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The photo gets almost drowned out in a sea of others, more flashy: cats and dogs and an occasional funny video, a promotional snapshot here and there, someone posing in front of a landmark in a country Otabek had seen from the other side of a hotel room window. It’s easy to miss, tagged only as #practice. He doesn’t remember following Yuri Plisetsky on Instagram. Maybe his sister did it for him.

The picture is taken at a studio, not a rink, which maybe is the thing that draws his attention; most of the practice shots he sees are taken on ice. This one isn’t. The studio is well-lit, very bright. Off-white walls and all those mirrors, and something about the wide lens and featureless interior tugs at his memory.

It’s what his preferred studio at Vaganova looked like, with no one else around. A little colder, but cold is good for abused joints.

Yuri is bent at an impossible angle in a backward cambré, left leg turned out and right drawn back. One wrist is level with his shin, the other leading upward, the base of his ribs sticking up toward the ceiling, as though his spine is broken midway. The crown of his head is level with the top of his thighs, and it must be hell on his back — he’s grown up, his vertical splits shouldn’t be as effortless as they used to be — but this, here. It seems easier than breathing. Worn leggings and faded t-shirt. Captive animal at ease in its cage. His eyes are shut.

Otabek can’t help but catalogue the deficiencies. There is tension in the liquid line of Yuri’s back, like the frayed body of a violin. That’s what he looks like: overused, his ease deceptive. He has tape and adhesive strips visible over the skin of his ankles, in the spaces between practice shoes and leggings. A support bandage over his left ankle. The longer Otabek looks at the photo, the more he thinks Yuri turned out his support leg to compensate for a hip strain. Some discomfort in the labrum.

The shortcomings don’t make it any less striking. The contrast of black practice clothes against a pristine white backdrop, maybe. It’s a performance, despite the illusion of privacy, and Yuri is a gifted performer.

Otabek taps the like button before he can think twice about it, taps the comment box, his fingers hovering over the keyboard before swiping it down again.

His fifteen minutes of repose are finished. He gets up, cracks his hip and then his neck, and gets back on ice.

EUROSPORT | Figure skating

Yuri Plisetsky pulls off spectacular skate to ensure Grand Prix champion title
By Sportsbeat, 14/12/2017 19:37

WATCH VIDEO

19,376 views

It’s only when he pulls off his skates, in the privacy of the changing rooms where the press corps is not allowed, that the agony of his feet registers. Feet, then ankles. He’s going to limp back to his hotel room, but he won’t be the only one. Lee, to the side, looks as if he wants nothing more than to pop an entire bottle of ketoprofen. Ji is coming off adrenaline, shivering in the corner as he unties his skates.

They’re among the last ones left. The air is damp and hot with sweat, but Otabek wants to avoid the zoo outside. All those cameras flashing and a mic trying to poke out an eye. How does it feel to beat Michele Crispino for silver. How does it feel to be second-best. How does it feel.

It feels exhausting, that’s how it feels. Exhausting and like pulling himself through a meat grinder, one muscle group and tendon at a time, only to come up short of real victory. It feels like nothing else. It feels wonderful.

He’s going to have to attend the press conference in an hour, but by then his feet will be taped up, his knee in a support bandage, and the blistered mess of his right arch will be hidden from sight again.

He’s rooting in his bag for an antiseptic spray when a shadow falls over him, the bench, his hands in the bag. Not a very big shadow, but it has a presence of its own. A very prickly, Russian presence.

“That was a good set.” As if the compliment is wrenched out from Yuri’s throat by an impossible force, and he hates every millisecond of it.

Otabek looks up those five feet and a prayer of him, and doesn’t bother to put on an expression. Yuri has changed out of his gear and stands now in a pair of chucks that have to be torture on his calluses. With an inward start Otabek remembers the photo: body snapped in half and posed like a murder victim, ribs sticking up.

“Yeah, but you beat me anyway,” he says. People turn their heads at the sound of Russian; the common gentlemen’s agreement is to use English, out of courtesy.

Yuri scowls. “Well — of course I did. I’m better. But it was a good set.”

“Thanks.”

It was more than good. It was worth a gold medal, every figure executed with painstaking precision; if he hadn’t slipped at the apex of the triple Axel, triple toe, triple loop combination, maybe it really would have garnered him gold. Personal best, certainly. But as long as Yuri Plisetsky stays in the game, all available competition slots will end at silver. So in its way, perhaps this is a victory.

