the fact that they still need to get married, because God knows Grandpa would never forgive them for getting pregnant out of wedlock.
But on the other hand, Beka’s cock swells against Yuri’s backside in a very persuasive counterpoint. Yuri groans low and long.
“You’r right, never mind,” Yuri says, voice suddenly drawn taut. “Knot me, Beka. I want your pups.”
“That is definitely the heat talking,” Otabek chuckles, but doesn’t pull away. “That one’s on me. I shouldn’t be encouraging you while you’re still nesting.”
“Please,” Yuri whines, heart thumping in his neck, body slowly heating as though being filled with molten iron. He stretches his neck out in supplication, inviting Beka’s bite. “Please, Beka? I want to give you pups.”
If Yuri had two cogent thoughts to rub together, he’d be noticing that Otabek has likely successfully kickstarted his heat proper. But he doesn’t, and so the only thing he can think about is pulling Beka back into bed, ripping his clothes off, mounting his cock—
“Here’s what’s going to happen,” Otabek says, in his authoritative Alpha Voice that makes Yuri’s knees weak. “You’re going to go back to that lovely nest you made us.”
“You’re going to strip so you don’t ruin your favorite jeans.”
“I’m going to get some towels from the linen closet and snacks from the kitchen, and when I come back, I’m going to mount you.”
Yuri heard only most of that sentence. It’s getting harder to understand words. He managed to pick out mount, though, which is a great word, and more than enough to get him feeling dizzy and faint.
“And then once we both come down after the first wave I’m going to run out and get after-heat pills, because right now our hormones are talking louder than our brains—”
Yuri whines loudly.
“I know, I know, I want it too, we both do, but not right now. Remember?”
Yuri does not. He doesn’t know how to remember. Here is what he knows: Beka is his alpha. He wants Beka to knot him. He wants Beka to breed him. Anything else is immaterial.
“We have the rest of our lives to start having kids, but for now…”
Yuri tries to come up with a sentence, fails, and goes back to nuzzling Beka.
“In the nest, beautiful,” he whispers, “strip.”
The next few moments pass in a hazy blur. Yuri strips, which he would have done anyway, because clothes are too hot and itchy now, and he settles back into the nest, and he lies face down, knees pressed into the mattress, back arched up, thighs open, waiting for his alpha.
But his alpha doesn’t come. Where’d his alpha go? He was just here.
“Beka!” he whines, and he has to wait so long, ten million years at least, before he comes back in.
Beka’s voice comes as a whisper, long lines of Arabic, a plea for mercy.
“Beka!” Yuri says again. Slick is running down his thighs. Why is his alpha all the way over there? Does he not see Yuri presenting himself?
Then, a hand along the back of his thigh, warm and firm. Yuri’s lower half jerks, and he whines plaintively as the touch is answered with surges of heat, more slick rushing down his thighs.
“You are exquisite,” Otabek mutters. “God, look at you. I can’t believe it took us so long to finally share a heat.”
“Beka,” Yuri whines. He feels like he can’t manage anything more complex.
“Still, this was worth the wait.” Behind him, rustling; Otabek moves the laptop onto the floor, puts down some towels, drops a few bottles of water and a bag of grapes by the foot of the bed, then finally moves behind Yuri’s spread thighs, closes his mouth over—
“Aaaaahhnnnhh—!” Yuri’s hands ball into fists in the mountainous pile of hoodies and t-shirts at the front of the bed. Beka’s mouth is on him, and all at once Yuri feels the threads holding him together start to unravel. His tongue is incredible, hot and wet and insistent at his entrance. “Beka-Beka-Beka-Bekaaaaahh—”
One hand braces on Yuri’s thighs. The mouth draws away, replaced by two fingers, speared deeply and suddenly into him. Yuri howls, bucks his hips backwards against them.
“My omega,” he growls, gnashing his teeth along the flesh of Yuri’s thigh. Beka’s starting to rut, Yuri notices through the haze of white-hot fever and unending stream of yes-yes-yes-yes-yes roaring through his head. His finger push deeper, working Yuri open with intensity. Yuri tries to rock back against the movement, but in his frenzy it feels more like thrashing. It feels so good. “Upright. I’m going to bite you.”
They haven’t needed to refresh their bond bite yet. They still don’t. It’s still precisely where it was the night Otabek first gave it to him, but Yuri isn’t thinking about that. He pushes up off his elbows as Beka tugs at his own clothes behind him.
The hot, swollen head of a cock against his entrance. A hand gripping firmly, but not tightly, around the front of Yuri’s throat. Another braced at the base of Yuri’s cock.
