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From Almaty, With Love

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“They’re so fucking disgusting,” Yuri punctuates the text with a selfie. He’s making a sour expression in the foreground. Just behind him, Viktor and Yuuri are attempting to feed each other wedding cake.

Beach weddings weren’t a “thing” in Russia, but he’d had a lifetime of exposure to western television and film, seen enough female skaters and ice dancers post pictures of theirs on social media. He’s had enough time to decide that they’re super tacky, so of course it’s what they chose.

Sand and seagulls do not mix well with formal attire.

At least Viktor had the sense to give his Pork Cutlet Bowl the long engagement he’d wanted. He’d half expected them to tie the knot in Helsinki right after worlds last year. There’d been enough booze and shameless couple-y PDA, and then Viktor had begged him to go down to the courthouse with them as a witness.

Luckily, Cutlet remembered at the last minute that his parents would be pissed if they did it without them knowing, even if it was just the “piece of paper part” and not the more important “ceremony part”.

So, they waited. Waited a whole year until they could drag Yuuri’s parents to World’s this year, and dragged him out of his room the morning after the medal ceremony to be their “witness”. Bullshit. They had Yuuri’s parents, Yakov, and most of the men’s finalists in tow.

He went along, but spat and kicked and cursed their names to filth because like usual.  They didn’t give him any time to heal. It was less than 24 hours after Otabek cinched the gold and he was left with silver.  Losing to Otabek was difficult. Harder than losing to Yuuri and Otabek. Otabek’s program was immaculate, and he’d won because he was deserving. It was hard because with every fiber of his being, as he watched Otabek with a slack jaw and a racing heart, he knew he deserved the win. The only consolation was that he’d edged Yuuri out so that he got bronze.

He went with them anyway. The reason, he couldn’t identify. It had nothing to do with the fact that Yuuri was sincere about retiring this year...Had already started looking at master’s degree programs and was entertaining the idea of doing commentary for TV Tokyo next season, that kind of sincere.  Viktor already had a list of skaters from all over the world begging to come to Hatseu so he’ll choreograph their programs, kind of sincere. It doesn’t bother him really. He beat Pork Cutlet Bowl finally, and even though it wasn’t with a gold, it was enough. It definitely didn’t bother him.

In the present, he taps against his phone’s screen with a disinterested expression “You should’ve agreed to be my date. We could’ve rented a motorcycle and torn out of here when things got too cheesy.” He usually hates double texting, but it’s urgent.

Viktor’s pulling at his sleeve slightly drunk off of sake “Yuri, dance with me.”

His phone buzzes in his hand, it’s Otabek, finally. “You didn’t invite me.”

“Yuuri’s got Phichit. We’re doing a Groomsman’s dance!”

“Of course I did you idiot!”  He types a response as he all but kicks Viktor away in an attempt to finish the text. “I DM’d you on Instagram.”

“Go get Chris then! He’s into that kind of queer shit.” It’s a matter of seconds between when he thrusts his phone back into his pocket, and Viktor recovers, sliding up next to him and grabbing his arm and pulling him towards the dancefloor. “I’ll forgive that outlandish comment if my other Yuri dances with me.”

Viktor’s hands are around his waist and Yuuri is smiling at him over Phichit’s shoulder when he realizes his mistake.

Otabek never updates his Instagram. He probably hasn’t even seen the message.

It doesn’t just end with dancing with Viktor while Yuuri dances with Phichit. Then they have to trade partners, so he’s dancing with Pork Cutlet bowl. He turns down Phichit’s offer to dance because despite the fact that they’ve ended up on the podium a few times together, they don’t know each other that well. He’s not sure if this guy is worthy of appearing in a selfie with yet.

After the dance, he distances himself from the party. There’s a quiet stretch where the beach meets hiking trails which meander through a wooded area and end just behind Hasetsu’s post office. He knows because he and Yuuri have spent countless mornings running on the trails together. How many mornings did he begin the run in the lead? Look over his shoulder and say, you’re lagging behind old man? How many mornings did Yuuri, after several kilometers, silently over take him as he grew increasingly tired?

Yuri plops down on a piece of driftwood. In the back of his mind he can hear Viktor scold him, “Yuri, that suit is Armani.” Whatever. Don’t have your shitty wedding outside then.

Yuri snaps a few selfies. Kyushu is famous for its wisteria blossoms this time of year. He makes sure the vines are plenty visible in the background.

“Yuri,” a voice calls.

“What are you doing?” another almost identical female voice

“We wanted to make flower crowns. Wanna join?”