But Yuri is right. He was better, and his free skate was testament to skill that can hardly be credited as human. He broke away from the formalism that tends to dog all Russian-trained skaters, a religious adherence to technique; the routine hinged on emotional affect.

And no one but Otabek had seen Yuri completely absent in the eyes even as his body projected a weight of grief and longing. It’s terribly clever, hiding a deficit of emotion among an illusory abundance.

Yuri thrusts a closed fist at him. Otabek can’t be faulted for thinking it’s some kind of freakish judo move; he dodges neatly, raising his eyebrows, and only then realises that Yuri is holding his phone. It’s unlocked, the screen lit up on the contacts list.

“Give me your number.”

“I don’t like texting,” Otabek says mildly, aware with a prickling sensation at the back of his neck that he and Yuri are the subject of curious stares, and ignores Yuri’s muttered, “Whatever, weirdo.” He programmes in his number. First name, second name, last name; the whole thing, very formal.

He hands back the phone, and with Yuri staring at him with a strange mix of annoyance and something far more intense, he remembers who he’s talking to. “Congratulations, by the way,” he says, fighting down a smile.

Yuri waves it off. “Are you coming to the afterparty?” He means the banquet. Where the skaters will drink to forget the precise amount of pain they are in, and it will end with someone puking in the public restroom and someone else breaking the hotel’s best china; it’s how it always goes.

“I rented a bike. Apparently the waterfront is nice to drive on.”

“Oh,” says Yuri, brightening, “can I —”

Otabek doesn’t let him finish; if he does, it will be more difficult to say no. “You should probably go to the banquet. It’s your gold, Yuri.”

So Yuri does. Goes to the afterparty, and Otabek goes for a ride along the waterfront and spams his Instagram with nighttime photos of swans and someone incredibly insane going for a swim, and at four in the morning before his alarm goes off — his flight boards in six hours — he gets a text from an unknown number that says only, everybody here is dumb so you should have come to give them the murder eye.

don’t you have the murder eye covered? Otabek types back, bleary and half-asleep, dignity saved only by his phone’s autocorrect.

they think it’s adorable. i’m going to kill everyone

Instead of replying, Otabek texts him a photo of a particularly homicidal-looking duck.

It’s strange how little Yuri has changed in the past seven years, as if his career kept him in suspended animation. Like a wind-up doll, taken out of the box to win, then put away again. But there is only so far that he can run from time, and the striking fifteen-year-old grace that made him a star at his GPF debut has, in the past two years, ebbed.

Now he must be terrified of one last growth spurt. Otabek still wakes up, sometimes, drenched in sweat from that old familiar terror: the betrayal of the body. His ballet instructor at Vaganova clucking her tongue, shoe flattened delicately against the bridge of his foot as she said, “You’re getting a bit tall. Keep working on your hip flexibility. When it goes, you go.”

So he did, and he’s still here, with nothing worse to his name than a minor Achilles tendon surgery after he’d skated with a stress fracture in the 2017 Rostelecom and took a bad fall. Third place had been worth it.

It’s as if no one told Yuri that there’s a life on the other side of growing up and filling out and losing some of his teenaged flexibility. That you can compensate, and focus your stretches on different muscle groups, and survive the inevitability of age. Maybe no one ever sat Yuri down to tell him this. You’ll live. And now he’s hurling himself into the waiting arms of oblivion, every season his potential swan song, every gold potentially his last, at the top of his game for as long as his body allows it, which can’t be indefinitely.

It’s 2011, he’s thirteen years old, and, “You’re doing it wrong,” he says to the younger kid failing spectacularly at fifth arabesque. His working leg is turned out all wrong, and it ruins the square set of his hips. It’s clunky. Miss Sergeeva would yell if she saw it.

The kid glares. And keeps glaring when Otabek kneels down to fix the set of his foot, which fixes the set of his hips, which fixes the turnout of his working leg, and suddenly, just like that, his arabesque is perfect.

They both see it in the mirror, a lightness to the pose where earlier there was only force.

“You have to always start with the support leg, right? If the form is messed up, everything gets messed up.” Otabek pats the kid’s knee, and watches with satisfaction as he jerks into perfect straightness. If you put a protractor to his legs, it would spell out ninety degrees. It’s sort of uncanny. His eyes are a little flat, the same kind of flatness that cats get when their eyes reflect light. A little vacant.