Yuri’s not sure which breaches first, the teeth or the cock. All he feels is a sudden surge of adrenaline, from the base of his tailbone to the backs of his eyes. Beka’s jaw locks, his weight surges forward over Yuri, pushing him near-flat on the bed, and he starts to fuck him as though it is more vital than breathing. Yuri comes, hard, all-consumingly.
The hand on his throat leaves to brace on the headboard. The hand on his cock starts pumping in time, because they both know Yuri will come again. Beka’s rutting talk is replaced by low, feral, possessive growling. Yuri can only scream with the sensation of it all.
The knot expands. Yuri comes once more, near-painfully, body spasming, over Otabek’s hand, as his body clamps down around the knot.
Yuri can’t measure how much time passes before he feels the sudden surging pulse of heat empty into him – God, so much, so much, yes, yes, yes-yes-yes – all he knows is it drags a desperate, dry orgasm out of him, and that it is the most exquisite thing he’s ever felt in his life. Beka’s coming in him, hot and endless, and it’s perfect.
Harsh breath slows against his shoulder. Otabek slowly pulls his teeth out, and Yuri whines.
“Fuck,” he gasps, dropping his forehead against Yuri’s neck. “Fuck. I was… I had not expected it to actually be more intense than all the stories. God.”
Yuri’s starting to remember what words are, though a long one like that still feels unintelligible. Not that it matters. His alpha’s bred him, his knot has tied them, and Yuri feels like he could melt.
Beka lies down, gently, rolling them both onto their sides while they wait for the knot to deflate, though personally Yuri would die happy if it never did. Otabek drops trails of kisses over Yuri’s neck, his shoulder blade, over the reopened bond bite. Yuri purrs, settles back into him.
“You’re going to miss your class tonight,” he laughs, breathless.
“Fuck it,” Yuri mumbles.
“It’s nothing important, is it?”
Yuri’s not sure. He doesn’t think so, but he can’t remember for certain. More relevantly, he doesn’t give a damn about his class right now. He wants Beka well-knotted in him for the next ten minutes at least.
“I do have to go out and get those after-heat pills, you know.”
Yuri sighs. He feels somewhat more lucid now than his heat-drunk, knot-hungry self from a few moments ago. “Yeah,” he admits. “Just be fast. Don’t want you gone too long.”
“The standing Royal Army could not keep me out of this nest for more than an hour,” Beka assures him, and Yuri laughs.
Yuri has more empathy for reporters these days.
Granted, he has gained a more nuanced disdain for sports reporters in particular, but even with them, barely-journalists that they are, he finds himself softer toward them than he ever had been as an athlete.
Their pushiness is still annoying, but at least now he knows it doesn’t come from an antagonistic place.
“Any thoughts on your husband’s new record?”
“Would you like to comment on the rumors that you turned down Kazakhstan’s offer to compete?”
“Is it true that Otabek has landed a quintuple toe loop in practice? And if so, is he ready to bring it to competition next season?”
“You guys know that there are anti-government protests right now in Moscow, right?”
The press pool’s reaction is more confused than anything else.
“The largest there’s ever been? Dozens of autocrats fleeing the country? Anything?”
“Just saying,” Yuri says, “if you’re not covering geopolitics at the Olympics, you’re not doing your job right.”
With that, he breezes past the press pool, tucking his sunglasses into his pocket once he’s inside.
Yuri is pleased to find that he still has enough pull in the world of figure skating to get an under-the-table visitor’s pass. Marseilles isn’t a city he’s familiar with, and it’s been a long time since he’s really had to navigate an unfamiliar rink, but old habits have hung around.
When he first spots him in the hall during a small presser—
He’s still in his Team Kazakhstan jacket, still with that big, shiny gold medal around his neck. Yuri’s face suddenly hurts from the force of the smile.
“Yuri, you’re late,” he chides gently, and Yuri heads over to hug him tightly. A few cameras go off in rapid succession.
“I saw your free skate in the airport,” Yuri says. “You over rotated your quad axel.”
“You’re just pissed I broke your old record.”
Yuri sniffs defiantly, but doesn’t deny it.
Beka laughs. “Where’s Lashyn?”
“Ours,” Beka says, pauses, then amends, “the younger ours.”
“With Lilia, I think,” Yuri answers. “I told her to meet us—”
Otabek staggers as he’s hit square in the knee with thirty pounds traveling at the speed of two-year-old.
“Well, speak of the devil,” Yuri says, and even more cameras go off. This is one of the impromptu interruptions that no reporter in their right mind would dare interrupt.