Shit. It’s Yuuko’s brats. He looks side to side for an escape route. There’s nothing, so he lets the brats braid wisteria into his hair until they demand he do the same for them.

He snaps a final selfie. The brats ruin it by crowding all around him, but flower crown still looks good.  He sends it directly to Otabek, so that he’ll actually see it.

“Nice.”

“Sorry I got your invitation late. Come to Almaty instead.”

His phone buzzes again before he can tap out a reply. Otabek never texts three times without a response. “It’s quiet here...”  

Before he can reply. Axel (or Luntz or Loop, he still can’t tell the difference) tackles him to the ground. Not that it matters, because the other two join immediately. It’s like he knows what he needs without even being here.


It takes him nine days after the wedding to get to Almaty. Viktor and Yuuri didn’t leave for their honeymoon until the June first, and Viktor was bound and determined to make sure that he had the choreography for the short program down before they left.

Not to mention, he has to take a few days to get things in order so that Yakov doesn’t murder him.

But really, this is nothing in comparison to taking off to Japan without notice. He’s got the choreography for the short program down, he and Lila had already started talking about the free skate. Plus, it’s no fucking secret that she has a mountainside cabin that she holes up in every summer because the mountain air, “keeps her looking fresh.”

Yeah fucking right.

Anyway, as long as he gets a tutor first thing in Almaty, it should be fine right?

During the summer, Yakov all but insists on a lighter training schedule for him. It’s inevitable that somewhere between the Grand Prix and Worlds, he falls behind on his studies. It takes him all summer to catch up.

“A tutor…And Lila’s okay with this?” Yuri can feel Yakov shaking his head over the phone, even if they can’t see each other. “You’ve put thought into this.”

Yuri nods, but then he remembers that maybe Yakov can’t feel him shaking his head over the phone. “Ah, yeah. I guess I have,” he twirls a stray lock of hair around his finger in nervousness. From the corner of his eye, he catches a familiar looking bag on the carousel. Leopard print with a pink luggage tag. He runs after it.

“That’s terrifying Yurachaka.”

Yuri tugs the bag off of the carousel while trying to keep his phone balanced between his ear and his shoulder. He almost falls into the carousel in the process when he hears Yakov’s response. Not the answer he was expecting.

He lets out a string of curses in response.

“If Lila deems your progress sufficient, you don’t have to return to St. Petersburg until the start of August.”


Otabek greets him on the other side of baggage claim. It’s like any of the handful of other times he’s met the man in person. He’s wearing a leather jacket despite the warm early summer air, his sunglasses too.

But it’s different too. There’s a small tug of a smile at the corner of Otabek’s mouth. He extends his arm to Yuri.

Yuri takes it, and almost pulls him in for a hug until he remembers he’s just spent three and a half weeks with the gross couple. He’s back in the real world now, where not every occasion is met with a nauseating embrace.

He remembers this a bit too late though, so instead of grabbing Otabek’s hand in his own, he ends up grabbing his forearm, and Otabek grabbing his.

It’s awkward.

But not as awkward as Otabek pulling him forward and into a too close, too hot hug. He smells like leather, and the cheap shitty off brand aftershave that Pork Cutlet used to wear until Viktor “accidentally” dropped the bottle and “kindly” replaced it with something that didn’t smell medicinal.

“All of these are yours?” Otabek gestures to the numerous bags he’s brought with him.

“Who else’s would they be?”

“We’ll have to have a carrier send them to my place.”

“Bike?”

“Hm.” Otabek replies.  “When did this happen?” He turns on his heel so that he’s back to back with Yuri. His hand is knocking against the back of his head. “You’re taller now.” His hand hits a high point on the crown of his skull. If he is, it’s not by much.

“You’re surpassing me.” His tone is dead serious, but again there’s something like a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

It’s strange.


It takes just under an hour to get from the airport to Otabek’s apartment. At some point, between the warm breeze and steady hum of the bike’s engine, he begins to feel extremely drowsy. It can’t be jetlag. There’s only a three hour difference from here to Japan. In the near twilight of the late afternoon, everything looks golden…surreal like he’s watching a dream.

He really shouldn’t. He’s not with them anymore. Otabek’s not like that, and neither is he. Nevertheless, somewhere, between the airport and the city, he rests his cheek against Otabek’s back and stares at the endless wall of mountains on the horizon. 


“You should’ve tied your hair back before…” Otabek says blandly as he offers him a hairbrush.

That’s right. He has nothing except for his laptop and whatever else was stuffed in his backpack until the carrier gets here with his luggage. “No shit,” he replies as he takes the brush. Now his hair is long enough he doesn’t have to just worry about helmet hair. The ends fly free in the wind and get tangled now too, which is so un-fucking-fair.