But Otabek has an exam in four hours and he forgets all about the odd kid practising alone, until the next time he sees him, and that’s at the rink.

v-nikiforov · 16m
#home in #moscow for a little while!)))

❤ 911 likes

He only hears his phone because he keeps forgetting to set it to vibrate, and has to unearth it from beneath Murka’s massive fluffy body. She makes a discontented noise and flops to her other side, flicking her tail in sleepy irritation.

are you in moscow? Yuri wants to know.

yeah, what’s up

do you have a bike in moscow?

Otabek does. It’s nothing like the loud monstrosities he tends to rent abroad, or the Harley he sold after the previous Grand Prix; the last thing he wants is to contribute to the city’s pollution levels. Rather, it’s a sleek Honda that weaves in and out of the worst of Moscow traffic with relative ease. He takes it out to the river, sometimes. Sometimes farther. The rush of wind as he crosses city limits is almost as good as when he’s skating.

That’s where he takes Yuri, when it becomes clear he needs air. For someone like him to actually, however obliquely, ask for anything, must be akin to thumbscrews.

They take the MKAD until Otabek can double back east, and toward the river. He’s lived in Moscow long enough to know that Serebryany Bor is unbearable in the summer, but it’s kind of pretty in winter, in a muted, desolate sort of way. A stretch of wooded island right there in the city, with the river embracing it on all sides.

If Yuri wants a place to scream ineffectually until the most immediate of his fury leaches from his blood, it’s a good place to do it.

He doesn’t scream when he gets off the bike, or at least, he doesn’t do it out loud. Tension is like a living thing under his skin, driving each movement, until he finds something on the ground. An empty beer bottle, a rock, a can. He hurls it into the river, nodding with satisfaction when it hits the water.

Otabek watches the bizarre spectacle from where he’s still sitting astride the bike, leaning his weight on his elbows.

There are questions. What are you running from, that’s one. Pretty high near the top of the list. What, or who. He doesn’t ask. If he asked, he would then have to wonder at the eagerness with which he’s willing to take Yuri wherever it is he wants to run, whatever it is he wants to run away from, sympathetic chauffeur to this kid who always seems to skirt the precipice of disaster.

He rolls his shoulders to dispel some tension that he caught from Yuri, like infection. After an hour on the bike, after the earlier practice at the rink, he’s sore and aching and wants a handful of ibuprofen before even attempting to deal with Yuri’s temper.

“You’ve got it so —” Yuri huffs a breath. Sticks his hands in his pockets, kicks at the frozen ground with his toes. “You’re lucky. You know?”

Otabek has an idea of what this conversation is really about. “Why? Because I don’t care about all the gossip and drama?”

“Sure. Whatever.” Something vicious lurks in the corner of Yuri’s smirk. “They talk about you anyway. Like you think you’re better than everyone, so you won’t even socialise with the plebs.”

“Figure skating is a job, not a social club,” says Otabek, treading on thin ice.

“You socialise with me.”

“That’s different.”

“How?” Yuri demands, and they’re not really talking about this, they’re talking about whatever it is Yuri cannot make himself let go. There’s only one person he seems to hate quite so much, even a whole season after he lost his Grand Prix debut to Nikiforov and his protégé. He’s reigned ever since, but the first defeat never stopped smarting.

Otabek looks at the river, at the looming spectre of highrise buildings in the near distance. Among all the places he’s lived and trained, Almaty and Russia and California and New Jersey, Moscow and St Petersburg will always rank at the top.

“It’s going to get dark soon,” he says, still staring determinedly at the riverbank, the sky, anywhere but Yuri. “We should head back, I don’t want to get stuck in traffic.”

“Ugh,” says Yuri, as though it’s an actual word to be spoken and not an onomatopoeia.

They are not — Otabek doesn’t know what they are not. They’re not anything. And, conversely, they might be everything. The inconsequential details of a life that never make it into the running, in terms of medals or rankings or records; the details that make the medals and rankings and records actually mean a bloody thing. Painfully undramatic, so that when the world tilts on its axis, it’s a slow boil instead of a bang.

They both stay in Moscow between the Grand Prix Final and the Olympics, so it isn’t exactly an uncommon occurrence to have Yuri inviting himself over just to cluck his tongue, arms crossed over his chest and hip thrust out at an angle, as he finds Otabek eating instant noodles amidst a horizontal split on the floor, watching TV.