“There’s my sweet kotyonok,” Otabek says, before immediately scooping her up in both arms and dropping kisses across her cheek. Yuri scans the room and finds Lilia with Sonia and Nika on the far end, and he makes a mental note to go say hello to them as soon as he can. A bronze medal is nothing to sneeze at.
Lashyn hams it up for the cameras, a skill used most effectively on fawning reporters who’ve never had to deal with a tantrum, as Otabek gets her to say hello in three languages (“And we’re having her tutored in French, as well,” Beka adds, beaming paternal pride).
“By the way, Beka,” Yuri says once the press pool ends, “I rented that car you wanted, though I’m still not sure why. I noticed you rescheduled your tickets home.”
“Yeah, sorry about the short notice,” he says. Lashyn has settled nicely against his chest, chewing thoughtfully on his Olympic medal. “It just occurred to me that we’re very close to – well, never mind. You’ll see.”
Yuri eyes him. “All right,” he says.
What they are close to, as it turns out, is Barcelona.
Yuri figures it out two-thirds of the way through the car trip, when all the signs switched from French to Spanish. He sits smiling to himself the rest of the way, while Lashyn plays shape games on the childproofed iPad in the car seat behind him.
But all the knowing in the world doesn’t change the surge of emotion he feels when they park the car and step out into the sunset over the city.
“God,” Yuri says.
“Feels like no time at all,” Otabek agrees. “I remember coming up here all those years ago feeling so nervous.”
Yuri sidles up next to him, drops his head onto his shoulder. “And here we are again,” he says. “Bonded, married, two kids.”
Beka pauses. “Two?”
Yuri recognizes the error the second it leaves his mouth. “Shit. I had a – I was going to do a thing, I was going to spring it on you at dinner while you were drinking and the whole bit.”
Otabek turns. “Yuri! You’re—?”
“Yeah, surprise,” Yuri sighs. He’s still kicking himself that he went and blurted it out like that. He had a plan, dammit. “I got a blood test done.”
His reaction is delayed. First, a slow spreading smile. Then— “You were in Syria two weeks ago!”
“Well, in my defense,” Yuri says, “I didn’t know I was pregnant when I went to Syria.”
Otabek rubs his face with one hand. “No more stories in war zones, please,” he says.
“For at least the next seven months,” Yuri agrees.
“Seven months,” Otabek says, and then the news seems to really hit him. He laughs, delirious, and Yuri does his best not to but ends up smiling anyway. “Seven months. God, Yuri, I can’t believe it.”
“Sure, you can,” Yuri says, grinning. “We managed it once before, didn’t we?”
Otabek laughs a second time, pulls Yuri forward into his arms.
“Mama, I found a bug!” Lashyn informs him from a nearby bush.
“I love you so much,” Otabek whispers, face pressed into Yuri’s hair.
“I love you, too,” Yuri says, “but I feel like we should make sure it’s not a wasp.”
I’ve been authorized by my agent to say that my first book is coming out on May 28 – Moscow, Helsinki, Astana: The Olympics and the Breaking of an Autocracy.
Writing something so substantial was difficult. Writing something so personal was even worse. By my nature, I’m not a particularly open person; I don’t like sharing details of my life with strangers, let alone several million strangers in four languages on release. It’s why this blog is full of preachy political think pieces and not pictures of my adorable two-year-old daughter. But this particular story, I felt, was important – so important that I was willing to set aside my preference for privacy.
This book talks about the confluence of factors that shaped the most formative years of my life, and subsequently the chaos theory that would end up splintering the Russian autocracy and make way for a fairer, more democratic government in Kazakhstan.
But my agent advised me to explain not what the book covers, since by now most people know, but rather what it’s about, in a more fundamental, thematic sense.
Not an easy question to answer. What is this book about?
I suppose, at its core, it’s about the virtues social and political awareness, and by that same coin, the dangers of ignorance or indifference to the same. My life was upended when I presented as omega, and I was only able to start piecing it back together when I came to terms with myself. In the same way, my world became more broken when I presented, and the process of un-breaking it was only undertaken when I – when thousands of people all over the world, when politicians, when activists, in a legacy going back hundreds of years – all became aware and demanded change.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” He neglects to mention that the universe does not bend on its own. The world bends when we make it bend, when people are angry enough, or desperate enough, or passionate enough to grab it and start bending it themselves. I’d never be so arrogant as to say I did any bending on my own, but my small part in the crumbling of a violent autocracy will remain, I think, one of my more solemn accomplishments. It did not come without blood, sweat, or tears, but it came.
And it always will, I think, so long as there are those of us willing to do the bending.