Otabek’s hair always looks perfect after he takes off the helmet. He might have to push a strand or two back on top of his coif, but it’s nothing like the nest his own hair becomes.

Yuri tugs at the strands in frustration.

“Stop. You’re just going to give yourself split ends.” Otabek holds out his hand again, like he expects Yuri to return the brush.

So he does.

Otabek sits on the brown leather sofa which occupies most of his living room with his legs spread apart, as if he means for Yuri to sit between them.

Regardless of what he actually means, Yuri interprets it that way, so he sinks down against the sofa and onto the floor. He buries his toes into the tan shag rug, and rests his palms against the glass of the coffee table not worrying about whether or not he’s leaving smudges.

Otabek wordlessly begins working on his hair, combing from the bottom up. He takes the time to work out each knot without tugging at his scalp.

Yuri takes a moment to take in his surroundings. Otabek doesn’t seem to own a television. There’s a huge mahogany bookshelf filled with all the kind of classical literature crap that his tutors always want him to read, and always bore him immediately. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Brahm Stoker, Jane Austen!? Those are girly books. He was going to have to make fun of him for that. Later, when he wasn’t at the other man’s mercy.

Potted plants, the dark leafy kind that didn’t require a lot of care dotted the end tables, and the empty spaces on the bookshelf.

From his spot on the floor, he can’t see far into the kitchen. Just a sink with a window above, and more plants in the window. It seems as if every wall in the apartment is painted in the same, off white eggshell kind of color. It blends in amongst the tan of the carpet, the brown of the furniture, and the khaki of the curtains, all offset in different colors suggesting they were purchased at different times.   

Suddenly, he feels a pinch at his scalp. “Ah!”

“Sorry.” Otabek replies behind him. It’s really tangled.

“ ‘s okay,” Yuri replies lamely. He knows that if he’d done this himself his scalp would be burning by now.

Otabek has combed through most of the tangles by now and is able to brush through his hair in long strokes from scalp to tip, scalp to tip, over and over again until it makes him drowsy.  Really drowsy, unlike before, he doesn’t have to worry about keeping his balance on the bike.

At some point, the brush is replaced with Otabek’s fingers. He can here the brush make a clinking noise against the glass of the table, and he can feel the other man’s blunt nails rake against his skin. Something about the drag of his fingers from the crown of his head to the nape of his neck makes him feel uncomfortably warm. Like when Lila scolds him like a child and makes him put on another layer before going out. Stifling, like when he goes for a soak in the near scalding onsen in July because his muscles scream for some kind of relief.

“Tired?” He feels a few taps against his shoulder, and forces his eyes open.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

Otabek leads him down a small hallway to the very end and throws on a light switch. Much like the rest of the apartment, the room is almost bare save for a bed and a desk. The desk stands out in stark contrast to everything else he’s seen in the apartment thus far. It’s covered in bright pink stickers.

“Hey you live alone. Kind of strange that you have a second bedroom isn’t it?”

“I have a little sister. Sometimes she’ll come stay with me for a weekend during the off season.”

Guess that explains the stickers then.

Yuri flops onto the bed without another word.

Otabek vanishes for a moment, and then returns. “Here’s some clothes. You can shower too if you like.” He sets the clothes directly on Yuri’s back, so he’ll have to do something with them other than pass out in his clothes.

“Thanks,” he mumbles into the pillow.


Almaty is a city infinitely larger than Haetsu, and Otabek lives right in the middle of it all. There are towering buildings on either side of Otabek’s apartment complex. There’s a constant sound of traffic that drifts in through the window. And every morning and every afternoon when he takes a 65 bus to and from the university to meet his tutor and he’s crushed shoulder to shoulder with countless other pedestrians. Still, it feels intimately smaller here than it does in Kyushu.

In Haetsu he knows not just Viktor and Yuuri, but Yuuri’s parents, his sister, Minako, the Nishigori’s, and their fucking brats...The old man that goes fishing every morning, the college dropout that works at the konbini, Mrs. Yamamato  the green grocer, the temple attendant…the list of people he “knows” at the very least by name or by occupation goes on and on.

Here it’s just him and Otabek, his tutor Aisha, and Otabek’s coach.

Otabek’s right. It’s quiet here.

They wake up every morning at six am. Well…Otabek wakes up every morning at six. Yuri curses and writhes about between the sheets until six fifteen until he inevitably drags himself into the kitchen to see what Otabek has “made” for breakfast.