His apartment is fit snugly into an old building two minutes from Sokol station, where morning runs in the park won’t give him smog poisoning. It’s a little cramped, the layout of it — the whole building — a little too close to pre-revolutionary nostalgia for comfort. There is a creaking, winding staircase. The hallways are slim and high-ceilinged, but the apartment has a real cast iron bathtub.

And now, sometimes, it has Yuri. Sometimes the pictures Yuri puts online feature a very familiar interior, or a very familiar ragdoll cat. Murka is making a killing on Instagram, and no one knows that she is not Yuri’s.

“Gross, this isn’t real food,” says Yuri, and folds himself onto the floor, graciously not blocking the TV. His hair is pulled back into a floppy ponytail. “Keep eating it and you’ll get fat and terrible and you’ll never beat me.”

“It’s half the pack.” The words come out garbled around a mouthful of noodles. “190 calories, sixteen per cent fat, sixty per cent carbs. And some protein. All calculated,” Otabek adds, jerking his thumb at his phone, tossed into a corner of the couch.

“That’s a crappy percentage. Besides, labels lie. They tell you it’s 190 calories but it’s probably like a thousand.”

Otabek remembers just how deeply Yuri is obsessed with his calorie intake. Every athlete is, to a degree, but Yuri tops even the most paranoid ballerinas and danseurs Otabek knows. If he eats too much for breakfast he’ll deduct later from his lunch, or make himself throw up and start over.

Still, Otabek can only roll his eyes at the prima donna pout twisting Yuri’s mouth. He puts the plastic cup on the floor. “You’re worse than my mother.”

“I want a challenge, so I need you in top form.”

“Nice to know I’m only wanted for my form.”

“And you’re stiff. What did you do, forget to stretch for a month? Pathetic.” Yuri says it as if that, the slight cramp with which Otabek woke this morning, more than anything else about his whole countenance, is what he chooses to take as a personal affront.

Yuri sighs, lifts himself on his haunches, and it’s lucky that Otabek put the noodles down: the next thing he knows, Yuri is digging pointy, bony knees into his back and Otabek is gasping for air as he’s pushed deeper into the split. And deeper. Until his chest touches the floor. He wants to growl; otherwise he might scream. Instead he keeps his legs splayed wide at a perfect angle, a hundred and eighty degrees. Doesn’t move a muscle.

Yuri’s knees are midway up his back between tail bone and shoulder blades, an unrelenting weight. It hurts enough that the pain stands out in sharp relief to the general, everyday, post-practice whole-body ache. Maybe what hurts the most is that he used to be able to do this in his sleep, at fourteen, but he’s not fourteen any more. He won’t be in top form forever. Otabek bites his tongue, then his mouth, to keep in an ungainly whimper.

His nose flattens against the floor and he turns his head, resting on his cheek instead, and tries to get air into his lungs. It gets difficult when Yuri, very lightly, runs blunt fingernails over the buzzed hair at the back of his head.

“You’re worse —” Breathe in, out. “Worse than the Academy, too.”

Yuri snorts. It sounds mean, and delighted, and Otabek knows that Yuri’s enjoyment of his pain is catlike because he has seen Murka do the exact same thing: dig sharp claws into skin and purr, pleased at herself.

“They’d eat you alive at the Bolshoi.”

“Not all of us have chewing gum for joints,” he mutters, mutinous to the last. “You were probably grown in a vat.”

And Yuri laughs again, strange and unguarded, and bends at an angle that has his knees digging trenches into Otabek’s spine, and says, “Shut up and relax, asshole.”

He doesn’t let up, doesn’t even twitch to give Otabek room to do anything but obey. It’s almost easy, when choice is taken out of his hands: he begins to relax into the pain, into the uncomfortable stretch, the point that is a hair’s breadth away from physical damage. There is only so long you can keep your muscles seized impossibly tight before something gives. And Otabek doesn’t give. It’s a torturous process, but he forces the tension out, torso flat against the floor, learning to welcome the excruciating, unnatural bend of his hips and Yuri’s weight.

Another five minutes, and he thinks he might fall asleep like that. His body is loose in a way that has nothing to do with true ease, but it’s close enough; it works. Then Yuri gets off him. Holds out his hand, with his feet spread and a tentative but satisfied smirk pulling at the corners of his mouth, the whole of his expression made exponentially softer than anything Otabek has seen before.

He takes Yuri’s hand and pulls himself upright. Something pops very loudly in his hip, and he feels the tilt, the incremental shift of the Earth’s orbit, as though he missed a step coming down the stairs.

BBC Sport @BBCSport · 7 min
Russia confirms skating team for 2018 Olympics

BBC Sport @BBCSport · 4 h
WATCH LIVE: British Olympic Association announces Team GB for Pyeongchang 2018

“I don’t think you’re allowed to be in here,” says Otabek at the sight of Yuri in the lobby of the hotel where Team Kazakhstan are staying. The Olympic park is a raucous, crowded press of people on all sides; seeing Yuri here is the first time Otabek has seen someone he actually knows, the small and incestuous skating world spread thin among hundreds of other athletes, all segregated by flags.

Yuri shrugs. He didn’t even take off his Team Russia jacket, and it stands out like a sore thumb among the blue and yellow. But then, Yuri tends to stand out everywhere. He has a sweatshirt on under the jacket, the hood pulled over his head, and he glares from beneath its rim at nothing in particular.

“This is like —” He looks around the lobby, half-emptied at this hour, as if it wronged him. “You have space. Do you know what our hotels look like?”

Hotels, multiple. Perhaps Yuri should find solace in the fact that if he fails, some fifteen skaters hungry for his spot at the top will fight for it like wet cats. Otabek is one of the four figure skaters on his team, alongside a sixteen year old girl aiming for top ten in ladies’ singles, and a pair. The skiing team is larger, at least. But if anyone brings a medal home, it will be madness.

“It must be so hard to skate for a world power,” says Otabek, deadpan. “My heart bleeds for you.”

Yuri focusses on him again, a renewed edge to his scowl. “Shut up. Whatever. Come on, I want to show you something.”

“What —”

He lets himself be dragged by the wrist. Not a gentle pinch at the sleeve of his own team jacket: Yuri grabs him firmly and with crushing force, thin fingers grinding bone into bone. Not as precipitous as an ankle, for a figure skater, but part of the body-tool-machine set nonetheless, and it makes Otabek want to flinch away.

Yuri leads him out of the lobby and into the frigid air and the larger Olympic Village. The view is always a thing to behold, mountains with their Alpine venues in the distance, the coast in the opposite direction. They pass clusters of athletes and families and no one pays them any heed. No one cares.

“So usually the hockey team practice here, but I bribed their captain,” Yuri is saying, and the words come a long way toward explaining where they’re going. The structure into which he leads Otabek reveals itself as a rink, maybe half the size of a competitive one, the ice gouged and scratched with skid marks. “We have a couple of hours.”

Otabek tries not to feel a little faint, and a lot amused, at the thought of Yuri making demands of the Russian hockey team. All, to a man, four times the size of him.

Yuri takes him to the ice, produces two pairs of skates from behind the boards, so quickly that it looks like sleight of hand. They’re worn, lived-in practice skates with ankle support, the kind that would be forgone in an actual competition, sacrificed for decorum and style.

“You know my shoe size?” Otabek asks, digging his feet into skates that fit him as if they are his own.

“Why wouldn’t I?”

Yuri winces all the way through his own process, gritting his teeth in obvious pain. He had already skated in one of the team events. His feet must be a bloody ruin, and Otabek wants to see, suddenly, wants to bear witness to every blister and sore. Every stress fracture that Yuri pushed through, risking permanent damage to ankles and spine; the time he had gotten concussed during his practice run in the last Rostelecom and executed a faultless free skate the next day.

Without thinking, Otabek kneels on the floor and moves to pull Yuri’s feet into his lap, trailing laces like spider legs.

He takes care to do Yuri’s laces up very tightly, with unerring precision: to be kind to him now would ruin his form. And the part of Otabek that has the same blisters, that bore the same fractures and competed with a damaged Achilles tendon a year prior, would rather watch Yuri skate through crippling pain than bad form.

Maybe they’re cruel people. Maybe their pursuit of perfection dooms them to be cruel.

Yuri is watching his every move and gesture as though the lacing of his skates is a surgical procedure.

Otabek wraps his right hand around the underside of Yuri’s calf, where the ligament bleeds into muscle and he can fit his fingers into the groves carved from years of a torturous training regimen. There is a sharp intake of breath above him, but he doesn’t look up. He lets go, pats the bridge of Yuri’s foot, stands up and staggers to the ice.