It’s usually a poorly mixed protein shake, or a cliff bar tossed in his general direction. Yuri can barely hold a coherent thought in his head, let alone catch something, so it inevitably smacks him in the head. He curses Otabek’s name to filth while he scrambles to find the lost bar.

Judging by the spoon that dangles from the corner of Otabek’s mouth and the open container of rice cakes, today’s breakfast is plain rice cakes with peanut butter.

Gross.

Although Otabek’s Spartan eating habits are almost welcome after the time in Haetsu. At this point, he doesn’t question why Yuuri gains weight easily. Everything his parents make is delicious. No meal is simple either, whether it’s rice porridge for breakfast or onigiri for lunch it’s always rich and plentiful.

Yuri roots around the silverware drawer trying to find another spoon. “Where the hell is the other one?” Otabek lived simply. This meant two spoons, two forks, two knives, two cups, two plates, one fucking coffee mug. Yuri can only assume his fucking sister doesn’t drink coffee.

Otebek makes a grunting noise and gestures to his coffee cup. The other spoon rests inside his unstirred coffee.

“Ugh,” Yuri responds as he plucks the spoon from Otabek’s mouth.

“You should put some pants on,” Otabek says, his mouth obviously full. He takes a long draught of coffee from his mug.

Yuri looks down at himself. He’s wearing his white tiger striped briefs and little else. What does he expect? Otabek’s apartment doesn’t have air conditioning. The heat of the city is stifling, especially at night when he has nothing to do other than lay there and think about how hot it is.

“Whatever.” Yuri plucks the coffee mug from his hand, takes a large gulp, and almost chokes. There’s no coffee in this. Just sugar, and more sugar. “This is disgusting,” he thrusts the cup back into Otabek’s hand and charges off to change into his workout clothes.

“To the president’s park?” he barks around his toothbrush and a mouth full of foam.

After a too long pause, the other man calls back, “Yeah. To the top of the steps. Winner makes dinner.”


It’s quiet here. Even if the car alarm on the neighbor’s goddamn BMW has been going off for the past twenty minutes. Quiet, even though the alarm’s got the neighbor’s dog howling like crazy, and the neighbor works second shift and isn’t there to comfort the dumb dog.

It’s quiet…They haven’t spoken to each other since that morning, when Yuri went off to go see Aisha, and Otabek went off to do whatever the hell it was he did in the mornings before he hit the rink.

They didn’t exchange words at the rink, or on the ride home. Even now, there’s no pressure to speak. It’ comfortable in a way he can’t describe…because it shouldn’t be comfortable. It should be weird, but it’s not and that in it’s own way….is weird.

“Aisha is dumb bitch,” he says finally breaking the silence between them as he lets the book he’d had balanced on his bent knees fall onto his face.

He’s sprawled out across the entirety of the sofa, so Otabek has sat by his side on the floor. His head rests against the cushion. His legs are sprawled out underneath the coffee table. From here, Yuri has the perfect view of where his fresh undercut abruptly halts and turns into crisp unblemished skin.

The room smells like rosemary. Otabek brought home another plant that afternoon and put it alongside the three others on the windowsill. All the other plants were rosemary too. Yuri didn’t question whatever kind of complex logic did or didn’t lie there. He had four pairs of Jimmy Choo glitter slippers at home, all of them the same color. He understood, on some basal level.

The room smells like rosemary and vanilla. Otabek has several candles lit throughout the room. He claims that fluorescent light makes his head hurt.

“Huh?” he says turning and locking eyes with Yuri like he’s trying to figure out what’s going on. “Dumb bitch huh?” Otabek snaps the book in his lap closed and sets it on the table. It’s a paperback copy of Anna Karenina that’s seen better days. The cover is crumpled in several places and the pages look dog eared. He needs to make fun of him, for reading all those girly books. “Isn’t she the one getting a Ph.D. in theoretical mathematics? And you’re the one playing catch up over the summer.”

“Whatever,” he snaps his math textbook closed too, and puts it on the table, on top of Otabek’s novel.

“It’s late.” Otabek notes as he glances at his phone. “Let’s stretch, and then get some kebab from the shop on the corner.”

“You won,” Yuri wrinkles his nose. House rules. Winner of the morning “race” makes dinner. “Don’t shirk your duties.”

“I’ve won every day for the past week and a half. I’m tired of cooking.”

“I’ll beat you tomorrow. Then I’ll make pirozhki.”

“God, I hope so,” Otabek huffs as he pushes the table aside to make room for Yuri on the floor. They both go down into a simple straddle stretch.