There is no music, but he doesn’t need it, when the routines live under his skin and only wait to be let out. All it takes is speed and momentum, and he wishes he’d thought to take a scarf or gloves; it’s cold. He leans into a lazy spiral that would garner him zero points.

“That’s awful. Stop flapping your arms.”

He turns, skating backwards to see Yuri watching him down the length of his nose, arms crossed over his chest, and says, “Then come here and fix it.”

He doesn’t skate pairs. It isn’t beyond his ability, but it’s not his discipline, and so there is a moment of slack-jawed indecision when Yuri throws himself forward and in his direction, at the last moment skidding to the side to avoid a direct collision. He catches Otabek by the elbow, forces him to move, which Otabek does, despite how difficult he finds it to breathe.

There is a name for it, a strange German name that’s actually a chess term, that describes the compulsion to move in harm’s way.

But Yuri has been daring himself to fail from the very start. The ice beneath their feet shrieks as he turns, rapid and very close to uncoordinated. It would be deduced from his score. His curls his hands into the lapels of Otabek’s team jacket, even though he doesn’t need to hold on for balance. His balance is flawless.

“Wait,” says Otabek. Yuri ignores him, grabs him, pulls him forward. Pulls him down. Their feet are wide apart, and Yuri’s grip on him, and then Yuri’s mouth on him, are the only points of contact between them.

They crash into the boards with a hollow thud. It’s white noise, really. It fades into the background.

EB: — incredible. Finishing with an Ina Bauer.
KD: I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this from Altin yet. Top notch form.
EB: Triple toe. [pause] Triple Lutz, triple toe, double loop combination. Fantastic. Oh, I loved that move. [pause] Triple flip.
KD: It really is spectacular. This is a medal performance, we’ll see how the scores shape up, but I’m very eager to see his free skate tomorrow.

Plisetsky clinches Olympic gold

20/02/2018 at 19:35
Associated Press

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- Grand Prix Final winner Yuri Plisetsky continued his spectacular form from the 2017-18 season to clinch men’s singles gold medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.

Skating for the first time in an Olympic event, Plisetsky scored 203.47 in the free skate to achieve a combined total of 301.93, after recording 98.46 in the short program.

The silver medal was taken by Canadian Jean-Jacques Leroy, who scored a total of 292.06. Last on the podium was Kazakhstan’s Otabek Altin, with 287.06.

Altin ensured his position on the podium with the record-breaking score of 111.62 in the short program, but dropped to third place after the free skate. The previous world record was set by Japan’s now-retired Yuri Katsuki during the 2016-17 Grand Prix Final in Barcelona.

yuri-plisetsky fucker, what happened in the fs
otabek-altin rotator cuff. i think i tore something. but world record )))
yuri-plisetsky fucker.

yuri-plisetsky you’re going to the afterparty
otabek-altin pass.
yuri-plisetsky i wasn’t asking.

He leaves the sling in his room, unwilling to give credence to rumours; it’s no one’s business, and he already saw the Twitter reactions to the shameful spectacle of his free skate. He didn’t fall, and so he didn’t make it into the (Dis)figured Skating: 2018 Olympics Wrap-Up hall of shame article on Deadspin. Press might be barred from the Village, but the last thing he needs is for someone to snap a picture of him injured and weak and paste in a sad emoji. It’s enough that he won’t be in the exhibition gala tomorrow.

The afterparty is a loud get-together not limited to skaters. Otabek waves to one of his fellow Team Kazakhstan representatives, huddled in the corner of the lobby with someone who has the girth and build of a hockey goalie, but without team jackets it’s difficult to ascribe a flag.

A gaggle of huge, brightly smiling men come up to hand him a foul-smelling drink the colour of radioactive waste and call him “my man” as they do it. The thing smells completely nonalcoholic, but also not very appealing. Otabek looks around for a potted plant in which to dump it.

“Oh my god,” someone yells in English, from the deeper interior of the Team Norway hotel, “he made it! Yurio, you have psychic powers!”

“That’s not my name, you —” A stream of expletives follows, seamlessly switching between languages.

Resigned to his fate, Otabek follows the sound of Yuri’s voice.

The skaters are sequestered in an open conference room, with a perfect view of the Village spread out beneath the wall-high windows and the Alpine venues glittering against the backdrop of mountains and night like scattered shards of glass.

Yuri is on him as soon as Otabek crosses the threshold, and he holds his drink away from them both. It shouldn’t be particularly demonstrative to have Yuri pushing and prodding at his arm and shoulder, as if in search of cracked bits of bone protruding from under the skin. Finally, he catches the spot that makes Otabek hiss in pain.

“Did you see someone about it? When are you starting physio?”

Would you worry this much if it was your own rotator cuff, that’s the question Otabek doesn’t ask. The first. The second is, probably, why are you worried; I’m competition. He knows the answers to both.

“I did,” he says, instead, patiently deflecting Yuri’s hyperfocus. “And — as soon as I get home. Our masseuse didn’t want to risk making it worse without an MRI first.”

Yuri lets out a breath, a sharp, violent exhale. He punches Otabek in the side, away from both his arms. People are beginning to stare. “That was pathetic. I can’t believe you wasted your short program like that.”

“I’ll beat you next time.”

“Whatever. Bring it.” With unprecedented gentleness, he tugs at the hem of Otabek’s jacket, fingers curling into the edge of warm fleece, and pulls him deeper into the room. “Now come on, you’re my alibi for when I kill everybody.”

He wakes up without a headache, well-rested, adhesive heat pad still sticking securely to his busted shoulder. The closing ceremony is in — he paws at the nightstand, then lower, and finds his phone in the front pocket of his sweatpants, lying on the floor in a crumpled mess. The closing ceremony is in eight hours.

Other than the time, Otabek sees that he has approximately forty-six unread messages, and missed calls from his sister, his parents, his grandma, and the same BNews sports correspondent who cried on his shoulder when they talked after the 2017 Four Continents. Time differences save him from the necessity of at least calling back his parents; they must be asleep.

Light filters into the room from uneven cracks in the blinds, the snow outside reflecting it a thousandfold. It’s nice. Clean, and calm with noise muted into an indistinct murmur. Barely anything penetrates inside.

Otabek considers going back to sleep, but the idea is outrageous in its sheer decadence, so instead he rolls out of bed and lifts his good arm over his head, twisting until his spine cracks; folds himself in the middle, head to knees; pulls his heels back until both knees pop. The noises his joints make are a little awful, a little vile, but the relief is immediate.

Someone is humming off-key in the ensuite.

Otabek lets the noise direct him, padding barefoot across the room.

The Earth’s axis tilts, just a little. Enough to leave him unmoored.

The door is open, so he has a perfect view of Yuri finger-combing the tangles out of his hair, one foot propped up on the sink, stretching at a ninety degree angle. He’s barefoot, too. Barefoot, in a pair of briefs, still groggy with sleep and staring, unseeing, at the mirror but not at the reflection. He’s wearing Otabek’s team jacket. Unzipped, the hem falling just over his ass, with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. The yellow is the same colour as his hair. The blue is, somehow, so different from the navy of his Team Russia gear that it’s as though he’s discarded a fundamental part of himself, as essential as a limb, and doesn’t care.

Perhaps it’s the colours. The forcible shift in perception. Otabek can feel something clenching behind his sternum, like an invisible fist. Maybe he tore more than one muscle.

“You’re awake.” Yuri blinks owlishly, and removes his foot from the sink. “I’m going to use your toothbrush.”

“Okay,” says Otabek, dazed. The actual words register belatedly, and he steps inside the bathroom. “What? No. Get your own.” He plucks the toothbrush from Yuri’s hand.

It leaves them standing too close, chest to chest, and Yuri makes a dramatic performance out of looking Otabek up and down, then lifting his gaze to maintain defiant if sleepy eye contact.

“So I was thinking,” he starts. He tilts his head to one side, then the other, feline and curious. Clearly plotting something, and whatever it is he plots makes him smile a little, despite the colour beginning to show in patches over his clavicle. “Next time maybe you could keep your medal on.”

Breathe in, out. “Really.”

Yuri flattens his palm against his face, pushing him away, until Otabek is crowded into the sink, its edge digging sharply into his lower back. “Yeah. Now get out of here, I need to shower.”

So Otabek leaves him to shower, then leaves him to sneak out of the hotel to rejoin his own team for the closing ceremony preparations, and tries to relearn how to walk across ground that seems ever so slightly shifted out of alignment.

yuri-plisetsky · 4m
it’s mine now #teamkaz

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