“Otabek,” He lays flat and extends his leg perpendicular to his torso. He waits for the familiar pressure of Otabek’s hand on his knee and his heel. This too is familiar now.

“Hm?”

“How do you stretch when no one’s here?”

Otabek crosses his leg downward and extends it towards his arm. “I have Anton do it really well before I leave for home. Then I do it by myself if I need to stretch out again later.”

“Oh,” Yuri swallows thickly as if he knew the answer already.

Otabek switches to his other leg. For the first time, the silence between them almost feels awkward. “Do you ever feel lonely?” He should just stop talking. Who gives a shit if Otabek feels lonely when he’s not here. He’s here now right? Who cares?

“Maybe…” he says as he releases Yuri’s calf. They roll over and trade places so that Otabek is on the floor. “But there’s a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. I’d rather be alone, or with one person than be around a lot of different people people who are shallow and make me feel lonely.”

Yuri presses against the other man’s knee and pushes his leg backwards.

“Why do you ask?”

Despite it being Otabek’s turn for stretching, Yuri tenses. It’s not like him to ask follow up questions, although he did invite it didn’t he?

“The last few weeks I was in St. Petersburg, I felt that way. Viktor’s gone. Georgi is engaged and announced his retirement. It will just be me and Mila. I’m sure Yakov will take on someone else, regardless of what he says. He says he’s getting too old, but I know he will…They’ll take getting used to. Yakov moved out of Lila’s house, so it’s just the two of us there now.”

Otabek simply nods.

Yuri switches his legs. “Otabek,” he says with a tinge of seriousness in his voice. The firm muscles under his fingertips aren’t as pliant as usual. “You’re stiff tonight.”

“Anton had me doing a lot of quads today.” He grimaces slightly when Yuri rotates his leg to the side. “I didn’t make all of them.”

“Do you need the heating pad?”

“No,” the other man sits up and shakes his head from side to side. “Dinner first. Then heating pad.”

They don’t speak again until they’re on they’re way back from the takeout place. It’s quiet in Almaty. He can gather his thoughts here, unlike in Kyushu, where there’s always someone who wants to talk, or have lunch, or tea, or ask him what he thinks of the new short program.

“So you’re lonely,” Otabek says firmly, as if it’s something he’s decided.

“No!” Yuri answers a bit too quickly. “Not here anyway. Not here in Almaty.”

“You know fewer people here.” It’s a statement, but Yuri can feel the drag of a question there.

“Yea, but like it’s different. Like you said. It’s not the number of people right?” It’s something half ass and insincere. Something that Pork Cutlet Bowl would say to Viktor before he got his shit together. He feels ashamed for making the comparison with all it’s implications.   “I have space to hear myself think here.”

Otabek doesn’t speak again until they’re at the top of the steps and he’s fishing around his jeans pockets for the apartment keys. “You’re used to the noise?”

“Yeah, but…”

Otabek unlocks the door, holds it open, and waits for him to step inside. “I think I like the quiet too.”

Before Otabek can continue the line of questioning, he darts toward the linen closet, where he knows the heating pad is stowed. “Okay, get comfortable. You’re not moving until bed time.”


“For fuck’s sake Plisetsky, put on some pants.” Otabek says as he pinches the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger.

“Made ya breakfast.” Yuri nods at an opened box of cereal. Maybe Otabek is right about this one. The day glow cheetah print underwear might be a bit much, and this is crossing a line…Into Chris, or wasted Pork Cutlet territory, and he never wants to be associated with any of that. Still, it’s balls hot in the apartment.

Otabek stares at him blankly.

“Alright fine. I ate really fast so you could have a clean bowl. The other one has leftovers in it from last night.” The fucking cheapskate needed a full set of dishes.

Otabek measures himself two precise servings of cereal and tops it off with skim milk. Yuri’s pretty sure he does it all without so much as opening his eyes.

Yuri sips at his coffee and plays with his phone while Otabek eats. He retweets the Nishgori triplets and calls them “baby hags” they like that…It gets them hundreds of new followers each time. “President’s park?”

Otabek nods and grabs for his mug of coffee, takes a swig, and shudders. “Disgusting.” He turns on his heel, goes to the cupboard, and stirs four heaping spoonfuls of sugar into Yuri’s coffee. He takes another drink, and then another.

“I wasn’t finished with that asshole.” He storms off toward his room to get dressed. “All that sugar will make you fat.”

Yuri actually wins the climb up the stairs that morning. All it takes is for him to lunge at Otabek’s ankles while their ascending the steps, and push past him, but he still wins, with a vow to make pirozhki for dinner.